Copala – Small Town, Big Adventure

Well, we took the regional bus to Copala. That was quite the ordeal, since none of the concierges (from the richie rich hotels we didn’t stay at) knew anything about the regional bus system (most of them didn’t even know where the bus depot was). All they had to suggest were tour buses, which would have cost 10 times as much and gotten us stuck with, well, a bunch of other tourists. So, we finally found the bus station, got tickets to Copala and it was great. We rode through tons of small towns, along rural highways, and stopped where the locals stopped. Not only that, but the buses were amazingly comfortable (and air-conditioned). When we got to Copala, though, things started to get strange. NO ONE from our almost packed bus rose to get up when the bus driver pulled over. There was no sign for a town (nor town for that matter) anywhere to be seen. The only thing on the side of the road looked like a miniature convenience store about the size of a living room, and there were no obvious paths alongside or leading away from the rural highway we were on. We asked fellow passengers and drivers, though, and they assured us: this was Copala. So, we got on the bus, got stared at by the few folks lingering around the local shop, headed in the wrong direction twice before discovering a steep road leading down a hill behind the store. Following that, we came upon a solitary farmhouse a few hundred meters away, with a few cows grazing in front of it and one cow ponderously balanced with its front hooves on the porch and back hooves on the street, blocking the stairs. Asking the folks sitting on the porch we were pointed further down the road and reached the small town about a kilometer away. Needless to say, it was beautiful. Indescribably neat architecture, blending local traditions and inherited ones (including a large mission-style church) from long-ago settlers. After eating at Michael’s (long story, you’ll have to look that one up) we discovered, though, that getting back might be even harder than getting there had been (on top of the fact that the one local hotel was closed for business, leaving an overnight stay out of the question). Finally, though, a local coffee-selling woman took us under her wing and found someone with a truck-taxi in town to drive us twenty or so miles (for a few dollars) down the highway to Corcordia where we could catch a bus back. Honestly, it really is about the trip and not the destination 😉

El Centro – Old Mazatlan

This area is great – highly walkable (about 12×12 blocks), densely packed with tourist-goodies such as a market (mixed with Mexicans and Gringos), church, various parks and squares and lots of neat old architecture. Best of all, if you start wandering the back streets you find all sorts of neat middle- to upper-class art dealers, including ex-patriots who have settled in and made niche businesses catering to locals and tourists alike. We walked it on a quiet Sunday and just passing the (amazingly open) doors of various houses we could get a glimpse of Mexicans going about their Siesta. The mix of architetural styles in the area is at once unique and paradigmatically ecleclic. If you are (in my opinion unfortunately) staying on the Zona Dorada (Golden Zone) you can access this area by bus. However, I would recommend considering staying on the Olas Altas beach (not to be confused with the Olas Altas Inn – which is to the north) so that you get maximum exposure to this area rich in local culture and with a more secluded beach surrounded by high hills. At the heart of this area is the Plaza Mercado – again a great blend of tourist-friendly middle-class restaurants (including Ambrosia for vegetarians) surrounding an old town square. This is the place to find music, exhibitions and seasonal markets for various goods. All in all, a good place to visit or even to stay in Mazatlan.

Zona Dorada – The Golden Zone

Well, where to begin? Mazatlan sure was a trip. Many Americans head down there and stay in the Zona Dorada (Golden Zone) for their entire trip, and, I must say, they are missing out. However, having submersed myself into some actual Mexican places and events, I have to admit that coming back and wandering through this area was entirely surreal. This northern part of the city is to Mazatlan (for Americans) what the International District is to Seattle (for Asians). We went from feeling completely and obviously out of place (even in our own mostly-Mexican hotel) to blending in perfectly. On the plus side, we could use hotel concierges, beaches and bathrooms simply by virtue of our paleness. They can also connect you with more standard tours, ferries, and other mainsteam tourist activity if that’s what you’re into. On the downside, you could see how much the locals were frustrated by loud and obnoxious tourists first-hand. Once we had our (stolen) orange striped beach towel in hand from El Cid (the largest and most pricey resort in town – comes with its own attached country club and full golf course!) we had our gold-card to the Golden Zone universe (thank you Douglas Adams – you were right about the towel thing). Ironically, I think our time in the Golden Zone felt more subversive than our time spent infiltrating Mexican cultural events, restaurants, towns and beaches. More on those latter explorations later 🙂