The Big, Scary Mainland of Mexico

My heart pounded loudly in my chest.  My breath quickened.  Despite not having slept for the prior 16 hours, all of my senses were on high alert.  We had arrived in Mainland Mexico.  

 To fully understand this feeling, I have to first take you back to when Karin and I began initially discussing the possibility of this crazy adventure -  when it was just passing topic rather than any sort of reality.  The words “Its too bad Mexico is in the way or we would just drive to Costa Rica” or some variation usually came out of one of our mouths as an insurmountable roadblock. 

When I first introduced my mother and friends to our plan, it came with the promise of “Don’t worry, we would never drive through Mexico. We will ship our car to Belize and start from there.”    It seems so ridiculous now.  I’m so grateful we heeded the advice Victoria from when she said, “If you skip Mexico, you will be making a terrible mistake.  It would be tragic.”  

Over the next several months, we worked hard on ourselves to substitute fear with logic and the experience of others. Into Mexico we went, telling ourselves everything would be okay.  But now, we were at a major milestone, overlanding 101 was over and  the reality of our decision was HERE.   

At the start of our journey south, we avoided the mainland by  choosing to enter Mexico through Baja.  To be clear, Baja is "real" Mexico, but its known to be safe for travelers and campers.  Its affectionately referred to by overlanders as  Mexico 101 or Intro Mexico.  I wont deny that we subconsciously procrastinated our mainland entry when we traveled the Baja  for two months rather than the 2-3 weeks we planned. 

Now, There was no more stalling.  We had reached the end of the line – the only place to go was over the pond to the source of many sleepless nights.  We’d had our fill of both the desert landscape and the safety of the peninsula.  Most of the other overlanders on similar versions of our journey had already crossed.   


Finally deciding we were ready, we bit the bullet, booked our ferry reservations and were headed East through the Sea of Cortez.   

The TMC Ferry ride was one of my best life experiences to date, without question ,but, also without question was, that, for me, everyone on the ferry was a suspect.  Of what? I have no idea – sex trafficking (that one is always in my brain), kidnapping, people,  drug smuggling, who knows what.   As we disembarked, I couldn’t escape the sinking feeling that we were being watched, possibly tracked to our destination for some dark purpose.

In truth, our overnight compadres were mainly truckers transporting onions, oil, propane and various big box store merchandise.   There were female member of the ship’s crew (I don’t know why this shocked me as much as it did but it gave me immediate relief – after all, two women trapped on the open sea overnight for 16 hours with a ship full of truckers…I’m sure you understand).  

We met one very friendly and talkative passenger named Esteban who was an owner of several food trucks and heading back home to Puebla ending his winter Baja season.  Still, prior to pulling off the ramp I made sure our doors were locked, belongings secured, pepper spray tucked into our door side panels and bear spray on my floorboard.    

THIS WAS THE MAINLAND.  The home of all bad things – according to my media and peanut gallery created prejudices.

We ported in the city of Mazatlán in the morning, near 9 am.  We were tired, hungry, nervous, excited and full of fear.  Me more so than Karin.  Always me more so than Karin.   I may be the first of us to DECIDE to jump off a cliff  (Karin will spend weeks researching the cliff first) but while I stand on the edge shaking and talking myself into that first step, Karin will already be on the shore below, drying off.  

The first thing that happened was that nothing happened.  Mazatlán was a larger city than we had been to that point and there was notably more traffic and more people.  But the Policia didn’t immediately pull us over and harass us (as happened to our friends, BKExplore when they drove away from port), kidnappers didn’t show up at our campsite, nothing bad happened at all.   We camped there for a few days, regrouped, planned our route and left.  That was three months ago.  Still, nothing bad has happened.  

Mazatlán at Sunset

Mazatlán at Sunset

With every journey between places, I still have trepidation but its easing. Where early in this journey I was often crippled by my fears, they no longer control this experience.  Every new city, every new highway, every rural town has the potential to pose new and unseen threats. I am traveling with cargo so precious to me that I will always carry a certain amount of fear; but the threats never seem tocome.

Our travels have taken us through 13 states and 9 of its largest cities, including Mexico City, through landscapes of every kind. We have stayed in the desert, small towns, dirt towns, beach towns, poor towns, wealthy towns, the middle of nowhere and metropolitan  cities with towering skyscrapers.  We have camped, stayed in hotels, rented Airbnb’s and long term apartments.  We have lived with poor locals and with middle and upper “class” expats.    We have walked around at night, in the early morning, gone hiking in canyons, spent time in bars….and still, nothing bad has happened.  The mainland is totally different from Baja.  It is full of color and life,  history and modernity, deeply rooted tradition alongside progressive art and cultural happenings.


chess at night guadalajara.jpg

We have made friends, we have experiences the most incredible cities, we have slept under the stars in landscapes that could make a believer out of the most deeply-rooted cynic.    This country is so vast….there would never be enough time to explore or discover all of its secrets – but the biggest secret of all is that its truly wonderful.  

Granted, we aren’t out of Mexico yet.  We still have a month here and I’m not one to point my finger in fate’s eye….bad things could happen anywhere, at any time, to anyone.  But Mexico is no longer a dark stranger to me.  She has been our home for the last five months.  She has challenged us, mystified us, thoroughly entertained us and been so kind and gentle with us that its been easy to fall in love with her, to want to defend and protect her.  My strongest emotions now regarding Mexico are not fear-based, they are love, wonder, sadness at the approaching end of our time here…and regret that I didn’t give Mexico a chance and get to know her sooner. 


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