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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

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