PUERTA de SAN MARCOS, MEXICO – There are several things I have always found sad about Mexico.
One is that there is a country of such diverse beauty so close, and I know so little about it.
I also find it sad that the same country hasn't done better by its people.
I have to admit, I have a fondness for our neighbors to the south. I have often thought about retiring there, maybe to some picturesque mountain village. But I know that is never going to happen. Even with my wife Liz' Mexican heritage the country just has too many problems, most of their own doing, but some with our help.
Flying over northern and western Mexico to Mazatlan recently I was truly amazed at what I saw 36,000 feet below. It was the same on the ground as we drove to the villages of El Salto and Puerta de San Marcos.
First off it was easy to tell where Texas ended and Mexico began from the air. The landscape in South Texas was dotted with drilling sites from the Eagle Ford Shale play. It has made South Texas royalty owners wealthy. It has brought jobs to the most impoverished part of Texas, but it has also left thousands of pockmarks on the landscape, forever changing what was some of this state's most rugged country.
Then there was the Rio Grande, and the oil riches disappeared. Instead there was Chihuahuan Desert, hardscrabble farmland and then the Sierra Madre mountains jutting skyward in the middle of it all.
Scattered about were tiny villages. From the air you couldn't see the traditional flat roof Mexican homes, but you could distinguish the streets, see the reflections from the chrome on automobiles and see the land where the residents made their living. A few fields were irrigated from nearby rivers and apparently wells.
As the plane flew over village after village, I began to make out roads that led from one to another, and I wondered what it would be like to drive down them much the way you would a summer vacation to see grandma in Kansas or the Florida beaches.
In the coming days I got a small taste of what I might have seen as a group of seven fishermen and our driver, Alfonso, made our way around a small portion of the state of Sinaloa, the Mexican state made most famous by the drug cartels.
I wasn't surprised to see the colorful paint on some of the houses, nor did I find a horse walking freely across the highway in one village out of the ordinary. But I was a little surprised to see a John Deere dealership. The towns weren't as isolated as I thought.
I found the open-air cafes in every town fascinating, and wondered how the tacos were. I was also captivated by the shrines built to those who had died, some apparently in wrecks and others just honored at the front gate of their ranch or in the local cemetery.
I also noticed an entrepreneur spirit in the form of small shops selling most everything from chanklas or sandals in small leather shops to fruit stands under roadside tents and the ever-present beer stand marked by the Carta Blanca or Pacifico signs. They were certainly more numerous then Pemex gas stations on our route.
Although I was there to fish with Ron Speed Jr. Adventures, we were visiting lakes in the farm country of the Sierra Madre Mountains just east of Mazatlan. That, in fact, is why the lakes are there. To provide irrigation water to farms of all sizes growing corn, tomatoes, peppers and even acres of ornamental flowers grown under massive brown tents.
It just so happens that those irrigation lakes also grow healthy largemouth bass that Americans and the occasional Mexican fishermen can catch sometimes by the hundreds a day, and because of long growing seasons with some weighing 10 pounds or more.
What we did not find on our trip was trouble. If there is a problem for American tourists it never showed up during a week on the lakes or traveling, but that was because the Malakoff-based company and its Mexican partners have more than years experience in guiding American fishermen through Mexico, Brazil, Venezuela and even at one time, Cuba.
Ron Speed Jr., who took over the company from his father two years ago, offers a simple rule for maneuvering Mexico in this era, go with an established company. He said the problems tourists are most likely to face are the same ones they could find in the wrong parts of Dallas or Houston. Outfitters who know what they are doing don't put their clients in those locations.
In fact, the only incident on the trip occurred at DFW Airport when a friend sat down his stuff waiting for a shuttle bus and someone stole his camera, computer, wallet and car keys.
Although there are some Americans that do, I am not ready to drive through Mexico even though I want to.
Mexico is the land of imperfection. From the way buildings are built to the way people drive and even the government are off skelter a little. But those things can be overlooked with the scenery, the friendliness of its people and especially a good day's fishing.
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