Saturday, July 10, 2010


This trip has in many ways been an enduro.  We have learned the hard way that our 2002 Dodge Caravan is not up to a trip this challenging, so if we decide after three months in San Miguel that we want to return for a year, that will mean another car.  Bummer.

On Friday we woke up in Ciudad Obragón while the car was at Dodge dealer #2.  After picking up the car in the afternoon and paying more money, on the way out of town we passed whole villages selling only one thing.  One village sold copper pots and kettles, huge ones, beautiful gleaming new copper.  Another sold wooden chairs, rocking chairs, and stools.  Another sold truly awful ugly paintings.  Several people lined up in a row, selling the same thing.  Sometimes people stood on topes -- pronounced TOPE-ays, meaning speed bumps, which are much cheaper than traffic lights for slowing traffic down and are everywhere in this country, and brother, they are high! -- people stand right on the topes where you have to slow way down, selling pastries or cut fruits or chiclets or whatever, always in plastic bags.

Then there are the food stands at the side of the road, selling all sorts of food.  But picture it.  It's really, really hot outside and the stand has a roof, maybe a tarp, maybe woven palm fronds, maybe wood.  No walls, just four posts to hold up the roof.  A few plastic tables and chairs.  A messy and tiny food preparation area at the side.  We can't see a wire so we don't know if the place has electricity.  And it advertises "mariscos" -- seafood!  We saw dozens and dozens of mariscos stands.  We eat salads, we have a lot of ice, but we draw the line at these mariscos stands.

Now here's something I bet you didn't know.  How many people will tell you about toilet paper?  In Mexico apparently there isn't much faith in plumbing.  Next to every toilet is a plastic-lined wastebasket.  After you finish wiping yourself, the paper goes in the basket, not down the toilet.  As best as I can tell from the Sniff Test, an exception is made for bowel-movement toilet paper.  Let me tell you, 67 years of throwing toilet paper down the toilet is a very hard habit to break!

Yesterday we made it by late afternoon to Mazatlán, where the car again was giving us a lot of trouble.  This time we had the drill down better:  first find the Dodge dealer in town, our Dodge dealer #3, and then get a hotel room near the dealer.  The hotel we were able to get was a bit on the crummy side, which didn't help our mood very much.  It gets hard to keep spirits up when really, all we want now is to get to San Miguel.  These stops and delays are so frustrating, especially when it's either too hot or too rainy to go exploring so we're pretty limited to hotel rooms and restaurants.  Each new mechanic says the car is fixed, and then when Rick test-drives it with him and finds it's still lurching at low speeds it's crazy-making.  But the Mazatlán guy said that he made some important improvements (never mind boring details) and in San Miguel we can order the part we need, which he didn't have, and have it replaced there.  We decided to keep going no matter what -- enough Dodge shops already! -- and actually the car was doing pretty well when we finally were able to collect it and leave town at 2 PM today.

Finally, south of Mazatlán we saw farmland:  fields and fields and fields where corn was grown and harvested.  And very short corn, too:  maybe 3 to 4 feet high, not nearly as tall as ours.  I thought it was odd that all the farmers in the same area planting the same crop didn't operate on the same schedule, but we saw fields in different stages:  plants still green but drying to gold, plants all gold, plants cut down with just stubble left, the stubble burned black, and the soil turned over.  In fact, the sky was hazy for as far as we could see, and as best as we could tell it was due to burning all those corn fields after harvest to improve the soil.  I think American farmers don't do this any more:  is fertilizer better or worse?

We started seeing trees everywhere except where they were cleared for growing crops.  There was a crop I will have to find out about.  It's a row crop and the plant is fairly low, maybe 15", and consists of straight and rather thin spikes growing up and out from a central core, like an agave plant but much smaller.  The thing is, the plant is the exact color of blue spruce.  It is very beautiful to see vast fields of that plant.  Anyone know what it is?  Now the villages we saw were just as impoverished, but the addition of shade trees to the clotheslines and dust helped a lot.

The countryside turned into a different place entirely from the dryness north of Mazatlán.  It was so green with trees, dense with leaves, that the green positively glowed.  Trees, crops, orchards, grass, everything grew luxuriously.  We're still seeing cactus plants but now there are lots of palms, deciduous trees, even banana plants.  Around Tepic, midway between Mazatlán and Guadalajara, the sky opened up with a spectacular lightning- and thunderstorm that must have dumped 4" of rain on us in less than an hour.  While driving through Tepic I thought of Maria and Olivia, my Spanish conversation partners for the last few months, who come from there.  Rick was driving then and it was actually pretty scary.  We were on a stretch of cuota (toll road, remember?) that was only one lane in each direction -- imagine, charging a toll for this! -- and the rain spray from other vehicles made visibility terrible, especially behind trucks because wheel guards are pretty much unknown here.  Some cars didn't even have their headlights on.  With the rain spray and the fear that an invisible lightless car was coming toward us, passing slow vehicles was nerve-wracking and exhausting.

Then we crossed into Nayarit State and the road became two lanes in each direction again, and rose up into the mountains -- la zona montañosa -- and it was breathtaking!  Spectacular!  Glorious!  Fog caught on mountaintops and drifted through valleys, while we drove in sunshine. The air was sparkling clear, washed by the rain and far from the crop-burning haze.  And cool and fresh!  For the first time in many days, we were thrilled to turn off the air conditioner.

So we have made it to Guadalajara, which is an immense city of 8 million people.  We are finally on Central time, our last time change of the trip.  We missed the concert we had tickets for tonight in San Miguel, but are hoping that tomorrow night we will be in our new bed in Calle del Codo 10, San Miguel de Allende.




  1. It's so easy to picture everything you're writing about, Jo. Fascinating. Glad you've made it to the mountains, finally! I can't wait to hear about San Miguel after you get there.

  2. Jo,

    Sounds like a real ordeal - great stuff for story telling! Reminds me of my abysmal honeymoon where we spent the whole time looking for dealerships to repair our loaner car over and over. Celebrated 29 years of marriage yesterday, so worked out...:-) Safe travels!

  3. be careful with salad. It's often washed with tap water which non-locals often get trouble with.

    what you saw in the fields is probably agave, they use it for all kinds of things, incl. tequila.

  4. Glad you're finally in SMdA. From experience I can suggest the next time you encounter a rain storm like the one you described, the much safer thing to do is pull off the road and wait it out. They usually last less than an hour. Then when you return to the road, keep a careful watch for rocks that wash down on the pavement. We wrecked our car in Mexico because we didn't practice this simple advice.

  5. I agree that what you saw might very well have been agave. After all, the plants have to start small, don't they?

  6. Hi, Jo. What a trip! Glad to hear you've made it to SMA.

    I was amused to read about the toilet paper in the wastebasket. I first encountered that during a trip to the Galapagos Islands. On the ship, ALL toilet paper went into the wastebasket, regardless of what was on the paper or which orifice it came from. I was not pleased when I was first told about this, but to my surprise, it never created a bad smell. Of course, that may be largely thanks to the fact that personnel from the ship came around several times a day to empty the wastebasket. (Add that to the list of jobs I'm glad I don't have to do to make a living.)