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The Long Road Home

 


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Report #5Route Map
Mazatlan

April 3, 2007

Drove from El Fuerte to Mazatlan today – a long, very hot 500 km. At times, temps hit 104 degrees. Steve assured me it would be cooler at coast and he was right. Down into the 80s by the time we arrived in Mazatlan and cool by bedtime.

Terrain between El Fuerte and Mazatlan is agricultural. You can see mountains in the distance, but mostly rolling pasturelands with skinny cows trying to eek out an existence on the dry scrub.

There are two kinds of highways in Mexico, the “libre” and the “cuota” or toll highways. We tried the toll road, a smooth, modern 4-lane highway but the costs mounted: 29p, 73p, and 73p in about an hour. So after lunch we took the libre road. This is an okay road – asphalt is good, shoulders are not bad, but it is slow because the trucks use it. Overloaded truck

Especially the overloaded, old, underpowered, riding on no-rubber trucks. And they pass each other on the hills, the curves, wherever. At one point Steve was passing one truck when he realized that another truck was passing HIM on his left. So there were three of them driving up the road at full speed, with a curve coming on fast.

Oh well, we made it.

Had a heck of a time finding the RV park in Mazatlan and never did find the one we were looking for but did arrive at San Fernando RV Park and it is fine. 200p per night with free internet, clean bathrooms, pool, and a lovely palapa (thatch-covered patio).

April 4, 2007

Hit the bricks to do the tourist thing here in Mazatlan. First thing we did was find a good bookstore and buy the Guia, a mapbook of Mexico with city maps. Should have had this a month ago because every heated argument we have when Cliff Diving platformtraveling is the result of not having a clue where we are going. Mr. Cheapjeans always thinks we can manage just fine with the free AAA maps, but since I am the navigator I will never agree to this again, ever. Maps are expensive, but divorce is not cheap either.

Followed the malecon (seawall) around till we found a parking space. This just happened to be the place whereMazatlan Cliff Diver the cliff divers jump. It’s a bit of a show. First there is a guy who stands up on the cliff in a tiny Speedo and repeatedly makes like he is going to jump but then hops back in fear. This is basically the opening act. Meanwhile, the actual divers work the crowd, carrying signs that relate how diving from the cliffs is how they make their living and need donations.

Eventually they jumped. I would not have wanted to, that’s for sure.

Meanwhile the vendors worked the crowd too. Lots of hats, silver jewellery, t-shirts, shell necklaces. If you keep saying “no compro” (no buy) and look the other way they leave you alone, but show even the slightest interest in something and they will become your shadow.

One fellow had the cutest little leather purses for children. I made the mistake of actually reaching out to look closer at one. So he was on me.

“How much?”
”700 pesos.”
“Too much.”
“How much you pay?”
“100 pesos.”
“Okay.”

So I reach in my pocket for 100 pesos and he says, “I come back after the divers jump.”

And I never saw him again. For 100 pesos ($1) I would have bought one for each of the little girls in my life, so too bad.

There are so many resorts here and cruise ships making port that the vendors seem to have established their price and will not bargain much. In the old days the rule was that you offered 25% of what they asked and after some haggling would settle on 50% of what they initially asked. Not anymore.

What seems to happen is that wholesalers with a truck full of merchandise arriveVendors getting their product at an area where there are lots of tourists. An item like shell necklaces are doled out to the vendors who then hit the streets flogging these things. Eventually they had back to the truck and settle up.

I really needed a hat . I finally found one I wanted that didn’t have “Corona” or “Mazatlan” splashed over it.

“Cuanto fue?”
“100 pesos ($10).“
“Muy carro.”
“How much you pay?”
“500 pesos.”
“No.

Didn’t even make me a counteroffer. Too bad. I liked his hat ...just a plain straw hat with a simple cloth band around it ...no garish slogans.

While I was watching the divers another fellow comes along with exactly the same hat. He wants to sell it to me for 80 pesos. No, too much. We finally settle on 70. It was exactly the same hat so I guess the shop owner had the guy find me. He has his pride and I have my hat.

From there we continued around the harbour, checking out the port and old Mazatlan. There is a “new” Mazatlan where all the fancy hotels and resorts and chi-chi restaurants are and there is an “old” Mazatlan with its original architecture and markets. In the old section the beach is full of local families who’ve set up their umbrellas and encampments of blue tarps. The children paddle in the water. To keep the littlest ones safe they scoop out a hollow in the sand, the water fills in and they have a paddle pool to play in.

Really enjoyed walking on the beach here. The pelicans waddle around looking for handouts. The vendors add lots of colour with their masses of balloons and Mexican familybeach toys. Women walk up and down the beach peddling fruit and old guys push carts around making shaved ice drinks for the kids. The people are friendly. When they saw Steve taking photos a family of men and boys started clowning around, then all lined up to get their photo taken.

In the market we watched butchers cutting apart whole cows and pigs right there in front of us. One guy was sawing up pigs heads for the ladies who were indicating whether they wanted half a head or just the snout or whatever. Really pushes you hard towards vegetarianism.

We visited these local markets all over Mexico and they are interesting. People in Butcher in Mazatlan Marketthese countries are much closer to their food sources. Yes, they have grocery stores in the big cities here where the meat comes in cello-wrapped packages, but the local markets with their fresh-plucked chickens and their still wriggling fish are where most of the people still shop. It’s real food and a cash economy. The only time on the whole trip we use our credit card is to buy the ferry ticket. Otherwise it’s useless.

Walked around the old part of town taking photos ...really enjoyed this. I know the guidebooks say not to park your car and leave it but we have been parking all over Mexico ...on busy streets but usually in the poor parts of town ...what other parts are there? Our truck has never been molested and except for the one incident at the gas pump we have never been cheated. In fact just the opposite. I think I finally “have it” in regard to the money exchange, but so often I have given a shop clerk far too many pesos, obviously confused, and they always laugh and straighten me out.

April 6, 2007

We left Mazatlan yesterday morning headed south. Our destination was San Blas. The further south we got the lusher the landscape. It gets very jungle-like with lots of big palms and bougainvillea and flowering trees – fluorescent yellow, bright orange and deep purple. Lots of driving up into and out of mountainous terrain with overhanging greenery.

Finally arrived in San Blas and the full impact of “Holy Week” was revealed. This is the week before Easter and every Mexican with so much as a wheelbarrow for transport moves his household to the beach.

It was a madhouse. The streets are packed with vehicles and vendors – piles of of fish that have been flattened out onto a palm leaf and barbecued; HUGE donuts – I mean like dinner plates in size; mounds of shrimp and mountains of fish for dinnershellfish – some kind of oyster it looked like. All the while, the chickens are roasting on the spit and the fat is spluttering into smoky fires. Incredible delicious smells, music pounding at full decibel, roasting meat on oil barrel barbeques, people, children ...complete chaos. One very big party.

With the trailer in tow we make it through to the end of town. We have to keep going in a straight line because with the narrow packed streets we have no hope of turning around. When we come to the end of town there is still no way to turn around but at least the traffic has calmed down so we turn left, hoping to circle a “block”. But there is no such thing as a “block” in these small towns and the road deteriorates very quickly. What had been potholed pavement becomes dirt, becomes a deeply rutted goat path ...humping and bumping along we finally make it back to the beginning and gratefully leave town.

We had been planning to stay in San Blas but a re-read of the guidebook emphasized the nastiness of the sand flies there and it is easy to see why. The town is surrounded by mangrove swamps and “swamps” is the operative word. But that notwithstanding, there would be no hope of staying there anyway. The campgrounds and beaches have been overtaken by Holy Week revellers.

So we continue on. We are traveling on the “scenic” route which is described as a lovely, quiet passage through the countryside ...away from the hustle and bustle of the busy highway.

Only thing is, the guidebook writers did not account for “Holy Week.” Every small Raspador Vendortown is a traffic jam of Mexican proportions. You see, Mexicans consider traffic rules to be no more than “suggestions” and this piece of wisdom was provided to me by a Mexican. So when there is a bottleneck – because people are triple-parked or one driver stops to chat with the passing driver or there is a breakdown or someone stops to buy something from the vendors that constantly jump out in front of you on the roadway ...well, everyone behind just starts driving over, under and around. And of course some of them get stuck or they hit each other or whatever ...exacerbating the chaos.

One time Steve was passing a big semi-trailer and to his left, another truck came barrelling along passing Steve passing the truck. And pass on hills? Isn’t that were everyone passes?

It is not surprising that as you travel along virtually any road there are shrines oncactus shrine every corner ...to those who didn’t make the curva peligorsa (dangerous curve). These shrines range from the modest and simple white cross with a few plastic flowers stuck in the ground to elaborate cement church-type enclosures. One of the most interesting we saw incorporated a big cactus which the mourners had painted white.

The one sign you MUST pay attention to is the one that says “topes” which means speed bump. Every little one-horse town (and there are many of these) has a series of “reductor velocidad” (reduce speed) ridges in the road as you approach and leave town and then somewhere along the way there will be a tope which is a HUGE speed bump. that say “Tope 500 metres” then “Tope 400 metres” then “Tope 300 metres” etc.

But on one occasion today there was NO tope sign and no warning reductor velocidads. Steve hit that speed bump at quite a high speed and I thought the trailer was going to come right off the hitch. Holy cow, what a noise.

When we got into camp that night I was scared to open the trailer door and sure enough, my fears were not unfounded. The door to the dishes cupboard had opened and ALL our cups and plates and bowls were on the floor. It looked like everything was broken, but amazingly, only one glass, one mug and one plate. But the glass was one of those duralex ones that explode and we had glass from one end of the trailer to the other. Even in the bed. Everything had to be removed and shaken out.

What was worse though was the exploding banana. That morning I had put one under- ripe banana in the bowl to keep it safe from being bounced around in the trailer.

With temperatures over a hundred degrees that day, that banana ripened right up. Then it got shaken up and that really softened it ...so when the cupboard door flew open and the banana hit the deck it literally exploded. There was not one shred of pulp in the empty skin, it was plastered all over the trailer and our bed and clothes. And of course it was all now brown and it looked, quite frankly, like shit.

So that was a big clean-up job. But I get ahead of myself.

We continue for another 150 km on the scenic route. Our objective is Rincon de Guayabitos, a pretty town with lots of beach front RV parks that we’ve heard is quiet and beautiful.

We finally get there ...and take the turn into town ...and descend into trailer-pulling hell. If we thought there were lots of people in San Blas, well there were a hundred more people and vehicles and mobile taco stands here. It was a nightmare and we were desperate to get back out. But that was a hairy experience because once again the road turned into a goat trail and both sides of this goat trail had vehicles parked every which way and boom boxes blaring and children running out and people watching.

I walked this pot-holed track in front of the truck, to make sure Steve was not going to run into or tip into another vehicle which are our understanding of Mexican justice informed us would probably land us in jail for the weekend till the insurance sorted it out the upside of which is at least we wouldn’t have to worry about accommodations.

The worst was yet to come at the end of the road though. There were two choices: keep going forward into a lane that was getting even narrower and more rutted or make a right turn up a very steep embankment with a big hump in it ...we knew the trailer would bottom out for sure ...but we could see the main road at the top of it.

So Steve started up ...and if it weren’t for the 4WD we would never had made it. The wheels spun in the soft dirt and the trailer bottomed out and scraped its way up the embankment and over the hump ...and we finally got back to the main, paved road and from there, back onto the highway ...our hearts thumping.

It was too bad we were now so exhausted and burnt out because the road between Rincon and Puerto Vallarta is magical ...mountainous twists and turns, a leafy canopy, beautiful flowers.

We finally made it to the outskirts of Puerto Vallarta and after a few wrong turns and trips around the “returno” we found ourselves in a pleasant suburban RV Park. Mature, shady palms, pretty flowers, and lots of local colour.

Carolyn Usher

Next report: Puerto Vallarta and down the Michoacán Coast

Unless otherwise noted all prices are quoted in US$ or Mexican Pesos. At time of writing, 10 pesos = $1 US or CDN.