I stayed at the well-worn Hillcrest Motel in Eagle Pass, Texas the previous night. What it lacked in charm and amenities it made up for in location, being only one mile from the International Bridge to Mexico. Before turning in for the night, I carefully packed my gear and lined up all my ducks for the jump over the boarder today.
This morning I approached the boarder and paid a $3 toll to cross the bridge spanning the Rio Bravo into Mexico. This was smooth sailing as I was the only vehicle heading south. The northbound lanes though supported a torrent of cars, trucks and pedestrians. Pulling up to the boarder gate, I shut off my engine to answer the uniformed official’s questions. No booth here. Just some scant shelter under an overhang. Conversation went something like this: “Do you speak Spanish.” “Un poco.” “Where are you from?” “Chicago.” “Where are you going?” “Yucatan.” “Are you a citizen of the United States?” “Yes.” Man, I was passing with flying colors! I think I got ’em all right! He’s about to let me pass when I thought I’d ask where to go to get my paperwork (customs and immigration) to which he replied in rapid-fire Spanish, “Mapk pqlegs og quient nzjuaien ib a nekl. Ampen ig ferpanink ko wpaliemk. Welcome to Mexico.” And lifted the gate. Not wanting to look the fool, I became the fool and replied “Gracias” not having a clue what I’m supposed to do or where to go. I figured I’d just motor ahead a few yards, park the bike and walk back to the building to figure things out. Bad idea. There’s a large plaza with a ginormous flag just south of the boarder station, but every curb is painted red: no parking. So I go around the square looking for a way back into the boarder station. They really don’t want you coming back though and after about 20 minutes of cruising up and down one-way streets I finally get back to the station. I find a parking spot and soon learn that all customs and immigration are handled 33 miles down the road. Silly me, that was so obvious. NOT.
So 33 miles south I went, grabbing a fist full of pesos from an ATM along the way. It’s immediately clear I’m no longer in the USA. Stray dogs. A crushed dog. Soldiers with M-16s. Guards at banks with shotguns. Weary horses drawing clap board wagons. Road crews actually performing work. Full-service gas stations. Only one brand of fuel. Speed bumps everywhere. Kilometres per hour. Air-cooled VW Beetles. A clown juggling for pesos at a red light. Roadside shrines. No billboards. Pay phones.
I proceeded south on Mexico 57 (which happens to be my route anyway) and sure enough, after about 30 miles, there’s a big tollbooth type set-up for Customs and Immigration. I head into the building and proceed to get:
- Passport stamped. Free!
- Tourist card (Mexico’s version of a visa). $24.06
- Temporary Import Permit for the Tiger. $51.04
They also place a $400 charge against your credit card, refunded when the vehicle leaves Mexico. Note I’m going to report all fees during this trip in U.S. dollars. My conversion ratio is 13.2 Mexican pesos to one dollar.
Continuing south, I’m riding atop a tiny portion of the Antiplano. Imagine a rectangular bowl. Flip it upside-down. Position one of the narrower edges towards you. Turn the bowl counter-clockwise about 45 degrees. The slopes of the bowl represent the Sierra Madre mountain ranges to the east and west. Another mountain range flanks the south. Surrounded by mountains, the Antiplano is dry with almost all of the potential moisture wrung out of the atmosphere as winds push up into the plateau. True to its description, this is a dry desolate land. Yellowish brown scrappy grass rooted in sand and rock lie off the shoulder. Vegetation past the barbed wire is scrub brush, prickly pear cactus, yucca, and mesquite. Thin brown branches hold olive drab and hunter green leaves.
One hundred fifty miles south, a dark grey ominous silhouette begins to dominate the horizon. Veiled though a thin haze under billowing white puffy clouds, the first mountain range is making an appearance. Running from east to west, the road south vanishes in the distance, slicing through the giant’s spine. And soon enough I’m in it. In contrast to the flat land ridden to this point, here the sky is more rock than air. After an ear pop or two, the range is traversed and the plain once again dominates.
My hotel tonight is 270 miles south of the boarder in Saltillo, Coahuila. Surrounded by looming low peaks, the landscape reminds me of Phoenix, Arizona. A sprawling city, Saltillo is also old, founded in the 1500s. I selected the Hotel Urdiñola near the central square and Saltillo Cathedral. Here, I can park the bike, and it’s an easy walk to restaurants and parks. And the parks seem to be where all the action is found. Not too many restaurants noted and maybe one or two bars. I couldn’t find a store that carried beer either. But if you want shoes, come on down. There are more shoe stores here than I have ever seen in my life. Like one every couple hundred feet (Ha, no pun intended)! I have no idea how they can all remain in business.
For dinner, I tried tacos at two taco shacks. At the first, El Pastor Tacos, I had the Al Pastor tacos (naturally). For $2.65 you’re served 5 tacos. Sounds like a lot of food but the tacos here are about 35% the size of those back home. Still, that’s about two whole tacos. Bowls of chopped onion and cilantro, and four sauces were provided on each table. Delicious. I then wandered a hundred yards down and had five tongue tacos. Same four sauces here. And also delicious.
I attempted to write this blog in my room tonight but all the outlets here only support two prong plugs. My PC transformer has that goofy ground pin on it to prevent something called electrocution. Not that I plan on typing this in the shower, but still. So I’m hunched over a low table in the hotel foyer where a single accommodating outlet was found. Add that to the list of things that are different here.