Destination Mazatlán

Betsy McNair

Betsy McNair

· 11 min read
Destination Mazatlán

April 12, 2009, Day #6 of My Fabulous Road Trip. Up and at 'em early today. I had what looked to be at least an eight hour drive ahead of me and I was eager to arrive in Mazatlan in time to find the sweet hotel on the beach before dark - sand, sunset, cold beer, uke - you know the routine by now. Yeah, well, I shoulda known the routine by now too, because it was still Easter Week (Easter Sunday, in fact) and I was once again heading to a beach town. But we'll get to that....

What I remember most about this day are the following things. 1. Jorge, the tire guy who was working on Easter Sunday, 2. the crash at the tollbooth, 3. entertaining road signs, and 4. my first stay in one of "those" hotels.

I'll begin with Jorge. As I mentioned in my last post, I had a run in with an invisible cement thing en route to a hotel the night before. It didn't look serious, and Ruby was handling beautifully, but there was a slight ding to the wheel's rim so I thought it wise to have it checked out at one of the llanteras (tire repair places) that lined the highway. Jorge was about 24, cute, with pants saggin', and he'd probably had been out late the night before celebrating the last night of his spring vacation. But there he was on Easter morning looking at my tire, agreeing with me that the rim had a slight ding. I certainly didn't want to drive with an unsafe tire (I still had at least two longs days ahead of me before I would arrive in Guanajuato) but I also felt pretty strongly that a tap or two with a hammer could put the rim back where it belonged and not compromise the safety of the car. Jorge agreed. I smiled. (I love it when they agree with me...doctors, tire repair people, it doesn't matter, I just like that they agree with my assessment of the situation.) I found some shade to stand in while he did the deed with the hammer. He suggested that we switch the tire with the back one (something about having the best tires in front, I think?) but didn't have a gato (jack) with which to lift up the back of my car because they were all in use jacking up the other cars and trucks that were there. Only then did I realize that he had been working on someone else's car when I drove up and had left that to tend to me. The used-to-be-first, now-waiting-for-my-car-to-be-fixed guy was very sweet when I acknowledged this, "No problema, Señora, no tengo prisa." (No worries, lady, I'm in no rush.)

So we put the tire back on the front and decided that I would have it switched out and balanced at a real tire store the following day. How much? "Como usted quiere." Whatever you want. I love and hate when people do this. I love it because it really does feel like he did it to be nice and helpful and if I bought him a Coke for his trouble that would be enough. But I hate it because, of course, I wanted to pay him a fair wage and I have no clue what that is so I feel lost. Jorge was moving on, so I looked at the used-to-be-first-now-waiting guy and made the universal gesture for "Can you help me out here, pal?" I held up a $50 peso note and a $100 peso note and he pointed to the 50 and gave me the thumbs up. Jorge paid, the waiting guy now back in first place, I wished them all well and drove off.


The tunes were on and I was singing along, I had just passed a Mexican crop circle declaring that Jesus was the way, which I thought appropriate for Easter Sunday, and all was right with the world.

I pulled up to the toll booth, noting the heavy traffic going the opposite direction and feeling grateful for the light traffic on my side. That gratefulness lasted about two seconds before I was hit from behind. BAM! Not seriously smashed, not whiplash material, but enough to scare the heck out of me, invoke a swear word in English that I bet most of the Mexicans around me understood, and stop traffic while I and the driver of the BIG truck that had hit me got out to assess the damage. Nada, nothing, not a scratch. You know, there is a lot to be said for a 1990 Toyota, and one of those is this: In 1990 they made bumpers that worked as bumpers, not the touch-me-and-I'll-shatter-into-pieces-and-cost-you-$400-to-replace plastic junk they put on cars nowadays. They guy clearly knew how lucky he was, and I was relieved beyond words. He apologized, we shook hands and drove off. I took a picture of the truck just in case...


Once I stopped shaking and settled back down I spent the rest of the day driving south on 15, past Cuidad Obregón, Navojoa, Los Mochis (last stop on the Copper Canyon train trip I intend to take someday), even a turn off to Rick Bayless' restaurant's namesake, Topolobambo. Sugar cane and corn fields lined the roadway. I began to notice the signs along the road. I started jotting them down and trying to photograph them as well, but the pencil won out over the camera pretty quickly since I was driving, after all.

Do we name our bridges in the US? I mean, other than the big ones like the Golden Gate and the George Washington? These were little bridges that went over - for the most part - gullies where water ran for a few months each year during the rainy season. But they all had the most interesting names: Banana Tree Bridge, Little Boy Bridge, Beekeeper Bridge, Ocelot, Tiger, Turkey, and Parrot Bridges, Big, Little and Hidden River Bridges.

Other signs amused me too: Salsipuedes, "Leave if you can", which is chuckle-producing enough, but if you're a cook it reads "Salt if you can", even funnier. One that really got me was Relleno Sanitario, which I have since discovered means "landfill" but sure looked like "Stuffed Bathroom" to me. I passed a turnoff for a town called Carbo, which I knew I would enjoy and wondered if Dr. Atkins had avoided. Then there was Querobebi, which one could almost construe to be a misspelling of "I want a baby."

Yes, folks this is what one does to stay awake and alert and smiling on a long straight drive of about 500 miles. Well, it's what this one does, anyway.

By about 5:30 I was nearing Mazatlán, a town I'd heard good reports about. It wasn't supposed the be the prettiest beach town in Mexico, in fact it is a bustling port city, but I'd heard that the malecón (pedestrian walkway along the ocean) was pleasant and I - ever the hopeful one - expected that the Spring Break crowds would have thinned out by now and I'd be in my motel on the beach soon. Just how wrong can one gal be?


I followed the signs and found the malecón without a hitch, where I found a MOB SCENE! Loud music pounding out of speakers from all directions. No way I'd stay there even if I could find a room, I'd never get a minute of sleep. Traffic was bumper to bumper, creeping along, and there was nowhere to turn off. I was on a two-lane barely-moving road headed straight into Spring Break hell. I watched the sun sink behind the palm trees into what I presumed was the Pacific Ocean that lay just beyond the sea of cars in which I was trapped.

See the ocean in that picture? Neither did I, and I was there.

Okay, that was it for me, I figured I'd just head out of town and find a hotel on the outskirts where I could make an easy getaway tomorrow. I saw a likely spot and pulled in, looking for the office. Office? Oh no, Bets, this wasn't that kind of motel. Yes, gentle readers, I found myself in Mexico's own fabulous version of the No Tell Motel. I'd heard about these for years, their reputation is the stuff of legends. Some charge by the hour and some, like the one I had chosen, actually rented for 12 hour shifts. They have curtains in front of the parking places to assure privacy for their guests, and serve whatever you might order up via Lazy Susan-type contraptions in the wall, again, offering complete anonymity for those inside. That part reminded me of convents I'd seen in Puebla where the nuns passed their exquisite confections out and the people put the money in via these revolving doors; perhaps an odd connection to make at a place like this, but hey, my mind is known for the odd connections it makes.

$190 pesos for 12 hours, that's about $15 US dollars. A steal. My faceless voice spoke to the other faceless voice on the speaker (like ordering at the drive-through window at Burger King...not that I've ever done that) and told her I wanted a room, she told me to pull into unit 35, so I did. "How do you pay? How do you check in? How does this work?", I wondered. With that a lovely maid walked up to me and welcomed me, asked me for $190 pesos in cash (wouldn't want a paper trail leading to stays at places like this, would you?) and gave me a receipt. Did I need anything? If so just call the office and she'd bring it to me via the revolving door.

Now get this. After paying almost $50 USD last night for one of the baddest hotel rooms ever, today for $15 US dollars I opened the door to a spotlessly clean huge suite with a vaulted brick ceiling, king sized bed, giant bathroom with toiletries in a cute little lace-lined basket, and a sitting area with the weirdest iron, Naugahyde, and tile table and chair set I've ever laid eyes on. There was a room service menu, a dessert menu, and a menu of what might be called "marital aids", except I don't think the people purchasing them were necessarily least not to each other. And my parking spot had not just a curtain but an automatic door, which, while I know was there to ensure my privacy also provided me with a completely secure place to leave my full-to-overflowing car. It was perfect. It was 8pm. I was whupped. I considered TV and discovered the other interesting part about the hotel: three channels - opera, cartoons, and porn. Good thing I like opera, mom.


Hotel Real, Mazatlán, Sinaloa
Ask for Unit 35 and tell them Pepsi sent you.

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Betsy McNair

About Betsy McNair

MY MEXICO TOURS began in the fall of 2003. Since then I've introduced hundreds and hundreds of intrepid travelers to the folk and fine art of Michoacán, Oaxaca, and Chiapas; the elegant colonial cities of Puebla, Guanajuato, and Morelia; the fabulous cuisines of Oaxaca, Michoacán, and Yucatán. We’ve enjoyed regional culinary experiences in humble huts, palatial homes, and cooking schools throughout the country; walked amongst the crumbling ruins yet seen the thriving preHispanic cultures in Michoacán, Oaxaca, Chiapas and the Yucatán.

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