Mérida or Bust — Day Ten: Villahermosa, Tabasco, to Mérida (Actually Chelem), Yucatán!!!!!

Total Kilometres to Drive: 5,442

Kilometres Driven Today: 602

Total Kilometres Driven: 5,442

Kilometres Left: 0

Amount of Trip Completed: 100%

I MADE IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I slept so well last night that it was almost torture to get up when my alarm rang at seven. I just wanted to stay in bed. But I knew that I just had this final push to do and I would be able to recoup. I had a decent breakfast again (they had good coffee, but no salsa or tortillas!) and was pleased to discover that I was on the correct side of the highway to head out of town. I’d actually considered backtracking to take the bypass, but both Google and my GPS assured me that would not save me any time at all. Traffic was pretty light anyway so getting out of Villahermosa wasn’t a big deal.

The first part of my day was very easy. Crossing into Campeche, I got my very first document check of this trip, which was pretty amazing since a half dozen checks and stops of various kinds a day are normal on Mex-15 between Maz and Nogales. This federal police officer was quite thorough, checking both my immigration status and my truck’s temporary import status. He also asked me what kind of business I have.

After that, I soon got to more populated areas with lots and lots and lots of topes that meant slowing to a crawl. I had to go through a few communities, so that meant some defensive driving. I hit a guy’s sideview mirror with my passenger side mirror as I squeezed through Champoton, but it thankfully didn’t break and he just waved me off. I had to pull over to readjust my mirror, which had folded flat against my truck and was absolutely fine.

This drive felt like being in “my” Mexico, with the ocean on one side and coconut palms on the other.

The only two cities ahead of me. 🙂

I had another checkpoint most of the way through Campeche. This guy pulled me over for having a non-Mexican license plate and he was quite agitated about it, is about as best as I can describe it. If I didn’t understand Spanish, his frantic tone would have terrified me and made me think I was in big trouble. I just pointed to my TIP sticker as proof that I was legal and showed my passport when he asked for it. No biggie!

Literally riding the Yucatán state line! Ignore the fact that my GPS is saying I was speeding. The limit was 110.

I’ll admit I burst into tears here. I was just so relieved to be so close that if I got in an accident or anything else happened with the truck, it would be no big deal to get a tow all the way to Chelem or to get my things home even if I had to transfer them to someone else’s vehicle. You have no idea how stressful the last 5,400KM have been.

There was a military checkpoint at the Yucatán border (hence why I was parked and had time to take the above picture). A very young kid came to check me out and said that I had no license plates. I told him my Canadian state (did not know the Spanish for province and figured that state would be less confusing to him anyway) does not have a front license plate. This is when I understood why I’d been pulled over the previous two times — not having a front license plate made me stick out and then they zeroed in on the fact that I’m a foreigner. While annoying, these stops are not a big deal to me. I know my paperwork is in order and that I’ve done nothing wrong. So I just answer their questions and am then on my way.

Driving by north Mérida on the perifico.

I was going beyond Mérida, right back to the coast. Thankfully, the last stretch was on good highway and I was able to zip north towards Progreso. Even though the day had felt very long, I’d made good time and was going to land at about 4:30.

My hosts had told me to meet them at a hotel near their home and call them. I did that and could not reach them because the cell signal was too poor. I went into the hotel and asked for a landline phone (none available) and directions since I had an address and a crude map. Two boys managed to send me off in the right direction. When I knew I was close, I asked a family sitting outside for further help and they got me even closer to the house. Soon as I saw the house in the distance… Moya got caught in a sand trap. 5,440 uneventful kilometres and I got stuck within sight of my destination. I have to laugh now even if it wasn’t funny then.

An expat lady and two Mexicans tried to winch me out with her truck, but she started to dig in, too, so we gave up. She managed to get my hosts’ attention (they have a deep yard with a front gate and no intercom so they hadn’t heard me knocking) and both came out to see what could be done about my truck. F worked out a plan of attack and told me to go back to the house with V. I did so and V mercifully had me sit down in front of some wonderful food! That restored my good humour and before I knew it, F came to grab my truck keys. I went back to Moya with him and he’d jacked her up to get traction material under her. He started her up and with a bit of gas got her out! I was very impressed.

So that was that. I was officially landed! I unpacked a bit, had a few beers, gabbed lots, met my canine charge, etc. I am going to be wonderfully comfortable here in the lap of luxury. The pool was tempting tonight, but getting into my suit felt like too much effort. 🙂

It’s now past midnight and I need sleep. Hope y’all are grateful for the post because I really didn’t feel like writing it tonight! 🙂

Mérida or Bust — Day Nine: Xalapa, Veracruz, to Villahermosa, Tabasco

Total Kilometres to Drive: 5,442 (based on distance driven and distance remaining according to my GPS and Google Maps)

Kilometres Driven Today: 560

Total Kilometres Driven: 4,840

Kilometres Left: 602

Amount of Trip Completed: 88.94%

Today, I drove as far south as I’ve ever been in my life and tomorrow I’m heading back north! 😀

I slept solidly in Xalapa until about 6AM when someone got on the treadmill in the gym next to my room. GAH. It was such a comfortable bed and such a shame to not be able to get a couple more hours of shut-eye. I finally gave up and got up around seven and went to check out the included breakfast. I don’t normally eat much on travel days in this climate, but it didn’t make sense to leave on an empty stomach. Which reminds me, I felt the climate change as I was coasting into Xalapa yesterday, with the humidity increasing exponentially with each kilometre I got closer to the coast. I’ve been so itchy because of my dry skin since I got back to North America and being back in this climate is a soothing balm. I won’t need body lotion again any time soon!

But anyway, breakfast today. The coffee was as abysmal as expected. Shame that they can’t put in an automatic coffeemaker like you see in Europe that always dispenses a perfect cup. That was the Camelot Inn in Amarillo’s secret! But beyond that, there were a lot of good offerings. You could do a continental breakfast (pastries, breads, fresh fruit, cereal, yoghurt, cottage cheese, etc.). I went over to the hot table and found eggs with ham and also black refried beans. I had those with salsa verde, queso seco, and some crema (YUM). I was shocked that there were no tortillas and I had to settle for toast!

Before heading out, I topped up the oil in the truck since she’s due for an oil change! She’ll need a bit of work when I land since she’s developed a few squeaks that I think are a chassis that needs lubrication and brakes that need attention. Nothing worrisome at this point, but I’ve ridden her hard and she needs some time at the spa! Of course, a guy came by as I had the hood up to ask if I needed help.

Getting out of Xalapa was as difficult as expected because of the lack of retornos. I went almost 10KM out of my way (roundtrip) before I could get turned around in the right direction, and that was better than what my GPS thought I’d need to do. I’ve gotten really good at making illegal U-turns over a low median in this country…. In fact, the more I drive here, the more I like it. You have to be really present when driving here and so it forces me to focus and get out of my head instead of zoning out like I would on a long stretch of interstate. I’m never bored driving in Mexico!

The first couple hundred kilometres of my day just flew by. I had good pavement and traffic was light. I ended up taking my only break of the day at a Pemex/Oxxo about 250KM from Xalapa, where I downed a much needed Elecrolit hydrating drink and noshed on a granola bar. Croft had warned me that that stretch of highway was really bad the last few times he drove them, but they were so newly paved that I started to feel sick from the fresh tar fumes and smells! In fact, the road didn’t get ugly until the section after the bypass he’d suggested that would have added hours to my day. So it’s a good thing I stuck to the cuota.

Coming out of one of the tollbooths I passed (none too pricy today, thankfully), I saw my first sign announcing Mérida! And then, they were everywhere!

I was literally parked there. The off ramp was so bad that it took that truck several minutes to get through. See that little sticker on my windshield? I still make it a point to donate to the Cruz Roja (Red Cross) regularly. It’s a cause I believe in. When you have that sticker, they tend to leave you alone, but I always put a peso or two when I see a kid collecting and every few times when it’s a grownup.

Even with a very long section of teeth rattling road, I made very good time to Villahermosa, arriving just shy of 3PM. There is a bypass around the city that I found tempting, but that would have meant finding a motel before, which was way too early to stop, or after, which was way too late. I had options for both, but as I realised that I would be arriving into the city so early, I decided to stay in it so I could possibly go see a movie this evening!

Despite having a map and directions from Siri, Google, and my GPS, coming into Villahermosa was like driving in Xalapa yesterday, going round and round near the hotel without being able to find it. Just as I was about to flag down a taxi to guide me there (a tip from Croft), I finally saw the hotel in the distance and managed to make my way to it. It wasn’t cheap ($1,200), but I did much better than expected my last two nights here and I’m actually under budget for accommodation thanks to Amarillo, so I didn’t care. I definitely upped the accommodation budget on this trip compared to last ones and that removed a lot of the stress and meant that I got to stay in nicer and more comfortable places. I’m getting to that age where the fleabag motel just doesn’t cut it anymore. I really like this Latin American chain I’m discovering, City Express. The rooms are a bargain for their location, super clean and well appointed, and they have a free breakfast. Unfortunately, they don’t all have great beds.

First order of business was to find a cinema. There was a Cinépolis not even 2KM away that seemed walkable! There was nothing playing that I would have paid to see at US and Canada prices, but for $55, the mostly comedic “Going Out In Style” with Alan Arkin, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Christopher Lloyd, and Ann-Margaret sounded perfect! The movie started in about an hour and I decided to head straight to the mall and then grab a very late lunch if I had time.

My walk was through the “real” Mexico that I love so much. It’s not pretty and it’s chaotic and smelly and loud, but it’s also very communal. I didn’t know if this was a bad part of town or not, so I kept my phone tucked away so as to not draw attention to myself as I strolled purposefully to my destination, which explains the lack of pictures. 🙂 I passed a Paletería La Michoacana, so I popped in to get a paleta, which is just a fancy popsicle. The owner didn’t seem to know what to do with me, reminding me of the juice vendor in Mazatlán who gave me a “I’ve never served a Canadian before!” discount. No discount here, but I came out with a coco paleta for $15. It was very drippy and I had to eat it fast, but I was happy with my choice since there was real coconut in it and so it was surprisingly filling.

Shockingly, the directions I’d memorised were perfect and I found the Cinépolis with no detours. I still had about 30 minutes to the movie, so I went to the food court and ordered two tacos arabes, which is another name for al pastor. 🙂 They were pretty good — very generous with the meat for $18 each, but there was a lot of gristle and no onions, cilantro, and only two salsas (the guacamole, which isn’t spicy, and the salsa mexicana/pico de gallo that was and tasted like home!). They didn’t double up on the tortillas, so the second taco was so soggy by the time I got to it that I had to eat it with a spoon! I can’t even begin to describe the happy dance my taste buds were doing!

There’s a Mega right by the cinema, so I went there after eating to see if they might have a Scotiabank ATM by their bathrooms. They did! I initiated a transfer to that account so I could make a withdrawal after the movie and then went to buy my ticket. I almost asked for a “bilet,” rather than a “boleto.” The former is Bulgarian, LOL!!! I thought the last time I went to the cinema was in Bulgaria, but no. I went once in England.

The movie was exactly what I wanted. There was a lot of suspension of disbelief needed, but the actors were all in fine form. It was great to hear other audience members laugh at the same time I did. Oh, for those who don’t know this, most movies in Mexico are shown in their original language with Spanish subtitles. Just look for “subtitulado” or “sub” next to movie name when looking up showtimes.

It was just coming on seven when I left the movie theatre. I checked my email and my transfer was complete, so I moved the money into my Scotiabank account. Last time I did that was in Brighton on my iPhone 5C and it took ages since I had to type my password on a tiny screen. With my “new” iPhone 6, I just had to give the phone a fingerprint! I was then able to take out enough cash to cover fuel tomorrow and leave me with a bit to get me through until I locate the nearest Scotiabank to where I’m staying in Chelem, which is very likely the one on Pasejo de Montejo since I know there is no Scotiabank in Progreso, the nearest city to where I’m going to be living. Let me tell you, soon as I get my residency card, my first stop will be a bank to get a Mexican account so I can go directly from the USD in my PayPal account to pesos, have access to more ATMs, and also have access to a debit card system!

Banking done, I went down to the main level to look for a taxi. I found a stand where I could order one. As it turned out, there are a few City Express hotels in this city and I didn’t have the address, but saying the one 2KM away near the Walmart did the trick. I was quoted $45, which sounded very fair for the distance to travel. Am I glad I didn’t drive because the driver had to take me through a warren of streets to end up on the correct side of this main thoroughfare to drop me off!

I was ready for dinner by this point and asked the front desk clerk for a suggestion. She said I’d have to drive as there are no sit down restaurants within walking distance and she doesn’t recommend the taco stand right in front of the hotel. There was no way I was getting back in my car, so I went to the Oxxo next door to put together a picnic. I almost got a beer there, but spotted a proper beer store in the distance (look for the word SIX in big red glowing letters!) and knew their beer would be colder. When I got there, the grill was down, but the lights were on. I called out and a guy came out from an inner office to serve me. I asked for a Tecate and he asked me if I wanted red (regular) or blue (light) and what size. A small red was $15, about what I’d pay on Isla for a single.

The desk clerk was surprised to see me back so soon. I held up my bag and said, “¡Viva Oxxo!” She and the security guard burst out laughing. I wasn’t super hungry and I had a cold beer, so a decent ham and cheese sandwich with some Fritos were absolutely fine for supper. I even found a packet of honey mustard at the bottom of my purse to dress up my sandwich!

I can’t believe it’s the end of my last full day on the road and while I’m definitely DONE with living out of a suitcase (been doing it for more than 10 months!), I’m still in good spirits. It’s been an uneventful trip and I have to say that a lot of that has had to do with my being focused on just getting there. The more detours one takes, the more can go wrong. Croft is sad that I haven’t done any tourism, but I have to remind him that I’m going to be living here full-time for at least the next four years! Soon as I can afford to take a vacation, I can come back out to this part of Mexico and explore some archaeological sites over a long weekend. Or I can get on a cheap flight and take a longer trip further afield. All my travel money in the next few years is going to go to exploring Mexico instead of having so much of it spent on going back and forth between Canada and the US.

So patience readers. Give me time to settle in, replenish the coffers ahead of my move in the fall, and soon, we’ll set off and discover this magical country together. I want to do it just like I did with the US and Canada, thoroughly and purposefully and at a leisurely pace.

I can’t believe I’ll be in Chelem tomorrow!