As if something sinister awaits us; we drive off the ferry with trepidation, securing our expensive belongings, locking our truck doors, and readying our mace that's been hidden away in the depths of our camper. Even though we know better, we've let the warnings of a few and the sensationalized media stories of violence and crime in mainland Mexico seep into our subconscious.
Luckily we have a plan, one that will limit our time in the port entry and big city of Mazatlán and get us slightly south to a peninsula called Stone Island where we'll meet up with friends who crossed from Baja a few days ago.
After only a few minutes of driving the first thing we notice is how lush the landscape is. Palm trees tower over us, vivid flowers of every hue line the streets and there's grass; green, glorious grass. It's almost a shock to the eyes after being in the desert for months.
The second thing we notice is that no one notices us. No one is suspiciously eyeing our vehicle and the local police don't try to extort money from us. After restocking we head out of the city and are soon on an uninhabited dirt road. Surprisingly there's no makeshift road blocks or banditos hiding in the shadows.
Without incident we find our friends Jenn and Chris and Jenna and Josh on a picturesque bay, parked beside a restaurant called Pizza Benji's. The owners let them park for free in exchange for their occasional patronage. The water is limpid and calm; a welcome change from our last camp spot and also a necessity since the temperatures have gone from tolerably tepid in Baja to sweltering.
Over the next few days we swim, cook together, explore the area and catch up around a nightly campfire because this far north the evenings are still a little chilly.
On our third night at camp three early-twenty-something Mexican men show up. Astonishingly they don't harass or rob us; instead they join us around our fire. We share our beer. They share their rum. They sing along to our music, knowing more words than I do. Everyone stumbles through conversations using their limited vocabulary. With every passing moment I'm becoming aware of the ineptitude of my Spanish language skills. It was never really an issue in Baja, because lots of people spoke English and, unfortunately, no locals ever came to join us around our numerous campfires. As the night continues personal jokes are fabricated....something about “liking weenies” related to our roasting hot dogs and “coco's loco's on da beach” which is often yelled and for no foreseeable reason makes us all laugh. The night ends with an impromptu dance party, we say our goodbyes and they go to sleep behind us in the palm frond lean too they built earlier that day. When we wake up the next morning they're gone, instead of stealing all our belongings, they have placed the chairs we let them borrow back under our canopy and picked up the trash.
If this is the treacherous Mexico we've heard so much about; I think we'll stay for awhile.
My experience of Mazatlán was a little bit different. It started our last day in Baja. I woke up feeling just a little off. “Traveler's Belly” is pretty common anytime you leave your own country, and I've experienced it quite a few times. While inconvenient, it's rarely debilitating, and this didn't quite feel like that. It was more like a hangover, so I chalked it up to maybe a few too many beers the night before. I gradually felt better throughout the day with just a few waves of nausea here and there, so I didn't think much of it. Then we got on the ferry.
I've always been prone to seasickness, so the symptoms I had felt all day redoubled as we set out to sea. At this point I just assumed it was because we were on a boat, took some dramamine, and tried to get some sleep. This didn't go so well. I felt nauseous all night and barely slept a wink.
The next day I was in a complete daze as we drove around Mazatlán to resupply and then find our way to Stone Island. By the end of the day, I was exhausted and just felt all-around terrible. I tried to convince myself it was just the lack of sleep so, after greeting our friends that we hadn't seen in a while I crawled into the camper and went to bed early. This is when I realized I was truly sick.
I barely made it out of the camper for the next three days. I went from bouts of fever to chills, and not to go into graphic detail, but our beloved cassette toilet was never far from reach. I could barely eat or hold down water. I emerged briefly and rarely to catch up on all the fun stuff everyone was doing only to find myself too weak and tired to even care. I gradually started to feel better and after a about a week I felt like a human again. It wasn't the introduction to mainland Mexico I was hoping for, but it could have been worse.