Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Escape to the South: Riding Tufesa

I disappeared to Guaymas, Sonora, Mexico for a few days at the beginning of September.

These were taken in San Carlos, a development north of Guaymas that has been the baby of Rafael Caballero for a long time now. He's grooming this place to become a tourist destination and there is a part of me that hopes he doesn't succeed.

I think the 14-hour bus ride made getting there all the sweeter. Of course, you could fly into Guaymas in a few hours, but you'd have to plan ahead unless you can afford to pay for an $800 flight.

When I tell people that I took a 14-hour bus ride there and another 15-hour bus ride back, they are incredulous. It doesn't seem worth it for just five days, especially when the cost is about the same as a well-planned plane ticket to somewhere in the United States. "Well-planned" is the operative word here-- this trip was most definitely not, which means we were scrambling to find transportation at 10PM the night before we left.

Since I tried Megabus earlier this year (before they high-tailed it out of LA), I became a fan of traveling by bus: all I have to do is buy a ticket online, bring my ID, get on the bus, and go. No anxiety about having to check my luggage because I want to bring along a favorite bottle of cologne, no wondering whether anything I'm carrying could be misconstrued as a weapon, no need to deal with dreaded airport traffic (if for some reason I decide not to take the FlyAway from Union Station). Maybe it's because I haven't taken Greyhound, but I haven't had any of the nightmarish experiences that people envision when they think of bus travel. (Except for being stranded in the middle of nowhere by the bus, but that was my own foolish fault, and the bus miraculously turned around and came back for me.)

There are many, many charter bus services that are extremely comfortable and not very well-publicized. Tufesa, which is the service I took to Guaymas, is one of them. If not for the magic of Google Search, I never would have found them, and my traveling companion and I may never have gotten to Mexico. I landed upon Tufesa's website through a search for "Guaymas bus," and though the first page I got was in Spanish, some further perusal revealed that they provide bus service from Downtown Los Angeles all the way to Guadalajara with a stop in Guaymas. I felt like I had hit the jackpot.

My friend and I got to their Downtown LA office about an hour before the bus was scheduled to leave, bought our tickets, and thus our adventure began. Truth be told, the office doesn't look like much, just a ticket window, some slightly worse-for-wear chairs, and a bathroom, but the bus itself was considerably more comfortable than a seat on Southwest.

Their stations in Mexico were larger and nicer than this one: well-lit, air-conditioned, and very clean, most of them with a "Cafeteria Tufesa" with snacks and beverages. The bus itself had comfortable seats which reclined surprisingly far. Complaints: they played movies during all the daylight hours of the ride and the bus was freezing cold at night. It was also hit or miss on whether there was TP in the on-board restroom (luckily, I was prepared-- TP was in great demand in some of their stations, too). All in all, I would definitely ride Tufesa again. There was a huge mix-up on our journey back in which we thought we were being dropped off in Santa Ana and ended up in East LA, where we thought we were stranded. After some brief consultation with their managers, the driver took us back to the Downtown office and then put us on a shuttle to Orange County that dropped us off at the perfect location. Excellent customer service.

There are a few other bus lines that go down through Mexico, I just happened upon Tufesa and went with it. The shuttle we rode actually takes people all the way from Downtown LA to Tijuana for about $30-- amazing. They're very nice and pick up from locations along the 5 freeway from 8am-5pm every day, from what I was told. Unfortunately I do not remember the name, but I'm sure the magic of Google would turn up something. It would probably be even easier to use these services if you know Spanish, but my friend and I did just fine.

As they say, you can have two of these at a time: Cheap, Good, Fast. Obviously, I opt for Cheap & (hope for) Good whenever possible.

611 Maple Ave.

Ticket to Guaymas: $99
Ticket to LA from Hermosillo: $103
Total: $202