Humberto & Surprising Mazatlan

MAZATLAN, Mexico – Including a day trip to Tijuana while in the Navy at San Diego, I’ve been to Mexico eight times and somehow missed Mazatlan – one of the closer resort cities to Idaho.
Until last month.
Our trip got off to a shaky start in the Boise airport. The agent checking us in was blowing her nose and sneezing on our luggage tags, driver’s licenses, boarding passes … We fought her off with hand sanitizer, but upstairs at our gate there she was again. And once we were on the plane – re-sanitized – she joined us to do a head count. We half expected to see her, soggy Kleenex in hand, clinging to the wing when we took off.
Mazatlan, however, was great. For starters, the dollar was almost 50 percent stronger against the peso than it was a year ago. Most of the breakfast and lunch choices at the place where we stayed were under $4. Mexican beers that cost $4 in restaurants in Boise were about 70 cents.
Mazatlan is unique for having two things – the world’s third largest Mardi Gras celebration (after Rio de Janeiro and New Orleans) and pulmonias. We missed Mardi Gras by a few days, but we became instant fans of pulmonias, which exist nowhere else in the world.
Pulmonias are overgrown golf carts, made with Volkswagen parts and used as taxis. Drivers of regular taxis were jealous of the fanfare the open-air taxis received when they were introduced, so they told customers they’d get pneumonia riding in them. Pulmonia is Spanish for pneumonia.
Humberto Valasquez, who has been driving the same, meticulously maintained pneumonia for 20 years, took us on a tour of the city in it. Because we’d just missed Mardi Gras, I asked him what it was like.
“A big parade on the Malecon (one of the world’s longest). Lots of people – 400,000 visitors in town wearing masks and drinking. Nine months later, a lot of babies are born.”
About like New Orleans, in other words.
Humberto used to work in a restaurant, but he likes being outdoors driving his pneumonia better.
“A lot of the restaurants aren’t doing well,” he said. “The all-inclusive resorts have hurt them. People eat for free there, so they don’t go out to dinner as much. They don’t even go out for drinks because the drinks at the resort are free.”
Pacifico beer is made in Mazatlan. That, and myriad varieties of tequila – from regular agave tequila to coffee tequila, almond tequila, mango tequila …
“Tequila is our national drink,” our gregarious tour guide said, laughing. “That and beer, and vodka, and rum …”
Like many of the people we met in Mazatlan, Humberto truly seemed to enjoy life. Except during Mardi Gras, the city is low key, laid back. The street and beach vendors are almost sedate compared with those in other places we’d been, and in two weeks we met exactly one guy who was pushing time shares. In Puerto Vallarta, you see more than that before you leave the airport.
Add perfect weather and friendly, helpful locals and you have a textbook winter getaway. In fact, we had such a good time we wanted to go back.
Until the next to the last day of our vacation – and the e-mail from hell.

Next: A travel blunder extraordinaire.

Tim Woodward’s column appears every other Sunday in The Idaho Statesman and is posted on the following Mondays. Contact him at

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