Mexican Travel - How Safe Is it?

Tuesday, February 25, Copola, Sinaloa, Mexico

To reach this rather isolated but colorful village, one must abandon the cuoto, or state toll highways and take the libre, or toll-free roads.  Highway 40, the road to Copola, is uphill and twisty. Small monuments in the form of crosses covered with flowers were placed along the roadsides honoring those who lost their lives on this two-lane highway. Signs advising cautionary driving were also plentiful.

As we drove up the mountain, I recalled last year’s journey along this same highway. Then I’d observed a young man riding a donkey along the roadside. He wore a large-brimmed straw sombrero to ward off the sun in this tropical setting, and both he and the slow moving animal seemed in no hurry to reach their destinations.

"There used to be more places to stop along here."`Cecil pointed out a couple of closed restaurants along the way. A hotel and restaurant, once crowded with tourists bussed from nearby Mazatlan, was also closed. We learned that Mazatlan’s cruise ships had stopped providing tours to Copola in the wake of the increased presence of drug cartels.

But Hortensia, the 85-year-old proprietress of the Souvenir Mexicanos shop near the town’s entrance was still there, and It was she who I sought out. Small and agile, she’d made quite an impression on me last year when we visited Copola, with talk of her children who lived in Guadalajara. Hortensia small shop offered works by Mexican artisans from Tonala. With an engaging smile, she carefully wrapped our purchases of ceramic coffee cups and wall hangings. A nice touch for motorists touring the country.

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Hortensia, Souvenirs Mexicanos

 

On preparing to explore more of the village, we met an interesting couple: Kent and his lovelyl wife Rocie. They invited us into their patio for a cool drink and conversation. He is a photographer and had several of his works displayed on their patio fence. He lamented the lack of tourists due to the drug problem. We’d been in Mazatlan the previous week when the much publicized arrest of a drug kingpin went down. 

The couple recommended we visit the church on the town plaza.

"You should drive up," advised Kent. "The streets are steep and narrow."

We parked the car near the plaza. It seems that every town in Mexico has plazas near a church. A teen-aged boy approached us. After describing the attributes of the area, Jose displayed a collection of wooden carvings he'd created. I purchased a small church carving. The young sculptor had managed to carve tiny birds on the piece.

“You should begin signing your works, Jose,” I advised. “One day you’ll be famous, and I’ll be proud to say I knew him when.”

That afternoon, we stopped in Tepic, the Nayarit state capitol, for lunch at Emiliano’s Restaurant. Cecil, a fan of Emiliano Zapata, was enchanted with the portraits of his hero all over the well-appointed establishment. The restaurant was highly recommended by the Lonely Planet Mexican guidebook, and were they right on! 

We returned to Mazatlan that evening--after checking out more Lonely Planet recommendations. The Hotel Belmar, hailed as one of movie star John Wayne’s favorites at the height of his stardom, beckoned primarily because of its location overlooking the sea. The hotel was ancient and crumbling in places, but the view, as promised, was spectacular.

Cecil and I had a lovely evening walking on the windswept sandy beach after dinner in a nearby restaurant.

 

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View from inside the Church at Copola