Charlton's recollections of the 1995 Acapulco trip

The coolest trip I've ever taken in my life.

The trip started out at about 5:00am and we ended up in Brownsville at
about 11:00am or so (I don't quite remember the exact times).  We were
(or at least I was) very apprehensive about entering Mexico and actually
DRIVING through it.  It would be the first time I'd go to interior Mexico
and also the first time I'd go to Mexico without significantly older and
more experienced (in life) people going with me.  All of the scary 'be
careful' stories I've heard from other Americans that have gone there
made me very cautious as well.  The reason why we were going through
Brownsville was primarily so that we drove as little as possible through
Mexico!  and I also remember eating lunch in Brownsville thinking 'this is
it!  this is the last decent meal we're gonna have!'.  Little did I know
that what we found was surprisingly more comfortable than I anticipated.

Crossing the border at Matamoros and getting all of our paperwork
done at the bridge (HWY 77 entrance to Mexico) on the Mexican side was a
fairly long trying experience,  but luckily we were helped by a nice older
Mexican border official who spoke English and mentioned that the place was
'his'.  Once we got the car sticker and Mexican insurance ($30 or so for
4 days (what a rip-off!)) we tipped the official who helped us US$2 and
he seemed slightly offended.  I do not know if he was offended for us
tipping him,  or not tipping him enough!

Anyway,  once we got driving around in Matamoros,  I felt right at
home driving the Mexican way (cutting people off,  being aggressive, etc.)
since I usually drive the same way in the United States!  But once we got
out onto the Mexican highway I felt relieved and intrigued at the

Our first stop:  The Pemex gas station.  This was scary because
the 'magna sin' gas, which in the Mexico tourist book said was supposed
to be administered by the green-colored pump,  had a blue plastic pump-
cover instead.  And the gas-attendant didn't understand the word 'stop'!
But luckily we weren't getting the leaded stuff into my car.  Soon we
were on our way again.  Next stop:  Ciudad Victoria.

I had only anticipated it taking perhaps one full day to get to
Mexico City,  but I didn't take into account the Mexican roads.  They are
not only kind of poor but they are VERY indirect,  especially when you
get into the mountains.  For this reason, it took three days getting to
Acapulco.  But with the right planning and non-stop speeding,  it only
took 26 hours to get back.  If I had to get down there as fast as I could
from Austin, Texas to Acapulco, Mexico in a vehicle,  it would only take
me 24 hours!

But we were naively taking our time,  and we ate in Ciudad Victoria
just before the mountains started.  Unfortunately Mexicans seldom rely on
signs to get where they're going,  so there are very few of them,  and
even if there were they were sometimes hard to decipher.  So we ended up
on the wrong road to Tula instead of Ciudad Mante.  It was shortly before
Tula that I realized we might be on the wrong road (even though there were
no signs to confirm this) and the only map we had was the one-page Mexico
map in the back of my Rand-McNally North-America road atlas,  which was
almost utterly useless!

We drove around Tula for a while trying to figure out where the
cut-over road to Ciudad Mante was,  when we gave up and asked a Mexican.
The first Mexican we asked hopped on his bicycle and actually lead us out
of town onto the sorry-ass road from Tula to Ciudad Mante.

I slept while Kyle drove the way to Ciudad Valles.  He drove
through a raging out-of-control coutryside fire as well as a Narcotics
checkpoint while I was asleep.  The next thing I know Kyle wakes me by
saying "we're being pulled over".  Not knowing that Kyle unintentionally
sped straight through a narcotics check-point,  I woke up and waited to
see what was going to happen...

The cop spoke in Spanish.  Neither Kyle nor I could understand
so Kyle asked him to repeat himself.  The cop didn't bother and motioned
to his comrade (it seems that any official job-post in Mexico always seems
to have more than just one person doing it).  His comrade spoke perfect
English and asked us why we sped past the narcotics checkpoint!  Wow!
What do we do now!  ..."uh, I didn't know there was a checkpoint station
back there."  The other cop just proceeded to ask if we had any drugs or
guns,  and we just said "no".  We were then on our way!

At about 2:00am we pulled into Ciudad Valles eager to find a place
to sleep.  There were a couple of really nice-looking hotels in the zono
centro but when we checked them out they cost $140 per night and shit!
We checked out a slightly cheaper-looking one down the street and it cost
something like $110!!!  Then it dawned on me that this price had to be in
Mexican nuevo pesos (no N$ was shown,  just a $) and sure enough I was
right,  and it was CHEAP!  We stayed at the first, nicer-looking place.

Day 2:

Upon waking up we had 'breakfast' at around noon the next day at the
Burger King across the street from the hotel.  It was just like a Burger
King in the U.S. but no one spoke English and there were Mexican pesos in
the register!  weird.

Anyway,  after that we were on our way again through some of the
most beautiful and intriguing countryside I have ever seen.  The things
I saw along the way that day were the most memorable places I've ever
been,  and we didn't even stop at any of them!  It was VERY lush and
tropical,  with little well-dressed brown kids running home from school
to their poor but very comfortable-looking hut-like homes.

We hit a town which I don't quite remember the name,  but it was
probably Tamazunchale.  It made a very memorable impression in my mind as
well,  and I definitely want to go back there someday.  Again we didn't
stop until after the town because I wanted to buy a beer and Kyle wanted
something to drink as well.

We faced a very long trip that day through the mountains along
a valley.  We stopped once to witness a NICE 3-story Mexican house under
construction along that road,  and again to witness the awe of the
scenery surrounding us.  The mountains sort of thinned out as well as the
vegetation as we approached Mexico city,  but we were still a lot further
than we thought.  It wasn't until after the sunset that we came over a
small ridge to see an awesome sight: the lights of Pachuca.  This seemed
to be the first REAL city we have seen on the trip into Mexico,  and the
foreign lights were inspiring.  It was practically just a large suburb of
Mexico City.

We needed to stop and get pesos somewhere since we were running
low.  Like a dipshit I thought it would be better to have 3 different ways
to pay for something just in case things went wrong:  Mexican currency,
American currency, and credit card.  Unfortunately once you get into interior
Mexico no one accepts American currency (or at least not at a decent rate).
Paying with credit is also not nearly as common in Mexico as it is in the
United States.  So we needed more Mexican cash.  But the only place that
we were told might exchange with dollars was at a nice, large hotel,  so
we asked many Mexicans directions for the biggest nicest hotel in Pachuca.
It took forever to find the place,  but we found it and were helped by a
girl and her supervisor (also a young good-looking Mexican woman).  At first
they said they didn't do that kind of stuff,  which meant that we were in
trouble!  We got to talking to them (mainly Kyle,  though, since I really
didn't feel like talking) in Spanish while they were communicating to us
in the English that they learned in school.  They invited us to stay there
and the reluctantly gave us 5 pesos to the dollar (US$80 worth).  I really
wanted to make it to Mexico City that night and we still had some driving
time, so we pushed on,  taking the toll-road into Mexico City.

Once we were in Ciudad de Mexico we were totally lost trying to
find a hotel that was specified in the Mexico tourist book,  but turns out
it didn't exist!  We drove around for perhaps 4 hours in downtown Mexico
City just trying to find a place to spend the night!  We saw a lot of
interesting things including a whole street line-up of prostitutes (which
I had never seen before (I was shocked!)) with a congested traffic scene
in front of them.  We did eat dinner during all of this,  but cheap food
prices was a whole lot easier to find than cheap hotel prices in downtown
Mexico City!  We finally settled for this place at about US$50/night (three
hundred something pesos - since everything was really in pesos).

Day 3:

From about 11:00am to 2:00pm Kyle and I wandered around downtown Mexico City.
We bought a REAL map of Mexico (which still kinda sucked) and Kyle bought
a Mexican blanket,  which he now puts over one of his chairs in his living
room.  At about 2:30 we left for Acapulco.

Even though there's a toll road pretty much all the way from
Mexico City to Acapulco,  we decided to take the free road there the whole
way because it cost N$250 (pesos) one way!.  It really sucked at first,
but as we got closer to Acapulco it wasn't that bad.

One of the first cities we came to after that was the very famous city of

Soon after we went through Taxco,  which I wanted to see,  and we ate
there at a place called "cocina economica" or something like that.  CHEAP!
There were flys buzzing around everywhere,  and there were no menus or
anything it was just whatever the old lady happened to be cooking!  Both
of us ate and we ordered 4 bottled Pepsis between ourselves,  but the total
came to less than US$5!!!

We then proceeded to Acapulco,  but by the time we were getting close
it was dark again!  It was almost the end of our third day and we weren't
even to Acapulco yet,  and Kyle originally only took off four days of work!
We did have fun shining my 1-million candle-power light at people's faces
as we passed them on the side of the road,  though.  All through the trip
we were using that light to guide our night driving through twisting roads
at high speeds.

When we got to Acapulco,  after checking one or two other places out,
we found a decent-looking hotel with a balcony overlooking the beach.  Also,
it seemed to be a good deal at only US$40 per night.  The room was real nice
but the beds and pillows smelled kind of bad.  It seemed like the place was
furnished in the 70's.

At this point in our trip we decided to take an extra day and spend
all day the next day in Acapulco enjoying the scene.

Day 4:

This day we woke up kinda late (like we did on every day of the trip)
and immediately went out to spend the whole day on the Acapulco bay beach.
After walking it up and down and an occasional swim, we decided to try out
the parasailing (which neither one of us has ever done before).  It was very
neat seeing the whole city from up there and looking down at my bare, sandy
feet to see all of the little people below me.

There was a lot of people,  especially Mexicans,  enjoying the beach.
And it was fun looking at the other people.  The Mexicans made me feel more
comfortable being a part of their culture than I felt being among my own
culture.  For example,  two fine American chicks in thongs walked past us
on the beach,  and while we were feeling uncomfortable trying to ignore/
keep our cool,  a whole gang of Mexican guys were whistling at them and
yelling.  This made me feel better,  cuz I felt like they got what they
deserved,  and that I really should let loose and not feel so uncomfortable!
Also,  it was just impossible to isolate yourself or have a bad time,
because we were constantly approached by other people.  Mexican guys
approached us asking where we were from and if we were having fun.  One
guy came up to Kyle and said "Do you want to go parasailing?" "No" "Do
you want to go scuba diving" (no permits required) "we don't really feel
like that either" "Do you want to go dancing?" "No" "Do you want to smoke
something?" "No thanks.  thank you, though"...  And we were approached by
a couple of Mexican girls trying to tell us that our eyes were pretty,
but we couldn't understand them until they repeated it like 5 times!

We also rented a very small motorboat for $120 pesos for one hour.
We went all over the bay in that thing!  While one of us pulled on the
throttle rope,  the other person steered while trying to shield their eyes
from the up-splashing saltwater.

After all of that we decided to split-up.  I wanted to swim out to
the rock (slightly off the middle of the shore),  which I did,  while Kyle
did whatever (he didn't want to go cuz he was a wimp).  It was quite a
little swim,  and I had to be careful that the boats zooming through there
didn't run over me.  When I got there there was a platform covered with
crabs (that scattered when they saw me) that appearantly had been a part of
a bridge that used to be there that went to shore.  There was also the remains
of what I'm guessing was a radio tower at the top of the small island/rock.
It was kinda interesting,  but not that interesting,  so I went back.

By the time I got back I couldn't find Kyle for a while.  When we
finally ran into each other he was kinda mad because he couldn't find me.
This is not new for me since I like to wander off for longer than people
expect.  So we ate dinner on this restaurant on the beach and then called
it a day without even experiencing the Acapulco night-life (which I found
out later was the other main attraction of Acapulco).  Too bad.

Day 5, The Drive Back:

We tried to check out of the hotel at about 8:30am,  but the girl
working there said that because of the storm the night before the credit
card machine didn't work and we couldn't check out until we paid.  We
didn't have nearly enough pesos to cover it,  and all of the bank-teller
machines didn't work with my card because the lines were down.  There was
no computer connectivity!  We were stuck!  The hotel wouldn't take dollars
and I was too concerned to risk driving back through all of Mexico if she
happened to report that we left without paying.  So we convinced the girl
to take our US$80 instead of the US$68 worth of pesos that she required.
Later I got my credit card bill in the mail only to find out that they
filled in the original slip of paper that I signed when I checked in with
the cost of the 2 nights at that hotel!  I got ripped off $80!!!  I disputed
it with my credit card company,  and eventually lost.  The name of the
hotel was something like "Acapulco Imperial" on the west side of the bay.

Anyway at 9:00am we were on our way,  just trying to find our way
out of Acapulco when we almost got lost on some side-street.  This was a
foreshadow of all the confusion on the road we faced because of inadequate
signs.  We took the free road back to Chilpancingo,  when we got on the
toll-road which we calculated would be the best place to get back on.
Going back we knew how to make the most of our time:  take the toll road
from Chilpancingo to Ciudad de Mexico,  then head towards Poza Rica and
Tampico to try to avoid the mountains.  This was SO much faster.  Although
later I found out that the best way to get from Mexico City back to Austin
would have been to go through San Louis Potosi, Saltillo, Monterrey, and
then through Laredo.

We got lost in Huauchinango,  and two other towns I don't remember
the name of.  Unfortunately there was nothing we could do with the map we
had because the red line of the highway went into the circle (representing
the town) and then another red line came out of that town.  But in reality
the two highways weren't connected!  One highway would take you into the
town,  end,  and then you had to find the beginning of the other highway
going out of town.  And there were no signs anywhere!!  And whenever we
asked someone for directions,  all they would say was "todo derecho"!!!
We must have asked for directions over 20 times on the trip and each time
everyone used the words "todo derecho"...  it was a real pain.

We stopped to eat before we reached Tampico,  which was a cool town
that I want to see again,  and we ran into a drug checkpoint on the way back
with burning oil in cans on the side of the road and some big Mexican holding
a shotgun in the air with his finger on the trigger,  yelling.  That was
kinda scary.  But soon we were on our way again.  We'd take turns:  one of
us would sleep while the other one hauled ass!  We were finally back in
Austin at 11:00am the next morning.  It was one hell of a drive!

							-Charlton Harrison

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