Our first trip on the Durango Mazatlán Highway and the Baluarte Bridge

About one week ago, we were fortunate to drive to Durango and back on the new Durango-Mazatlán toll road. Why were we lucky? Well, first of all the road is brand new with the key part (a.k.a. the middle) only being open for less than 10 days. Second, the road contains 63 bridges and 115 tunnels – very cool. Third, the road includes the Baluarte Bridge, the highest cable-stayed bridge in the world and the longest in North America. Fourth, two days after we returned, Tropical Storm Sonia hit hard in that area of Mexico, closing the road for 36 hours and doing damage to this beautiful new highway that will be apparent for years to come (watch video in this story to see for yourself). You can read all the facts and figures here and below is a video we recorded through the sunroof.

We were door to door in three hours. By that I mean from our door on the malecón to the door of our hotel in the historic district of Durango in three hours. This includes stopping to pay tolls and one gas station stop. I did not include stopping to take pictures of the Baluarte Bridge which you can look through by clicking on any of the photos below.

The road provides an alternative to the free road, known as El Espinazo del Diablo, or the Devil’s backbone. This road took from five to eight hours for the same journey and includes countless switchbacks and hairpin turns and numerous encounters with busses, trucks, cows, burros and bicycles all on a two lane road with little or no shoulder. It was frequently closed due to accidents and mud slides and was a nightmare when the clouds were thick enough to reduce visibility to near zero. The new road is two lane most of the way, but has ample shoulders for passing or for emergencies and is about as straight as a mountainous road can get.

The tunnels range from short and sweet to awesome. Some have natural daylight “windows” while other rely on electric lights. Only four or five were long enough to lose the satellite connection to our NAV system. The longest is called El Sinaloense and is 2.8 Km long and has such cool lighting it feels like you are passing through or participating in a video game. Here is a video:

According to my passengers, the views were incredible. Passing over the bridges provides an incredible vista and the rock formations around the tunnels are truly awesome. There are no real services on the road yet, but you can see where they are being built. They should be available soon.

I highly recommend this road. It is much safer and efficient. The tolls round trip will be about 1,000 pesos which is not chump change. You will save a lot of gas compared to the old road and arrive sooner. I understand that the high price of the tolls is an issue and the governor of Sinaloa is “looking into it.” Texas is now a one day’s daylight drive thanks to this road – well, at least in summer.

***One important note about safety. The bridge is a huge attraction and many people want to stop and take pictures. Unfortunately, the topography of the land did not allow for a viewing area. So, what people are doing, us included, is simply stopping in the right lane and walking around (the bridge does have four lanes). This is perhaps a little foolish with cars coming out of a tunnel at you going well over 60 miles per hour. But, this is the system, at least for now. Word on the street is that the cruise ships are planning excursions to “see the amazing new bridge.” I can’t wait to see dozens of tourist vans taking up the right lane while tourists pose for pictures. Drive carefully everyone.

Día de los Muertos en Durango

You may recall that last month we went to Durango, prior to the road opening. This weekend we had to go again. Thank GOODNESS the road was open! The Baluarte Bridge is incredible, and the entire drive is unbelievably gorgeous and easy (three hours door to door). Greg will write more about that in a separate post.

We were heartbroken to miss the callejoneada for Day of the Dead here in Mazatlán, but we thought we’d share with you a glimpse of what Día de los Muertos looks like elsewhere. In Durango the cemeteries were full of people, of course—flowers, cleaning, bands, praying and partying. The city also hosted a hot air balloon festival. In the main plaza, in front of the cathedral, there was a large “Day of the Dead” display set up. It contained a dozen or more life-sized papier maché katrinas and other scenes, plus a few stages for performances.

Durango was completely different this time, primarily because last time we were there it was the height of their major annual cultural festival. Streets, plazas and restaurants were much less crowded this time around. Below are some photos we took this trip—a favorite new restaurant, some street scenes, and the plaza display. Click any photo to enlarge or view a slide show.

On Friday night Greg and I wandered back down to the plaza while Danny studied for his test, and there was a children’s folkloric dance group performing. What was out of the ordinary about this one was that the kids all dressed up as calacas—skeletons—and in glow-in-the-dark costumes. The stage was lit with black lights, so it was a pretty cool effect. We enjoyed it a lot.

Just prior to the performance, the little kids had fun posing for my camera. During the performance, shots were of course very challenging, as it was very dark and the kids were constantly moving. They danced to some songs you’d expect—Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” for example—and they also took us on a tour around México.

I put together a short (three minute) video of the performance. I trust you’ll enjoy watching it. The kids had soooo much fun in their costumes. They knew they looked great.

On the pedestrian street to the left of the cathedral, just down from Hostal de las Monjas and across the street from our favorite little cenaduría, El Parcero Tacos Bar, is a large funeral home, Funerales Hernández. They had an altar to Jenni Rivera that was larger and more superb than ANY I have EVER laid my eyes on. They called it a “Monumental Altar de Muertos.” It contained dozens of life-sized katrinas, ceramic and sugar skulls, antique and artesenal chachkes, Jenni Rivera music playing (not too loud), a mini disco ball for effect, and gorgeous paper work. Just take a look:

On our way back to the hotel, we walked by the old Palacio Municipal. It was all decorated for Day of the Dead, too. Those photos are below.


This Weekend in Durango

Well, since the SATs (college entrance exam for many schools in the USA) are held in Mazatlán only in the springtime, we drove to Durango this weekend so Danny could take the test. The last two times we drove that route, it took 3 and 3 1/2 hours for us to get from Mazatlán to Durango. This time, on Friday, it took 5 1/2! Granted, it was raining and foggy, and there was a whole lot of truck traffic. But we counted only 18 tunnels and 12 bridges that we crossed. We would swear that more of the new highway was open the last times we went. Perhaps more has closed due to damage from the recent heavy rains?

Needless to say, we arrived on Friday evening much later than we would have preferred, since we had to get up at the crack of dawn to get Danny to the test. But we had a great weekend! Unbeknownst to us, Durango is celebrating its 450th birthday (since summer), and right now is the Festival Cultural Revueltas—music, literature, dancing, theater. The streets were packed and all were having a grand time. While we have seen a lot of folkloric dancing in our day, it was the first time we’d witnessed ballet folkloric danced to banda music!  (I post a short video below, if you’d care to see.)

We stayed in a beautiful hotel very near the American School, where the test was held—the Hotel Gobernador.  Click on any photo below to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

While Danny took the test, Greg and I spent a whopping 20 pesos to go round-trip on the teleférico, or gondola, one of four in Mexico. What a gorgeous day we had, and such incredible views! At the top of the route is the Santuario de Nuestra Señora de los Remedios, a beautiful, small, and very old church, dating back to the founding of the city itself (and worship at the site by native Mexicans even earlier). (Click on any photo below to view it larger or view a slideshow.)

At the top of the gondola, a group of folkloric dancers were performing. Many of them were the same dancers that we’d happen to see again that evening in the Plaza de Armas. (Click on any photo below to view it larger or view a slideshow.)

Once Danny was finished with the test, we ate lunch at an incredible restaurant, Esquilón (Hidalgo #411, tel 618-811-1632). The space was awesome, the food was very, very good, and they have loads of private party areas. We  highly recommend it. (Click on any photo below to view it larger or view a slideshow.)

As part of the festival there was a handicraft market going on. As always, I was interested in the native peoples. There was a lovely Huichol couple doing beadwork, and several Tepehuanos sewing barbasca de pino/pine needle basketry. While we weren’t able to make it this trip, there is an Artesanías Tepehuana (O’dam) at Tuxpan 227, cel. 618-151-9862 or 618-116-8849. We also learned that there is an Indigenous Art and Culture of Durango Cooperative at Isla Acerralvo 211, cel. 618-171-9661 that sounds well worth visiting. Danny was able to buy a nice birthday gift for his friend, made of animal skin, so he was also quite happy. (Click on any photo below to view it larger or view a slideshow.)

Our favorite part of Durango, always, has been the beautiful architecture. The climate there seems to be so much more forgiving than ours here in Mazatlán, and they light the buildings up so gorgeously at night! It is breathtaking.

Finally, let me share with you some various shots of children playing and other city scenes.

Once the highway and the Puente Baluarte are truly open, they are predicting that the trip to Durango will take 2 1/2 hours. Even at 4 hours, it is well worth a visit!