New -Mexico 2005 Trip Report
We left Cleveland when the weather turned cold on January 5th. As usual we headed due South first to Atlanta to help Peggy's sister with a few remodeling projects. The weather then turned cooler there and so we headed further south to Houston to see Rich & Tracey Priem and their new baby Cade. They are both bike racers so they named the baby Cadence for pedaling. We did a few bike rides and the weather turned cooler here also.
By January 21st we were finally on our way to Mexico, we stopped in overnight in Laredo so that we could cross the boarder early in the morning and avoid the crowds. After getting confused and going around in circles at the border entrance station, it took about an hour to get all the paper work for the RV completed. It was drizzling but it is mostly turnpike driving. In each large town you get dumped off the turnpike and need to negotiate some bumpy local roads to the far side of town to pickup the next turnpike. The turnpikes have virtually no traffic since they are very expensive. The 500 mi drive cost us about $100 in tolls. Gasoline is fairly expensive at $2.15/gal and is the same everywhere since the stations are all gov'mt operated.
I brought my laptop computer with me for two reasons. I have a GPS that plugs into the USB port so that I always know exactly where I am and a cell phone that also plugs in giving me internet access as long as I am in a Verizon digital area. There are two problems in Mexico; the computer maps are not very good showing only main highways and they are not very up-to-date, there is no Verizon digital cell phone service. Most large towns have internet cafes and only cost only $1-3 per hour. So I could keep our web site up-to-date and answer my e-mail by using my computer and putting the files on a disk to use in their computers.
We decided to stay 2 nights in Durango to rest up from our long drive and get ready for the hair-raising ride to Mazatlan. You camp in a field in a motel complex and use the shower in an empty room. Durango even had a Sam's club & Wal-Mart. The drive from Durango at 7000' elevation crosses over a 9200' pass, across the "Devils Spine" down to sea level in Mazatlan. The drive is only 200 miles but it took us almost 8 hours. I think the views would have been beautiful, if we could see them. It was raining hard, foggy in places and filled with trucks that like to take up both sides of the road. The only spectacular thing was the hundreds of waterfalls, coming down the steep cliffs, sometimes right down onto the highway. We had a lot of rock dodging to do. When we started it was 45oF in Durango, it dropped to 40oF at the pass, which had piles of snow under the trees. As we came out of the mountains the temperature started to rise. When we reached the coast at Mazatlan it was 75oF and sunny. They are starting a new turnpike to improve this drive but at the Mexican pace it won't be completed in my lifetime.
Summer was finally here. We picked a campground right in the heart of all the action. It is a block from the beach and has a large swimming pool and lots of shade from the sun. We could walk to town and/or ride the buses or taxis. I did some bike riding to the North of the Zona Dorado (Hotel Zone). The scenery changes from large hotels & restaurants to big open fields and a few campgrounds. We had stayed in this area on our last trip but it was too far from everything. When the guided caravan trips are camped here the local restaurants come in and offer a free party with drinks and snacks to get people to come to their places. One day a group from the Salvation Army brought in 20-30 kids, all in costume, who performed native dances for a little donation for the local children's home. Some performers were as young as 3 yrs old. It made you want to cry. After 9 days we decided to move further south down the west coast of Mexico. We had no planned itinerary and did not make reservations anywhere. We decided if we liked the place we would stay and if not move on. We had traveled the entire west coast in the past and thought we may make it as far south as the Guatemala border.
We left Mazatlan early Monday morning and drove south about 150 mi. We were less then a mile from our planned destination when a motorcycle cop pulls us over. Now remember, he can't speak English and I barely can barely converse in Spanish. He claims that I didn't stop for a traffic light, I said it was just turning caution, he says you can't go through on amber either. I try my winning smile, my best arguments. He just says I should get a ticket and won't relent. He even suggests that maybe I was speeding, I wasn't. I guess it's La Mordida (the bite or bribe) that will be the only thing that works. I call him into the motor home and offer him 50 pesos (almost $5), he smiles and wraps the bill in his blank ticket and gives me directions to our desired location, Playa Chacala. I guess this is the price of admission to this area.
Playa (Beach) Chacala is a newly discovered place since they recently paved the 5 mi road from the main highway to town. It was just as we hoped for; a mile of clean beach with the tiny town on one end and a health spa, Spanish school, on the other end. There are bars/restaurants on the beach near the town and some million-dollar homes in the nearby hills, the reason for the paved road it seems. It looks like about 12 Canadian RV'rs have taken up all the beachfront camp sites so we park our RV and walk around. As we walk to the end of the beach farthest from the restaurants we find a few small homes with signs about showers and toilets. After asking around, I find that we can pull our RV between two shower houses right up to the beach and have our own private site with a large palapa to hang my hammock with only the noise of the chickens and roosters to bother us. The sound of the waves pounding on the beautiful wide beach almost drowns them out. Best of all, it's almost free. I negotiate a rate of 3 nights for 100 Pesos ($9). We did a lot of beach walking and I paddled my kayak around the bay. There is internet access in a school in town but the connection is slow and has no floppy disk drives for me use to transfer files. So I bike 7 mi, uphill both ways, to the bigger town of Las Varas to one of several internet cafes.
We really enjoyed our 8-day stay on Playa Chacala, even after it got busy with lots of Mexican families who were on a 4-day holiday weekend. It turns out that Thursday was Constitution Day and the families pack up the kids and head for the beach. Things really came alive on the sleepy little beach. Little bands playing if you gave them some Pesos, lots of beach vendors peddling hammocks, popsicles and t-shirts. Luckily our camping spot was at the far end and we were seldom bothered. Each day however we had small trucks come by at the same time selling; Purified Water (5 gal jugs for $1) which we added to our water tank each day and drank good water, Tortillas (we skipped those), vegetables, freshly made bakery, and misc. plastic ware. You never had to leave your camp with all this service. There were small grocery stores in the town for whatever else we needed. Buying water this way for our 5 week Mexico trip cost us about $12. Much easier then trying to treat the bad Mexican water to make it drinkable.
We finally felt that we needed to move on so we headed about 50 mi south. We had heard that the campground at Sayulita, where we had stayed a few years ago, was very popular and full. So we stopped at just north of there at a town called Lo de Marcos. The town was much bigger then Playa Chacala and had four campgrounds and a nice beach. We had an unusual way to find the campground. As we drove into town there was a small boy maybe 13 years old, on his bike who waved to us. As we rode though the town he rode along side of us asking if we wanted to go to Pretty Sunset RV Park. We said yes, so he began leading us though the several turns through town and to the campground. He opened the campground gates; we were here at 9 am since it was only a short drive from Chacala. The lot had room for 8 RV's and one spot was open. He directed us in and told us to hookup. I figured that he was just an enterprising young boy looking for tips. It turns out that he actually runs the park. He collected our camp fee and welcomed us.
The campsite did not have direct access to the beach. You needed to go out the gate and back into the rest of the park to get to the beach. So although the facilities were nice we preferred to be closer to the beach and at least hear the surf. We left early the next morning and headed toward Puerto Vallarta. We stopped at Sayulita and found out that it was indeed full and would be that way for a month. In PV we found a Sam's club next to a Super Wal-Mart where we did a lot of food shopping. Food is not that cheap in Mexico. They only bargains were fresh fruits and vegetables at small stores or roadside stands.
We then headed south into the city; actually we missed the bypass and ended up right along the Malecon (Beach walk) with hundreds of stores, shoppers, buses and traffic lights. We eventually found our way out of town and headed up the mountains, about 2500', before we came down to the coast again. It was 2 pm and I had enough driving for a day, so we pulled into the first town that we saw that had a paved road going to the beach. It was Punta Perula. It had several RV parks on Chamela Bay. The trailer park we picked was very nice with full hookups and we were almost on the beach. The campground is managed by one of the campers; he loved to fish and gave us our fill of fresh fish whenever we wanted. I'll bet 80% of the campers in MX head to the same campground each year and stay for the entire winter. You do see a few Caravans with 10-15 big RV's being lead down the coast as a tour. I guess they are afraid to try Mexico on their own. It is really quite safe down here and the roads are not in that bad a condition. If you stay off the roads at night you will have no problems. One couple hit a cow in the dark with their trailer. We stayed here for a week taking walks on the wide 4-mile long sandy beach and paddling my kayak around the large rocks in the beautiful bay. There was no internet access in town, maybe next year?
We left on Wed 2/18 for another beach campground about 40 mi south called Boca Beach. This campground was pretty full and the only sites that they had available were tent sites back in a shady palm grove. It was a nice big site but you get more breezes if you are closer to the beach. There were lots of Canadian campers crowded in for the season. The bay was nice and the kayaking was good, but the beach was not as clean so we stayed for only two nights.
We moved about 12-miles south to the next bay, Bahia de Navidad (Christmas Bay). There are actually three towns on the bay, Melaque, Oberegon and Barra de Navidad. We had stayed in the biggest town, Melaque, on our last trip but had heard that there was a brand new campground in Oberegon behind a beautiful hotel, Laguna del Tule, with a big swimming pool.
There were electrical hookups but no showers but we could camp right on the beach that faced west and could watch the most beautiful sunsets. The last two bays that we had stayed at faced south. This beach is very steep and the big waves crashed into the shore, kayaking was out of the question unless the waves died down. They just got bigger each day.
We had only traveled about 400 miles along the coast, but Peggy was getting anxious to get back home. Our original plans had us going 700 mi further south along the West coast but we think it may be too warm if we go further south. The weather from Mazatlan to Barra de Navidad was about 80oF for the highs and it would go to low 60's at night. We had to use blankets for sleeping and never needed air conditioning with the great breeze from the 75oF Ocean water.
Our next destination is the second biggest city in Mexico, Guadalajara. It is at about 5000' elevation and has nice year around temperatures. Lots of North Americans have retired here. The highs are in the high 70's and lows in the low 40's. We got an early start and chose the direct route up the mountains. There were mixed reports on the drivability of the road but it was 60 mi shorter and about an hour quicker than taking the toll roads out of Manzanillo. The road had a few very curvy sections but no steep climbs. There is a nice campground which is right on the edge of the city. It is way back from the highway and now partially filled with retirement homes as well as transient campers. It is very quiet. We met up with two couples that we camped with at Punta Perula and one couple we camped with at Melaque. We rested for the day. On Thursday, one couple offered us a ride in their jeep to the town of Tonala. Thursday is market day and there were hundreds of booths and stores selling local crafts. It was the biggest open air market that I have seen anywhere.
We left around 5 AM to avoid the heavy Guadalajara traffic. It was a good thing that we had driven to Tonala the day before. There were several detours and very confusing road signs. The start of the Turnpike is right at Tonala. Once we got there it was clear sailing and all but about 40 mi of turnpike driving back to Laredo. We made an overnight stop in Matehuala and by Saturday afternoon we were back at the border to turn in our RV permit and get across the border. This process took 1-1/2 hours. Weekends are a bad time to cross the border. It is crowded with Mexicans who come to USA to shop. It's really less expensive in the USA now than in Mexico. The toll roads from Guadalajara to Laredo cost us another $100 but are really worth it. We spent a day in Houston cleaning up and took two days to drive home to Cleveland. We blew in with the wind and warm 70o weather which lasted for one day. Now we are back to winter again, wishing we were back in Mexico.
Old Trip Report from Mexico 2000
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