We’d timed it right, getting away from Vancouver before the forecasted heavy weather came in up north. Our first two days were long, but easy, clear sailing down to Bakersfield, California. On the third day, crossing the coastal range above San Bernadino we hit a heavy blizzard and joined four lanes of bumper-to-bumper traffic edging along at 5-to-10 mph.
In Yuma, that night, the guy who checked us in was wearing a down parka. We came all the way to the Arizona/Mexico border for this! The weather brightened up after that, though, and we pushed south. Three days of driving brought us to the resort city of Mazatlan. – lots of hotels of course, busy sidewalks, traffic, and noise, with Senor Frog bars every couple of blocks. Not our style. So we stocked up on supplies at the Mega store (yes, that’s the name), checked our guide book and headed south, looking for “it.”
We found it at Rancho Los Angeles, a couple hours south of Mazatlan. We parked right above a wide, sandy beach that goes on in both directions as far as the eye can see with a constant rolling surf. Susan obeyed the siren call of the sea and leapt in. We are told there are schools of dolphins who come by the beach regularly so she is determined to swim with them.
Our back window opens onto the Pacific Ocean. The sound of the surf is in the background all day and puts us to sleep each night. We are staying in a little park with about 15 RVs, a mile off a side road which ends eight miles further at the small fishing town of Teacepan.
Internet cafes, are plentiful, but come with Spanish language Intel-type desktop setups. I haven’t found a hookup for my Mac laptop yet. Last year I found many wireless locations throughout the US for using my own laptop, but I haven’t found one here yet.
Our mechanical parts are going great - truck and trailer cruising along. We’re happy with our RV rig of 1/2 ton GMC pickup truck and 26.5 foot 5th wheel, which I wrote extensively about in the magazine article, Does Size Matter last year. A pleasant discovery is that, after the many long up-and-down mountains of Washingtjon, Oregon, and California, Mexico so far is very level.
We have been on some tolled, four-lane sections of Highway 15, but choose the older and slower ‘libre’ highways when we can, which are fine too. The older highways pass through the small villages and towns There has been one fairly large city on the libre route, Culiacan. It was a bit of a gauntlet to get through. I understand the interior holds some hill climbs, but this route is much more benign than the Baja route we took three years ago in our van.
As we have traveled south from the arid miles of Arizona, the country has grown steadily greener. This area is a productive farm area – corn, peppers, other vegetables, and many mango plantations. Some fields have Brama cattle, some have goats and sheep.
This RV park, which also has a small hotel and restaurant, is several miles from any other business and part of a large farm. There are hundreds of acres of neatly planted coconut palms all round us. The manager reported that coconuts are in recession so the farm mainly produces mangos now. He proudly hands out sample packages of dried mango. While grown in Mexico, these are processed in California, certified organic, and sold through Trader Joe’s. Yum!
papayas are in good supply – a nice one, over 2 kg was only 14 pesos,
about 1.50 Cdn in a little veggie shop. Yum!
This area is also a destination for birders. A group of them were exploring the canal that runs through here this morning.
As we have been getting to know this area, it seems very simpatico to us foreigners. For example, all along this stretch of highway, there are signs every couple of miles proclaiming:
Every other mile there is a sign declaring:
So while we have seen a few dead animals along the ditches
in sparse areas, this area is much cleaner than the Baja, and it is reassuring
to know that we gringos are officially expected and welcomed.
I was thinking we might experience some withdrawal, but mostly I’m glad that we are away from the idiot box. There are a few series that we have followed faithfully and then there’s the news. What is going on with the world – and how does it really affect me? A neighbour mentioned that there had been a lot of rain in Vancouver, and a death in a mud slide.
When I was at the internet cafe I briefly checked out the headlines in the Vancouver Sun, but had no wish to know much more. What is happening in the middle east, or the middle of my home neighbourhood, seems remote from us here, now.
This place is quite a change. It has a permanent population of 3000 that swells to 8000 in peak tourist season. We were warned that it could be crowded, even though the town has eight RV parks!
The parks were very full but we squeezed into a spot under some trees, in a small park, just a block up from the beach. Immediately we were welcome by the other campers – several had seen us trying to negotiate the tight turn into this spot and came over to help. Many are regulars here, one couple apparently coming for 15 years!
After getting our bearings we took a walk around town in the afternoon sun, ending up at a sidewalk cafe for a nice little meal of fish and chile rellenos. This town is full of little hotels and we saw countless signs offering “Bungalows for Rent.” I understand these are rooms with a bit of a kitchen, and run from the simple to the sublime.
The people on the beaches and sidewalks here in Rincon, are mainly Mexican. Of course, there are the Norte Americanos but they seem to mix easily with Mexicans on R&R – very different from the miles on miles of big hotels with the hordes of pink people in resort places like Cancun and Cabo San Lucas.
Compared to where we’ve been, the beaches here are very busy with sun bathers, swimmers, vendors, and boats of all kinds. Many of the boats are native fishing vessels that produce fresh catches, which they sell on the beach each morning. On the north end of town there is a winding road through what is called Gringo Gulch – a neighbourhood of newer homes of some stature. There I found the community tennis courts where I will go in the morning to see if the ball still bounces.
I’ve asked a couple of the locals for recommendations regarding the area’s best beaches. yesterday we followed up on one suggestion, which took us to a small town a few kms south and then to a remote bay. The route took us over three kms of the roughest country road imaginable. Not just potholes, but a sort of packed gravel – except the gravel was mostly large rocks. Bang, bang, bang along at a couple kph. The business to be in here would be tires and suspensions.
I’ve been making my way through the local food specialties, and so far, no burritos or Taco-Bells. The standard street food is tacos, which consist of a freshly prepared soft corn taco onto which a spoonful of hot meat is heaped, then topped with a variety of fixings – salsa, onions, greens, sliced cucumber and radish. Tonight it was one each of beef, pork and cherizo.
Earlier this afternoon I ventured to eat a whole barbecued small fish, like a mackerel, bought from a beach vendor – just the crispy fish, on a stick with some hot sauce and lime. And for a dessert, an empanada from another beach vendor.
We spent most of our time here with our friend, Drucilla, who lives in a section of Old Town a few blocks up from the beach. That neighbourhood is sort of like Vancouver’s West End, with all of Robson Street, Davie and Denman Streets compressed into an area of about four blocks by six blocks. We walked about for hours, day and night, taking it all in.
“ P.V.” has a Wal Mart, Sams Club, an Office Depot and a few other big stores, but like everywhere in Mexico, the city abounds with many kinds of little shops ...clothing, shoes, tires, toys, trinkets and anything else stores and markets. While the gas stations are all the national Pemex, car repairs are done by little shops.
Drucilla took us to a couple of her favourite restaurants – including El Brujo where a delicious fresh fish dinner was 85 pesos (about 9.00 Canadian). And Pippin, our little dog, came too sitting under the table. Diners to our left were with their sweet tiny Chihuahua puppy, people to the right, sat with their terrier. What a civilized culture!
Late one night the four of us joined a small crowd at a
taco stand for their specialty, Pastore – spiced pork roasted on
a spit then shaved off as required onto fresh tacos. The cost for four
of us was under $10.
Even this little town has a couple of handsome small hotels, many bungalows, many little shops, and probably 15 placed to eat out. Eight are spread out along the beach and several others along the single main street.
We were directed to explore the end of Chamela Bay with our snorkel gear. Eureka, pretty fishes!
The place has gotten off to a quick start, is full, and
is fully reserved for January next year. It’s good to see that there
are a few new RV parks being added to make up for others that are giving
up their prime beach real estate to hotel/condo development.
Joining them, we piled into a van and drove to a ranch on the edge of the next big town, Cihuatlan. There we were met by a charming 80-year-old fellow, Polo Salas, who built and maintains this private club of four fine red clay tennis courts. A player in his day, he also trained his two sons, one of whom played professionally for Mexico. Several of the players who come out on the weekends are locals, so I was also able to practice my Spanish.
There is only one town square in Malaque, with the obligatory Catholic church facing it, but there are two Plazas de Toros (bull rings), one each in San Patricio and Villa Obregon. From our RV park at the south end of Villa Obregon, to the town square in Malaque, where we go for internet, most shopping, banking, and the nightlife of tacos, tamales, popsicles and strolling, is about two kms – the longest, slowest, most bone-jarring two km imaginable.
In Mexico, few town and village streets are paved. Many are composed of rough cobblestones, but most are dirt. The streets here make me think of the old, wild west, because it would be hard to imagine anything rougher or tougher.
First picture the rough cobblestones in various stages of repair and disrepair, then there are topes (speed-bumps) which are added here and there. As well, many intersections are depressed to handle summer rain run-off. Now the fun part. The citizens of these towns stand out front of their homes and businesses, morning and night, using the apparently abundant water supplies to hose down the streets and control dust.
This has the effect of pooling water in every depression
which the passing traffic splashes out. The result, of course is to create
a multitude of pot holes which make every street a
Now we add the obstacle course elements. First, the kids – walking, running, on bicycles, all ages, all hours, never with lights or helmets, darting every which way. Teenagers have adopted, in great numbers, scooters and little 85 cc motorcycles. Often two or three young girls piled on the same bike together, go whizzing by, all smiles, hair flowing in the breeze. Of course, there are the many dogs which lie where they like in the streets or saunter about at will.
On street corners and lined up several per block in the
town centre, are the food stands. They rarely stick to the sidewalk but
are freestanding along the edges of the streets; the larger ones
Cars and trucks park on either side of the street, often at angles. Many of the older sections of town have narrow streets, making the busy downtown streets essentially one-way passage for two directions of traffic – a constant snarl.
course there are no traffic lights and essentially no traffic lanes. Vehicles
zig and zag every which way and there does not appear to be any right-of-way
protocol at intersections. The first vehicle to occupy a space, claims
it. If you slow down or hesitate, you will be cut off, or
Driving in Mexico is not for the faint of heart, but it all makes a bizarre kind of sense. The chaos has become fondly familiar. There is a sense of liberty, alertness and trust which makes it all work.
On the way home I pick up a freshly barbequed chicken for lunch. After lunch, a brief siesta, then to the beach for a couple hours. Susan mostly swims, I read, and Pippin digs a bunker down into the cooler sand and shade. After a shower we enjoy the sunset then drive into the town for dinner. Our current favourite food – fresh tamales.
A lady at her stand, assisted by her husband, sells a choice
of chicken, pork, spinach,
cheese, plain and pineapple tamales. We were lucky enough to get one stool,
one standing, and enjoyed the lightest, tastiest, corn meal ever. Condiments
are simple – the ever-present hot sauce and sour cream. Last night’s
meal of four tamales each plus a shared glass of atole – a hot,
thick milk, rice, cornstarch and cinnamon drink, was 45 pesos –
about 5.00. Then we walked around the town square where, as most nights,
it was full of people sitting on the many benches which
Tomorrow morning we hitch up and head north again. I called a park at Lo de Marcos that we looked into on our way down (was full) and I think we have a reservation. Our conversation was completely in Spanish so I’m hoping we communicated sufficiently.
Still, there are five RV parks, four of them along the beach of this quiet bay. Every town, every beach, and certainly every park and their people have their own personalities. This town’s tranquility benefits from being less developed than its flashier neigborus, Rincon de Guayabitos and La Penita to the north and Sayulita, Bucerias and Puerta Vallarta to the south.
At about 7 am each morning, I take a slow 15 minute drive to Rincon de Guayabitos for a couple hours of good tennis at their community courts. As for city needs, we are an hour, more or less, depending on traffic, from Puerta Vallarta. This park, like many others, has its devotees, travelers who come back and book ahead for next year.
From one of our neighbours, a regular, we hear of a hot springs nearby. The instructions were to go north of La Penita to Las Varas, look for the sign of a swimmer, turn right, then immediately left between two old buildings and follow the dirt road for about four kms.
A bumpy single lane ventured through the hills into the interior, past cattle grazing on the road, finally through a gate to another road which eventually leads to a small, park-like series of concrete swimming pools with nice warm-to-hot water. Susan took in some therapy for the tail end of a cold she was nursing.
Still up for adventure, a couple days later we set off for another fabled spot, Cave Beach. This one’s instructions were to go off the highway at the sign to El Divisiacion, four km, then through the village and along further to the beach down a rough patch at the end.
The first stretch was along a now typical country dirt road where we met a couple of old trucks, one pulled over to the side – ominously having its front wheel assembly repaired. Then into the little village – clearly off the beaten path, buildings and streets meandering up and around the hill sides. We saw one little shop, several men, children, and dogs, all standing around watching us pass by. The road narrows and we think that perhaps we are just heading to some farm or fields. We reassure ourselves that we are indeed going west and west leads eventually to the ocean, but in this case “eventually” leads us through a gate into a farm yard. Dead end, we think, and I shut off the truck. But a man comes out and I inquire, “Esta una playa circa de aqui”? “Si, adelante,” he waves us through. Optimistic again, we begin a steep descent on a trail that before I’d fully descended, was already regretting having to go back up. My wonderful little truck scraped bottom twice but there was no turning back at this point. There, there it was, a lovely little bay, Playa Los Cueves.
We heard the call, we answered and we were there, surely
the only ones Who’d ventured this far off the beaten path –
but what’s this? There are two people sitting on the beach, and
a boat on the shore. A private paradise, almost.
I marvel at the multitude of little towns we have come across.
Even along the highway, there are often villages every few miles, interspersed
with signs pointing to the left or to the right to other
As we travel I like to reference where I am with a good map. We started out with two maps of Mexico – both of US origin. I was frustrated by the lack of detail on them so I went in search of the official road map book, called the “Guia Roji.” I had heard of it on the web, and I had seen other travelers with it.
It took a week but I finally found a store that sold me
my own Roji. Well, accuracy and detail Were elusive here too, because,
I think, there are just too many details to consider, too many names to
include, and so many of them are the same name, anyway! My rough guess
is that the Roji map includes maybe a half of the towns and villages that
have signs along the road. Looking at the map index is revealing. There
are 34 places that are named Buena Vista. There are a lot of Good Views
in Mexico, no doubt more than 34, so where do you stop?
The bank rate for the Peso is currently about 11 to the US dollar, 9 to the Canadian, so it is simplest to think 10 to 1 and drop a decimal point . A whole watermelon goes for 10 pesos or about a dollar. One peso is about a dime. If it is fruit, pastries, tacos or tamales, the price is rounded in pesos. Only in the big grocery stores are decimal points used. There are smaller coins, but they are virtually ignored. I don’t even know what they are called.
However, don’t bring out any big currency bills – invariably you are asked, “Cambio? (Change?)” Which is often an issue, because the ATM cash machine spits out mostly 500’s. A visit to a small market or a roadside fruit stand may be interrupted while a kid rides off on his bicycle for cambio, or you may be just turned away with a shrug.
Added note: On our last day in Mexico I saw my first Pemex station with a banner in Spanish and English that claims to accept credit and debit cards.
March 7, 2005
Then we trucked north again, this time planning to stop at a large Pemex truck stop for n overnight. When we pulled into the Wal-Mart lot in Culiacan for a lunch stop, I noticed that the trailer was listing a bit and discovered a broken spring. After all those miles, potholes, and topes (speed bumps – often unmarked) our old trailer gave a sigh.
The trailer is dual axle, and we could travel but I worried
about further strain and damage to the other suspension parts. That Wal-Mart
had no auto centre so we continued north, keeping an eye out for a “taller”
– mechanical repair shop. I had read in various guidebooks about
the skill and resourcefulness of the Mexican mechanics, and now I was
going to find out.
About an hour up the road we came across a small town with a couple of roadside services, one restaurant and a taller. The place was just an open shack but there appeared to be several people and vehicles around so we pulled in. The mechanic was working on the engine of an old truck, but immediately dropped it to have a look at our problem.
I understood him to say that he could not get a replacement but explained what sounded like a couple of options and set his two young men to work. We got the trailer jacked up, tire off, wrestled the rusty spring away. Then he showed me how he was going to weld the spring and then clamp it between two leaves he had. Hmmm? Various other men and boys were hanging around watching, commenting, killing time. The whole set up reminded me of my home town in Saskatchewan 50 years ago but here the equipment was even more basic.
From my own tool box I contributed a new vice-grip and a can of WD-40. In time it was reassembled, I paid 600 pesos, about $60. for three hours work. We got turned around, but not even back up on the high way before the spring failed. Nonplussed, the fellows launched into plan B.
This time the mechanic and one of his guys disappeared down the road while the other guy and I jacked up the trailer and removed the tire and broken spring. The mechanic reappeared with another old spring of about the same length but heavier, and wider.
After another couple hours of adapting clamps, welding,
drilling, bolting and getting it all back together again the trailer sat
pretty level. It still bounced, but we all agreed it would hold. And it
It would take many words to begin to describe the elegant,
yet clean and strong designs and colours of these fabulous old houses.
The homeowners are clearly proud of their opportunity to preserve this
antiquity. The exteriors were typically plain thick walls with large solid
doors, but opened into beautiful patios, gardens and pools which are centred
by the circle
of tall rooms around the property. The result is tranquil personal space
which is very appealing. Later, we walked up and down many more streets,
all quiet and spare, here and there peeking
And lastly, we are now in north Mexico, at the lovely Bahia Kino where we spent a week last year. On land we are surrounded by sand and cactus, but the sea is cold, a long way from the tropics a thousand miles south. By the time we cross back into the US tomorrow, we will have driven over 7000 kms in Mexico. I would like to turn around and do it all again.
And so I end this little report of our two months “south of the border, down Mexico way”. You can see, I hope, that I am enchanted by the people and the country. As Susan and I made our way home, we were in agreement that we want to go back and see more, stay longer.
Total Cost of the trip: $5000 Cdn.