Monday, April 18, 2011

Bus to Patzcuaro and Zintzuntzan

Bus Stations, Zihuatanejo

     The morning of my first bus ride dawned with crisp light through the palms of my posada.  I hurriedly showered and packed; I knew Rene would be on time; Mexico's cab drivers are professional family men, usually, and they are more apt to be early than late.
     Sure enough when I stepped outside at 7:30 am onto the cobble sidewalk he was parked and waiting. Within minutes we were off to the bus station to catch the early bus out of Zihuatanejo.
     At Zihuatanejo's Central de Autobuses (bus station), many bus lines serve much of Mexico including Primera Plus Bus (Flecha Amarilla), Autovias Bus, Turistar, Futura (Estrella Blanca), Tap, La Linea Plus, Costa Line, and Parhikuni Bus. There are other bus stations in Zihuatanejo; it depends on the bus line that you prefer and your destination. The cab drivers always know which station you need.
     We arrived at the terminal and I shook Rene's hand and thanked him. I wanted to lay a five spot on him for great service but was reminded of Wilson's words to Macomber from the Hemmingway short story I had been reading the night before, "You don't want to spoil them." To hell with Hemmingway I thought, this guy spoiled me with his great service.

Central de Autobus,  Bus Station
     At 8:00 Am, the Parhikuni Bus pulled out of the Central de Autobus (Bus Station) and headed northwest along the coast road. We made a stop after a few miles at the resort of Ixtapa to pick up passengers and then continued north towards the city of Lazaro Cardenas.
Play la Ropa, Zihuatanejo
     After Lazaro Cardenas we hooked up with the toll road, Route 37, and headed north towards Uruapan. We were now headed inland and we began to ascend into the mountains. We would eventually rise from sea level to drive through valleys below mountains that ranged to 8000 feet. We had started across the great plateau that is the central spine of Mexico, the area called the Trans Volcanic Belt, the high plain, or Alto Plano. Along that belt of volcanic mountains, gold and silver built Mexico's richest colonial cities.

     My picture window view out the east side gave me a fine look at this beautiful country. I was reminded of Provence, high and dry, higher than the Alpilles, however, and drier. Still the country was lush enough to support a few cattle that I saw thinly scattered in the valleys between the high mountains that loomed in all directions and reflected in the glassy surface of a man-made lake beside the highway.

Artifacts In the Museum at Zihuatanejo   
     We reached Uruapan in Michoacan State after three and a half hours.
     Uruapan is one of the many transportation hubs in Mexico that you might pass through on your way to somewhere else. The area is an interesting colonial town, however, and is most noted for the production and export of Hass avocados.  They also hold a two-week long Easter crafts fair in which native craftspeople from all over Mexico come to compete for prizes and to sell their wares.

     In Uruapan I would catch a local bus that leaves every fifteen minutes for the 35-mile, 40 peso ride to Patzcuaro. First class service is not frequent from Zihuatanejo to Patzcuaro and that is why Rene figured that the two buses would get me there early.  An option could be to bus to Morelia and then bus back via a local bus to Patzcuaro. I would later take a local bus from Patzcuaro to Morelia for the same reason; the trip is short and the bus leaves every 15 minutes.

     On a bus trip, I try to plan the arrival in a city new to me during daylight so that I will have plenty of time to find a hotel. I usually look for a budget hotel and in Mexico it is  usually not necessary to have reservations except during the Christmas and Easter vacation weeks. Otherwise you just arrive for both bus transportation and for lodging.

     Unless I know the area or have a good reference or recommendation from a friend who has visited recently, I prefer to arrive at the Zocolo or historic center of the city and begin my search for a hotel. Usually the Zocalo or central plaza will have one or two hotels and the room rate will be negotiable. If you and the manager are marginally fluent in the same language, and the hotel is not nearly full, you can usually work a deal. I like to see the hotel and inspect the room before booking. I therefore rarely book ahead except during holiday weeks.


Hotel Discount
     If the price is 400 peso a night, I ask if there might be a special for 250 or I ask if there is a discount for more than one night. If the answer is no, I move on to the next hotel. Usually the answer is yes, however; there is a discount and you secure a room for a reduced price.

     This might not be comfortable for every traveler especially for couples or families that need that feeling of security that comes with knowing that you have a hotel room ready for your arrival.

      In smaller towns and cities you could ask the cab driver at the bus station for a recommendation. In the larger cities the drivers often take a commission from the hotel, however, so they might not have your interest at heart. In the smaller towns the cab drivers can often be trusted to give you good hotel advice.

I look for a hotel with a restaurant, rooms with hot water, TV with cable, a quiet room away from the main streets, and a ceiling fan. In the mountains you don't need air conditioning.   I also look for WiFi in room because I will be sending photos and text via the web.

     The local people rarely tip a cab driver and will commonly tip at a restaurant 5 per cent or maybe 10 percent if they are from a large city. Tipping is up to you with 10 percent being considered max. Cab drivers do not expect a tip but if one has been helpful with the luggage or getting maps or giving good advice a tip may be appropriate.

     A driver like Rene in Zihuatanejo, who goes out of his way to help as he did for me when he went into the bus station and arranged my passage, deserves ten percent. When you consider that ten percent of a 40 pesos cab ride is 35 cents it does not seem an excessive tip.  Currency Converter

     I boarded a local bus at the Uruapn station and was soon in Patzcuaro where I left the bus after asking a man if we were near the center of town. He advised me to leave the bus and take a combi. (shared taxi van) This saved me cab fare from the bus station and I was soon in the old central plaza of Patzcuaro and looking for a hotel.

Next, Patzcuaro Hotels and The Ruins of Zintzuntzan

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