The Barrancas del Cobre, Mexico’s northern “Copper Canyons”, are a network of six canyons in the Sierra Madre Occidental range in the state of Chihuahua. The principal guardians of these vast ranges are the Rarámuri indigenous tribes who fled to the canyons escaping Spanish rule back in the 1500s. An official consensus lists them as being around 50,000 in number, but this is a tricky estimation – the Tarahumara lead nomadic lives, scattered amongst remote rickety wooden huts and isolated caves peppered throughout the mountainside.

If you’ve heard of the Tarahumara before, it’s because of their feet. They can run, run, run, for hours, outpacing the many international marathon runners that have come to the canyons just to race them. The Raramuri have been known to nonchalantly munch on a packet of crisps, smoke tobacco and not even stretch before they vanish in a puff of smoke into the distance at incredible speeds, leaving the ‘professionals’ miles behind.

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Our four-day trek through the canyons was one of the most singular voyages of my life. It was organized by a friend of mine who runs an adventure tourism company called Chance to Challenge, who put people back in touch with nature and invest into the communities they visit.

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Our adventure set out from Creel, a non-descript town near Chihuahua about a three-hour drive from the main Chihuahua airport. We began our trek in the midst of a powerfully fragrant pine tree forest. As we slinked through the forest, chatty conversation gave way to each person’s meditative thoughts and observations of the changing foliage around us. The trees began to clear out and we got our first real glimpse of the impressive jagged cliffs and lava formations which were to be our home for the next few days.

Never ever have I enjoyed a simple tomato and potato soup as much as I did on that first night in our camp, perched high atop the canyons on a lunar landscape of rounded boulders with a hummingbird laden tree just below us and the summer solstice strawberry moon slowly rising above the cliffs in the distance. I slept in the open air, very aware of the fact that any excessive rolling about or sleepwalking would send me over the edge.

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The next day we descended into the depths of the valley. After a few hours walk, the valley floor suddenly turned tropical and we found ourselves amongst papaya and mango groves, palm trees and soft grass, a garden of Eden in the middle of the desert. We paced alongside a natural riverbed with teal blue and lilac rocks and small natural pools of freezing cold water that we tore our clothes off to jump into.

I had never considered myself as a trekker, but I think this trip converted me. You start to learn a whole lot about yourself, the incessant chatter of your mind, your neuroses, and realize that tiredness is mostly in the mind. You begin to find astonishing sources of strength just by focusing on the rhythm of your feet crunching on the ground and the slow feeling of entering the heartbeat of the canyons.

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To go: Chance to Challenge regularly organizes trips to the canyons. Get in touch with them to plan your own transformational adventure!

Viajografía y fotos: Alexa Firmenich