Far from the crowded beaches on a Mexican Trip of a Lifetime
It was after breakfast that we first noticed the little old lady dressed entirely in black apart from her white-gloved hands.
As we sat enjoying the early morning ambience of the peaceful flower-bedecked courtyard she appeared and disappeared, popping in and out of rooms and generally looking well-focused and busy.
“Who’s that,” I asked, inquisitive to find out more.
Turned out she was an elder family member long-since retired but still keen for things to be spic and span. “She wears the gloves to check for any dust,” we were advised.
Of course there was no dust to find – this was the place that established spic & span the benchmark and she was just following the habit of a lifetime, knowing that her daily routine alone would be enough to keep others on their toes.
We had already concluded that the Rancho Hotel El Atascadero was as good as it gets when visiting Mexico. This house-proud old lady emphasised the point.
Some reports highlight Mexico as one place in the world where visitors were likely to suffer from the runs.
Montezuma’s revenge can strike the unwary and spoil what would otherwise be a great holiday. In the main, though, common sense should ensure no unscheduled trips to the bathroom. Cleanliness is the thing. Take no unnecessary risks and if things look even slightly soiled or less than clean, forget it.
The 3-star Rancho Hotel El Atascadero has earned legendary status as a popular hideaway and is a fascinating retreat, sitting in its own lush oasis and, complete with secluded swimming pool and tennis courts, refined in an old colonial way.
Guests who have fallen under its spell over the years include Yul Bryner, Candice Bergen and Anthony Quinn.
Once a convent, it is the perfect base from which to explore the colourful colonial towns of San Miguel de Allende, Queretaro, Dolores Hidalgo and Guanajuato, 130 miles north of Mexico City.
Much further north, there’s another experience which is a total assault on the senses and must rate as one of the most dramatic and idyllic settings anywhere in the world.
Take a room at the Hotel Divisadero Barrancas, a log cabin-like addition to the landscape seven and a half thousand feet above sea level in the Sierra Madre mountains, and relax takes on a whole new meaning.
The rooms and chalets, built to be as unobtrusive as possible, hug the clifftop location on the very rim of the breathtaking Copper Canyon.
On the open-air balcony – a massive natural stone ledge – guests sway lazily in hammocks partially shaded from the baking sun by a leafy canopy, and pass the time watching golden eagles riding the thermals, while hummingbirds feed for nectar all around.
In the distance, Tarahumara Indians celebrate life in their own inimitable style, their whoops and laughter carried in the still, thin air from miles away, due to the massive echo chamber provided by nature.
Groups of their colourfully dressed women and children come down from their hillside settlements to meet the trains which pass through. The rail company obliges by halting for ten minutes to allow passengers to disembark and buy their beautifully intricate basketwork, some of them works of art made entirely from pine needles.
These women can be camera shy and private. Others, more comfortable with the demands of tourists, will willingly smile as long as you show some respect and seek permission beforehand. A few pesos by way of thanks will also be appreciated.
A useful little tourist guide is packed with hints on native craft markets and where to find local delicacies (including edible cactus which tastes delicious). There is wisdom and humour included in Travellers’ Ten Commandments listed such as:
*Expect not to find things as thou hast them at home, for thou hast left home to find different things.
*Thou shalt not take anything too seriously, for a carefree mind is the making of a vacation.
*He that treateth his host with respect shall be treated as an honoured guest.
From Divisadero, travellers can take an unforgettable rail journey back to sea level at the bustling market town of Los Mochis. It is rightly recognised as one of the world’s great experiences.
Travel economy class on the regular service and the carriages will be packed with locals – and visitors looking to capture the real everyday flavour of things.
For a taste of luxury, splash out on a seat in one of the eight restored vintage rail cars, complete with observation domes, to take full advantage of the spectacular scenery as the train snakes its way around 480 miles of track over 37 bridges, an engineering feat which took ninety years to complete.
Some white knuckle stretches of track cling impossibly to sheer rock faces and at one stage, first-timers gasp in unison as the engines up front appear on the other side of a vast chasm, while down below, two other levels of track still to be reached, corkscrew away beneath them.
This may not be listed as one of the wonders of the world; the list should be revised!
In Mexico, it is impossible to escape signs of poverty, but even ragamuffin groups of children have their pride and offer hand-made little trinkets to reward those prepared to hand over a few coins.
This is a country rich in rewards for those prepared to venture further than beach resorts that have little sense of place, the likes of which can be found anywhere.
Do remember to follow those travellers’ commandments but here’s a few of my own:
1) Drink only bottled water, for he that sips from a tap may curseth forever more.
2) Buyeth not food from street vendors as it may look appetising but may not pleaseth the tummy.
3) Beware of ice cubes for, if not made from bottled water, they may well containeth nasty little bugs.
4) Always keepeth loose change in pocket to give to those less fortunate.
* Various trusted and long-established operators will arrange guided tours and wide selection of enticing itineraries to suit individual requirements. Seek out customer feedback for guidance.
Visit Mexico website: www.visitmexico.com/en/
Contact Rancho Hotel El Atascadero direct: https://ranchohotel-el-atascadero.h-rez.com