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. ūüôā

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 “desviaci√≥nes,” 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.

Adios, Mexico — or San Carlos to Nogales, AZ

I left the motel just past nine this morning and decided to drive into San Carlos for fuel since I was running on fumes and wasn’t certain when I’d encounter a Pemex on 15. I only had 800 pesos left and wasn’t sure what I was looking at for tolls, so I decided to take on just 500 pesos and then top up with the credit card if needed. It was 9:30 when I hit the open road and I hoped to be in Nogales by 4:00, 3:00 local time

I saw this weird truck (RV?) as I was getting on the road. From the front and side, it looks like a UPS-type truck.

I saw this weird truck (RV?) as I was getting on the road. From the front and side, it looks like a UPS-type truck.

The first part of the day went by fast. By the time I was just shy of Hermosillo, my coffee had caught up with me and I really needed a bathroom. I pulled into the first Oxxo I saw, grabbed a coffee, paid for with my last 13 pesos of change, and only then learned that they didn’t have a bathroom. I was told to try the Pemex at the next corner.

So I did. The bathroom was inside an Extra convenience store and the cost was five pesos. I used it and then went to the cash to let them know that I was going to have to pay the five pesos with a 100 peso note. The lady looked at me funny and said, “Didn’t you just fill up with fuel?” I answered in the affirmative and she said no charge. Before y’all judge me, not only did the bathroom not have paper, soap, running water at the taps, or seats, IT DIDN’T HAVE A DOOR. I think I get a pass on this one!

Hermosillo was still under construction, but the detour wasn’t too bad, except for the nearly Quebec-sized potholes along one short stretch.

Goodbye ocean/coast, hello desert!

Goodbye ocean/coast, hello desert!

Before I knew it, The Big Military Checkpoint just before Santa Ana was upon me. 18-wheelers were backed up several kilometres, but there was almost no lineup for cars. The guy ahead of me had Arizona plates, was asked what appeared to be about dozen questions, and was instructed to pull over.

I pulled up and was greeted in clear Spanish. We had the following exchange:

-“Where are you coming from?”
-“San Carlos.”
-“San Carlos! And where are you going?”
-“Nogales!” Then something I didn’t catch.
-“Could you please repeat that?”
-This time I sort of got one word, “trae,” which I vaguely thought means carry. It actually means bring, so he was saying, “What are you bringing with you?”
-“You want to know what I have with me?”
-“Clothes and household things.”
-“Okay. Go ahead.”

So I did. Meanwhile, the guy who was ahead of me was being held at gunpoint while his vehicle was being searched!!!

I hit the E mark on the fuel tank just after the checkpoint, shocked that I’d made it that far. I can go quite some time on E without the you need gas now light coming on and having done nearly 300KM on a half tank already, I wasn’t stressed about running out of gas since the gas gods were obviously at work today. Can’t complain about my gas mileage so far!

I pulled into a rest area that had a Pemex and asked if they could take my credit card. The attendant asked me to show it to him and he said not a problem, but he’d have to run it through before pumping so I had to be sure about much I was putting in. Not a problem; this is just like pre-paying in Canada or the US. I then used the bathroom since I had a feeling it would be my last obvious opportunity before the border.

Driving through Santa Ana, I debated whether or not to stop for lunch and decided I wasn’t hungry. What a difference from when I came down, though, in that a) I wasn’t afraid to stop, and b) I saw tons of places I would have eaten at if I was hungry. When I came down, I didn’t know yet that the little roadside taco stands and such are okay to eat at.

Before leaving Mexico, you have to turn in your temporary vehicle import permit. Until this morning, I thought that meant having to go back into the immigration office/Banjercito and wait for ages to be served. But I got several comments that mentioned a booth and sure enough, there it was, well marked in advance for foreign-plated cars to get into the far right lane to turn in their permits. It was at most a five-minute wait to be served.

The attendant took my paperwork and then took photos of my license plate and a sticker on the inside of my door jamb that has the VIN number on it. She then scrapped the hologram off the windshield (leaving a nice mess), and that was that! Easy peasy. We’ll see how long it takes for the money to be returned to my credit card.

I’d checked the map before leaving this morning, so I knew to keep left when I hit Nogales. There was no signage for Nogales cuota or Mariposa Road or anything obvious to let you know the bypass was that way, just a sign in the other lane for Nogales downtown being that way.

I had to roll through the Mexican customs (nothing to do), then pay my last toll. Tolls today were 65 + 25 + 57 = 147 pesos, or about 12CAD.

Then, the border, and OMG. It was CHAOS. No lane markers, dozens of aggressive vendors, and tons of people weaving in and out trying to find the quickest path to the front of the line. I don’t think I could have handled it in an RV since signage for the RV lane was so slow to appear and I would have likely missed my turn for it. I arrived at 2:55 San Carlos time and just stayed in one spot, moving forward as I could. I got to the front of my imaginary line much more quickly than expected.

The customs official asked me for my plate type, which meant state because he didn’t realise he was holding a Canadian passport… He asked if I had any plants or produce and I said no. He said that they would have to check and to follow him to an inspection booth.

There, a very kind official promptly came over, asked me where I was coming from and where I was going, then informed me that I was being subject to an agricultural inspection. I made my declaration and then he said he had to go through all my stuff.

He had me open up the back, where I discovered that my tailgate isn’t opening again!!! WHAT?! He said that was okay, but I had to empty out everything and it was up to me to figure out how to do it without them needing to get a crowbar. I quickly replied that I never put the tailgate down while traveling and everything was packed to fit through the top (absolute truth). I began to pull out my bags and suitcases and crawled in to get the tote way at the back. I did not have to pull out the cot.

Let me pause here to say that I do NOT believe that emptying out the truck was an unreasonable request. Quite the contrary and I even packed for that eventuality making sure everything was containerized by category and that there were as few loose items as possible.

While I was getting my exercise, he was going through my bags and totes in the front and his partner was pulling off the lid off my tote from the back and just peering in before closing it.

I was then called over and the guy was holding up my chia seeds. My first thought, pardon the French, was “FUCK.” I declared them on the way down and was told that they were okay to bring across, so the thought of declaring them this way (not the same ones, I got more in Mexico) completely slipped my mind. I had declared no to seeds and was caught red handed. I told the guy all this and he said, “It’s okay, sweetie, but you got lucky that these are perfectly fine to bring across.” Yes, he called me ‘sweetie’!’

He then told me I could pack up and go. I just threw everything into the truck and took off. It was 3:24 when I was clear of customs, so the whole thing from arriving in line to being clear was just 29 minutes. Dang did it feel longer than that! But it was yet another very nice American border official (although his partner was rather Canadian in her business only, I don’t know how to smile attitude).

From the border, it was just a few minutes to the Motel 6, where I arrived just shy of four San Carlos time, or three local time!

Contessa wondered why I’m staying Nogales, and her question makes absolute sense to anyone who has been to Nogales. The answer is that any other options are too far away today and I really don’t feel like driving any further. It’s not like being in an RV and being able to pull over outside the city. Moreover, I have work to do in the morning and I knew that the rooms here would be clean, well suited to work with a proper desk, and with good wifi.

The rate was lower than in November, $42 with the taxes, so with the exchange rate about $50, same in CDN as in November. I asked for a room in the back, thinking it would be quieter, and got free wifi in exchange for giving them my email address. I am getting TelCel service, so I’m using up my Banda Ancha and Saldo Regalo, then will use the wifi.

After checking in with everyone, I went off in search of US cash and food. 100USD was 120CAD, OUCH. Because of the exchange rate being as bad as it is and my planning to be on the road for a full month, I am being mercilessly tight with my budget and am on a very strict spending schedule. I do have reserves for true emergencies, but otherwise, I have exactly as much as I anticipate gas and lodging will be, with about 10USD per day for food, however I want to spend that, and a little bit for incidentals and outings not covered by my Interagency pass.

I really don’t want to get home flat broke and am not on vacation the way I was in October. I am just trying to avoid getting home while it’s still cold and want you all to be prepared for the very likely eventuality that if the roads are passable through the mountains, I am going to decide to just get home already and start shooting north very fast. Vicki, I am still coming to visit if I choose to do this!

The good news is that I am a quarter of the way home already and even with the exchange rate, I’m now on inexpensive gas AND my gas mileage is greatly improved. I budgeted 1,000CAD for fuel. I knew that that was outrageous and that it shouldn’t be much more than 600 or 700CAD, but with the way I was burning through fuel on the way down, I wanted to be prepared. I spent 171CAD on the first quarter of my trip home at about 1.20CAD per litre. Arizona is at about 0.80CAD per litre right now, so I know that my fuel costs will be quite a bit less than 700CAD and nowhere nearly 1,000! I’ll have a better grasp on the number after I do another 1,000KM and I’ll be able to then release some funds back into the general budget for the end of the trip.

For food, I went to a restaurant I went to when I was here in November, ‘Panda Express’, which I think is a national chain. It’s American-Chinese food. I remembered being impressed by the crispy veggies and lean chicken, making for a decent and not too expensive takeaway option. I asked for one main course (grilled teriyaki chicken) and one side (steamed veggies), then accepted their offer to do half veggies, half chow mein (noodles) for the same price. The cost was about 6USD, which I thought was quite a good deal and the food was tasty and not too heavy. I really liked how tender crisp and generous the portion of broccoli, zucchini, celery, and carrots were and that it didn’t have that slimy coating veggies normally have at Chinese restaurants.

I’ll go down to Safeway in a bit and get a snack for tonight and something for breakfast. My only complaint about the rooms here is the lack of fridges and microwaves. I hope their coffee tomorrow will be as decent as it was in November so I don’t have to traipse all the way down to McDonald’s.

Checkout is noon tomorrow and then I will head east. I told clients I’ll be back at work Tuesday, so I’m hoping to get somewhere tomorrow where I’ll be able to get a decent weekly rate or that has super good nightly rates. I’m also considering not taking a motel and just working out of a library or something, but sleeping in my truck for a month is going to get old fast, so I wouldn’t mind starting the trip with one week at a motel and then roughing it for a bit. We shall see. Nothing is written in stone for the next four weeks, other than my visit to the South Dakota Black Hills!