by Will Ebersman
Recently, I had the pleasure of vacationing in mainland Mexico for about ten days. This was my first trip to Old Mexico, as experienced travellers call this part of the country. I was happy to contrast it with my time spent in Rosarito, Ensenada, Tecate, Cabo San Lucas and other communities on the Baja peninsula.
We travelled on Volaris Airlines, known as the Southwest of Mexico. All the planes we flew on were clean, late-model multi-jets carrying approximately 150 passengers.
Our airport of choice was Tijuana International. It’s located just south of the U.S. -Mexico border, and we used the Otay Mesa crossing to since it’s the closest to the airport. Located about 10 minutes in, the airport is well laid out, with check-in located close to the curb. It took all of 10 minutes to process our group of four through the airline check-in process and on to security.
Security in Mexico is typical of airport security everywhere. You walk to the front of the line, take off anything metal, and put your items in the standard grey bins. They go through the x-ray machine and you go through the metal scanners.
The process is quick and easy, assuming that you remember to take off all of your metal items before you go through. Some machines are sensitive enough to be set off by the stud fasteners in jeans so an inspection with a hand scanner is in order.
I did get having some loose AA batteries in my carry-bag being confiscated. Since I had the same batteries powering several of my point-and-shoot digital cameras in the same bag, I couldn’t figure out what the difference was. The next time I went through the scanning process, I simply put the spare batteries in my checked bags.
The Tijuana Airport is similar to airports everywhere but this one was kept cleaner than any other international airport I’ve travelled through. The floors were continually being swept, the bathrooms cleaned and restocked hourly and the various food concessions were immaculate. Signage is in Spanish and English so if you don’t speak or read Spanish, the average traveller can easily get around.
One thing to keep in mind is to have some Mexican currency on hand. The money exchanges at the airport give you a lower conversion rate than the ones in the towns and cities do so break $20-$50 U.S. Mexican bills over 200 pesos tend to be hard to break in many of the smaller communities so try and keep smaller denominations on hand. This may require a trip to one of the local banks to do this.
ATM machines in Mexico are common. As in the U.S., check on the rate of exchange and the transaction fees before you use the ATMs. Remember that the denominations that are shown are pesos and not U.S. currency. At the time of this writing, the peso is worth about 8 cents (12 pesos/dollar). It may look like you’re taking out a lot of money, but factor in the conversion rate and fees before the transaction and you’ll be OK.
Our flight to Culiacan took about two hours and was flawless. Upon landing in the airport, we quickly found our luggage and met our guide, Emmanuel Pacheco. A good guide, like Manuel, is something not to be under-rated. Loading passengers and luggage with ease, we were soon on our way.
Lunch was at the Panama Restaurant, in Culiacan. The area is blessed with fresh produce (more on that later) and an abundance of seafood. The Panama had a number of local favorites and daily specials. With a separate children’s area, the restaurant was busy but service did not suffer. Dessert carts are moved through the dining floor and a number of diners enjoyed some of the local pastries.
After lunch, we were driven to Los Mochis, the first of several cities we stayed in. We were travelling on the free roads and went through the Breadbasket of Mexico. Literally hundreds of thousands of acres of corn, beans, squash and peppers are grown in. Blessed by rainfall coming from the Sierra Madre Mountains, the farmland here is richer and more productive than the Central Valley of California.
Los Mochis was designed and laid out by Benjamin Johnston, an American businessman who is credited with founding the city by starting a major sugar growing and processing industry. Los Mochis has a very rectangular layout. Most of the cities in Mexico started out as small villages and towns so the layout was not designed with an overall design. Los Mochis is one of the exceptions.
Established in 1903, the town is home to a number of sugar cane processing plants. The local sugar cane is harvested and brought to one of the factories. The cane is crushed and the sweet juices are concentrated by boiling off the excess water, similar to the creation of maple sugar from sap.
The raw sugar is a light brown color, and has a molasses-like flavor. Turbinado, as this form of sugar is known, is a local favorite and is used similar to the white sugar. To get white sugar, the turbinado goes through a bleaching process to whiten the color and remove the turbinado’s taste element. The end product is the familiar white fine-grained sugar sold domestically in the United States.
The crushed sugar cane is not wasted. Known as bagasse, it is burnt to produce the heat necessary for the sugar-making process.
The state of Sinaloa is home to some great dove- and duck-hunting opportunities. The same water that irrigates the commercially-grown crops also feeds a number of streams and rivers. The area around Los Mochis has a number of areas where savvy bird-hunters come to get their fill of hunting and dining.
Jose Calderon, at www.mexicolandtours.com, can arrange for a variety of guide services or both hunting and fishing opportunities. At present, a successful hunter can take up to 60 doves and 45 ducks home.
Los Mochis is also known for their beautiful women. The locals joke that the water is responsible for this phenomenon. In actuality, the mix of German, French and other settlers in the area all contributed to the gene pool, with excellent results.