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.

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… 🙂

 

Respite’s End

Even though I’ve put in a lot of hours over the last three days, it has felt a bit like a vacation, what with a nice hotel room and eating most of my meals out. Back to the real world very soon, I’m afraid. *tongue firmly in cheek*

I was surprisingly tired today, considering how great I felt yesterday. At least, I’ve managed to get up without my alarm every day! It was another good breakfast, enchilada casserole with refried beans. I love Mexican ‘breakfast food’! 😀

After work, I went to the Pizza Hut next door for linner. They didn’t have the special we can get in Canada, a personal pan pizza with two toppings and a side salad, so I got the medium pizza, figuring that the leftovers would freeze overnight and could be munched on during my drive tomorrow. I’ve never spent that much at a Pizza Hut in my life, though, $20 with the tip! But, then again, I’ve never had leftovers. I was pleased to realise at the end of my meal that I knew how to say, “I’d like a takeaway box, please” in Spanish. Really, what a difference from last year!

I came back to my room to drop off the leftovers, then set off to find Finitos, a frozen treat place that I suspected sold nieve de garrafa, the frozen treat I loved so much in Maz last winter. I found them and asked in Spanish if I could try the prune flavour (another thing I couldn’t have done last fall!) before buying a medium sized cup of it for $2. I’m sure they would have mixed flavours, but when a gal’s got a craving, you don’t dilute its satisfaction! 🙂 The treat wasn’t nearly as good as what I get in Maz, but it definitely hit the spot. I liked that there were a few whole prunes in it and that I could suck the fruit off the pits. Yum!

I had a walk while eating my Finitos. This part of Nogales feels so much like Mexico and I got a reminder to watch where I step because the sidewalks are so uneven!

When I came in, I did some Google research to find a TelCel store tomorrow before San Carlos. Looks like the one in Hermosillo right on MX-15 and after the BMW dealership is my best bet in terms of not having to make a detour and actually finding the darn thing.

I spent some time on the TelCel site to see if anything has changed since last year and it seems like it’s all the same. I did fine with this part of my Mexican adventure last year and the only thing that’s improved this year is that I have more verb tenses and will be able to assure them that I did this last year and their SIM card will work on my phone. Oh, and I know to send a text message to activate my data service! One thing I will have to remember to do is ask if they can give me a Mazatlán number since I got a lot of complaints about my long distance phone number last year!

I’d be lying if I said I was completely calm about the border crossing tomorrow, but there is nothing like the pit of snakes I had in my stomach last year! It’s more of a ‘this is so thrilling!’ kind of feeling. I’m looking forward to being at my home on Isla and settling into my Mexican life, but I think that I will enjoy the drive down a lot more this year instead of treating it like a grueling marathon.

Twelve hours till I plan to be up, thirteen till the absolute latest I plan to be pulling out of a gas station, and, oh, twenty-one or so at the absolute most before I should be rolling into San Carlos!

Well Rested in Nogales

The last two days have really helped me to recoup from my brutal dash across the entire length of the US in 3.5 days! I’ve been going to bed early and getting up without an alarm, which is what makes all the difference in how productive my day is going to be.

I still set an alarm though, just in case, and Siri is very reassuring about it:

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This morning’s complimentary breakfast included quesadillas and salsa, which is much more my speed than are pancakes, plus fresh fruit salad. Very yum! I can’t believe the quality of the breakfast we get!

I hadn’t planned to do any other work besides proofing this week, but ended up accepting two of the three requests from other clients.  That’s how things roll when you’re a business owner. Sometimes, the client’s needs precede your own.

Early afternoon, I headed out for linner after getting a recommendation from the front desk to go to El Canton, literally around the corner and in front of the Mexican consulate. It’s a Chinese restaurant that isn’t really showing up in the search results yet (it’s not even showing up on Google Maps or through a Siri search). The clerk said that it’s the most expensive Chinese food in Nogales, but it’d be obvious why when I got there…

I stepped outside and was promptly hit on the head by something that was, thankfully, not a coconut, but… a date! I’ve never seen a date palm before!

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El Canton is a rather swanky looking restaurant, but, thankfully, Americans don’t dress up. Meals were quite expensive, averaging about $14 each. But there was a small buffet for $10, more expensive than the other buffets in the city, but the first bite of my super fresh and delicious food explained why. I had chow mein, three different kinds of broccoli, and several kinds of meats. Everything was tasty and nothing was overly salty or sweet. What a gem, and tucked away out of sight!

BTW, I had a reader comment on how Chinese food and ‘Mexican’ don’t seem to go together, but there are tons of Chinese restaurants in the parts of Mexico I’ve been to, so I think it’s a popular cuisine with Mexicans. In fact, in the Duolingo app I’ve been using, nearly all the food-related exercises are some variation on “I ate Chinese food”!

I then went for a long walk to the border and back. As I mused on Facebook, it’s funny how walking to Mexico the first two times I did it felt so special and now there was nothing to it.

I stopped en route at a Goodwill store that was rather interesting. Everything is thrown onto huge tables, unsorted, and you have to dig through it for treasures, then pay by the pound. I had a bit of a poke around, but didn’t find anything.

There was a McDonald’s at the point of no return, so I paused to get a McFlurry (Oreo, please), and check my emails since I was waiting for something from a client. I had a decent view of Nogales, Sonora, from my seat.

Mexico is behind a fence:

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Coming back home, I saw this billboard advertisement for a casino resort (it says, “Amigos con beneficios”). As they say in Spanish, jajaja! I wonder if this phrase really has the same connotation in Spanish, or if it’s a joke for bi(multi)lingual folks!

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The weather was lovely today, not too hot, and perfect for a walk. I’m glad that I’m finally discovering a little bit of Nogales beyond the frantic pace of Mariposa Road.

Off Kilter

It’s been a weird day, time-wise.

I’m technically in the Pacific time zone now, but have to work according to an Eastern schedule, so that means I had to be at work for 5:00 a.m, which has thoroughly thrown off my eating schedule.

It was easy to get to bed early last night since I was so exhausted and I was awake around 4:15 without an alarm clock. There was work waiting for me, so I made a coffee and got cracking. By the time 6:00 rolled around and the restaurant opened, I was beyond ready for breakfast!

I took my computer and phone down with me to the restaurant so that I could respond if any work came in. Breakfast was an excellent buffet with lots of options, no excuse to leave hungry. The coffee was good, too. I look forward to seeing what they have tomorrow as they said that the options change daily. Based on today, I know it will be worth waiting to leave on Friday morning to do so on a full belly.

Despite a good breakfast, I was ready for lunch by 10:00! I had a bit of a picnic, but was displeased that the fridge runs super cold and all my food was frozen! Carrots lose their structural integrity when frozen and thawed, so they end up rather chewy!

I clock out at 4PM EST and another colleague stays on till 5PM EST, but I like to keep a weather eye on my emails if the daily article hasn’t been mailed out by 5PM in case something crops up with it. That was the case today, so I sent a quick email about that and then went off to find food.

My choices within walking distance were Pizza Hut, Denny’s, and Mexican fare, not too inspiring. I’d been to Denny’s twice a very long time ago in Savannah and in San Diego and thought the food was crap, so I didn’t go again until a couple of years ago in Red Deer when it wasn’t my decision. The food I had then had nothing in common with the Denny’s I remembered, ie. it was really good. So I decided to take a chance on that today.

I wound up paying $7.25 for my meal with the tip and I would have paid twice that and thought I got a bargain… I could not believe how good the food was, its freshness, or the quality of the ingredients. Yes, at a Denny’s chain diner! Mind blown.

I had their new $6 ‘Baja quesadilla burger’, which is a real beef patty topped with a bit of cheese, pico de gallo, and avocado, then sandwiched in a flour tortilla. It comes with a side of forgettable and over salty Mexican-style corn chips and meh salsa, so ignore that part of the meal. I actually don’t care much for the taste of beef (but I appreciated that I was eating real meat, no fillers), so I added a liberal amount of Cholula sauce to give it the flavour it needed. As for the pico de gallo, this was the real thing, no skimping on the jalapeños. Between that and the Cholula sauce, my eyes were watering, but I wasn’t in major pain, not like I would have been at time last year eating a moderately spicy meal. Plus, there was tons of avocado to soothe my wounded taste buds! Since I didn’t eat the chips, the meal came in at a very reasonable nutritional count (I appreciated that Denny’s has the nutritional info for everything printed right on the menu).

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After linner, I decided to walk down to the Walmart since my phone said it was 2.5KM away, meaning just far enough to get in a leg stretch, but not so far as to feel like a slog. The temperature was cool compared to yesterday, so the walk was very pleasant. They didn’t have any warm weather stuff either, but I poked through the clearance items for treasures and found a top I liked.

Like the server at the Denny’s, the Walmart cashier also only spoke Spanish to me, so I now know I still remember my numbers. 🙂 Nogales is really a good prep stop before entering Mexico!

It was a lot hotter out when I left Walmart and it was uphill most of the way back to the hotel, so I definitely got in some exercise today.

When I arrived back at the hotel, I popped in at the front desk to get my breakfast coupon for tomorrow. The clerk asked me to confirm that the room is okay (YES!).

Now, it’s time for a beer slushy. Dang, that fridge really does run cold!