Mexico (El Norte)

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July 16th 2008
Published: July 16th 2008
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I only left the US five days ago but already it seems like that was ages ago! It was sad to leave Phoenix - I´ll miss Luba, Terry and Sean but at least I know I´ll probably be going back there before I go home. I also miss the guaranteed comfortable bed every night, air conditioning and clean water!

On the bus into Mexico I was the only non-Mexican. I know this because when we got to the border at Nogales, the bus proceeded to drive straight through customs with no one worrying about getting their passports stamped. When I eventually realised that we weren´t actually stopping at all I had to make the driver stop the bus so that I could go back into the US, give them my green Visa waiver thing and then go and get my passport stamped and a Mexican tourist pass (if you don´t get the tourist pass on the way in you risk getting fined when you leave). I reckon everyone else on the bus must have been despairing at this gringa kicking up a fuss and holding everyone up!

My first stop, after 9 hours, was Guaymas, where I got off at the wrong stop - great start! I hadn´t a clue where I was so I ended up getting a taxi to the "centre" which fortunately didn´t cost too much. Guaymas is a smallish town with a port and a plaza that was quite pleasant to wander around in the evening. I paid $15 for my hostel. This would have had me living in luxury in Peru so it was a bit disappointing to see how much of a dive the place was! It was filthy and the air conditioning consisted of a really weak and noisy fan which was a shame because it was really hot and humid. Still, I survived the night and I think I only got bitten once (though whatever it was that bit me made my elbow swell up!).

Saturday almost had me escaping from Mexico altogether. It started off all right but I was feeling a bit miserable and homesick and things steadily went downhill. The first thing that annoyed me was the guy who stopped me in the street and insisted on asking me about six times what time it was before he´d let me go past. Then I went to get a bus ticket for Los Mochis and even though I asked in my best Spanish (which is, admittedly, laughable) they just stared at me as though I was a bit of dirt on their shoe. But anyway, I eventually managed to get through to them and got an (overpriced) ticket. On the bus I met the first non-Mexican I´d seen since leaving Arizona. I felt sorry for Chad. He was going to Mazatlan with a grand total of $30 thinking he could get a job there and live on the beach.

Los Mochis was an absolute joke, and not a funny one either. My sole reason for being there was to find a bus that would take me to El Fuerte where I´d be spending the night and I´m glad I didn´t have to stick around for long. For a start, it reeked of rotting meat - reminded me of La Paz in Bolivia. That wouldn´t have been a problem except that I spent a whole hour wandering around the streets in the heat carrying all my stuff. I asked at least three people whether they knew where to get a bus to El Fuerte and all of them told me different things and none of these places seemed to have any buses going to anywhere. I was just beginning to despair when I came across a bus station and as soon as I walked in a man shouted "El Fuerte!" at me and herded me into a bus which left straight away so I got lucky!

Unfortunately my troubles didn´t end there. On the bus I was joined by a man who must have been at least 45 who wanted to "practice his English" on me. He kept touching my leg and gave me his phone number and kept going on about how he´d like to meet me later so he could practice some more English. He also kept asking me loads of questions I didn´t feel comfortable answering, like whether I was traveling alone, how much money I had, whether I had a cell phone/camera etc. Needless to say he didn´t get a phone call.

In El Fuerte I asked for directions to a hostel only to be told by someone that it had closed and that he knew a better, cheaper hostel. I didn´t believe him but I thought I´d check out this other
cockroach - El Fuertecockroach - El Fuertecockroach - El Fuerte

This was on the ceiling when I woke up!
hostel because it was only a few feet away. I was pleasantly surprised to find it only cost $8 but unfortunately I soon found out why... It made the hostel in Guaymas seem like a palace. It was dirty, the light in the room didn´t work, the door didn´t close, the fan sounded like a tractor and the bed felt like it was full of nails. The shared bathroom had no lock, not that that door would close either and it looked like someone had had an accident all over the floor and walls. I think I might have been able to live with all of this if it weren´t for the spiders. I mean, I don´t mind roughing it a bit but spiders are beyond my limit, especially the ones in this place which were big and fast and proper scary looking. The first one I saw was behind the bathroom door, waiting there no doubt so that you wouldn´t notice it until you were trapped inside the room with it. After that I decided to check my room and after I saw the webs under the bed I bottled it and got out of there! The hostel owner
spiders - El Fuertespiders - El Fuertespiders - El Fuerte

There were 9 of these when I went to sleep and 19 when I woke up... dread to think how many were under the bed!
tried to suggest another hostel I could stay in but I was having none of it so I walked in the opposite direction to where he was pointing.

Luckily, it didn´t take me long to find a nice, sophisticated looking place where I managed to bargain the owner down to $30 for the night. This was way beyond my budget but El Fuerte is a small place and I knew my options would be limited. The room seemed quite nice - basic but with proper air conditioning and it was clean. The place felt safe and the owner was really friendly and showed me where the ATM was and made sure I was all sorted. Just when I thought I could finally relax for the evening without anything else going wrong, I had another shock... I was trying to get back into my room and the key didn´t work! I´d been on the verge of tears all day, what with one thing and another, and this very nearly pushed me over the edge except that the hostel owner and the two women and man who came to help him were being so friendly and apologetic and trying their best
valley near the Copper Canyonvalley near the Copper Canyonvalley near the Copper Canyon

This is a view from the Copper Canyon train.
to get into the room that I didn´t want them to think I was ungrateful so I couldn´t start crying in front of them. After a while, one of the women showed me into another room so I could cool down because it was really hot outside and half an hour later they brought all my stuff to me - I´m still not sure how they managed to get in there because none of their spare keys had been working. Anyway, they told me to stay in the room I was in which was much posher for no extra charge. The new room had cable TV, two double beds and a nice bathroom. The 9 spiders on the ceiling were a bit of a let down but I decided to deal with it because they were very spindly looking things, the ceiling was very high and I wanted to spare the hostel owner any further embarrassment! So not a great day but at least it ended with a bit of good fortune (ie. I got to watch Friends on TV).

That night there was a very loud storm, it must have been quite close, but I slept well anyway. I woke up to find 19 spiders and a cockroach on the ceiling. I got a taxi to the train station to catch the train along the Copper Canyon railway which is supposed to be one of Mexico´s best tourist attractions. The station was in the middle of nowhere along a dirt road from El Fuerte and it was infested with ants and cockroaches. I didn´t know what time the train was supposed to come but fortunately I only had to wait about 45 minutes. The journey last 10 hours (it lasts longer if you do the whole trip from Los Mochis to Chihuahua but apparently all the good scenery is between El Fuerte and Creel). There was some very impressive scenery, it reminded me of the Urubamba valley in Peru. In total there are 87 tunnels and it crosses big valleys sometimes which was exciting. I got off the train at Creel which seemed like a nice, picturesque town with a lot of indigenous people living there. I found a hostel there where I paid $20 for a little cabin, probably full of spiders but this time I thought it was best not to look for them.

In the morning I got up early to catch a bus to Chihuahua. At the bus station there was a mentally handicapped boy who was chatting away at me in Spanish, oblivious to the fact that I couldn´t understand a word he was saying. When the bus came he was so excited, running around telling everyone and he seemed really pleased when I let him carry my bag for me, it was very sweet. The bus journey was only 5 hours which was relatively short compared to the rest of the traveling I´ve done so far! In Chihuahua I find a decent enough hostel. For those of you who´ve seen "Saw", the bathroom looked just like the room in that. In the afternoon I had a pleasant walk through Chihuahua, seeing the cathedral and Plaza de Gobierno.

Yesterday I got up really early and was at the bus station by 6am because I wanted to get to Zacatecas while it was still light and the journey was supposed to take 12 hours. Unfortunately the bus didn´t leave until 7.30am and there was a change in time zone, plus it took a bit longer so we didn´t get to Zacatecas until 10pm. The journey was, understandably, pretty boring, but I got lucky because the bus had actual TVs that worked and we got to watch three films, all of which were subtitled in Spanish rather than dubbed so I could watch them properly! They were actually rubbish films but better than nothing if you´re going to spend all that time sitting on a bus, right? When I got to Zacatecas I got a taxi to a hostel only to find that they had no beds left. The owner was really friendly though and said I could pay $5 to sleep on one of the sofas in the TV room. Unfortunately when I went up to this TV room I found out that it was the noisiest place in the whole hostel and all the sofas had people sitting on them so I decided to move on! Probably not the best situation to be in, wandering the streets of an unfamiliar city in Mexico at past 11pm carrying all my stuff around and looking like a tourist, especially when I got lost but I eventually found somewhere to stay where I negotiated them down to $30 for two nights and the room isn´t bad either.

This morning I had a wander around Zacatecas, which is a pleasant old colonial city with an impressive cathedral etc. They used to do a lot of silver mining here (probably still do?) so I went on a tour down one of the mines which was quite spooky. The tour guide spoke in Spanish so I had to make everything up in my head. I then went for a proper meal, which is the first one I´ve had since I left Phoenix, believe it or not. Since then I´ve been living off the supplies Luba gave me before I left and a loaf of bread that I bought in Creel! This is mainly because I´ve spent so much time sitting on buses etc. that I haven´t really had much opportunity to find something decent to eat.

I think Mexico is hard to get used to but it´s growing on me. I´m looking forward to getting to the more "touristy" places, because that implies there´ll be more to see! The people here, on the whole, seem really friendly. Unfortunately the prices are crippling my budget. Of course, compared to England it´s cheap but I´m really tight so I´m looking forward to getting to Guatemala. 😉

I will put some photos up on here at some point but I keep forgetting to bring my cable with me so that´ll be something to look forward to!


19th July 2008

Glad you're having a good time now and got away from the creepy guy on the bus. Your stories make me smile so keep us up to date and try not to count the spiders! Liane (Bella) xxx

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