Mexico 1 - Buses to Mazatlan - Si!

Belize Day 135
Mexico Day 0
Thursday, 21st of February, 2013

Well, tomorrow I'm leaving Belize. Seems like I've been here forever, and yet not at the same time. I'm so used to moving this is almost normal, and yet, the unknown. This last few months have been weird for me, because I don't have a "home base" to think about "going back to" as such.

Anyway, in the morning I'll load up my duffle bag, and get on one of the Belize buses, first toward Belize city, and then onward to Corozal, and then its a quick hope across into Mexico. Every time I started researching the Mexican bus system, my head just started to hurt, so I kind of gave up that.

My Mexico "plan" is now just a list of the bigger cities that I think I'll work my way through. I'll most likely pass through Cancun, maybe! Or not. We'll see.

First order of business will be to buy a map of Mexico. I have map software on my laptop, but I can't count on using the laptop all the time, as I won't be able to charge it. And I don't want everyone to see I have a laptop, that's just a quick way to get it stolen. Once I've been on the road a couple of days, I'll look like all the other backpackers out there, and shouldn't attract a lot of attention.

For now, a list of potential cities, kind of order, I will likely hit:
Start from near Belmopan, Belize
Belize City
Corozal, Belize
(Then cross into Mexico)
Porto Escondido (on the Pacific coast)
Mexico City
Playa Maruata
Puerto Vallarta
Copper Canyon (by railroad, apparently the last operating passenger railroad in Mexico)
Water taxi to baja
Cabo San Lucas
San Ignaco
San Diego, USA

Or... through Texas. I'll need to sit still with a good map of Mexico to get my head around all this. You'd think I would have figured this out by now, but I was kind of thinking I'd fly out instead.

Here's the thing. I still want to motorcycle through Mexico later, so if I go through by Bus first, I'll be more aware of what things look like. And going on a bus removes a whole huge layer of problems. I don't have to deal with insurance and all the paperwork of bringing in a motorcycle or car. I won't won't have to deal with repairs, flat tires, and all that. I just sit back, and enjoy the scenery. "Leave the Driving to Us" as they said on the Grayhound commercials.

Mexico Day 1
Friday, 22nd of February, 2012

And so it begins!

Time for one last load of laundry. Since I'd given away most of the clothes I brought, I have to make sure to start with all clean clothes of what I have left! And of course I washed all the bedding and towels I'd be leaving with the home, too. Once I packed my duffle bag, and realized it was still to heavy, I donated some more clothes, again! The problem of course is that the stuff I really want to keep is the heavy stuff. Laptop, Cameras, accessories.

I got on the bus at the highway at about 11:30, after missing a few just before I got there. That is so typical. They are mostly running on time, I just never can remember what time they're there, and today I was going the opposite direction too!

Just as I arrived at the bus terminal at Belize City, there was an express bus to Chetumal, Mexico, in the very next parking slip. As soon as I saw the sign, the driver caught my eye and asked if I was going that way. I hadn't expected to see one for Chetumal in Belize City, I'd thought I'd have to go to Corozal first, so that kind of threw me off. I'm sure glad I took the time to make a list of cities on my possible routes, so at least I'd recognize one if I saw it!

There was 2 ladies on the bus to Chetumal who seemed to be traveling together, although they didn't end up sitting together. I'll introduce them later, ok?

After quick stops in Orange Walk, and Corozal, we were at the Belize / Mexico Border. The driver let us off at the Belize side, and we walked inside to take care of the "Exiting Belize" paperwork. In my case, as a non resident who was leaving Belize, there was a $37 Exit Fee. That goes with the "Entry Fee" I had paid earlier. Most countries are happy to see tourists show up with money, Belize choses to catch you coming and going. Plus many of the national sites, like the ruins charge non residents more, too. But I digress!

Back on the bus, we drive up to the Mexican border entry point, and the driver again lets us off to deal with the paperwork. As I get off, he motions me toward the baggage bay, and tells me to take my bag with me, so the border guys can inspect it. He then says that "this is it, thank you". I had not even considered where exactly they would be letting us off, or where the next bus terminal would be. Um, ok, Thank You!

So I walk to the first window, get a form, they have no pen, so I dig out one of mine, and fill in the form. I'm standing right behind the two sisters I had noticed earlier, so we get to talking. They're from Punta Gorda, Belize, which is on the south end of the country. I'd actually thought of taking a bus down there, just to say I saw it, but ran out of days. Anyway, they were on the way to Florida to see the one ladies children, who are with their Dad.

Ok, once I have my passport stamped, I walk outside again, look around, and almost panic. I mean, where do I go now? Not a lot of signs in English, I had made no real plans for this trip, and I am not at the bus terminal. Hmmm. I look around for the two nice sisters I'd just talked to, but don't see them. So I stand there, dig out my notepad from my bag, and collect my thoughts. Doesn't take long!

I see a little mini mart store across the street, so figure I'll start there. Next to the store are some taxis and some smaller buses. My first problem, aside from my complete lack of Spanish, is I have no Pesos. I only had a few Belize dollars, and spent almost all of those at the border, paying the exit fee. There were some money changers there also, but I didn't want my first money changing experience in Mexico to be with a $100 US Dollar bill, since I wasn't really sure on the exchange rate and doing math in my head yet.

I had looked up the exchange rate a few days earlier, so figured 12 Peso to 1 US Dollar to be pretty close. So that would have been 1200 peso for the $100, but wow, is that right? (yes, but it sure seems crazy!)

Anyway, about this time, another couple, from Belize, who recognized me from the bus, stopped to say Hi and see, if I'd seen our bus. No, I was pretty sure our bus was done with us, based on what the conductor had told me. So I asked if they knew about any ATM, so I could get some Pesos, as I had no Belize dollars to exchange. Not around here, they said, but there is one in the central area of Chetumal, which is about 6 miles from where we are.

Between the two of them, they asked and decided the mini bus near us was what we needed to take, so we got on. I set my bag down on a seat, and showed the driver all the Belize money I had (About $7 I think) he just gave me a look and pointed at my seat. So I sat down. I might have blown his whole theory of the rich gringo!

After my last 4 months in Belize, it was amazing to me how wealthy Mexico appears. There were traffic lights, lots of cars, new car lots, and American franchise stores. I know that not all Mexicans are wealthy, but it seems to be years ahead of Belize.

When we got into the middle of town, my new amigos tapped me on the shoulder and pointed at the door. Once on the ground, they gave me directions to where an ATM was that they knew about, about 4 or 5 blocks away. Great, thank you! On the way, I stopped at a hotel, and confirmed the location with the desk clerk. Hotel staff are nice, and they usually know a little english. This guy was probably European, his English was very formal.

Once I find the ATM, I'm doing more mental gymnastics, first to get through the screen menus, with some English, and LOTS of Spanish to confuse me. Then the Math question again, how many Peso do I need? I end up taking out 1000 Peso, which freaks me out, but it ends up being only about $80. Once I feel very wealthy with my pocket full of Peso, I step outside, with my big duffle bag, and hail a taxi.

Hmmm how do you say Bus Terminal in Spanish? I really MUST learn this language, but I'm finding smiling and gestures to be pretty fun in the mean time! Eventually I think he catches on, when he says "ADO". I had earlier tried to research my bus plan through Mexico, and gave up when I learned there are about 800 bus companies, and very few of them are Nation Wide. But I remembered a few of the bigger names, and ADO is one of the. "Si! ADO!" Big smiles all around, and a few minutes later he drops me in front of the ADO terminal. I had read that some bus companies may share a terminal, but there may be several terminals in one city, and they may not all cover the same routes or parts of the contry.

When I get inside, I find the ticket window, and there in front of me, are the nice Belize sistors! Hola!

So we laugh at finding each other, even though I had taken the long route to find the ATM (of note, there were 3 ATM at the bus terminal, but I needed Peso to hire the taxi!)

Anyway, so the ladies decide they're hungry, so after they get their tickets paid for, we decide to go find something to eat. There were a bunch of vendors outside, but they wanted something different. I should now say they only had about 35 minutes to be back, on board their bus. I had a couple of hours to kill, so I wasn't worried. Since there didn't appear to be a place to check our bags for the bus, we loaded up in a taxi and went exploring. I'm pretty sure the driver had no idea where they wanted to go when we left, but after a while he did get us to a nice looking place. We put in the order, got some drinks, and then started to consider how much time we didn't have left. So we get the waiter to make our order to go, pronto, and said we'd need a ride back to the terminal. We assumed he'd call a cab for us, but a few minutes later, a nice new looking Chevy Crew cab truck rolls up to the curb, and they are motioning us to get on. We still don't have the food, but they're very excited to take us to the terminal. Finally we see what they're doing. The bags are loaded in the back of the pick up, we get in the back seat, and while one guys is getting in to drive, the other waiter is grabbing our food order, bagging it up, and he sits in the other front seat to hold the food for us. Wow, what service!

I have decided now that the next time I go anywhere, I shall try to attract 2 prety girls, at least one of which will be able to speak Spanish! And as a bonus, out of all that, I paid the taxi fair to the restaraunt, one of them paid for the food and drinks, and the other one paid the guys for taking us to the terminal. I don't think they even expected to be paid!

We got them back in time, and quick hugs and exchange of email address, and they were off. Then I got to sit down and enjoy my very tasty fish dinner. With no fork. And No Napkins. Now would be a good time to explain the fish, beautiful presentation, little sides of salad and sauses, complete with head, tail, and eyes. I almost threw up. I mean, it was wrapped in foil, so I didn't expect it to be a "whole fish looking at me" when I opened it! Once I got over the shock, wow, it was amazing. If I ever end up in Chetumal again, I will look for that place, and plan on spending more time there!

My bus loaded at 8pm, and my bag was tagged and loaded for me. The whole bus experience in Mexico is more like an airport. There are security lines, and the staff are all very polite and efficient.

I guess I'll fill in the ticket details for me now. I had wrote down a long list of possible cities I might need to string together a trip from Chetumal to San Diego (Or Texas, depending how things go!)

I decided to try to make longer trips, and see how that worked out. So my first request was for Mexico City. Besides being the capital, its in about the middle of Mexico, so is a good transportation hub. The lady showed me the screen, first the departure time of 20:00 (only a couple hours from when I booked the ticket, so cool!) and then the price. I just about threw up, then I remembered the conversion exchange rate. The ticket was 1264 Pesos, which converted to around $100 US Dollars. Not so bad I figured.

Mexico Day 2
Saturday, 23rd of February, 2012
After riding the bus all night, around 5:00 am we arrive at a HUGE terminal. Everyone gets off, but I notice they leave their stuff on board, so I do the same. I kind of kept an eye on the bus, which was then pulled back away from the terminal to get washed up, and then eventually refueled.

I bought some breakfast from one of the snack vendors, consisting of 2 pastries with some kind of meat inside, and a Coke. Breakfast of Champion World Travelers there! Next order of business was the restroom, for 4 Peso (Coin operated turn style, and it even gave change! Once inside, I discover no toilet paper, and no toilet seats even. Hmmm. But it was a very clean restroom, with hot and cold running water, and the hot air hand dryer did work well. Probably not a bad deal for 4 peso, which would be about 30 cents or something like that. Note to self, carry toilet paper!

I eventually figured out we are in Tobasco, mostly deduced by reading the markings on the taxis parked outside. There may be signs somewhere, but I have had a tough time finding one when I wake up on a bus parked at a terminal!

I feel amazingly well, having slept only a couple hours on the bus so far.

At around 8am (might be 7am local time, I'm not sure if there has been a time change yet) I see we are in a town that might be Minatitlan. There is a big refinery of some kind here.

The landscape in this area is really beautiful, lush and green. Not what I think of when I think of Mexico. I'm probably thinking more of the northern areas.

The bus terminal here is smaller, an open air (with roof) building. I saw a Police pick up, loaded with "Swat" looking guys, all with assault rifles and faces covered with balaclavas. Considering the police are dealing alot with the drug cartels, the face covering may be for protection, both to protect against chemical fires, and also to protect the officers identity, against retalitation. Its a different world here. I have seen Army and Police all over, and they are all heavily armed. Assault rifles, body armor. They look serious, well disciplined, and ready. Things like uniforms are all pressed and clean. They do not appear lazy. I wouldn't call them friendly, but I think "professional" is a good description.

We are driving mostly on 4 lane, divided Toll highways. In Mexico, from what I have read, you can get most places on 2 different, parallel highway systems. One is the public free highway, and then there is the for pay toll highway. The free highways are in much worse shape. From what I've been able to see, I think the toll is a good way to go. Still not perfect, but there is evidence of them building and doing road maintenance all over. They are really putting a lot into the highway systems.

By about 17:00 (5pm) we are rolling into the smog, so I suspect Mexico City is near by.

At around 17:35 (5:35pm) I was already on the next bus, so am amazed at how fast things can move here. That includes me getting my bag off of the first bus, walking into the very big terminal, finding a new bus company, buying a ticket, walking through another airport style security line, and getting onto the new bus.

As I'd said before, different buses go to different areas, and not all companies are covering all routes. So when I walked into the terminal, right off I saw one company that seemed to be specializing on the west coast of Mexico, the resort areas. Sadly, the bus name isn't on the ticket, the company that printed the ticket may be an umbrella company, or a sales agent. Anyway, the ticket from Mexico City to Mazatlan was 984 Peso, or about $82 USD.

My Mastercard declined for some reason (I later realized the sales agent never gave me the chance to type in my PIN, so that's probably why it didn't go through) so I paid that one with cash instead. I had a $100 US that Beryl had given me, so that paid for the ticket with change left over.

Its been weird, on the last bus, and now this bus to Mazatlan, I don't see the arrival time on the ticket, and I keep forgetting to ask! Since I don't have a map with me, and I don't want to dig out the laptop, to look at my map software, I have no real idea how far things are or what to expect for how long it will take.

I later looked it up, and the first leg, from Chetumal, Mexico to Mexico City is 1333 KM, or 812 miles.
The second leg, from Mexico City to Mazatlan is 1012 KM, or 628 miles. That according to my Garmin software, although I didn't run the GPS for the trip, so I may not have taken the exact same route the software picked. Since I was asleep, and not following a map, and often had no idea what cities we were driving through, I'll consider that close enough!

I'm planning to stop for a day or a few days in Mazatlan, time to relax a bit. Besides, I do not want to get up north too soon, its still too cold to be riding my motorcycle anywhere, so I need to slow down!

Mexico Day 3
Sunday, 24th of February, 2013

Wow, feels like I've been on the road for a week already!

07:30 I declare victory over the W/C (Water closet, or restroom on the bus). On the first bus, the door opened up pretty easily when I hit the latch. No problem what so ever. On this bus, it was dark when I went to use it, and I could not figure out the door. I assumed it was locked, like someone was already in there, so I didn't think too much of it, and waited a while. Later, I kinda had to go more, so I tried again, still locked. Hmmm. Then later on still, when I'm thinking of peeing in my coke bottle, I saw someone else walk back to the back, and heard the door open. Ok, now I'm feeling a bit silly, so I walk back, and as she comes out, I hold the door open for her, and get in there. I pee... and pee... and pee... it feels like it may never stop. And of course its on a really bumpy down hill stretch coming out of the mountains, and things are swaying, and sloshing... eeek! I manage to finish things up with no serious mishaps, am all tucked in and ready to step out, and... hmmm door won't open. Oh great, am I the only one who can't figure this out? I can unlock the door. I know that its unlocked because the light goes off. When I lock the door, the light comes on. That's kind of interesting, but still, I'm done, its time to get out. Finally I decide to just push it kind of hard, and wow, look at that, its just really stiff to open. I guess they made it a bit tight so it wouldn't jump open on the bumpy roads or something. Anyway, I was feeling much better about the rest of the trip after that!

At one of the many check points, some un armed, un uniformed "officers" boarded the bus. I'm assuming they were police, as they didn't look army, but not sure. They never hardly looked at me, probably because I was a gringo (kind of nice sometimes!) but they seemed to be asking a lot of questions to some of the others. I think they were looking for non Mexicans who might be travelling undocumented. Then one of them walked through with a dog, which really seemed to like this one guy sitting a few rows back of me. So they asked him to get off the bus for a while. The dog kept a good eye on this guy, but after they asked him some questions, they let him board the bus again. I didn't see any one asking for bribes or digging through bags, so that was a bit odd compared to what I've heard in the past.

The landscape this morning is looking a lot more like what I pictured Mexico to look like. Probably more like the hills around San Diego, drier, more rolling hills, sage brush and tumble weeds. Not like the jungle green in the south.

Ok, little fast forward now, sometime after 9am we pulled into the terminal at Mazatlan. I had read in one of the guidebooks that sometimes in Mexico, it can save time to take the bus, vs. taking an airline from one city to another. In this case, it might be true. The air port (aeroporto I think it is on the signs) is quite a ways out of Mazatlan, while the bus terminal was fairly close to the beach.

As we were driving the last hour into town, I was thinking about what I thought a reasonable priced room might cost. I had absolutely no idea what to even hope for. Not sure if I'm in peak time now or not, but I suspect anything winter should be kind of peak, although at least its not spring break yet. Not quite anyway. Anyway, I was kind of thinking I'd be really happy with 400 pesos.

I was approached by a taxi driver as I walked across the terminal, so I set my bag down and said I was looking for a room, not too expensive, and close to the water. Si, he says, and he goes to grab my bag. He's a bit older looking, so I offer to help with the bag. At first he refuses, then he starts to pick it up, and smiles at me. We both grab one handle, and his friends laugh as we walk to the taxi. Something I thought was interesting, he had to pay a parking fee, to get out of the terminal, think it was either 3 or 6 pesos, I didn't notice if the coins were 1p or 2p, they both have a copper center on a silver colored edge.

We tried to talk a little, but my Spanish isn't very useful yet, but he askes where I'm from, so I say Canada. He smiles big, shows me a couple little Canadian flag stickers he has inside his car. I didn't see any other countries, so he may know someone up north, or it may be true there are a lot more Canadians coming down now. Makes sense, its a lot colder in Canada, eh?

He brings me to the Hacienda, which is right across the street from the water and the beach. I'm a bit nervious as its a big hotel, and I think way out of my price range. Remember I was hoping for around 400 Peso a night, but that's only $32. Anyway, the lady at the desk says 650 Peso a night for a single. I figure I'll take it for a night, and then have time to think about it. When I got to the room, I pulled out my calculator and see its only $54 USD a night. I'm on the 7th floor, with an ocean view, and a small balcony. Yeah, I think I'll stay a few days after all!

Something I found in one of my guidebooks, that I'll check out, is there is a ferry from Mazatlan to La Paz, on Baja California. Its a 14 hour ride, all the way across the Gulf of California, about 400 KM or 250 miles.

Since I'm using this trip as a scouting trip for future adventures, I think I'll try out the ferry and see if it would make sense for next time. One idea, is to go through at San Diego, drive down the Baja, then ferry across to explore the main part of Mexico. From what I've read, the areas bordering the US is where the worst gang and cartel problems are happening. So south of Texas, for example, is an area that should be skipped. Not sure if the gangs read the same guide books as the rest of us or not though!

On the same subject, I am liking taking the bus. Its a lot simpler, but of course you kind of have to go where they are going already.

After I checked in, I went for a walk down the beach. Well, actually since I had my boots on, I walked on the sidewalk instead. I hadn't planned on going far, or I would have taken the boots off in the room and then walked the beach. But once I got out, it felt good to walk, so I waked. Going south, I walked probably at least a mile, going around the corner of the point and down to what looks like a new park with some statues and a big BIG Mexican flag. There was a sign saying something about official dedication, and the date was Today. I didn't see anything happening that looked offical, so not sure if I was too early or too late! The statues were cool looking, so since I didn't take my camera the first time, I'll get to make that walk again so I can get some pictures.

With the heavy police presence, I don't think I'm too worried about being out in the day time with my camera. I don't think I'd take it out at night though. Will wait and see what things look like out there anyway.

While I was typing the entries up until today, I was sitting out on the deck, with the patio door open. A couple of pigeons land next to me and start hopping around. I notice that both of them are missing parts of one foot, each. Odd. Then one decides to go check out my room. So I get up to shoo them away. Well that just makes the one start flying into the window, over and over and over. Probably a good thing it wasn't a pelican! Eventually it leaves.

Think I'll go down to the lobby to see about the internet, I'm seeing a lot of hotspots from my room, but I don't have an access code yet. I think the lady this morning said it only worked in the lobby.

Mexico Day 4
Monday, 25th of February, 2013

Ok, its morning, and I'm on a mission, so will keep this short, Si? :)

Last night, I decided I'd cut my time short here in Mazatlan, and get closer to home.

There is a ferry that crosses from Mazatlan to La Paz, over on the Baja Peninnsula. From there, its about a 24 hour trip up to Tijuana, and then I'll Amtrak on up to Seattle. But I might break that up a bit. If I do get up to Wenatchee too soon to ride the motorcycle, I do have some maintenance that needs to be done before I hit the road.

I have to remind myself that just because its warm here, its not warm up north yet!

Anyway, its nice here, now, so gonna go take some pictures. Stay Tuned!

By Carlin Comm posted on 2013-02-25