Tuesday, March 10, 2009

the journey south -- part dos

My target for a Melaque landing is the 23rd or 24th of April. I see no reason why Jiggs, my brother, and I cannot make that schedule.

I am not certain how many days we will spend on the road to get to Lukeville. But I would like to follow the same road trip rules in Mexico that we will use in the States -- no rush, stop when the mood hits, follow our instincts.

But, I also know enough about driving in Mexico that there will be a few more rules to follow when we cross the border. (Let me point out that I have not driven extensively in Mexico since 1972.)

Rule number one. When the sun starts to head for the western horizon, tourists should head for their motels. I grew up in an area where driving at night was a dangerous hobby. Between deer, bobcats, and neighborhood drunks, our windy mountain roads could be a real challenge at night.

But Mexican roads at night make the Powers road look like an autobahn. Livestock. Rocks. Potholes. Unlit vehicles. All can be discovered -- often with the front bumper of your speeding car.

Rule number two. Stick to the toll roads -- the cuotas. They are expensive, but they are well-maintained. This will be an easy one to comply with. We will be able to drive on cuotas almost all the way to Melaque.

With those rules in mind, we will cross at Lukeville. My brother will need to get his FMT at the border. If all goes well, I will have my Mexican automobile insurance when I leave Salem, and my automobile permit from the consulate in Phoenix.

If we cross at Lukeville early in the morning, we should be able to get to Guaymas in eight hours. There are at least two bloggers I would like to see there. According to my sources, the Flamingo Motel accepts dogs.

The next day, we should be able to get to Mazatlán in nine hours. There at least two other bloggers I would like to meet there. I have several leads on hotels, though the Azteca Inn seems to hold promise.

The big question then becomes whether to try to drive all the way to Melaque on the next day. There are two routes: mostly cuotas through Guadalajara and down through Colima -- or driving the "scenic" route through Puerto Vallarta.

As much as I would like to see Puerto Vallarta again, we are going to run into traffic issues no matter where we drive. Even though Semana Santa will be over by the time we enter Mexico, many people will still be finishing up their holidays at the beach. For that reason alone, the Guadalajara route may be faster.

Even so, that will be at least a 10 hour drive. We may want to consider breaking that portion of the drive into two parts.

If we decide to take the Puerto Vallarta option, we will join the coast road at Tepic. I will then want to stop in Chacala to see the village that was so special to Andee Carlsson -- and to wish I had been able to come two years earlier. I would also like to stop in the Puerto Vallarta area to see a blogger friend. If we stop in Puerto Vallarta, I will need to find a dog-friendly motel.

Either way, that should give us plenty of time to see some of Mexico, and still be in Melaque by 24 April.

The plans are designed to be written in sand. A good tide will undoubtedly turn them into something far more interesting.

Those of you who have made the trek, any suggestions?


Miguelito said...

It´s cuota, not cuoto, señor.

Here is something important: A car stopped on the highway ahead is invisible to your average Mexican driver. You may be stopped and waiting to turn left, but there is traffic coming the other way.

You may have your left-turn signal on, which in Mexico can mean you are going to turn left or it can mean you are signaling the car behind that he can pass you, a complete contradiction.

In any event, the chances are good that you will be totally invisible to the Mexican driver behind, who will be driving 150 mph if it´s a highway.

He will rear-end you.

Traditionally, in this situation, you do not stop on the highway to turn left. You pull off to the side to the right, and wait till the traffic is clear both behind and ahead. Some people still do that. I do it now and then.

However, if you opt not to do that, I would forget the left-turn signal. Put on your flashers.

In any event, keeping a close eye on what is bearing down on you from behind in these situations is far more important than in the U.S. where drivers actually can see people stopped on the highway to turn left.

I was recently amused coming out of a gas station near where I live. There in broad noon daylight on the highway was a car that had been trying to pull into the gas station, left off the highway, and he had been rear-ended.

The car that rear-ended him had been rear-ended too. And the following car had been rear-ended. And that next car had been rear-ended. Yes, four cars made a nice rear-ended necklace.

I almost burst out laughing at those bozos.

Welcome to Mexico, and keep your eyes peeled for what´s barreling down at you from behind.

And yes, a left-turn signal can mean it´s okay to pass on the left. Makes not a lick of sense. Best to turn the flashers on.

You will hear Gringos here who say it´s okay to drive on highways at night. Ignore them. It´s not, especially for you.

Steve said...

Miguelcito -- Thanks for the edit. I will make the change.

I have experienced the turn left from the far right lane maneuver. It is very counter-intuitive, but your story is a good reminder of why certain Oregon driving habits will need to be abandoned. I have seen enough of the personal flower shrines along the road to know that driving is not merely a hobby in Mexico; it is a blood sport.

Calypso said...

I have a couple tips keeping in mind that my last 10 or 12 trips have been on the east coast, but I have driven pretty much all over Mexico and Baja CA - on the west not since 2001 which is a few years more recent than you ;-)

Over on our side I drive at night - but I am adventuresome. If you do decide to do that - the best thing to do is get behind a truck and stay put - one that by all indications knows the route - you can tell this if they seem to slow down knowing hazards are ahead and such. The big trucks almost always seem to know the roadways.

The best investment for a trip down here is an auto compass. I have a great electronic one that came with my VERY expensive rear view mirror. But just a good dash compass floating in liquid is OK and an auto GPS is even better.

When you get lost simply head south, as at least knowing you are headed in the right direction. Highway signs are often confusing or simply not there. Be cautious about getting directions - they will always 'know' where to go since Mexican's seldom say they don't know (Si to everything). Cab drivers often get a kick out of miss-directing you. If you spot a police station or a police officer (NOT the transit dudes standing in the street). These guys are usually helpful and knowledgeable.

In the small towns and larger cities do not make eye contact with the transit cops standing roadside. This is a lead-in to pull you over. I am sure you have read my comments about ignoring them if they do signal to pull over - but then how would you know anyway if you don't see them ;-)

Over on the east - drive times are pretty much 60-70% ground covered compared to long distance travel in the U.S. so calculate where you will be at about 40-45 mph average rather than 55- or 60 (or more ;-)

Get pesos right away - at least over on the east you will soon find U.S. dollars are not welcome after 200 miles or so below the border (of course tourist towns are an exception). Better to deal in their own currency generally in any case.

Remain calm - no road rage. It is far less common down here and will do little more than raise your blood pressure - there is no gain (probably little in the U.S at that). And get away from the border as fast as possible - don't plan any stops at border towns.

Have a calculator handy and a cheat sheet if needed to convert to liters, kilometers and peso conversions. Also have the few comments needed at a gas station on your cheat sheet "Llénelo, por favor" I wrote the phonetic Ya-Ne-Lo Poor-Fah-Vor on my mileage note pad. That is fill it up please by the way. Of course have your brother keep copious travel notes - they will come in handy on the next trip and even the return trip.

Signs depicting distance in kilometers (your brother can convert with a calculator - but I always just divide in half and add 10% cheating UP a little bit from there (2% actual). Speed limits and such can be compared to the conversion on your speedometer if you have that but there are only about 5 speed limit values which can quickly be learned like 80 km is 50 mph etc. No ones seems to pay attention to speed limits - but remember you are a traveling duck and you might want to adhere closer to the posted limit than all the maniacs around you - especially in the city.

I think the insurance company I signed up with or some such resource had a sheet of roadsigns defined in English. I had a copy. You will be more comfortable knowing what most of the signs mean. Get one from a Google source and have it with you.

Cash some bigger bills (200 pesos - 500 pesos) at the toll booths and collect smaller change and bills - they can be hard to get and even a 200 peso bill can be refused in small towns for a taco or a cup of coffee. We keep a container with coins near the driver here - there are a lot of people trying to get money in the street as well as the red cross and cute girls pandering for God knows what. I tend to support the Red Cross and anyone with an actual physical disability (missing extremities etc.)

Be sure you have a spare tire and jack - the roads can be real rubber eaters.

Relax and have fun - driving in Mexico is an Adventure ;-)

Whew - I'll stop now ;-)Drive on!

Todd said...

Dogs and Motels...
You will find that not nearly as many places will take dogs here.
BUT there are motels here that are what may be referred to as "Hot Sheet" motels. You will pull into a garage and the door will close behind you. This is so no one in the neighborhood will see who you are taking in there. When stuck for a place to stay with pets, we have found them to be a great resource as no one will notice who or what you bring in!
But checkout is not usually noon the next day.

Also a website that is handy is

Another nice thing on the cuotas are the Green Angels, they are like the Auto club, but free, to help get you on your way when you have a breakdown, flat tire or run out of gas, you only pay for gas or parts used.

Happy Trails!


Paty said...

I was so anxious to get "home" that I made the drive from Portland in 5.75 days. I'd seen most of Utah and Arizona so nothing there to stop for and when I got to Mexico I knew I'd have the opportunity to explore all that scenery at a later time. Finished at the border around 10 AM (because I was at the border one day earlier than expected I had to buy Mexican auto insurance for that day, which held me up) and spent the first night in Guaymas, second night in Tepic and home before 10 AM in Ajijic the third day. I was on the road when the sun came up and stopped just as the sun was going down. Made for long days and short nights.

If I hadn't been fleeing a very uncomfortable if temporary living situation (the couple I was staying with were NOT on the best terms) and my eyes not on my goal but on the trip, I would have mosied along and taken 2 weeks. Whichever way you end up coming down, please be safe. And BTW, the cuotas are not always in good repair--watch for potholes and critters! The only animals I didn't see grazing along the road or between on-coming lanes were chickens or pigs--everything else were well represented.

Larry Lambert, Mazatlan said...


Miguelcito makes a good point regarding signals. Everybody here, everywhere you go, uses their flashers for almost anything. The left turn from the far right is common, but not universal. Sometimes there are even left turn lanes.

As for making PV in one day from Mazatlan, it can be done but I wouldn't suggest it. The road north of PV is hilly, narrow and windy. Lots of traffic that will slow you down even if the road doesn't. And remember peoples' propensity to cut corners on mountain turns; even in Oregon.

If you're interested in looking around a little, consider turning off the cuota a little before Tepic and head in the direction of San Blas. When you reach San Blas turn down the coast to Santa Cruz and Mirimar. Take a look at El Encanto (www.encantomexico.com) for a night's stay. Funky little place, great beach seafood and an easy drive from there to PV. Leaving Santa Cruz you'll connect with Route 200 to PV.


Cynthia Johnson and Mike Nickell said...

Regarding doggie motels - don't worry - extra pesos will always get Prof. Jiggs in the room with you!
Secondly, we found that traffic and speed limit signs are "suggestions" rather than law. I know that could be a hard one for you, but go with the flow of traffic and you'll be okay.

Babs said...

I'll be in San Carlos - just near Guaymas when you come through in April with "the man". Maybe we ALL, First Mate, Brenda and Roy and I can meet you and your bro for a cafecito or whatever.
Safe travels - thank god I didn't have all these suggestions to read the first time I came down or I woul dhave been scared to death. Just remember that I've done it at least 200 times - NEVER, NEVER had a problem. You'll be FINE!

Nancy said...

Steve, We stayed in San Carlos at Totonaka RV Park. They have little cabins and accept dogs. Brenda suggested them and it was great but spartan.

In Mazatlan a friend who travels with her dog says that the Olas Altas Inn is where they stay.

Other than that I would say that you should go through Colima. It is a lovely city and even if you've been there, your brother should see it!

Oh, and don't assume that what should take 5 hours to drive, will. We have been stuck behind parades, held up in crazy road construction, etc. Take your time! Relax!

And then don't forget to check in with your FM3 before 30 days pass after you cross the border!

Hope to see you when you come through, we are back from Merida the 22nd.

Larry Lambert, Mazatlan said...


Nancy's suggestion of the Olas Altas Inn is a good one. It's even on the Malecon, across the street from the beach. It's on Avenida del Mar, no where near Olas Altas. The Azteca Inn is in the Golden Zone, otherwise known as turist central, and no where near a beach.


Brenda said...

I would think that Lukeville to Guaymas is more than an 8 hr. drive; but not sure.
When we were in Mazatlan we stayed at the Azteca Inn and enjoyed. Clean rooms, not noisy, great staff, good restaurant. If they take dogs I would stay there. If we ever go back to Maz. we will definately stay there again.
Would love to meet you when you come through.

Joanne said...

Keep your receipts from the toll booths. I read somewhere, don't know where, that the receipt offers you some sort of insurance. I think for accidents on the road, but can't remember. Maybe someone else can provide the details.

Steve said...

Calypso -- Great mini-guide. Like everything in Mexico, there is a rule except for those cases when the rule does not apply. I love your "just keep heading south" tip. I usually use the .6 rule to calculate kilometers to miles. One of those things I learned while living amongst the "barbarians" of Europe.

Todd -- I could try disguising Jiggs as my very ugly son, but it has never worked. Several people have referred me to the "hot sheet" motels. Interesting what we learn in our travels.

Paty -- Thanks for the cuotas tip. Danger seems to lurk everywhere. But, having cut my high speed driving teeth in Greece, I have some street sense.

Larry -- PV in a day seemed like a stretch from everything I have read about the roads around Chacala -- and that road goes all the way to PV. If I do not get to El Encanto on this trip, I will on a future trip.

Cynthia -- In this case, it could truly be "a bite."

Babs -- Meeting up with everyone would be a great treat. My brother is a regular reader, so he would not be a comnplete stranger to the group.

Nancy -- Relaxing will be the order of the day. I hope our schedules match up for a meeting.

Brenda -- Thanks for the suggestion on the Azteca. I also hope we can meet up. It would be great to pull Babs into this meet and greet.

Joanne -- My understanding is that damage while driving on the cuotas is covered -- if you have your receipts. I hope I do not need to find out.

Islagringo said...

Having driven this route, I think Larry has made the best suggestions, followed by Calypso and then again Larry. If you do not include Chacala in your visit, you will only regret it later. When I did the drive, I had no problem getting Mazatlan to San Blas, then on to PV and then Melaque the third night. Don't let the map distances fool you. It will take you much longer than you think. And as somebody said, the toll roads have their own hazards as well. Good voyage!

1st Mate said...

Steve - We took the route Larry suggested, turning off the cuota before Tepic and going through San Blas. We left Mazatlan around 9ish, and were in La Cruz before dark. But we wouldn't have wanted to proceed through PV that time of day, too exhausting.

You might like San Blas for an overnight stop, just have your bug stuff handy.

Once through PV, though, it's only about 4 hours, even by bus, to Melaque.

Steve said...

Islandgringo -- I will put the stops in the hopper. I do not want to pass up opportunities while they are right in front of me. Besides, every one of them is a post just waiting to be written.

1st Mate -- Or I could stop in Chacala and discover what I have missed. Thanks for the suggestions.

Babs said...

Chacala, you CAN't miss it - last year when I drove up there from Sayulita all I oculd say was "sweet". There is no road sign on the highway - it is between two prominent buildings, is the only way I can tell you. Don't miss it......it's what PV was 40 years ago - a true paradise.

Anonymous said...

F and I stayed once in a "hot sheet" motel in Irapuato (Capital Mundial de la Fresa). It had its own garage with an electric opener and mirrors on the ceiling. It was fairly new and nice. Unfortunately, the room also had about 1,000 mosquitoes, most of which bit me during the night. So bring bug repellent.

And I'd agree with not driving at night. I've encountered burros on the highway in Mexico, though not the cuota. I'd hate to hit one.

And based on my recent discovery of Norteños it would seem that Hermosillo is home to lots of Norteño musicians. If I were making the trip, I'd certainly try to find some concerts to attend.

In any case, have a fabulous time.

Buena suerte
Kim G
Boston, MA
Where the roads are in FAR worse condition than the average Mexican road. A fact to which the local politicians are completely oblivious.

Steve said...

Babs -- If I can, I will stop at Chacala. I would almost feel like I was betraying Andee if I did not.

Kim -- Great suggestions all. But I need to remember I have a life of Mexico in front of me. I do not need to gorge myself on one trip to the buffet.

Paty said...

Save you toll receipts as this will prove to the Green Angels, should you break down and need assistance, that you have paid your toll and are eligible for free assistance from them.

American Mommy in Mexico said...

All advice is excellent! We have have done lots of driving through MX and can support 1st hand most of the advice.

200 into PV and then south of PV is tough (but beautiful) driving and will take much longer than you think

Anonymous said...

Steve, will you have some way to post your progress during the trip on the way down - or will it be like the astronauts going around the back side of the moon i.e. we hear from you when you arrive in Melaque????


Steve said...

Mic -- I am taking a laptop with me. As long as I find a WiFi connection, I will be in contact with "daily" posts.