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Driving Adventures In Mexico - Nogales to Zihuatanejo

"They tried to confuse us into thinking we were in California by asking us if we had any fruits or vegetables. Just as in California a simple "no" allowed us to pass."

Ernie Gorrie

¡Bloodthirsty banditos around every corner! Extortionist Federales on the straight-aways! No gas stations and disgusting washrooms if you find one. Ominous warnings from friends wake you from your sleep. ¿You're driving to Zihuatanejo?

Well, if you want exciting stories, I'm afraid you'll need a creative writing course. I found driving from Nogales to Troncones (just north of Zihuatanejo) with my father-in-law about as terrifying as driving to work. I consulted the AAA office in Tucson regarding the trip to our House of Tropical Dreams ( They provided us with little information. This was a good thing, as almost all of it was inaccurate.

Reading "A People's Guide To Mexico" ( and checking Mexico Mike Nelson's web site ( yielded far more information, more accurately, than anything from AAA. And checking ZihuaRob's web page ( supplemented those authorities. We had prepared for every disaster. Sparkplugs, fuel filters, motor oil, oil filters, belts, plugs, hoses, spare tires and 25 liters of gas filled the truck. We could almost have built another truck with the parts we were packing. But our most important item was a Guia Roji auto atlas with gas stations and toll locations identified. This allowed us to plan daily drives with confidence.

We started our 1000 km. drive from Tucson at 04:15. The border crossing at Nogales was easy despite the warnings and misinformation from AAA. Thirty minutes of easy paperwork for a vehicle permit and tourist cards and we drove my 1989 Ranger into Sonora. I've had less friendly greetings and more problems at LAX. After a couple of hours on four-lane divided (cuotas) the first "Menacing Mexicans" blocked our path. Unarmed and with a loaded truck we decided to not try to outrun them. They tried to confuse us into thinking we were in California by asking us if we had any fruits or vegetables. Just as in California a simple "no" allowed us to pass. Now that we knew the secret, we passed each of these roadblocks with ease.

The distance flew faster than the time and we arrived in Culiacan by 17:00. Our out-of-date AAA map omitted the cuata entrance to the city, making it difficult to get our bearings. A stop at a Pemex station yielded a dozen friendly fellows, each recommending a different route to our hotel. We accepted the advice of the only person who provided an escort for the gringos who kept cursing AAA.

Culiacan was a lovely city in an agricultural area with a well-used downtown park near a continuously visited church. It deserved days, not hours, of our visit. The Hotel Ejecutivo (N$520/two beds) was adequate, but on another trip I'd stay further out of town, less expensively.

The next day we started down the autopista to Mazatlan at 06:30. Drivers on this four lane highway with limited entrances, good surfaces and secure traffic division taught us that the 110 km/hr signs were more suggestions than limits. We covered the 224 km to Mazatlan in two hours, including a stop for coffee at one toll booth. Our Guia Roji failed us for the only time when it showed a yet-to-be opened almost continuous cuota from Mazatlan to Tepic. Most of that 300 km. portion was instead well-maintained two-lane highway. But now we were into serious country for roadblocks. These had armed soldiers, surely bloodthirsty for rich gringos. So why did they simply ask where we were going and wish us a buen viaje?

Driving Adventures in Mexico continues next month.

October 2000

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