My Copper Canyon Adventure — Day 2

Christmas in Copper Canyon

The following story was submitted to us by Kay Gililand who describes her experience traveling with friends through Mexico’s Copper Canyon during the Christmas holidays. On this day, Kay recalls her experience riding the train into the Sierra Tarahumara and spending Christmas Eve at the Paraiso del Oso Lodge in Cerocahui. The holidays are a fascinating time to visit Copper Canyon.

The California Native is always thrilled to have groups of friends join our trips to this charming region of Mexico. We appreciate it when our guests share their stories with us and we like to add them to our blog for everyone to enjoy. Excerpts from her journal will be posted regularly, so check back often to learn more about Kay’s 11-day Copper Canyon Adventure.
December 24, Wednesday,  Christmas Eve


Jessica’s knock on the door summoned us to a walk through El Fuerte. The town plaza was bordered by a church and public buildings with an elaborate ironwork gazebo at the center. Jessica had given us maps of El Fuerte, so it was easy to walk to the fort. The fort was constructed in 1610 under the order of the Viceroy of Montesclaros. We took pictures and hurried back for breakfast.

We returned to the Torres del Fuerte and walked through the lovely courtyard by the outside lounge area and into the dining room: papaya, watermelon, coffee, fresh orange juice, Mexican eggs, bacon, potato pancake and special toast.

It was not far to the train station. Bags were unloaded and we joined about 20 people waiting for the Chihuahua al Pacifico Railroad. A local boy carried my bag to the dock. Jessica gave us good maps of the train route and of the general area called Sierra Tarahumara, Barrancas del Cobre. We had assigned seats on the train but there were few passengers so we soon went wherever we wished. Favorite spots were a table in the dining car and standing on the platforms between the train cars. Those were the best viewing spots. Jessica pointed out typical plants of the thorn scrub: Kapok Tree, Palo Verde, Morning Glory Tree, Organpipe Cactus and Acacia. Many bridges and tunnels through spectacular mountains kept us on the platforms between the trains most of the time.

We got off the train at Bahuichivo Station. Our bags were loaded into a large van for the ride to the Hotel Paraiso del Oso (Paradise of the Bear). Located at kilometer 12 route 51 between Bahuichivo Station and Cerocahui, the lodge is in the Huetoibo Valley, Ejido de Cerocahui, Municipio de Urique, State of Chihuahua at an elevation of 5648 feet. Doug “Diego” Rhodes and Anna María Chavez de Rhodes own the 2.5 acre lodge and a 23 acre Rancho with horses. The theme is built around the enormous rock feature shaped like Yogi Bear, thus the name Paraiso del Oso.

Later, we went for a ride to Cerocahui. Diego picked up a family who were walking the road and then continued to the church where people were gathering for a posada because it was Christmas Eve. We looked into the church then walked about the town, bought food to take to a family, and returned to the plaza in front of the church to watch children trying to hit a piñata.

After a ride home, a few minutes of rest, a fire in the wood stove thanks to Jenny, we were off to the lodge for “ponche” (hot Christmas punch) and dinner. We were invited to a Midnight Mass with traditional dancing, but we were too tired and went to bed instead. Christmas Eve had been a delight.

My Copper Canyon Adventure — Day 1

Friends and Memories to Last a Lifetime

The following story was submitted to us by Kay Gililand who describes her experience traveling with friends through Mexico’s Copper Canyon during the Christmas holidays. Here, Kay re-unites with her traveling companions and remembers an important rule-of-thumb when flying internationally.

The California Native is always thrilled to have groups of friends join our trips to this charming region of Mexico. We appreciate it when our guests share their stories with us and we like to add them to our blog for everyone to enjoy. Excerpts from her journal will be posted regularly, so check back often to learn more about Kay’s 11-day Copper Canyon Adventure.

December 23, TuesdayHotel Torres del Fuerte near Mexico's Copper Canyon.

It is 12:30 A. M. and I am still packing for the trip. To bed finally before the alarm rings at 6:00 am. Up to pack last-minute things and wheel my bag down to Vincent, our van. Rhea drove to Laurie Sheldon’s house and she was all ready so off we went. As Rhea pulled into the Oakland Airport, Laurie said, “We’ll get more stamps on our passports.” “Passport? Passport! I forgot my passport!” I cried. I jumped out, checked my bag at the airport, got back in the car and Rhea drove me lickety split back home. I grabbed my passport and Rhea got me back to the airport.

The plane left and we were in Los Angeles by 10:30 A. M. Sally and Bill Stanton were at the gate so we had fun talking and catching up. The plane was scheduled to leave at 1:30 P. M. We met Jessica Jerman, our tour guide.

We are finally off on an enormous plane with the three of us seated together. Then onto an EMB-145 (whatever that is) for the flight. Aduana (customs) was a snap.

We introduced ourselves along the way. Jessica’s parents are in Wisconsin; her mother made the cookies we enjoyed during the wait in the Los Angeles Airport—very rich and delicious. Jessica studied Spanish in college and has lived in Chile. She came to the Copper Canyon area nine years ago, worked at various jobs in the nearby towns and then started with The California Native. She has been one of their guides for three years.

We arrived at the Hotel Torres del Fuerte. I should have brought my hiking poles and my binoculars. I would have been better off with my daypack instead of my purse. And of course I will never forget my passport again!

Our Trip to Mexico’s Copper Canyon

We received this e-mail today from Janice and Greg Druian, of Terrebornne, Oregon, who have just returned from our 11-day Ultimate Copper Canyon Tour:

Greg and I have only been back two days, but we are convinced this is one of the best trips we have ever taken (the 11-day Copper Canyon guided tour).

We generally avoid tours, wanting to explore on our own. But we never could have arranged a trip like this…the sites were so carefully chosen; each lodge was not only unique but chosen so that we could experience the diversity of the area. Obviously care and attention was paid to the quality of the food (it ranged from very good to outstanding), And the choice of excursions allowed us in such a short period of time to get a really intimate glimpse of the culture, the terrain, and the history of this area.

As a guide, Jessica Jerman is outstanding. She had a wonderful balance between control (you have to get 13 people going in the same direction) and patience (inevitably there are a lot of personalities, styles and interests). She never seemed frustrated by our different requests or expectations. (I am not sure I could have been as patient.) She modeled wonderful behavior in her interactions with a wide range of people…giving us a role model for our own interactions.

We are definitely recommending this tour to our friends.

Janice M. Druian
Fine Art by Janice Drurian

People Love Traveling with The California Native

The California Native is grateful to have comments from those who have traveled with us. We like to read about our guest’s experiences and have added this column to share their insights. Here, you can read first-hand from those who made the right choice to travel with The California Native.

Larry & Linda Emerson’s recent trip to the Copper Canyon was a success! Here’s what they had to say:

“We just returned from our 11-day trip to Copper Canyon with Rob Aikins. We wanted to let you know that we thoroughly enjoyed the trip. The overnight accommodations were distinctive and varied. The itinerary was also varied and well thought-out. We packed a lot of wonderful places and activities into a relatively short period of time without ever feeling rushed. And we appreciated the small size of our group and the fact that, much of the time, we were well away from the main tourist track.

“Rob [the guide] was terrific. He worked hard to accommodate everyone’s needs and desires and facilitated the bonding of 8 very different personalities into a cohesive group of travelers. Rob is clearly well-liked and respected by the local folks in all of the communities we visited, and he sweated the details of the trip so that none of us had to. We very much appreciate all the hard work he put into ensuring that we all had a wonderful, memorable trip.”

Larry & Linda Emerson
Bishop, CA

In Southeast Asia, the New Year Begins in April

During Songkran, the Southeast Asian New Year, people cruise the street in pickup trucks loaded with kids throwing water.
Chauffeured by their parents, kids
patrol the streets with buckets and
water guns, soaking all in range.

While our year begins on January 1, in Southeast Asia the year begins on April 13.  This is the first day of Songkran, also known as the “Water Festival” and the celebrations last for three days. Songkran celebrates the vernal equinox and is a favorite holiday in Thailand, Myanmar (Burma), Laos and Cambodia.

It’s a time for fun, especially if you’re a kid, and in the villages and towns, people in pickup trucks slowly cruise the streets, their truck beds loaded with kids equipped with buckets of water and “Super Soaker” water guns.  Water is constantly flying and everyone is wet, but nobody minds, since this is the hottest time of the year. In one city I watched the local kids and police fighting it out with squirt guns.

Soaking wet California Native founder, Lee Klein, pedals his rickshaw back into the melee of Songkran's Water Festival.
Soaking wet California Native
founder, Lee Klein, pedals his
rickshaw back into the melee of
Songkran’s Water Festival.

During the time of Songkran, many community events and parades are held, both secular and religious, including the Miss Songkran beauty pageant. It also is a traditional time for family gatherings.

As a tourist, it is a wet but great time to visit.

Costa Rica Rivers Rock for Rafting

For many people, no tour of Costa Rica would be complete without a thrilling rafting trip on one of the country’s beautiful jungle rivers. Costa Rica’s rivers are perfect for both beginners and experienced rafters. With ample annual rainfall, mountainous landscapes, and plenty of road-to-river access, the country prides itself on being a whitewater paradise. To top it off, Costa Rica has warm weather year round.

Your rafting adventure begins when you are met at your hotel in San Jose and driven to the outpost for a delicious breakfast. Then it’s on to the river’s edge where your equipment is issued and adjusted for a proper fit. There, you receive safety instructions and tips for basic paddling strokes. Safety is always at the forefront during any tours hosted by The California Native and the guides are experienced professionals with extensive knowledge of navigation, river rescue, and first aid.Whitewater rafting on Costa Rica tour

The Reventazon River is great for beginners and intermediate rafters. It is also perfect for those curious about the sport who want to experience the sensation of bobbing downstream, through magnificent rainforest, and experiencing the thrill of exciting—but not too scary—whitewater rapids.

For those who want even more adventure, the Pacuare River is your best bet. Chock full of expert-level rapids, the Pacuare is a world-famous run guaranteed to get the pulse pounding. Flowing toward the Atlantic, the 14-mile section winds through the jungle giving you plenty of opportunities to spot parrots, toucans, monkeys, and butterflies. But be sure not to take your eyes off the water for too long, because the Class I – V rapids are best viewed from inside the boat rather than out. If you do become separated from your seat, don’t panic, the guide will be quick to fish you back on board.

For those who can’t get enough, The California Native offers a 2-day option where guests are able to overnight on the Pacuare at a comfortable riverside lodge. There is no better way to relax from a day of paddling than to be lulled by the sounds of river while looking forward to another day of whitewater rapid transit. On the second day, more rapids with names like ‘Two Mountains’ and ‘Cimmaron’ (translated from Spanish as wild) lay downstream ready to challenge you and your crew mates. Back at the outpost, hot showers and a warm lunch await you before you are driven back to San Jose.

So grab your river-runner sandals, join The California Native on a Costa Rica Adventure, and come aboard!

Sun and Snow in Mexico

The question most frequently asked by guests going on trips with The California Native to Mexico’s Copper Canyon or the Yucatan is, “What weather can I can expect?”

Having an idea of what the weather will be makes it much easier to pack. For those going to the Yucatan, packing is easy. Lightweight clothing (preferably from natural fibers), light-colors (they reflect the sun’s rays), and a  wide-brimmed hat (to protect your face and ears from the sun). And, of course, don’t forget your swim-suit!

If you are traveling to Copper Canyon, predicting the weather is a bit more difficult.  Mexico has three climate zones, tropical, temperate and cold, and the Copper Canyon tours traverse all three of them.

Upon arrival in the town of El Fuerte (around sea level), you can expect temps in the 70’s even in January. This changes dramatically as you climb high into the Sierra Madre Mountains to the town of Creel where elevations around 6500 feet can cool the air considerably. Expect frost in the early mornings from mid-October through the middle of March. It may even snow. Dress in layers. Avoid taking bulky overcoats—a comfortable jacket on a couple layers of long sleeves or a sweater should suffice. Don’t forget a pair of gloves. In the winter, if the day is sunny, you can expect the air to be mild (highs in the low 60’s). Don’t get too acclimated to the chillier air because from Creel, an excursion to the town of Batopilas in the bottom of the canyon brings you back to the heat of Mexico. It is a fact that the folks who live in Batopilas only acknowledge three seasons; summer, fall, and spring.

As winter approaches, people in the United States and Canada look to Mexico as a top vacation spot to escape the cold. Providing  respite from the temperatures in the higher latitudes, Mexico has long been a sun-lover’s paradise.  From the splendid heat and humidity of the Yucatan Peninsula, to the coastal climate at the tranquil town of La Paz, Mexico is renown for short sleeves, sandals, and sunscreen. But this time of year is also the perfect time to visit the wonders of Copper Canyon, with its scenery, cultural diversity and wide range of temperatures for everyone to enjoy.

Run With the California Natives

The Tarahumara Indians are purported to be the world’s greatest runners,

Tarahumara runner in Mexico's Copper Canyon
Tarahumara runner in
Mexico’s Copper Canyon

running up and down the rugged canyons of their homeland, in Mexico’s remote Sierra Madre Mountains. The Tarahumara run for transportation and sport, and villages often compete against each other in races which last for several days. The area is commonly known as Copper Canyon, and its unique scenery and cave-dwelling inhabitants make it a favorite destination for active tourists looking to get off the beaten path.

The California Native has been running Copper Canyon tours for more than two decades, but the Tarahumara aren’t the only runners associated with the company. Several members of California Native’s staff are also avid runners.

The company’s founder and president, Lee Klein, began running two weeks before his 61st birthday. He has since competed in eleven marathons and is now training for his 12th.

Lee’s wife, Ellen, who also serves as California Native’s destination scout and researcher, is a race-walker and has completed five marathons, countless half-marathons, 5k and 10k races.

Lori Klein-Del Rosario, Lee’s daughter, who has guided California Native trips for almost twenty years, began running last year and completed her first marathon in June. She is now training for more races and is mentoring new runners.

In addition to running, California Native staff members participate in many other outdoor sports. Laurie Kraft, California Native’s Operations Manager, is an avid swimmer, while Jason Hall, California Native Tour Coordinator, can often be found surfing the waves at Malibu (after all, we are the California Native).

California Native founder, Lee Klein, at Long Beach CA Marathon. California Native scout, Ellen Klein, at Long Beach CA Marathon. California Natives Lori Klein-DelRosario, Ellen Klein, and Lee Klein, at El Segundo CA 5k race.
Lee at Long Beach CA Marathon Ellen at Long Beach CA Marathon Lori, Lee, and Ellen at El Segundo CA 5k race

Images of the World: The Children

This is the second in our series of Images of the World taken over the course of the last twenty-five years since the founding of The California Native.

In Mexico’s Copper Canyon, a Tarahumara girl carries her baby sister on her back. In Mexico's Copper Canyon, a Tarahumara girl carries her baby sister on her back.
In Chilean Patagonia youngsters demonstrate traditional dances. In Chilean Patagonia youngsters demonstate traditional dances.
In a remote Laotian village, near the Mekong River, villagers wear traditonal clothing. A young student in a remote Laotian village wears traditonal clothing.
Young monks eating their once-a-day meal in a monastery in Myanmar (Burma). Young monks eating at monastery in Myanmar (Burma)
Boys from a small Laotian village have fun swimming in a tributary of the Mekong River. Boys swimming in tributary of Mekong River.
A mother selling produce in a market stall keeps her baby safe in a cardboard box, in China’s Yunan Province. Lady with baby in a cardboard box in Yunan, China.
In Laos, a boy carries his little brother while his friend balances a ball. In Laos, a boy carries his little brother while his friend balances a ball.
Three young boys, in the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan, pose for us on their way home from school. In Bhutan, three young boys on their way to school.

Images of the World: The Weavers

Over the more than 25 years that The California Native has been traveling the world, we have accumulated a large gallery of photos that we have taken around the globe. I thought it might be fun if we arranged a series of them by subject. So here is the first in our series of Images of the World.

I took this photo of a Tarahumara lady with a shy smile, weaving a basket in Mexico’s Copper Canyon. In Mexico's Copper Canyon, a Tarahumara lady weaves a basket.
A weaver in Thailand concentrates on her work in spite of the tourist (my wife) taking her photo. A village lady in Thailand, weaves cloth while a tourist takes a photo.
In a small village in the Mexican state of Chiapas, a pretty young girl laughs as she weaves. In Mexico's state of Chiapas, a smiling lady weaves hand-made cloth.
A man in the remote Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan, prepares fiber for weaving. In the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, a man prepares fiber for weaving.
In Myanmar (Burma), a member of the Long Neck Paduang, a sub-group of the Karen hill tribes, is not inconvenienced by the neck rings she has worn since her youth. In Myanmar (Burma), a tribal lady weaves cloth.