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Driving Laredo to Huatulco

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Tom, Your advice about Sanborn's is good, as the mile-by-mile trip log is a real help in places like Mexico City. Eeegads --- we never would have made it through without the log.
But anyway, after crossing the border at Nuevo Laredo, we immediately headed the truck south, out of town. Watch out for the two lazy Transitio Policia who sit on the outskirts of town watching for license plates from the US. Even though we were being passed by Mexican drivers, they nailed us for, ahemmmmm, speeding. They wanted 35 bucks. We gave them 20. Yes, I know they probably would have backed down if we insisted on accompanying them to the 'officina', but -what-the-hell, it was only 20 bucks and we wanted to get out of town...
The trip was uneventful until Mexico City, which we hit at mid-day. Bumper to bumper traffic on the hiway, and all sorts of craziness with the horns and stuff. It took us about 3 hours to cross and find the exit for Puebla. I missed the exit on the first attempt, got off at the next off-ramp, and found myself in the middle of somewhere I didn't really want to be. What made it worse, I had to take a leak r-e-a-l bad, and there was nowhere to go. So, I had my girlfriend empty a water bottle and was just about to use it, when I noticed a VIP's, where I took care of business. Ahhhh, back on track, we luckily found the way back to the freeway, and changed our minds about taking the Puebla route, and instead decided to go through Acapulco. This decision was based on the fact that hurricane Mitch was heading for Vera Cruz, or somewhere close, and remembering last year and the devastating floods there, we changed routes.
We had no problem finding the Acapulco Autopista, and sailed on down the highway. I've been to Acapulco before, and am not all that enthralled about it, but I know the route on the Costerra (on down to PE, PA, and Huatulco) well. But, it's not all that clear about how, exactly, to get to it, from Autopista coming into town. I recommend that anyone doing this, use the tunnel (toll) and just keep heading down, down, toward the bay. Once you get close, you're going to run into Hwy. 200 eventually. I didn't want to stay in Acapulco, and thought we'd make it to somewhere on down the line by nightfall...
With all the military roadblocks along Hwy.200 (drug/weapons checks), we were slowed down somewhat, and found ourselves driving the road at night, which we really hadn't planned on doing. As you know, it's a very narrow road, full of potholes, bad drivers, burros, people, and just about everything else that you can possibly imagine. But, we persevered, and headed into the night, feeling somewhat safe (from banditos) because it seemed like the military was everywhere.
We pulled into Puerto Escondido at about midnight, after passing on a couple of rooms we looked at in Pinotepa Nacional. Something was going on in PN, anyway, with lots of bombas and partying, so we felt that we wouldn't get any rest there, anyway.
After a nice night at Arco Iris on Playa Zicatela, and a breakfast at Carmens (nice folks, they remembered us from the year prior, as we were there for the big quake), we felt refreshed and ready for the final leg to Huatulco.
Well, that was about three weeks ago, maybe a month? I've lost track of time, again :-)
Our trip was interesting, not too exciting, even though we broke a few rules (like driving the Costerra at night), and as for driving time, it was about 30 hours. I haven't added up all the tolls, but I've got a stack of tickets that, some day, I will add up and see just what it cost.
It seems that the further south we got, the friendlier the people became. Even at the military checkpoints, they seemed most interested in knowing what the drive down from Alaska was like. I get the feeling that they don't see too many license plates from the Last Frontier down here. At only one checkpoint did they actually make us get out of the truck to look inside. So, anybody thinking about driving down here, shouldn't be too hesitant about it, unless you're doing something you shouldn't be doing (like toting a gun).
Huatulco is the same, and not much has changed in the past year (or 9 months). Hotel Las Palmas isn't finished with the new part, yet. The best cheap food in town is still at Los Portales, Luis is still a gracious host, and serves up icy-cold beer for the thirsty...
We found a house near Tangolunda, which we'll be in until December 15. We're getting ready to head out for Chiapas in a few days, by way of Oaxaca City, to enjoy some fresh mountain air and a change of pace. Life is good, the fish are fresh, and I don't even want to think about going home...

Tom, if you post this report on your web site, please include the following:

To the lady from Puerto Escondido who wanted me to transport the 'back board', I'm sorry that it didn't work out. First, we didn't go through San Antonio, and second, my laptop crashed and I lost your email address. I'm sorry that you went to the trouble to fax the letter to the air ambulance service in SA and all that. Why don't you post a request here on Tom's site and see what comes up?

That's all for now. Hasta luego,

Michael Young

October 2000

Friend Garron and I made a road trip to Huatulco a few weeks ago in a mostly futile attempt to retrieve my dive gear. The trip was a joy and fascination I'd like to share with you. First off, the insurance hassles. If you have a car payment, your creditor will have to give you a letter of permission for you to take your vehicle into Mexico. However, this is not always checked at the entry point. I still recommend Sanborn's for insurance because of their trusty(?) road logs. You'll pay about as much elsewhere for the insurance and not get this handy dandy piece of highway information and entertainment. You tell them the route you are going to take and they pull stacks of pages from a wall of shelves, and bind them into a custom-made mile-by-mile guide for your trip.
Secondly, use the new toll road system as much as possible. It is very expensive - we spent almost $200.00 on tolls during our trip. But the roads are well-maintained, almost totally lacking topes (those nasty Mexican hyper-speedbumps) and far more scenic. Even the toll road from Nuevo Laredo to Monterrey is advised. We took the "libre", or non-toll road, on the way in-country and found that the old highway has greatly deteriorated. The new road, through mostly empty Northern Mexico spaces, was much faster and with less traffic.
You can stay on the toll roads most of the way from Nuevo Laredo through Monterrey and Saltillo to Matehuala, near the fabled mining ghost town (and Peyote capitol) of Real de Catorce. From there almost to San Luis Potosí, there's a long stretch of "libre". The road is bad. We saw a number of nasty wrecks along the way. But a new "cuota" (toll road) is under construction through the area. Now, this route to Mexico City is nowhere near as pretty as the old PanAm Highway (85), but it is a lot quicker and we were pressed for time. From San Luis through Queretaro to Mexico City, it was mostly cuota, nice divided freeway. We passed out at a nice Pemex station on the Queretaro bypass and got a few hours sleep before attempting the Mexico City transit. Traveler's warning: Get a list of the days certain registration plates are banned from Mexico City streets and plan your transit around the day assigned to your plate. To cut down on pollution, every weekday plates ending in two digits are banned. It is hard if not impossible to find a way around the city without entering it at some point.
We used the "pereferico" to skirt the worst of Mexico City traffic and get to the cuota leading to Puebla. Almost to Puebla, there's a new cuota to Oaxaca City. The scenery is fantastic; the road goes right through the mountains. But be careful. Unlike most of the cuotas, this one is not a divided highway. Every other village has its own toll booth, and there were some new ones under construction in the villages currently lacking booths. This indicated that it'll cost more every time you drive it! Fortunately, there aren't too many communities in the area!
Our lack of adequate time was most telling as we went through Oaxaca City. This is one of my favorite places in all of Mexico, and we just didn't have time to spend there. It seems almost a sin to pass that close to the ruins at Monte Albán and Mitla without visiting them. The Regional Museum of Anthropology, with its ancient gold artifacts from Monte Albán, proved an almost irresistible lure. The Zapotec weavings from nearby Tehuacan and the black pottery from San Bartolo Coyotepec...well, you get the idea. If you go, plan a few days there and you won't regret it. On to Highway 175 South. The lavender trees (a relative of the scarlet flamboyant and the mimosa) were blooming furiously. Just before dark, we reached San José del Pacífico, high in the Sierra Madre del Sur mountain range. Plan for a night at Posada del Sol [photos 170K]. It has a view looking down from its lofty altitude of 8300 feet almost to sea level. The cabañas are equipped with a fireplace and thick blankets on the queen-sized beds. The prices are rock-bottom for food and lodging both. For meals for the two of us, it cost less than $7.00. A cabaña is less than $35.00 a night.
This mountainous area is only 2.5-3 hours from Huatulco, and is in and of itself sufficient reason to have a car while visiting the area. On the way back down the mountains, the road passes through Candelaria. There are several coffee fincas in the area which serve as the basis for the fledgling eco-tourism industry in the area. These old-growth coffee plantations are home to a population of unusual birds, butterflies, and indigenous animals. A birder would never be bored around here! Rare sightings of jaguar have also been reported. Parrot species are numerous. Further down the mountain is the village of Chacalapa. Just outside of town you'll find Rancho Alegre, where custom handicrafts are produced. Rooms are also available. Also nearby is Alberca Paraíso Chacalapa, a spring-fed pool, restaurant, and botanical garden also offering somewhat primitive lodging. We spent one night there on our way inbound.
Once you reach Bahías Huatulco, the need for an automobile almost vanishes. From the central plaza at La Crucecita, everything that isn't an easy walk is at least within a cheap taxi ride or cheaper "micro" bus ride. From the luxury hotels at Tangolunda and Santa Cruz to the bars, restaurants and cantinas of La Crucecita, the bahías provide for just about every want and whim of the typical tourist. Some of the more distant bays do require rental of a mountain bike, 4-runner, or boat, however. Just remember that English is a foreign tongue here and take along your Spanish-English dictionary. It sure was nice to see my old friends at Bar La Crema and Cantina La Entrega (dancing girls!) again. Even leaving to go to Puerto Angel was difficult.
Once immediate business was taken care of, it was already time to start back. A short jog to Puerto Angel; and then out on the highway. Garron decided that he really wanted to see Acapulco on the way back, so westward we fared on Highway 200. We had a local cop flag us down in one of the small towns to tell us we had a low tire and offer to help us fix it. We reinflated with air from a scuba tank and told him "No, thank you." He wanted a tip (propina) anyway, When we balked, he offered us the option of having his Policia Judicial buddy carefully and slowly search the van! Since it was about 2:30 in the morning and I was ferrying god knows what from Zipolite to Mexico City for my friend Suzanna, we reconsidered and gave him his N$200 so we could go on.
Even in Acapulco, remember that "Motel" does not mean "Hotel"! A motel in Mexico is usually a place which rents rooms by the hour, not the night, and comes complete with dirty movies on the tube! When we innocently pulled into one about 4:00 AM, we got some rather knowing looks and comments before we figured out what kind of place we'd pulled into! Upon exiting rapidly we discovered that Acapulco does not sleep, and that the number of classy and not so classy bars, discos, and cantinas has multiplied greatly since my last visit. I couldn't wait to get out! Reminded me of Lost Wages, Nevada but with an ocean!
The new Autopista del Sol from Acapulco to Mexico City is easily the most beautiful highway I've ever been on. From the great view of Río Popanoa less than an hour from Acapulco to the marvelous suspension bridges, this is a highway well worth the toll and the trip to see it. It was almost worth the side trip to Acapulco.
Once back in Mexico City, we spent half a day looking for Suzanna's house. Unfortunately, it's hard to spend that much time driving around it without at least one unpleasant encounter with the infamous Mexico City police force, and we had our expensive interlude. They demanded $1000 pesos, but settled for half. As always, the less time I spend in Mexico City, the happier I am. The best bet is to find a nice place to park near a subway entrance and forget driving! It does, after all, have some of the finest museums in the world as well as great artifacts.
The rest of the trip was fairly uneventful, though I was somewhat miffed that time constraints prevented returning to some of my favorite places along the way. If you've never driven Mexico, I have a few tips:

  1. Take along someone who's done it before. Traveling caravan style can be great, especially if all the cars have radios.
  2. Budget plenty of time. There's lots of places you should stop to soak up area art, architecture, and customs.
  3. Like any other form of travel, it costs more than you planned. Bring an ATM card.
  4. Relax.
We took a week on a trip which would have been better served with a month. I decided that I really would like to use my better than twenty years' of driving experience in Mexico to guide a group, perhaps one of recreational vehicles. Interested?

John M. Williams
PADI Scuba Instructor

May 1996

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