Dec. 21, 2014- Highway 200
wingssail images-fredrick roswold
Family at the Parade in Melaque
The Pan American Highway, also known as Highway 200 in Mexico, is the road which runs up the coast from Guatemala, through all the coastal towns including Acapulco and Puerto Vallarta and then continues north from there. In some places it is the main road between towns, in others is it definitely a back road, the major routes being those which radiate to and from Mexico city.
It was Highway 200 on which we drove to bring the car to Vallarta. We could have gone inland and hit the freeways but we wanted to see the coastal towns, and we did.
For a Mexican back road it is pretty good but it demands the full attention of the driver; there are countless obstacles including topes (speed bumps), potholes, sudden surface changes, road work, and curves, to say nothing about a lot of crazy drivers.
The topes are everywhere. Some have warning signs but many others are not even painted and those become visible only just in front of you and hard braking is all there is between launching off into the sky with a broken suspension instead of just a simple bounce and bump. We hit one at speed, a little one, fortunately, and don't want to do it again. Often the topes seem to be placed in the shadows of trees, making seeing them even harder. After a while you learn to anticipate the topes; when you see a clearing ahead and a house or two, you can guess there will be speed bumps, and you begin to slow down. Then one appears and you brake like hell. There are plenty of skid marks going right up to the topes but the skid marks disappear at the apex of the tope where the wheels of the car which made them ostensibly left the road. They are scary.
Then there are the sudden changes in the road surface where the good black top suddenly becomes a potholed dirt and gravel one-laned mess. You slow for these too, as you do for the road work projects, amazing road work projects, which are also encountered virtually anywhere, with diversions and mystifying lane manipulations, none of which you want to come upon at speed, and finally curves, endless curves.
We passed through forests and jungles as well as valleys and plains. We zoomed around headlands far above the ocean where the road clung to the cliffs and which provided spectacular views. Before we reached Vallarta we got high up into the mountains among pine tree forests, which surprised us, before dropping down to sea level again at Banderas Bay. It was all hard driving.
To cover ground you have to drive fast when you can. So you drive 60, maybe 70 MPH to keep the average up, and then when you encounter an obstacle, hit the brakes hard, drive at 10 mph for a while, get through the tough spot, then you go again. Sometimes there is traffic, other times none. For two hours north of Lazarus Cardero we saw not a single car going nor coming. It was like there was a road block at either end and we were the only car allowed to go through. But it was a curvy section, and we were constantly turning, barely able to go 30 or 40 MPH. It was hard driving and we were glad to have the road to ourselves although in the back of our minds were the warnings we'd heard about driving on lonely Mexican roads. But we saw no banditos.
One other thing we didn't see much of on this trip were the macho Mexican daredevil drivers we've encountered on other stretches of Mexican highways.
Those crazy guys in sedans, large or small, and particularly in pickup trucks, who appear in your rearview mirrors and stay glued to your bumper no matter hard how you yourself drive, then pass you, grinning, at the first opportunity, or maybe not even an opportunity, and simply disappear around the next curve never to be seen again. We saw those on the freeways south of Mexico City and on the twisting roads south of Oaxaca, also on the road to Huatulco, and we gained a huge respect for the capabilities, or at least the cojones, of these drivers and their vehicles, but on this trip, we saw not many. Maybe they were sticking to the main roads.
But traffic or not, obstacles or not, we drove, and we drove hard, and the rewards were the miles covered.
More than that we were rewarded by the stops we made in the fishing towns along the way: Puerto Escondido, Zihuatenejo, and Melaque.
These towns were the reason we came this way. They are not big tourist towns. They don't have the high rise hotels and big airports. They have those funky beach hotels and little bars that we all dream of when we think of Mexico, "Night of the Iguana" and all of that.
We found them, found them all. We found small bars at night with good music and cheap tequila, and in the day we found fishermen on the beaches, working on their boats, getting ready to go to sea, and working their trade. We found the fishermen to be hardworking but relaxed as they went about their shoreside tasks, quick with a smile and a joke.
In the towns we found little stores and shops and quiet streets and we ran across celebrations, street fairs, parades and minor festivals with kids and moms and fireworks and costumes. But all very low key and charming, giving a happy view of Mexican family life.
We passed through these towns and chose them in which to stay the nights.
And in the end we found Puerto Vallarta where we've decided to stop for a while.
So now we are in Marina La Cruz, at this moment in the act of starting a new life. One without travel.
We'll see how it goes; we've been sort of addicted to movement but perhaps we can change.
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Fred & Judy, SV Wings, La Cruz Huancaxtle