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Seven/Three

The old and the new, side by side. Rail franchises change overnight. Changing the branding takes considerably longer. I’m going to stick my neck out and offer a £1 bet to any takers – by the time this franchise is up in seven years time, I’ll still be able to find some sort of branding of the old franchise still on display somewhere.

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The Exotic Day Trip

You might look at the photo below and wonder where we’ve been on our most recent trip. Which far flung land does that rather grandiose structure call home? If you guessed India, you’d be on the right track. Wrong continent, but right track. That marvelous piece of architecture was built about two hundred years ago in Brighton, as a bit of a playhouse for the Price Regent. Indian design was all the rage back then. Welcome to Brighton, the original quick-getaway tourist destination for the wealthy crowd of London Town! It’s less than an hour from London on the train. Or about two and a half hours along the coast from Bournemouth, our starting point for the trip.

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Brighton, like most English towns and cities of any size, has a rich seam of history, intrigue and culture running through it. But today it is famed for being a centre of new media, its slightly hippy-ish shopping, fantastic wall murals, being the gay capital of the UK, and of course for its piers. One of which is grand. The other, sadly, is just a burnt shell now separated from the shore. Hordes of tourists still descend on the town (the twenty and thirty-somethings, usually in large packs) intent on a weekend of binge drinking and partying till the early hours.

We came for a bit of shopping and sightseeing, not the night life. And I for some photography. I’ve already written a couple of posts on my photography blog – click here. I used my phone camera extensively, but did snap a few shots with my Fuji for upload to Flickr – click here. Did we like Brighton? Yes, we did. Of course. Although. But. There’s just something about Brighton that’s a little bit…I don’t know.

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A lot of English towns have had to reinvent themselves in recent years to adapt to a changing world. Brighton feels like it tried too hard. Which is ironic, really, because at first glance you’d have assumed everyone just got thoroughly stoned and went mad with a limitless supply of spray cans, then chilled out on the beach eating gluten free organic veggy pizza while braiding each others hair, before putting on a selection of mad hats and colourful clothing to strut around town. Someone encountering Brighton for the first time might wonder if the town inspired the book Alice in Wonderland. But this Brighton didn’t exist back then. So perhaps it’s the other way round. So, yes. We liked Brighton. But if truth be told, we preferred Bristol.

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The Ghost Train

Back in 2003, when I was having fun backpacking through Mexico, I took a train ride. Not many Mexicans, other than metro systems, will ever take a train ride in Mexico. There used to be quite a few lines, and the train is a big symbol of the Revolution.

But all but two of the passenger lines have closed down, unless someone can think of a third. I’ve excluded the Suburbano, although that is technically a passenger rail system. It feels more like a fancy extension of the metro though.

There’s the Tequila Express, a tourist favourite, from Guadalajara to Amatitan. And the Chepe Train, which runs from the Pacific Coast at Los Mochis, through the Copper Canyon and on to Chihuahua. This was the train ride I took. And the train that featured in one of Televisa’s Bicentenario series of video.

I stayed in Los Mochis for all of ten hours, yet in that short period of time it became my least favourite place in all of Mexico. Hot, sweaty, dirty and my hotel room was infested with cockroaches, and had a non functioning air conditioning system. I slept for all of one hour. Maybe if I’d spent longer in the city, at a nicer hotel, I’d have a more favourable impression. Then again, maybe not.

So I was pretty weary when I got to the train station for the start of my epic 13 hour journey on the Chepe Train to Creel, in the heart of the Copper Canyon. But the most spectacular electrical storm  in the still pitch black sky that entertained us while waiting to board helped wake me up a little.

I can’t recommend the train ride enough though. Adjectives, comparatives and superlatives fail to do the ride justice. Whenever I am asked about my favourite places in Mexico, the Copper Canyon is near the top of the list, and the train ride plays a big part in putting it there. The photo below is one I took with my old nikon Coolpix 880 when the locomotive made a stop at Divisadero.

Not all that long ago, once at Chihuahua, you could change trains and take a ride all the way down to Veracruz. That ended in the very late 90’s I believe. Shame. I like rail travel. It’s more comfortable than air travel, more convenient for domestic journeys and it’s easier to appreciate the scenery.

An expensive high speed passenger rail service was proposed a few years back, with the idea of linking up Mexico City and Guadalajara, with a 2 hour journey time between them, and then adding Monterrey and other cities to the network. It hasn’t happened so far, and I severely doubt it will happen at all.

The cost at the time was quoted at 250 billion pesos (22-ish billion dollars) which would have put a strain on the public purse even then, pre economic crisis. It’s safe to say the cost will have risen since then, the final cost will exceed the quote as is normal in massive projects like this, and government income from oil revenues aren’t going upwards at the moment. And are unlikely to in the foreseeable future.

So we are left with those two lines and memories of days gone by. And the BBC’s Great Railway Journeys, with season four being the one of interest. Rick Stein managed to do the whole Los Mochis to Veracruz trip, and the programme can still be found on the Pirate Bay if you can’t find it on video or DVD. I couldn’t, having quickly checked Amazon US and UK. I can though share with you an audio programme that recreates that journey.

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El Tren

I just had a day from hell! I didn’t get any sleep last night, having chosen Hotel ‘Cockroach Infested and 100 degrees F’ Hidalgo as my resting spot. Satisfying as it is to crunch a dozen foot long (well, maybe thats a little exaggerated, but they were darned big anyway!) roachs, it doesn’t do much for one’s sleep prospects I can tell you. And I know you are having a heatwave in Blighty but last night’s temperatures here were just silly. My sheets felt like they had just come out of a tumble dryer after 2 hours on full blast, and I physically couldn’t stand on the tiled floor for more than a few moments without burning me toes! And this was at 3am….not funny at all!

Still, I managed to drag my weary corpse down the train station and had my 7 hour train ride through the Copper Canyon, which turned out to be 13 hours long! Still the train seats were comfy, leg room plentiful, and there was a whole carriage set apart as a cafe. You could also go stick your head out of the windows in the end sections where the carriages join together and have a smoke. So that kept me happy! And of course, there was the scenery! Which was fantastic!

The immensity of the canyon is hard to put into words, so I won’t bother. You’ll have to ask to see the photos if you are interested. If not, rest assured the canyon is big x the power of 2000! Anyway, have found me a cheery little hostel, and have booked my first couple of hiking excursions through the canyon, to see waterfalls, hot springs and the like. See ya later!

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