Back in May-June 2016, Wayne agreed to work as a bike mechanic for an athlete participating in a bike race, called Race Across America. The race was going to be in June 2017, and while we knew we were looking to make a change in our lives, we had no idea the course we would take yet. Once we had decided on leaving our jobs and taking this journey, we realized that we needed to figure out where we needed to be in time to get Wayne back to the US for this gig, and exactly where on the route would I stay with the van by myself.
I will admit, from the northern side of the border, we had more fear about this idea than proved to be necessary, but we normally prefer to err on the side of caution. Thanks to some friendly neighbors of Wayne's parents, who were kind enough to offer us a stay at their home in the quaint fishing village of Barra de Navidad, we had peace-of-mind and a plan. Luckily for us, they lived in a beautiful town on the Pacific Ocean, near an international airport, which they were more than happy to invite us to experience for ourselves.
Now we had a destination and a time frame for when and where Wayne would catch a flight to San Diego from Mexico. The Hopecam team which hired Wayne to work as a bike mechanic took care of the flight arrangements, our job was to get Wayne to the Manzanillo (ZLO) Airport on June 10th.
We ending up leaving our gorgeous beach spot in San Carlos on the Friday of Memorial Day Weekend. The town was filling up with holiday tourists, so we hit the road and headed south. We landed for the evening approximately 174 miles (280 km) down the coast, in Las Bocas in the south of Sonora, which took a full day of travel. The town was supposedly a busy weekend destination, but we weren't able to find a town center or many businesses open at the time we came through. We camped on a beach, without incident, woke in the morning and began our drive south. We were headed to San Blas, which was a town recommended to us by an American gentleman we met in the marina in San Carlos.
Let's talk a bit about driving in Mexico...
Following our rule of not driving at night, we had to scale back our expectations for how many miles we could manage to travel per day in Mexico, due to the road conditions. There are toll roads (cuota) or free local roads (libre), and we learned that while the toll roads are in better conditions with higher speed limits, the tolls add up fast if you are putting away some miles. On the local roads you will drive through small towns and pueblos, which usually sell fresh seasonal fruits and vegetables, as well as other regional specialties, alongside the road. The local roads will most certainly give you a better flavor of the area, but it comes with the trade off of moving at a slower pace, with potholes and speed bumps (topes) to navigate. If you've got the time, I would almost always recommend not paying for toll roads and spend those pesos on more tacos instead!
Leaving the state of Sonora meant we had already traveled past the "No-Hassle Zone," and now we were entering Sinaloa. The state of Sinaloa is is the home of the infamous Sinaloa cartel and frequently mentioned in the US news for drug activity. This fear mongering had us nervous, so combined with our desire to get further south fast, we decided not to look for camping, and drive clean through Sinaloa. Due to our worries and because we had 500 miles to cover, we choose to drive toll roads from Las Bocas to San Blas. This proved to be quite expensive by our standards (upwards of $50 in tolls in one day), and in the end we felt like we let ourselves believe the hype and missed out on seeing a very beautiful part of Mexico.
We arrived in San Blas in time to watch a political rally and parade while we ate al pastor tacos for dinner. After eating we drove up and down the beach looking for a place to camp for the night with no luck, only to have a man yell out to us in the darkness that we could park at his restaurant. He did not want any money, and after he was kind enough to show us the restrooms, we told him we would be gone well before his lunch service started at 11 am. In the morning, the town center of San Blas was buzzing with vendors, school kids, and people taking care of their everyday errands. After a breakfast of fresh local fruit drizzled with lime juice and chili, we happened upon an old airplane fuselage which is still a mystery to us (both pictured below).
Just 75 miles down the road was the surfer's paradise and artsy enclave of Sayulita, in the state of Nayarit. Once small and known for it's laid-back hippie-surfer vibes, the town has become more popular, and less off-the-beaten-path, as it is also a day-trip destination for cruise passengers disembarking from boats in Puerto Vallarta, just 25 miles south. The beach is beautiful but can be dangerous because of its undertow. While we were there the waves were too mellow for the surfers, which made us feel comfortable enough to take paddle boards out into the water. Turns out any wave, no matter how "small," proved to be too challenging for me, but Wayne managed to stand up long enough to get tossed off the board a couple times!
It was here in Sayulita that we paid for camping for the first time in Mexico, and boy was it worth it. The Sayulita Bungalows and Trailer Park offered RV hook-ups, a flat parking pad, hot showers, and beautifully maintained grounds, all directly on the beach and walking distance from town. We considered this a splurge for roughly $20 US per night, but with our budget expenses like this will be not par for the course. What might have made this expenditure most worthwhile, was the opportunity to meet other overlanders staying in the park that are in the midst of similar trips through Central and South America. It was great to exchange stories and tidbits of information acquired along the way with other travelers over a beer or a taco. (Pictured below: 1) the view of the beach from the park, 2) view from the beach into the park)
Donde Van Pro Tip: if you ever see a pastry vendor selling Plantain Bread Pudding on your way to Sayulita, STOP, make a U-turn, buy it, and enjoy the best dessert of your life!