Trekking to Mazatlán
By Bob Sanchez
“You’re going to Mexico, and you’re driving? Good luck, and let me know if you make it back...”
That seemed to be a common reaction among the people we told of our travel plans.
In fact, my wife and I had felt apprehensive when our friends suggested we follow them in our RV for 1100 miles to Mazatlán on Mexico’s west coast. But they’ve lived in Mexico, travel there frequently, and speak Spanish. Moreover, they shrugged off news reports of mayhem. Their confidence was infectious, so we agreed to a month-long trip, purchased the requisite Mexican auto insurance, and began our two-RV caravan in early January.
We entered Mexico from Nogales, Arizona, and my wife and I promptly learned we couldn’t get any cash out of the Mexican ATMs. Oops. We had neglected to advise our bank of our travels, so when our bank card showed up in Mexico, the bank reasonably presumed it was stolen. There followed a flurry of communications with the bank—by phone, email, and fax—to resolve the problem, and finally it was settled. So here’s a lesson: If you’re traveling to Mexico, let your bank know in advance.
From the U.S. border we stayed on Highway 15 all the way to Mazatlán. There are lots of tolls, and the road’s quality is often not up to U.S. standards. Topes (speed bumps) slow the approach to towns, sometimes with the locals offering food or bootlegged CDs to travelers who virtually stop for the bumps. San Carlos is a good overnight stop along the way, as it’s on the Pacific coast and is used to tourists. After another day’s drive, sleepy Celestino Gasca offers a couple of tiny RV parks that sit on a long and empty beach. If you love solitude, remember that name.
But mostly I want to tell you about Mazatlán. We stayed at Mar Rosa RV Park, mere yards away from both a busy street and the ocean. In our RV at night, the constant sounds of traffic and surf blended enough so they could be hard to distinguish from each other. Perhaps two-thirds of the RVs in our park were from Canada—British Columbia in particular—and were staying for the winter. The U.S. visitors were nearly all from west of the Mississippi.
On the beach, vendors walked with baskets on their backs and straw hats piled on their heads, trolling for customers. On many afternoons, parasails glided high over the warm ocean with intrepid tourists being pulled by boats and cables. Perhaps the tourists have to be of a certain age to brave such flights; I saw no old folks trying them.
A number of restaurants face the beach. Diners can take in the sunset and drink margaritas as they study their menus. Our tab for two meals, drinks, and tip tended to be quite reasonable, in the range of $35 (U.S.) or less. Many businesses accept cash only, so we were grateful for the local ATMs.
Tearing ourselves away from the lovely beach, we found the city easy and inexpensive to explore. An air-conditioned bus into downtown costs nine pesos each (about $0.75), or an old rattletrap bus for six pesos. We rode one that had a hand-painted destination on its cracked windshield, with a little girl aged four or five who sat on the driver's knee. It reminded me of Bring Your Daughter to Work Day here in the U.S.
We also rode the ubiquitous pulmonias, or open-air taxis. They’ll go anywhere in the city for a modest fee that is usually negotiable. We rode one to the Mercado Municipal (municipal market), an indoor shopping area with dozens of vendors selling clothing, arts, crafts, food, and such. It’s gritty but fun. Vendors tend be assertive and friendly, and often you can haggle on prices. We must have had Gringo emblazoned on our foreheads, because the vendors immediately tried out their English on us. At one vendor’s meat stand, a pair of skinned pigs’ heads stared blindly at passing customers, and for a fleeting, queasy moment I thought to become a vegetarian.
For regular shopping, the big chains like Wal-Mart and Sam's Club stand ready to take your pesos. We bought our groceries at a nearby Mega super market, which is as clean, modern, and well-stocked as any in the States.
Of course, Mazatlán isn’t all pigs’ heads and basket vendors. The city has a great boardwalk and interesting culture. One night we attended an excellent flamenco performance (http://miuraexpresionflamenca.com/) in the historical part of the city.
If you want to drive to Mexico for the first time, I suggest you travel at least once with someone who has been there. Then, like us, you’ll want to return.
To learn more about Mazatlán, visit http://www.mazinfo.com/.