We had made good time getting into Mazatlan, so we were confident we would be able to find our campsite before dark. As we drove up the highway, things began to take on the big city feel again. 3 lanes of steady traffic met us about 10 KM before we actually got to town. The traffic was slowing due to a military checkpoint. We had to laugh at the apparent cutbacks the military there were experiencing.
Mazatlan is a very busy town. It is tourist oriented so the streets are packed with people. As we drove in we were in bumper to bumper traffic 3 lanes wide. We were looking for the shortest route to Stone Island or isla de las Piedras, to be accurate. This was supposed to be a small rural island just off of town. It took nearly an hour and a half to make it to the other side. At one point there were 4wheelers riding in traffic, one with 3 people hanging off of it with no helmets. Vendors jockeyed their way through the lines trying to sell their products. Taxis were cutting people off, zipping in and out of lanes as if they owned the road. All the while we were travelling along side the ocean. It was a beautiful view, the sun gleaming off the water. The beaches were equally over populated. The water looked like a shipwreck with heads bobbing everywhere.
We could not get through that area quickly enough. It was getting late and we just wanted to get set up on our campsite and relax after that long days drive. We asked directions to get to the island. After a few missed turns and stopping to ask yet another person for directions, we finally found our way heading down the road toward Stone island. After about two miles along the paved road, we passed an exclusive golf course community. Almost immediately the road turned to gravel. It was dry and dusty, and gravel stuck in our tires to be catapulted a minute later into the air. We were following Bernard as the night began to close in. Here we were again, driving to a destination unknown, in the dark. It seemed like we were driving for miles, as we could only do about 20 MPH due to the relentless chatter bumps. We were passing mango and coconut orchards, and occasionally seeing a tractor. On and on we drove, no indication where the end was.
All of a sudden, from nowhere, I saw Bernard turn his lights on high beam and hit his brakes. Coming straight at us was a herd of what appeared to be horses running right down the middle of the road. They did not appear to care that we were there. It was a sure collision if they did not give. Bernard had the stout ARB bull bar on the front of his Landcruiser, but surely it would not take the repeated blows of a frenzied horse stampede! Then from the back of the pack a cowboy on a horse divided the stampede by riding into the middle of them. This caused them to just barely miss us running by on both sides of our vehicles. I could feel the earth rumble as their hoofs pounded the dirt road. I thought I could hear the air pass through their nostrils in heavy breaths as they passed, but soon realized that it was mine that I heard. As the cowboy approached us, we waved and he tipped his hat and continued on. Did that just really happen? Are we getting so tired that we were all seeing the same mirages? No, it did happen, the dust was still thick in our headlights to prove it.
It was all but dark as we pulled into what appeared to be a deserted rural town, also known as Stone Island. All of the streets were sand or dirt, and the businesses had coconut branches as roofs. We stopped at a campground right on the beach along the main street where we had entered. The gate was closed and locked. There was only one lone light on in the corner of the property with an RV sitting for sale under it inside the fence. It must be another casualty of travelling during the off season we speculated. Just about then a frail little old man walked up to us to see what we wanted. We explained we needed a campsite for camping with tents. He informed us this was a camper site, not intended for tents, but that there was another one just around the corner in the coco field.
We followed his directions but did not find any resemblence of a campground, the dark starless sky not helping any. Bernard hopped out at the only thing still lively in town, a bar, with loud mexican music blaring into the night sky, echoing off the ocean waves. He was given more directions, “You passed it. Turn by the big tree, and go toward the speed bump, but dont go over the bump”, the local drunk said. We headed back the way we came and still did not see anywhere to camp.
Of course, tired and frustrated again about trying to locate and set up in the dark, Bernard tried one last resort. He walked up to a hotel that had their lights on and decided to ask there if they knew where the campground was. A minute later, Bernard rounded the corner laughing and talking with a muscular built seemingly, American. He said, “I know right where it is. I will take you to the lady that owns it.” He said, “follow me on my ATV”. A minute later he was back and said he could not locate the key. Bernard offered his passenger seat and we were off! Back past “the big tree” turning onto another sand road. At the end, next to the bar where we just were, we drove out onto the beach. Bernard and the hotel owner, Gary, jumped out of the truck looking for the lady to allow us to camp. A few minutes later they were back. They had not found her. Gary, said, “I will let you camp on my beach in front of the hotel.” This was welcome news, we were finally getting somewhere. Even though it seemed really late, because it was so dark and the town seemed to be asleep, it was only 8:30, due to a two hour time difference from home.
On the very short drive back to the hotel, Gary and Bernard talked of the fact that Gary had been in the army some 20 years ago and when he got out, decided he wanted a quieter, simpler life. He married a local Mexican girl, and together they have built a beautiful hotel and bought a restaurant beside the hotel on the beach. He said he loves his job now living on the premises. The name of his hotel, is Stone Island Gardens, and the restaurant is Carmelita’s. We highly recommend both as they are so friendly and helpful. Bernard showed Gary his license plate “Desert Storm Vetran”. They were immediate friends!
As we pulled up to the entrance of the hotel, Gary said, “or I can give you both rooms for the night for a really great price”. We were definitely interested, since it was dark and it was still quite humid. He allowed us to park in the hotel parking area, a nice parking garage, that we just barely cleared with our roof top tents.The Discovery 2 was really close, with its high roofline, but we made it. He guided us into the spaces and asked if we were hungry. A resounding yes, since we had not eaten all day. We met his wife and they told us there were some nice restaurants around, but the locals go to the place back up the street, good food and cheap prices. We were shown our rooms. Yeah! They had A/C! We were excited, since it was so humid and hot still.
After settling in, we walked down to the small restaurant that was recommended to us, and sat down under a roof structure outdoors. It was open air, but the ceiling fans made it more comfortable, along with the fact that we had cool rooms waiting for us back at the hotel. Angela and I ate for $3.50 total! Bernard’s was nearly $6.00, because he ordered two full meals, since he was so hungry. We had been pointed in the right direction. I love these prices! We both had gorditas, salad and a coke, Bernard had two Cheeseburger dinners. As we sat there for a few minutes, all of a sudden people started coming out of the woodwork. The place was filled with what appeared to be local people, excitedly chattering in Spanish, largely oblivious to the fact that we were there, though they all smiled, and said, “Hola”, or “Buenas Noches”.
Filled from eating a great authentic meal, we headed to bed to sleep off the long day we had just finished, and marvel again at the seemingly chance meetings with people that went out of their ways to accomodate us and make us feel welcome. We were beginning to see a pattern here….
After waking up early the next morning refreshed, we met down at Carmelita’s for coffee and enjoyed the beautiful day and the ocean view from our chairs in the restaurant. “Man, this the life” we thought. Can it be any better? Coffee, the waves lapping in, vendors setting up for the day. This was my idea of paradise! We ordered breakfast, and hooked up our laptops to get online to let our families know we were ok.
We explored the island, and walked on the beach. It was very clean with a gradual approach, so walking was easy. You could stand at the edge of the water and wait for a wave to come in. You could feel the sand erode out from under your feet like a mini foot massage. It was glorious, albeit hot! It was so nice being on the island away from the general populaton of Mazatlan. It was a small community feel. Though there were small boats to bring tourist over, it was nothing like the mainland. I dont know at what point we began to look at “tourist” as “those people” as if we were local, but I think it was somewhere right around here. We began to really feel like part of Mexico and its beauty instead of just visiting for a few days.
We decided to stay a couple more days while we waited for my brake light switch to come in at Autozone. We got up in the mornings and ran on the beach early before the heat set in, began to get friendly waves from people reconizing us after being there a while. Even the guy pedaling horse rides was in a jovial mood. I guess you just stay in a good mood when you live in paradise everyday. We found lots to do and see, even driving the trucks out onto a rock barrier reef watching workers try to salvage equipment from a sinking ship.
We took a boat ride to the mainland to visit Autozone and the bank. We needed to get more pesos as there were no ATM machines on the island. On the small ferry boat, we met DJ, a “local” Canadian that had been there for two years already. She had rented a house and had made it her new home. She told us of her travels and asked us about ours. She had worked on several sailing vessels as a deck hand and made her way down to Mexico. She was definitely a free spirit and friendly to talk to, claiming to speak her own version of “Spanglish”. After arriving on the mainland, being so early, there was only one golf cart style taxi. Dj made her way there first. As we passed to find another, she said, “Where you going”? We told her, and she said, “hop in, its right on the way”.
We were dropped off at the Autozone and then we walked around to do our other errands. By this time we were getting very tired from the heat and walking. We stopped at a McDonalds trying to get internet access and an ice cream. We were only able to get one, the ice cream. The internet was down. If we had to choose only one, my choice is ice cream everytime! So we waved down a taxi and headed back to the boat ramp to go back to the island.
We stayed in the hotel for 3 days. The fourth day, Gary’s wife Anna, said she had a group of tourist that had booked the hotel, so we wouldnt be able to stay that night. We went to breakfast at “Lety’s” on the beach, meeting the owners son there. He told us we could camp on the beach in front of the restaurant/hotel for no charge and use their bathrooms and showers. Man, finally we got to pop the tents, ON the beach! We popped the ARB tent and Ironman tent with little effort. As you can imagine, we were quite the spectacle setting up our site. People stopped to look and see what it was that we were doing. We pulled out the Ironman awning for shade and set up the lounger chairs watching the waves roll in under the sunset. Just before dark, we noticed a couple of sand crabs popping out of their holes to see if all the people were gone. We watched them for a while before moving, of course which prompted them to shoot back to the protection of their holes in the sand.
The next day, we made the repair, organized our vehicles, said good bye to our new found friends and we were off headed towards Teacapan, a little town on the beach that promised several campsites on the beach. Gary told us we could drive 6-1/2 km up the beach and avoid driving on the chatter bump road again. What? Drive nearly 5 miles down the beach? You didnt have to tell us twice. We had a blast dodging high tide and keeping momentum to plow through the soft sandy beach all the way to the golf course. What an amazing place to find, away from the usual tourist oriented areas.