Driving El Espinoza del diablo (Devil’s Backbone) from Durango to Mazatlán

I dragged myself out of bed as early as I could Sunday morning since I was planning to drive the libre from Durango back to Mazatlán and I’d been warned it could take up to eight hours, twice as long as the cuota had taken! I was going to gain an hour with the time change, though, which helped. I decided that I would keep an eye on my arrival time and if it looked like I was to get to the start of the Isla road later than 3:30 p.m., I would leave the libre and take the cuota. I was worried about the condition of The Road since Maz had a horrible weekend, weather-wise. Poor Contessa and Colin had to evacuate! Contessa had blogged that The Road was in decent condition with no further rain expected, but nevertheless, I approached my day with the mindset that the last hour could be very, very hellish…

I checked out of the hotel at 8:00, with the plan being to drop my stuff off at the truck and then go get breakfast. The hotel clerk stamped my parking ticket, signed it, and put the time of checkout on it.

The parking lot gates were padlocked shut, so I rang the bell. The attendant came out and I asked if I could just drop off my things. No problem. He let me in and then back out again.

I then wandered a bit around and was disappointed to find that almost nothing is open before 9:00 or 10:00 on Sundays! I had to settle for crappy Oxxo coffee (should have just had the hotel coffee!). The one restaurant that was open didn’t want to serve me. I went in and said hello to the ladies behind the counter (diner-style restaurant). They completely ignored me. I took a table and after being ignored another minute, I went back up to the counter and asked for a menu. I was ignored again. So I left. *shrugs* I’ve had this happen a lot NOB, but it’s usually in small towns, where the restaurants don’t like tourists and prefer to only serve their regulars. I ended up buying some pastries from a lady on a street corner! Not quite what I wanted ahead of a long drive, but better than leaving on an empty stomach and I figured that my last banana would balance things out, nutrition-wise!

The parking lot gate was locked again when I returned, but this time I didn’t even have to ring the bell. The man examined my ticket and confirmed that I didn’t have to pay anything, then wished me a good trip. Since he was waiting for me to get out so he could close the gates again, I didn’t dawdle and was glad that I had programmed Isla as ‘home’ on my GPS, so it was very quick to get that set up. But the GPS wasn’t keen to route me on the libre, so I knew that the 11:30 (Sinaloa time) ETA would not be reality!

I had no trouble navigating my way out of Durango until I got to this intersection.


It was very bewildering, with poor signage. I wasn’t even sure if I was in the correct lane to make a left turn. The longer I sat there, the less certain I was about when it was my turn to turn and there was a surprising amount of traffic for early on a Sunday, too much for me to feel comfortable just taking my chance of not getting into an accident. I was able to make a discreet U-turn and then pulled over to wait for someone else to get to that intersection with the intention of turning left, which took only a few minutes. When this car turned left, I still had no idea of what prompted the driver to decide it was time to do so, but we made it without getting creamed!

I started on the libre at about 9:00 after getting fuel. Almost immediately, there was a scenic lookout!




The road was very twisty. You can see a bit of that here (sorry, the phone takes such horrible pictures, but I’d forgotten my camera charger!):



We occasionally would pass or cross the cuota.


This was around a military checkpoint. There was one on the libre, too, but I was completely ignored and rolled through it. I had one more checkpoint a few hours later where I had to make a brief declaration.


I found a rest area with a really fancy bathroom entry system: a coin-operated turnstile! I had no idea how much to put in, so I tried $5 and that got me in, then I heard the clang of coins being returned. I got $3 in change. $2 was a bargain for such a clean bathroom with as much paper as I wanted, soap, doors, running water, etc. My previous rest stop had had a toilet with no door (great view to the road!) and no seat, with a bucket of water by it for flushing… Bathrooms in Mexico run the gamut!


At one point, the libre and cuota run side by side, with a divider between them:


I could have rejoined the cuota here, but was making okay time:


The variety of the landscapes I encountered during the day was dizzying. This felt like I was driving through New England!



I thought that this was a rather nasty and twisty bit of the road…





The air here was just so clean and fresh. The sign isn’t important (slow down, your family is waiting for you). I just liked the waterfall behind it. 🙂


Welcome to the Sierra Madres!






The Espinazo del Diablo/Devil’s Backbone section is just a tiny part of Mex-40. The start of it is well marked!







The road started getting a little twisty…


Just a tad…




Back in Sinaloa!


Go home, road, you’re drunk! By this point, I had slowed to a crawl and was coasting in 1st gear to save my brakes. I had a lot of impatient drivers going around me!


Passing one of the bridges on the cuota:




The road leveled out at a small town called Concordia, just before Villa Union, and then it was super fast going to Mex-15.

I was exhausted by this point. The road really is challenging, especially when “les gens te pousses dans’l cul” (when other cars are riding your bumper). It was very scenic and fun to drive in a standard, though! I’m glad I drove it once, but the $500 in tolls is worth the time and effort saved if going to Durango regularly. I don’t think I’d want to do the libre in an RV, but a lot of RVers I know prefer that route because the RV tolls are insane. RVers break up the day by overnighting partway.

I stopped at an Oxxo just before the turn to get an Electrolit since I was parched, then braved the two lefthand turns in Villa Union to get some snacks at Panamá’s. It was then just a short drive to the airport turn off.

The first bit of the Road was muddy, but not bad at all and I actually thought, “I’m already at the paved section?!” when I got there! The last unpaved bit was fine. I got through in about 20 minutes! Door-to-door, the trip home had taken six hours, fully two more than the trip to Durango.

I’m really glad that I drove both the cuota and the libre. I can see how the cuota is going to change the life of people living around Durango as it is cutting down on their isolation. But I also feel bad for the folks along the libre who are losing their livelihoods, judging from the number of businesses that have shut down.

But since neither road is great, I’m taking the bus to Durango the next time I go!

Cemetery Walking Tour with El conde de la capa negra

Julia was due to meet up with me at 6:30. At 6:45, I decided to go wait for her in the lobby, which wound up being a good move since she told me upon arriving at about 6:55 that she had forgotten what room I was in. She wanted to eat at Tía Chona, but it was closed. 🙁

We instead walked down Calle Constitución in the opposite direction from the Walk of Fame and looked for food there. This part of Calle Constitución reminded me of Sparks Street in Ottawa, so much so that I actually got hit with a very unexpected wave of homesickness!


We narrowed our dinner choices to tamales from a cart, a gorditas restaurant Julia had been to the night before, and a taco place. I wanted a proper dinner, so the tamales were out. I voted for gorditas to see what they are like in Durango, but when we got there, Julia looked at me sheepishly and said that she preferred to go to the taco place. We did and it wound up being a full service restaurant with lots of different things on the menu. She asked about the non-alcoholic beverage options, so I did the polite thing and asked if she minded if I ordered a beer. Not at all! And she ended up changing her order to beer, too! I had a Victoria and she went with a Modelo.

Everything on the menu looked good, but she told me to try huarache, which she said was a thick maize base with melted cheese, meat, and veg. I chose to have it with al pastor pork! When it came, I wasn’t too impressed by what I was getting for my money, as it looked like I was getting a taco with a really thick shell, but once I’d piled on the various salsas and taken a bite (after confirming that this was finger food), I was sold! It was like eating a Greek pita! Julia burst out laughing when my eyes started to water and I tried to identify the salsa that was the culprit. She informed me that there were chiles hidden under all the melted cheese. Did you know that beer actually helps cut down on the pain from hot chiles?

The al pastor pork was fantastic and didn’t taste anything like what I get in Maz (not better or worse, just different). Julia said that foods in Mexico have the same name, but vary from region to region and that just because I like something in one region won’t mean I will like it in another, and vice-versa.

It was 7:57 by the time we had paid and so we rushed to Plaza de armas to catch the tour, which started at 8:00. But once we had our tickets, we were informed that it actually starts at 8:30. They just put 8:00 on the brochure to make sure they get going on time! Sneaky! We had time to walk down Constitución a bit to check out the craft market, where we sampled some coffee-flavoured booze and a really good (albeit sweet) cinnamon whisky!

The tour was based on Mexican artist Benigno Montoya (I guess “The Princess Bride” isn’t known in Mexico, because I’m the only one who found the name funny). There is a museum in Durango dedicated to his funerary arts. The tour was to take us through a cemetery to look at some of his sculptures and see the tombs of famous people from Durango.

Again, I won’t pretend that I understood a fraction of the tour, but it was well worth my time just for the experience of spending two hours in a pitch dark cemetery laughing! I thought that the tour would be scary, but it was mostly just entertaining. There was a guy dressed like a monk with a spooky skull mask who would sometimes stand in the shadows waiting to be noticed, but he never actually jumped out at anyone. He also had some stories to tell and I could get just enough to know that he was hilarious and not trying to be scary at all despite his appearance!

Our main tour guide called himself El conde de la capa negra (the count of the black cloak) and a third character was Lady Black, whose face was covered by a thick veil. The man who played the count told us that he is a professional actor paid by Durango tourism and that this is his full-time job. Not a bad gig!


I was surprised by how much we were able to see even in the dark. My camera has a good flash! Unfortunately, it ran out of juice before the tour ended and my last pictures were taken with my crappy iPhone camera. You’ll see the difference!



Walking around the cemetery was dangerous. Lots of tripping hazards and even open holes!




This tomb was so sad. It belongs to a six-month-old baby and ends with “I’ll never forget you, my porcelain doll.”




Here’s the monk telling us about his problems buying Doritos at Oxxo (I got the gist of it!):








This is where Lady Black joined us. The effect was really well done, since she’s all in black and emerges like a ghost from the shadows! Speaking of ghosts, El conde told us about how the week before he had a private group of 40 people from Culiacán and half the group, including himself, saw a ghost. He broke character to share this story and I could tell that it had really freaked him out!



His megaphone looks a little imposing, but he had it on very low volume:


We saw so many lovely sculptures:



An entrepreneurial woman was waiting for us at the end of the tour. She was literally running a restaurant out of the trunk of her car! Look at her professional sign! Almost everyone lined up to get something, but Julia and I were stuffed from dinner and not curious. I told her how that’s not legal in Canada and after some stumbling, Julia understood that it was for hygiene reasons. She found that rather absurd, saying that we’d probably faint if we saw how restaurants handle our food out of sight. I completely agree with her!


There was a boy napping on the bus on the way back to Plaza de armas. I have no idea how he managed to stay up there in the lurching traffic, but he slept soundly! Another thing you wouldn’t see NOB (north of the border)!


This tour was $60 and wouldn’t have been worth it to me if I was on my own. But from what I got out of it, it would be totally worth it to someone who better understands Spanish than I do. I had had no interest in the Benigo Montoya museum and found myself regretting that I wouldn’t have time to take a tour of it!

It was past 10:30 when we were dropped off at Plaza de armas and I was overdue for bed. Julia debated getting a cab back to her hotel, saying that she never walks after dark anywhere, but I felt perfectly safe walking the few blocks down 20 de noviembre. Before we separated, she said that she might be back on Isla this week and would pop in if she is. So we may see each other again. If not, we have some great memories!

Saturday was a really full and fun day in Durango. I didn’t do all of what I had thought I’d do, but having had the opportunity to share my day with someone made up for that. I got a chance to step out of my comfort zone and do a few things I wouldn’t have done on my own because of the language barrier and, so, I got a richer experience.

Visiting Villa del Oeste, Durango

A popular destination just outside of Durango is Villa del Oeste, a far west town that has been used in the filming of a lot of Westerns. I was rather ambivalent about going because, even though it’s not too far from Durango (just 10 minutes if there’s no traffic…), I didn’t feel like making the effort to take out my truck and go there. So I had popped in at the tourist info kiosk at one point and asked if there is a bus that goes there. Only on weekends, when they have shows. I could take a bus at 1:00 p.m. to make it to the 1:30 p.m. show and then either return on the 3:30 p.m. bus or spend the afternoon and watch the three different shows, to return on the 6:30 p.m. bus. Perfect! I was told the cost was $35, which I thought was just bus fare, but nope. The bus is free and the entrance to the village is $35. Definitely not worth driving!

Julia wanted to catch a guided tour about Pancho Villa at 4:00, so we decided to go catch the 1:30 show, do whatever wandering around we had time for, and come right back on the 3:30 bus. That was more than enough time to get a bit of a sense of the place since it’s pretty small.

The ride inspired a joke that would follow us through the day. The bus slowed down on the highway and Julia said, “Llegamos” (we are arriving). I said, “No. Es un tope” (No, it’s a speed bump). We wound up on another bus later in the day and as the bus slowed down for a tope, Julia said, “Llegamos…” turned to me, and then we both howled, “No, es un tope!” I guess you just had to be there. 😀



One of the frequent comment in reviews about the town is how fake it and touristy it looks in real life compared to how well it photographs. So true!


The shows are held on the main street. Lots of benches for guests, some more comfortable than others.


My oral comprehension of Spanish is still terrible, especially when it comes to fiction. I do okayish following a straight up informational narrative, but when I have to follow a plot, different voices, a variety of inflections, etc., forget it if I don’t have subtitles (Spanish okay!) to guide me. So I really didn’t understand much of the show. But based on the jokes I did get as well as how much everyone else was howling, it was funny!

At one point, a no good husband who was always running off stood up to his wife and pointed a gun at her, yelling, “You’re not afraid of my gun?” She had been chasing and whacking him with a giant saucepan in previous scenes and was standing there holding the saucepan. I whispered to Julia, “He should be more afraid of her saucepan.” She turned to me, a huge grin on her face, and burst out laughing. The joke continued later in a souvenir shop where you could buy replica guns and I bemoaned that there were no saucepans for sale!



There was a cancan show after. Reminded me of Dawson! I was wearing a flowy black skirt, so I went into the street and danced, too, swirling my skirt around. So much fun!


We wandered around a bit, finding a snack (cranberry bun for her, nieve for me), and got some pictures taken. This was my favourite:


The town has a few stores with souvenirs, lots of portrait studios, and some food vendors. It would be easy to spend an afternoon here with kids, but not a full day.



There were a few things we could have done had we chosen to stay till 6:30, like a cart ride or even go horseback riding, and I know we didn’t explore every inch of the village, but we both agreed that we wanted to get back to Durango rather than hang out.

This was a fun couple of hours that I know I wouldn’t have enjoyed half as much on my own!

It was 4:00 when we arrived, so Julia had to hoof it over to Francisco Villa. I walked the block with her, thinking our day was over. But she said she wanted to do a cemetery walking tour quite a bit later that evening, so how about we meet up for dinner around 6:30, then go do the tour? Great! I told her to come meet me at the hotel when she was ready as I would be there having a break.

I was glad to have a few hours to decompress and relax. I also had a headache from all that Spanish! What an education the day had been so far! I didn’t understand everything Julia said, not by far, and I sometimes had to pull out a dictionary to more clearly express myself, but, really, we did okay comprehension-wise. There were so many laughs all day, which transcends any language barriers. This is one of my favourite things about traveling solo, meeting up with someone just for a day and sharing some memories with no expectations of becoming lifelong friends.

Durango’s Teleférico (Cable Car)

Saturday morning’s first stop was to be the teleférico (cable car), which, like all Durango attractions, only opened at 10:00 a.m. En route, I stopped in at a coffee roasting house and ordered their $10 Americano special, but was upsold to a $28 French pressed cup. MMM! They also gave me a small bag of their grounds, good enough to make at least four more coffees at home! What a deal! It was very, very, very loud in the store and I could barely hear anything, so when the guy pushed the bag of beans at me, I said, “No thank you,” and he laughed and replied, very loudly, “No, no, we are gifting it to you!” I’ve never had that happen before and I’m actually drinking a cup of their coffee as I’m writing this post! It is much better than the disappointing Chiapas I bought from Rico’s, but still not as good as Rico’s Veracruz!

It’s so hard to get decent coffee in Maz, enough so that I thought that Mexico doesn’t have a coffee culture. As it turns out, this is just another Maz thing. There is coffee everywhere in Durango, from espresso drinks to plain old drip coffee. I never saw any instant. If I ordered coffee with a meal, I got real coffee. In Maz, I get instant. *shudders* So I may have overdone it a bit with the caffeine over the weekend!

I took my coffee to the library and sipped it while enjoying the view, then I bought my ticket. $20 roundtrip. I knew that there wasn’t much at the other end, just a church and lookout point, but I wanted to see Durango from above. And, $20 roundtrip! Durango is so affordable!

Here I am at the waiting area on the low side. You can see that the cable cars don’t travel very far or very high.


The cars were very clean and in new condition:


Your return ticket is good all day, but I can’t imagine spending much time at the top.


I love looking down at Mexican rooftops!


It really didn’t feel that high up while I was riding the cable car:


Everything about the installation was very shiny and obviously well maintained:


Here’s the platform at the top:


There was a youngish gal riding solo next to me and we started to talk when we landed. Her name is Julia (hoo-lee-ah) and she is a 27-year-old nurse from Guadalajara who was enjoying her three weeks of holiday traveling from home to Durango by way of Maz. She was on Isla last week! We hit it off right away, being so unaccustomed to running into other solo female travelers. She went along for the same reason I do so: we can’t find the right person to share the journey with!

She was traveling by bus because she wanted to see the scenery and not just her steering wheel. Got to agree with her on that one. I love to drive, but I sometimes miss out on what’s around me!

We ended up spending all of Saturday together! So this is how you get a picture of me at the Mirador de los remedios (viewpoint of the remedies):


Durango is huge. You don’t really see urban sprawl like that in Canada:


This tower amused me:


The viewpoint was well done, with a lot of different levels:




This is the oldest church in Durango, built in the early 1600s:


So much urban sprawl:


Julia and I had fun mapping out the parts of the city that we know. I could see the Soriana sign on 20 de noviembre, so it was very easy to spot my hotel!



We had a conversation with the cable car operator on the way down. He was curious as to where I’m from and when I said Maz for the winter he shuddered and said pretty much the same thing the pharmacist had said the night before about Maz not being a place he particularly enjoys going! I then got a lecture on all that Durango has to offer tourists (museums, shows, architecture, and more) and its three big annual festivals. I promised him that I would tell all my friends to come to Durango. So go to Durango!

I was peckish as we landed and was going to ask Julia if she wanted to eat something when she preempted my question! She’d only had coffee since getting up, so she was ready for a big brunch. She wanted to try a place called Tostadas, right around the corner on Florida from Tía Chona. We had to wait to get a table, which was a sign that this was a good restaurant! We both had orange juice with complimentary toast and jam while we perused the menu. She ordered some sort of mini-burrito things. I went with a torta and it was really good, with thinly sliced roast pork, as well as guacamole, mustard, cheese, ham, and other goodies. Julia made me laugh when she said she doesn’t like hot things — both in terms of spiciness and temperature! I added some of the spicy salsa to my torta and asked if that was bad form since she wasn’t putting any on her rather plain looking meal. Not at all, it was just too spicy for her! Another Mexican stereotype debunked; they don’t all like burning their tongues!

When we were done eating, we had just enough time to hoof it to Plaza de armas to catch a bus!

Museo General Francisco Villa/ Palacio de Zambrano, Durango

I ventured out again around 5:00 to check out the teléférico. What are those things called in English?! Téléférique en français… Oh, cable car! Geeze! 🙂 I got to the entrance and there was a sign to access the site from the library. Okay.


Yup, officially working off my giant lunch!


Unfortunately, the cable cars were down for maintenance until late, but would open again at 10:00 in the morning.

The view from the library was worth the climb!



By this point, I had a bad blister on the small toe of my left foot. I always get them there and when I do, I dream of amputating the toe as it gives me nothing but grief! But rather than do something so drastic, I kept an eye out for a pharmacy so I could get some Band-Aids, having forgotten to tuck a few in my purse. I found a small one at the corner of Independencia and Florida/20 de noviembre. There are a lot of pharmacies in Mexico! There, I told the pharmacist that I needed ‘this,’ holding up a picture of a Band-Aid on my phone. I did that because the last time I asked for a bandage for a foot issue, I was offered a tensor bandage. It was $1 for two!

I wound up being there for quite a while because the pharmacist was curious about me and pleased that I had enough Spanish to answer his questions. We ended up having a really interesting conversation about Mazatlán, which he described as “Not for me. Very dirty and extremely noisy. Nothing to do if you don’t like going to the beach.”

This was interesting because I was going to have two more similar conversations the next day. But, you know, I can’t entirely disagree with him, not now that I have another colonial city to compare Maz to. What I thought about Maz being ‘Mexican’ is really Maz being Maz. Mexico isn’t always that noisy or chaotic. Durango, while busy, and much larger than Mazatlán, was incredibly quiet and what I saw of it was much better ordered than Maz, as well as not as rough around the edges and definitely a lot cleaner. Durango wasn’t ‘better’, don’t get me wrong, but this conversation with the pharmacist reminded me to avoid generalizing about a country because of one experience, something I’m always telling people not to do!

My best friend asked me if I’d consider pulling up my Maz roots and moving to Durango for the rest of the winter. The thought never even crossed my mind. It actually gets cold in Durango! 🙂

Speaking of which, I had perfect weather all weekend, just overcast enough to not sunburn me, and warm enough, even at night, that I could wear a skirt or dress with sandals and just a light cardi. And none of the promised Saturday rain materialised!

From the pharmacy, I decided it was too early to call it a day, so I opted to go check out the Museo General Francisco Villa/Palacio de Zambrano, about the famous figure from the Mexican Revolutionary War. You may have heard of him as Pancho Villa. Entrance here was also about $22 and I got an introduction to the museum in French!!!

There are two interesting aspects to the museum. First is, of course, the palace itself, built by a mining tycoon. The museum’s rooms are sprawled through several rooms of the palace, but the signage and subtle guest direction is really well done.

Looking towards the entrance courtyard:


The first room, about the origins of the palace, had signage in Spanish, English, and Braille! The rest of the museum was only in Spanish, though.


Another courtyard:


Staircase and one of many beautiful murals:


Your tour continues thataway. There are so many smaller museums that aren’t laid out as clearly as this one was.


Stone arches:


More stone arches:


The Mexican flag’s eagle in stained glass:


It was interesting to learn about Pancho Villa. Much like I learned from a Quebec perspective that celebrated Manitoban hero Louis Riel was a scoundrel, I always got the U.S. perspective that Pancho Villa was a criminal. Historic perspective always depends on who is telling the story! Villa described himself as a “simple and rough man who learned to read very late and who lived the wild life of the mountains.”


There was a lot of information to take in since I was new to this history and so I won’t even try to recap all the info I was bombarded with!

But I do have to admire him here, where he said that every community in Mexico should have a school for the betterment of Mexican society as a whole:


One of the final exhibits was about the Mexican legal system. I liked how the old layers of wallpaper in the door frames of that room were preserved:



This mural of Villa on his horse is in the entrance lobby and is apparently a famous image of him:


Villa was assassinated and there was disagreement about where he should be interred. His tomb was eventually ransacked and his body decapitated!


His body (literally) was finally laid to final rest in Mexico City:


As for his head, there are a lot of theories about where it wound up, including in the hands of Yale’s Skull and Bones Society!


I could have easily spent a full day just in this museum thoroughly reading instead of just skimming all the information, but I knew I couldn’t learn Mexican history that quickly and that I should just let what I’d learned sink in and then build on it.

I went back to the hotel for a bit and then eventually got hungry, so I went out to find a light dinner. After circling around for ages and finding absolutely nothing appealing (despite an abundance of choice), I decided my growling stomach was lying and I wasn’t hungry. I got back to the hotel and noticed a torta restaurant literally across the street from the entrance! All that walking and the most appealing thing was right there! I went in and ordered their ‘especial’ (which means whatever they want to throw into a sandwich special). It was very delicious and combined guacamole with mustard! A strange concept that worked! It really hit the spot and then I was done for the night.

I was in bed early (9:00), but the brats next door came thundering up and down and up and down and up and down the stairs for several hours, so I didn’t really get to sleep until well past 1:00, knowing that I’d be awake with the bell chime at 7:00. So much for a restful vacation, but, hey, I can sleep when I’m dead!