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!

Mérida or Bust — Day Eight: Matehuala, SLP, to Xalapa, Veracruz

Total Kilometres to Drive: 5,600 (change because I need to fire my GPS)

Kilometres Driven Today: 850ish (at least 50 and maybe as much as 100 don’t count)

Total Kilometres Driven: 4,280

Kilometres Left: 1,320 (ish)

Amount of Trip Completed: 76.43% (ish)

My Garmin, Google Maps, and Mexican road signage were all smoking crack today apparently.

Until 4PM today, I thought I wouldn’t have anything worth writing about today. Now, I’m two hours out of my way and ready to fire whomever makes Mexican signage as well as Google Maps and my Garmin. But let me start from the beginning…

I slept all right in Matehuala and got an earlish start around 7:15. I stopped at an Oxxo for a coffee and then just drove… The landscapes were pretty uninspired, just mountainous. I could have been anywhere. I took the Arco Norte bypass around Mexico City and got to Puebla almost an hour earlier than expected, 4PM. I was feeling really good and decided that I might as well push on to give myself a shorter day tomorrow…

Before I knew it, I was going around in circles in downtown Puebla. To my amazement, I was super calm and not at all stressed out. For some reason, I seem to have taken to the defensive form of Mexican driving like the proverbial duck to water. I finally got back on a highway and my GPS assured me that I was still headed towards Villahermosa. The directions looked good as per my paper map as well.

The road I was on was really good and would put me in Xalapa by quarter to seven at the latest, giving me a full hour before dark to find a hotel. Perfect!

Well, my day finally turned into an adventure. I was about half way to Xalapa from Puebla when my gas gauge did that lovely thing it does sometimes and went from telling me I had a full quarter tank of fuel left to running on fumes to giving me the you need fuel NOW light. I was going up and down so much I had no way to gauge just how far I could go on what I had. No problem, my GPS promised me there were several Pemexes nearby…

All of which were on the wrong side of an impassable median.

Mercifully, I had something like a 20KM downhill stretch into Xalapa. I literally just coasted into the first Pemex I found as I came into the city.

I had almost no cash left by this point because of the ridiculous amount of tolls I had to pay again today (haven’t totalled them all up yet, but just the Arco Norte was $330). The attendant tried my credit card, but that didn’t work. He told me there was a Banamex “that way” where I could get cash, so off I went. No problem getting money, but big problem getting back to the Pemex for lack of a way to get around an impassable median. Seriously. By the time I found two retornos, one to go back the way I’d come and one to swing back to the Pemex, my needle was beyond the red. Thankfully, I made it into the gas station at the nick of time and I took on a full $1,000 of fuel. I had about five litres left of fuel!

It was 6:45 by this point and I wasted an hour driving around Xalapa looking for my hotel. My GPS was absolutely useless and kept taking me into parts of town I had no business being in and telling me to turn where I couldn’t, etc. It was really frustrating that I knew which hotel I wanted to go to and passed it several times, but it took a full hour to get there! I have to stress that I wasn’t really stressed until about 7:30, when it started to get dark. I just treated my evening like the adventure that it was and savoured it.

By the time I checked into the hotel, I still didn’t know I was as far out of my way as I am. If you look at the map above, I should be in Córdoba. I am really unhappy because I exhausted myself today so that I could get a late start tomorrow. But get this… the only restaurant within walking distance serves… sushi. 😀

I went off to find it where the hotel clerk told me to go and was confused because all I found was a café. Then, I noticed stairs in front of the café, so I went up to find a several empty storefronts. As I was about to dejectedly return to my hotel room, I heard music up a further flight of stairs, so up I went and found the restaurant!

I ordered a Bohemia beer and a spicy tuna roll. The server also brought me a bowl of noodle stir fry on the house to start because I looked hungry! LOL Sorry,Vicki, the pics I took didn’t turn out — it was way too dark. I also had a bowl of chocolate ice cream with hot fudge and a cherry for dessert! 🙂

Yes, I am annoyed by the unexpected detour, but at the same time I’m really pleased with how my day ended up turning out. I mean, I found myself driving like a maniac in two busy city centres without breaking a sweat. I was as relaxed and comfortable as I would have been back in Canada or the US and, most importantly, I got landed somewhere safe before it got dark and I was exhausted.

Really, it wasn’t a bad day and now I get to go through Veracruz, home of my favourite coffee beans. Let’s see if I find some! 😀

I went through so many states today. Still need to tally them all up!