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Driving from Lake Chapala to the US Border at Nogales
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A Quick Update

In 2010, we moved back to the small town in Colorado that I never stopped missing while we lived in Mexico. Now I sometimes miss Mexico, but I wouldn't travel as freely as we did when we were there, camping out in remote areas and so forth.

Mexico today is in a period of change, and in many ways it is more dangerous now. That said, I have plenty of American friends who still live there very happily, just taking a few more precautions than they did in the past.

Just to say!


Visit Expedia…

Expedia is my favorite place to book airfare, and they handle hotels, car rentals, cruises, etc. I like the organization of the site for figuring out what flights I want. Click on the suitcase to take a look.

I was very pleased to win an award for this blog! Even better for you: click through for lists of all sorts of award-winning travel blogs.

Tripbase Blog Awards 2009

Tripbase Blog Awards 2009

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June 7. 2007 — Last week we left our home by Lake Chapala early on Sunday morning, in our VW Jetta, our pets staying home with good care. This turned out to be a good time to drive, as the ever-busy Guadalajara traffic was less crowded. We drove past Jocotepec onto a good four-lane highway into the city. Then we got onto the Periferico, and drove around the city counter-clockwise till arriving at the exit for Tepic. We took that and it was another good four-lane road. We were beyond Guadalajara about an hour an a half after leaving home.

The good highway was quite welcome as when we had driven this way a year and a half ago in the other direction, it was being working on and we had to go through one detour after another. Now there were just a few. We did pay tolls for several sections of the highway. I can be frugal about a lot of things, but the greater emptiness and quality of the cuota or toll highways make them well worthwhile.

We had heard it would be about seven hours to Mazatlan, and it took us a bit more. Late May is not really tourism season there, as it’s plenty hot and the Mexicans who come during the school summer holidays hadn’t started yet. We stayed in an old beachside hotel, and it was great to gaze at the surf from our second-floor balcony. Between undertow and rocks, the beach isn’t swimmable in that area (or in many areas by the city) so we took advantage of the pool.

Our second travel day took us from Mazatlan to Alamos, which is charming small city about 45 minutes off the main highway. Traffic was heavy on the 4-lane road. Mexico generally does not have toll roads unless there are also free alternatives, and for the later part of this day, there was no toll road and we were on the 4-lane libre or free road. Kelly made good time, weaving deftly between lanes at times, while I thought to myself, “I’m not exactly enjoying this.” But once we left Highway 15 at Navajoa and took the excellent road up into the mountains at Alamos, my spirits perked up.  We stayed in a very nice American-run B&B, and had a layover day there.

Travel Day Three got us to Santa Ana, within an hour or two of the border. Operating on the advice of one of the Americans we had met in Alamos, we didn’t try to cross in the hot late afternoon, but found a very American-style motel in Santa Ana, the San Francisco, complete with wireless internet. This day was about as long as the other two had been, but traffic was not so heavy and it was pleasant enough.

Our fourth day on the road, we crossed the border and got as far as the home of a friend in Prescott, AZ. While we were driving north, some ways north of where we had slept but still in Mexico, a warning light came on our dashboard. I looked it up in the manual and to our relief it was nothing urgent. We got it fixed in Prescott the next day.

We arrived at the place where you have your car stickers removed, some 20+ km south of the border in Nogales. It was pretty clearly marked in English, and the young woman reached past Kelly, who was in the driver’s seat, to scrape off the sticker. We gave her the piece of paper that the sticker had come in last year when we entered with the car at Columbus, NM / Palomas, Chihuahua, she gave us a receipt, and we were done.

She smiled goodbye at us. “But where do we go to get our FM-3 visas stamped that we are leaving the country?” I asked in Spanish. She waved at the larger customs entry point across the highway. If I hadn’t asked, we would have gotten out without those stamps. That happened to us once before at a different crossing, and we got scolded when we came back into Mexico. So we parked the car near her booth and walked across the not-very-busy highway to where the customs officials stamped our visas (which look like passport booklets, sort of). Noticing that we live in Jalisco one of the officials made the universal Mexican hand signal for drinking alocohol. I didn’t understand till one of the other guys explained that it was a reference to the product of the town of Tequila in Jalisco.

Nogales has two different border points. We haven’t gone through town there, but have taken the bypass route which avoids city traffic. There was nothing to do on the Mexican side, and then we were in bumper-to-bumper traffic going up to several gates on the US side. Most of the cars around us had Sonora plates and seemed to be commuters. Newpaper vendors were doing a brisk business. After a 10 to 15 minute wait, we drove up to the customs agent. He asked if we were US citizens and glanced at Kelly’s passport but didn’t bother with mine after he heard my voice. He asked if we had anything to declare, and I said we had a clove of garlic. “Any fruits or vegetables?” he asked, and I said we had some raisins. “Do you want those?” I asked. Listlessly, he said no and waved us through. As we drove away, we commented to each other that the fellow seemed depressed. His job must not be a whole lot of fun.

A few details about the trip: never was there a really scary close encounter on Highway 15 as we drove north. I was also pleased that we saw very few dogs on the edge of the highway, and only only dead one in all that distance. Our Verizon cellphone didn’t work from just outside Guadalajara till the US, as Verizon doesn’t have a mutual agreement with a Mexican cellphone company in that area.

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