Driving Through the Desert on a Bridge With No Name… Guaymas to Camp Verde, AZ

I was in driving mode today, so you get another novel… but no illustrations. I am the worst blogger on the planet. 🙂

It was a pretty good night in Guaymas. I woke up around 3:30, but managed to doze until 5:30ish. I went to the office to check out and get my key and remote control deposit back as well as receive my coupon for a complimentary breakfast. That was running late, so I went next door to Oxxo to get a coffee. By the time I came back, the breakfast room was open. For egg eaters, the breakfast was decent enough — one fried egg with toast and coffee. I asked for just toast and coffee and got three slices since I wasn’t haven an egg. It wasn’t much, but I wasn’t particularly hungry and was happy to not be leaving on an empty stomach. The coffee was okay, but not worth lingering over, so I left about a half cup.

It was 6:40ish when I finally took off. I didn’t need to get fuel just yet, so I was able to get some miles under me. I stopped at the southern end of Hermosillo to put in $400 of fuel. That would get me to the border with about a quarter tank of fuel to spare.

The roads were good, but there were a lot of “desviaciónes,” where you drive in the opposite lanes and only have one going in each direction. So it was pretty slow, albeit steady going. I know I passed my favourite “Puente sin nombre” (bridge with no name) at some point, but didn’t see the sign since I was on the wrong side of the highway. I had a stop or two by the federales where I pretty much just rolled through. I might have had a fruit stop, too, but I can’t remember. If I did, it wasn’t memorable!

I didn’t let the first part of the day lull me into complacency, knowing I had three major roadblocks ahead of me: the big military checkpoint before Santa Ana, the US border, and then the secondary inland customs checkpoint. So I had no motivation to dawdle since I really wanted to get at least as far as Phoenix tonight.

Before I knew it, I was in line for the big military checkpoint, where I was sent to secondary inspection. The officer thoroughly went through everything he could reach without taking too much out of the truck, asking we what such and such was. I didn’t have the words for “external hard drive” so I went with “thing for my computer that has pictures on it.” And I completely blanked on the word for printer and went with, “the thing that puts my computer things on paper.” That one got a laugh. The soldier was just a kid and very nice. I was there about ten minutes total.

Coming into Santa Ana, I remembered, yet again, that I forgot to pick up some powdered milk to take with me to Canada! A bag in Mexico is about 3CAD while the exactly same product is 12CAD at home! I figured Santa Ana would have a  grocery store and, sure enough, I saw a “Super Norte” as I came into town that had to be a grocery store. I missed the turnoff for it, so I circled around the block and parked on the street since the store lot was cramped. The milk was more expensive than at Ley, but only by about $6, still a substantial savings.

It was about 10:30 by this point and I was feeling peckish. I’d just happened to park behind a taco joint, so I went in and ordered just one taco as a snack. I don’t know if “tacos de burro” needs to be taken literally or not, but I’m fairly certain that I wasn’t eating beef… Whatever it was, it was yummy!

I then realised that I was out of money on my phone so I stopped in at an Oxxo to top up. You might find that odd, thinking why do that when I was right on top of the border, but I have the new “sin fronteras” plan, where I can use my phone in the US and Canada at the same rates as in Mexico. I figured that I’d test with just $100 on the phone and if it worked, then I could buy a banda ancha plan to use while in the US, saving me from having to buy a SIM card and deal with AT&T.

Next, came a fourth roadblock I hadn’t anticipated based on my experience last year: the vehicle permit return. Since I was getting cash back, I had to get a photocopy of my passport and driver’s license (on the same sheet of paper) and go to Banjercito. So I was there about a half hour. The process went smoothly and I got two crisp US $100 bills back. It was nice to get that little influx of cash that I won’t have to convert to CAD.

And then, it was time to ignore the GPS and head towards the Mariposa Road crossing rather than Noagales Centro. I had just one final toll booth for the day, the third. I haven’t done the books yet for today, but tolls were around $145, or 11.CAD. Once that last toll was paid, I was left with about $60! Wow, talk about good budgeting on my part! My last withdrawal amount was exactly right, and that’s taking into account all the unexpected splurges my last days on Isla.

The line up for the border started way back this year and moved very slowly. There were only four of twelve lanes open, and no bus or RV lanes! Those of you who follow me on Facebook were treated to my live Facebooking my wait. I waited exactly 40 minutes to finally get to a customs inspector. He asked me a couple of questions, poked through the back of the truck… and sent me on my way! That was not expected!

Once clear, it was just past 1PM. I was happy to get clear of Nogales and push north. The inland customs checkpoint was open, but the line move smoothly. I was asked if I’m an American citizen and replied Canadian, which got me wave through.

I stopped just past Tucson for a very late lunch. Channeling Tony Stark, all I wanted after my grueling time in the desert was an American cheeseburger, so I decided to try In-N-Out Burger for the first time, having heard so many good things about them. All I can say is meh. Oh, well, at least it hit the spot. I also bought fuel at just 1.899 a gallon! Wow, that’s great price even with a the exchange rate! And I got my stupid phone working on the T-Mobile network after multiple reboots. I just checked my balance and it has barely gone down despite my doing some surfing on the phone, so I know that I can definitely get a banda ancha plan to use in the US. Wow!

I then stopped at the Walmart in Tempe, hoping to find a pair of Earth Spirit sandals I like since I went clear through my pair from the spring over the winter, as expected. As luck would have it, they had both of my favourite styles of the sandals in my size! I grabbed both as well as a couple of tee-shirts.

Then, I tried a couple of motels along my route and the Motel 6 was the best deal for a ridiculous $61 if I wanted internet. I decided to push on a bit. I knew this would be my most expensive hotel night and I didn’t mind splurging, but if I was going to spend 80CAD or more, I wanted some value to my expenditure.

Well, I ended up climbing and climbing and climbing to over 4,000 feet and then descending a bit to land in Camp Verde for the night at an off chain motel (my GPS thought it was a Super 8). The attendant gave me the AAA rate so I paid close to what the Motel 6 would have charged, only I got a pool, a much nicer room, and a semblance of breakfast in the morning. Even though it was past seven by this point, I hit the pool for a few laps then soaked my kinks in the hot tub!

I was peckish by this point, so I went to the Denny’s nearly next door and it was hopping. I knew I would not get out of there quickly unless I did soup, so that’s what I ordered. I’m pretty sure they just open up a tin of store brand cheddar soup and mixed in some frozen broccoli… It really wasn’t great, but it was nourishing and cheap and I got out of there before people who had been ahead of me even got a chance to order their food!

It was a very long haul today, but I only have 600KM to do tomorrow and the hostel in Moab isn’t expecting me till about seven. I plan to leave pretty late (nine) and I have one major stop en route.

A Year In Mexico… Isla de la Piedra to Guaymas

I woke up at four this morning ahead of a grueling driving day and two and a half hours away from daylight. Unacceptable. I dozed until about 4:30 and then, thankfully, fell back asleep, to wake up eight minutes before my alarm at 5:22. It’s amazing how different I felt after just another 50 minutes of sleep. I got up, dressed, put water on to heat, and then got to work packing up the bedding. Both toppers packed well and quickly. Even after adding them, the dirty laundry tub (topped with sheets and a blanket in a garbage bag), and my pillows, I still had plenty of room to add the bucket after I washed the floors.

I made coffee and while it cooled a tad, I packed my computer bag and got that into the truck. Then, I went through the fridge and freezer one last time and realised that I had six slices of fresh bread and a quarter of a small container of strawberry jam left. I converted that into three jam sandwiches and had one with my coffee. If that doesn’t speak to my state of mind this morning, I don’t know what does — it’s rare for me to have breakfast on a travel day! I knew I would have a very late lunch, so I’d have another sandwich at my morning coffee break and then have a final one a couple of hours before lunch. Perfect; that saved me a stop at Panamá’s. I haven’t been there much this winter, incidentally, not since we got our panaderia on Isla.

By 6:30, it was getting light out and I was done, the house left spotless and the truck neatly packed. It was time to go.

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Yes, I was sad. How could I not be? I had the best year of my life (in two segments) living in this house, in this village. But I was also looking forward to new adventures, and so I was also happy. I have a biological imperative to go. I am unhappy if I don’t heed it and I am unhappy when I do heed it. But I am my best self when I let myself leave, when I accept that this is what my life has to be, constant arrivals and departures, so many hellos and goodbyes, so many shallow and fleeting friendships (and the odd one that really sticks), so much stress about what comes next. It is in this uncertainty that I find myself strong, ambitious, energetic, and productive.

I savoured my time in Mazatlán. I got to know parts of it in ways that I have only ever known one other city in my life. I truly lived in Mexico for a year, dealing daily with the locals for all my needs and speaking their language. I saw all manner of expats, from those who are truly integrated into Mexican life and those who come only for the weather and remain in their Gringo enclaves. My experience was closer to the former and incredibly enriching. I have come to understand things about myself that I have always suspected, but was never able to truly articulate. What I found in Mexico is exactly the same thing I found at my beloved Haven and merits its own post. But I will say now that I have spent but a scant year in Mexico and I have felt more at home in the parts of it that I have seen than I have ever felt anywhere in Canada outside of Haven, and that’s taking into account that the Mexican people are still a mystery to me since I haven’t really befriended any yet. All that to say, I’m ready to move here.

I set off at 6:30 and the Road was, of course, paved except for the last few metres. There were now topes at the houses midway and even speed limit signs (60KPH!). I look forward to reports of how the paving changes Isla over the next few years.

I’d only been driving a few minutes when I realised that my odo and speedo metres weren’t working! I pulled over in front of Estrella del Mar to check my manual and see if they are on the same fuse. Yes. So that was probably the issue, a very inexpensive fix, and one not worth worrying about. I prefer to use my GPS as a speedometre anyway, although I was concerned about not clocking the mileage on the engine. I hadn’t realised it was that easy to turn off and now wonder if the previous owner ever did that and my truck has more mileage than I thought? Ah, no sense worrying. Even though I haven’t driven since the end of November, Moya started up perfectly and was purring.

It was super early, so traffic was light coming into Mazatlán. I pulled into a Pemex at the northern end of town for a final bathroom break and asked the attendant to wash my windows. I also asked if she knew where I could buy a fuse and she told me I was out of luck until stuff opened around eight or 8:30. It was seven and this really wasn’t pressing (I had my turn signals and brake light) so I decided to just stop at the AutoZone in Navojoa near the end of my day.

Because of the increased amount of violence around Maz in the last few months, including several carjackings north and south of the city I made the decision to take the cuota (toll road) all the way, a decision cemented by the fact that numerous people told me to not take the libre no matter how safe I’ve felt taking it in the past. So the first part of my day was very boring, not particularly scenic, and very expensive toll-wise. The most exciting thing that happened was that I got an amazing coffee at the Oxxo 100KM south of Culicán. Second to that was the stop by the federales right after the coffee break, with the very fatherly officer telling me I really should be traveling with a dog or cat! I also had a couple of fruit stops, but they went quickly. Oh, and it rained hard most of the way from just south of Culiacán to just south of Los Mochis… and I discovered that my dead fuse also controls my windshield wipers! That was… “fun.” 🙂

This was my first time doing the cuota to Los Mochis and it really didn’t feel any faster than taking the libre, on top of not being able to go through the pueblos. It’s definitely not my favourite way to travel and the day just draaaaaaagged. I stopped at a Pemex at one point to put in more fuel (I always put in just $500 at a time to force me to stop more often) and had to pay with $50s, which I counted out. The attendant was shocked that I could count to ten in Spanish. Not the most amazing thing I’ve ever learned! Most expats I know who struggle with the language know that… He asked if I was going to Maz because he had some sort of coupon for a hotel, but I told him I was going way, way, way north!

There was a military checkpoint just before the Sonora border, where I got sent to secondary inspection, where I was told to exit the vehicle and go stand by the big dude with the huge gun (my description). My heart sank at the thought that they were going to empty out everything, like they were doing with the class B from California next to me. An officer opened just the canopy and rummaged through what he could reach, including the dirty laundry (*laughs*) and going into two tubs and unwrapping some things in one of them (keyboard and external hard drive). He then said I could lock up and follow him to the front so I could move the driver’s seat ahead so he could see what I was carrying behind it. I told him there is a rear door, so he opened that himself and rummaged through the two totes there. Then he asked me the usual questions of where I was coming from and where I was going before telling me I could go. I was there about 20 very long minutes!

Then, came the Sonora border, the really bad bit of road right around it, and another fruit inspection. This one also went very quickly. It was around here that I realised that I was going to “gain” an hour today, thanks to my GPS. I didn’t use a GPS last year and am pretty sure that I didn’t clue into this because I didn’t note gaining an hour until I crossed into Arizona. So that was a surprise, neither good nor bad.

It was slow going from the border to Navojoa because of construction meaning there was only one lane in both directions and I got stuck behind a semi. So by the time I reached Navojoa, I was just done and ready to call it a night! If I didn’t have that reservation on Monday night, I just might have done that! But, instead, I decided to have a proper lunch break. The last two times I passed through Navajoa, I noted one taco joint in particular (there are a lot of them on Mex-15 through the city!) that has al pastor tacos, Don Amable, in front of the Chevrolet dealership. I decided that I would stop there if they were open and I could find parking.

I got a red light before the Soriana coming into Navojoa and two boys took the time to wash my windshield. They couldn’t have been at it more than fifteen seconds, really, and did an amazing job — there wasn’t a streak or bug left! How do they do that with just a water bottle and a squeegee?! I love the window washers in Mexico, even if I sometimes get irked when I get my windshield done and one block later, another guy decides to do it again and won’t take no for an answer! In that case, he gets $1 instead of $5 (pesos!).

Before lunch, I stopped at AutoZone and wasted ten minutes. I found my fuses in under thirty seconds and then went to the till to pay. A few people lined up behind me and when a cashier finally came after a whole ten minutes of waiting, she called to the guy behind me! I said no, I was there first and she replied that they were there first, the five men in line behind me and that I could wait till they’d paid! What the hell?! Needless to say, I dropped my fuses right there and left. No, I did not misunderstand what she said.

Too hungry to be annoyed, I continued on a few blocks and found Don Amable open, with ample street parking across from it on my side of the highway. It’s just a normal taco joint, nothing special in terms of decor. I sat and a gentleman came to welcome me and take my order. I asked for two al pastor tacos with everything and he asked me to specify corn or wheat tortillas! Apparently, the look on my face said it all because he burst out laughing and said “Corn it is!” without my having to say anything. LOL!!! They came quickly with heaps of extras to pile on them!

Here they are naked:

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And semi-dressed:

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I kept adding stuff as I ate. I went light on the hot red sauces, but went through a lot of the salsa mexicana, guacamole, pickled onion, and shredded cabbage. I love cabbage on tacos, but have never had it on al pastor ones! I was done with my first taco when I started regretting not ordering something to drink. Just as I was about to look around for a server, one materialised to ask if I wanted anything to drink! Really! He was about to recite a list of beverages, but I cut him off and asked if they had Fresca. Yes! And it came in a glass bottle! How quaint!

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I couldn’t feel my tongue when I came out of there and decided that it was fate that there just happened to be a Thrifty’s ice cream across the street… One choco brownie cone later, my tastebuds were restored and I was ready to do the final stretch to Guaymas.

Dull as the day had been, it had been a good one thus far. Now that have three Mexican cities under my belt and have driven away from this Mex-15 stretch, I feel that I have more general Mexico experience and am so much more comfortable in new situations. I did well going north last year, but I still felt that I needed to stick to familiar places. Now, I have a good idea of where to get things outside of chain stores and I’m not nervous about asking for what I need. I’ll definitely be able to hit the ground running when I move to Mérida and focus on the more advanced things I need to learn.

And so, I kept driving, and running into toll booths. There were exactly ten today, for a total of $677 (52.13CAD). OUCH. But I have to say that with my not being budgeted as tightly as I was last year, it wasn’t distressing, just profoundly annoying when you’d get to a toll booth only a few kilometres after the last one!

I finally got off the cuota at Guaymas. Traffic was light going through the city. I knew the AutoZone was on the “wrong” side of the highway, so I turned off before it so I could go in the back way. I love knowing little things like that! If I’d had to make the left-hand turn, I don’t think I would have bothered because I was knackered and just wanted to get off the road!

My experience at the Guaymas AutoZone was the completely opposite of that in Navojoa — I was out the door in under a minute! And as I opened my front door wide to put the new fuse in, an employee came to ask if I needed help! Wow! No, I didn’t need help. I pulled out the old fuse using a very handy little tool mounted right into the fuse box and then popped in the new one. I did a couple of checks and confirmed that my problem was solved. Easy peasy! Only cost me 2CAD and not an ounce of worry. I had to buy a package of fuses so I have a few extra. They’re 10A and I tend to go through at least one 10A fuse a season with one of my inverters in the RV, so the extras will be used up.

I was glad that I’d made the decision to stop in Guaymas rather than San Carlos tonight because I was just done as I left the city limits on the other side. I’d found a decently rated cheap motel, the Malibu, in front of the Walmart and headed there to see if they had a room.

It wound up being just past the Walmart and I had to do a U-turn:

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Yes, they had a vacancy, and the room was $40 more than on the website. I lost that argument, but at $450 pesos, it was still a good deal. Well, as the check-in process moved on, the clerk and I chatted and she finally said, “You know what? I’m going to give you that $410 rate!” Wow. What happened?! So $410, plus a $100 key and remote deposit, with breakfast included. I was already doing better than at Totonaka!

The room is equivalent in terms of amenities and age, but marginally cleaner and the bed a touch softer. I like that the only window is in the bathroom, meaning that once the bathroom door is shut, the room is dark. I also like that there are multiple signs stating that people are here to sleep and that music and other loud noises will not be tolerated. Okay. I’m starting to like this place! I do miss not having that last view of the Sea of Cortez, though. But here are the red hills I’m going to be seeing a lot of in the next several days!

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There is just one restaurant within walking distance, literally beside the hotel. And it’s Arbolitos de Cajeme! I didn’t realise they are a chain! I’ve been there a few times in San Carlos (they’re right next to Totonaka). In fact, if I had gone to San Carlos tonight, I would have going there and had the octopus pasta I had in November of 2014

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Needless to say, I barely glanced at the menu after I was seated tonight. 😀 I had the pasta with an icy cold XX and skipped the totopos and garlic bread. So yummy! I mean, Parmesan, fresh basil, red and yellow peppers, and tons of shrimp and octopus. Yum!!! It looks different from what I was served in San Carlos in that there, the Parmesan, basil, and oil are served as pesto while here, the ingredients are separate and you get the whole basil leaves. Both versions are great and are generous with the octopus.

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There was an ad on the table for their freshly made ice cream so even though I really didn’t need dessert, I asked if they had the mango one. No. But they did have a bunch of other flavours and I decided to try the pineapple… which wound up being $69… and worth every peso for the presentation. I burst out laughing when this was placed in front of me!

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Seriously?! I’m still laughing at how unexpected this was. The server says that the ice cream was made from the pulp of that miniature pineapple. Hmm… Well, the serving was very generous, but I got through it. 🙂

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This was really good quality ice cream, very “pineapple-y,” and the perfect cap to a good meal. Dinner was $275 with the tip, a lot more than I normally spend on a meal in Mexico, but absolutely worth every centavo in terms of the quality and even gourmet nature of my meal. This was a 20CAD meal. You don’t get food like this for 20 bucks in Canada!

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I was done for the day after that. I came in and had a tepid shower (perfect temperature), then crawled into bed to check out the wifi (a bit slow, but it works!!!!). It’s only eight local time, but nine my time and I’m almost at the point of needing to prop my eyelids open with toothpicks! Breakfast starts at six and sunrise is at six, so I might as well turn in early and get an early start. My ambitious plan for tomorrow is to get through Phoenix! I’ll know how realistic that is when I get through the border…

A Grueling Driving Day (Or San Carlos to Guamúchil, Redux)

Today was a cautionary tale about keeping your driving days short in Mexico. In Canada and the US, I wouldn’t hesitate to plan a 1,000KM day if I was traveling on main highways, but more than 500KM at this time of year, when the days are short, is all I’d chance in Mexico. Still, I left San Carlos early enough this morning that I actually had a backup plan in case I wanted to push on to Culiacán since all I had on the table was a measly 450km and an 8AMish start time…

I took the libre through Guaymas to save myself a toll and pulled into a Pemex once I was free of the city, putting in $500 worth of fuel, which got me half a tank, so fuel prices are slightly better than last year.

After that, it was construction, construction, and more construction all the way to Ciudad Obregón. There, it was HUGE, vehicle destroying, potholes all through the city. I’m not exaggerating. I’ve only ever seen potholes that size on main roads in Quebec. Hit one of those and you’re not getting out with a tow truck and some major damage. I wouldn’t have wanted to be in a car low to the ground with no view of the obstacle course that lay ahead!

Once I finally made it through, it was construction, construction, and more construction all the way to Navojoa. Very slow speeds, too, since we were sharing the opposite driving lane. It was about 300KM to get there from San Carlos and it took over four hours to arrive. WHEW. The only stops I made were for toll booths and the Red Cross, who were collecting donations.

I learned another really important lesson today: if you think you need a bathroom, jump on the opportunity to use one even if you’re planning to use one only about 20KM away in case you encounter construction, traffic, a billion red lights, and a really bad accident resulting in a detour along the way…

Needless to say, I was very happy to reach the Soriana in Navojoa! I had lunch there, a really good slice of pizza, and then I picked up a new pump for my water bottle since I don’t like the style that comes with the casita and I wanted a spare for home anyway.

I was really parched by this point, having already downed the 2L of water of cold water I had with me and only infernal-temperature water left. I looked in the Soriana coolers to see if they had Electrolit, but struck out. Thankfully, the Oxxo across the street had some that was icy cold and I drained a whole container in just a few gulps! It did the trick, and I followed it up with a cold bottle of water over the next hour. I’m glad I was introduced to that stuff last year. No matter how much water I drink, it’s hard to stay hydrated in this climate.

I had one stop shortly after Navojoa by what I think is the major crimes unit and I didn’t ‘like’ this guy. He just made the hairs on my nape prickle. I gave him vague answers in broken Spanish and was finally sent on my way.

I saw a couple of things today that made we wish I had a navigator who could take pictures for me, or a driver so that I could take the pictures myself! One of them was a clever ad for a limeade drink that said, “Limón y nada.” “Lime and nothing” sounds like the Spanish for “limeade”, the product, and also insinuates that the product is all natural.

Another thing I saw that absolutely delighted me was a rather long stretch of road with a bunch of goats eating the weeds along the shoulder! They were not impeding traffic, just having a buffet. There was so many of them!

Finally, I saw the first signs announcing Maz! Home stretch! And speaking of Maz, it was SO GOOD to finally hit the Sinaloa roads. They weren’t great by any means, but much better than those in Sonora!

It was a tough driving day, very technical, but not stressful, not even when I was driving through the big city traffic. I’m a better defensive driver than I would have thought and definitely getting comfortable driving in this country.

My ETA to Guamúchil had started off as 1PM, but had stretched to 3:30PM as I approached the off ramp to the Culiacán libre. I was beyond done for the day! I found the motel from last year without any trouble, but they insisted on $700 when I only paid $550 last year. I wasn’t going to quibble over 12CAD. The rooms are still rather shabby, but clean, and I recognise the value they offer for the price, like access to the pool and a bottle of cold water waiting in the fridge! Speaking of the pool, I was in it minutes after arriving. 🙂

I’m off to have dinner. Early by Mexican time, but late by my body clock. 😀

Home tomorrow. I can’t believe it!

Peaceful Morning

I really debated whether or not to come back to Totonaka and decided to give them once last chance. After the night I just had, they won’t be seeing me again. There are so many other hotels in San Carlos that surely I can find something else that is more suitable. I know the rate here is pretty cheap (about 30USD right now), but the rooms aren’t great and I’m sure better value can be found, even if it means spending a few more pesos. There’s only a stained towel in the bathroom, the bedsheets are cigarette burned, the place feels like it’s only surface cleaned, and the bed is rock hard. At least, there’s a fridge. Oh, and the WiFi is unusable. I could handle all of that for the rate, especially since I brought in my mattress topper (which made a huge difference), but this back row of rooms is apparently party central for San Carlos. I was woken up on and off during the night to squealing tires, very loud music, and other general rowdiness. I deserve a good night’s sleep after and ahead of border crossing day and this motel isn’t the place where I can get that.

Even though it was a night of broken sleep, I still woke up really early, having gone to bed really early. I just couldn’t keep my eyes open last night! In fact, as those of you on Facebook know, I ended up going to Los Arbolitos for a nightcap and bowl of soup just to stretch out my evening! BTW, adding sliced avocado to hot soup is genius. It was the second time I’ve done it and I love it! The avocado dissolves and makes the soup creamy. Yum!

Of course, the morning is now very quiet and peaceful… Guess all the partyers are sleeping in.

I walked down to the Oxxo for coffee, happy that I don’t have to schlep all the way across town for that anymore. Oxxo definitely has a ‘refill’ rate for hot drinks if you bring your own cup (I saw the clerk pick it on the computer) and their rates are not consistent from store to store. My coffee today was $13 rather than $12.50 (a 0.04CAD difference). It is also my best Oxxo coffee ever. Yum!

I have about six hours of driving ahead of me today, not counting any potential stops for coffees and baños and it’s 7:30, so I’ll be heading out soonnish. I can’t believe I’ll be home on Isla tomorrow afternoon! I don’t even know if the house is going to be ready for me. After having such a hard time getting hold of my landlady last year, I told her in July that if she doesn’t hear from me again, I’ll be arriving at 2PMish on November 1st and wouldn’t be contacting her again. So I’m prepared for the scenario that she forgot I was coming and that the house won’t be ready. Not a big deal if that’s the case since I seriously doubt she rented it out to anyone else. The plan would be to let her know I’m on site, then go have a beer and late lunch on the beach while she scrambles. 🙂 All will be revealed soon enough. I am just going to be glad to be home, even if I have to wait a few hours to gain access. Living out of a suitcase is exhausting!

What a Difference a Year Makes (Or Nogales to San Carlos, Redux)

I am very amused (but touched!) by the comments I got last night and this morning attempting to destress me about the border crossing today. If, on a scale of one to ten, one is driving from Haven to Assiniboia and ten is that bad feeling deep in the pit of my stomach that I should not hit the road, I was at a solid three last night and this morning. As a point of comparison, I’m at a two most travel mornings, unless I’m going to hit big city traffic (Montreal usually warrants an eight) or my budget is too tight to truly absorb something unexpected. I’d say I was at a seven last year. So I really wasn’t stressed out about today. 🙂

I tried to delay bedtime so I wouldn’t be up insanely early today, but I was out by 8:30 and awake around 4:40. *sighs* But I was in no rush, so I dozed until about 5:45 (how luxurious!). I’d done most of my packing last night, so I had just a few things to do this morning. I brought a load down to the truck, then went to the restaurant for breakfast. It was enchilada casserole with refried beans again, which suited me just fine. I also had fruit salad and just one cup of coffee since my bladder hates me! 😀

I’d filled out the comment card and it said to please drop it off at the front desk rather than leave it in the room, so I did that after leaving $5 for housekeeping as well as a very tidy room. Having done housekeeping myself, I know the feeling of dread as you enter a room that someone has been living in for several days without having had any service and the joy of getting a decent tip anyway.

By the time I got fuel, topped off the truck oil, did one last pit stop, and hit the road, it was about 7:05, ten minutes earlier than last year. There was no one at the American post, so I just drove through. Then, I got the green light at the first checkpoint! So far, so good! The first toll hadn’t changed, still $52 (all prices in pesos from this point forward!).

Kilometre 21 was a bit busier than last year and a real cautionary tale of doing some research when going to a foreign country and to never, ever, ever take anything for granted no matter how long you’ve been there! The woman ahead of me had a resident visa (or something like that) that she was supposed to have turned in when she left Mexico, but didn’t. They didn’t want to let her back in. It was ugly. As for the couple behind me, they are permanent residents and tried to bring in a US-plated vehicle, which is illegal. That was ugly, too. And then the people behind them were very impatient and complaining about the ‘bitchy’ immigration officer just doing her job. *sighs*

I got to the head of the queue in less than ten minutes and filled in my FMM. The officer gave it a once over, compared it to my passport, asked me how long I was staying in Mexico, and sent me off to Banjercito to pay, reminding me (still in Spanish) to come back and have the form stamped. I remembered to stop to have a copy of the form made, then got in line for payment. Remembering what Contessa told me last year, I paid for my vehicle import at the same time, rather than returning to immigration to have the form stamped, then going back to Banjercito for the vehicle stuff. Saved me a heap of time!

I did the whole TIP thing in Spanish without any problems. I think the only hiccup was that I wasn’t allowed to pay for the TIP itself (not the deposit) in pesos, only USD or with my Visa. Weird because I was allowed to pay my FMM fee in pesos. Anyway, nothing to be concerned about! The process felt very quick and easy and not at all convoluted like it did last year, since Contessa saved me those extra steps (thanks!).

Once the TIP was sorted out, I went back to immigration to have my FMM stamped. The officer now had other people helping her. She looked at me and said that she’d be a moment and made a slashing motion across her throat to show they were swamped. I told her I wasn’t in any hurry and the grateful smile she gave me made my day! Another gal ended up taking my FMM and dang was her Spanish fast. All I caught as she handed me back my receipt was ‘pide.’ Since that means ask/request/demand, I’m fairly certain she was telling me to hang onto it in case I’m asked for it…

I went back to the truck to put my holograma on my windshield and grab the wet wipes I had forgotten to put in my purse. There was a window washer trying to get some business (and some folks being absurdly rude to him — what is wrong with everyone?!). I called him over and had him give my windows a good cleaning while I went to the bathroom. This year, there was an attendant and paper, so I had to leave a tip.

So I was back on the road by, oh, 8:30ish, I believe, a little earlier than last year. I think I was there a total of forty minutes, tops.

I hit the road and within a couple of kilometres, I encountered my first of four narco (I’m assuming) checkpoints of the day. I was asked where I was coming from and going, the guy peeked through my topper window, and then I was on my way. Not more than two minutes later, I encountered the second checkpoint…

This one was very much like getting the red light last year. The first person I spoke to asked the same questions as I’d answered at the previous checkpoint, then I was told to pull over to an inspection area so they could check the back of my truck.

After a few minutes of wait, an officer came to ask me the same questions again, as well as how long am I planning to be in Maz, where am I stopping tonight and the name of the hotel, what I’m carrying, and more. He went over my FMM receipt, examined my holograma (first time I’ve had it checked), and requested my passport, as well as opening up the back and poking through my things.

This was absolutely fine as I have nothing to hide, but the interview was quite in depth and the man did not speak English. How the heck do non-Spanish speaking people get through situations like that?! My comprehension is definitely better than it was last year, especially since I’ve figured out that I don’t have to understand every word to understand what is being said to me. I still consider it miraculous when I’m asked a question, I give an answer, and it is what they want to hear!

After this, I was finally able to get some miles under me. It was a little chilly and drizzly, so that meant that I was in the mood for another coffee. I pulled into an Oxxo sometime before Magdalena and learned that you get charged for their smallest size of coffee if you have your own cup!

Sometime later, my coffee had been processed, so I pulled into a Pemex to use the bathroom. It had paper and soap, wow! I am thinking of starting a Bathrooms of Mexico website for the ladies. 😀 I left a tip here since I wasn’t a customer.

If you remember last year, I didn’t stop once between KM 21 and San Carlos, so we’re at two stops already for today. 🙂 The next stop I wanted to make was in Hermosillo to get my phone set up. Research told me to stay on the route through town to reach a Centro de Atencion a Clientes (full service store) next to the BMW dealership, but just a block or two after the turn off for the sort of bypass, I passed a different Centro de Atencion a Clientes! I did a U-turn, circled the block until I found parking, and headed inside.

This was so much easier than last year. For one thing, I knew what I needed and had an idea of the questions I was going to be asked. I registered at the entrance, saying that I needed a new Amigo SIM card for my phone and was sent immediately to a customer service associate. She processed me efficiently and her supervisor came by to tell me that there has been a huge change in the last year and I can call the US and Canada at the same rate as local calls. WOW! I do want to say that the standard Amigo rate sucks, so I’m still going to be favouring Skype! She got my order started, then sent me to the payment window.

There, I finally understood why I couldn’t do the internet refill in addition to the SIM card purchase at the same time — you need your phone number to do that and you don’t get a phone number till you have a SIM card. I paid my $149 and then went back to the first lady so she could activate my service. It took a few tries (ie. reboots) for my stupid phone to accept the SIM and I had to reiterate that, yes, I’ve used this phone with a TelCel SIM before. I’ll be so glad to upgrade my phone when I get home! But she finally got it working. Then, I went back to the payment window to buy 3GB of bandwidth good for one month ($400). That done, I sat down on a bench in the store to send the ALTO30 message to activate the discounted rate for data service and make sure I had service by checking in on Facebook. 🙂 Done, and easy peasy to boot!

It was only about an hour more to San Carlos, so I didn’t make any more stops, except for two more narco checkpoints, where I was just waved through. I pulled into Totonaka around 1:45. They didn’t have a cheap ($400) room available for me, so I had to take the $500 room that is identical, except that is has a TV…

I was ready for lunch by this point, so I headed across the street to Charly’s Rock for octopus tacos and beer. Two musicians asked me if I wanted to buy a song and I said yes! They serenaded me with a beautiful love song for several minutes and asked for $50. Very lovely!

My meal was excellent, of course, as was the view. It was supposed to be rainy in San Carlos this afternoon, but my luck continues and it was super hot and sunny. I just love this stop so much. It really is like stepping through the wardrobe into Narnia, or being dropped into colourized Oz!

After lunch, I walked to the Ley to get something to munch on tonight and for breakfast tomorrow, settling on a bag of bagels with some cream cheese since they didn’t have any savoury single bakery items. I had looked for a bakery while driving through Hermosillo, but didn’t see one. Anyway, bread and cheese are so cheap here that even if I don’t get through it all, there won’t be that much waste, financially speaking.

Finally, I got an ice cream for the walk back. 🙂

It’s so good to be back in Mexico! I can’t believe what a difference a year (and six months in this country) makes. I was comfortable on the drive down today, just as at ease as I am when traveling through the US and Canada, and feeling perfectly safe to stop when I needed to, as well as recognizing where to stop to do what I needed. Also, being comfortable with the currency really helps!

It’s now 4:30 and I’m rather beat. I think I need to accept that I’m on this super early morning schedule, completely wiped by late afternoon, and that this is fine as long as I get stuff done earlier in the day!

The only thing I need to do tomorrow is get to Guamúchil, so I don’t anticipate an early start, no matter what time I wake up. Then again, there is a pool at the other end… 🙂