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Sunday, July 23, 2017

Los Mochis & Topolobampo

Those who reach the Mexican mainland via ship from Baja California dock in the third deepest natural harbor in the world.

Topolobampo – a large word for this picturesque sleepy village – is situated amidst of a labyrinth of green rock-islands and hidden bays. For nature lovers this region of Mexico is a true jewel. Dolphins and Sea Lions frolic nearby and on the wharf wall Brown Pelicans compete for fish. Ospreys, Magnificent Frigatebirds, Blue-Footed Boobies, Royal Terns and Sea Gulls share the sky and nest on the surrounding islands as do Herons. Every now and then one sees hundreds of Chihuahua Ravens on the large cacti, the Cardones, which dominate the subtropical vegetation.

Only a few thousand inhabitants live in “Topo“, although a much larger population was originally planned. The town was founded as an experiment by American Albert K. Owen, a young idealistic engineer from New York who came to the region in 1868. Enthused by the landscape and affected by utopian ideals of the time, he set out with a bold plan. Colonists would settle the area and create a “Socialist Metropolis of the West“, where prosperity and fairness prevails for all. A port to the world would be developed and this new homeland would be linked to the USA by a train that would run crossways through Northern Mexico. So the idea of the CHEPE was born – that near legendary train that today brings travelers from the Pacific over the mountains and canyons of the Sierra Madre to Chihuahua.

The end of the 19th Century saw 6,000 colonists try their luck at realizing Owens’ dream that quickly turned into harsh reality. Mosquitoes, diseases, water shortages, the lack of supplies and finally financial stress made this “paradise” into a hell. By 1891 the dream of utopia was over, the colony dissolved after a mutiny by the settlers. The crumbling fronts of abandoned houses, part of the fishery and an enormous wharf wall remain. In recent times Topolobampo has become more modern, influenced by the nearby business center, Los Mochis.

Established around 1900 on the plains of the Río Fuerte, Los Mochis quickly became an important agricultural and shipping center with over 300.000 inhabitants and growing. The city is a university town in the State of Sinaloa. It has an international airport as well as a bus and train terminal and an economy based on agriculture. With fertile land, a warm climate and water from the Río Fuerte, a rich harvest is almost guaranteed. It was originally sugarcane that established this settlement on the plains, today a variety of produce such as corn, beans, tomatoes, and a multitude of tropical and subtropical fruits are cultivated, some of which are shipped via Topolobampo; a rich export potential, to which cattle ranching is contributing more.

The boxy style of the center of Los Mochis welcomes the visitor with broad palm lined avenues, shady plazas, a small museum, a botanical garden, hotels and good restaurants offering fresh seafood. Nevertheless, the city is usually only used as a “stop over“, to begin or end the train ride to Chihuahua. The CHEPE departs the station each morning to start its long journey – a train adventure, truly one of the most impressive in the world. Ever growing are the numbers of visitors drawn by the train’s magic, adding another source of income for Los Mochis.