Cartel Trouble

We’re Ok, as I write this we are at a nice resort hotel in Mazatlán, Sinaloa Mexico. Getting here was an adventure of sorts. I’ll get caught up with a quick summary of our trip to Sinaloa where Mexican authorities arrested the son of El Chapo of the Sinaloa Cartel on Thursday Morning. Article HERE.

Mexican authorities have again arrested cartel leader Ovidio “El Ratón” Guzmán, son of incarcerated Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, and leader of the “Los Chapitos” faction of the Sinaloa Cartel. According to official sources cited in the newspaper Reforma, the operation occurred around 4:40 a.m. Thursday morning in the city of Culiacán in Sinaloa. 

Tuesday January 3

We crossed the border on Tuesday morning and rode as far as the small town of Puerto Penasco which is almost at the northernmost tip of the Sea of Cortez. The border crossing was easy, there was no waiting with the bikes as we crossed into Mexico and there was no line at the immigration office where we got out travel permits stamped. It was all super chill, we didn’t see any immigrant lines, or camps or anything. I did talk to an older woman from Arizona while exchanging money. She was in Mexico with her dog getting less expensive veterinary care.

It was still a little cool but we were looking forward to warmer weather ahead. We sere starting to get into “Mexico mode”.

With the ultimate goal of riding to Oaxaca in the southern part of Mexico we decided to stick along the coast of the Sea of Cortez. This would take us through the state of Sonora which is one of the larger Mexican states and then Sinaloa further south. Wednesday morning we got a reasonably early start and rode south towards Sinaloa on some two lane roads that were mostly empty. The Sonoran desert surrounded us most of the day as we blasted along on lonely roads.

We met these guys who were on a one month trip through Mexico on little Italika motorcycles. They rode all through Baja and were on their way to the southern Mexican state of Chiapas. Ok, that was amazing. The couple were riding two-up on a 250cc.

We spent Tuesday night in San Carlos Nuevo Guaymas. We picked that spot because we stayed there once before and there was a fun outside restaurant with live music.

Wednesday, January 4

Wednesday we continued our ride south and were mostly in the state of Sonora. Our stop for the night was the small Pueblo of El Fuerte, meaning “The Fort”. El Fuerte was named a Pueblo Mágico (“Magical Town”) in 2009. Just inside the Sinaloa northern border we rode some backroads to the small community where we checked into Hotel Torres del Fuerte. The hotel was an old converted hacienda turned into a “boutique” hotel.

As usual, the hotel entrance was just a gate and a wall without a real sign which caused us to ride around the block a few times to find it.

We felt totally safe walking around the center of town at night looking at the lights and all the activity. Even for a Wednesday night everyone seemed to be out with their families. Kids were running everywhere and the ice cream shops were doing a good business.

The main square was still all lit from the holiday season.

There was a line of families waiting to get pictures with the decorations.

Deby and I found a rooftop restaurant that had backlit stone tables. How could she say no to that?

Thursday January 5

The day of the arrest started for us as a normal morning. We were up early and walked the few blocks to the center of town looking for coffee and then some breakfast. We found a small shop to feed us but we were the only customers. Hmmm, maybe not that unusual, we were early but not that early, probably about 8:00 AM.

Back at our hotel we were getting ready, packing and starting to load the bikes when there was a loud knock on the door. A woman was there who seemed to work at the hotel. She didn’t speak English but I knew enough Spanish that she was asking what time we would be leaving. I told here in about an hour, maybe less. She said no, no es possible. Then in rapid fire Spanish got rather excited. All I really caught is that we couldn’t leave. Huh?

I wasn’t really sure what that was all about so I decided to load up the bikes and see how long we would have to wait. Seeing us carrying out our bags caused a little commotion and then another hotel guest came over who spoke some English. He explained that the whole city was under lockdown because of the nearby violence. I was beginning to think ok, maybe this IS serious. I started checking my phone.

There were only a few guests at the hotel, us and two families on vacation from Baja. They were part of a tour group who were supposed to spend the day and then take the famous train ride to Copper Canyon. Everyone was on their cell phones trying to get the latest news. It wasn’t good.

Both roads in and out of town were blocked with burning vehicles and multiple places where roadside vegetation was ablaze. The main highway south towards Mazatlán was completely closed. There was fighting in the city of Culiacan, where Ovidio Guzmán was captured. Our route went almost through the city. The map below shows were we were circled in yellow and Culiacan.

So there we were…. not even allowed to leave the hotel. The city was quiet and we all hung around wondering what to do.

Around 2:00 in the afternoon the hotel announced they were opening the bar, a very small room with four stools. Soon we were busy getting to know our new best friends from Baja.

Friday January 6

We weren’t sure what to expect when we woke up in our room. The old hacienda was built like a fort with one foot thick stone and mortar walls, our room had a small window that looked out onto a small street. I opened the shutter as the sun was rising and didn’t see or hear much activity. Were we still in lockdown? I heard some movement in the courtyard and went out to find a couple of early risers with a carafe of coffee. Yes, that is what I needed first, hot coffee. I brought Deby her coffee in bed (a tradition for us) and went back out to check the news. Yes, we were told the roads were open and we were free to go.

With this bit of good news Deby and I decided we should pack up an go. There was no restaurant at the hotel and we didn’t really want to walk around finding one so we each ate one of our “emergency” protein bars and called that, and another cup off coffee, our breakfast. It was 303 miles to Mazatlán and Mr. Google said it would take all of 6 hours.

Even though we were in a hurry I wanted to start the day by lubricating the chain on Deby’s bike. We were in the parking lot with the bikes fully loaded as I tried to lift her motorcycle on the center stand. Suddenly, the fully loaded bike started tipping over and there was nothing I could do to stop it. What the??

One side of the center stand wasn’t attached! Dang, we couldn’t ride like that because if it fell off and got tangled in the rear wheel that could be really bad, causing a crash. Arrrg, I took off my jacket and got out my tools and played around with it for awhile. I finally decided the best thing to do would be to remove the stand and tuck it away for the ride.

Eventually, the hotel staff opened the ancient gate that protected the courtyard and our bikes and we were on our way.

Wow, even we were surprised at what we saw. Truly, we shouldn’t have left the day before. Right outside of town were the carcass’ of burned out school busses that were clearly blocking the road the day before. Multiple locations along the road had smoldering evidence of roadside burning. As we approached the main highway we saw more and more evidence of burned vehicles that were used to block the roads.

The carnage became more evident as we rode closer and closer to Culiacán, the epicenter of the activity.

The toll booths were still mostly blocked with only a single lane in each direction.

It was clear the military was now in charge, there were many checkpoints along the way.

The backups on the highway extended for miles, no really, miles and miles. It would have been dark when we reached Mazatlán except that it’s normal for motorcycles to ride on the shoulders in Mexico.

We probably dodged around at least 20 burned out trucks and cars and piles of debris. Sometimes they were on the side of the road taking up “our” lane so we weaved between stopped semitrucks.

We made it safely to Mazatlán about 4:00 PM after fighting slow local traffic. Our only meal for the day was the one protein bar in the morning. We were tired, hot, hungry and thirsty and not at all too proud to check into one of the nicer resort type hotels along the beach.

So now what? We are going to sit tight here for a few days and see what settles out with the violence. I think we’ll be ok. We’re not too far from the southern border of Sinaloa and I’m told it’s clear after that.

Thanks for following.

Donn and Deby

Oh- I’m told the comments section is now working.

12 thoughts on “Cartel Trouble

  1. I saw on FoxNews that there was a definite war going on down in Mexico. I can’t believe you guys were right in the middle of it. There was a lot of shooting and violence. And they said that the Mexican military was not winning! Glad you’re getting out of that area.

  2. Wow! I love how you two go with the flow. That said, it’s good you stayed put at “The Fort.” The backlit stone tables are amazing, BTW.
    That’s some dramatic documentation of the aftermath in Culiacan.
    Stay safe, enjoy Mazatlan and thanks for taking us along for the ride.

  3. I love the pictures! The backlit stone table must have sent Deby swooning–so cool!!! The documentation of the aftermath drama in Culiacan is unsettling, and it’s good you waited a day at “The Fort” and are now in Mazatlan.
    Thanks for taking us along for the ride! Stay safe!

  4. Checkin’ the comment section for you.
    Happy New Year, Joe and Dee and safe travels!

  5. Una palabra…. Hijole!

    I’m still giggling bc Deby msg me asking if we were OK due to flooding while she’s in cartel lockdown

    Hopefully everything will be fine to continue south!



  6. Donn and Deb or Bonnie and Clyde? Great adventure! You guys sure do travel a long way for a good margarita

  7. Wow
    Another wild adventure for you big time rain, all those Burned up truck and now what is with the Mazatlan airport under attack ?
    Tom and Torleif Samuelsen

  8. Holy cow! It is really strange to see actual evidence of that violence. We read about it on the news but we sure didn’t know you guys were there! Glad you were careful. Remember: never pass up an opportunity to be safe in the bar!

  9. OMG! How scary for you and I felt it as I read about it. Please enjoy the ride but do be extra careful. Did you fix the bike?

  10. Well …. Another adventure !!! Following you again …. My Chilena is in Chile …. Have fun … and thanks for your stories …. Tom and Julia (Mequon)

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