Day five trip report and the "bus" ride to Petatlan

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Posted by Leonard on July 28, 2001 at 13:13:14:

Since the national Mexican holidays were to start the coming weekend, we decided to go to Petatlan. This website made that trip a reality since I would not have dared otherwise.

We hired a taxi from Las Brisas to the "Happy Crab" restaurant which is near the bus terminal. We did not see the bus driver at first amongst the group of men standing near the bus. No AC on the bus so you wait outside it until it is ready to leave. Then a fellow with a baseball cap facing backwards said "let's go". We boarded the bus with about 10 other people. The bus could hold about 40 people. We leave downtown Zihua and head towards the airport and take a left. I was sitting near the front of the bus. The driver's companion went about the bus as we were driving to collect the fare of a few pesos. Towards the airport we go and then we turn left to head to Petatlan. As we turned left I noticed the driver making the sign of the cross. Hmmmmmm. I looked to the right as we crossed the main higway as we turned left and noticed no cars coming from the right, but I did notice a sign which I thought was a stop sign. It said Alto. WE DID NOT EVEN SLOW DOWN FOR THE STOP SIGN WHICH WAS MEANT TO CONTROL OUR BUS!! Well, up the windie road we go. The views were third world. Every other mile or so was a place to get something to eat. Every few minutes a similar micos headed towards the direction we just left. Our driver was signaling each driver he saw. We made frequent stops, sometimes blocking the highway, sometimes pulling off into the dirt to pick up passangers who only road the bus a mile or two.

As we picked up speed, and I mean speed, a bus is coming the other way at a high rate of speed. He nearly rolled over right in front of us on a curve. Another sign of the cross. Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. Ok, I'm thinking of signing myself too at this point. I look at the wife. She is paralyzed, white nuckled and mouth agape. Her eyes say it all. Fear. Well, an American from Oregon (a shrimper from Oregon missing three fingers on his left hand) and I began to talk. He told me to go a bit past Petatlan to his friends "resort" so I would have a secluded beach and I could ride a burro or two. Maybe next time.

Well, the road is very narrow, the oncoming buses are coming very fast, we are going very fast, the road is very crooked, the driver makes the sign of the cross at every other curve and the religious medallions are swinging wildly from his makeshift shrine on the dashboard. The "conductor/money collector" is at peace, we are not. The other passengers are silent. Besides us three, everyone else is a local, I presume. If you want a white knuckle experience, this is it. Foget the Colorado River rapids, take this bus!!! I suggest one takes stock of their last will and testament, burial policy and health insurance as minimal foresight when choosing this excursion. Yes, I "got it." And, I could have stayed blind and not "got it" if only I had know what I was to encounter that day.

Well, just as Rob says, you get off at the stairs leading to the church. They are huge stone stairs. I limp up the stairs (back still hurts)and we immediately see a town. To the right and left are small restaurants (what else) and homes. As you traverse the stairs, you end up in the middle of the street on the other side of the stairs. A few cars were parked in front of the homes and businesses but no vehicular traffic. The homes and business are about 5 feet from the street, maybe less. You could really smell the food some were cooking for lunch. And some had their doors open and we could see in. Some homes had Roman style courtyards past the "living room." Culture.

We walk along about 100 yards and meet a girl of 10 years of age. She said she was sent by her mother to pay her utility bill. We asked her where the church was located and she said straight ahead. We talked to her as we walked and gave her a dollar (at my wife's insistance: sympatico is the word) and she smiled. It reminded me of the days when I was a child and you could ride your bike anywhere in town and talk to anyone without threat. A time gone by for us.

Within a 100 more yards or so, we see the church. It must be getting close to noon. (I lost track of time on the bus). We immediately see that the four streets surrounding the church contain various little covered booths. Gold, more gold, candles, religious icons and more gold. We walk up to the church.

The church is on a tall mound like a courhouse square. It had wooden pews. Shortly, the church bells rang, it was probably noon, and people filled the church. We went inside. Very hot. We bought a candle or two and placed them in the covered grotto outside the church and lit them. The candles were in thanks and probably anticipation of our return "bus" trip, although all was unspoken since we got off the bus.

We went around the entire block surrounding the church and looked about. We went a half block away from the church, too. It was regional welfare day in Petatlan.

Regional welfare day is the day that people come, once a year to town, to qualify for governmental assistance. There was quite a crowd at the city hall which had M 16 guards at the door. I took a picture with one armed guard. He was quite pleased to honor my request for a joint picture. We spoke to a few people there and got the low down. Off we then went to complete our shopping.

Again, we went to all the stores surrounding the church, this time to buy. We bargained just a little bit with a smile. Everyone was very friendly. To me, this was a colonial Mexican town. Nothing like the tourist nature of Zihua and Ixtapa. Heck, you could even get your photo taken by a vendor with plastic burros situated at the foot of the stairs leading to the church courtyard. I had not seen a polaroid camera like his in years.

After we bought jewelry, we stopped at a pharmacy across the street from the market. I bought a coke or two and sat down near a fair skinned young boy. He sat and sat and sat. Never moved. I thought: his mom or dad told him to "stay there" and there he stayed. It was obvious that life there required obedience. It must be a tough rural life, but he was not dressed like he lived on a farm. About that time a beggar approached me. He was about four feet tall, and must have been eighty years old. He had on sandals that reminded me of something that an indian would wear, and his clothing was with zarape, and a huge straw hat. Very rustic, very Indian. He was polite and held out his hand. Sympatico again. (I view begging a bit differently since my dad was blind and never begged, he worked, but that was not in the third world either). About this time a fellow came up to the pharmacy on a four wheeled ATV. He had the cutest young child sitting on the gas tank. He got "off" the ATV and the little girl of about three years old sat on the gas tank holding the handlebars. She only moved her head. She never changed her innocent expression. I took her picture. She had on one of those little baseball caps and was so clean and so well dressed. She was truly adorable. And she sat and sat and sat. Obedience again. Her father came out of the store with some medicine and they left. I took a picture of her, can't wait to see it.

Well, its time to leave. We head up towards the stairs. Nothing spoken about the return trip. We pause at one last store tended by a gold merchant and his sister. His young sister tried on all the jewelry for my wife, but we had already bought our quota. My wife gave her money for modeling the jewelry and we told her to remember us when she became a famous model. She smiled.

The attitudes of everyone in Petatlan were very colonial. No pushy sales people, no one obnoxious, no effort to sell things like it was the difference between eating that day and not. No hype. The people tending the stores were very well dressed, had on make up and looked like they were a bit well to do. Obviously the ability to buy gold and then sell it requires more capital than buying clay pots. Therefore, I assume these gold merchants were at least middle class.

Before we left, we stopped for something to eat, what else! My wife used her intuition and we sat down. The lady tending the open air and bench styled "eating spot" had a couple of teen aged sons and a three month old daughter. She spoke to the baby in Spanish and said some very nasty things to the infant about her brothers, in jest, but filthy language. The wife's intuition is different than mine. Sympantico for that lady faded as we drank a beer and left.

Just before we got to the stairs, we stopped at a store on our left. I bought Gamesa cookies and coke, the wife is in full Hispanic swing and drank another beer. Water is not on the menu in Mexico, neither is tea. It's beer, and any other liquid you can think of and a few you can't save and except water and tea. Juice, beer, juice, beer........... . GIVE ME WATER AND ICE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Well, the wife finally says it: I want a taxi. Ok, get one over the stairs. Up we go, we pause, the bus is leaving, they waive at us, I give her the money for the taxi, I'm taking the bus. Heck, I missed by parasail flight, this is even better!!!! She gets on the bus.

A few people are on the bus. I make sure that the bus does not say "Peligro" on the bus, since I heard about that driver. (The locals in Petatlan asked us how we got there. When we told them, the all laughed wryly and said something about the bus of the dead. We knew.) We "take off." We sit at the back with the idea that if there was a head on crash, we had a better chance of survival. A local young man sat across from us. He was scared too. He said the driver was going too fast. No one told the driver to slow down. I was not going to risk that admonishment to him. He might really drive fast then. The way I figure it, we did class five rapids: it was another hellofa ride. But, this guy did not make the sign of the cross. Oh how I missed that.

We made it back to Zihua. We go the heck off that bus as soon as we recognized something. We got a taxi. We shopped in Zihua and bought some coffee, painted pots and stuff.

Oh, yeah, the gold prices: $100 goes a long long way. Anything you can get there is probably cheaper than anywhere in the area. I saw no silver to speak of, tho. No pottery to speak of, just gold earrings, necklases, medallions, rings, at 10 carat and 14 carat. Be sure to ask which it is, 10 or 14 before you complete your shopping. And the craftsmanship of the gold is comparable to any in the States. Most of the gold was for personal adornment.

Well, we survived the experience. There is no reason on earth the bus company or government (who ever runs those buses) should allow them to drive like they drive. Many more people would use the buses and live to tell about it. I suspect that if anyone sued the driver or company for injuries, it would be a frivilous suit in Mexico. Here, the guy would be tried and convicted of a crime for gross negligence, and criminally negligent homicide, you name it. Apparently, the drivers make money by how many passengers they pick up. And, I guess they think if they catch up to the bus ahead of them and pass them, they can pick up more passengers.

Would I do it again? Yeah, but the odds are against survival. Would I go to Petatlan again? In heartbeat.

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