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Monday, October 30, 2017

DAY FIVE: San Luis Potosi, SLP to Puebla, Puebla

Last night's hotel choice was bad.  The entire floor, hallway and room, was tile and the hallway ceiling was rounded out for EXCELLENT acoustics.  I found out they were training the Federales cadets here and while they could've been much worse, they were a little gnarly.  I'd be drifting off to beautiful sleep when I'd hear them laughing clear as day, being able to hear every word of their conversation and go into an undeserved rage.  For a split second I fantasized about going out there to shush them but I immediately thought better of it.  It wasn't they who designed the hotel so as to make it as loud as possible.

They had me sign a piece of paper just for the dog, the highlight of which was that the dog wasn't allowed on the bed.  I signed it and paid an extra 150 pesos for the privilege of their allowing him into the room, then set up a thick blanket on the bed as his chill spot.  I wrapped him up in a nest, set the AC ambitiously for 18 C and tried to sleep.  I got a little cold, so when the dog decided to get under the covers and flop his warm derriere onto me, I didn't protest.  I figured I'd slap any shedding off the white sheets with a towel.

I woke up just shy of two am and drifted in an out a light sleep.  At about five, I took my shower and started getting ready to go so as to get the hell out of this place asap.  The shedding was out of control and I started to suspect some of it wasn't from Chucho (unlikely, I know).  I spent about ten minutes meticulously combing hair out with my fingers, then plucking until I finally gave up.  I left a 20 peso note for the housekeeper with the hope she would keep the hair under wraps...

A little hard to see, but those are all Federal Police pick-up trucks in the parking lot.  Two Federales were posted at the entrance of the hotel all night.

The Drive

I had a five-and-a-half hour drive, my longest in Mexico thus far, ahead of me.  My uncle who has spent a lot of time in Mexico and is a citizen, told me Puebla was a beautiful place and I was looking forward to seeing it for the first time.
Google betrayed me for the first time about an hour into the drive.  I heard it chirp to exit right and I glanced down to the phone which appeared to tell me to continue straight.  The app then froze in Rerouting mode and I was forced to use what was left of my cunning to get back on track.  

I did so without incident and the rest of the drive was beautiful.  I'd seen goats on the side of the road up north but today I saw only sheep in their place, grazing along the side of the highway, always with an attentive shepherd nearby.

The desert landscape was giving way to greener hills and accompanying vegetation and some really nice cumulonimbus clouds, but no rain.
I was less than twenty minutes from my hotel and approaching a toll booth.  I had a feeling I shouldn't get on the toll road being this close but Google had me continuing.  At first, I was amped on trusting Google as I was on an elevated highway.  Google then told me to turn right where no right turn existed.  I scanned below and saw what was my turn-off, inaccessible to me from this high up. 

I kept going and considered my options.  If memory served, Cordoba was my next stop-gap and less than three hours away, achievable before nightfall.  The next exit appeared to be closed due to construction, so I mentally made Cordoba my next stop (keep in mind I didn't have an idea as to which hotel would take Chucho or if they had room for us).  The construction cones broke and I saw daylight to the exit.  I took it and was dropped on the outskirts of downtown Puebla and quite the logjam.  It took me twenty-five minutes to go one kilometer.  Google couldn't or wouldn't reroute me, but at least did me a solid by pointing out where I was and a dot for my destination. 

Memories of my youth sporadically danced through my head as I caught my first whiff of the quaint smell of raw sewage.  I s l o w l y found my way to the vicinity of my destination after being veered off in directions I would've preferred not going.  I had no way of knowing where to turn as my only options in the proximity were veering to the right or going up what seemed like a solid (read: not short) bridge.  The turn-off to the right lost favor due to the line of cars (and going in seemingly the wrong direction).  I went up and to my massive dismay I realized I was overshooting my turn to the left by being on the bridge.  While stuck on the bridge I took the time to try and spot the hotel from my vantage point to no avail.  I flipped a bitch, unsure if it was legal for me to do so and headed back. 

Eventually, I turned right and the arrow representing the phone and the dot representing my hotel grew closer.  I passed a Wal-mart and continued.  I kept looking back to see if the turn-off was there and then realized I was over the river, past my destination.  I veered right hoping there was a back entrance accessible but natch.  I pulled over, parked, then went on foot to an eatery nearby.  I asked for directions and was given a blank look by a woman. Her male companion told me where it was. 

I flipped another quasi-legal bitch, turned left and saw a sign for my hotel! But it was on the other side of the road with no way to get to it.  I continued on, opting for the nice clear lane with the sapos separating it from traffic.  I remembered driving through Soyapango and they used the sapos to separate general traffic from the bus lane.  

Once I realized what was going on, I merged out of it at my earliest opportunity, but not before quizzical looks from some poblanos (?).  Had I stayed in the easy cruising bus lane I would've met a cop stationed there around a curve a block later.  

I was getting no legal chances at a left turn (all stoplights allowed for passage through only), so I thought I'd turn right and then flip a third and hopefully last bitch.  I looked and found a right turn, then quickly flipped back in to traffic as it was an unmarked one-way street.  I cursed the Puebla traffic circulation gods and continued straight and farther away from my hotel.  

In the distance, hope!  A roundabout seemed to be at the top of the bridge.  I waited for the green, then went.  As I made my way around, I spotted a poorly angled red light.  I couldn't tell if it was for me and made the split-second decision to continue.  I was immediately made aware of my infraction by a barrage of horn honks from one guy, so I sped up to be as little in his way as possible.

I eventually made it back down and into my hotel, my detour into Puebla proper taking me an extra ninety minutes.  Chucho had been panting and rebuffed my attempts  at giving him water.  When we arrived in our room he practically fellated his water dish.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

DAY FOUR: Saltillo, Coahuila to San Luis Potosi, SLP

We had the luxury of not being able to check in to our hotel at our destination until three, so we hung out until ten.  The breakfast buffet was excellent and they had professional coed wrestling playing on TV.  I feasted on both with the intention of skipping lunch to gorge at dinnertime.

Apparently I hadn't entered Saltillo when I pulled into the Sheraton.  As we departed I was whisked through a maze of over and underpasses.  I had my first close call of a missed turn since entering Mexico and ran over a couple of round 'sapos' as they're called in El Salvador, big metal protrusions designed to discourage trespassing (in this case, a last-second merge in either direction).

Opie didn't groan in protest so we were all good.

I then spotted my first incognito 'tope' or speed bump of the trip about fifty feet before impact.  That was a nasty couple of bumps but nevertheless, Opie persisted.  Luckily, I was out of metropolitan Saltillo and I got on the 57/57D, which alternated between toll and libre (free).  I went through quite a few elevation changes and my ears popped more than once.

All was well for four hours until we started entering the outskirts of San Luis Potosí.  The lane count went up by half while traffic quadrupled.  I then hit a succession of double topes/single tope every hundred meters or so.  This was really annoying, as the first set wasn't marked which sapped my and Opie's mojo.  I gauged the Opie's tail-end sway after every bump and tried to gauge as to whether his posterior was drooping more than before and convinced it had.

We got into SLP proper and the city, as much of it as I could see, was beautiful.  I stole glances at my surroundings while scanning the lanes in front of me for cars and my lane itself for progress-robbing potholes.

I pulled into the hotel I'd reserved for the evening and walked in with the dog.  Opie was in the sun and I didn't want Chucho to fry in the car.  The lady had a sourpuss on when I walked up.  I told her about my reservation and gave her my last name.  She dutifully looked me up and said they had 'normas' regarding pets.  I said 'normas?' (a word seldom used in Spanish, hence my question).  She nodded and said they had to be under fifteen kilos which Chucho was over by easily five kilos.  She kept going down the list and I stopped her and said if he didn't satisfy the first rule, we don't need to go through the rest of them (in as nice a way as possible).  She agreed and was helpful in pointing me in the general direction of my second choice in hotels.

I drove another ten or so kilometers(which I'll be able to subtract from tomorrow's total) and pulled in and was greeted by a parking lot one-third populated by Federales trucks, so hopefully Opie will sleep safely...

Miles Driven: 285
Hours Traveled: ~5

Saturday, October 28, 2017

DAY THREE: Laredo, TX to Saltillo, Coahuila, Mexico

The Motel 6 in Laredo was a world apart from its Lubbock cousin.  The hot water lasted more than three minutes so that gives it an A in my book.

I have an itinerary I made up with possible stops along the way.  I opted for the closest one so I could give myself enough time to cross while minimizing the chance to have to drive at night.  The issue with this, of course, is if I am making good time and could conceivably go on my way a little farther, I am committed to the stop for the night.  This is probably the way I will do it from now on, so I know there is a place I can go to that is easily achievable barring a catastrophic setback and I know they will take Chucho AND I will have reserved the room.

We headed towards IHOP for breakfast.  I had Google Maps guide me and it had me taking a shortcut through Mexico to save time.  I remembered around where it was from my earlier sleuthing, had breakfast, and then I got on the road.  I filled up the tank in the US one last time and made my way on the 35 towards the Colombia Solidaridad bridge, one of several ways to cross from the greater Laredo area.

The crossing was interesting.  I was expecting having to wait in my car for an hour and the whole ordeal taking at least two hours but there was absolutely no line.They have you pay $3.50 and you cross into Mexico immediately.  THEN you deal with all of the border to-do's.  I asked the toll booth lady about buying pesos and she said she didn't know where I could buy pesos.  I figured, ok, surely I can score some at the border building.

I'd read on some Panamerican travel blogs (generally written by people who travel either the length or close to the length of the hemisphere) that if you write everything you're carrying with you in a manifest of sorts, you'll be in great shape.  Given our mainly haphazard packing and the fact that we're not just carrying travel supplies, I didn't have that at my disposal.

I got there and the woman interviewed me through my car window after I'd parked at customs.  When she learned I was a transmigrante, not a tourist, she had me get out of Opie for an extended interview.

She started telling me how I really should have a manifest detailing everything that's in the car.  She kept mentioning that I needed to go to the consulate or maybe even speak to a customs broker to really do it right.  She kept going on and on about a manifest and I said to her, "Well, sounds like this will delay my trip by a few days" and she agreed.  She said, "Every time you pass you're going to have to pay an import fee" and that's when it clicked.  I told her I was bringing only this, there wasn't going to be a second load.  She said, "Oh in that case we can do everything now".  Had I not spoken Spanish I'd have spent the day unloading, unpacking and laboriously cataloguing everything in Opie

She asked about my cargo and I told her what it was, various household goods.  She asked me if I had any alcohol, cigarettes, paint, or car batteries.  No questions about guns (illegal in Mexico), cash (when drugs go up, cash has to come down somehow) or other possible contraband.I told her about my desktop and laptop and not forty-five seconds into laying into my description she had reached an import duty amount: $192.

I then had to put a deposit of a little over $300 which I will get back so long as I leave Mexico in less than six months.  The lady who was handling that kept my driver's license but she didn't tell me to come back to collect it.  I remember when she snagged it but there were no instructions other than go pay for your temporary import permit.  I did so and then went back to where Chucho and Opie were waiting in the shade.  I had my passport, my paperwork, but I didn't remember her giving me my license back.  I checked my wallet and there was no license.  I went back and said that she had my license.  She said, "I told you to come back with the receipt".  I played it as though I'd forgotten so as to get on my way but that would have been a trip jeopardizer had I not checked my wallet.

I asked a guy at customs about buying pesos and he said I could do so inside.  Back inside I went and the cleaning lady said the pesos guy wasn't there yet.  Knowing he might never show I bailed back outside.  I asked the customs agent about getting pesos before getting on the toll road.  He grimaced and said that some will take dollars (so far, BS) and others will take credit cards.

I got back in Opie, clocked the border time at less than eighty-five minutes since having paid the toll and we shot south.  The road was abysmal.  I was doing the unweighting dance every quarter-mile and storm clouds began gathering over my optimism about Opie and his slightly cambering wheels making it down without stranding us.

After an eternity, I got on the cuota (toll road) and things were vastly better.  Inevitably, I got to the toll booth and a sign said Only national currency is accepted.  I greeted the lady (there were two in there for some reason) and handed her my card.  She asked if it was an American card and I said yes. She said no can do.  I said, "So what do we do now?" and she said to reverse (this is a highway, remember) and cross over the oncoming traffic lanes and see if the lady there will sell me pesos.  She did at a great rate for her (15p:1d when going rate is 17.5+), so she made some money off of me.  She only had enough pesos for a $20, though... I paid the cuota in pesos and was on my way.

I went through a military checkpoint.  I was given a very ambiguous wave; I didn't know if it was a "Have a great trip" wave or a "PULL OVER" wave.  The cannon of a rifle he was holding made me opt for the safe choice and he did an interview that lasted less than thirty seconds, skimmed my paperwork and bid me adieu.  Both guys were in full fatigues with only their eyes uncovered.

I was zooming south until I hit the city of Apodaca and I had my first and brutal encounter with Latin American driving.  Trucks merge without looking and/or without caring because whatever they hit will be pushed out of the way.  People in passenger cars also tend to zoom between lanes.  I don't believe I saw one intended turn signal.

At one point I was between an eighteen-wheeler and a bus and the lanes narrowed.  I had a death grip on Opie's wheel as my eyes darted between them for a not-so-good ten seconds.

I got on another toll road and once reaching the toll booth I once again suffered from insufficient pesos.  I asked where I could change pesos and the two guys (maybe it's training day?) told me there was nowhere to exchange currency.  I half-heartedly asked if they took credit and he, much to my surprise, replied in the affirmative.

I had passed one place that had a tiny half-sign that advertised an ATM but I saw it when I was even with it at ~110kph.  I'm definitely buying some pesos first thing tomorrow...

Prince Winston Chucho Eduardo celebrating his passage into Mexico with a few well-placed licks

Friday, October 27, 2017

DAY TWO: Lubbock, TX to Laredo, TX

This was a pretty uneventful day.  We drove about three minutes out of our way after leaving the motel and I had a Texas-sized breakfast of chicken biscuits in gravy, scrambled eggs, and home fries.  The first few bites especially were sheer ecstasy, aided in part by generous helpings of Tabasco.  Thanks to this massive meal I didn't feel the need to stop for lunch.  Our only stop was to get gas in one of many podunk towns through which we passed.

The day kind of flew by thanks in part to the lack of lower back pain.  Yesterday, I had about three hours of gnawing pain in my lower back but today I made sure I had my posterior slammed back into the seat so as to not give it any inroads.

Opie is still rock-solid and seems pretty sturdy thus far.  I'm going to go ahead and power on and hope our luck continues.  The preceding sentence reads like what an explorer would write in his diary the day before tragedy strikes.

I don't know what the roads will be like in this part of Mexico but let's hope they're half as smooth as Texas and with easily visible speed bumps.

Miles traveled: 528.8
Hours traveled: ~8 including stop

Thursday, October 26, 2017

DAY ONE: Lafayette, CO to Lubbock, TX

We had to take some stuff out of the van we've christened as Opie as it was too tight, but once we did so we were on our way.

My Garmin unit is loaded with maps for North and Central America.  It was telling me to go south on I-25 through New Mexico.  I had my heart on going through Oklahoma to Texas as I'd never been in Oklahoma.

Chucho was really cramped with all of the stuff around him and had a hard time laying down.  He's now been in seven states and should he live through this ordeal he will have been in six countries.  Not bad for a mutt from Pomona!

Opie made it without incident though the driver's side rear tire is riding a little low.  I'm going to shift the load from left to right and hope that helps stabilize things.  No problems on the ride, though!  I'm flirting with the idea of taking it to someone around here so I don't get stuck somewhere in the middle of Mexico with only my charm and Spanish to save me.

Miles traveled: 583.7
Hours traveled: ~11 including stops

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The Big Reveal

Tomorrow I will be embarking on an expedition.  Chucho and I will be driving down to Nicaragua to explore the area as a possible landing spot for the next phase of our lives.  Chucho is very anxious and can't be crated.  We tried a couple of years ago and he bloodied himself breaking out of it on two occasions.  My fear was that he would wake up from being medicated under a plane and have no idea where he was, then possibly get out.  If he did make it alive, it's almost certain he would be scarred both physically and emotionally.

I looked into hitching a ride on a sail boat through  I got a couple of firm maybes but the timing was extremely tricky due to the undefined day we could set sail which muddied the waters.  Plus there was a good chance I'd end up with some dude who just went naked all the time.

I looked into catching a ride on a container ship but they don't allow dogs.  I looked into catching a ride on a small plane but no one was headed in that direction on dates which might have worked for us.  I even looked into a small private plane but the quoted price of $65K was about 40x more than we were willing to pay.

So it was decided we would liquidate just about everything we own and I would drive down with Chucho.  Originally I was going to cross into Mexico at Brownsville, but the Reynosa area (as one enters Mexico) is pretty dangerous even during the day.  So I will be crossing at Laredo and taking the fastest route through the innards of Mainland Mexico.

After much research I realized a 4x4 isn't necessary, but it also pretty much bars me from stopping to surf.  The good news is that S swell season is almost over and it probably wouldn't be great.

I bought a Honda Odyssey van from two German girls who spent their summer driving from Vermont all the way to the west coast and then some.  I removed the middle seat and folded the back seat flat into the floor.  We crammed it full of our stuff and sold or gave away everything else.  There were many emotionally wrenching give-aways: my Rollerblades which were my pride and joy from ages 14-16 (which my Mom bought me for my 14th bday), my custom-made surfboard shaped wood desk, my sweet Les Paul (only an Epiphone, but still hurt) and amp were all given away or sold 😔

After spending hours figuring out how to load it most efficiently and  doing so, I realized I might have some trouble as the back wheels were cambering (leaning in) a bit from the weight.

I took it to a mechanic who recommended inserting spring spacers but couldn't do it because of liability issues.  I called around and found someone who would do it but couldn't have gotten me into until Thursday (tomorrow).  I eventually found a guy who would meet me at an Auto Zone for $70.  We went in, I bought $13 worth of parts and he for some reason decided to charge me only $40.

The wheels did straighten out a little, but not all of the way.  They will bounce a lot less so they should be fine.

Stay tuned...

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

BIG NEWS coming...!

This will be without question the biggest news in the history of this blog, stay tuned.  Pass the time with these well-written "passages" from STAB

"Is there anything more voluptuously alluring, more devastatingly pornographic to a surfer, than throbbing shorebreak barrels? Sweltering on land, the sky cloudless and blue, throngs of co-eds littering the beach as far as the eye could see, and head-high, flaring-wide dredgers wobbling north just fifty yards from shore."

Stab is not known for heady fare, but I dug the following paragraph.  It relates to the so-called tsunami generated from the earthquake near Chiapas:

"The term 'groundswell' is really quite silly. Typical waves, including the ones that become known as 'groundswell', stem from wind, which is definitively not born from earth or ocean but from sky. And because wind comes from the sky, it only stirs the surface of the ocean, which, if you've ever seen the "tip of the iceberg" phrase in photo from, implies that significantly more power lies beneath the surface than is visible above. So, if an actual below-surface power source existed, one might logically deduce that the ocean could create stronger waves from its depths than from its topwater."