December 1 – 12, 2018.
A breeze blows through Ballena Blanca. We look out the side door and see sand and ocean. We fix dinner as the sun sets. We eat inside the van, gazing out, marvelling at the changing colors of the day. Even after it gets dark we leave the door open listening to the sound of the waves crashing on the shore. We fall asleep to the roar of the ocean a mere 50 feet away.
After we left El Pinacate, we spent 12 nights traveling down Mexico’s western coast camping (mostly free) on las playas (the beaches) and despite being sailors we had never really experienced the ocean like this – especially the sound of the waves. When you are anchored out on your boat and can hear crashing waves, trust me, you aren’t gazing at the sunset thinking you are having a really good time. But in Mexico everything is different…
Puerto Libertad, Sonora – December 1
Our first stop, Puerto Libertad was a small fishing village. We parked at a spot on the beach near a row of palapas and went for a stroll. As we ambled back towards the van, a older gentleman called to us and approached with two Tecate beers. Thinking he might be trying to sell them to us I asked, “Se vende?” No the beers weren’t for sale, he just wanted to give them to us as a welcome to his country and town. We took the beers and tried to chat a little in our most basic Spanish. I asked him how he liked the newly elected president, Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO). Our new friend was pleased with him and had great hope for the future. That evening crowds of people gathered with their cars in a lot behind the beach partying and cruising until way past dark.
El Himalaya, Sonora – December 2 & 3
The next two nights were spent at El Himalaya. I had read about this place online. The article, subtitled Closer to Heaven, described it as a remote place of great beauty and a diver’s destination. What the article didn’t explain was how incredibly bad the road would be getting there. What was supposed to be a 45 minute drive became 2 hours of nail biting fear. We learned a big lesson here that we would learn a few times over – no matter what Google Maps says, if you see a hand written sign pointing you in a different direction follow it. When we finally arrived Sunday afternoon there were a few Mexican families packing up after a weekend of fishing and heading out. (Something I’ve observed – Mexicans seem to have no fear of bad roads – which may be why we see multiple tire stores in every town we drive through.) But it was beautiful as advertised, ever so quiet, and all ours.
Moroncárit Beach, Sonora – December 4
After spending the morning trying to get out of El Himalaya alive, we headed further down the coast to Moroncárit where we found a relatively quiet and amazingly easy spot to get to on the beach. Not much to say here – it was a bit boring, but sometimes boring can be absolutely wonderful.
Museo Hu Tezzo, Sonora & Topolobampo, Sinaloa – December 5 & 6
The next morning we headed to the city of Navojoa where we visited at a wonderful little teaching museum called Museo Hu Tezzo. The museum has recreated caves from nine local caverns where prehistoric people have left artifacts, cave paintings and petroglyphs. We took a tour (completely conducted in Spanish) of the installation along with 3 school aged boys. We caught maybe a third, quarter, an eighth, a few words here and there of what she was saying. Despite being a lesson in how much Spanish we don’t know, the tour was fascinating and lots of fun. At the end there was quiz. Greg put the school boys to shame being able to answer a good deal of the questions.
From Navojoa we headed to Topolobampo, a small island located outside of Los Mochis. Topolobampo is lined with bars and restaurants and has nice public areas to hang out and for children to play in. We camped in a huge parking lot right on the water. As the sun lowered on the horizon cars pulled in on either side of us lining up for the night’s party, blasting Mexican rap music until maybe 3 in the morning.
The next day we met one of the island’s tourist police. Hector was great. He grew in California until he was 13 so his English was very good. He has lived in Mexico for the past 12 years and although he still has family in California he has no desire to go back. He wants to visit Canada. He appreciated having someone to practice his English with and we appreciated having our first long conversation in English with someone other than ourselves since we had been in Mexico.
Later that night after we were settled in watching a ‘sode on the computer we had our second experience with the tourist police. We heard knocking on the van and after scrambling for clothing, Greg opened the van door and asked the local security, “Cual es su problema?” “What is your problem?” I think this surprised them a bit but after much back and forth not really understanding each other Greg finally told them that we had talked to Hector earlier in the day and everything seemed fine after that. Once we closed the door Greg and I discussed what we might say the next time the police knock on the van door – “En que puedo sevirle?” – “How can I help you?” was what we settled on.
One positive thing – it rained that night which put a damper on most of the late night partying.
Tres Rios in Culiacán, Sinaloa – December 7
We made a small detour from the beach the next day to visit a botanical garden in the city of Culiacán. There was no free beach option for camping here so we went with the only option that was listed on our camping app, iOverlander – a parking lot at the hotel Tres Rios. For $400 pesos – $20 US dollars we got a safe place to park the van and nothing else. The hotel had a loud band but by now we were getting used to sleeping through any type of party.
In the morning we went to the Culiacán Botanical Gardens which were wonderful – this will be a post all on its own.
Villa Celestre, Sinaloa – December 8 & 9
Our plan from Culiacán was to go to Mazatlán but while looking at our route on the map I noticed an interesting site on the way, Las Labradas, where we could see petroglyphs on the beach (who knows how I missed this one making my Mexico map this past summer?). We knew it would be late when we got there but we decided to go on anyways and see if we couldn’t spend the night in their parking lot. The answer was no. So we opened up iOverlander to see what options were available near by. Not far from where we were in the direction we had just come from was some free beach camping. But then I looked at a paid site in the same area. It wasn’t much, $250 pesos (Old info, it ended up being $300 pesos – $15 US dollars), had great reviews, an owner who spoke English, and hot showers. I thought showers might be a good idea after a week and a half on the road. The place was everything as advertised. We met a few travelers and a few people who were staying there over the whole winter season. The owner, Noah, was great. He lived on the property with his family and a few pet dogs. The view was fantastic, and the showers were hot enough. We stayed two nights.
Las Labradas & Mazatlán, Sinaloa – December 10 & 11
Finally we made it to Las Labradas. Las Labradas is run by the INAH (The National Institute of Anthtopology and History). The INAH is possibly the most organized organization in Mexico (we will be visiting many INAH sites). We have seen lots of petroglyphs, but never on the beach. I find it amazing that they haven’t all eroded away.
From Las Labradas we made our way down to Mazatlán. We used iOverlander again to find a spot on the beach. We drove down a dirt road lined with big houses and condos, then turned off onto a bit of rough short dirt road and found a spot on a small hill just big enough for one or two vehicles with a very nice view of the ocean.
We went into Mazatlán the next day and came back to the same beach spot for the night. Mazatlán deserves it own post so I’m not going to tell you much else about our experience there except to give you this teaser – That second night on the beach in Mazatlán was the second time we had the cops knock on our van. The outcome was a bit different than the first time.
La Tambora, Sinaloa – December 12
After our experience in Mazatlán we wanted a more legit place to spend the night. We continued south and found our last beach spot before we would turn towards the interior of Mexico. At Restaurant La Tambora we paid $100 pesos to park the van behind some restrooms. The owner was super nice though and spoke to us in slow Spanish before she locked up and went home that night. She told us that a guy would be on the grounds overnight and that another guy stayed at the building under construction next door. Our overnight guy at the restaurant came by too and made sure we knew he was there and that he would leave the light to the bathrooms on for us. We had once last Mexican sunset over the water and then bright and early the next morning we were gone and off to higher ground.