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.


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:


And semi-dressed:


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!


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:


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!


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


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.


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!


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. 🙂


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!


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…

The Road to Paradise is Hell (or Guamúchil to Isla de la Piedra, Redux)

I had a nice evening in Guamúchil. I delayed dinner as long as I could, but by 6ish, it was time. I went down to the restaurant and ordered a Pacifico and the enchiladas mole. Like last year, the food was really delicious! They talked me into have their prune cake for dessert, too. 🙂 My food came out quickly and I made a comment to this effect. The waiter (same guy as last year!) winked and said I had the kitchen all to myself for at least another hour. That rather broke the ice and we chatted for a bit since he wasn’t busy. His children live in Seattle and he asked if I’ve ever been there because he’d been there once during the winter and the weather was horrible. I laughed and told him that Seattle has no idea what winter is really like!

After dinner, I headed back to my room to read. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to get any rest because there was a party going on with very loud music (tons of bass, too, which makes me physically ill) and fireworks. Thankfully, by 9:00 there was just loud music with no bass and it made rather white noise that allowed me to fall asleep. I vaguely remember waking up around 11:00, but then it was 5:30, a surprisingly good night! It helped that I’d brought in my mattress topper, so I wasn’t sleep on a rock-like bed!

I Googled when sunrise was going to be to see if I was going to laze around or head out and the answer was 6:20, so I could definitely pack and start loading the truck. It was light enough out by 6:00 for me to go. I stopped at the Oxxo for coffee and, like last year, it was the worst Oxxo coffee I’ve had, as well as the cheapest (I sense a correlation). Never again am I going to that one!

Next stop was Scotiabank because I was a little tight in my cash on hand if I had any surprises like rent going up or whatever and didn’t want to chance having to rush to a bank tomorrow. The GPS took me to the bank without fuss… and which turned out to be a HSBC! Bummed that I’d have to detour to the one on Rafael Buelna in Maz, I headed back to the main road. Judging by the amount of shouts I got from a handful of pedestrians, I must have done so the wrong way down a one-way street without signage to that effect. Really, driving in Mexico is no different than driving in Quebec! Anyway, this led me to make a few extra turns and, oh, look at that, there’s a Scotiabank!

It took a bit of work to make my withdrawal because their ATMs are really fussy. You have to put your card in and take it out really fast, then put it in again, where it will lock. I was hoping to be able to take out $5,000, which was tight based on my daily limit, depending on the exchange rate. I got the very terrifying, “Your card is not compatible with our ATMs” message that I knew, thanks to knowledge gained last year, meant, “You can’t take out that much.” So I tried again for $4,000 and that worked just fine.

(Pesos, folks, pesos!)

I then headed out of Guamúchil and pointed the truck towards Culiacán on the libre. I made it to the next to last city on my itinerary in record time. I passed a Panamá bakery, so I pulled into a very tight parking lot to get some munchies. They had the almond croissants and ham and cheese sandwiches I like, so I started with those, then asked if they had anything with apples. The gal went to the kitchen and came back with a tray of apple tarts “with lots of cinnamon.” Perfect! For the first time, they offered to heat up my sandwich, but I said no thank you because I’d be eating it later.

So of course, I stopped at the next Oxxo for a much better coffee to go with my breakfast. 🙂

Having accidentally driven the cuota much of the way from Mazatlán to Culiacán last year, doing so this year wasn’t even a consideration. Yes, it’s faster, but that’s all there is to be said for it. The libre is much more scenic and there are more services. To me, it’s worth the extra time. If I was in an RV, though, I’d find the cuota worth the money to save all that stopping and going and slowing down as we go through the towns!

I thought about stopping in El Quelite, but I had no idea what sort of shape The Road would be in and didn’t want to spend a few hours doing touristy stuff and then discover that The Road would be in worse shape than last year and take hours and end up on Isla rushed and burnt out. Maybe on the way home?

It feels like I made it to Maz in record time this year, even with my stops. There was a very tiny detour around an overpass, otherwise it was very straightforward to get through town. I nixed my plans to stop at Soriana since I wasn’t hungry and decided to head straight to Isla. I made a final pit stop because you do not want to face The Road with anything sloshing around in your bladder!

There was a huge accident right at the turn off for the airport and traffic redirection appeared to be a nightmare. I told the police officer right at my exit that I was headed to my home on Isla de la Piedra and he looked very relieved that I wasn’t a tourist he’d have to reroute!

The first part of The Road was better than last year, but that’s not saying much, in that it was just as rutty, but there were fewer lakes. When I got to the end of that bit, I came upon my water guy from last year, parked while talking to someone. He recognised me and shouted, “Hola amiga! Bienvenidos!” Funny how he was the last Isla person I saw when I left in the spring!

Then, there was the very nice paved section. Then a little bit of graded gravel. Then a long section with huge rocks that haven’t been graded. My truck could barely go over some of those rock piles. It was really bad. An RV would find The Road impassable.

Since I drove The Road several times last year and know what my truck can do, I wasn’t as nervous and drove it pretty quickly, making it to Isla in exactly 30 minutes.

I checked out the house and it was obviously not ready. I went to my landlady’s place and she was so relieved to see me, saying she knew I had said I would not be calling again, but she had still expected a final check in (serves her right for being so hard to reach last year! *g*). She said she needed a couple of hours, but the house was mostly done. I told her I was in absolutely no rush and was going to visit my friends L&N who live on Goat Island. As long as I had a bed tonight, it was all good. She said absolutely! I had thought to arrive around 2:00 and it was around 12:30, so I was early and hadn’t expected the house to be ready anyway!

L&N were thankfully home, so I spent a couple of hours and had as many beers. 🙂 I gave them their purchases and they were very happy, especially to see as much cat litter as I brought them. They only arrived yesterday and, like me, are glad to have landed. They had the flights from hell from Winnipeg!

They had stuff to do, so I headed back to the house to park my truck around 3:00. The yard looked a lot neater, so I suspected I could go back to my landlady’s to get my keys. Yup! She confirmed that I have lots of gas (propane/butane) and that she’ll get my internet turned on ASAP. TelMex is apparently closed tomorrow, so it will happen Tuesday and I should be online by Wednesday…

In the meantime, I’ve discovered I have usable internet with my Wilson Sleek cradle in the truck. That means the phone has to be in the truck and then I’m limited by the computer’s distance from the phone. Ergo, I’ll be working from outside this week! That suits me just fine, it’s HOT.

Now, the house… It’s obvious that she was rushed to get it ready for me tonight in that I’m missing little things like a roll of toilet paper and towels, the washer isn’t hooked up, and the water heater wasn’t on. Absolutely no biggies.  Oh, and the fridge smelled like someone died in it, but ten minutes after putting a bowl filled with a couple of spoons of coffee in it, it was fine!

Other than that, everything was good! The house is freshly painted, there are new curtains in the kitchen (which aren’t as nice quality as what was there last year, but have a much lovelier pattern and offer more privacy), there’s a better (and nicer) bedspread in the bedroom, and…. she got me the armchair I asked for for the living room. I am SHOCKED. It’s not what I would have picked out for myself, but she did really well with my request. It has the arm rests and back support I want and a decent cushion for my butt. I wish I had a foot rest, but I can put my feet up on the couch and will pin a towel or something to the seat so I don’t get it dirty. I know I am going to spend a lot of time reading in this chair this winter!

I emptied the truck right away and set to work getting nearly everything put away! I want to wash all my kitchen stuff as everything is gritty but I promptly sorted through what was here and put away what I won’t use, then figured out where my stuff will end up. I don’t have the extra counter unit this year, so I’m glad I brought a table on which to lay out things. I may go pick up a set of plastic drawers because I really have no place to put things like dish towels or utensils. But I can at least make coffee tomorrow morning!

Tomorrow’s project will be to start setting up my office, but there’s no rush for that since I won’t be working from it for a few days. My landlady asked if I mind if she leaves both twin beds in the house and I told her it’s fine even though it will mean a more cramped office. I am going to take the liberty of doing some furniture rearranging and move one out of the way.

In between bouts of putting stuff away, I headed ‘downtown’ to see if the grocery store was open, which it wasn’t. No biggie. It should be open early tomorrow and I’ll need fresh tortillas anyway! I wasn’t planning to cook tonight, that’s for sure! I didn’t need anything badly enough to stop in at an abarrotes (convenience store), of which there were a handful open.

I headed out to Miguel’s restaurant around 6:30 and boy were they busy! Always a good sign! He and Angela greeted me warmly and took a couple of minutes for a super quick catch up. I had the shrimp burritos (surprise…) and they were as good as I remembered them! Angela asked if they were okay and I said, “With a belly full of good food, I’ll sleep well tonight!” She laughed and said that made her happy.

Like last year, I’ve come just after lots of rain, so there are huge puddles of water all around Isla. Unless I want to take a huge detour, there are two huge lakes between my house and the restaurant. I went around one to get there and around the other to get home. In the dark. With barely any lighting. I didn’t slip in the mud or fall in the water or trip on anything the way I did when I arrived last year until I got my Isla footing! It’s like I’ve never left! 🙂

It’s really good to be back! I wonder if tomorrow will be a ‘I just want to hang out at home in my PJs’ or a ‘Maz, here I come!’ day. We shall see. 😀

Last Full Day in Mexico — or Isla to San Carlos

I’m shocked that I slept well last night! I fell asleep around 10:30, woke for some reason around 1:00, and then slept soundly until 5:15. I uould have probably used another hour, but I was awake and it was still pitch dark out, so I was highly motivated to get done packing and cleaning and head out at first light!

I’d left out the coffee supplies, but had packed the BBQ lighter! Thankfully, I found a match that worked, even if I burned my finger lighting it! 🙂 I had my coffee in between doing bursts of stuff. By 6ish, I just had the floors left to do, but it was pitch dark out still. And then, just like at night, someone switched on the light and it was day. There’s really no build up to it!

I made sure I hadn’t forgotten anything, left a note for the landlady telling her I washed all the bedding, towels, and curtains and turned off the water heater, as well as confirming that I’m planning to be back November 25th and that I’ll call if that changes, gave the floor a final mopping, and that was that!

Heading out!

Heading out!

I had promised myself I wouldn’t get too maudlin about leaving, but there was still a huge lump in my throat as I wound my way through the narrow alleyways of my neighbourhood and made my way to The Road.

I embarked on The Road at 6:42.

I embarked on The Road at 6:42.

Last Isla sunrise,

Last Isla sunrise,

The Road was in fine shape, but I took my time.

Off The Road at 7:11, so that means it took me 29 minutes. I'm a bit shocked it took that long. I must have taken this picture as I was leaving Estrella del Mar, not arriving!

Off The Road at 7:11, so that means it took me 29 minutes. I’m a bit shocked it took that long. I must have taken this picture as I was leaving Estrella del Mar, not arriving!

I pulled over at the golf course to get some water since I had put my Nalgene bottles into the back for some reason. As I was getting ready to pull out, my water guy passed me! He pulled over and called out, “¿Adios?” and I replied, “No. ¡Hasta noviembre!” (See you in November). He replied that that was wonderful and wished me a good trip. I didn’t realise that the water guys go to Maz every day!

Traffic was light coming into Maz.

I tried to get a last picture of Maz, but failed. :)

I tried to get a last picture of Maz, but failed. 🙂

I knew there was a Panamá’s near the Santa Rosa Soriana and, with traffic not requiring my undivided attention, I was able to spot it, tucked away into a strip mall. It was just a tiny one. I got a sandwich for breakfast, pineapple empanada for my coffee break, brownie for lunchtime dessert, and a croissant for tomorrow morning (that will likely be stale, I know).

Then, it was time to find fuel. I never noticed that there are bunch of Pemexes between the airport road and Maz southbound, but none on the northbound side until you get into town. I finally found one where getting in and out wouldn’t be a sport. I asked for 700 pesos’ worth and went to use the bathroom while the fueling was being done. The bathroom had paper, soap, AND seats!

700 pesos was full tank, so that meant I would be able to track my gas mileage. When I bought the truck and drove it cross-country, I was able to do about 125KM per quarter tank and get the ‘you need to fill up’ light at about the 500KM mark. My Ford Ranger forum guys said these were normal figures for my truck. On the trip down this fall, I was lucky to get 100KM per quarter tank. Having been told that the brake job would help my gas mileage, I kept a close eye on my gas gauge for the first part of the day.

The first part of the drive was the Libre to Culiacán. Like on the way down, it was a smooth easy trip and the slow speed is easy to accept to save over 200 pesos in tolls!

I encountered my first agricultural inspection and military checkpoint before Culiacán. I just rolled through the military one.

The ag inspection was funny at first, then turned creepy. The guy took one look at me and said in perfect English, “You got fruit?” His tone was hilarious. Then, he asked me if I was alone and yelled to his buddy in Spanish to come see the “hot Canadian woman.” (Yes, I was hot, but I doubt that’s what he meant). For the second time this winter, the hairs on back of my head stood up. It was a very good reminder that I need to be smart about staying on the beaten path until I am much, much, much more used to this sort of behaviour in Mexico and know when to feel threatened or not. I’m not used to be viewed in this manner and my instincts about it are not well honed at all. Anyway, all was well and off I went.

By 9:30, I was ready for a coffee, so I pulled into the first Oxxo I spotted, about 30 minutes south of Culiacán, around 10:00. I decided to try the cinnamon creamer (yum!) and braved the Oxxo bathroom (glad I had wipes in my purse).

I missed the turnoff for the cuota when I reached the city limits. It’s just tiny sign put up at the exit as an after thought. So I had to find a place to turn around and come back. Not a big deal.

I then encountered my first two toll booths and was not impressed. Even though my receipts said $63, I was charged $73. With the first one, I handed over $63 because that’s what the sign said and the lady said, “No. Se-TEN-ta tres” (emphasis hers). Sixty is se-SEN-ta, so she was being very clear. I was not impressed by these extra charges.

The third booth was marked 20 pesos and the guy in front of me had the EXACT same truck — dark green Ford Ranger XLT! I saw him hand over a $20 and I decided to question the discrepancy if I was charged more. Well, I wasn’t, and from there on out, I was charged the posted amount. Mine not to wonder why…

I needed a break by the time I hit Los Mochis, so I decided to get gas since I was past the three quarter mark. By this point, I knew that my brake job was going to pay for itself because I had been doing slightly BETTER than 125KM per quarter tank AND my gas gauge had not gone from half full to running on fumes within a few kilometres!

Once again, I asked for 700 pesos of fuel, but the guy said Moya would only take 655 pesos’ worth. Curious, because that only put her just past the three quarters full mark. That was fine by me. With my gas mileage back to normal, that would take me to San Carlos, where I had planned to refuel anyway.

A little boy did my windows and was very happy when I gave him five pesos for his hard work. He actually asked his dad if he could accept them! I’m guessing that it’s more than he’s used to getting more than him not being used to getting paid.

This bathroom had an attendant who was handing out paper (a nice big wodge of it, not a few stingy squares!). I asked how much and she said to pay what I wanted. I also gave her five pesos. And since I was in a giving mood, I gave the guy who pumped my fuel five pesos, too. 🙂

The next stop was about 165KM down the road, Navojoa in the state of Sonora. By this point, I had hit two more fruit and military stops, with one of each at the border, where it took me almost 20 minutes to get clear and back on the road.

The first fruit stop went like this, “Uh… fru-it?” “No tengo fruta” and then I got motioned to go. The second fruit stop, I had to get out and unlock the back of the truck. This fruit inspector did not speak English and asked me if I could tell him what I was carrying. I replied, “Clothes and things for the house,” and that satisfied him.

The first military checkpoint, I had to speak to a soldier who did not speak English and who spoke very fast with a thick accent. I asked him to repeat himself and the second time I caught “a donde”, so I thought he was asking me where I was going. I replied, “I am going to San Carlos,” and that must have been the right answer because he wished me a good trip and waved me off. I just rolled through the second military checkpoint.

There was also a checkpoint by the major crimes unit, but they just ignored me and I drove through.

I’d heard that the roads in Sonora were terrible, but these reports were obviously by people who have never been to Quebec and don’t know what a terrible road is. Some parts were bumpy, but didn’t slow me down in the least.

Navojoa has a big Soriana at its southern limit and that seemed to be the perfect (late) lunch stop because I knew I could do four things there:

1) grab a quick cheap lunch of ideally pizza;
2) use an ATM (I spent a lot more on Isla in the last week than I had planned on, so I was about 1,000 pesos short if I wanted a nice dinner in San Carlos);
3) buy a pump for my water bottles back home (hard to find, expensive, and poor quality in Canada versus ubiquitous, cheap (35 pesos), and good quality in MX);
4) pee. 🙂

I had Soriana’s pizza for the first time, 18 pesos for a large and delicious slice! Very good pizza, almost New York style. It was my third time having pizza by the slice this winter all at different locations and they’ve all been great. Rumours of crappy Mexican pizza appear to be unfounded….

A whistle man insisted on guiding me out of my spot even though I was in a pull-thru with no one around me. I decided to make him pay for his tip and asked him to confirm the way out of the lot to turn left since I managed to come in the wrong way down a one way (in my defense, there were ‘entrada’ signs facing me!). He told me which exit to take and to just cross the median and turn left. Then he said, “Going north?” I replied that I was heading home to Canada and like everyone else I said this to today (including several toll takers), I almost gave him a heart attack! 😀

I couldn’t believe that by this point, I only had 200KM left to go! My ETA to San Carlos was 6:15 to 6:30, making for a very long day, but the trip had been very easy so far, with good roads and minimal traffic and construction. Being able to break every 200KM helped my stamina.

Ciudad Obregon was easy in this direction, with no detours, and by the time I was clear of it, I was ready to be done for the day. I was glad to see the sign for Guaymas taking me away from the toll road since I’d had enough of the endless parade of 65 peso tolls! I spent 427 pesos (34CAD) on tolls today and am glad that I saved the big ones in Maz.

Just before the San Carlos exit, there was another major crimes checkpoint! They were stopping everyone ahead of me and I almost burst into tears! I was really tired and sore and just wanted to get there! But, blessed be, the police man just waved me through! So I have NO idea what the two police checkpoints were about!

Even though I knew what to look for for the San Carlos exit, I almost missed it! But I didn’t and I was soon rolling into town. I managed to miss Totonaka, though, so fixated was I by the sight of an Oxxo at this end of town!

There is now an Oxxo right by Totonaka! No more walking halfway across San Carlos for coffee!

There is now an Oxxo right by Totonaka! No more walking halfway across San Carlos for coffee! I took this walking back to Totonaka after dinner, so the Oxxo is on the same side of the street as the RV park.

I managed to turn around and pulled into the RV park, grateful that the office was still open and that I wouldn’t have to hunt for the security guard. I was delighted to be served in Spanish, which made up for the reservation being under “Ray Cludders.” They had the name in my email, for pete’s sake! 😀 450 pesos for the room, a better deal than paying in USD. I got a different room from November, but right next to it and a mirror image of it. But there is one HUGE difference. The bed isn’t hard as a rock!

Speaking of rock, I didn’t get a coupon for a free margarita this time, so I changed my mind about going to Los Arbolitos for octopus tacos and instead went to Charly’s Rock for the view. There, I was asked if a Spanish menu was okay and left to peruse it while they got me a Pacifico and some cold water. As it turned out, Charly’s Rock also has octopus tacos and they’re cheaper, 90 pesos for three, versus 38 for one at Los Arbolitos!

I was surprised that didn’t get chips (and Contessa, that’s what the call totopos here, too!) with my beer, but they came with my food.

Octopus tacos, a perfect last supper.

Octopus tacos, a perfect last supper.

OMG, they were good. There was a crema-based sauce to put on them, as well as lime and hot sauce. Octopus is amazing when done right. It’s a very tender and mild flavoured meat that really doesn’t taste ‘fishy’ the way that shrimp does. I think that if a person can get past the visual image of the suckers on the tentacles, it’s a very good introduction to seafood.

This was the absolute most perfect last supper for this Mexico trip and I even had a second beer! The total for the meal was just 142 pesos, plus a 30 peso tip.

Dining at Charly’s is such a unique experience. It’s not particularly sanitary, what with the bird poop on the counter you eat at and the gulls landing right next to you, but the view can’t be beat!

I refused a second helping of chips since I hoped that Thrifty’s ice cream would be open. I walked down there and they were! I got a scoop of “chocobrownie” in a sugar cone.

Thrifty’s is the perfect distance from the back end of the RV park where the rooms are, as I am just able to finish an ice cream by the time I get to my room. Once I arrived, I had a shower and settled in to write this post. I’ve been at it for over an hour!

Today was a really good day of travel. For one thing, my truck performed splendidly and didn’t give me a moment of worry. Another thing is that there was zero stress. When I came down, everything was stressful. Would I be able to read the signs? Where could I get a quick cheap meal that wouldn’t make me sick? Where could I get a coffee? Where were the bathrooms? OMG, why was that guy waving at me; did it mean stop or go? Today was a trip where I was just as comfortable as I am driving in Canada and the US. There were coffee and bathrooms and food when I needed them and of course I understood the signs. The flag wavers, though, need more study. 🙂 I can’t wait for tomorrow. It was drilled into me that once I cross the border at Nogales I have to drive and not stop till San Carlos. I don’t plan to obey that tomorrow. 🙂

I have more, but I think it warrants its own post, especially since this one has been so long.

Guamúchil to Isla de la Piedra!

It was a horrible night in Guamuchil, combination of a very hard bed and very loud traffic from the libre. I gave up around 6:00 and was ready to roll out by 7:00 when the sun was nearly fully up.

There was a bit of excitement on my way out as I couldn’t find my truck keys. After a search of the most obvious places I might have put them that weren’t where they should have been, I finally conceded that I likely did something really stupid and left them in a truck lock overnight.

So I went down to the office and asked the concierge if anyone had turned in keys. He seemed to think that was the weirdest thing he had heard in his life. Maybe people don’t turn in keys in Mexico?

I went back to the room and tore through my luggage, finding my keys at the bottom of my computer bag. Needless to say, I was relieved, even as I kicked myself for yet again not putting them in the purse where they belong!

All that done, I filled out the comment card saying that everything was excellent except the bed being hard as a rock and off I went towards Culiacán.

There was an Oxxo minutes away from my hotel, so I didn’t have to wait for coffee. This time, I was asked ‘sabor?’ and I just wasn’t in a Spanish mood yet because that made no sense to me even though I knew the word. The guy sighed and sayed, ‘Café negro?’ and I went, ‘Oh, SABOR! Si, negro!’ Some Oxxos have fancy flavoured coffees and regular drip, or black, coffee. I like the regular. I think I was charged 14 pesos, so the price of the coffee is not consistent from store to store.

Then, I drove. The libre was beautiful and the speed limit decent and steady. It was much nicer going than using the cuotas with their variable speed limits. I passed a single construction zone and then I was in Culiacán.

There, I managed to take a wrong turn and actually got lost. Forget misplaced, I had NO idea where I was or how to return to the libre. Maps are only useful if there are street names or landmarks! Continually turning right wasn’t working because the layout of the town was erratic.

Eventually, in the distance, I could see a giant Ley sign that I could use as a point of reference and worked my way towards it. I finally saw a sign saying Mazatlan thataway, but I was going in the opposite direction. I pulled into a Burger King to get turned around only to realise that I couldn’t do a much needed left hand turn there.

Guess what I did? I took a deep breath, waited for the light to turn green, and then gunned it left before anyone had a chance to block the road. Yippee Ki Yay ***!!!

I got back to the place where I made the wrong turn, correctly interpreted the directional sign this time, and I was out of there!

All of this took place in less than ten minutes. I didn’t even have time to get flustered. I’m mastering making my way through largish Mexican cities!

I think it was shortly after this that I CAME ACROSS A TOLL BOOTH ON A LIBRE. I was not impressed! I was even less impressed that the posted amount was 10 pesos and the guy told me I had to pay 20. But as it turns out, that was my only toll of the day. Had I taken the cuotas, I would have had somewhere between 300 and 600 pesos of tolls! So I got off lucky!

The libre from Culiacán to Maz was fantastic. There were a few towns, but it was mostly wide open road with mountains in the distance. Moya was purring and I just set the cruise control at about 80KPH and kept behind a large dump truck that warned me about topes!

And then, I passed a sign that made me pull over FAST for a picture. I had just crossed over the Tropic of Cancer! WOW!

I lost the truck after that and, the road being so smooth, my speed crept up a tad. A truck coming down a hill in the opposite lane flashed its lights at me frantically and I jammed the breaks, assuming that meant what it does in Canada.

Yup. Speed trap by the local police and they had pulled over some Canadians! The cops just waved at me as I was going by. Thank you for the warning, señor!

I made it to Mazatlan around noon, a full five hours after leaving. I’d done less than 300km! But, hey, I’d saved $30 to $60, was really not in a hurry, and I got to see some beautiful country!

From Mazatlan, I knew I had to keep going south on 15 to the airport, so I did that, getting off when I saw a Banamex in the distance, where I made a withdrawal. Then, I stopped at a Pemex for fuel.

Contessa warned me to fill up completely since there is no gas on Isla, but I wasn’t going to put nearly $100 in the tank the way my budget is right now. I promised my cousin I would pick her up at the airport when she arrives next month and take her to her hotel, so I can refuel then. I took on enough to get to Isla with half a tank and won’t be driving there anyway.

From the Pemex, I tried to contact my landlady, to no avail. I then tried a contact Contessa had given me at the Tres Amigos RV park on Isla. She wasn’t answering either. I then tried a maintenance guy Contessa had told me about, so he could meet me at the end of the road in and take me to the RV park. No answer there either.

I decided to just go. At this point I was frustrated not to know for sure that my place was ready because that meant I couldn’t get groceries, but I wasn’t concerned about my losing out on the place. I had a suspicion that the landlady being difficult to reach was just a Mexican thing and that it would all get sorted out once I got to Isla.

I followed the signs for the aeropuerto and then turned at the golf club onto the road to Isla. Or rather, The Road.

Isla de la Piedra (Stone Island) is actually a peninsula, but it is so difficult to access by land that people take a ferry to Mazatlan. Contessa had warned me to allow LOTS of time for the infamous Road. I have no idea how long it is. Maybe 20KM?

Heavy rains this week meant The Road was fairly washed out, with gigantic puddles. It took me about an hour to drive it slooooowly and my heart stopped each time I got to a lake-sized puddle. But Moya handled it like a champ and, frankly, The Road was better than some parts of the Dempster Highway, and I drove that in my subcompact! Still, the road to paradise was hell. 😉

I was awed by the coconut palms I passed, very different to the palm trees I’ve seen so far.

Eventually, I saw civilization in the distance and I was on Isla! I knew to make a left turn for the RV park and did so down a muddy track. When I got there, I tried my contact, Debra, again. I knew I was on Island time now and that it would all get sorted in the end. I heaved a sigh of relief at being THERE and waited for my Island welcome.