The Sinaloa Gang, El Chapo, and Culiacan

Personal Writings Travel

From: December 27, 2022`

            Culiacan         In our epic family journey with stops and starts to Canon de Cobre, the amazing Copper Canyon, after our plane was cancelled, thanks to a shift in strategy by mi hija, we were going via Culiacan in the Mexican state of Sinaloa.  We were all up by 5AM wanting to make sure were no mishaps.  The car had to be returned by 7AM, and we needed to make that plane from Cabo San Jose’s airport.  We loaded the car in the dark, found the one place anywhere close where something was open before 7am and found something not far away for a burrito and a cup of coffee.  Everything was working like a charm.

The airport check-in was smooth.  The domestic terminal was perhaps even nicer than the international terminal, which isn’t always the case.  Even though we were among the few representatives of Gringolandia, we were definitely one of many trying to get as many bags onto the plane as possible without a baggage charge.  In fact, Volaris, our airline to Culiacan, was interesting and knew their clientele.  If you were in Group 2 or above, bring on whatever, but Group 3 and below, they made a gate offer to check bags, and the line was huge for that.  Later the exit from the plane was unique in Culiacan.  At the gate, everyone was ordered to sit, and the attendant went from row to row, six at a time, allowing people to get up so the exit was amazingly orderly.  There’s a lesson here.

Culiacan was not a large city, but large enough with over 200,000, advertising itself as the 21st largest in Mexico.   The airport was small, but did the job. As we journeyed forward, eyes peeled, checking out a city where we’d never been, we stopped at a birria taco place, and if you don’t know what that is, then you are absolutely missing something.  I started to think about Culiacan.  Hadn’t I actually heard of this city before somehow?  Maybe so, maybe no, but away we go.

Mi companera was full of jokes in the airport and on the road.  Around every corner, she claimed to see the notorious Sinaloa gang.  A big car would pass, and she would claim that El Chapo’s girlfriend was driving, and, yes, she’s also in jail in New York now, but for shorter term than El Chapo.  Great fun.  Laughs all around.

Then I started thinking as we rode along.  Wasn’t Culiacan, the city where the Sinaloa cartel held off the Mexican army in a standoff where they took control of several neighbors to prevent the capture of one of El Chapo’s sons and the Mexican president finally had to make a deal with the gang and withdraw the army empty handed?  A Google search confirmed:

…in October 2019, the Mexican Army launched a botched and ultimately humiliating attempt to capture another of El Chapo’s sons in Culiacán, Sinaloa: Ovidio Guzmán López. Thousands of cartel henchmen descended on the city to protect Ovidio after he was detained by military personnel. After several hours of gunfights and threats from members of the Sinaloa Cartel against the families of some of the Mexican army personnel on the Culiacán military base, Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador ordered the release of Ovidio.

Having watched every Netflix special on any narcos theme, I suddenly knew exactly why the name seemed familiar.  Culiacan is the headquarters of the Sinaloa cartel!

Mainly, the city seemed an agricultural hub with fields all around and tractors humming along, even on the toll roads.  A man at a nearby table at the outdoor birria had a hat on that said Sinaloa, just like others said the Angels and mine said the Astros.  Maybe, except for that show of force, the gang was careful to not make a mess where their families lived.  I remember reports of the narco mansions in town.

As always, life goes on, and for our part, we kept moving.