Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Getting to a New Country and Oopsies. . .

I know that I’m already here in Mexico, but I’d like to comment on the travel coming here. Also about the answers I found out about Mexico insurance, the roads, parking… oh, the parking! and other concerns about getting into Mexico in an RV. It may be of help to someone.

I was ready for anything, or so I thought. I had read some writing about Tequis and decided that it was my final destination. So I went right ahead and planned my move through the North American continent after serious preparation, and it worked. I had the tools.

The travel was actually ideal. I had an atlas published for or by Wal-Mart and planned my daily travel with a view to using every free overnight place at a Super Center Wal-Mart, yet avoiding the larger cities traffic. Also, I had seen the sights in earlier travels. As an aside, I’d like to state how I appreciate the gigantic store chain for its amiability in accepting RV’ing overnighters. Not only does it provide a one-stop shop and a quick bite for tired drivers, it is also safe with a security guard on wheels keeping an eye on the well-lit parking lot all night. A definite plus for a woman traveling alone. There are many other overnight options, but I chose Wal-Mart Super Centers and never regretted a single night spent there (I had many). Most are close to interstate highways. A definite PLUS.

Now, since I had absolutely no experience driving through Mexico, I took care of all mechanical concerns in the US. Isn’t the unknown always a bit scary? I found most of I was looking for right there in Del Rio,TX, (except for a place to stay overnight unless I was ready to dish out $28. a night for using space only) and headed out for the Eagle Pass Wal-Mart for the night. Incidentally, although there were few services there, I found (cheap) Mexican insurance there. In retrospect though, I should have signed up for insurance in Del Rio where there were more choices, then headed out to Eagle Pass. At the insurance office a kindly soul gave me a map of Mexico. No matter that I needed a serious magnifying glass to read it, nevertheless it was a nice gesture and I appreciated it. A traveler welcomes any kindness with gratitude so far away from any homey feeling or familiar surroundings.

I had read that route 57 going from the border to Mexico City was for seasoned drivers only, at least in the earlier part from the border. So I’d like to comment on that. As an aside, I’d like to say that most people head down to the Pacific Coast tourist areas from either Matamoros or Tijuana. My goal was a bit different, heading down the colonial central part of Mexico. Unsure as to whether the toll road would lead me back to 57 that I was heading for, I simply took 57 from the border. What surprised me was that at every border that I had ever crossed, all kinds of papers had to be produced and checked. But here, there were a few friendly “officials” and even fewer questions, but no papers other than a passport check, no stamp. As, always, the main point of interest was Queenie! I sometimes wonder whether her attracting that much attention may be a handicap, making people forget other things, such as stamping a passport! Oh well. . . I went on somewhat puzzled, without any indications as to what to expect or  warned as to what to produce further on.

Onward I went until a number of miles later, I noticed a military station right by the wayside, soldiers so easily identifiable by uniform and armed to the yin/yang. I had not been flagged and there had been no indications about the Banjercito building. So, I stopped and asked when and where would I be asked to produce “papers” and was told that I had passed the place right by!!! OMG, I could have had the police chasing me! Not an auspicious beginning, to say the least. Quickly and with the guidance of a military man, I made a U-turn and headed right back to where I SHOULD have noticed some kind of official building but had not, and without a single soul on the road to STOP me. May this be a warning to the unwary. One has to LOOK FOR the Banjercito. From Piedras Negras, it is a number of miles farther South.

Back at the Banjercito, all my papers were checked, a “holograma” granted me a 6 month stay and with relief that no one was eager to fine me, or worse to arrest me, I was about to stick the holograma onto my windshield when I saw the lady from the Customs Office waving frantically at me and telling me “No, no, no, holograma no good, different papers!” With my gut doing a somersault, back inside we went where she said that in the case of RV’s, the length of stay was different: 10 years!   Eventually, a new holograma was issued and I was finally ready to legally trek onto Mexican soil. Yet the paper still states 180 days to this day. Length of stay remains a mystery that I’ll elucidate later on. (Sorry. Right now, I’m busy with the casita.)

Route 57 from the border to a bit before Saltillo is narrow, used mainly by trucks going in both directions. If I’d had no experience in  driving within inches of trucks and keeping up with their speed, I guess I would have been terminally frazzled. It is not for the faint of heart, is all that I can say. Now, let’s talk about the shoulders. Why? For the simple reason that, for the most part, there aren’t any! But it doesn’t last for miles and miles. It just feels like it. . .The road is best used for truckers or RV’ers who have had experience with narrow roads and LOTS of truck traffic. So in the end, 57 was rather ok. There were a few sheltered picnic tables along the way and I used one. Not a soul other than moi (and Queenie, of course!) A rest was required at that point. And used.

I’m going to stop here. I made it to Saltillo and spent the night in the RV camping grounds behind the Hotel Imperial right downtown. Again, as an aside, when in doubt in Mexico, flag a taxicab and ask him to drive ahead of you to where you’re supposed to end up at. It is cheap and very secure. At the very least, you’ll reach your destination for a few pesos.

At the Imperial, I found  a level lot, few services other than dump, but I did welcome a warm shower and quiet under leafy trees. Queenie just loved the place! I guess this should qualify as ok. I honestly cannot state what is right for any woman traveling alone since I didn’t chance it and used recommended places only. I know that a number of men just stop by and rest for the night, but as a woman alone, I was unsure as to where to park, so I used recommended camping spots, even though all that I needed was a level parking lot. I felt safer that way. Men have it easier. . .

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