After over 6 months in the El Rancho RV Park we finally decided it was time to get back on the road. Both a lot and very little has happened since our last post. We mostly stayed at the RV park passing the days with homeschooling and occasional parties such as my birthday party and Olivia’s birthday party. My birthday was rather low key but we went all out for Olivia’s birthday. The other resident’s pitched in to help decorate a mermaid theme, made a photo booth and I even got her a bounce house.
Slowly, despite mostly isolating we learned more and more about Oaxaca. We found a take out food stand nearby that had the most delicious rotisserie chicken and even a whole pig on a spit that was hand turned to perfection. I bicycled several miles to the Sam’s Club and Home Depot. We found places that delivered Chinese food and Sushi.
We even found out that the world’s widest tree was just a 10 minute walk in the nearby town of El Tule, which fittingly enough is named for the tree “Arbol de Tule”. The tree is over 2,000 years old and has a circumference of over 137 feet.
Our time at the El Rancho is a very rare and unusual experience for over-landers. Normally we would meet many people, spend a few days or a week with them and then move on, perhaps to meet up again somewhere else later. Here we had a group of travelers stuck together for months and we were able to really get to know everyone. However, as time passed people started leaving, particularly in August and September as they decided that onward travel was impossible and decided to go back to their home. We started out in March with 15 rigs and when we left there were only 2 rigs remaining. After the families with kids left, the park got really quiet and Olivia was a little lonely being the only child in the park.
As it was getting towards the end of September, Mexico had largely reopened and we decided that we should go too, even if just for a change of scenery. The pandemic was still ongoing with all indicators worse than when things first locked down in March. However Mexico, like all countries was learning to live with the disease. Face masks and sanitary practices were widely adopted, treatments had improved and the Mexican hospitals had not been overwhelmed like they were in a few other countries. Restaurants, accommodations, attractions and even some borders had reopened so we decided were were going to the Yucatan for the winter or until more borders re-opened.
One upside of the pandemic was that there were many travel deals and discounts available. One particular deal caught my eye. AM Resorts was offering a great deal which offered three nights oceanfront room for US$570, free upgrade and kid stay free along with 50,000 Choice hotel points. AM Resorts runs a chain of over 50 resorts including the Dreams and Secrets brands. Holly’s birthday was coming up at the end of September so I booked us three nights in an ocean view room at the Dreams Acapulco for $570. Discounting the value of the Choice points would bring the cost to $240 for three nights at the all-inclusive hotel which is a pretty decent deal. I called to make sure the kids club was open and that there would be parking available for Rover.
The three days before departure was a hectic time. Over the last few months we had spread out our stuff and purchased several new things such as an Instant air fryer and a Thermomix. We had to pack and repack all of our stuff, clean out some stuff we didn’t need, figure out how to fit the new things, clean all the stuff before putting it away, perform vehicle maintenance such as checking oil and fluids, check tire pressure, wash and wax the vehicle, sanitize the water tanks, install a new faucet and do a short road drive test. I had discovered that our storage compartment bottom was starting to separate from the walls and was concerned about the weight of all the stuff in our storage compartment once we got everything back into it. We had a heavy plastic bin full of food, some of it from the US so I brought it into the camper to help reduce the weight in the storage compartment a bit and as an incentive to eat the food. No need to carry food around for a year and 4000 miles. It was exhausting but with a hotel reservation to spur us on we had a deadline.
Also one of the local ladies we had befriended came over and showed Holly how to cook her favorite Mexican dish from scratch, Chili Rellenos. It turned out to be a lot of work, and it took them all day to make the dish. However this is one of those experiences that few have, being taught a native dish by a native.
We had a few considerations for our travels. We had hotel reservations at the Dreams All-inclusive at the end of September and we wanted to get to Yucatan around the beginning of November since hurricane season runs through October and it is still quite hot and humid. So our plan is to go to Acapulco, then drive up the Pacific coast to Ixtapa, then return to San Miguel De Allende to visit our friend Deya before taking about a week to drive to the Yucatan.
The two days before our departure date I inflated all my tires to the proper pressure. The day before our departure I woke to find that my front left tire was flat. I re-inflated it but could not find any leaks. Checking again that afternoon showed the tire was holding pressure. We went on our test drive to the local Sam’s Club and had the vehicle washed and waxed at the local car wash.
Our departure day had arrived and of course the last minute packing and cleaning took longer than we thought so we did not pull out until 9:30 AM. We had mixed feelings as we left. We were excited to be travelling again, after all we did not purchase an RV to sit in one place. On the other hand we were a little sad to be leaving the El Rancho as it had proved to be a safe and idyllic refuge from the pandemic.
Google maps estimated a total drive time a little over 8 hours to get from Oaxaca to Acapulco. I knew from experience that it would take significantly longer than 8 hours since Rover is big and slow plus we would need rest breaks. I set our initial destination for a Pemex gas station that was listed in iOverlander has having a secure parking lot. Google estimated the drive to be about five and a half hours.
As we pulled out of Oaxaca I put on the Mama Mia soundtrack which has become our go to travelling music. Between stopping for rest and dinner at a surprisingly decent mall take out Chinese food place named Asia Town in Puebla we arrived at the Pemex at 7:00 pm, just as it was starting to get dark. We filled up gas, pulled into the rear parking lot which was basically an overgrown dirt field and closed up for the night. Frankly it does not matter what the outside looks like once we put our shades up. A little bit of homeschooling for Olivia and it was off to bed.
Google estimated a three and a half hour drive to get to our hotel in Acapulco so I set my alarm for 7:00 AM and figured we would be able to get to the resort by lunch. The room might not be ready but usually at the all-inclusive resorts you can eat and use the amenities until the room is ready so no problem. At 7:30 AM I get out to do a quick walk around before leaving and find that our front left tire is flat again. Unfortunately my air pump is at the very bottom of all our stuff in the storage compartment so I have to unload almost everything to get at it. Anyways I pump the tire back up to full pressure, put everything back in and check the pressure again. Sure enough it had dropped a few pounds of pressure so I knew there was definitely some sort of slow leak somewhere. We did have a bit of luck in that it was a slow leak so I was able to drive to a nearby tire repair place.
The repairman jacked up Rover, but could not find any obvious punctures. He put soapy water on the tire and still could not find the leak. Then he removed the tire and put it into a tub of water. No bubbles. Finally he focused on the valve stem and found that was just slightly leaking. He replaced the valve and was done by 9:30. An hour’s worth of work and a valve cost us a grand total of 40 pesos or about US$1.50. Gotta love Mexico.
Back on the road again until a few miles down the road we hit a toll gate. This is not uncommon for us as there are toll roads all over Mexico and we generally use them as they are in better condition and more direct. However the tolls from Puebla to Acapulco were especially expensive. Most tolls we have run into in Mexico generally run for 50to 300 pesos. The tolls on the way to Acapulco were charging 300 to 500 pesos and there were several toll stops. To add insult to injury, while most of the road was fine, there were some parts that were so poorly constructed that the air conditioner cover fell down due to all the bouncing.
We got a break though when we encountered a toll booth that had been taken over by the locals. This is quite common in Mexico where local townspeople and even local mayors will just take over federal toll booths, drive away the normal workers and just start collecting money for themselves. The locals are often poor and neglected by the federal government so they will help themselves a bit. In fact on that day 18 toll booths across 11 of Mexico’s provinces had been taken over by locals. There were a few dozen locals at the toll booth. About eight or nine fully armed soldiers in military trucks watching from 100 yards down the road but doing nothing. Eventually a large group of federal police will come to retake the toll booth, usually with minimal violence. Anyways we got a break because the locals were only asking 50 pesos to pass which I am certain is much less than the regular toll. Go farmers!
By the time we arrived in Acapulco city it was past 2:00 PM. So much for lunch. The drive through the city was fine until the last bit when we hit the Maxitunel. This is a long toll tunnel going through the middle of Acapulco. Here the toll was almost 500 pesos. We could have gone around on the free city roads but we didn’t know and Google maps directed us through the tunnel. Outrageous.
We get through the tunnel, take the off-ramp and almost immediately get pulled over by a traffic cop. We try to play dumb and the cop tries to tell us that we are violating the oversize vehicle restriction. Eventually the cop asks me to get out and go to the back of Rover and comes down to straight out asking for money for drinks. Aha! The moment I have been expecting since we arrived in Mexico 10 months ago! I am being shaken down by a corrupt policeman. Now my Mexican experience is complete.
From much online research and talking to other travelers, there are a few ways to deal with this situation. The quickest and most obvious way is to simply give the cop some money. This is bad though since it is the equivalent of feeding the bears and encourages crooked cops to target tourists. The second way is to be stubborn. Dare the cop to give you the ticket (which is going to be hard for them to collect on anyway since you are a foreigner) and/or let him take you to the police station. The cop might give up since he can’t buy beer with citations and he doesn’t want to deal with the paperwork that will follow if he takes you to the police station. This is kind of dangerous since police in Mexico have been known to murder people and you may wind up in a foreign jail. In 2018 federal authorities took control of Acapulco’s police and basically disarmed and arrested the entire local police force. The third way to play the stupid gringo can’t speak Spanish card. Play dumb and eventually the crooked cop may decide that it is really not worth his time to get your money and that he can get easier targets elsewhere. The downside to this method is that it takes time and patience. One more way suggested by friends who had travelled through Latin America was to give the cop a form to fill out. This form looks kind official and is to be filled out with details of the incident, identification of the policeman, etc. You tell the policeman that you are happy to give him the fine on the spot but need this form to be filled out as a receipt for the Consulate. My friends say they have had great success as police everywhere are allergic to paperwork and they have gotten out of legitimate violations using the form. Too bad I didn’t have the form printed out.
In the end I was tired from the driving and hungry from missing lunch so I gave the cop 100 pesos which he did not even look at before getting back on his motorcycle and roaring off. Later when I told the story to a foreigner living in Mexico he was surprised at how cheaply I got off. He said in the past when the police pulled him over in Mexico City they demanded 12,000 pesos and settled for just taking 4,000. Of course this is not much different than the Unites States where police regularly use Civil Asset Forfeiture laws to basically pull people over and take their money and vehicles.
Fifteen minutes later we finally arrived at the Dreams Acapulco As we pulled up to reception to check in we found that the staff were all masked and we had to use hand sanitizer before entering the hotel but there was no temperature check. First we had to pay for parking, 240 pesos a day. Then we had to scan a QR code with our phone to fill out a health questionnaire before checking in. There were only two receptionists on duty so it took about 15 minutes to check in. Once we got our keys Holly and Olivia went straight to El Pescador, the Oceanside seafood restaurant while I went to park Rover.
By the time I got to the restaurant I was all hot and sweaty. The temperature was just in the mid 80’s, about 10 degrees warmer than Oaxaca but the humidity was so high that it felt much hotter. El Pescador is one of four restaurants at the Dreams but two of the other restaurants were closed for lunch with the other open restaurant being the barefoot café which served burger and hot dog fare. El Pescador is a lovely open air palapa restaurant overlooking the beach. Too bad the food was mediocre and the service was subpar. It took us almost an hour to get our food. When the food did arrive it was nicely plated but just tasted average.
After filling our bellies we went up to check out our room on the 19th floor. I had booked a standard oceanfront double bed room but had been upgraded to a family suite. This turned out to be two full rooms connected by a corridor, one with a king bed and the other with two double beds. The king room was a corner with floor to ceiling windows, a huge wrap around balcony and great views of both the ocean and city. After taking a peek at the room we went to Rover to get our clothes and stuff. I was really nice that if we forgot anything at home we would just have to go down to the parking lot to get it.
Back in the room we discovered a few shortcomings. The minibars were not stocked and not even plugged in. Also the air conditioning was not very cold and the hot water was not hot. We had a maintenance guy come up but he really didn’t do much. We put everything away and had a rest before going to dinner. There were only two choices for dinner, El Pescador and El Patio, a Mexican restaurant. Since we have a had a lot of Mexican food we went back to the El Pescador for dinner. Instead of physical menus, they had you scan a QR code with your phone which would bring up the menu on the phone. This was one of the many safety precautions instituted by the hotel. The Tuna Takati appetizer was the clear winner of the night with tender cold tuna slices marinated with soy and black sesame. Holly like the Jalapeno chili stuffed with seafood. The White ceviche and the Mahi Mahi main lacked flavor. Olivia got the Beef Fillet Medallions which was a little tough. Once again, all the dishes were nicely plated and the night view was as gorgeous as the day view but the food was lacking and in rather small portions.
One surprise was that there was a bunch of Chinese people at the next table. There were three Chinese ladies with four kids and one dad who was Swedish, named Sam. Of course Holly immediately started chatting with the Chinese ladies and Olivia ended up sitting with the Chinese kids for dinner. Turns out it one of the Chinese ladies was married to the Swedish man and had two kids. Another Chinese lady had the other two kids and her Korean husband couldn’t make the trip so she invited her single Chinese female friend to go instead. They were all living in Queretaro.
After dinner the Chinese group went to bed and we went to the palapa bar where Olivia and I enjoyed a Shirley Temple while Holly ordered a Gin and tonic which was so weak she had to ask them twice to add more gin. Later on Holly did get a decent Kir Royal but in general the drinks were weak. Then we went back to the room where I ordered some room service Caesar salad and a ceviche for a after dinner snack before going to bed.
The next day was Holly’s birthday and the hotel sent a slice of cake in the morning. I was kind of disappointed it wasn’t an entire mini cake but at least they sent something. We went down to the La Ceiba buffet restaurant which was only open for breakfast. Here we found a limited selection of the standard breakfast items with a Mexican twist. Due to the pandemic staff had to serve items from the hot plates to the guests. They had the standard fare of pancakes, waffles, fruit, juice, cereal, omelets, eggs along with Mexican foods as well. It was OK but crowded and they did not have as many items as other resorts we had been to in the past.
One of the main reasons we had come to an all-inclusive resort was that they had a kid’s club which would take care of your kids for you. However it was closed on Wednesdays but would be open on Thursday so that was a bust. Instead we went down to the beach where they set up some chairs for us under an umbrella. This was nice but they had also suspended food and drink service on the beach due to the pandemic. However there were many walking vendors selling food, drink and souvenirs on the beach. Not sure why the vendors could sell food and drink but the hotel couldn’t provide food or drink. Annoying. The surf was also quite strong so we didn’t play in the water that much. The bright spot was that Olivia was able find a couple of small boys to play with.
For lunch there were only two options, El Pescador or the Barefoot café which served burgers and hot dogs. The other two restaurants were closed so we went to El Pescador. The menu did not change at El Pescador during our entire stay which I found to be very annoying since there were only two options. I can understand that with the pandemic forcing the hotel to operate at limited capacity they would institute a number of cutbacks such as closing some amenities but at least they could have rotated the menus or at least had a couple dishes of the day. It was a good thing we were just staying a few days. It would get tedious fast if we were staying for a week or two and faced the same lunch options every day.
After lunch we hung out at the pool where Olivia played again with the same two boys. I figured this was a decent compromise between safety and fun. Yes we took some risk with her being in close proximity to the two boys but as she did not play with anyone else we were limiting the risk since she wasn’t in a large group of kids. Quite late in the afternoon the Chinese group came down to the pool
We went back to the room and cleaned up before meeting the Chinese group for dinner at La Tattoria, which was open for the evening. It was an Italian place with a made to order pasta bar and a salad bar. The food was decent although a bit basic since the only option was pasta or salad although they did have a number of different pasta, sauce and protein options including seafood. After dinner we all went to the free on site coffee shop for dessert before the Chinese kids went to bed. Holly, Olivia, Sam and I went to the beachside palapa bar for a nightcap before turning in.
Our final full day at the Dreams started when I ordered a full spread from the room service breakfast menu. We had Eggs Benedict, French toast, Omlette, hash browns, the works. One of best thing about the Dreams is that their room service staff were really on the ball and did a great job. It was really nice eating in our room with the great view around us.
After breakfast did a little homeschooling before we took Olivia down to the kids club and although they did have a fairly nice facility there were no other kids there and Olivia did not want to stay. So one of our primary reasons for going to the all-inclusive was a bust. Instead we just did a pool day with lunch once again at El Pescador.
For dinner we did something different and went to El Patio, the Mexican restaurant. There we ordered the fish strips, cab corn toasts, stuffed peppers, stuffed pork, the Traditional Pozole and for dessert the Mousse, the Coconut Caramel custard and the rice pudding. We found the stuffed pork to be the best thing with flavorful, very tender pork. The rest was just OK. Now it sounds like we ordered a lot of food but the portions were so small that after we finished we went over to El Pescador where we proceeded to order four servings of the Tuna Taki, three servings of Jalapeno Chili stuffed peppers appetizers and an Asian fried shrimp entrée. Finally sated we went to bed.