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The View from the Back Seat:
looking back on Mexico
by Dianne K.

the Derby
Here's our car after its first leg of the journey, 
safely in Lagos de Moreno, after our first day on the road.
We had encountered huge hailstones and suffered a flat tire
but somehow we made it to our first night's destination.

Nobody is crazy about riding in the backseat, right? But somebody has to do it. On this particular driving trip it was my turn. My daughter Karen would be doing most of the driving and Pati would be navigating and interpreting. Our plan was to spend a week in and around the Guadalajara-Lagos de Moreno section of Jalisco and then drive to Puerto Vallarta for a week of relaxation on the beach. 

Here are some thoughts from the back seat:
     - Golf-ball sized hailstones pounding the rear window seem very loud, ominous even. I was afraid at one point that they might break our window.

Feet and cobblestones
Melting hail on the cobblestones on a street in Tepatitlan.
     - it is easier to see the road that we should have turned onto. 
      - you get a nice long look at the roadside death tributes.
     - there is more time to consider the pitfalls of driving over the bridge into Lagos de Moreno, which I named Puente de los Muertos because of the many roads that converge there with no stop signs, yields or signals whatsoever.
there is more room to spread out the road maps on the back seat. 
Hi, you two
Karen and Pati, driver and interpreter magnifico

One should remember that maps of Mexico gloss over some important things to consider when driving, such as:

1. Cobblestones: Types of cobblestones vary from town to town. For example, they used smoother cobbles in Puerto Vallarta than in most other towns we visited. Cobblestones are very uncomfortable to experience from the backseat. Also,  cobblestones are very hard on tires. Note to self: always check the air pressure whenever you fill the gas tank. Running over cobblestones causes air to leak out of tires. Also hard on cars are all the speed bumps on the highways, especially when you sail over them because you didn't get enough warning.

rough road ahead
Guadalajara cobblestones

2. Toll roads are very expensive, even when paying in pesos. The only people you cannot bargain with are toll takers. All other transactions for whatever you might want are open to negotiation. Sometimes you might be bargaining without even meaning to. Like the time I asked the senora the price of a room at her bed and breakfast. She told me $70 US. I hesitated a moment before agreeing to it. She said, okay, $65. I told her I needed to confer with my traveling companions before making a final decision. She said, okay, $60. I would have been pleased to pay $70. She finally realized that I wasn’t negotiating. If I had tried harder I might have gotten the room for even less.

3. Roads that look straight on the map are not so straight in real life.

San Juan de los Lagos
Some streets are paved. This is San Juan de los Lagos, a thriving city in
northern Jalisco. Mexicans make pilgrimages to the cathedral there so it has also
become a city of much commerce. Notice the street vendors outside the shops.
They will be selling food of some sort.

4. Accommodations: There are not many go-in, sit down at a table, and receive a menu restaurants in Mexico after you leave the tourist areas. However, there are numerous food vendors everywhere, who set up shop on any corner where people might pass by. The food is usually very good and fresh, and if you are hungry, that’s where you must eat. Most of this food is eaten off of tortillas or from a plastic bag. If you buy a juice drink, it will be served in a rubber-banded plastic bag with a straw sticking out of the hole. Brush the flies away before you eat. Hand washing before and after meals is tricky.

5. It seems to me that life for the average Mexican family is much more difficult than it is for the average American family. Seeing their poor houses - brick shanties, rectangular buildings with lean-to roofs, shared walls, no "front yards", just dirt and broken concrete -- everywhere makes me realize how prosperous we Americans are.

Lake Chapala
We decided to visit Lake Chapala for a couple of days. It's a huge lake (like the size of Lake Tahoe perhaps), about half an hour southeast of Guadalajara. A mountain lake sounded lovely after a fairly hard week of being on the road. What we found out is that the lake, although very large, is shrinking. The receding shoreline leaves ugly debris showing, and some sort of plant life is growing up through the water and along the newly uncovered lake edges. But it is interesting, even beautiful at times.

Lake Chapala is supposed to be a big draw for retired North Americans. We didn't see many, but we did see lots of Mexican tourists visiting this lively and colorful area. We enjoyed ourselves even though the lake wasn't as inviting as we had hoped.

6. Most of the tourist areas of Mexico tend towards the outer edges of the map. Americans loves beaches, islands and border towns. Not so many Americans visit the interior. I was the only non-native speaker I could find for much of our trip. Luckily, I had two competent interpreters with me at all times.

7. I am wondering about animals in Mexico. We saw lots of pet dogs that seemed to be well cared for -- poodles seem to be the rage with Mexicans these days.  But I did notice some less-than-well cared for animals as we were driving along. Some Mexicans keep dogs on their roofs, like German Shepards, to guard their property. That's very scary. (Of course, there are thousands of animals being abused in the USA every day, but that's another story, right?)

Here's a little donkey I found just outside of a small town in rural Jalisco.
What's with that blue marker around his eye?

Here's a VERY skinny mare with two babies. They were eating grass in a small
park in Chapala. I do hope they found enough to eat. They need it.

8. The map of the area between Guadalajara and Puerto Vallarta is truly deceptive. The first half of the trip, about two hours worth, is toll road that will cost about $30 US. The second half is a two-lane, traffic-filled nightmare. It's slow and dangerous, and if it's raining hard it's even more difficult. I had checked the internet and had found drivers who swore they could make the drive in four hours. Not true!

I took photos of all cathedrals. I think this is the one in PV.

Every city, town, and hamlet has a church or cathedral. You cannot see the top of cathedral spires from the backseat.
nice place to visit.
Relaxing in Puerto Vallarta.

10. Mexicans love to shop and bargain and eat tacos and slurp up shaved ice fruit drinks from street vendors. It’s great fun. Beer from a bottle comes with a piece of lime wedged into the neck. Even when you get out of the car at the beach and fall into your beach chair underneath a palapa, the vendors will come to you, again and again, to sell you hammocks, statues, carvings, jewelry, blankets, grilled fish, fruit cups, drinks made from coconut milk, toe rings and ankle bracelets, parasail rides, zip line tours, and many other things which they stop short of offering to middle aged moms. The parade of vendors does not stop so every conversation you have with fellow palapa dwellers is interrupted constantly with a very polite “No gracias senor” or "No gracias senora”. If you look them in the eye they will kneel before you and spread out their wares.

boat trip
And speaking of danger, we did leave our car and got into a water taxi for a trip to Yelapa, a small isolated fishing village near Puerto Vallarta. When we got into that boat, I noticed that there were no life jackets aboard. We passengers, about 20 of us, sat on wooden benches and held on as we took to the open sea with the waves pounding the little boat. The trip out to Yelapa was about a 45 minute ride in nice weather. The return trip was a little scarier and longer because it was raining and the waves were higher. (Still no life jackets and no warnings, should something dire happen.) My biggest worry was getting off the boat and jumping into the surf when the boat landed, because there was no dock. Ha! (There are other ways to get to Yelapa from PV but we decided to drive to where the local water taxis ferried Mexicans to and from. We saved a little money and and a lot of time this way and didn't have to put up with drunken American tourists.)

And when we weren't boat riding, we were hiking. This is the view from the water fall above Yelapa.
The fourth person is Sheri, my other daughter. She was waiting for us when we got to Puerto Vallarta. Mother-daughter trips are very special.
hi kids!
Here's a close up of the three of them as we sip our lemonades by the water fall.
beach dog
Karen made friends with dogs wherever we went. She named this one. He was devastated when we hopped onto our water taxi and left him sitting on the beach watching us disappear.

11. Maps give you no clue about weather: monsoonal rains, thunder and lightening are common in Mexico during the summer. You can see the rooster tail your own car is making through the river-like roads very well from the back seat. Mexicans drive with their hazard lights blinking whenever there is imminent danger. We saw lots of rain, flooding and hazard lights on the day we had to leave Puerto Vallarta and head back to Guadalajara to catch our flight home. But we made it just fine thanks to Karen's brilliant driving.

There's a great deal to be learned from spending a couple of weeks in the back seat. (Don't forget to bring along a couple of road maps. AAA maps tell you things that other maps don't.) It's kind of fun to leave the decisions to somebody else and just watch the scenery go by. I recommend it.

FYI: Wanna read Karen's Mexico driving tips article? Here it is.

Find it here!     

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