Chapter 8. Heading North: Mazatlan to Los Mochis
© Bert & Shari Frenz, 2000 All rights reserved.
(Shari) Taking off our bird guide and social director hats, we don our tail gunner hats. We are ready to leave by 5:55AM. It is still dark outside, folks. I pull the car into the staging area and soon Bert comes with R-TENT and we hitch up. Others follow shortly and Bert thumps tires to make sure they all sound good. Maybe he is birding too. Probably he is birding too. His mind is never far from it. I have learned they call him "CB", which stands for Compulsive Birder. Now we have an SOB and a CB in our family. Off we go, taking the low road, which is easier than the high one, except 21 topes slow us down a bit. It takes us one hour to go the approximately 30 miles to the Pemex station where some get gas. Except for a small stretch of new toll road, the road is as tedious as it was coming down. Even though it is Sunday, cars, trucks and busses are in a hurry and pass on curves, on hills and through towns. The caravan also passes slow moving vehicles, however by the time we reach them, the vehicle has usually turned off and we are saved the hassle of passing. Using the CB to help each other pass, keeps the danger level to a minimum. Jim told us "No Birding" on the way. Those of you who know Bert, know that is definitely near impossible for him. At least he did not write down birds seen on a pad held on his knee and refrained from swiveling his head 180 degrees to identify a feather flying in the opposite direction. We finally arrive in Mazatlan, set up and immediately head for the grocery store. I have not shopped for two weeks and my list is long. Ann and Jim come with us and we show them the short cut we learned the night after the bullfight. That night, our taxi driver took us down an unfinished road that parallels the beach. I thought surely, as I was bouncing up and down in the open air taxi with nary another car in sight, he was taking us to his gang, to rob us and leave us in the ditch. But he got us home safely and we avoided all the traffic on the main street. After groceries, we take the main road back and find Casa Loma, a restaurant that Jim and Ann say is delicious. We make reservations for twelve for tomorrow night and take a menu to show the group. It is margarita time and we share some of ours with Jim and Jan, Ralph and Virginia and Karla and Beth, before the no-see-ums start nipping me and I have to go inside. Darn those bugs! In spite of long pants and spray, my legs have itchy spots all over.
(Bert) We backtrack from San Blas to Mazatlan, but instead of taking the high road winding through the mountains, we take the low road, flat and straight. Birds, dominated by Gray Hawks , are on each side of us, but we concentrate on the road and, especially, on the many topes that give motor homes a bad bump. Still, it's a much easier morning than the other road. Children amuse us with their broad smiles and enthusiastic waves as we pass by. I guess our caravan has the same effect as a cavalcade of limousines might draw attention in the states. Again on Mexico Highway 15, this section is two-way and narrow. Passing a slow vehicle is tricky, especially while watching for oncoming semis, and it takes many miles before the whole caravan can pass. In fact, many times the vehicle, passed by the front of the caravan, exits the road before I reach its position from the rear of the caravan. Finally back in Mazatlan at the same campground as a month ago, we stock up on groceries and take care of errands. Requested three weeks ago, our forwarded mail has not yet arrived. Well, I'll save that problem for tomorrow.
(Shari) Many of the group do not like Mazatlan, but do not count me with them. I love the amenities of a city once in awhile and it has been a long time between cities. Today we take care of more errands, enjoy the nice pool of this park and find a terrific restaurant called Mr. A's. It is reasonably priced and has delicious food. I clip free drink coupons from six papers and hand one to each of the couples joining us. Both Bert and I pick unpronounceable things from the menu, but extremely delicious. We share each item and I cannot decide which is the better. His comes in a stone bowl with legs and has chicken breast, onions, jalapenos, edible cactus and cheese in a spicy sauce. Mine is a big leg of pork also in a spicy sauce. Three of us have Spanish coffee, which is prepared with a flourish at our table. The waiter makes a big production out of flaming the brandy and Kahlua that he puts in a warm glass swirled with heated sugar crystals. Yum, yum!
(Bert) Mazatlan could be called errand town, for that is what everyone takes care of today. Jan gets a haircut, Louise has a troublesome tooth pulled, everyone gets groceries. Jim and Jan check for mail from the states, but theirs and ours - sent the same day - have not arrived. We make arrangements to have it forwarded to Texas. We haven't received mail since we left the U.S. and, unfortunately, this mail package includes all of our tax information. We wonder when it will catch up with us. Jim (the other Jim) and Anne face another problem. Jim's truck engine is leaking diesel around the gaskets and they have to decide whether to leave tomorrow with the group or stay back for repairs. Fortunately, Jim gets to a shop that does temporary repairs this afternoon. Getting e-mail is easy for me today, now that I finally know the ropes. At Mail Boxes Etc I connect my computer modem to their fax line and receive mail by direct dialing the U.S. They charge me 20 pesos per minute, but I finish in less than one minute. Then I walk across the street to an Internet Cafe and into one of their computers I insert my diskette containing the OUT mailbox files from Eudora. Replacing their OUT files with mine, I can now send out the mail in just a few minutes. I pay the minimum charge for 10 pesos and my task is done. This somewhat complicated procedure is the fastest and cheapest way for me to get email in Mazatlan. In another city, the procedure would be different. Knowing all the procedures is the difficulty of transferring email in Mexico.
(Shari) 6:30 AM and we are off again for another travel day. Jim and Ann have a fuel leak in their truck that we are all concerned about, but it eventually stops about 100 miles down the road. The toll road from Mazatlan to Culiacán is ever as nice as U.S. I-10. The scenery along this stretch of road is also reminiscent of parts of I-10 in west Texas: cactus, irrigated crops and mountains. We travel along making good time and stop at a Pemex for lunch at about 11. I check on Jim's truck and it is still fine. On my way back, I see Ed looking at his wheel. Ah, Oh! There is hot oil poring out of a hubcap. Not good! All the men gather around the wheel and look at it. Finally Jim and Ed go find the manager of the Pemex and bring him to look at the wheel. He speaks Spanish but we all recognize the concerned "Ah, Oh!" in amongst the incomprehensible words. He sends a young man on a bike to find a mechanic holding up five fingers and saying "minutas." Okay, five minutes and a mechanic will be here - Mexican time. Actually we wait only 15 minutes and the young man on the bike returns leading a rattletrap car with a mechanic inside. The youthful mechanic looks at the wheel, Ed gets his toolbox and jacks up the car, and the lugs are loosened. Apparently a gasket broke and nothing was damaged, since the wheel turns easily and does not move from side to side. The repair will take an hour. Ed and Carlyn, along with Bob and Dusty, were separating from the caravan in another ten miles, so we decide to move on without them. The German in me still feels guilty about leaving them there. Four rigs pull off 30 miles from our destination in Los Mochis to fill up with propane. The rest move on and Bert and I are now Wagonmasters. Now that is a different feeling! No longer can you just follow the rig in front, but have to pay attention to traffic and signs and announce dangers in the road. We only do this for 30 miles and feel the responsibility on our shoulders. We get our charges safely into the park, enjoy happy hour at the palapa and have Ann and Jim and Pat and Lee over for dinner. Jim was the second winner of the dinner from our Valentine's party.
(Bert) With the rising sun coming over my right shoulder as we leave Mazatlan, the landscape takes on the crispness and backlit qualities of a good black-and-white photo. Skies are clear and I notice our route takes us near the Gulf of California, which was hidden in fog on our prior journey south. Jim comes on the CB to inform us his truck is leaking diesel again. His fuel gauge is dropping faster than normal. With no other solution in mind, we keep on driving. Hours later when we break for fuel and lunch at a Pemex station, Jim tells us his leak has stopped, but a more serious mechanical problem arises. Ed notices oil trickling in a steady stream from his rear axel. A gas station attendant pedals his bicycle to a nearby shop to summon help. Meanwhile, Ed takes up a collection of Mexican pesos as loans from the group in anticipation of an expensive repair bill. He faced a similar problem with his differential on another Mexico trip and it cost him 8000 pesos, more cash than he is carrying now. When the mechanic arrives, Ed hauls out enough tools from his motor home to supply a repair shop and the mechanic sets to work at removing the wheel hub. While one mechanic works, four Mexicans stand in a tight semicircle around him, offering advice. Surrounding the four Mexicans, two dozen of us watch the dramatic highlight of our day. Nuts are removed, oil continues to ooze on the pavement, a shaft is withdrawn and everyone cranes over another's shoulder trying to see the guts of the operation. The Spanish-speaking mechanic talks to the partial English-speaking Mexican who talks to the partial Spanish-speaking Walt who talks to the English-speaking Ed to inform us that the whole problem boils down to a damaged seal. We are all relieved that the problem is minor in comparison to our anticipation. We leave Ed and Carlyn with Bob and Dusty at the Pemex station. Once the repair is finished they will continue to Las Glorias, while the rest of the group heads in the direction of Copper Canyon. Back on the road, our group divides once again with four vehicles separating to get our propane tanks refilled. Task completed, I lead the mini-group to Los Mochis where we are all united again: the main group led by Jim, the laggards from San Blas held back by sickness and my group of propane refillers. To this we add John and Ann who joined the group in Mazatlan to take the last leg of the trip through Copper Canyon. Our reunited group shares in a celebrated Happy Hour as we make plans for tomorrow's departure.
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