Moving to Lake Chapala: Part 3 – Driving Tips

January 26, 2013

Hi Everyone,
I highly recommend driving only during daylight hours. Pace yourself. Don’t drive when you’re unsure how long it will take you to get to a stopping place for the night.
When you think it’s going to be dark before you can get to the next town or place where you can get lodging for the night, go ahead and stop at the first available place.
You do not want to be driving in Mexico at night. This is true even on the modern toll roads, because sometimes the toll roads will have gaps or places where cattle can get on the road or there may be a car broken down without lights.
It’s just better to travel during daylight hours only. Things just look different at night. It’s not more unsafe from a standpoint of robbery or things of that nature; it’s just less safe driving at night.
You don’t see potential obstacles as well, the highways are often not marked well for after dark driving, and you greatly increase your changes of getting lost. Being lost in the dark in Mexico is not a good situation, so please drive only during the daylight hours.
We recommend using the toll roads. Now, I admit I’ve driven for many years on the free roads. I have my own favorite free route from Laredo, and I like it very much, but my wife insists that we drive on the toll roads because she feels more comfortable driving on the toll roads.
The fees using as many of the toll roads as you can from the Laredo border here will amount to about $100 USD. Most people feel its well worth the cost, because you’re less likely to get lost and the roads are better quality and are better patrolled as well.
From time to time, you’ll see solar powered cell phones along the way so that if you break down, you can use these to get help. They’re marked S.O.S.
You may also see the occasional green angel patrol truck. The drivers are usually quite helpful and are paid by the Mexican government to drive these special vehicles loaded with basic materials for doing minor repairs and to help you to arrange tow trucks and the like as needed.
They are clearly marked as service vehicles in green and white colors.
These vehicles are equipped with emergency lights and can divert other vehicles around you as needed while you wait for a tow truck.
They likely will know the closest place for repairs as well.
It’s a wonderful service. You might have to wait some time, but if you get to one of the toll plazas they can call the Green Angel Patrol to help you.
Or you can use one of the solar powered cell phones mentioned earlier.
Communication Help Aids for Travel in Mexico:
Another trick that I recommend before you begin your drive into Mexico is to make yourself some cheat sheet type index cards to fit into pocket or purse.
One card might be for the gas station, so that when you pull into a Pamex station, (the only brand is Pemex – the Mexican government brand), you will know to be able to say something like, “Tres cientos del verde por favor” which means “300 pesos of regular gas please.”
Not only will you get the gas you need, but by asking for a particular number of pesos worth of gas, you don’t have to fumble to try to make change. You can easily pay in the exact amount which makes for a cleaner transaction. It’s much easier if you ask for 300 pesos of gas and give the attendant a 500 peso bill to count your change as he will likely give you a green 200 peso bill or 2 red 100 peso bills.
You should write the various needed phrases out in Spanish. An on line machine translator should handle these basic phrases for your cards.
Then you write it the phrases out phonetically so you know how to say, “Tres cientos de…,” and they’ll give you 300 pesos worth of the low lead gasoline.
The pumps register in liters and pesos per liter. The price now in Mexico is just over $3 a gallon. Again, it’s easier to give them a set number. You’ll eventually learn about how many pesos worth to ask for after a few trials.
Right now, for my car, it takes me about 800 pesos to fill it up when it’s very close to empty. But don’t wait until you’re almost empty.
Fill it up when you have about half a tank, unless you know that for sure there’s going to be another good station to get your gas further down the road without getting dangerously low on fuel.
Sometimes you come up to a gas station and they’ll have a blue and white sign with a number in kilometers and a picture of a gas pump on the highway next to the station.
What that means is the next station is X kilometers down the road. If it’s a big number of kilometers you should you can do the math and figure out if its best to gas up where you are or risk getting low on fuel.
More and more now, especially on the toll roads, I usually wait until I only have a fourth of a tank before I start getting a little worried about how far the next station might be.
If I the think that it’s going to be a long haul before the next station, if my tank shows less than half a tank I’ll go ahead and calculate how many liters I’m likely to need and give them a round number of 300 or 400 pesos worth of gasoline to get up to a comfort level of fuel in my tank.
The reason I recommend getting 300 or 350 or 400 or 500 pesos of gasoline is so it’s easy to pay the exact amount or quite close.
You’ll be unfamiliar with the money, of course, so it’s easier for you, and I still do it, even though I’m very familiar with the money and speak basic Spanish.
If you happen to stop at a station where there a lot of vendors and hawkers and kids hanging around that want to wash your windshield for a few pesos it’s even better to use the exact number of pesos
When there are a lot of people around distracting you, that’s when it would be easier for somebody to reach into your car and get your camera or something. I try to avoid these busy stations.
I really like to get my gasoline at the more remote stations out in the countryside where there’s not a bunch of what I call “hangers on” around the station.
It just makes it easier. Usually the bathrooms are much cleaner and you feel safer, not from people who might rob you, but just to stay away from the pesky sales people trying to sell you everything from A to Z. 
The remote stations are not as busy and are often cleaner and overall nicer.
As far as places to stay, let me tell you how to determine where you want to stay. There are hotels and then there are motels. Even though it may look like a motel, if it says hotel, well that means that it’s a regular hotel or a regular what you would think of as a motel.
But if it says Motel with an “m” well that’s what you and I would refer to in the States as a no-tell-motel, where you can rent rooms by part of the day, maybe two hours or three hours or half a day or all day or all night.
I mention these, not because I expect you’ll want to stay in that kind of a place, but because they’re almost always spotlessly clean. They are a very good bargain for the money as well. They’re also very easy to check into and out of.
They’re easy to spot as they’re usually painted in garish colors. You don’t have to even exit the car to check in. The idea is that no one need see you except the clerk who takes the money.
You just drive up to the window. There’s usually a slot or maybe a speaker that you talk to. They ask you whether you want so many hours or all night. Just say, “Todo la noche por favor.”
The neat thing at these places, in addition to being spotlessly clean, is they’re very safe.
Here the process after you pay. They’ll hand you a clicker, like a garage door remote control looking device. That clicker will have a number on it. Then you drive on in, usually a circuitous path where it twists around a little bit.
You get into the area where the rooms are and you’ll see a number of garage doors typically with a room above or to the side.
There you just look at the number on the clicker and go to the corresponding room. Click and the garage door opens, you pull in, you click it again, and the door shuts behind you.
Now you, your car and the contents are locked inside a fully enclosed garage. For you, the advantage is that you and your car are safe and sound. The rooms are always antiseptically clean and quite nice.
Usually they’ll have extra nice beds and a big screen TV. We even stayed at one such place that had a whirlpool Jacuzzi in the living area. I’ll warn you in advance, if you turn on the TV, you might run across a pornography channel.
These places are a very good value for the money.
All for now. Watch for Part 4 coming soon.

Siempre tu amigo, Sid

  • Jokstergal

    Hi Sid!
    Just would like to know where I can buy your book here NOB. 

  • Sid Grosvenor

    Hi Jokstergal,

    Thanks for your question.

    We hope to publish and have the book out in the first half of this year.

    It will be available from our own order site (web address to be announced) and their will be a bonus when ordered from this site.

    W also will sell the book using and via local businesses in the Lake Chapala

    We’re still considering the exact retail price of the book, but somewhere around $30. This is a bit more than other retirement area books, but it Will Be Worth It!

    Lots of color photos, first grade cover and paper, an index etc. This is not some quickly
    thrown together book printed cheaply using “print on demand”. It will be printed using offset presses. The result will be a superior product.

    Please stay tuned here to for updates.

    Thanks again for your question. Tu amigo, Sid

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