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Barra de Navidad & Melaque Journal - March 25, 2017

On our way home

By the time you read this column, we will be on the long trek back to our home in Canada. It’s a bittersweet time to be sure. We drive here in October from our cottage north of Toronto, Ontario. So many people are curious about the journey that we thought we would tell you about our experience.

The first question we’re always asked is: How long does it take?

It can take as little as five days driving directly from Toronto to Manzanillo – daylight hours only. You will spend approximately ten hours a day on the road accounting for pit stops and meals. We cross into the United States at Windsor, then take primarily state highways (as opposed to the Interstate toll highways) through Ohio, Indiana*, Illinois, Missouri, Oklahoma*,  and Texas*. Entering Mexico through Laredo Texas to Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, we take the “Cuota” roads 85 and 54 through to Zacatecas*, then on to Guadalajara and Colima.  It’s a short jaunt from Colima (54D) to Manzanillo, then we pick up Cuota 200 on to our final destination of Barra de Navidad. Asterisked destinations indicate an overnight stop.

Do you feel safe?

Absolutely! We take primarily toll roads, which are very well maintained roads and patrolled by Mexico’s “Green Angels” or Ángeles Verdes. We restrict our travel to daylight hours and fill our gas tank at every opportunity. You may encounter several gas stations in a row, then not see any for what seems like an eternity. Although little English is spoken where we stop for fuel and food, the people are always friendly and helpful. 

It is highly recommended to carry a car safety kit containing flares, booster cables and first aid items. It is mandatory in Mexico to have safety cones on board as well as a fire extinguisher. A can of WD40 can get you through some mechanical problems, and of course a good spare tire (not a donut) plus a working, accessible jack. Carry spare water at all times for personal consumption, and a spare gas can. 

Always be ready for topes (speed bumps for slowing traffic) and be prepared for detours. As one of the largest cities in Mexico, Guadalajara is known for being difficult to navigate. Traffic on the perimeter of the city seems to move at break neck speeds, primary road signs are not always readable due to overhanging trees, topes and potholes can wreak havoc on your suspension. Interestingly, we’ve observed many a muffler shop near the worst topes. 

Driving at night is not a good idea. Pulling off the highway in larger towns is best. Hotels are easily marked and range from CDN$25 per night. Night driving encounters faster moving traffic, transport trucks and stray animals. Herds of goats, donkeys, and even horses can wander aimlessly onto the road. There are no overhead lights on most roads and nighttime means pitch-black conditions. 

What does it cost?

When we do the math, it probably costs us the same to drive as it would to fly. We have a 2002 Toyota Camry V6 kept in top mechanical condition: regular oil changes, inspect all belts, etcetera. Traveling from north of Toronto to Barra de Navidad in October 2016 incurred the following costs.

Fuel: CDN$390. 

Hotels: CDN$290.

Highway Tolls: CDN$55. 

Mexican Car Insurance: CDN$198. 

Total: $933 CDN. 

Add a bit more for food and beverages. We travel with a cooler and bring our own snacks, drinks and sandwiches. You will spend anywhere from CDN$20-40 per day for meals for two.

Benefits outweigh costs

The drive is long but absolutely beautiful. We see areas of Mexico that we would never see by air. We travel through breathtaking mountains, lush green valleys, dusty plains and endearing pueblos. We meet incredible people who are generous and helpful in every way possible. 

As noted above, you can make this trip in about five days. During the past 14 years, we have spent as few as four or five days and as long as two weeks to get here. There are an infinite number of side trips available throughout the United States and Mexico. Sometimes it’s nice to meander and other times we just can’t wait to get here. For the adventurous, the possibilities are unlimited.

Maps & Navigation

GPS maps for Mexico are not always reliable. Spend some time on research before you go and have a back up plan in mind. If you want to navigate with maps, we recommend that unless you’re fluent in Spanish, you purchase maps/guides before you leave. It would also be wise to look up road signs and symbols and their translations. Sometimes it was a struggle to find the meaning of certain words in our small English/Spanish dictionary.

Border Crossings

It is a good idea to investigate your intended border crossing in advance of arriving.

We generally enter from Texas and prefer the smaller offices at Eagle’s Pass. We didn’t realize that they have limited hours of operation and are closed early on Saturday and all day Sunday.  Nuevo Laredo is open 24/7. It’s a busier crossing and it’s challenging to navigate the route to the office where you are required to register your vehicle and obtain a temporary vehicle import permit. The permit cost us approximately $200 for 180 days and this money is refunded when you return your sticker upon leaving Mexico. As we mentioned, you will need Mexican car insurance. This can be purchased at the border. We buy ours in advance online. Plan in advance and be sure to deal with a reputable company. Remember that only those named of the certificate of insurance are covered on the policy. In other words, do not loan your vehicle.

You will save time at the border if you have photocopies of all of your documentation: passport, vehicle insurance, vehicle registration, etcetera. 

Ángeles Verdes 

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The Green Angels are a 300-strong fleet of vehicles staffed by bilingual tourist assistants trained in mechanics and first aid. They will help you in case of a breakdown, an accident, a natural disaster and/or a medical emergency. You can reach them by calling 078 from any phone in Mexico. They provide a 24-hour hotline. This service is funded through Mexico’s Secretary of Tourism, but note that although the hotline is accessible 24 hours, the service is only available from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. There is no fee for Green Angels’ service but you will be required to pay for fuel or necessary parts. 

Registration 

This is a free service for Canadian travelers offering notification of a personal emergency at home or an emergency abroad, plus dissemination of information that you would need in the event of a natural disaster or civil unrest. You are assigned a local representative to contact in the event of an emergency. See https://travel.gc.ca/travelling/registration.

Pertinent information for assistance for U.S. citizens traveling abroad can be found at https://travel.state.gov.