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. 😀

A Grueling Driving Day (Or San Carlos to Guamúchil, Redux)

Today was a cautionary tale about keeping your driving days short in Mexico. In Canada and the US, I wouldn’t hesitate to plan a 1,000KM day if I was traveling on main highways, but more than 500KM at this time of year, when the days are short, is all I’d chance in Mexico. Still, I left San Carlos early enough this morning that I actually had a backup plan in case I wanted to push on to Culiacán since all I had on the table was a measly 450km and an 8AMish start time…

I took the libre through Guaymas to save myself a toll and pulled into a Pemex once I was free of the city, putting in $500 worth of fuel, which got me half a tank, so fuel prices are slightly better than last year.

After that, it was construction, construction, and more construction all the way to Ciudad Obregón. There, it was HUGE, vehicle destroying, potholes all through the city. I’m not exaggerating. I’ve only ever seen potholes that size on main roads in Quebec. Hit one of those and you’re not getting out with a tow truck and some major damage. I wouldn’t have wanted to be in a car low to the ground with no view of the obstacle course that lay ahead!

Once I finally made it through, it was construction, construction, and more construction all the way to Navojoa. Very slow speeds, too, since we were sharing the opposite driving lane. It was about 300KM to get there from San Carlos and it took over four hours to arrive. WHEW. The only stops I made were for toll booths and the Red Cross, who were collecting donations.

I learned another really important lesson today: if you think you need a bathroom, jump on the opportunity to use one even if you’re planning to use one only about 20KM away in case you encounter construction, traffic, a billion red lights, and a really bad accident resulting in a detour along the way…

Needless to say, I was very happy to reach the Soriana in Navojoa! I had lunch there, a really good slice of pizza, and then I picked up a new pump for my water bottle since I don’t like the style that comes with the casita and I wanted a spare for home anyway.

I was really parched by this point, having already downed the 2L of water of cold water I had with me and only infernal-temperature water left. I looked in the Soriana coolers to see if they had Electrolit, but struck out. Thankfully, the Oxxo across the street had some that was icy cold and I drained a whole container in just a few gulps! It did the trick, and I followed it up with a cold bottle of water over the next hour. I’m glad I was introduced to that stuff last year. No matter how much water I drink, it’s hard to stay hydrated in this climate.

I had one stop shortly after Navojoa by what I think is the major crimes unit and I didn’t ‘like’ this guy. He just made the hairs on my nape prickle. I gave him vague answers in broken Spanish and was finally sent on my way.

I saw a couple of things today that made we wish I had a navigator who could take pictures for me, or a driver so that I could take the pictures myself! One of them was a clever ad for a limeade drink that said, “Limón y nada.” “Lime and nothing” sounds like the Spanish for “limeade”, the product, and also insinuates that the product is all natural.

Another thing I saw that absolutely delighted me was a rather long stretch of road with a bunch of goats eating the weeds along the shoulder! They were not impeding traffic, just having a buffet. There was so many of them!

Finally, I saw the first signs announcing Maz! Home stretch! And speaking of Maz, it was SO GOOD to finally hit the Sinaloa roads. They weren’t great by any means, but much better than those in Sonora!

It was a tough driving day, very technical, but not stressful, not even when I was driving through the big city traffic. I’m a better defensive driver than I would have thought and definitely getting comfortable driving in this country.

My ETA to Guamúchil had started off as 1PM, but had stretched to 3:30PM as I approached the off ramp to the Culiacán libre. I was beyond done for the day! I found the motel from last year without any trouble, but they insisted on $700 when I only paid $550 last year. I wasn’t going to quibble over 12CAD. The rooms are still rather shabby, but clean, and I recognise the value they offer for the price, like access to the pool and a bottle of cold water waiting in the fridge! Speaking of the pool, I was in it minutes after arriving. 🙂

I’m off to have dinner. Early by Mexican time, but late by my body clock. 😀

Home tomorrow. I can’t believe it!

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.

San Carlos to Guamúchil

I left San Carlos earlier than planned this morning because I had to go back to the TelCel office and had no idea how long that would take. I actually have no idea what time it was when I pulled out of Guaymas, fuming at TelCel, but excited about the day ahead.

I got clear of the city and pulled into a Pemex with an Oxxo attached. I got 500 pesos of fuel (I love saying 500 in Spanish — quinientos, not cinco cientos!) and then went in to get my second coffee of the day, feeling like I was embarking on a proper road trip!

When I got back out, there was five guys doing a really nice job polishing all the windows of my truck! One thing I’ve decided is that I hate fueling and I am going to tip the guy who does my fill even if he doesn’t do anything else. I also like having shiny windows and have decided that that’s worth a few pesos. So I gave each of the guys one peso for their hard work and enjoyed my spotless windshield for five minutes until a GIANT bug splattered across it. No problem, a called a window washer over at the next populated area. Am I getting the hang of this or what?! 😀

The first milestone of the day was leaving the ‘free zone’, where I now needed my temporary import permit! Real Mexico at last!

Early in the day, I got to a mess of construction and a worker stopped me and said something very fast. All I understood was a word that sounded like the French contre-sens, which told me that I would have to drive against the traffic. I was going to ask him to repeat himself and then thought, ‘No. Tell him what you understand and try to get a si or no answer.’ So I said “If I understand correctly, you want me to go left and then drive against the traffic?’ Yes! It was a long detour with no cones or markers and the people in the other direction didn’t really care that I was going the opposite way and were quite content to nearly mow me down. That was the start of my ‘OMG, so glad I’m not doing this in an RV!’ attitude. 🙂

After that, the drive was very steady compared to that in San Carlos and I got into a driving groove. It was hot, which kills my appetite, so I wound up not stopping at any one of the myriad of taco stands I passed.

All the bridges in Mexico, even little insignificant ones, have name, so when I passed the ‘puente sin nombre’, I got ‘I drove through Mexico on a bridge with no name’ stuck in my head for the rest of the day. 😀

The first city I crossed was Ciudad Obregon and I was really glad I wasn’t doing that in an RV! But then things got really interesting in Navojoa where I followed the Los Mochis sign to the libre, which was like an average road in Quebec, one pothole after another. I realised very quickly that I was off main MX 15 and turned back around to take the road through Navojoa, which was smooth going.

I really liked the look of Navojoa; it was exceptionally clean, with well maintained buildings. I thought of stopping at the Soriana at the south end of town for snacks, but was well stocked with coffee and granola bars and really didn’t need anything else.

The next big milestone was crossing into the state of Sinaloa!


I have now been to four of the 31 (plus MX City) Mexican states! Baja California, Tamaulipas, Sonora, and Sinaloa!

The roads in Sinaloa are MUCH better than in Sonora, comparable to the drive from Quebec into Ontario on highway 417.

My destination was a Pemex station in Los Mochis, where I arrived around 3:00, WAY too early to stop and truck camp! The bed of the truck is full and it was hot and sticky anyway, so a motel was in order. I decided to keep going and check out each motel I’d pass, giving myself a deadline of 4:30 to find something decent, regardless of the price.

Shortly thereafter, I saw the first sign for Mazatlan! Home stretch!


I stopped at one point to get more fuel and my bladder decided that it had had enough holding all the coffee, thank you very much, and if there’s no baño here, you can go behind a bush! Thankfully, there WAS a baño and it was impeccably clean. There was no toilet paper or soap, but no problem, I had wet wipes in my purse. Ladies, carry wet wipes!

After four 65-peso fares and one at 20 pesos, I was DONE with cuotas (toll roads) and when 4:00 came along with no suitable motels behind me, it was time to get onto a libre (free) road, where I was more likely to find services (I’d done my research!). I stopped at two cheap but terrifyingly dingy motels and arrived around 4:30 at a motel in Guamúchil that looked decent.

They wanted 600 pesos, 200 pesos more than I was hoping to pay tonight, but it gets dark VERY early here and it was time to stop. Not negotiable! I asked if 600 pesos was their best price and the guy looked at me, quirked a smile, and said that he could do 550 pesos since I asked so nicely in Spanish. Done!

The room is okay, not as nice as what I have gotten for less in the US, but decent and I LOVE the balcony over the pool, where I am writing this post.

Sorry, should have taken this one in daylight!

Sorry, should have taken this one in daylight!

I sat with the AC on for five minutes and that revved up my hunger, so I went down to the restaurant. I got out of there for 100 pesos, including a good tip, and had a cold lemonade and a huge plate of enchiladas with rice and beans, plus chips and salsa! THAT cheered me up immensely!

The rice and beans were soooo yummy it was all I could do not to lick the plate! The enchiladas were filled with chicken and had a spicy red sauce, the first truly spicy food I’ve encountered since arriving. It was just at my limit of tolerance and very tasty. I just cooled my tongue off with a bit of rice or beans when I couldn’t stand the heat any more.

I was surprised that such a meal is real Mexican food, not Tex-Mex, although they didn’t drown it in cheese and sour cream the way the meal would have been north of the border. Plus, it’s corn tortillas here, not wheat.

I was amused when the server brought a pole with a hook on it for my purse (bolsa)!

It was getting cool when I got out of the restaurant, so I wrestled my suitcase out of the truck to find my bathing suit and ran up to my room to change. I headed back down and swam for a half hour until it got chilly, a really nice end to the day.

I didn’t stop as much as I should have today but that was typical for me on a day with easy roads, nothing to do with a fear of stopping or anything like that.

Going off script today says a lot about how I feel about being here in Mexico — safe. I have standard driving rules (like giving myself a deadline for stopping) and obeyed them. I now have an hour less to do tomorrow, although the libre might eat up that additional time as it will be slower going than would have been the cuota. I’m going to try to be out of here by 7:00 as Contessa agrees with my expected travel time of seven hours to Isla.

Now, I’m off to try my landlady again…