So we’ve covered where we’ve been, but a big part of the adventure was the in-between. Isn’t there some famous proverb/quote/life lesson to that effect? It’s the journey, not the destination … that sort of jazz.
We’d been advised not to travel any parts of the road at night, with bright and early in the morning being ideal road trippin’ time. There were a couple of reasons for this. Primarily, the area is known to be patrolled by members of gangs involved in the drug trade, and there has been increasing violence and organised crime in the area. Secondly, and perhaps no safer, is that fact that speed bumps seem to be a highly sought after addition to any town in Mexico. The sheer number of speed bumps we sailed over would be difficult to estimate. I do feel a bit sorry for the shocks on our rental. The good speed bumps come with plenty of warning, have yellow stripes painted on them, and are a reasonable disruption to the road. We came across far too many, however, that were hiding in shadows, with no signs foreshadowing their existence, that were large enough to threaten knocking the entire front axle off of the car.
Along with the speed bumps, there are the general road hazards you would expect. They somehow became more dangerous than they would have, seeing as the great majority of the highway was in great shape – it lulled you into a false sense of security. Then you would come across large piles of rubble, entire chunks of the road missing, traffic coming head-on down your side of the road with no signs warning you, and craters in the centre of the road large enough to fit the entire Nissan we were driving. We also learnt its infinitely easier to ignore road signs when you don’t understand what they are telling you, which doesn’t necessary equal safety.
This stretch of Mexican coastline is incredibly beautiful. It’s dotted with beaches of all sizes, from tiny deserted coves to large sweeping arcs. There was consistent surf pummeling into the sand and the rock below us, as the road snaked the rocky coastline above. One of the prettiest beaches we stopped at was Playa Maruata. It actually snaked in and out of rocky headlands to create three distinct beaches. We swam from one, around a rocky outcropping, to another, timing our excursion well to avoid the rather menacing waves rolling into shore. On the way back, we were less lucky. I managed to get absolutely pummeled by a huge set of waves, barely clawing my way back to shore before the last literally knocked me off of my feet in about shin-deep water. When we looked into the beach in our guidebook after this little episode, we realized the beach that we had decided to swim at was known as Playa de los Muertos – Beach of the Dead – due to its strong rips and huge waves. This was a kindly reminder of the strength of the ocean, and I’ve since been spending a lot of time in the water, practicing my wave-evading abilities, with much-needed coaching from Tim. I will reiterate I grew up in the prairies, and oceans are a relatively new concept for me.
Not too long after that beach, the rumbling in our tummies grew to a rather obnoxious level and we started scoping the roadside for a promising lunch spot. We made a last-second pull-in to a restaurant on top of a hill, with incredible views down the coast. There was already a decent-sized group eating at one of the four outdoor tables, and it turns out one of the men recognized us from Sayulita, a town we’d been at a few days previous. We had a nice chat with them, during which we were convinced to try the oysters. This was another restaurant that didn’t have a menu, and when she came to me the options of pescado or camarón, I chose fish, as I’m not a bit fan of shrimp. We were unsure of what form our pescado was going to come in – fillets, fish tacos, fried? The delicious and gigantic oysters were a promising sign though, and the full fish that arrived in front of each of us didn’t disappoint. The meal ran us a reasonably steep 300 pesos, but for a dozen oysters and two fish, we still felt as though we were doing alright.
As we neared the end of our meal, a truck full of armed men pulled up in the parking lot of the restaurant. This is not a particularly uncommon sight in Mexico, but normally the men in the back of the truck are adorned with police or military uniforms. These men were in plain clothes. There were a tense few minutes as the men scoped out the parked cars, chatted on a radio, and surveyed the groups assembled at the restaurant. The table of locals spoke with them amiably, but they had, quietly, become more alert. The kids continued to run around and play. When the truck drove off, it was as if the assembled group breathed out as a whole, and the tension in the air lifted. Backs got a little less straight, jaws relaxed. When we asked our local friends who the men were, we received a wry smile and the comment, “They are the police.”
Tim had another, slightly more sinister-feeling incident on his way back up the coast while he was stopped at Ticla. It involved an odd combination of barking dogs, American surfers where they shouldn’t be, and people in cars in odd places at odd hours. He wasted little time heading out of Ticla at a rather unreasonable hour to avoid seeing where it was all headed. A couple of rather thorough military checkpoints later, and he was safe and sound back in Puerto Vallarta, with time to catch breakfast before dropping off the car and catching the long bus back down to me, in Zihuatanejo. He smashed the massive drive out in an afternoon and a morning, and thankfully managed to avoid any real problems. I was more than relieved to get a message from him that he’d arrived in Puerto Vallarta.
This coast is an outstanding bit of Mexico, and it is relatively lightly trodden on by tourists. The unfortunate truth about a deteriorating security situation calls for keeping a sharp head and your wits about you, but does not mean that Michoacán and the surrounding areas should be bypassed.