Monthly Archives: February 2008

Doctor Exam

I spent the ENTIRE day in the hotel. My husband had the medical exam which is part of his visa process (I’ll let him type about that in a minute) and I spent the whole day waiting anxiously for him. It was terrible. I must say we are both so glad mom and dad talked us into staying here. I guess after 30 years you wise up and start listening to your parents again and it pays off. It is strange to think we were having lunch at a Chinese buffet with them just yesterday. Now I’ll let my husband tell his story…

“This morning at 6:30 I went down from my room to the main street to catch a cab going to the clinic for my examination that I’m going to present next week for my first visa interview. I went early because the information I had told me they stop letting new people into the clinic for exams at 11 am and I wanted to get a spot. So when I got out from the cab I thought there were not many people waiting in line (only about 50) until they let us inside a fenced area outside the clinic. Everyone had a number, then everyone was waiting for their number to be called. After that one of the workers called from 1 – 15, then the rest of us still were waiting for our turn. But in my mind I thought that it was going to be really easy to do my examination. The same worker came in and asked for 15 people to go to the other clinic (there are only two clinics in Juarez that are allowed to do exams for the US Consulate) because in that clinic they weren’t that busy. I was still waiting for my turn because I didn’t want to risk going to the other clinic and losing my spot. My number was 57. Then once again the worker came in and asked for 10 volunteers to go to the other clinic. Finally, it was my turn.

We were 15 people going inside the clinic. I was almost the last one. As soon as I stepped in I saw hundreds and hundreds of people who were already in before me. I probably say 500 -600 people at the clinic throughout the day. One guy from Wisconsin was there and he told me that I was “late” because people started getting in line at 3am. Then I realized I was totally wrong. My day was going to be one of the longest days. Think about not having any breakfast or lunch all day. That was all of us since we weren’t allowed to eat before the exam. Then I went to the front desk, showed my passport and my visa appointment letter, then they told me to wait until my turn. After a while a lady called my name, then I went to a small room where I showed my visa appointment letter, passport, signed my name and she took my pictures. After she took my information I went back to my seat.

I was so hungry that I started drinking lots of water. It was about 8:30. Then they called my name and I went to have a blood test. Then I went back to my seat and waited for my turn once again. But I went to the second level for my next turn where I waited for a while. Finally, a nurse called my name then took my chest x-rays and he told me to go back to the waiting room again.

About 12:30 I went to do my last test. They took my blood pressure, weight, height and then I went to the room where the nurse gave me a complete physical examination and three shots required to enter the US, MMR, Td, and Varicella. I brought my vaccine card from childhood but she said if they weren’t in the last 6 months they didn’t count. She also asked me a lot of questions, some medical ones like “Do you smoke?” “Do you do any drugs?” and some were kind of strange for a medical exam like “What kind of job to you have in the US?” “Have you been in jail?” The strangest was “Has cometido algunos delitos – Have you done any bad things here or in the US?” I thought that was a strange question for a medical exam. Then I was ready to go pay for the service that they had done. I had to pay in US dollars, $254 for the exam and vaccines. Also, they told me to come back for my results at 4 pm.

The ominous warning message on his very important medical results

Then I walked back to the hotel where my wife was waiting and really nervous. I was totally starving because it was 2 pm by then and I hadn’t had anything to eat all day. I ate and relaxed for a little while. Then it was time to go back again. It was pretty fast to get my results. They gave me a copy of my immunizations and then information in a sealed black envelope to give to the Consulate. If I open it they will not allow me to interview for my visa. I think they put the photos they took of me inside the envelope so they match my medical exam and the person doing my interview at the Consulate can tell it is me.

The one surprise is they told me I have to go on Monday to the Consulate to deliver the exam results instead of waiting for Tuesday for my interview. I don’t really understand why but I will do whatever they tell me. So it looks like I will be spending all day Monday and Tuesday at the US Consulate.”


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Filed under Immigration, Permanent Resident Visa/Green card

Cruzando la frontera (crossing the border)

Esta fotografia muestra entrada a la Ciudad Juarez. Esta bandera mexicana es cerca de 162′ por 93′ largo. La entrada a la Ciudad Juarez fue muy facil pero la entrada a los Estados Unidos se toma horas.
(The border crossing at Juarez. Easy in, not so easy out! We went across the Bridge of the Americas/Cordova Bridge)

Este pasillo con muros de metal plateado tomamos hacia las oficinas de migracion mexicana. Fue donde mi esposa recibio su tarjeta de turista. Este es la primera vez que ella visita Mexico. Ella esta muy contenta.

(The metal bars along the path to get my tourist card at the border. If driving, I suggest being in the right lane when you cross. That way you can park at the information center that is right across the border and walk to the office to get your tourist card. You only need the tourist card if you are going outside of the border zone- the first 20 – 30 km from the border. The card is free when you pick it up but you must stop at a Mexican bank and pay a fee before you exit the country. It was $237 pesos (about $20 US). Also, if you drive a car in to the country they stamp your passport with a little car (if you fly there is a little plane stamp) and you must exit the country the same way or provide very, very good documentation on why you aren’t.

Esta es la calle frente al hotel donde estamos ospedados. Es una de las calles muy transitadas que debes tener mucha precaucion con los autos y topes y los hoyos invecibles.

(The very busy cross street by our hotel – Paseo Triunfo de la Republica and Avenida Lopez Mateos. Since we don’t want to go far from the hotel in the next five days in Ciudad Juarez due to its reputation as very dangerous, it is good we are close to a lot of restaurants, though mostly American – McD’s, Burger King, Domino’s, Wendy’s and even Applebee’s are within a block)

Gracias que nuestro hotel donde estamos hospidados esta muy seguro, limpio, y con alberca pero no tiene agua templada. Tambien podemos oir el trafico.

(Thank goodness the Hotel Lucerna where we are staying is very nice and here is the pool where you can almost not hear the street. It is only three blocks from the Consulate where he has his interview, although they are three dangerous blocks as criminals target people going to interviews because they know they have large amounts of cash. It also has free wireless internet and secure parking with a 24 hour guard.)

Ese la vista desde nuestro hotel. Observando hacia la ciudad de El Paso durante la tarde. Desde la vista de la montana podiamos ver la ciudad Juarez. Cuando aun no cruzabamos la frontera.

(The star is on the hill in El Paso where we stood just last night and took the picture of Juarez and El Paso. I guess it’s the Texans answer to the giant Mexican flag that can be seen from everywhere.)

Updated 1/15/2011-

As I look back thru the blog I wrote almost three years ago and am amazed at how I left out our real emotions. I didn’t mention the way we drove around El Paso all morning, stopping at a coffee shop, then eating our last meal stateside at a Chinese buffet with my parents. I didn’t mention how, as my parents drove out of the hotel parking lot, we got in the car and collapsed in to each other sobbing so violently it felt like we were suffocating. I didn’t mention how we clung to each other for more than five minutes, trembling with thoughts of our unknown future. The pent-up tears from all the fear and frustration we had felt about the immigration process since our first meeting with the attorney three years before poured out. Too this day I have never felt so empty and fearful, nor have I seen my husband in that distraught condition. It was horrid and I probably didn’t write about it back then because I didn’t want my friends and family to worry or feel sorry for us or know how deeply scared we were of the process ahead of us. Now I can look back and bring up that emptiness in my memory. I believe sharing that is very important because that is the feeling of an immigrant and an immigrant’s spouse facing the unknown. Thankfully, we were facing that unknown future together and could help fill each others emptiness in our time of fear.


Filed under Chihuahua State, Español, Immigration, Mexico, Travel Tips

Around El Paso

Mom and Dad with Mex in the Franklin mountains outside of El Paso

On top of Scenic Drive in El Paso, Texas, overlooking Juarez, Mexico.

Here are a few tips for El Paso before I forget. The Scenic Drive is really nice. It curves around the south of the El Paso mountains and these pictures are all taken from there. Do NOT change money into pesos at the bank. Go to Melek’s service on the corner of Mesa & Paisano near downtown. We got 10.65 pesos per $1 there which was a peso better per dollar than the bank.
In between Mom and Mex’s heads you can sort of see the Mexican flag. The flag is 162 feet by 93 feet and it is called the “Megabandera” or “Giant Flag.” The flag pole sits in Chamizal Park, which is right across from the Bridge of the Americas, (the free driving bridge), and is 339 feet high and weighs 110 tons. That is 22,000 pounds! (Probably necessary to handle the hurricane force winds around here!) That is Juárez in the background after the little park on the right of Mex. We spent some time shopping and went to a few cowboy boot stores (we are in Texas, after all) but, really, I just don’t find them comfortable. Mostly, we just drove around the city completing errands. The information in our hotel said it was possible to get a driving pass from the Mexican Embassy but that is NOT true. We waited in line only to be told they stopped doing that the first of the year and you can only get passes in Mexico.

You can faintly see the cement canal that is the Rio Grande thru the middle of this picture.

There are multiple ways to cross into Juárez from El Paso… you can take a walking bridge or a round trip trolley or drive on four different roads. The tourist propaganda in our hotel makes Juárez sound a lot
better than all the stories I’ve heard.

I did try to fix the lens on my camera to get rid of these spots
after I downloaded the pictures and saw them. However, every time I zoom in to something I get these stupid spots. Bad timing to have a broken camera!

The view from Scenic Drive looks very pretty at night. As we pulled off to take in the view we clearly interrupted a couple who was sitting in the back seat of their car, “enjoying the view.” Oops!  You can kind of see the snake of lights through the city which marks the border. We did drive along the border highway and saw the fences… All three of them with barbed wire on top and paths in between them for the border patrol vehicles to go. Did I mention the millions of watts of floodlights pointing towards Mexico? Very, very interesting. There is a Border Patrol Museum here but we decided not to go. I can’t imagine what would be inside! I just imagine some kind of grotesque trophies of people caught or something. Ugh. (In hindsight and looking at their website it probably would have been interesting. I’d say “maybe next time” but I don’t think we will ever be visiting this area again).

For dinner we took a break from the steakhouse scene and went to Olive Garden for our “last supper.” We both figured we should load up on salad before crossing the border when fresh produce is one of the things which we are supposed to stay away from if we want to avoid stomach problems in Mexico.

View from Scenic Drive at night. All those lights are Ciudad Juarez

Well… on another note…  tomorrow we cross. We are both trying not to think of it. We’ve had a really good time with my parents and it has helped us relax which has been a blessing. They did talk us into staying in Juárez over the weekend instead of making the five hour drive to Chihuahua City and back before his interview. Even if we have to stay in the hotel all weekend it would be better than risking something happening to us so he couldn’t get to the interview that we’ve waited two years for. We will miss mom and dad and it will be very emotional to cross over the bridge tomorrow. However, we are confident that on the afternoon of April 17th (the day of his 2nd interview) we will be back again on this side of the river.

My next entry will be from Juárez, Mexico and I suppose in honor of the occasion it will be in Spanish (as long as my husband tells me what to type).


Filed under Travel outside MN and Mexico, Travel Tips

Texas, New Mexico, Texas again

What could taste better than the state of Texas?

Standing next to the poster for one of the greatest "tween" dramas ever... Or at least my Olaf girls thought so.

Texas is a very odd shape (as you can tell by the Texas waffle I had for breakfast this morning). We spent the last night in the “panhandle” in Hereford, TX and then drove thru New Mexico via Roswell and are now in our hotel room in El Paso. New Mexico was pretty uneventful. A few amazingly huge cow pens owned by Cargill. Seriously, probably 10,000 cows in pens alongside the road. It was crazy! Even though they were in an open pasture area there were more cattle in one spot than I would have thought possible.

Terrified by the very realistic alien bodies

While driving through Roswell we made a quick stop at the Roswell UFO Center.  Check! Yes, it is actually another of the “1000 Places to See Before You Die.” The Roswell UFO center was very cheesy but mildly interesting for anyone who likes a twist of science fiction in their life. Of course, no actual pieces of wreckage from the famed 1947 UFO crash just outside the city were in the museum. However, there were dozens of testimonial letters from people who have been abducted by aliens all over the world! My guidebook did say it was free but it isn’t. It is $5 for adults, $3 for seniors and $2 for kids 5-15. It was good to get out of the car and it wasn’t that far out-of-the-way.

Mom and Dad thrilled (not so much) to be at the UFO Museum in Roswell, New Mexico

South of Roswell, going thru New Mexico, we passed some more scrubby brush territory along Hwy 70 but then we went into some small mountains and the road wound thru groves of pine trees and little towns with very traditional southwestern architecture… arches and red and brown stones. I’m guessing this was in the Rudoso Downs area but I wasn’t looking closely at a map. There was a beautiful little church in this small town plopped in the middle of nowhere framed by the hills and pines. It was so nice but we couldn’t pull over to snap a picture because someone was behind us and there were no shoulders. Sad! those simple glimpses of local beauty are my favorite travel moments. When we turned south on Hwy 54 we passed the White Sands National Monument but did not stop. We could see the white dunes glistening in the distance. If I had looked closer at a map ahead of time I would have tried to figure out a detour to get us there because it looks like a very uniquely beautiful park with over 245 square miles of gypsum dunes and it even has a 16 mile loop drive so it would have been perfect for the four of us road trippers. Oh well, gotta have something to do in the future.

So after 23 hours of driving in the car we ended up in El Paso. As we drove down the hill and into the city we saw the largest flag (Mexican) I’ve ever laid eyes on flying high over Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. We have it in our sights I guess… Tomorrow we just plan on finding somewhere to get some pesos and maybe buy a few more things before going across on Thursday.

Sad, our hotel is by the airport and about every 30 minutes it sounds like a jet is going to crash into us. So much for getting to town late and being stuck in a cheap hotel! Good night everyone.


Filed under Travel outside MN and Mexico

Where’s the Beef? Right out back!

We left Minnesota on Sunday the 24th at about 7:30 pm, after we went to my niece’s Minnesota Youth Symphony concert and saw her perform. Odometer: 52,500 on Mom and Dad’s car…. We drove until 1:30 in the morning and ended up 80 miles north of Kansas City.

The only non-steak eater in our group happily eating at one of the most famous steakhouses in the country

Nothing much to tell today (Monday) except driving. Weather and roads were good for the end of February. Our one stop in 14 hours of travel time (yes, ONE stop – besides bathroom and gas breaks, even lunch was a drive thru) was in Oklahoma City at Stockyard City where we ate at the “famous” Cattlemen’s Steakhouse. Check! (It is in the “1000 Places” book for my dear competitive readers… you know who you are!) Initially, I was not impressed because, unfortunately, I got my steak medium well. It was a little tough. Then mom gave me some of her Filet and holy cow (pun intended)! If red meat and butter got married this would be their love child. It was incredible!!! The restaurant is littered with Western decor; pencil sketches of famous cowboys – like Tex Ritter, Hop Along Cassidy and John Wayne, red leather booths, cattle-branding irons, and a wall length painting of a herd of Black Angus cattle. Though I am eagerly following suggestions in the “1000 Places” book, I did wimp out on the lamb fries- little fried lamb balls (literally… their balls). I’ll avoid the official physiological word to try to ward off inappropriate ads from springing up on my blog. Though they are sliced and supposedly resemble a clam strip, I couldn’t bring myself – or my meal companions – to be that brave with our taste buds.

Oklahoma City Stockyards – and no that isnt a new hairdo! The wind was ridiculous!

The entire area around the restaurant is called Stockyard City and is full of shops selling gorgeous hand-stitched saddles, colorful cowboy boots, and all types of Western shirts. It isn’t hard to imagine cowboys riding up on their horses to check out the local duds in 1910 when the area was opened. The Oklahoma National Stock Yards, the largest cattle stocker and feeder market in the world, are in the back of the parking lot of the restaurant and the cows did not have a pleasant odor what-so-ever! It was hard to ignore and a little stifling (even for a farm girl) while walking around window shopping. The Stock Yards are definitely active though since we saw a number of trucks hauling cattle pull out, just in the fifteen minutes we were walking around stretching our legs.

Now we are in a hotel in Hereford, TX, almost all they way across the panhandle of Texas (which I did not realize is 230 miles wide – that’s one large handle) and we did get to jaunt on Old Route 66 for about 150 miles, bringing back memories of high school choir. We should only have about seven hours of driving left tomorrow to get to El Paso. Even though we’re driving through Roswell, New Mexico, I doubt we will stop. That’s all the excitement for today! Goodnight, everyone!

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Filed under Food, Restaurant reviews, Travel outside MN and Mexico

T minus 31 hours

I have no idea what the “T” means in that phrase but it reminds me of a spaceship launch which is what I feel like we’re about to do. I was getting a pedicure last night and the lady asked me how you pack for a two-month trip. “I don’t know, we haven’t done it yet,” was my reply. And now, less than 31 hours from our leave time we still have nothing packed! Clothing options are sorted… gifts for his family are bought… toiletries and the entire Target pharmacy section are laid out (or should I say sprawled out) on our bedroom floor… and office floor… and other bedroom floor. Let me just state that I have enough Imodium and Pepto Bismol to treat myself four times daily each of the 60 days for “turista” (the infamous stomach problem that effects many Mexican visitors) which, of course, means I will have no problems at all!

After calling around to Mexican hotels last night and finding at least six that we wanted to stay at full, we started to freak out a little bit. I think that after four hours of calling we managed to secure reservations for every place up until our arrival in Tetelilla. There is one night where we don’t know what town we’ll end up in because of the drive, but hopefully we’ll find something. After our stressful hours of calling I was laying in bed mentally planning out our route and I contemplated cutting out the town of Tequila… I know… GASP!!! I did come to my senses after a night’s sleep though and we are going to make it work somehow. We’ll see how the road conditions truly are once we get there.

I suppose I better start doing something to prepare for the trip. We sorted all our papers for his interviews into very large manila envelopes and now need to figure how to pack them. Mex went to get his haircut about three hours ago and isn’t back yet. Hopefully he doesn’t come back bald! I think he’s hoping if he takes long enough I won’t make him try to call any other hotels. I don’t know how you would plan a trip like this through central Mexico without a Spanish speaker because most of the small town hotels we’re calling, the people answering the phone speak no English! Until later…

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Filed under Mexico, Travel outside MN and Mexico

Mexican Car Insurance

FYI- If you ever plan on driving to Mexico and taking your U.S. car here are a few things to know. If you are only going in the “border zone” – the first up to 20 km – you may not get checked. This is just a summary. The website Mexonline has a much more detailed procedure.

1. You need to have MEXICAN Car Insurance. Your US Policy will NOT cover you even if it says it will. If you do not have Mexican insurance and get in an accident you go to jail until damages are paid. We got our insurance through an online company – Nelson Insurance – and it cost around $200 for a six-month policy.

2. You need to have your vehicle’s title or registration. The title needs to be in the name of the person driving and that person must be in the car at all times, (of course if you don’t get stopped at the border you might be home free).

3. You get a car permit at the border that you MUST turn in before you leave or you are charged a fine for every day it expires. You must pay with a credit card as you cross the border going there so that they have it on file to charge you the fine. Ugh…

In Juárez, the only place to get a car permit is at the major customs checkpoint at Km 30 south of Juarez on Hwy 45D. You have to pull off the highway and go in to the building to wait. You have to give them a credit card where they charge a deposit that is refundable when you leave Mexico as long as you don’t violate the terms of the permit. You must keep the permit sticker attached to your car and when you leave the country make sure to have it cancelled. Otherwise the Mexican government may assume you left the car illegally in Mexico and charge a fine to your credit card. The stamp on your passport has a little car on it so you must leave the county by the same method that you enter.

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Filed under Travel outside MN and Mexico, Travel Tips