We appreciate it when our guests share their stories with us and allow us to post them on our blog. Mary Fitzgerald, from Malibu, CA, wrote us this short letter about her adventure with us in the Copper Canyon:
As a veteran traveler I have worked with many tour guides, some more adept than others, but none more earnest and attentive than [The California Native guide] Rob. Being far the oldest member of our travel group I had some concern about keeping up with the rest. Rob was always there to be of support when needed, but never offensively obvious.
This young man has an astounding fund of knowledge about almost everything, and he had a thorough answer for the endless questions our group posed. In addition, when situations arose that might provoke anxiety, Rob had a quiet way of taking charge to reassure us. This is the art of leadership.
Tour leading is not an easy task. One must be all things to all travelers, and relentlessly pleasant, no matter how trying. Rob did an excellent job. I found him to be very well qualified, and would travel with him again.
In Barkhor Square in the old section of Lhasa, Tibet, is the Jokhang Temple where Buddhist monks resided for almost a thousand years. For most Tibetans it is the most sacred and important temple in Tibet. The temple’s architectural style is a mixture of Indian Vihara, Chinese Tang Dynasty, and Nepalese.
First constructed by King Songtsän Gampo around the year 642, it was originally called the Rasa Tulnang Tsuklakang or The House of Mysteries, The Magical Emanation at Rasa (the early name for Lhasa). It is home to a large and very important collection of about eight hundred metal sculptures including Jowo Buddha, a statue that is said to have been blessed by the Buddha himself, as well as thousands of painted scrolls, known as thangkas.
Despite attacks in past centuries by the Mongols, and in more recent times by the radical Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution, the building survived and the temple complex was expanded. It now covers an area of about 6 acres.
The California Native has been leading tours to exotic destinations for more than 30 years and people are always asking us to name some of our favorites. One of them is this wonderful journey which begins in Beijing, China, travels through Tibet and hits its high point at Mount Everest Base Camp at the top of the world. California Native’s own Lee and Ellen Klein recently revisited this adventure which now includes a visit to Lhasa and the Jokhang Temple.
We appreciate it when our guests share their stories with us and allow us to post them on our blog. Bob & Ginnie Thurler, from Brooklyn Park, MN, wrote us this short letter about their adventure with us in the Copper Canyon:
We recently returned from your Ultimate 11-Day tour of the Copper Canyon. We both agree that this was by far the greatest vacation we have been on. Everything about the tour was first class and much more than we had expected it to be. This was the first guided trip we have ever been on. The guide did everything he could so that we were always informed of the days events, times and places, which we liked. We now have so much knowledge about the history of this area especially the people. As I stated before, this was our first guided tour and we both agree that it would be pretty difficult for anyone to top.
One of the most recognizable symbols of China is the Great Wall, which actually consists of numerous walls and fortifications, many running parallel to each other. Emperor Qin Shi Huang (c. 259-210 B.C.) originally conceived the wall as a means of preventing intrusion from barbarian nomads into the Chinese Empire. The Great Wall is one of the most extensive construction projects ever completed.
The Great Wall visible today largely dates from the Ming dynasty, when much of the wall was rebuilt in stone and brick, and portions were extended through challenging terrain. Some sections still remain in relatively good condition or have been renovated, while others have been damaged or destroyed, deconstructed for their building materials, or lost due to the ravages of time. For long an object of fascination for foreigners, the wall is now a revered national symbol and a popular tourist destination.
The California Native has been leading tours to exotic destinations for more than 30 years and people are always asking what our favorites are. One of our favorite trips is this wonderful journey which begins in Beijing, China, travels through Tibet and hits its high point at Mount Everest Base Camp at the top of the world. California Native’s own Lee & Ellen Klein recently revisited this adventure which now includes a visit to the Great Wall.
The Terracotta Army is an amazing collection of terracotta sculptures depicting the armies of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China. The figures were buried with the emperor in 210–209 BC to protect him in his afterlife.
The figures were discovered in 1974 by local farmers in Lintong District, Xi’an, Shaanxi province, dating from approximately the late third century BC. Each figure varies in height according to their roles including warriors, chariots and horses, the tallest being the generals. Three pits have been discovered containing the Terracotta Army estimated at holding more than 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses, the majority of which remain in buried pits located by Qin Shi Huang’s mausoleum. Other pits have been discovered including terracotta non-military figures–officials, acrobats, strongmen and musicians.
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.
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.
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.
Colors set our mood and add an important dimension to our feelings and memories of the places we visit. I thought it might be fun to group some of the photos from our library of California Native images by their predominant colors. Our first collection was based on the color yellow.
This, our second collection is based on the color blue. Blue is the color of the sky and the ocean. It symbolizes trust, loyalty, wisdom, confidence, intelligence, faith, and truth.
“Somewhere over the rainbow, skies are blue, and the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true”—Lyman Frank Baum
“Mozart has the classic purity of light and the blue ocean”—Henri-Frédéric Amiel, 18th century Swiss philosopher
Beautiful, blue Agua Azul falls, located 40 miles from the Mayan ruins of Palenque, in the Mexican state of Chiapas, tumble down from the jungle in a series of cascades where they have carved out delighful limestone swimming holes.
Photographed from an aircraft, the dark blue hues of Mount Popocatépetl, located in central Mexico, are highlighted by the blue sky just before sunset. Popocatépetl, which can be seen from Mexico City is a very active volcano, whose last eruption was just last year (May, 2013).
Wearing blue aprons and caps, Chinese ladies go home from work in Yunnan Province.
Falls cascade down into the refreshing lagoon in Venezuela’s Canaima National Park.
The blue of this Patagonian glacier looks almost unreal as it glistens in the sunlight near the bottom of the world.
At the bottom of the deepest canyon in the vast complex of mountains and canyons known collectively as Copper Canyon is the sleepy little village of Batopilas. Sitting next to the bougainvilleas in the town square you might see a cowboy riding his horse down the sunbaked-earth main street, or a group of brightly clad Indians packing their burros for the long journey back to their remote village. It is hard to believe that this quiet village was once one of the richest silver mining cities in the world.
The Spaniards first mined ore here in 1632. Over the centuries more than three hundred mines were worked, but it took a most unusual American to bring real wealth to the area. The man was Alexander Shepherd and the story starts, not in this remote section of Mexico’s Sierra Madre mountains, but in Washington D.C.
In 1871, Alexander Robey “Boss” Shepherd headed the D.C. Board of Public works and two years later became territorial governor of the District of Columbia. At that time Washington was a city with muddy streets and unpaved sidewalks. During his three years in office Shepherd constructed 157 miles of roads, 123 miles of sewers, 39 miles of gas mains and 30 miles of water mains, leading some historians to refer to him as the “Father of Modern Washington.” Instead of being heralded as a hero, however, he was ungraciously chased out of office after Congress discovered that he had overspent the cities budget by $16 million with a disproportionate share of the benefits going to neighborhoods in which he had financial interests.
Shepherd declared bankruptcy and, in 1880, moved his family to Batopilas, where he had purchased a silver mine from another American, John Robinson, for $600,000. Thirteen years earlier, Robinson bought two old supposedly worked out mines where he discovered a rich vein of ore, but then ran into a major obstacle—because of the remoteness of the area his transportation and processing costs were far too high to make the operation profitable.
Shepherd, who always thought on a grand scale, applied the same organizing skills he had used in Washington to his new mining venture.
He began by filing more than 300 additional mining claims and consolidating his holdings into the Batopilas Mining Company. Then, instead of shipping out raw ore to be processed at some distant location, he constructed a complete processing facility in Batopilas. The processed silver was cast into bars, loaded two bars per mule, and taken by monthly mule trains of up to 100 mules to Chihuahua.
Between 1880 and 1906, 20 million ounces of silver were extracted from the mines—ranking the Batopilas mines among the richest silver mines in the world. At their peak the mines employed 1500 workers, and the total length of tunnels exceeded 70 miles.
Shepherd’s innovations included the construction of the Porfirio Diaz tunnel—a tunnel bored through the base of a mountain, where a train hauled out ore, which was dropped down shafts from the tunnels above. The train had to be dismantled and hauled in almost 200 miles by burro and human labor. The tunnel is still there, now deserted except by bats.
Shepherd did much to improve the town of Batopilas, building bridges, aqueducts, and a hydroelectric plant, which made Batopilas the second city in Mexico to have electricity—second only to Mexico City itself. By the time Shepherd died in 1902, the town’s population had grown from 400 to around 5000 (it is now around 1000). The hydroelectric facility he built was restored in 1988 and once again powers the town, and his original aqueduct still provides the local water supply.
Today there is no large-scale mining in Batopilas, though a few old prospectors still pan gold and silver from the river or extract small quantities of ore from the abandoned workings.
We appreciate it when our guests share their stories with us and allow us to post them on our blog. Last week, Jean Dook who lives in Almeria, Spain, returned from our California Native adventure in Costa Rica and wrote:
We had a fantastic time. I don’t know how you do it! Every connection, transfer, and trip arrived and delivered. Never had to make a call to check anything. Now I think that this is VERY GOOD given how many things seem to go wrong when I book a flight from Spain to UK.!!!!!! I have told everyone who will listen how good you are.
It’s hard to pick out a highlight from our trip, we all loved different things, the young people loved the zip lines in Monteverde, couldn’t drag them away. (I enjoyed it too but the zip lines in Copper Canyon [are hard to beat]).
For me Tortuguero was the highlight, loved the hotel and the riviera. All guides excellent, kind, caring and very knowledgeable. All spoke good English but is was nice for me to chat in Spanish, so much easier than here in Spain where everyone talks so fast. We saw a sloth with a baby, a spider monkey crossing the river with her baby, and a large group of howlers, who were as interested in us as we were in them, and so many other wonderful things.
We changed a horse riding trip for a paddle down the river and coffee with a local family, that was a highlight for many of us. The hot springs were an unexpected success with us all, after the long trip sitting in the rain in those springs was mind blowing.
The start of my trip alone was great fun on the white water rafting, wonderful day, wish I had booked the two day trip. Great people who took care of this old lady really well. Hotel Santo Tomas was a super hotel for us all but I loved it when I was alone—it had the personal touch. I could see the Holiday Inn and was so pleased not to be there. I thought San Jose was underrated in the books—I loved it.
I want to go back, cannot remember when I last said that about a trip (oh yes, it was Copper Canyon) but I would like to see the same things at the end of the rainy season when the rivers will be high and everything different. I loved the rain, it’s very dry where I live. I may not find another friend to go with me, words getting around about long days and rough roads!!!!!! I live 30 minutes from a tourist beach so want something different. Costa Rica is so beautiful.
Thank you all very much and look forward to traveling with you again.
We appreciate it when our guests share their stories with us and allow us to post them on our blog. Last summer, Bonnie Brunt from Spokane, Washington, enjoyed our tour to Chiapas and Yucatan.
I wanted to write you a quick note to let you know how thoroughly this trip surpassed my expectations. It really was a magical trip for all of us—one that we will never forget—and much of that was due to the services of our amazing tour guide Javier. He really was a great match for our group of bright, professional, well-traveled women. His knowledge of the Mayan civilization and culture was profound, his passion for the subject deep, and his explanations, articulate. He was extremely professional and personable (good-natured, kind, sensitive to the needs and desires of the group). In addition, he was really good at organizing our time such that we were in the right places at the right time, taking into consideration the weather, the size of the crowds, etc. We just could not have been more happy with him.
Thanks for all you did to make this trip so special for all of us!
Dean, Visual & Performing Arts Spokane Falls Community College