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LA to Tulum, Day 9 — Zihuatanejo to Puerto Escondido

By Larry Crowson

Day 9

Woke up early and headed out for another long day. My plan was to make Puerto Escondido by nightfall.

I had to pass thru Acapulco as I headed south. I’ve flown into this town before a few years back. We were picked up and taken directly to hotel row back then for a convention so I didn’t drive around at all.

I have never had a bad time driving in this country until today entering Acapulco. The highway is undergoing massive new roadwork with bridges and tunnels that will improve it, I’m sure. The road just comes to a three-way intersection with no signs telling which way to go to stay on the highway. This lead to a two-hour total pain-in-the-ass drive thru town as I had to keep on guessing which way to go. For the most part, I guessed right, but it got to be stressful. It was a welcome sight when I saw the highway signs again leading me south. From here on I just tried to make up time, as I was anxious to get to Puerto Escondido and explore the coastal town.

This wouldn’t be a long day today except for the fact that I was passing thru what seemed like hundreds of small villages or towns and they all had so many topes (Mexico’s dirty little secret to slow you down without stop lights or cops) or wicked speed bumps that can jolt you awake instantly. Scenery was nice as I pass thru the mountains and foothills. In one of the small villages I saw something that just made me laugh.

No matter where you go in Mexico, there’re lots of street dogs just roaming or hanging out. Well, twice I looked over and saw a large a pig running along with the dogs just like he was part of the group. It seemed perfectly normal at the time but was funny as hell.

I got into town around 4pm and drove around looking for a place to eat and was drawn towards the water. I found an old section of town with lots of historic hotels and shops and restaurants.

I stopped to eat dinner at a very old-looking place with lots of folks already there enjoying the sunset. Food was awesome as usual; they had a really large kitchen with a bakery. The smells coming out of that kitchen was truly inspiring. The local Mayor was having a dinner meeting with some business group and they were filming it for local TV while I was there. The person at the end of their table tried to explain to me what was going on. Once again, the Mexicans’ sense of being polite and courtesy is amazing to me. We should all be like this more in our daily lives.

Headed out after dinner towards the main part of the waterfront and found a charming section of the malecon with lots of hotel choices and great food options everywhere. It was threatening to rain and the surfers were out hitting the last waves of the day. This town has a good feel to it, and it might be my number one choice to explore more when I have time.  You have a mix of Cliffside homes, beachside lots and foothills nearby, all providing a wonderful backdrop against the ocean. There’s a real 60s California surfer hippie vibe here along the waterfront, but it feels nice. Lots of Europeans staying here as well in my hotel.

Well, off to sleep. Tomorrow will be a real butt-buster behind the wheel as I try to hump it home to Tulum.

 

LA to Tulum, Days 4-6 — Los Mochis to Sayulita

By Larry Crowson

Days 4-6

I left Todos Santos around 9 pm, heading to the port outside of LaPaz to catch the midnight ferry across to Los Mochis. The ferry is large ship, which can hold over a hundred passenger cars and many large semi-trucks and other vehicles.

You wait in line for customs as you’re heading into mainland Mexico. Baja has always been treated differently by customs, as they really don’t check much at the TJ border or military checkpoints, their main interest is stopping drugs moving north. Every person or vehicle is stopped and you must show your papers and they ask you what you’re bringing into Mexico. They’re likely to search your car. They give me a light once-over and move me along pretty easy really. The real trip was driving up the ramp with my SUV. They pack all of the trucks and cars like sardines in a can but with very specific weight distribution guidelines. You park and squeeze out and walk up the several flights of stairs and escalators to the main deck. They have two huge dining rooms with TVs everywhere showing movies, soccer, and video games and, of course, a big bar. There’s a scramble to find a good seat for the all night crossing. You can purchase a private berth with a bed and bathroom for another $50. It cost me $170 US for the car and driver. The ship has several topside decks allowing you to move around if you want. Pretty easy crossing in hindsight, but I wish I had gotten a berth. I got real sleepy and most of the good loungers where gone when I got topside and everyone was sprawled out sleeping or resting. The night sky was clear and the crossing was smooth sailing all the way.

As you depart the ferry in Los Mochis, it becomes fast paced, as everyone is raring to go. As you get off you go thru another military checkpoint and I get picked out for another inspection. My papers are good but I was concerned about the fact that the guy who owns the car wasn’t with me and technically he’s supposed to be in the car, as per the Mexican foreign import car permitting. In Mexico, if a local Mexican gets stopped driving a gringo’s car it will most certainly get impounded and you might never see it again, but they usually just wave all gringos thru checkpoints. There has been a very concerted effort by the Mexican Government to try to make moving and buying here a better experience for foreigners; they realize what a huge cash cow we all are to their continued growth. Several US research groups have identified that as many as 26 million baby boomers from the US and Canada will be looking to move to Mexico over the next 20 years seeking a higher standard of living than they can afford up north.

My experience has been that they usually don’t mess with gringos. Sure enough, I get a guy who’s a stickler for rules and he knows he got me dead.  I have a letter of permission from Honda Credit, copies of Joe’s passport & drivers license, the shipping manifest from Hawaii. I should back up here and tell that I’m driving a car just off the boat from Hawaii—the guy who owns it has a New York driver’s license with a title and plates from Hawaii. So you can imagine their curiosity with me and all of my confusing—at least to them—paperwork. Mexico is fighting a big war here on stolen cars from the US, so I must have looked like a potential bad guy with different paperwork.

I do pride myself on being able to talk my way out of most things and this would be a test. Pretty soon, I’m dealing with the Captain and he’s not pleased with me at all. His English is good enough so we can get on with it. I tell again that Joe was with me but he got hurt body surfing in Baja and flew ahead to Cancun as his back was killing him and he couldn’t possibly make the 5-6 days of driving in the car. I had asked Joe ahead of time for just such a letter in case I got stopped, but he never emailed it to me to print off. I understand their mindset about rules and the opportunity to negotiate a fine or mordia. We started off at $1,000 US and they wouldn’t impound the car, which they could have done. After 2 hours we were down to $250, and I promised to fly right home and scold Joe for putting me at risk. It was all pretty civilized and I was at fault. If it hadn’t been such a busy shipping day for commercial trucks, I might have gotten out of there in 20 minutes.

So back on the road heading to Mazatlan, which is 3-4 hours away and a beachside lunch if I push it. Once again the roads are excellent heading south a mixture of toll (cuota) roads and libre (free) or regular highways. The scenery is pleasant and you go thru lots of farmland with occasional glimpses of the ocean. Finding gas anywhere in Mexico now is easy, as there seems to be a Pemex station every few miles; they’re all clean and easy to navigate the buying process, most will accept your credit or debit cards now and it’s all quite secure. There remains the occasional issue about whether the calibration might be off as I once paid for more gas than my car tank could hold and I was standing there the whole time so there was no funny business going on with the gas attendant. Each station is privately owned and most have a toll free number to call if you have any complaints about the service or other issues. For the most part, fraud is disappearing from the whole gas station experience. In the old days, they could switch the handle on and off or pretend to make the wrong change. You still need to pay close attention, but with computerized pumping just like in the states, that has gone away and I believe that Pemex truly wants to stop the bad practices.

Mazatlan is a major shipping port and large city that has a large ex-pat community with lots of waterfront high-rise condos and gringo communities with golf courses up and down the coast. Frankly it’s way too big for my taste.

As I enter the city, I feel like I’m in a big town with the traffic all hurrying around just like you’d expect and I’m ready to stop and have lunch and unwind for a bit before I get back on the road towards Sayulita, my destination for tonight.

This next part of the trip has been highly anticipated and thought out, as I want to go slow as I get to the Riviera Nayarit, which is a 120 mile stretch of coastline of many small towns and villages with dozens of little bays to draw you down to the water. Each one has RV parks, small hotels and local rentals, plenty of local restaurants and of course, beachside restaurants.

This was the area we first fell in love with over 20 years ago on our first trip to Mexico; we stayed at the Marriott in Puerto Vallarta and spent most of our time exploring areas outside the city like Punta Mita and Sayulita which were just starting to take off back then. Somehow, with our many trips to Mexico and buying land we just didn’t get back here. I like the fact that you have foothills and farmland sloping down the beautiful beaches and bays. So you can be in the mountains with jungle or farms or cliffs looking down the coast. After living in Hawaii for 15 years at 3,000-foot elevation, we learned to love being in the hills where it’s cooler and more private. We want to have room to roam, dogs, cats and gardens to die for, I also like to create water features to make my own ocean noises. Here’s the thing, for us we don’t need to wake up to see the water, it’s always around you when you live here just like back in Hawaii.

I split my two nights between Sayulita and Rincon de Guayabitos to see what real estate prices and listings looked like. Sayulita has become a little Aspen of sorts but is still very charming even if over priced for some things. The beach and surf are epic as is the food. The locals are very friendly and outgoing, just as I remembered.

I had one the best breakfasts in my life there at Café El Espresso Sayulita, a local hangout with wifi and great coffee. Incredibly good food; I ordered the Chilaquiles, a simple Mexican breakfast food of flour tortillas chips, cheese, red onions, shredded chicken and lots of fresh herbs, avocado on top with your eggs and the most incredible Verde (green) Chile/Tomatillo sauce I’ve ever had. The flavors and sauces were to die for.

Sayulita has lots of high-end gringo mini mansions with views up and down the coast to choose from. Most are seasonal rentals and the town is pretty busy during high season and as more and more expats retire, the summer season is picking up thru-out Mexico. Summer time is when both expats and Mexican take their family vacations to the mountains or beaches.

I rented a killer 2nd floor boutique condo right on the beach for $55 a night on a small bay filled mostly with Mexican families on holiday. The water was nice and everyone was smiling and having a great time. I was the only gringo as far as I could tell, but I had no problems ordering food and fitting right in. This is what I love so much about this country—a real sense of family and always smiling and friendly to everyone, even strangers.

As I woke up, I was raring to go heading down to Zihuatanejo for my next stop this would be a very long day and one of the most beautiful, filled with incredible scenery as I drove down the Pacific coast and into the mountains and back onto the coast again.