A Year In Mexico… Isla de la Piedra to Guaymas

I woke up at four this morning ahead of a grueling driving day and two and a half hours away from daylight. Unacceptable. I dozed until about 4:30 and then, thankfully, fell back asleep, to wake up eight minutes before my alarm at 5:22. It’s amazing how different I felt after just another 50 minutes of sleep. I got up, dressed, put water on to heat, and then got to work packing up the bedding. Both toppers packed well and quickly. Even after adding them, the dirty laundry tub (topped with sheets and a blanket in a garbage bag), and my pillows, I still had plenty of room to add the bucket after I washed the floors.

I made coffee and while it cooled a tad, I packed my computer bag and got that into the truck. Then, I went through the fridge and freezer one last time and realised that I had six slices of fresh bread and a quarter of a small container of strawberry jam left. I converted that into three jam sandwiches and had one with my coffee. If that doesn’t speak to my state of mind this morning, I don’t know what does — it’s rare for me to have breakfast on a travel day! I knew I would have a very late lunch, so I’d have another sandwich at my morning coffee break and then have a final one a couple of hours before lunch. Perfect; that saved me a stop at Panamá’s. I haven’t been there much this winter, incidentally, not since we got our panaderia on Isla.

By 6:30, it was getting light out and I was done, the house left spotless and the truck neatly packed. It was time to go.

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Yes, I was sad. How could I not be? I had the best year of my life (in two segments) living in this house, in this village. But I was also looking forward to new adventures, and so I was also happy. I have a biological imperative to go. I am unhappy if I don’t heed it and I am unhappy when I do heed it. But I am my best self when I let myself leave, when I accept that this is what my life has to be, constant arrivals and departures, so many hellos and goodbyes, so many shallow and fleeting friendships (and the odd one that really sticks), so much stress about what comes next. It is in this uncertainty that I find myself strong, ambitious, energetic, and productive.

I savoured my time in Mazatlán. I got to know parts of it in ways that I have only ever known one other city in my life. I truly lived in Mexico for a year, dealing daily with the locals for all my needs and speaking their language. I saw all manner of expats, from those who are truly integrated into Mexican life and those who come only for the weather and remain in their Gringo enclaves. My experience was closer to the former and incredibly enriching. I have come to understand things about myself that I have always suspected, but was never able to truly articulate. What I found in Mexico is exactly the same thing I found at my beloved Haven and merits its own post. But I will say now that I have spent but a scant year in Mexico and I have felt more at home in the parts of it that I have seen than I have ever felt anywhere in Canada outside of Haven, and that’s taking into account that the Mexican people are still a mystery to me since I haven’t really befriended any yet. All that to say, I’m ready to move here.

I set off at 6:30 and the Road was, of course, paved except for the last few metres. There were now topes at the houses midway and even speed limit signs (60KPH!). I look forward to reports of how the paving changes Isla over the next few years.

I’d only been driving a few minutes when I realised that my odo and speedo metres weren’t working! I pulled over in front of Estrella del Mar to check my manual and see if they are on the same fuse. Yes. So that was probably the issue, a very inexpensive fix, and one not worth worrying about. I prefer to use my GPS as a speedometre anyway, although I was concerned about not clocking the mileage on the engine. I hadn’t realised it was that easy to turn off and now wonder if the previous owner ever did that and my truck has more mileage than I thought? Ah, no sense worrying. Even though I haven’t driven since the end of November, Moya started up perfectly and was purring.

It was super early, so traffic was light coming into Mazatlán. I pulled into a Pemex at the northern end of town for a final bathroom break and asked the attendant to wash my windows. I also asked if she knew where I could buy a fuse and she told me I was out of luck until stuff opened around eight or 8:30. It was seven and this really wasn’t pressing (I had my turn signals and brake light) so I decided to just stop at the AutoZone in Navojoa near the end of my day.

Because of the increased amount of violence around Maz in the last few months, including several carjackings north and south of the city I made the decision to take the cuota (toll road) all the way, a decision cemented by the fact that numerous people told me to not take the libre no matter how safe I’ve felt taking it in the past. So the first part of my day was very boring, not particularly scenic, and very expensive toll-wise. The most exciting thing that happened was that I got an amazing coffee at the Oxxo 100KM south of Culicán. Second to that was the stop by the federales right after the coffee break, with the very fatherly officer telling me I really should be traveling with a dog or cat! I also had a couple of fruit stops, but they went quickly. Oh, and it rained hard most of the way from just south of Culiacán to just south of Los Mochis… and I discovered that my dead fuse also controls my windshield wipers! That was… “fun.” 🙂

This was my first time doing the cuota to Los Mochis and it really didn’t feel any faster than taking the libre, on top of not being able to go through the pueblos. It’s definitely not my favourite way to travel and the day just draaaaaaagged. I stopped at a Pemex at one point to put in more fuel (I always put in just $500 at a time to force me to stop more often) and had to pay with $50s, which I counted out. The attendant was shocked that I could count to ten in Spanish. Not the most amazing thing I’ve ever learned! Most expats I know who struggle with the language know that… He asked if I was going to Maz because he had some sort of coupon for a hotel, but I told him I was going way, way, way north!

There was a military checkpoint just before the Sonora border, where I got sent to secondary inspection, where I was told to exit the vehicle and go stand by the big dude with the huge gun (my description). My heart sank at the thought that they were going to empty out everything, like they were doing with the class B from California next to me. An officer opened just the canopy and rummaged through what he could reach, including the dirty laundry (*laughs*) and going into two tubs and unwrapping some things in one of them (keyboard and external hard drive). He then said I could lock up and follow him to the front so I could move the driver’s seat ahead so he could see what I was carrying behind it. I told him there is a rear door, so he opened that himself and rummaged through the two totes there. Then he asked me the usual questions of where I was coming from and where I was going before telling me I could go. I was there about 20 very long minutes!

Then, came the Sonora border, the really bad bit of road right around it, and another fruit inspection. This one also went very quickly. It was around here that I realised that I was going to “gain” an hour today, thanks to my GPS. I didn’t use a GPS last year and am pretty sure that I didn’t clue into this because I didn’t note gaining an hour until I crossed into Arizona. So that was a surprise, neither good nor bad.

It was slow going from the border to Navojoa because of construction meaning there was only one lane in both directions and I got stuck behind a semi. So by the time I reached Navojoa, I was just done and ready to call it a night! If I didn’t have that reservation on Monday night, I just might have done that! But, instead, I decided to have a proper lunch break. The last two times I passed through Navajoa, I noted one taco joint in particular (there are a lot of them on Mex-15 through the city!) that has al pastor tacos, Don Amable, in front of the Chevrolet dealership. I decided that I would stop there if they were open and I could find parking.

I got a red light before the Soriana coming into Navojoa and two boys took the time to wash my windshield. They couldn’t have been at it more than fifteen seconds, really, and did an amazing job — there wasn’t a streak or bug left! How do they do that with just a water bottle and a squeegee?! I love the window washers in Mexico, even if I sometimes get irked when I get my windshield done and one block later, another guy decides to do it again and won’t take no for an answer! In that case, he gets $1 instead of $5 (pesos!).

Before lunch, I stopped at AutoZone and wasted ten minutes. I found my fuses in under thirty seconds and then went to the till to pay. A few people lined up behind me and when a cashier finally came after a whole ten minutes of waiting, she called to the guy behind me! I said no, I was there first and she replied that they were there first, the five men in line behind me and that I could wait till they’d paid! What the hell?! Needless to say, I dropped my fuses right there and left. No, I did not misunderstand what she said.

Too hungry to be annoyed, I continued on a few blocks and found Don Amable open, with ample street parking across from it on my side of the highway. It’s just a normal taco joint, nothing special in terms of decor. I sat and a gentleman came to welcome me and take my order. I asked for two al pastor tacos with everything and he asked me to specify corn or wheat tortillas! Apparently, the look on my face said it all because he burst out laughing and said “Corn it is!” without my having to say anything. LOL!!! They came quickly with heaps of extras to pile on them!

Here they are naked:

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And semi-dressed:

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I kept adding stuff as I ate. I went light on the hot red sauces, but went through a lot of the salsa mexicana, guacamole, pickled onion, and shredded cabbage. I love cabbage on tacos, but have never had it on al pastor ones! I was done with my first taco when I started regretting not ordering something to drink. Just as I was about to look around for a server, one materialised to ask if I wanted anything to drink! Really! He was about to recite a list of beverages, but I cut him off and asked if they had Fresca. Yes! And it came in a glass bottle! How quaint!

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I couldn’t feel my tongue when I came out of there and decided that it was fate that there just happened to be a Thrifty’s ice cream across the street… One choco brownie cone later, my tastebuds were restored and I was ready to do the final stretch to Guaymas.

Dull as the day had been, it had been a good one thus far. Now that have three Mexican cities under my belt and have driven away from this Mex-15 stretch, I feel that I have more general Mexico experience and am so much more comfortable in new situations. I did well going north last year, but I still felt that I needed to stick to familiar places. Now, I have a good idea of where to get things outside of chain stores and I’m not nervous about asking for what I need. I’ll definitely be able to hit the ground running when I move to Mérida and focus on the more advanced things I need to learn.

And so, I kept driving, and running into toll booths. There were exactly ten today, for a total of $677 (52.13CAD). OUCH. But I have to say that with my not being budgeted as tightly as I was last year, it wasn’t distressing, just profoundly annoying when you’d get to a toll booth only a few kilometres after the last one!

I finally got off the cuota at Guaymas. Traffic was light going through the city. I knew the AutoZone was on the “wrong” side of the highway, so I turned off before it so I could go in the back way. I love knowing little things like that! If I’d had to make the left-hand turn, I don’t think I would have bothered because I was knackered and just wanted to get off the road!

My experience at the Guaymas AutoZone was the completely opposite of that in Navojoa — I was out the door in under a minute! And as I opened my front door wide to put the new fuse in, an employee came to ask if I needed help! Wow! No, I didn’t need help. I pulled out the old fuse using a very handy little tool mounted right into the fuse box and then popped in the new one. I did a couple of checks and confirmed that my problem was solved. Easy peasy! Only cost me 2CAD and not an ounce of worry. I had to buy a package of fuses so I have a few extra. They’re 10A and I tend to go through at least one 10A fuse a season with one of my inverters in the RV, so the extras will be used up.

I was glad that I’d made the decision to stop in Guaymas rather than San Carlos tonight because I was just done as I left the city limits on the other side. I’d found a decently rated cheap motel, the Malibu, in front of the Walmart and headed there to see if they had a room.

It wound up being just past the Walmart and I had to do a U-turn:

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Yes, they had a vacancy, and the room was $40 more than on the website. I lost that argument, but at $450 pesos, it was still a good deal. Well, as the check-in process moved on, the clerk and I chatted and she finally said, “You know what? I’m going to give you that $410 rate!” Wow. What happened?! So $410, plus a $100 key and remote deposit, with breakfast included. I was already doing better than at Totonaka!

The room is equivalent in terms of amenities and age, but marginally cleaner and the bed a touch softer. I like that the only window is in the bathroom, meaning that once the bathroom door is shut, the room is dark. I also like that there are multiple signs stating that people are here to sleep and that music and other loud noises will not be tolerated. Okay. I’m starting to like this place! I do miss not having that last view of the Sea of Cortez, though. But here are the red hills I’m going to be seeing a lot of in the next several days!

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There is just one restaurant within walking distance, literally beside the hotel. And it’s Arbolitos de Cajeme! I didn’t realise they are a chain! I’ve been there a few times in San Carlos (they’re right next to Totonaka). In fact, if I had gone to San Carlos tonight, I would have going there and had the octopus pasta I had in November of 2014

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Needless to say, I barely glanced at the menu after I was seated tonight. 😀 I had the pasta with an icy cold XX and skipped the totopos and garlic bread. So yummy! I mean, Parmesan, fresh basil, red and yellow peppers, and tons of shrimp and octopus. Yum!!! It looks different from what I was served in San Carlos in that there, the Parmesan, basil, and oil are served as pesto while here, the ingredients are separate and you get the whole basil leaves. Both versions are great and are generous with the octopus.

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There was an ad on the table for their freshly made ice cream so even though I really didn’t need dessert, I asked if they had the mango one. No. But they did have a bunch of other flavours and I decided to try the pineapple… which wound up being $69… and worth every peso for the presentation. I burst out laughing when this was placed in front of me!

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Seriously?! I’m still laughing at how unexpected this was. The server says that the ice cream was made from the pulp of that miniature pineapple. Hmm… Well, the serving was very generous, but I got through it. 🙂

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This was really good quality ice cream, very “pineapple-y,” and the perfect cap to a good meal. Dinner was $275 with the tip, a lot more than I normally spend on a meal in Mexico, but absolutely worth every centavo in terms of the quality and even gourmet nature of my meal. This was a 20CAD meal. You don’t get food like this for 20 bucks in Canada!

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I was done for the day after that. I came in and had a tepid shower (perfect temperature), then crawled into bed to check out the wifi (a bit slow, but it works!!!!). It’s only eight local time, but nine my time and I’m almost at the point of needing to prop my eyelids open with toothpicks! Breakfast starts at six and sunrise is at six, so I might as well turn in early and get an early start. My ambitious plan for tomorrow is to get through Phoenix! I’ll know how realistic that is when I get through the border…

10 thoughts on “A Year In Mexico… Isla de la Piedra to Guaymas

  1. Sometimes those few extra minutes when you manage to go back to sleep are the best! I did that today, too, and it made a huge difference in my mood.

    • Thanks, that was interesting, Nancy. Makes me think of my masseuse, who was in the US legally, but who chose to return to Mexico and is doing better for himself there.

  2. As I go through the transition it helps me to keep this in mind – perhaps it will you as well:

    All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy;
    for what we leave behind us is part of ourselves;
    we must die to one life before we can enter another.

    ~Anatole France

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