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Aventuras Sobre Rieles



Not too far from where Pancho Villa led his 1916 attack on Columbus, New Mexico, a new revolution is now brewing in the Chihuahua desert of Northern Mexico. In 1996 all train servicesā€”cargo and passenger alikeā€”were halted due to the privatization of this once state-run industry. The ejidos (communal lands) and small settlements were left to their own fates. Lacking roads and then rails the locals faced a difficult question: How would they now get their goods to market, see a doctor, or do anything else that required transportation?


A small group of people in Nuevo Casas Grandes therefore decided to maintain 100 kilometers (65 miles) of track. Some of them used to work for the railroad; others are only now learning the trade. With no funding from the government, this is a labor of loveā€”and a conviction of necessity.


Aventuras Sobre Rieles (Adventures on Rails) is the name of this new army of Mexican railroad revolutionaries who now provide regular services to the inhabitants of Ejido Las HeroĆ­nas and other settlements along the way to La Madera. They also offer excursions to tourists which help them to cover their maintenance costs. One such special trip is to Mata Ortiz.


Riding the train is a little like stepping back in time, with the train looking rather like a toy compared to its larger kin, the diesel engine. Boarding the old worker transport cars and locomotive, the trencito (little train) goes through desert scrublands to this village renowned for its traditional pottery.


Several hours are spent visiting workshops before returning to the city. Another option is an all-day excursion, traveling the entire stretch of open track, to Cumbres. The journey traverses desert populated by roadrunners, lizards, jack rabbits and eagles; poplars, mesquite, cacti and prickly pears; wind and sun-worn adobe hamlets. Then the trencito winds into the Sierra Madre mountains, along a river with pastures, boulders and crags, and through cedar and pine forests. Great blue herons are numerous, as are other types of waterfowl. One then arrives at the Cumbres tunnels of which the oldest is over a kilometer long.


During the Mexican Revolution, a cargo train that was assaulted by guerrilleros derailed and caught fire. It was then hit by a passenger train that could not stop in time, and the tragedy cost over 50 people their lives. Midway down this old tunnel there is an altar to those victims, where offerings are still made in their memory.


On the return to Nuevo Casas Grandes, a stop near Ejido Las HeroĆ­nas allows one to picnic on the grassy banks of the river. Mexican families will board, fully equipped with barbecue grills and coolers (for the picnic), so that their grandchildren can experience what itā€™s like to ride a trainā€”and join the Aventuras Sobre Rieles in a new type of revolution happening just south of the U.S. border.

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