We’ve been in Mexico now for three days. The first day we crossed the border from Laredo into Nuevo Laredo, and drove to Monterrey. On day two, we drove from Monterrey to San Luis Potosí. We are now on the road to Mexico City, via San Miguel de Allende. I have begun to write this post while driving, since we’re stuck in a total traffic jam, trying to get by a large construction zone.
I wait for about 5 minutes, then move forward about 50 yards, then stop again. All the family is busy watching a movie in the back, “Coco”, so I get to type. Emily our resident Spanish tutor is taking the kids through all the Spanish subtitles. She stops the movie about every 30 seconds, and the kids write down new vocabulary in the notebooks. I think the movie will take about 3 hours or more. A great thing to keep everyone occupied while we sit in this terrible traffic.
My primary worry at the moment is gasoline, since I forgot to fill up in San Luis Potosí. I’m sitting here with ¼ tank, idling, going nowhere fast, and no gas station in sight. Yikes . . In spite of all that -
I love Mexico! What a delightful place. There is so much cultural baggage and so many negative stereotypes for Americans around Mexico. There are drunken party beach cities for tourists on cruises, porous borders and illegal aliens, drug violence and smuggling. I can’t tell you how many of my friends and family members have warned me about the dangers of travelling in Mexico. But the way I think about it, those dangers are very real. High risk, and low probability. If I take precautions, I can stay in the low probability space. If a colleague quoted to me the details around all the murders that occurred in NYC, it wouldn’t necessarily deter me from going there. I would just try and be careful. Likewise with Mexico.
So, some highlights and lowlights:
#1 - Monterrey - a beautifully situated city in the mountains
#2 - Excellent roads - . . . . .so far, and much to my surprise, based on everything I’ve heard and read
#3 - Friendly and welcoming people
#4 - Beautiful scenery - the mountains and cactus trees forests are a sight right out of Dr. Seuss
#5 - Decent data speeds, and Google Maps is a game-changer
#6 - Quaint colorful towns - San Luis Potosí and San Miguel de Allende have been a joy to be in
#7 - Super long Nuevo Laredo border crossing because of a 90-minute mistake and turnaround
#8 - Heavily loaded vehicle, low-riding trailer hitch, and scraping most speed bumps
#9 - Construction traffic in the midst of forgetting to fill the car with gas
#1 - Monterrey - a beautifully situated city in the mountains - It was really a fantastic place, surrounded by jagged peaks, and hills that cut right through the center of the city. It was a very modern place with a Costco, Sam’s club, Home Depot, Chilis . . . You name it, it was here. The roads and traffic were totally doable, and we visited the Monterrey LDS Temple, which had the most beautiful baptistery I’ve ever seen in any temple.
#2 - Excellent roads - . . . . .so far, and much to my surprise, based on everything I’ve heard and read - This is a real surprise to me. All the highways are well-paved, many are the toll roads, but many are not. Even when we’ve detoured to the 2-lane back highways, they have still been well maintained. We’ve passed numerous highway workers on projects, and others simply doing road cleanup. I’m waiting for the shoe to drop, and to find myself surrounded by potholes and cows in the road, but so far, so good. Not only are the roads good, the drivers are polite. They slow down to let me in, flashing their lights to signal for me to merge. There is not a lot of honking. Drivers drive in lanes, for the most part, and everyone lets you pass on the highway. It has been a most pleasant finding.
#3 - Friendly and welcoming people - with my awful Spanish, I ask people all the time for help, and every single person has been friendly, helpful and interested.
#4 - Beautiful scenery - the mountains and cactus trees forests are a sight right out of Dr. Seuss - We’ve passed by numerous, what I call “Thneed” forests, full of cactus-like leaves on tall trees, spread as far as the eye can see. We’ve also passed right through the Monarch butterfly migration zone, with numerous signs telling us to slow down when butterflies are present. The mountains along our way have had layers upon layers of hills, mountains and peaks.
#5 - Decent data speeds, and Google Maps is a game-changer - We changed from AT&T to T-mobile before we came, because T-mobile offers a much better international calling and data plan. In some places it is spotty, but honestly, for what I need to do on my phone, I’ve been impressed with the coverage and the data speed. Google maps has been our constant companion, and it has been reliable and accurate.
#6 - Quaint colorful towns - San Luis Potosí and San Miguel de Allende have been a joy to be in - While in San Luis Potosí last night, we got to the hostel about 4:00pm, and there was plenty of light to walk around, so we headed out to the square. Along the way, we ate roasted crickets for the first time (salty and crunchy, better with lime juice) and corn on the cob on a stick, smothered in hot sauce, cream and goat cheese, and boiled sweet potatoes, served right up from her big aluminum pot on wheels, and authentic Mexican tacos, with flat corn tortillas and meat, with lime juice and green salsa. Everything has been delicious and fresh. The next morning started with a delightful bike ride through the old center, surrounded by many people walking to work.
Lowlights: #7 - Super long Nuevo Laredo border crossing because of a 90-minute mistake and turnaround - I thought this went just fine at first. We found the immigration offices in Nuevo Laredo (not at all obvious) went in and got our tourist Visas, and our car pass, and Mexican Insurance. There were minimal lines, and it went pretty efficiently. I paid for the car pass and we left and headed south, driving for about 20 minutes until we got to a immigration stop, before getting on the motorway. He took one look at our Visas, and told us that we needed to turn around and go back to pay for the Visas. We had been told that we pay on our exit from Mexico, but not according to this officer. So we turned around and headed back. I found myself standing in front of the exact same clerk, to pay for my visas, when I could have paid for them 45 minutes earlier, had I known it was a necessity. Oh well, good thing the kids are good in the car.
#8 - Heavily loaded vehicle, low-riding trailer hitch, and scraping most speed bumps - This has been a big concern for me. With everything we packed, the back of the car is riding very low, and the trailer deck extension sits only about 6-10” off the ground. It serves as a large cantilever, and pulls the back down even farther than normal. This makes speed bumps a major grind, literally. I’ll be very glad when we can lighten up a bit.
#9 - Construction traffic in the midst of forgetting to fill the car with gas - Like I said, this was a concern, and after waiting for an hour in traffic, we turned around to find a gas station and take the long way. What should have been a 90 minute drive took us 4 hours. I’ll not be forgetting to fill up with gasoline again.
Next Stop: Mexico City
Plan? What plan?
Our 2018 will be filled with family travel, with all 8 suitcases! After going to Hawaii, we are planning on driving through Mexico, to Lake Atitlán in Guatemala. We'll spend about a month there, then drive to (tentative) Costa Rica for maybe a month. Then we'll make our way back up to Texas and fly to London! After that, the plan is to drive around Europe, go back and visit Holland, and maybe navigate Eastern Europe, maybe go back to some old haunts, but whatever it is, it'll be great.