Nogales, AZ, to San Carlos, MX

Once you get through the US post at the border crossing at the end of Mariposa Road in Nogales, there is no way to return for quite a while. You have to go over pieces of metal that would shred your tires if you go across them in the wrong direction. Then, you are on a closed toll (cuota) highway for quite a while. The highway opens to four lanes past the Mexican city of Nogales, and continues that way after the KM 21 checkpoint.

Generally speaking, the drive to San Carlos was tedious. The speed varied from 110KPH to 40KPH and there was a lot of construction. The road conditions were decent and it was fun to drive through small towns and see the contrast between grungy local shops and shiny big name chains like OXXO (convenience store) and AutoZone.

The biggest excitement of the day was the drive through the city of Hermosillo, the capital of the state of Sonora. There was a detour, but I just followed the signs for MX 15, as well as a whole parade of cars, and had absolutely no trouble. Really, after you’ve driven in Montreal and found your way out of Flagstaff, you can drive anywhere. 🙂 Part of the detour route would have been a little rough in an RV, but not too bad.

I quickly noticed that Mexican drivers do not believe in using turn signals, so I got into the habit myself of passing and merging without signalling. I’m already living like a Mexicana! 🙂 There really wasn’t much traffic the whole way down to San Carlos, not even in Hermosillo, and this was a good way to ease me into Mexican driving. I’m not a very aggressive driver and I was worried I’d have a tough time down here, but so far, so good!

I was just about ready to pull into a Pemex station and beg for a bathroom when I saw the big ‘El Valiente’ sign that was my clue that the exit to San Carlos was coming up! It was coming on 1:00 and pulled into Totonaka RV Park at about 1:15, almost exactly six hours since leaving Nogales. I made good time! Croft recommended that I stay in one of the rooms the park has to rent. Unfortunately, their rates are quite a bit higher than on the website, 40USD for the least expensive room, rather than 25USD. I’m staying two nights for sure, then will possibly get a tent site for 15USD if I’m stuck here because of the storm.

My room wasn’t ready, so I was invited to park, using the public restrooms, and sit outside for a bit with the WiFi. I was also offered a map of town if I wanted to go exploring. I was hungry and Croft had recommended a restaurant, Charly’s Rock, right across the street, so I headed there.

This is a seafood restaurant open to the beach (the Sea of Cortez!!!!!!) with an amazing view! What a place to unwind with a cold beer! I ordered a Pacifico, which turned out to be delicious, and sipped it while munching on tortilla chips, salsa, and limes while I perused the menu. San Carlos is a gringo community, so I expected the menu to be bilingual. Nope! I read it slowly, occasionally looking up words on an app I downloaded to my iPhone.

The chips and salsa were good and quite filling, so I decided to get something light, with my eyes finally resting on the words ‘ceviche al coco’, thin fish filet with coconut milk and serrano peppers. I had no idea if serrano peppers would burn off my taste buds, but I decided to be brave and try it! For those who aren’t familiar with ceviche, it’s fish or seafood ‘cooked’ in acid, usually lemon or lime juice.

I was almost done with my beer by the time the meal came. It was beautiful! I took a sip of the liquid and my taste buds were flooded by the acidity of the lime juice cut by the sweetness of the coconut milk. The peppers added flavour, but no heat; same thing with the red onions. The fish was soft and melted in my mouth. There was also a little avocado and plenty of crackers to soak up the juice. Yum, yum, yum. 🙂

When I was done, I flagged down the server and asked for the cuenta, which came to 135MXN. I added 20MXN for a tip. I still can’t wrap my brain around the money and keep reminding myself to remove a decimal point to make the sums easier to stomach!

I left the restaurant and walked up towards the centro to check out the supermarket. I found an ice cream place on the way back and got a small cone. There was a dizzying array of flavours, most of which I did not recognized, so I asked for chocolate and was offered Rocky Road and some other kind. I asked for ‘No Rocky Road, el otro.’

When I got back to the RV park, my room was ready. It is small, but adequate, with a clean bathroom and a very hard bed. I am tempted to grab my mattress out of the truck! I have a fridge, but no microwave. I really need to figure out how to get coffee tomorrow morning! 🙂

So I’m really in Mexico, using pesos and speaking Spanish! Wow! I’m so proud of myself. 🙂

Driving here, I couldn’t help but marvel at the brave souls who do so with little to no knowledge of the language. I’ve been cautious about over estimating my Spanish skills, but after the last few days, I know that they are much better than I realised, well beyond the basics of where’s the bathroom and I want a beer! I mean, I have negotiated rent on an apartment, rented motel rooms, bought currency, ordered meals, paid tolls, and done a few things at the border all with what I learned 20 years ago! All those late night Tuesdays and Thursdays of conversation class are finally paying off!

First Real Mexico Border Crossing Adventure!

I can’t believe that I’m writing this post from San Carlos, Mexico!

I took reader Contessa’s advice and left Nogales quite early this morning. I had a feeling that an early Sunday would mean a quicker crossing. I was smart and went to bed early last night, but when I woke up around 3:00, a switch went off and I had a hard time falling back asleep. So six came earlier than I would have liked. 🙂

Most of the packing was done, so I just did a little online stuff, then brought my bags to the truck. I stopped in at the office for a coffee and went back up to my room to drink it and force myself to eat a banana. I pulled out of the motel around 6:45 and went to top up the gas tank and empty the bladder one last time. It was 7:15 when I approached the point of no return. I took the ‘truck route crossing’ at the end of Mariposa Road, which detours Nogales, MX, rather than the crossing that takes you through the centre of the Mexican city.

I had read reports of some people getting stopped on the US side, but there were no US officials to be seen, so I got through their post without incident.

The next milestone was the toll booth. Surprise, the toll was higher than the website had said. Not by much, but my exchange change wasn’t anymore and I had to fumble with the currency a little. 52MX rather than 40MXN.

Then, I encountered the first checkpoint where you have to play red light, green light. There was no one around, no lights, nothing, so I rolled through the check point slooooowly and then sirens started to blare and a red light flashed! There was another light directing me to go to a certain lane where I could see two sour looking officials waiting for me.

I rolled down the window and handed my passport, which earned me a wince from the female official. I forget what she asked me exactly, but there was talk of where I was ultimately going, where I was landing tonight, and she had me open the back of the truck. She rifled through my things a little and asked if I just had clothes. I said yes, nothing that would be staying in Mexico. She told me to go on. This took less than five minutes and I’m pleased to say that I was perfectly unflustered by the whole thing. I’ve been interrogated, threatened, and detained by Canadian customs so I’m not really afraid of anybody at this point. 🙂

I then had a short drive to get to ‘kilometro 21’, the immigration checkpoint where you get your tourist visa and temporary import documents for your vehicle(s), arriving around 7:40. I had done a lot of research and knew roughly what to expect, but it still wasn’t obvious and the officials didn’t volunteer much info. With no point of comparison, I’d say that KM 21 from the Mariposa crossing is a very convenient and easy place to cross. It’s definitely very doable in an RV.

First stop was inmigración to get my tourist visa. There was no wait. I had to fill out the standard visitor card that I’ve had experience with flying into the US and the UK. I didn’t have the address of my ultimate destination, so I said ‘piso en Isla Piedra’ and gave a contact name and local phone number. The surly official glanced at the form, made me add a few things and sign it, then told me to go pay and come back.

Payment was at the Banjercito, just behind the inmigración office, a separate building, but all under the same covered complex. Again, there was no wait. I had to pay about 26USD for the visa. I went back to the inmigración and the same surly guy called me over. He stamped my paperwork, told me I have to be out of the country by April 30th, and said, ‘Bye bye’, waving me away.

Before going back to Banjercito for the vehicle stuff, I used the bathroom on site, glad that I had napkins and hand sanitizer in my purse! The room was otherwise very clean and perfectly serviceable.

Back at Banjercito, where I still didn’t have to wait, I had to present my vehicle registration card from Saskatchewan, passport, and tourist visa. I was asked for copies of those documents. CRAP! I had the first two but didn’t think of getting a copy of the visa! And there was a photocopy kiosk right across from the bathroom! I put my hand back out to retrieve my documents to go get the copy, but the official ignored me. He went into the back office and made the copy for me! I think he was rewarding me for otherwise having all my ducks in a row…

I had to pay 3,600MXN for the privilege of bringing Moya into Mexico for the winter. That’s roughly 200USD for the bond that I will get back when I bring the truck out on time, plus an administrative fee. This felt like a HUGE amount, but I just did the currency conversion and it’s 301CAD. I had budgeted 300CAD total for fees, so I came in about $30 over budget, which I can live with!

I was given some official looking paperwork, made to sign a legal document in Spanish with no time to read it, and told that I need to have the truck out of MX by April 30th or I’ll forfeit my deposit. Finally, there was a sticker (holograma) that I needed to stick to my windshield. I was told that was it and I was free to go.

I went back to my truck and read the legal document. The gist of it was that MX is allowing me to temporarily import my specific vehicle for X amount of time. If I return on schedule, my deposit will automatically be refunded to my credit card by Banjercito. I am to advise them immediately if my card details change.

I read the holograma instructions and stuck it to the left of my rear view mirror, then pulled out of KM 21.

The final milestone, according to research, was a final game of red light, green light at the exit to KM 21. There was no such thing! I was free to go! I was out of there by 8:20 at the latest. The process took less than 40 minutes.

Crossing the border into Mexico with my vehicle was a bit of hassle, but not nearly as convoluted as research had made it seem. It does seem that the Mariposa crossing is particularly good, however.

Everyone I spoke to ahead of the process advised me to pretend I don’t speak a lick of Spanish beyond gracias and I don’t think that was good advice. There was absolutely nothing about the process that I couldn’t have done in Spanish and I actually did the payment part of the import process in Spanish because the gal’s English was poor. It was very awkward to pretend that I didn’t speak the language and I think next time I will just go ahead and do the whole thing in Spanish.

I’ll elaborate more on the language situation in my next post, which will be about the not so exciting, but still thrilling, drive to San Carlos!

I made it to Mexico! North America just got a whole lot bigger!

Mexico Liability Insurance and My First Pesos

Canadian and US car insurance isn’t valid Mexico. You need to buy at minimum liability insurance from a Mexican company. I asked Croft who he uses and he gave me the contact information. Unfortunately, after one online request for a quote, one email that was not replied to, an unreturned phone message, my not thinking to stop into their Tucson office, and the Nogales office being closed on weekends, I had to look for another option.

A quick Google search found Don Smith Mexico Insurance, better reviewed than the company Croft uses,  just minutes walking distance from the motel, and open Saturday mornings. I hoofed it up the hill to speak with a nice lady about my needs.

The most important thing I had to keep in mind is that while I will need coverage for 180 days, I am not going to actually do a lot of driving once I get to Mazatlan. I really need coverage for the trip there and back to the border. The small amount of time on the road means the less chance of something going pear-shaped. Moreover, I still have some limited coverage for my own damages from SGI. So I decided to buy a liability-only policy, plus legal aid, for $128USD. For $21, I would have been nuts not to get the legal aid option!

The lady also gave me detailed border instructions. I did a lot of reading about that over the past months and also this morning and have decided to just stop as I am making myself nuts! 🙂 I asked if I should have pesos for tolls and she said absolutely. I really don’t want to lose money by converting my CAD to USD to MXN, so I plan to do a large withdrawal (rent to pay!) at a Mexican bank, but I still want some local currency for tolls and incidentals until I find an ATM.

The lady sent me three doors down to a change house, where things got interesting. The fellow behind the counter did not speak a word of English. I’m pretty sure I’m still in the US and still, I rented my room last night in Spanish and also settled a restaurant tab in Spanish!

I carefully explained that I wanted a few pesos to get me to San Carlos and did he think that 40USD would be sufficient until I hit an ATM? Also, I am Canadian and do not want to lose in the exchange rate, so I will go to a bank and take out pesos with my ATM card once in Mexico. He said that, yes, 40USD in pesos would definitely do me fine for tolls and whatnot and I’ve been correctly advised about using my ATM card at the banks as that would give me a better rate than he could. The 40USD got me 504MXN. I like the peso coins, like our toonies only smaller.


I thanked him for his ‘ayuda y paciencia’ and he laughed, saying that he could understand me perfectly and that I have a beautiful accent. I’m actually glad to have this pre-border experience with the language as it’s really boosting my confidence. My speaking vocabulary is a lot better than I expected (understanding is almost fluent except in technical areas) and people seem to get that they need to speak slowly. I’m at the point where if I don’t know how to say something, I have enough words to get the meaning across. I really should join a conversational Spanish class this winter and get over the hump of not understanding the spoken language that well!

Finally, I got hold of someone at the landlady’s house, a child. She was not home, but the child promised to tell her that I am planning to arrive mid-day Wednesday. I will try her again tonight because the child and I did not seem to communicate well.

I’m going to find lunch, then do some shopping. I’ve been waffling about buying a desk and chair here in the US, but I find it hard to commit to anything without knowing the dimensions I will have to work with. I think that, having worked fine in hotel room setups this month, I will use what’s there in the apartment to start and will find something locally. I might even be able to get something used. I’ll see what the landlady says. The budget is just really, really, really, really tight this month because I lost a week of income in October due to my client’s schedule and I would really rather not have to eat only rice and beans until the December cheque and PayPal payments come in. 🙂

I’ll be glad once the border fees and rent are paid as that will give me a better idea of what I have left to get me through the month. I’m just not sure what I’ll have to pay to temporarily import my truck. Research says 300USD for a vehicle from 2001 to 2007 and 200USD for a vehicle older than 2000. Notice the gap there? I have a 2000 vehicle. Is it going to be 300USD or 200USD??? I believe my tourist visa is going to be 25USD.

So border tomorrow. OMG. I am going to spend two nights in San Carlos to arrive on schedule on Wednesday at the apartment as the landlady and I had discussed my arriving the 5th. I’m surprised to be meeting that deadline! I know I need to hit the border early and it opens at 6:00, but I really don’t see myself there that early. It’s going to be a normal big travel day for me where I won’t want to eat, but I really should take the time to relax with a coffee before the fun starts. 🙂

Tombstone, AZ

I am really into the history of the Wild West and the characters that inhabited it. So you would think that visiting Tombstone was a must for me. Not in the least. Afraid of a tourist trap, even copious numbers of people telling me to go there weren’t enough to make me believe that this iconic western town would be worth a detour. If it hadn’t been kinda sorta on the way to Nogales from Tucson, I would have definitely given it a pass.

I spent an enjoyable day there and do not regret going, but I feel that my initial misgivings stand. Lots of fun can be had in Tombstone and if you’re a history buff you’ll get your fill of artifacts, but if you want a more genuine-feeling Wild West town experience there are lots of better choices.

Before I get into my narrative about the day, I have to explain the lack of pictures. You can take as many pictures as you want in Tombstone of anything, but you cannot post anything about paid attractions online without express written permission, which is apparently difficult to get. So you’ll just have to take my word for a lot of this. 🙂

My first stop was the courthouse museum, admission $5. It was full of history about Tombstone and its colourful inhabitants.

Tombstone courthouse.

Tombstone courthouse.

I learned about the card game faro, the most popular game at the time, but which is now outlawed in the US because it gives the house a 67% chance of winning.

One of the more ghastly exhibits was a reconstruction of the gallows. I believe they are the second gallows I have ever seen (the first being in Ottawa!), and let’s just say they’re not nice to look at. 🙂

I learned about a Chinese man who was born in Virginia City, MT, where I was just recently, and the Chinese population of the town.

One exhibit that I found quite impressive was two large walls full of all sorts of different types of barbed wire. I didn’t realise that many exist!

The courthouse museum was a good start to my day. I then headed for Allen Street, the main kitschy touristy drag with a faux Western look (go to Dawson City for a more realistic one!) and lots of shops selling tchotkes.

Allen Street. I liked the Earps standing in the middle of the street. :)

Allen Street. I liked the Earps standing in the middle of the street. 🙂

I encountered a man who loves the outdoors and doesn’t let his physical disabilities stop him from going off the beaten path. Picture taken with permission!

Impressive wheelchair!

Impressive wheelchair!

My next stop was the Bird Cage Theatre, admission $10.


This was a theatre/brothel/gambling hall/saloon that operated from 1881 to 1889 and has been preserved intact, one of the few original Tombstone buildings that survived the fires. Admission gives you all the time you want to wander the rooms. This was a wow experience for me. So much history, and preserved almost exactly as it was 125 years ago! I was able to use the incredible zoom feature in my camera to see details in the wallpaper of the viewing balconies and details of the ceiling.

The Bird Cage Theatre was totally worth the admission price also. Buoyed by my success thus far at avoiding tourist traps, I took the plunge and went to check out Big Nose Kate’s Saloon, named after Doc Holliday’s girlfriend. The saloon was once the Grand Hotel.






The saloon was a little loud, but the music was good old classic country sung by a lively entertainer, so I decided to stay for a bit. I ordered a beer and perused the menu. The food was really inexpensive (!), so I decided to try their ‘Stampede’ burger, with cheese, bacon, and BBQ sauce. Surprise, the burger was excellent and they even made frozen fries taste good somehow! I tipped the server and singer generously, and still came out of there at less than $20 for a beer, lunch, and a show!

Before I left, I took the twisty stairs down to the basement into yet another shop so I could see the room of the man who did menial labour at the hotel and tunneled his way from his room into a silver mine in his downtime. Seriously!

Yup, my day was going well! So well, in fact, that I decided to jump into the tourist trap and buy a ticket to see a recreation of the OK Corral gunfight. I ponied up $10 and for that got to see the show, the OK Corral museum, the Tombstone history movie, and I got a free copy of a reproduction of the Tombstone Epitaph newspaper with the article about the shootout and subsequent inquest!

The gunfight show was amusing. The acting wasn’t great and I thought that it was hilarious that they cast an old guy to play Billy Clanton, who was 19 when he died at the hands of the Earps. What I got from the show was a better sense of the unvarnished truth about the fight and where it happened exactly. One of the most memorable parts of this whole part of the day was seeing the map Wyatt Earp drew in the 1920s showing what he remembered about the placement of people during the fight. He had bad handwriting!

The movie dated back to the 1950s and was narrated by Vincent Price! It was a little bizarre in that most of the action was in a diorama and occasionally a screen would come down to show reenactments of certain things. I learned a lot about the history of the town. The founder was told when he went to the area that he would only find his tombstone, hence the name he picked for the settlement!

I have to say that I find it distasteful that there’s a sign on Allen Street at the back of the corral saying that the fight happened there when the true location is on now super busy Fremont Street, several doors down from the corral. There’s a sign there, too, but I think a lot of people would miss it. I only knew to look for the spot because of my own knowledge of the event.

The real site of the OK Corral gunfight.

The real site of the OK Corral gunfight. There’s just a little sign next to Fly’s photography studio and boarding house.

I went to the actual fight site while munching on an ice cream, found for just $2 for a decent-sized cone. When I was done with that, I went to the Epitaph office to pick up my free paper. By the way, I love the name of that newspaper!

There is a free exhibit in the newspaper office about the man who founded it and quite a lot of history about his and Wyatt Earp’s connection to the Chilkoot Trail and the Klondike gold fields!


My free paper would have cost me $3 and I would have bought one, so I really got my money’s worth out of that OK Corral show ticket!

My final stop of the day was the Boothill Cemetery. Access is free through yet another gift shop. I paid the $3 to get the booklet that gives info about all the graves.




Billy Clanton's grave.

Billy Clanton’s grave.



I was surprised to find Tombstone to be relatively inexpensive and good value if you spend your money carefully. I never once felt that I was paying a ‘Tombstone tax’, a premium just because of the location.

I’m glad I went to Tombstone and found the experience worthwhile, but this wasn’t a wow day for me at all. What I enjoyed most were the artifacts. I’d say the two best parts of the day were my first steps into the Bird Cage Theatre and seeing Wyatt Earp’s gunfight map!

Two pictures from the trip to Nogales:

This pest control's car was decorated like a mouse, complete with tail, whiskers, and ears!

This pest control’s car was decorated like a mouse, complete with tail, whiskers, and ears!

According to my GPS, Nogales is the end of the world!

According to my GPS, Nogales is the end of the world!