For some odd reason our trip north took two hours less than our way south, covering the same distance. We went from Zacatecas to Chihuahua city in about eight hours with four gas stops, many bathroom stops and a quick, greasy lunch. I can´t wait to eat a salad again! I never thought I´d say that since lettuce is one of my least favorite foods! This morning when we left the car thermometer said 47 degrees. Of course I was still in my tank top but I did unroll my pants from capri´s to full length. It felt fabulous!
Nothing much to report. We did get stopped twice at military checkpoints but only had to get out of the car for a search once. There are at least two more points before the border that we remember and I´m sure we´ll get stopped. I just hope they don´t have to unpack all our stuff. The suitcases I don´t mind but the dishes would stink because I don´t think we could get them back in the two boxes.
Overall our driving experience has been pretty good.
Yeah, we got lost… Not incredibly bad. On Tuesday morning we got up pretty early and left the hotel by 8:30 to make our way from Puebla to San Miguel de Allende. It looked pretty far on the map since we wanted to go as far north as we could in order to completely avoid Mexico City and still arrive before dark. We started out going west towards Mexico City and then exited on a road which we thought would take us north. Instead we ended up going back east the entire way to Tlaxcala city which is directly north of Puebla where we started! After going a few kilometers north we doubled back west on a different road. We both agreed that Puebla city and the state of Tlaxcala are the best places we’ve been so far. Tlaxcala is the perfect temperature (75 with a slightly cool breeze) and so incredibly green. There are actually trees with leaves and alfalfa fields and green hills. Beautiful! The roads were fabulous too and they were the cheapest toll roads we’ve been on so far. It reminded us of driving through central Minnesota or Wisconsin. So in the end we weren’t too upset about the detour because we got to see some very beautiful countryside.
Our hotel - Posada de las Monjas
After getting back on track we skirted around Pachuca and headed west on a terrible two-lane road that snaked through the dry countryside towards Querétaro. Then we went north to San Miguel. The streets of San Miguel are cobblestone, full of topes and very skinny. We were lucky that our hotel – Posada de las Monjas – is on a main street and has totally private locked parking. Especially since the entire back is now full of pottery!
Our hotel in San Miguel
Unfortunately, as I was planning out our evening tour route Mex got horribly sick. He was sick from 4ish until 7:30 when I had to go out to get some food and water. We hadn’t eaten anything except rolls for breakfast and some chips we brought with us the entire day. He decided to come with me and seemed to feel better until about three minutes after we sat down at the restaurant where he got sick again. We got our food to go and stopped at the pharmacy where they loaded him up with 3 different kinds of pills to help kill the bacteria, etc. Thankfully, he hasn’t been sick since then and he bought extra pills just in case. We have both been sick a number of times and in a number of different ways and we are never sure what causes it. Usually when one of us has gotten sick it has been on a day where we’ve eaten exactly the same thing so it makes no sense at all! Oh well… we’ve definitely learned how to live through it although Mex is still upset that most places here don’t actually have toilet seats on the toilets. Remember that when you travel around the countryside in Mexico! And don’t forget your own toilet paper and hand soap!
Ok… I say we went to Acapulco but our hotel was actually in Pie de la Cuesta which is about 12 km or so west of Old Acapulco. I can’t do the math to tell you what that is in miles because even my brain cells are sweating in this heat. All I know is there are 1.6 km in a mile… I think…
Sunset in front of our hotel in Pie de la Cuesta
So after Taxco we hopped in the car for the 3 ½ hour journey to Acapulco. Since Mex and I have learned that avoiding big city driving is essential to how well we get along, Maren and I searched the map for a way to avoid the city of Acapulco. We navigated Mex to a “free” road, which means no guarantees on the road’s condition, about 45 minutes north of the city. We have been on some toll roads that made us want to turn around and ask for a refund so I was apprehensive about a free one. The road was in surprisingly good condition, winding through the mountains and many little villages which thankfully didn’t have a ridiculous number of topes (speed bumps for those of you that don’t remember the dozen other times I’ve complained about them). As we got closer we started to see lots of palm trees everywhere. Initially, we thought they were natural and then we noticed they were growing in suspiciously straight lines like at an apple orchard or Christmas tree farm. It made sense when we started to see dozens of roadside stands selling fresh coconuts. If only those coconuts were filled with a nice, cold piña colada.
Moonlit view from our oceanside room. The sound of waves crashing (and the AC) made the upgrade worth it.
Pie de la Cuesta is basically the name of a beach community that is one tar road lined with little hotels and restaurants. The ocean is on one side and Lake Coyuca is on the other. Once we got to Hacienda Vayma we were offered an upgrade to an Oceanside suite. After comparing both rooms we all decided the extra $80 US was worth the splurge to have an ocean view, AC and hot water. Pie de la Cuesta is famous for huge rolling waves and sunsets, both of which were worth the visit. Apparently, you can’t view the sunset from most of Acapulco Bay because of the horseshoe shape, so Pie de la Cuesta is the best spot to see the sun hit the ocean. However, the guide books don’t tell you about the strong fishy odor or the brown foam washing up on the beach. That was an unpleasant surprise. The smell wasn’t overpowering most of the time and we were able to enjoy some outdoor meals with the tiki light atmosphere. Because the waves are so huge all the time, it isn’t really safe to swim which is why every hotel has a pool (and a swim up bar). Since we didn’t get there until fairly late on Wednesday we just enjoyed the air-conditioning, watched the sunset, sat at the tiki bar and had some drinks, a delicious pizza and onion rings while watching the waves roll on to the beach… I know… Every time I mention pizza I feel guilty but I’ve decided that as long as we are eating it in Mexico it should be considered Mexican food!
Constant big waves make for a great soundtrack but bad swimming.
Toll road in Durango state
My hubby was a champ today (Sunday). He drove entirely from Cuauhtémoc in the north of Mexico to Fresnillo in Zacatecas state for a grand total of 10 hours and over 500 miles behind the wheel.
The roads are surprisingly good here. We have stayed almost completely on the toll roads however. We met a couple on the train ride who has been RVing from Connecticut to Mexico for the last 10 years. He advised us that the free roads are usually curvy and in bad condition. He also gave us some great tips for driving in the colonial heartland cities which we plan to see on our way back north. It was very good for us to run in to that couple because we were really uncomfortable and paranoid after spending six days in Juárez being careful and feeling unsafe most of the time.
I have discovered it is very necessary to have your own Ziploc bag full of toilet paper and hand sanitizer because most bathrooms do not have any soap or toilet paper at all! Even the ones you have to pay for!
The only semi-scary thing was on the free road where the road is really only one and a half lanes wide so you can be passing the big trucks and meet another person passing head on. Not really any close calls though. The toll roads are quite expensive. We spent about $50 US yesterday for maybe 200 miles of toll roads.
The scenery has been pretty desertish… A few green trees and pecan groves about an hour south of Chihuahua city but then it went back to desert. For most of the time in Durango and Zacatecas states we were driving with mountains on both sides but not actually through the mountains. There are tons of roadside stands selling food. Some of the stands look like they were just thrown up with some old scrap wood and I cannot imagine how desperately hungry I would need to be to stop at one. Mex and I both just shudder a little at some of the store fronts. We have been in some restaurants that look a little rough on the outside but are clean inside.
We stayed in an Auto hotel in Fresnillo which was a row of garages and you pull in and then there is a pretty big room with a couch, bed and bathroom inside. It was nice because we felt like the car was secure and you only pay $25 for 12 hours which was convenient since we were just staying there for the night. It was fairly clean – I found a few miscellaneous hairs but I’ve found those in nice hotels as well. We ordered room service which was delivered thru a strange turn-style door so the person delivering and the person in the room could not see each other. From about 5am to 10am on Monday I was very, very sick, more sick than I’ve every been. I ate a hamburger and since I have gotten sick both times I have eaten beef I am only going to eat what my husband eats for the rest of the trip (he only eats chicken and seafood for meat). I guess it will be trouble if we both eat something bad and are miserably sick at the same time! (We did find out a little later in the trip that the reason Auto hotels have that nice garage and rent for only 12 hours is because they are used as rendezvous spots for couples who don’t want to be spotted… maybe the room wasn’t so clean after all… ugh!)
Views in Durango state
I did become very thankful for the toll roads though since each time you pay a toll there is a bathroom which usually does have paper and hand soap! That is why we only drove about three hours to Aguascalientes and had to stop at a hotel. Oh well! We will have to skip Tequila (ahhh, big tear) but there will be other visits.
We have seen hardly any police which is interesting. I am glad of it since we were even told by the older couple we met that they do sometimes expect bribes. Oh well… We have a new attitude since we met the older couple on the train and are enjoying the time on the road a bit more. We did pass a military checkpoint but they were only checking people going north. The signs in southern Mexico are very obvious and we can usually completely avoid large cities with the toll ways. We have discussed that if this trip goes well our new retirement plan may be to RV around the country in the winters instead of buying a home in one spot. We will see since I cannot even park my dad’s truck yet. I guess driving something the size of a small bus is not in the near future!
We made it out of Juarez and through the Chihuahuan Dessert.
I must say it was very “desertish” with scrubby brush and dust devils galore. I was surprised by the mountains that rose constantly to the west of us. I guess I never realized there would be mountains this far north but I guess you need mountains to make canyons. Since we are on our way to tour one of the world’s largest canyons, I guess the mountains make sense!
Chihuahua Desert between Juarez and Chihuahua City
There is not wireless at our hotel room so I have to use the computer in the lobby. Traffic was not really bad and the roads were all in very good condition actually. I know Chihuahua is one of the richest states so that might change as we go farther south. There are signs saying “No tiras basura” (Don’t throw garbage) every few miles. They mostly seem to be effective. I say mostly because there was usually a small pile of trash at the base of the sign but nowhere else. There were also billboards every couple miles with “En tres años” (In three years) and pictures of happy Mexican families doing daily activities. Not sure what this means… Unbelievable happiness will come to Mexican families in 2011? Or maybe the billboards were put up in 2007 and it is a countdown to the 2010 bicentennial…
The tolls really killed us… about $22 US to go 5.5 hours… That does not sound too bad except probably only 1.5 hours were actually ON a nice quality toll road! We did put gas in. It was $0.80 a liter and there are 3.8 liters in a gallon… I am not sure what that works out to but it seemed expensive. About $30 US to put in a little over 1/2 tank or 7ish gallons.
Mex and I had a few communication breakdowns due to the stress of not knowing what we were doing but we have calmed down now. Driving around the city of Chihuahua was particularly stressful because the exit signs always seemed to be on the “wrong” side of the road so we never knew what lane to be in. Also, when we got to the outskirts of the city, every intersection was crowded with people selling food, newspapers, coming up and squirting fluid on the window and trying to wash it. It was very nerve-wracking since I read way too many online horror stories of people being attacked in their cars. Definitely shouldn’t have done as much “research” on driving in Mexico as I did.
This hotel in Cuauhtémoc – the Tarahumara Inn – is not as nice as our last one but seems pretty clean and has secure parking which is important. Costs about $70 a night. The city of Cuauhtémoc is mid-sized (about 90,000 people) so driving in it was a little better, although I did end up going the wrong way down a one way street. There are about 50,000 German-descended Mennonites in this area. They reportedly speak little Spanish and keep mostly to themselves, marrying within the community. I found an interesting article on drug use in the Mennonite community. I guess it is hard to live in one of Mexico’s most dangerous states without some surrounding influence. It is very strange to be walking down the street surrounded by Mexicans and then see these white men in overalls and white women in homemade dresses and bonnets. Very out of place.
It is about 3 pm and we spent some time walking around town a little. There are some interesting shops and this strange two-story market area that we went in to. I can’t really even describe it very well. Mex feels a little ill so we are going to relax and get ready for our Copper Canyon trip tomorrow. I can’t believe I didn’t take a single picture of the town. Still getting used to this tourist thing I guess.
UPDATE at 9 pm – We just finished dinner at the hotel restaurant. Finally some authentic Mexican food! We both had shrimp but with different sauces and it was great. Mex´s stomach has not gotten any better. He is having major cramps but nothing else and we cannot figure out why since we both have eaten exactly the same thing today. It may be the stress of my driving. If you notice that I am missing contractions or some punctuation it is because I am typing on a Mexican keyboard which has extra buttons that are amazingly impossible to figure out. We are both glad to not be driving for a few days and think going all the way over to Tequila may be an optimistic plan. Especially since we do not have the best of tempers in stressful situations. Thank goodness mom and dad drove us down to El Paso (dad really did all the driving) or we would probably both have ditched the car by now and gotten on a plane. I am starting to miss everybody. More now than when I was stuck in the hotel which seems odd. I am getting very excited to meet his sisters and dad and nieces and nephews and see his town. About nine or ten days left though until we get there. Have a good night everyone.
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.