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Published: November 9th 2012
After nearly a 4000 mile road trip, we have reached our new home in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. We left Merida, Mexico for Texas to have our car repaired. It was a drive of almost 1300 miles to repair the windshield, ignition and front end of our trusty (sort of) Saturn. We estimated it would take us about 4 days to get from the Yucatan to Brownsville, Texas. We planned to take the coast road through Veracruz and Tampico, which would have been the shortest route, but at the last minute a friend in Merida said they had a very difficult trip on that road in the past and recommended using a different route. We thought the shortest route would be best for the car, but perhaps if the road was very difficult, it might turn out to be even harder on the car.
We left Merida and headed toward Villahermosa, about an 8 hour drive. The drive south along the western coast of the Yucatan through Campeche was absolutely amazing. The water is a beautiful shade of blue and much of the beach area is nearly undisturbed. The broken front bearings on the car continued to whine
louder as we went, especially between 30 and 50 miles an hour. Much of the coast road runs through small towns that require you to slow down often for speed bumps and this meant that we primarily drove between these speeds. Not good and we considered stopping in Villahermosa and just admitting that there was no way we could make it. We did some soul searching about why we had been so lazy and not made a better effort to get the parts necessary to fix the car during the last 3 weeks in Merida.
We thought we might do better if we stuck to the more major freeways in Mexico. Mexico has great toll highways that run on most major routes. The roads can be quite expensive, but they are wide and not overly crowded and for the most part avoid smaller towns. We thought if we could keep the car at higher speeds we might do better. We turned north the next morning and decided to take toll roads to Puebla, Mexico which would lead us through central Mexico and keep us on roads with higher speeds. The drive would add several hundred miles to the trip,
but keep us on major roads in case we broke down. We reached Puebla in the late afternoon and despite the car continuing to make evil noises, we were feeling more confident about making it to Texas safely. We arrived in Puebla early enough to walk around the town for a couple of hours and enjoy the wonderful town square, one of the most beautiful we have seen in all of Mexico and Central America. Most of the downtown is blocked off to traffic and is very walkable. A highlight was the gigantic main cathedral. We had enough time to spend nearly an hour in the cathedral. Amazing and easily the grandest of the hundreds of churches we have visited on our trip so far. Simply breathtaking. Puebla is famous for its Mole Poblano and we absolutely had to find a place to try some during our short visit. It proved to be a smoky, spicy, slightly chocolaty treat that was a good challenge to the wonderful Moles that we had sampled early in Oaxaca.
The next morning we continued north with the goal of reaching San Luis Potosi. We thought if we made good time and only stopped
for gas, we might even make it farther, perhaps even being able to cross the border a day earlier than we thought. We passed San Luis in the early afternoon and decided to continue on to the town of Matehuela, Mexico. There really isn’t much food available on the toll roads and we have found that cookies in Mexico are quite good and inexpensive and when necessary can serve as both breakfast and lunch when trying to make extra miles. Not as good as our mole the night before, but the time saved really added to confidence we could make it to Texas early.
Matehuela is a small town, that to be honest we had never heard of before, but proved to be the perfect pit stop. We got a motel called the Las Palmas that proved to be just right for us. The rooms were large and the air conditioner was great. We went to the local supermarket and got a large pizza that we brought back to the room and enjoyed while we watched the Giants win another World Series game. Before we reached Matehuela we realized that it would be closer to cross the border at
Laredo, Texas vs. Brownsville. We thought we could easily reach Laredo the next afternoon and perhaps we would have gained a day over how long we thought we might take.
We awoke early and headed toward the border. The final stretch of road was excellent and fast. We began to feel we would surely make it. By 1 PM we approached the Puente Internacional (International Bridge) that crosses the Rio Grande River. For the 1st
time in more than 16 months we were in the US! The Border Patrol seemed perplexed that we had been gone so long and did not have anything to declare. They made us completely empty the car and did a search around, under and throughout the car. I know we appear to be Beverly Hillbillies, but I don’t think we look like smugglers. Things have certainly changed since the border patrol gave you a casual wave and said “Welcome Home”. We had a strange feeling because the gates of the Mexico border were completely open and there were no officers anywhere to be seen. We hadn’t even had our passport stamped. More on this later…
We checked in to a Motel 6 a
few miles over the border and found a GM dealer that said we could bring our car in the next morning at 7 AM. Success, we had made it!!!!
Unfortunately the next afternoon we found that the repairs would be much more expensive than we had thought (3700 dollars!) and it would be at least a few days before they could get all the parts necessary to repair the car. It looked like Motel 6 would be our new home for a few days. Luckily, because the motel was near the border it was near malls, shopping centers, restaurants and all the things we needed to occupy ourselves for a few days. It was funny in the restaurants and stores because most all of the customers and employees spoke Spanish and it barely seemed we were in America at all. Mexico and Central America certainly have their share of malls and supermarkets but nevertheless we were still amazed at the number of choices that are available in the stores.
We spent the next few days walking through the stores. We purchased a few items that we had not seen for a while and became regulars at the pancake
house next door to our hotel. We even met some other travelers that were on their way to San Miguel also. After a few days we contacted the car repair place and were told it would take 5 days total to fix our car. Seemed like a long time but we occupied ourselves with watching the Giants win the World Series and catching up on some favorite shows we hadn’t seen for some time. We also had lots of time to discuss future plans for our journeys. Our California car registration could not be renewed without having the car smogged and David’s license could not be renewed without an eye test. Perhaps it would be a good idea to travel to California briefly and get both renewed. Mexico doesn’t really look at registrations, but they do require a valid license. It was approximately 1400 miles to the closest California town (Blythe) but perhaps it would be best to go there and stay legal while we had the chance.
We finally got the call that the car was ready. We got to the dealership and noticed that while changing the windshield, the mechanic had failed to remove the Mexico car
permit from the window and place it on the new windshield. Not good, but luckily they were able to find it and place it on the new windshield.
We finally got on the road at about 3 PM, destination California. In Mexico it is not really safe to drive at night, but we thought that since we were on US roads now we could make some miles if we drove until late evening. We headed to San Antonio to pick up I-10 which would take us all the way to California. After passing through the huge city of San Antonio we got to I-10 and turned toward the wide and fast roads of west Texas. Speed limits in West Texas are 85 miles per hours and you can really make unbelievable amounts of miles fairly rapidly, especially compared to Mexico. We continued on until we reached Ft. Stockton, Texas where we found a convenient restaurant and another Motel 6.
We got up early and continued on our way hoping to make it as far as Tucson or Phoenix, Arizona, a drive of nearly 600 miles. A long day but perhaps we could make California the following day. We
passed through Tucson and still felt OK. We arrived in Phoenix during rush hour and thought we should continue on even though we were exhausted. Ft. Stockton to Blythe was more than 700 miles but perhaps we could make it. The last 100 miles were difficult but we pulled in to Blythe near 11 PM Wednesday night. We had driven more than 1200 miles in less than a day and a half. This would mean that we would surely be able to go to the DMV and get the car smogged the next morning.
We were first in line the next morning at DMV and were on our way to the smog place by 8:30 in the morning. Despite blurry eyes from all the driving, David was even able to pass the eye test without glasses! We had the car smogged and luckily it passed and we returned to DMV to complete the registration paperwork. We thought we would be in Blythe for at least a day, but now found we were ready to hit the road by 10 o’clock in the morning. Wow!
We jumped back on I-10 and continued back toward Tucson. On the way we
saw several highway signs advertising Tombstone, Arizona the famous town where the gunfight at the OK Corral took place in the late 1800’s. We decided that since Tombstone was about the same distance to the Mexico border we would stay there instead of Tucson. We needed to have a bit of a break from the road and get prepared to cross in to Mexico in the morning. We arrived in Tombstone in time to watch a re-creation of the famous gun battle and take a quick tour of the famous Birdcage Theater. Walking the wooden sidewalks at night and passing Wyatt Earp’s house was a nice break from our aggressive driving schedule.
We woke early and headed toward the border crossing at Nogales. We had some fear of crossing the border because we had heard stories of people who had not properly checked their car out of Mexico and upon return had found that they were not able to bring a “second” car into Mexico, even though it was actually the same car. What if we were not able to get back into Mexico!!! As it turned out we arrived at the gate to Mexico and the gate opened
and no one checked anything. In fact, we never really saw an actual person. After passing down a couple of rough streets we realized we were in Mexico. Our original car permit was still good for 3 ½ more months and perhaps we had made it! We quickly decided to just drive on and see how it went. Like the stop in Blythe at DMV, we had passed another hurdle much easier than we expected.
We continued on and eventually stopped at the beautiful fishing town of San Blas, Mexico for the night. After a relaxing night in a comfortable hotel and some wonderful Ceviche, we made our way the next day to Culiacan and then on to Guadalajara the next day. The car was running fantastic, even better than it had when we originally drove these same roads 16 months earlier.
We arrived in San Miguel on Monday morning. When we left Merida we had planned on a 14 day/2500 mile trip to Texas to repair the car. Despite the car taking 5 days to be repaired and the additional 1500 mile detour to California we arrived in San Miguel within our original 14 day estimate. Exhausted
but satisfied with all our accomplishments, we checked into our new home in San Miguel.
We have a beautiful 2 story loft apartment with a rooftop terrace that overlooks the town. There are 4 apartments in our building, all decorated with the theme of famous Mexican actors and actresses. Ours is the Salma Hayek apartment and has several posters of her most popular movies, some which were filmed in San Miguel.
San Miguel is a beautiful colonial town high in the mountains of Central Mexico (6500 feet above sea level). The cobblestone streets wind through colorful buildings with many wonderful churches and squares. We visited San Miguel when we lived in Guanajuato previously and also on an earlier vacation to Mexico. It is a wonderful town, with cool weather and friendly people. It has many festivals and a large art community which will surely provide many good adventures for us to enjoy during our stay here.
We are so happy to have the car fixed, the drive over and a beautiful place to stay while we rest up from our busy 2 week, 4000 mile trip across a good portion of Mexico and the United States.
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