Tuesday, 12 November 2013

A side trip to Guanajuato and Guadalajara

On my last journey back to Mazatlan from Alberta and Houston in September, I took an opportunity to take a side-trip on the way and check out Guanajuato.  Since I was taking a direct flight from San Antonio, Texas to Mexico City on the Mexican airline, Interjet, that arrived at noon, I decided to take a luxury bus that afternoon all the way to Guanajuato, which was about six hours away.  

For those who don't know this already, the luxury bus system in Mexico is excellent.  There are several competing companies such as ETN and Primera Plus with a wide-ranging choice of routes and frequency.  Their websites are fairly easy to navigate even though they are in Spanish - Google translates them anyway.  One can purchase a ticket online and just show up at the counter at the bus station, or just go to the station and purchase on the spot.  There are discounts for booking and paying online.

There were buses leaving Mexico City every half hour to Guanajuato so I decided to fly in and get a taxi to the station before purchasing in case there were delays.  I landed at noon and was on the bus at one.  The ticket price equaled about $35.  

There is a protocol at the bus station one must follow and it's a good idea to know this ahead of time if your Spanish is limited.  At the ticket counter, the clerk will show you on their computer screen the choices for departure times, then your choice for seat location.  Once the ticket is purchased, they will circle the post number where the bus will pull into.  Generally, you are allowed through a security checkpoint about 30 minutes before departure time.  Before that you will wait inside the terminal area.  When the bus pulls in and about 5 minutes before departure, one lines up in front of a cart by the bus where you will be given a bag with a sandwich and asked what you want to drink.  They do have water in bottles as well as soda.  This is included in the ticket price.  Then you can get on the bus and find your seat. 

At your seat there will be a head-set for watching a variety of movies on the TV screen on the back of the seat in front of you, if you wish.  I found they had some fairly good movies with good choices.  The seat reclines almost flat and there is a pull-down foot-rest.

I have been on several bus trips in Mexico now and have found the buses to be clean and very comfortable, and the drivers are extremely good.  The ride is smooth - no speeding or reckless driving.  I arrived in Guanajuato around 6 pm and took a taxi to my hotel right in the center of the city, Hotel San Diego.  In the picture above, I am looking down on the roof of the hotel next to the dome of the Church of San Diego and adjacent to the main public square, Jardin de la Union.

It was a fantastic location for just stepping out the door and going for a stroll around the historic area.  I won't be going into any touristy descriptions of Guanajuato and what to see - there are plenty of websites for that.  I found it just delightful, colorful, and architecturally a lot like the centuries-old towns of Italy or France. I stayed 3 nights.  The Hotel San Diego is comfortable but basic accommodations in an old restored building keeping in character with the surroundings.  There was an elevator, but it was old and manually-run so after getting myself stuck in there once and not knowing how to open the doors, I used the stairs.

I took a guided tour one of the days in a van with two women from Monterrey, Mexico who didn't speak English, but the tour guide spoke both languages.  I think I saw many of the tourist highlights, including the gruesome but interesting Mummy Museum.  The earth in the area has a unique set of properties that preserve bodies of the dead in a mummy-like fashion.  The mummies there are sent out to various scientific facilities all over the world to be studied since they are so unique.

On the 4th day, I took a bus to Guadalajara, which took about 6 hours, and stayed the night - only exploring the immediate area of the hotel since it was evening, but it there was a beautiful public square and cathedral nearby and I was able to get these beautiful photos.

In the morning, I took another bus through the Sierra Madres mountains to Mazatlan.  That was the most beautiful and scenic ride of the three, and also took about 6 hours.

It is sometimes more enjoyable to take trips like this with another person or persons, but I get something out of doing it by myself too.  I guess I feel more adventurous!

Sunday, 3 November 2013

How to find a rental and live inexpensively in Mazatlan - Part 3

Probably the most-read posts here are the ones about the cost of living in Mazatlan so I thought I would do an update.  Is it still cheap to live in Mazatlan?


I now live in a spacious two-bedroom, 2 bathroom apartment in a secure building steps from the ocean.  Because it wasn't furnished, the rent for a one-year lease was 4,500 pesos per month - or about $350 Canadian or US. It isn't fancy.  It's a little rough around the edges.  The kitchen needs an overhaul, and the bathrooms an update.  But, it has a front patio with lush plants that were left by a previous tenant, a utility room off the kitchen for a washer and dryer (I only bought a washer - used - for about $300), a cement sink, the water heater and gas tank.  It is open-air - the back wall is a lattice of brick facing the back parking lot.  I'm on the ground floor so no stairs to climb but any patio furniture will have to be chained down because it would be easy to steal at street level, whereas my upstairs neighbours have a small deck but can leave their furniture out.

The gas tank costs about 400 pesos to fill - usually about every 2 or 3 months depending on usage.  It is used to heat the hot water tank and for the little second-hand gas stove in the kitchen.

I pay the landlord 100 pesos a month for water that comes from the tinacas (big water storage units) on the roof - that's water for the kitchen and bathrooms.  I buy bottled water for drinking - a cost of about another 100 pesos a month because I use the convenience of having the building maintenance guy bring the big water bottle to my door when I put an empty one out.

Electricity is normally only about 200 pesos a month but goes up to about 500 a month with using the air-conditioner in summer.

Megacable kind of rips me off for internet - I may look into switching to the only other service, Telmex. Megacable forces me to take a package that includes cable TV and phone in order to have internet which is 649 pesos a month.  I don't own a TV and probably won't.  I can't stand watching TV with commercials anymore and watch movies or TV series on Netflix instead.

So, all told, my monthly fixed costs add up to about $460 a month on average.

Food and entertainment.  Well, that is quite variable depending on how often I eat out (lots).  But, someone on a stricter budget could eat well at home for about $200 a month by mainly shopping at the Central Market.  Going out is a lot cheaper than in North America - a lot cheaper.  I was just up in Canada and the US and, particularly in Canada, eating out is a budget-buster.  Here you can still have a full meal for about $5.00 to $10.00 if you don't drink alcohol, and even then, the beer is cheap - about $1.50 a bottle, or less. Drinking wine is more expensive at about $4.00 to $5.00 a glass.  Mixed drinks might be somewhere in between unless you ask for an imported brand.  Mexico produces a brand of vodka and gin that is cheap but not great.  And, of course, there are plenty of brands of tequila.

The variety and quality of restaurants have increased in the last three years, with new ones popping up every year.  I must admit that it is a popular activity in my group to make the rounds and try them out, or to just hang out at one of the favourites.  Most of them are indoor-outdoor, and along the malecon in Olas Altas where I live, it is just wonderful to sit and watch the sun go down and all the people walking along the waterfront with a group of friends.

Going to the movies is refreshingly inexpensive.  There are several good multiplexes that run new releases in English for as little as $3.00 per ticket.  Even the popcorn and snacks are reasonably priced.

I also buy a travel health insurance policy for emergencies but for minor illness, I can see a doctor in a local clinic for about $30 and prescriptions for most common medicines like antibiotics are cheap.  I can see a specialist for just about anything the next day usually for about $40 to $50.  The best money-saver though is dentistry.  The dentist and endodontist I see are extremely professional, pain-free, and the prices are a fraction of what I would pay in Canada.  My husband recently needed two root canals and two crowns.  He was able to get everything done in 5 days with no prior appointment for about $1,200.  Can that even be done in that short a time in North America, let alone at that price?

I recently went and looked at some alternative properties just to see what was out there.  I was considering renting a house instead of an apartment because I have the two dogs who might be better off with more access to the outdoors.  I am rather stuck on living in Old Centro though, and I love being so close to the waterfront, so my choices are limited.  There are many other areas to live though.  I did see a one-story home in Centro, but 8 blocks from the waterfront.  It was two-bedroom, one bathroom, very spacious with a modern kitchen, a washer AND dryer, two outdoor patios and a secure parking spot.  It was furnished too.  I could have rented it for about $450 to $500 a month if I committed to a one year lease, but the previous tenants had rented for 6 months for $600.  The big drawback for me?  The distance inland.  But it was closer to the Central Market and about equal distance to the main public square, Machado Square.  So, for now I have decided to stay where I am.  I hate moving anyway.