Saturday, December 2, 2017

LOST IN MEXICO: What We Do When the GPS Doesn’t Help

The Road is Blocked—What Now?

Detour Sign in Mexico--But Where To?
     There have been multiple times during our travels in México that we were lost and didn’t know where to go. We always knew what town we were in, just not what road to turn down to get to our destination. While driving a 32-foot motorhome in small towns or big cities, turning down an unknown narrow road is almost always a mistake. Getting to a dead end and needing to turn around can sometimes be impossible. The GPS is not helpful at all when the friendly female voice repeatedly tells us to turn at the next corner, but when we look first before turning and find a narrow lane with no traffic visible, we finally mute it and pull to the side of the road to decide what to do. That’s when we find a friendly Mexican to help us out before we get into a mess like we did in downtown San Miguel de Allende, with the police involved. (You can read about that adventure in my eBook Healthy Living and Traveling in Mexico available on Amazon)

Inviting a Mexican into Our Motorhome to Guide Us
Only a few miles from our destination for the day, Huatabampito, Sonora, we entered the small town of La Unión. The GPS told us to continue straight ahead through town, but didn’t account for a huge pile of rubble in the middle of the road where ditches had been dug across for new utilities. A Desviación (detour) sign diverted us into a neighborhood, but no other signs clued us about getting back on the main road to El Mirador RV Park at the beach. The GPS continued to tell us to turn right down dirt roads that didn’t look passable with our Class A motorhome. Each one was a narrow one-lane dirt road, lined with large trees on each side, and parked down each side with trucks and cars. So, we continued driving through the neighborhood, following the school bus, thinking the bus driver would lead us out of this mess. Then the bus reached the end of the road, did a three-point turn and headed back the way it had come, toward us. We let it pass and then did our own turn-around using the driveway of two homes. 
The GPS Said to Go Straight, But We Had to Turn
     By then, a large crowd of adults and children had gathered to watch us, wondering what this big brown coach with gringos inside was during in their barrio. They were all smiling and looked friendly so I hopped out of the motorhome to guide Jon while he backed it up, making sure to miss any dogs, children, and fences. A young man, dressed in dirty work clothes came up to me and started speaking in rapid Spanish. I said one of the few sentences I know, “No hablo Español.” He turned to the crowd and told them I didn’t speak Spanish. There was a lot of good-natured chuckling and chatter about the gringa that didn’t speak Spanish. I waved for him to come to the driver’s window so Jon could talk to him.
After a brief conversation in Spanish between Jon and the young man, Jon told me the man wanted to show us how to get through town, avoiding the road construction. I asked how much he wanted to charge us (I know how to say that in Spanish, at least). The young man said, “libre” (free). He just wanted to help. So, I said okay and waved him around to the door of the RV. Bella was barking, not liking a stranger to come into our casa rodante (literally means mobile home). The young man said something about the perro and seemed afraid of Bella, so I picked her up, sat on the couch behind the driver’s seat, and waved for him to sit in the RV passenger seat, up front with Jon. He chattered away to Jon the whole time he was directing us through turns that took us back toward town and neatly around the construction. We stopped at the Pemex gas station on the outskirts of town where he pointed down the road to la playa (the beach), the direction we should head. 
Jon and I decided to pay him 100 pesos (about $5 US) for his time and trouble, knowing he would have to walk the mile or so back to his home. We thanked him and he hopped out of the motorhome with a smile on his face. I think he would have been just as happy to help us for free, he seemed to enjoy the adventure so much. But it was well worth the money for the assistance he gave us, and we feel giving a small payment is the least we can do to help those who are less well-off than we are.
Relieved to make it out of the maze of roads in La Unión, we continued on the two-lane highway toward Huatabampito. The GPS seemed happy, as well, that we were finally on the correct road to the beach. El Mirador Hotel Restaurante y RV Park came into view as the GPS announced, “You have arrived at your destination.” We couldn’t wait to park next to the seawall, hook up utilities, and head to the restaurant for a fresh fish dinner and Margaritas.    
Happy to Arrive at El Mirador RV Park in Huatabampito
     On a previous trip, we were heading north, approaching the Nogales, México border crossing to find that construction had closed the bus and RV lane. A detour sign directed us off of Mex Hwy 15D and into the busy city of Nogales. We drove for several miles, the GPS continually ordering us to make a legal U-turn and return the way we had come. We muted her voice, knowing she wasn’t correct, but having no idea where to go. There didn’t see any more detour signs telling us where RV were supposed to go to cross into the U.S.
As the traffic became heavier and the lanes narrower, we knew we had missed a critical turn and needed help. We stopped at a red traffic light in a busy downtown area, vendors circulating between cars selling drinks, snacks, newspapers, and trinkets. Several vendors noticed us and started waving for us to go back. We looked at each other and said, “What do we do now?”
One of the newspaper vendors came to the driver’s window and Jon opened it to see what he had to say. The Mexican man told Jon that we had to go to the bus crossing in another part of town and he could show us how to get there. Jon asked him, “How much?” The Mexican said to pay whatever we thought was fair. Jon agreed and opened the motorhome door for him to climb in. He sat on the couch behind Jon and gave him directions through busy downtown Nogales. Several miles and turns later we arrived at the temporary crossing for buses and RVs. We thanked him profusely and paid him several hundred pesos (about $15 US), knowing he had to take buses or walk a long distance back to where we started that nerve-wracking journey. We were so grateful to have found a friendly man who could show us the way for a small fee. We would have never found the detour without someone’s help.

Hire a Taxi to Lead Us
On more than one occasion, we have been in a new city, trying to find the RV Park and the GPS had led us astray. When the streets started narrowing and the traffic got heavier, we suspected we had ventured too close to centro (downtown) and were in danger of getting stuck or receiving a driving citation from the police. Driving an RV into centro in any town in México is generally unwise and usually illegal. The first time this happened to us, we were in Patzcuaro. A taxi pulled up beside us and honked his horn. Jon opened his window to see what the driver had to say. He said he could lead us where we needed to go. The agreed on a price of 50 pesos to get us to the RV Park. It was well worth the small fee to avoid the stress of driving lost in a busy city.
Stuck Near Downtown San Miguel de Allende
That worked so well, we used the same technique when we ventured too close to downtown San Miguel de Allende. Thank goodness, we had hired a taxi driver to help us that time, too. He not only led us to our RV Park, he helped us deal with an unsavory police officer.

Hire a Mexican on a Bicycle to Show Us the Way
The GPS Took Us the Wrong Way to Catemaco
     Years ago, we decided to visit Catemaco. We trusted the GPS to tell us what highway to take to get there. We probably should have asked directions. When the two-lane road became a washed-out dirt path with a shaky-looking temporary bridge crossing the river, we knew we should have asked for help. But we crept slowly across the bridge in our motorhome, breathed a sigh of relief when it held, and kept driving over the washboard dirt road at about 15 miles per hour until we finally reached Catemaco hours later. It was worth the long, rough drive to be able to watch the annual El Brujo Festival that this city is famous for.
El Brujo Festival in Catemaco
     When we were exploring Catemaco on foot, trying to find a recommended restaurant, we had wandered for miles looking for it without any luck. Normally, when we stroll around a new city attempting to find a destination, we carry the GPS to give us directions. We don’t have Smart Phones, so our GPS is our navigation system when on foot or driving. But this time we didn’t have it with us. We didn’t really trust it much at this point in our trip, after it had led us astray so badly.
So, we flagged down a young Mexican riding by on his bicycle and asked if he knew where the restaurant was. He said he did and that he could lead us there. He walked ahead of us, pushing his bike the half-mile, until he pointed ahead at the sign, indicating that his job was finished. Jon handed him ten pesos for his time and thanked him. As the young man rode away, we felt good about financially helping a local Mexican, as well as discovering an easy way to find our way around a new town.
     In our travels throughout México, we have learned that the Mexican people are more than willing to help us find our way when we are lost. Their friendly, helpful, and trusting ways are a pleasure. We feel welcome and safe in México.

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  1. Terry, again I enjoyed your blog. It is very interesting. LOVE< MOM

    1. Thanks, Mom. I'm glad you enjoyed it. We've had some crazy adventures, but always learn something.

  2. Cute! Sounds like some grand adventures that all worked out in the end :-) Good tips for newbies too!

  3. Hi Tina Marie,
    Thanks for reading my blog and for your comment. I'm glad you enjoyed it and found it helpful.