Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Riding the Nostalgia Train

We had the good fortune to experience passenger train travel a few times in Mexico before the services ended around 2000. We were on the Chepe Primera Clase (Chihuahua al Pacífico)* run about 3 times. Comfortable and enjoyable; fun companions, cold cerveza and a dining car! (I didn't eat from the dining car but there were enough vendors coming aboard to sell their specialities. A steward came buy at intervals to serve us a pseudo-orange drink I quickly dubbed "Naranjanada".
A highlight was the 20 minute stop at Divisadero mirador, where ladies sold gorditas filled with chcken and other antojitos. You could even see the Barranca del Cobre!

The first train trip was from Cd. Júarez to Chihuahua, and the following year from Cd. Júarez to Zacatecas, a 24 hour trip, Pullman class car, through mostly desolate wasteland. We did make friends with an interesting family. It was fun to explore and deploy the foldout furnishings in our Pullman roomette, but after that, it was nearly unremitting boredom. We stopped for what seemed hours in the middle of nowhere. Maybe we were ahead of schedule.These are probably one reason Zacatecas looked so good, with its cobbled streets, plazas, fountains and the warm glow of the faroles de dragones. (But it is truly a wonderful city.)

Another year saw us take an overnight train from Mexico City to Oaxaca. No Pullman Service. The most exciting part of that was the boarding, with uniformed conductors to show us to our seats. After a semi sleepless night, the dawn revealed that we were in La Cañada, a scenic section of the trip, not long before arriving in Oaxaca. Another fabulous city.

For some benighted motive, we once the overnight train from Mexico City to Monterrey. It was slow, paralytically boring and uncomfortable. No Pullman Service. We slept athwart the wooden arm rests, waking with our legs like logs.

We didn't always take first class trains; an exception was another overnight trip (No Pullman Service) from Tepic, Nayarit to El Sufragio Estacíon, a connecting point to Los Mochis via 2nd class bus. That particular train coach was dark, dingy and foreboding. The restroom was either nonexistant or out of order, but it was fun to whiz off the back platform.

Even riding the First Class coaches on the Chihuahua al Pacífico, taking a wee in the WC posed a threat for the photographers and others standing in the usually fresher air of the vestibule between cars. There was a definite spray factor when the WC was flushed. It was especially noticeable as the train lurched around one of the many curves.

It's fun to look back on those days of train service, the occasional discomforts and slowness fuzzily obscured by time and nostalgia. These days, I prefer the bus. We can even choose which bad movie to watch, or none at all.

(This post was inspired by a post on Michoacán_Net by David Haun, which set off a flurry of train stories.)


Calypso said...

Too bad the train went away. The old photos are great!

Anonymous said...

I doubt whizzing off the platform was an option Doña Cuevas could take advantage of. Just one more drawback to being a woman.

-- Felipe

Don Cuevas said...

Thanks, Calypso. The photos are from the a-hem, ah "Internet Library".

Don Cuevas

Tancho said...

I have always loved trains, I have been toying with the idea of a Copper Canyon wife doesn't want to go, so I am trying to convince a buddy to endure the journey.
Your description of the comfort level, may put final decision into that desire though.

I've been on several passenger trains NOB, and helped a friend restore a Pullman car that he used to promote his winery back a decade or so was a neat experience.

Sadly we will not see a revitalization on this continent for some reason...

Don Cuevas said...

Felipe Zapata;

Doña Cuevas has more self control than I do.

Don Cuevas

Steve Cotton said...

I have always loved trains. Even with the discomforts. I suspect there may be a bit of childhood nostalgia there -- for transcontinental train rides. Thanks for triggering some nice memories.