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Destination: Mexico : A Boogie Up Mexico's PCH : The setups: four friends, a rented van, no set itinerary. : The locale: little-traveled Highway 200, between Acapulco and Rio Nexpa. : The discoveries: deserted beaches, inexpensive hotels, lush tropical coastline, big surf, no tourists.

December 17, 1995|Hillary Hauser | Hauser is a free-lance writer based in Summerland

RIO NEXPA, Mexico — Improvising truly awful lyrics to the Chuck Berry song "No Particular Place to Go," we meandered our way north from Acapulco on Highway 200. Our rented van was packed with surfboards and gear, all windows wide open to blow away the intense heat and humidity of a Mexican September.

"Ridin' around in our automobile, Bruceee Raph is at the wheel . . ." someone sang. On our left we got occasional glimpses of magnificent blue sea coves, interrupted by houses and jungle greenery that lined the road. "Gimme the diccionario, gotta ask which way to go . . ." someone else chimed in.

We were happy as anything. My husband, Jim, and I were traveling with our good friends Bruce and Karen Raph, and we had been finally liberated from the infernal hassles of travel: the morning flight from Los Angeles to Acapulco, the renting of a van (Dollar) to substitute for one we had reserved but which was not there (Hertz), the unmerciful hauling around of bags and surfboards. We'd survived a one-hour traffic snarl in metropolitan Acapulco a sight completely dumbfounding for anyone, like me, who hasn't visited that city since the late 1960s.

We were off on a follow-our-noses, two-week adventure without reservations along Mexico's version of California's Pacific Coast Highway. Highway 200 follows Mexico's coastline from the Guatemala border to Tepic. Our plan was to drive north from Acapulco to Rio Nexpa, a distance of about 200 miles. Half the driving would be in the state of Guerrero, and half in Michoacan. Most visitors head to the fancy resort areas along this stretch--Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo, Manzanillo, Puerto Vallarta--and miss the wild, unexplored parts of the coastline between them.

We had no set plans other than to wind up at Rio Nexpa, which is nothing more than a point of land halfway between Acapulco and Manzanillo, but is a legendary place for surfers.

There are risks traveling in undeveloped parts of Mexico such as this: the odd encounter with a hotel room where cockroaches are permanent residents, restaurants with dubious standards of hygiene, air conditioners that produce more noise than cool air. But for those who enjoy spontaneous travel--and the attendant joys of discovery--things don't get much better than this.

A few vital tips:

First, the weather in this part of Mexico is hot, muggy and rainy June through October. Jim and Bruce wanted to go in September, probably the worst month of all, because that's when the surf is huge and crazy.

The most pleasant time of year to visit is November through May; according to Surfer magazine's Surf Report, the surf breaks along this coast all year around.

Second, this part of Mexico is known for stories of bandidos. While we met only friendly, helpful Mexicans, the official advice is to refrain from driving at night or off main roads. You don't want to suddenly find yourself accidentally driving in a remote area where, say, illegal marijuana crops might be growing, for obvious reasons, and you don't want to become a target of robbers who easily spot your rented or foreign vehicle.

Also, don't leave your car unlocked or your campsite unattended, hide excess cash and, above all, don't be argumentative in the event of any confrontation, either with locals or federal police if you are stopped. Be nice.


On the advice of an Acapulco cabdriver, we headed to San Jeronimo for our first night: Nice hotels, he said.

On the map, Highway 200 seems divided into short hops between towns, but each hop takes time. There are a number of sharp turns, and we also took time to stop at various roadside stands to buy mangoes, papayas and a big watermelon. We bought ice for the big cooler Jim had brought, and stocked it with sodas and beer.

By the time we got to San Jeronimo it was dark. Bumping our way into town on a rutted dirt road, we came upon a brightly lighted town square where a Saturday night fiesta was in full swing.

We looked into a few hotel doorways, but despite the recommendation of the cabdriver, we decided everything was a little too primitive, even for us.

Pressing on in the dark at 9 p.m., just when we were all plenty tired and beginning to think our adventure was not so much fun anymore, somebody spotted a roadside sign for a hotel at Papanoa. Driving up to a big white stucco building that looked uninhabited, we went inside to find a night clerk sleeping on a couch in a spacious open-air lobby. We rented a couple of nice rooms that cost less than $30 each (we paid in pesos), said good night and retired.

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