Taking the winter trip on the cheap is a priority since we like to spend the big bucks during the longer summer vacation. Besides, winter prices for a trip to Mexico or Central America are not particulary a good deal during the Christmas-New Year Holiday. The easiest way to save big money is to eliminate the airfare. During our 1996 trip from the San Francisco Bay Area to Guadalajara, we eliminated the airfare almost entirely, and as a result, our entire vacation was basically the price of the airfare--$500- for two. Here's the secret: First, if possible take a "friends fly free" discount flight from San Francisco to San Diego. There one can either take the trolley and head for Tijuana and catch a bus at the central terminal. Or, as we did with a total of four people, crammed ourselves into a rental and drove to Calexico. There, we left the rental car behind and crossed the border on foot. We walked to the train station and bought tickets bound for Guadalajara. At that time the round trip cost by train was only $60- per person. Because the train was so unreliably slow, we decided to take the bus back direct to Tijuana, the price of which was about $35- per person as I recall. The train is now defunct, so the bus system is the best way to go. I don't recommend taking a rental car into Mexico.
The images are from our 1996 train trip from Mexicali to Guadalajara. The now defunct railroad system was pretty bad in many ways, but I still wish it was in service because it was at least authentic to Mexico. At the train station, we bought first class tickets, and proceeded to board the coach according to our ticket number. The seats were fabric and the coach was carpeted. But, a conductor insisted that we had the wrong seats and lead us to another coach, which had linoleum flooring. The couple seating in our places had to go to the other coach. I was a bit annoyed by the swap for lineoleum flooring, but within an hour after leaving the station, the boy staggered toward the bathrooms. He didn't make it, and vomited on the floor. A custodian came with a bucket with muddy water and smeared the mess around a bit. I inspected the toilets that dumped straight onto the tracks below. A couple of hours later, I proceeded to inspect the other coaches, and found the carpeting smelly and the atmosphere humid. The train took the scenic route through the desert, stopping at stations along the way. Vendors scrambled to sell fresh shrimp, something I found strange given the desert landscape until I detected a slight ocean breeze coming from the Sea of Cortez. I was able to take photographs hanging out the back of the train, something Amtrack certainly would not allow for safety reasons. As the train approached Mazatlan the next day, it slowed considerably to creep over worn tracks and old wooden tressles. Vendor food was all we had by this time, and it was something of a gamble in terms of sanitation. The train was scheduled to arrive in Guadalajara 48 hours after leaving Mexicali, but it ended up taking 54 hours. At the time, I found this nearly unbearable, but the adventure of the train is something I miss...