Had a great time in Copper Canyon!

We appreciate it when our guests share their stories with us and allow us to post them on our blog. Recently, Ted McGrath who lives in Vancouver, Canada, returned from our California Native adventure in Copper Canyon and wrote:

California Native sent Rob Aikins from San Diego as our guide, Rob was excellent. Great personality, loaded with local knowledge, an awesome wit and ability to deal calmly and politely with any off the wall situations. Rob spoke perfect Spanish and at every stop knew just about everyone we met. He worked diligently to make our trip a seamless time where all we had to do was enjoy the experience while he attended to the detail of herding cats. He left nothing to chance!

El Fuerte
Hotel Torres del Fuerte has big rooms, high ceilings, air conditioning, bottled water, wi-fi in the hotel lobby area. Each of the 25 rooms decorated uniquely. Nice large inner courtyard. Lets call the place “charming”.

El Fuerte to Divisadero
The train ride from El Fuerte to Divisdearo was as awesome a train ride as one can find. The ride through the canyon has to be seen to be appreciated. 86 tunnels, 36 bridges with interesting rock formations. The train was great. Air conditioned, good seating and the meal at lunch very tasty.

Tarahumara woman at Lake Arareko
A Tarahumara woman is selling baskets and small items at the shore of Lake Arareko.

The Hotel Mirador at Divisadero sits right on the edge of Urique Canyon and the view is stunning. We took a gondola ride across the canyon where three of the main Copper Canyon complex of canyons join – cool!

Divisadero to Creel
From Divisadero, the train on to Creel is not as scenic. The hotel (Best Western Creel) has nice rustic western themed public space. One could think you were on vacation in Montana–western themed rooms too.

Creel to Batopilas
After one night in Creel we departed to Batopilas. Along the way we stopped at a Tarahumara cave home, and then two stops at unique rock formations. One with “mushroom” like outcroppings and one (the valley of the monks) with a proliferation of tall (really tall!) rounded rocks. About noon we stopped at a roadside home for a classy picnic lunch.

In Batopilas we walked to Mision Del Sataveo. On the way to the mision we stopped at a Tarahumara school and handed out school supplies and visited the nearby cemetery. We also visited the local museum in Batopilas and the crumbling previous property (Hacienda) of a silver mining company.

Batopilas to Creel
On the return trip to Creel we stopped again at the roadside home for lunch and went to the waterfall near Cusarare. Nice diversion, neat waterfall.

Ruins of the Shepherd Hacienda in Batopilas.
Ruins of the Shepherd Hacienda in Batopilas, at the bottom of Mexico’s Copper Canyon. It was once one of the richest silver mining cities in the world.

Creel to Chihuahua
After leaving Creel for Chihuahua we stopped at a Mennonite home for lunch. There’s a huge Mennonite presence in Chihuahua state, they are very successful farmers and it shows in their opulent homes and ample modern farm implements. On the drive into Chihuahua we passed many fields of apple orchards. The state is the major apple growing region in Mexico. Arrived in Chihuahua around 2:30 pm, checked into the lovely Holiday Inn & Suites in Centro. Next we were given an introductory tour of the city centre–the Zocalo, cathedral and drive by Hidalgo’s museum and a gorgeous early 20th century home now belonging to the University of Chihuahua (Mansion ‘Quinta Gameros’). This was the end of the California Native tour except for a farewell dinner at a Centro restaurant, El Retablo.

The group left for El Paso the next day.

Ted McGrath
Vancouver Canada

Where Else Can I Travel With The California Native?

We appreciate it when our guests share their stories with us and allow us to post them on our blog. Jim Whilden, from Bethleham, Pennsylvania, just returned from his Yucatan Adventure and had this to report:

Everything worked exactly as it should have. It is always great to be met at the airport by someone who is expecting you and can speak your language! When that occurs the trip is always great. Our guide even seemed glad to see us.

Guillermo, the guide, was superb! He not only explained the tourist sites but answered every question about Mexico’s government, areas, culture, language, etc. He helped us find things we read about in our guide books.

Uxmal, Valladolid, Campeche were wonderful. I loved clinbing the pyramid steps.

The trip really included everything—even specialty shops (ice cream in Merida). The hotels were wonderful and the food was great, especially in the small restaurants and cafes.

Where else can I travel with The California Native?

James G. Whildin, Jr.

It's a long way down from the top of a Mayan pyramid
It's a long way down from the top of a Mayan pyramid on a California Native adventure in Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula.
Mayan Ruins at Uxmal
The Nunnery Quadrangle, at the ruins of Uxmal, was named by a 16th-century Spanish priest because it reminded him of a convent in Spain. It may have been a military academy, royal school or palace complex.

Do You Know the Way to San Jose?

San Jose, Costa Rica, that is. San Jose is located in Costa Rica’s central valley and is the nation’s capital. It is the starting place for our California Native Costa Rica Adventures.

Located at the center of the Americas, between Nicaragua and Panama, Costa Rica has become one of the world’s most popular destinations for Eco-tourism due to its fantastic biodiversity—it may contain as many as 6% of the world’s plant and animal species, and its friendly people. It is a delightfully peaceful little country which constitutionally abolished its army more than sixty years ago.

From its rain forests to its volcanoes and beaches it is a wonderful country to explore and we have been introducing people to Costa Rica for more than a quarter of a century. Our Nature Explorer Tours combine the best features of a guided tour with the flexibility of independent travel. We arrange everything just for you, so you can depart on any date. The tours are designed to maximize your time exploring the natural beauty of the country. Whether you want to raft down a thrilling jungle river or relax in a hammock it is all there for you. Please join us.

California Natives rafting in Costa Rica
California Native zip lining over the canopy in a Costa Rican rainforest.
Monkey in Costa Rica rain forest

Additional Date Added for Our Copper Canyon 8-day Special Tour

Due to the popularity of our Copper Canyon Tours, we occasionally find the need to add additional dates. Last month we added another date for our 11-day Ultimate Tour in October and this week we are adding an additional 8-day Special Tour to our Fall schedule.

Tarahumara Weaver in Mexico's Copper Canyon
In Mexico's Copper Canyon a young Tarahumara lady smiles as she weaves a basket.
Our newly scheduled 8-day trip begins on October 16th and returns home on the 23rd.

This exciting trip is similar to our 7-day Classic Tour but adds the adventure of traveling from Creel down to the village of Batopilas in the canyon bottom. During our two-night stay in Batopilas, we hike or ride to the “Lost Cathedral” and explore the many sights of this unique little town where time seems to have stopped in the 19th century. The itinerary of the trip is as follows:

October 16: We fly to the city of Los Mochis, then travel to the small colonial city of El Fuerte, where we spend the night and begin our Copper Canyon Adventure.

October 17: In the morning we board the first-class Copper Canyon train and travel up into the Sierra Madre Mountains, passing through 86 tunnels and crossing 37 bridges. This is one of the most spectacular train rides in the Western Hemisphere. After lunch we arrive at Divisadero and stay at a picturesque lodge located right on the edge of the canyon. Here we make our first contacts with the cave-dwelling Tarahumara Indians. In the afternoon we hike along the canyon rim for magnificent views. Dinner is at the lodge’s dining room, with its majestic view of the canyon.

October 18: After breakfast we hike to Tarahumara caves and spectacular canyon views. Usually our guides can make arrangements with the Indians to put on demonstrations of their famous foot races and folk dances. In the afternoon we board the train for the ride to Creel, a lumber town high in the Sierra Madre Mountains, where we spend the night.

October 19: We travel from Creel to the little town of Batopilas. We pass through mountains and valleys, and after reaching the Tarahumara community of Kirare we head down the long, winding dirt road that leads to the bottom of the canyon. We spend the next two nights in a charming little Mexican hotel in this village that seems suspended in time somewhere in the nineteenth century.

October 20: We hike or ride to the “Lost Cathedral” of Satevo and explore the area surrounding Batopilas.

October 21: Today we return to Creel. En route we hike to Cusarare Falls and a cave with petroglyphs.

October 22: Traveling to the city of Chihuahua, we stop at a Mennonite settlement for a homemade lunch, arriving in the afternoon at our deluxe hotel. After checking in we tour the city of Chihuahua—the State Capital with its murals, the State Museum and the home of Pancho Villa. This evening we enjoy our traditional farewell banquet.

October 23: We travel by van from Chihuahua to El Paso where we fly home, sad to leave but returning home with wonderful memories of this remote area of Mexico and the unique people who make it their home.

What’s included: These trips are fully escorted by our experienced bilingual guides. The price includes transportation and accommodations: one night in El Fuerte, one night in Divisadero, two nights in Creel, two nights in Batopilas and one night in Chihuahua; excursions, tips and most meals. Round-trip airfare from Los Angeles, Phoenix or El Paso is also included. Check with us for discounted air rates from other U.S. and Canadian cities.

Price per person (double occupancy): $2520

Space is limited to 14 passengers, so please join us now!

Exploring the Glaciers of Patagonia

Visitors get up close and personal with a glacier in an ice field in PatagoniaWhat is blue, white, frosty and cold? If you guessed a type of drink, try again! It is a glacier in Patagonia, and there are hundreds of them to see. The California Native scouting team was on our third trip to explore the area in March. This time we are developing a new itinerary for our adventures not only in Patagonia (Chile and Argentina) but also in other areas of the two countries.

California Native scouts, Lee and Ellen Klein, enjoy glacier in Straits of MagellanIn the first of three weeks of travel in the region, we were able to set foot on Cape Horn (as far south as you can get without being in Antarctica), hiked an island in the Straits of Magellan, crunched our way up an ice field fjord in a zodiac, trekked in Torres del Paine National Park in the shadows of the snow-capped towers, visited the largest and the longest glaciers in Argentina, and even hiked up the glacier itself (crampons on!).

And, that was just our first week! There is a lot of excitement to be had in this region, and The California Native is constantly adding adventures so that you can join us in experiencing these wonders. Stay tuned for more on Patagonia and Argentina.

Tequila, or Not Tequila, That Is The Question

In Copper Canyon, a California Native group tastes tequilaWe’ve spent an exciting day exploring the remote regions of Mexico’s Copper Canyon, and as sunset repaints the canyon walls, what better way to usher in the evening than with a cool refreshing margarita? Contreau or triple-sec, lime juice, ice, and, most important, tequila. But how much do we really know about this delightfully intoxicating beverage?

Before the arrival of the Spaniards, fermented sap from the Maguey plant was extracted into a beverage known as ‘pulque.’ Pulque holds the esteem of being North America’s first distilled drink. Aside from that, origins of the liquor seem as ethereal as the effects it produces. Tequila branches from this phantom lineage by way of a small town with the same name in the state of Jalisco. In the ancient Nuahatl language, “tequila” translates to “place of the plant harvest” and represents the relationship between the region and the raw material—the Blue Agave.

There are over 130 species of agave. However, only one variety is used in the production of tequila according to standards set by the Mexican government. That variety is the Blue Agave, or Agave Tequilana Weber Azul. A common misconception is that tequila is made from a cactus. The Agave is actually closer in relation to succulents like the Lily or the Amaryllis even though it looks spiky in appearance. Only the hearts of the plant are used in distillation while the thick leaves are processed into fiber. Other varieties may be used in the formulation of tequila’s kindred spirit Mezcal, but only the Blue Agave is used to distill tequila. Mature agave at the time of harvest can grow 5 to 8 feet tall, span 7 to 12 feet across and, although not a cactus, can live up to 15 years!

Another myth infusing the agave spirits of tequila and mezcal turns over the worm. Drinkers and non-drinkers alike recognize the connection. However, like all things Tequila, origins of this curious practice of adding worms to bottles survives mostly as folklore, even though many believe it is more marketing strategy than authentic Mexican Tradition. In fact, only Mezcal carries the worm, this again due to the Mexican standards authority, Norma Oficial Mexicana (NOM). The worms are the thoroughly pickled larvae of the moth species Hypopta Agavis and, although not found in higher-priced bottles of Mezcal, are believed to enhance the flavor as well as act as an aphrodisiac. Viewed as a delicacy by many in Mexico, the Gusano Rojo (Red Worm) and the Gusano Blanco (White Worm) are safe to eat, even if their properties and histories are debatable.

Knowing tequila is not cactus and has no worm, it now comes down to the matter of taste. Tequilas divide into three groups agreed upon by aficionados in the industry. Like many beverages, Tequilas are classified according to their age. Blanco (white), also referred to as Plata (silver), is the youngest of the three types. Tequila Blanco is aged less than two months and is distinguished through its abrasive flavor. Also identified in this category is Tequila Oro (gold). This is a blend of the young Tequila Blanco and a more-aged variety, often mixed with coloring to resemble older vintages. Second of the three classes is Tequila Reposado (rested). This mid-aged tequila is known for its peppery aftertaste and has an age greater than two months but less than one year. The third and final variety is Tequila Anejo (aged). Tequila Anejo mellows for a period between one year and three years and finishes smoother on the palate as a result.

Aside from these distinctions, the sky (or the floor) is the limit. From the heart of the agave all the way to expensive, individually-numbered collectable keepsake bottles, the taste of tequila really boils down to the spirit of personal preference. Sipping, shooting, mixing or just plain drinking are all part of the charm bottled in this passionate product from Mexico. Curious connoisseurs searching for the flavor that suits best may even find themselves, suitcase in hand, bouncing across the border for a measure of Mezcal complete with worm. No matter how it’s served, the taste as well as the mystery surrounding this potent potable are sure to leave any traveler thirsting for more of Mexico.

A Whale of a Time in Baja

Our tiny boat bounced as the giant whale broke the water’s surface and rested close enough for us to touch. As she breached, the cameras clicked furiously. Our skipper pointed to more enormous whales—they were all around us!

Visitors pet a baby California Gray Whale in Magdalena BayAfter a summer spent in the frigid waters of the Chukchi and Bering Seas, feasting on immense quantities of small crustaceans, the California Gray Whales begin their annual migration south to Mexico’s Baja California. Swimming 5000 miles along the North American coast, they arrive in the warm, protected bays to breed, give birth, and rear their infants.

During the long southbound journey the whales court and mate. After a gestation period of thirteen months a female whale gives birth to her calf. Newborn Grays are about 15 feet long and can weigh up to 1500 pounds!

A California Gray Whale raises his head to take a look in Baja's Magdalena Bay

Another female, called an “auntie,” often assists the mother with her calf, so the whales are often spotted in groups of three. The calf nurses on its mother’s milk, ten times richer than cow’s milk. By swimming against the current in the lagoon, the young whale builds up its muscles, and by Spring it is fat (around 3000 pounds), mature (at least 19 feet long), and ready for the long northward journey.

One area the whales prefer is Magdalena Bay. This narrow section of calm waters between the coast of Baja and Magdalena Island may harbor fewer gray whales than other lagoons, but here they are densely congregated, creating a wonderful place to watch them swim and play.

A California Gray Whale dives tail up into Baja's Magdalena BayEasily accessible from La Paz and Loreto, Lopez Mateos and San Carlos are two coastal towns where pangas, small motor boats, depart for whale watching. Skimming along the water with frigate birds soaring overhead and whales breaching in every direction is an unforgettable experience.

Magdalena Bay is also home to a variety of fish and shellfish, as well as bottlenose dolphins. In the dense thickets of mangroves, which dominate Magdalena Island, many species of birds can be found. A pack of coyotes inhabits the island, and from the boat they can be seen on the beach feasting on fish which they have learned to eat as they adapt to island life.

An invigorating boat trip like this is sure to build up a whale-sized appetite. Returning to shore, the day concludes by feasting on freshly-caught local seafood at one of the nearby restaurants. Baja offers many activities and is also an excellent gateway for tours to Copper Canyon.

Fruit: Fresh and Fancy in Costa Rica

Costa Rica has always been known as an excellent destination for the outdoor adventurer or bird watcher. Another attraction to this peaceful, central American country is the fact that Costa Rica is a fruit-lover’s paradise. Having a warm tropical climate year round makes Costa Rica a perfect place for growing a wide variety of fruits. Fresh pineapples, tree-ripe bananas, and delicious coconuts are just a few of the delicacies to be enjoyed there. Add buttery papayas and juicy mangoes to the list and you’ve got a true Costa Rican fruit cocktail. Many of these fruits you can readily find in supermarkets across the U. S. (and there is a good chance that many of them come from Costa Rica) but some of the more exotic fruits require a passport to taste.

Included among these exotic fruits are Mamones, Tamarindo, and Pejibayes. Curious names for equally curious tastes, these gems highlight the diversity of fruit-filled Costa Rica.

Mamones Chinos (mem-MO-nays), or Chinese Suckers, are pit fruits whose skins are covered with soft red spines. You may have heard them called by the name lychee. Lychees or Mamones Chinos are slightly sweet, not very acidic, and have a chewy texture similar to that of a peeled grape. Their subtle flavor is addictive. The spiny skins are fun to peel into and resemble the seed pod of a Gum tree. Sold in big bags by street vendors, Mamones have unique taste that is not soon forgotten.

Another Costa Rican delicacy comes from the seed pod of the Tamarind tree. Tamarindo looks like a pea pod that you might find in a salad or a stir fry, except they are fuzzy on the outside like a Kiwi or a the skin of a fuzzy peach. Inside the pod, the seeds are sticky and pasty and too bitter to eat. However, if you soak the seeds in hot water you can extract the flavor.  Even then, the mixture may have too strong a flavor, but if a simple syrup is added to sweeten the mixture and then the beverage is poured over ice, the fresh tamarindo drink becomes a refreshing treat similar in flavor and texture to apple juice.

The Pejibaye is probably one of the strangest fruits to be tasted in Costa Rica. Pronounced pay hee bah jay, this palm fruit tastes like a cross between potato and coconut. The Pejibaye is similar in size to a pecan and contains a hard pit that needs to be removed before eating. Like the tamarindo, the pejibaye is prepared by boiling the fruit in water.  Locals often serve the fruit with a dollop of mayonnaise and a cup of hot coffee. This exotic flavor is hearty.

Join us on a vacation in Costa Rica: adventure, fun, good food, and last but not least, fruit as fine as any in the world.

The Hills Are Alive in Costa Rica!

There is nothing like standing at a safe distance while watching glowing-hot boulders being pitched into the night sky.

California Native tour group poses by Costa Rica's Arenal Volcano
California Native tour group poses by Costa Rica’s Arenal Volcano

The Arenal Volcano, situated near the town of La Fortuna, rises nearly 4,200 feet above the surrounding landscape, making it visible from almost anywhere. Arenal is the youngest and most active of all of Costa Rica’s volcanoes. Major eruptions occured in 1968 and 2000, but smaller eruptions happen more frequently–and on some days as frequent as every 15 to 20 minutes. Belting out its thunderous boom, the Arenal is a highlight for visitors touring the country.Costa Rica, located at the center of the America’s along the Pacific Ring of Fire, has five active volcanoes.

The Poas Volcano, located near the crafts-town of Sarchi, rises 8,884 feet above sea-level and is home to an impressive array of flora and fauna. The main crater is 950 feet deep and quite active with steaming geysers and frequent lava eruptions. At Poas, the last significant eruptions occured during the time between 1952 to 1954.

The California Native offers tours of Costa Rica which visit both of these living reminders of the raging powers beneath our feet.

Another Happy Copper Canyon Traveler

My friend and I went to Copper Canyon on February 24, 2009.  Only now do I find the time to tell you what a wonderful this trip was. For us this was the ideal way to travel. You made all the arrangements and we did the rest. The organization was absolutely flawless. The hotels were great, especially the Torres del Fuerte and, of course, the Hotel Mirador in Divisadero.  You encouraged us to take 2 days there, and what a great idea that was. Even though we were late arriving in Los Mochis, our taxi was waiting to drive us to to El Fuerte. My thought was, “this is the one thing I did not want to do, drive in the dark in Mexico.” It turned out that the taxi driver was cautious and competent and put us both at ease. I think our favorite town was El Fuerte. It was great that we had 2 nights in several locations. It made for relaxed traveling and a chance to really walk around. The voucher system worked very well.  We could chose wherever we wanted to eat and had the chance to sample several restaurants.

A real treat is the fact that there were no TVs in all the hotels, except for one. That was the Best Western in Creel. We turned on the news and  turned it off fairly quickly. We were on vacation!

The train ride was all we were hoping for. Since we were only 2 people, we stayed most of the time in the bar car of the train, talked to many people and looked out of the big, clean windows. We had a ball. We took the train to Divisadero, stayed there for 2 nights and went to Creel. The ride from Creel to El Fuerte was just right. I was glad we did not stay on the train any longer.

I have read letters from your clients and all the good things they said about you were true for us. It helps to speak Spanish when you are on your own, but you made it very easy to get around. In Batopilas we ate at Mika’s. Great stuff! Our driver Arturo told us colorful stories about this magic town and made us feel less like tourists.

We thank you very much and hope to hook up with you again. Thanks for all your help.

Ingrid Lewin
San Diego, CA