Our La Quinta hotel was right next to a Shell gas station that also had a money changer and a Mexican auto insurance vendor, all of which were open 24 hours, so our day began at the Shell station.
From there, we crossed the Rio Grande river at the International Bridge 2. There was little traffic leaving the US so we moved straight through with just a cursory glance by a custom’s agent at our kayaks and through the windows into the back of our truck. So that part was easy. The bitch was trying to get to the immigration offices on the Mexico side so we could pick up our personal visas as well as our temporary import permit for our truck.
Fortunately, we soon saw signs, albeit small, erratically pointing the way to the CIITEV, where we needed to go. We were driving past the oncoming traffic which was seriously backed up waiting to cross into the United States. Apparently, a lot more people were returning to the States from having spent Christmas in Mexico than the other way around.
We were very glad we weren’t in that three-lane line, but suddenly a confusing left hand turn at a light -in front of Mexican police, no less- to follow the CIITEV sign across the oncoming border traffic had us driving accidentally right into the back of that line instead of beyond it.
“NO,” we both screamed! “Damn, damn, damn.” John quickly pulled a U-turn, lucky that the red light reduced traffic from coming up behind us, but only momentarily. We’d been in Mexico less than fifteen minutes and already we were driving against oncoming traffic in front of the local police. I glanced up and saw the man in the wheelchair whom we’d just three minutes before given change while we we’d waiting at the street light, waving at us frantically and pointing out the way we should have initially and now for sure needed to go. John pulled another quick U-turn, but this time into the proper lane. I glanced in the side mirrors. No red lights. The police obviously had better things to do. And I’m sure we weren’t the first or the last to ever make that mistake. Maybe the police are just stationed there to deal with all the consequent accidents. Dang. Our hearts were just about to jump outside our chests.
On to get our legal paperwork we went. We needed our passports, the title to our truck, our license plate number and a credit card. We had to go to three different windows but they were all in the same huge building. They even provided employees who were just there to direct human traffic and tell us where to go. We made it through without issue.
A guy next to me wasn’t so lucky. He had a rental vehicle he’d picked up in San Antonio, Texas, and according to the immigration personnel I was assisting briefly with translations, the rental company didn’t give him the paperwork required to take it across the border. So back across the border, to the back of that long vehicle line we almost got stuck in but for John’s fast zippy driving, he was sent. But not us. We were given the needed windshield permit and given the green light to proceed. And proceed we did.
The outskirts of Monterrey was a beehive of manufacturing activity with brand new enormous manufacturing plants, new railway lines and new highways.
We’d passed rudimentary and temporary structures along the roadside made of tree limbs, twigs and fabric in attempts at creating shade. And huddled alongside these structures were families, some sitting in front of small campfires, and all with a weary plea for a ride; probably some 200 people. John guessed they were families from Central America, part of the caravans, maybe on their way back home. They had almost nothing with them. There were many many children.
I blinked and blinked again. I wanted to take their picture. But didn’t want to do such a demeaning thing. And so there is no picture to show you. It made me think of images I’ve held in my mind of the Great Dust Bowl in the United States and all of the migrants on the roads in search of someplace new to call home, someplace with food and work and shelter. With so many family groups wanting rides, how do they all get picked up? And where were they sleeping? And how were they eating? How does one live like that?
The second we left the Rio Grande River we began climbing into the highlands of interior mainland Mexico. Soon we were at 4000′ and then 6000′.
John and I stayed in the small town of Matehuala, about half way to Ajijic, for the night. Someone in the On the Road in Mexico Facebook Group recommended Hotel Las Palmas, which was really comfortable and had secure parking and a restaurant.
San Luis Potosi was enshrouded with air pollution, we guessed blowing in from Mexico City.
We were on toll roads basically the whole way. They are expensive but the roads are good and they bypass the big cities. Little oasis of gas stations and Oxxo convenience stores and bathrooms and restaurants appear every so often, frequently by the toll booths. One little shop had excellent tacos. Another had a tent across the road with a woman cooking food over a propane drum and giant cast iron skillet. She fixed our lunch and said she hadn’t heard anything about the families stranded along the road about an hour back but likewise speculated they were from Central America.
That afternoon we arrived in Ajijic on Lake Chapala just south of Guadalajara. Two friends of ours from Seattle, Glen and Carole, are renting a home there for a month plus and invited us to visit. It required a slight detour, but I was curious about Ajijic and was dying to see our friends, get out of the car and stretch our legs for a couple of days. It also turns out that the house they are renting is really nice. We tried not to break anything.
We are alive.
We are healthy.
We are adventurers.