[Originally posted January 18, 2008]
The road does indeed pretty up south of Topolobampo. I got off the cuota
onto the libre
, which travels inland through some reasonably cute little towns. Not Baja-cute but still more entertaining than toll booths, Pemex stations, and truck stops.
Pemex is weird. In the US, anyone with a leaky steel tank and a crony at the EPA can open a gas station. Here, there is only one gas station, the state oil monopoly: Petróleos Mexicanos. Furthermore, Pemex stations are placed rather haphazardly around the country. Sometimes you will go 70 miles without a gas station. Sometimes you will find FOUR stations surrounding an intersection. The prices very slightly from region to region but it all seems to be in the neighborhood of $2.50 per gallon.
In the US, nearly every gas station has an attached convenience store. Pemex either hasn't figured this out or is prevented from getting into the food business, so across the street from almost every Pemex station is an OXXO, which near as I can tell is Spanish for 7-11. OXXO doesn't sell prepared food, so next to that is usually a taco stand. Oddly enough, the only part of this ecosystem that seems to stay open 24hrs is the taco stand. You might not get back on the road until morning, but you won't starve in the mean time.
At any rate, the inland road is two-lanes, goes through towns, and doesn't suffer too badly from the scenery. The foliage is thicker and less cactus-like on the mainland, but it still feels like desert. After several hours, I'm finally in Mazatlán.
Baja has ruined me. Mazatlán is a poor man's La Paz. It's bigger, dirtier, smoggier, more crowded, and seems altogether less agreeable in every respect. I've only been here one evening and I already want to leave. Part of the problem is that unlike La Paz, Mazatlán does not seem to have a coherent centro
. The city just sprawls on, with beaches and hotels along two long sides.
On the other hand, I have a remarkable 5th-floor oceanfront room at the Hotel Belmont. It was probably spectacular in it's 1960s heyday (the wood paneling is gorgeous) but it's a crumbling wreck now. I love it, well worth the 450 pesos.
The elevator doesn't quite reach the bottom floor:
Note to self: I'm in the 2nd hotel in as many nights where the sole power outlet in the room is inconveniently located. Go to hardware store and buy a lightbulb-socket-to-plug-socket adapter, it will come in handy.
Leaving Mazatlán, I climbed the tallest faro (lighthouse) in the world and got a decent picture of the whole city: