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… 🙂


15 thoughts on “What a Difference a Year Makes (Or Nogales to San Carlos, Redux)

  1. Great journey today! Us not so good Spanish speakers struggle for a while until they finally admit that yes. they do actually speak a little English or they call someone who does. I usually pick up a word or two and guess at the question and give a one word answer. Have you ever been asked (in Mexico) if you have guns? I have been asked that several times. Maybe it is a guy thing.

  2. I really admire your bravery. I’ve never traveled somewhere that I don’t speak the language…

    I’ve never been asked about guns in Mexico!

    • Americans getting asked about guns is not a surprise. 🙂

      Interestingly enough, I’ve only started getting asked about guns coming into the US because of where I live since there are so many hunters.

  3. Even though we could communicate in Spanish at a ‘narco’ stop we don’t. We play dumb and always get waived on. They were curious about you, why you were there. However, I never would have told them what hotel I was staying in, that might be asking for trouble later in the day.

    Where is the Ley store in relationship to Totonaka. Left or right when you come out and how far a walk. Wow if I can get cheese right away I will be most happy.

    • Well, the Ley is obviously to the right as you come out since you don’t pass it coming into San Carlos. 😉 It’s, oh, maybe five or ten minutes from the RV park, on the same side of the main road. You can see the sign in the distance from Charly’s Rock, so very likely from the entrance to the RV park, too. It’s a small Ley, not a huge cheese selection.

  4. Pingback: Stops by the Federales in Mexico | A Life By Design

  5. Hola Rae!

    Sounds like things are progressing marvelously! Kudos on the Spanish! Knowing how to speak (and understand) the language just opens *SO* many doors. It’s a pity that there are so many expat gringos with years under their belts living in Mexico who still can’t speak the language. They really don’t know what they’re missing.

    So is San Carlos part of Hermosillo? I can’t seem to find it on Google Maps, though something said it was a neighborhood in Hermosillo.

    On checkpoints, I’ve found that they (the soldiers) are much more comfortable if you take off your sunglasses. It took me a couple of stops to figure this out, but now whenever I come to one, I haul out my passport, various other things, take off the sunglasses and offer to show them stuff. This usually gets me waved through pretty quickly. I’ve never been asked about where I was staying, and even if I knew (which I usually don’t given the variability of how long I can drive before I get tired), I wouldn’t tell them the truth; in this I’m with Contessa 100%.

    So are you at all nervous driving through Sinaloa? That’s one place in Mexico that’d make me nervous, given it’s the HQ of the Sinaloa Cartel, and has seen much “action” over the years. I wish you luck with your transit.


    Kim G
    Boston, MA
    Where it’s fun to vicariously follow along your journey.

    • All those Tuesday nights of Spanish lessons 20 years ago have really paid off! I really can’t imagine I’d be having such a good time or be as comfortable in MX if I didn’t have the language skills I have.

      As for sunglasses, that’s a no brainer, sorry. As soon as I’m a queue to speak to someone official, I switch from my sunglasses to regular glasses.

      There is zero nervousness traveling through Sinaloa on MX 15. This is the snowbird route and there is TONS of police on the road. They are all there to make sure we’re safe.

  6. It is just NW of Guaymas Kim. A nice beach community about two hours south of Hermosillo, well known to RVers as it is a natural first (or second) night’s stop after the border.

    On Google maps https://www.google.ca/maps/dir/Hermosillo,+Mexico/San+Carlos,+Mexico/@28.5150815,-111.5507206,9z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m13!4m12!1m5!1m1!1s0x86ce84687adfaee5:0xb33d5395e9887ff9!2m2!1d-110.9559192!2d29.0729673!1m5!1m1!1s0x86c96319f9360f85:0x544470a59a1fc6d8!2m2!1d-111.0370989!2d27.9617875?hl=en

    • Thanks for that detailed answer on my behalf, Croft! My GPS considers San Carlos to be Guaymas. When I told the officer I was going to San Carlos he asked if I meant San Carlos Guaymas or San Carlos, Sinaloa.

  7. Kim, you alluded to El Chapo Guzman. I have a story I have told many times so if you have heard it before, feel free to skip it.

    Several years ago a couple stopped for the night in Guasave. They went to a restaurant and as soon as they ordered an SUV pulled up to the door and three guys got out and talked to the owner. “Ladies and gentlemen. We are soon to be honored with a special dinner guest. He will be picking up the tab for all your meals and drinks but we must insist you hand over all your phones and cameras to these gentlemen and you must stay until after the guest has left”. Phones and cameras were collected and two more SUV’s pulled up in front. In walked El Chapo and a small party. He ordered special appetizers and wine for everyone, told jokes, ate, paid everyone’s bill and left. Soon after everyone got their phones back and were free to go.

    If you were a rival drug dealer your evening might not have gone as well but as it was everyone, including Shorty Guzman, had a good time.

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