We were up with the sun and getting ready to cross the border. After reading some online forums on where to cross, we decided to go with the Columbia Bridge option. There were ardent posters for both of the main Laredo crossings but the convincing argument for Columbia was the ease of getting through customs. I’d rather drive an extra 40 minutes than spend that time in line or doing u-turns trying to figure out where the Banjercito is located and how am I going to park a motorhome in a busy parking area.
Leaving the lovely grounds of the Vaquero Village, we took the nearly empty Columbia toll road down to the border. Hardly saw another car. When we reached the border, we were the only car rolling up to the gate. The only draw back of crossing at such a lonely spot, is that the customs officers have nothing else to do but search your car. We were pulled over into secondary with the only other two border crossers we’ve seen today.
The more serious young man boarded Lexi and gave a perfunctory search around the interior. He didn’t move too much stuff or get too deeply into it. Meanwhile, another officer with a drug sniffing dog was walking around the exterior. He sent me over to the giant x-ray machine and they had a 3-D look at the rig. By now, we’ve been there about 20 minutes but they are basically done with us. The aduana building is right there, I have front row parking and when I enter, I am the only patron there. The clerks are jumping up out of their chairs and escort me into the office to get our tourist cards. I fill out mine while the immigration guy fills out PJ’s since she’s looking after the car and the dogs. At the Banjercito window, two guys are finishing as I walk up and I am attended to immediately. In and out in 15 minutes applying my ten year RV import sticker to the windshield. The total process took about 45 minutes, the majority being the time we were checked over outside. Even that wasn’t so bad as the nerd in me was awed by the size of the x-ray machine and seeing how it worked.
Traffic was light but the drive was boring and the constant changing of speed limits was annoying. The big four lane highway would jump from 80 km/ hr to 100 then 50 yards later it would drop down to 40 (25 mph), a ridiculously low speed for the road. Over and over again. This is where the transit cops make their money. We stopped at the intersection of route 85 and let the dogs out then quickly got back on the road.
Nearing Monterrey, the smog was thick and everything was drab and dirty. Dirty air, dirty streets and dirty old trucks rumbling along the highway. At one toll gate, the lady tore off the part of the receipt with the cost of the toll. Thinking she was trying to work me, I called her on it. The charge was right for our vehicle, but I think she was entering a lower cost and pocketing the difference, cheating her boss not me. Looking sheepish, she rushed to print me a new receipt with the correct toll printed on it.
Long grinding day. We gained 5000 feet in elevation coming into Saltillo. The city is larger than I thought with a population of over 800,000. Traffic sucked. When we got off the toll road, I saw a cop coming along the street merging into ours. It was going from two lanes to one, so I slowed down to let them get in front. Next thing I know I’m getting lit up in blue and red flashing lights. First day in Mexico and already the mordida coming to bite me. Two young studs all dressed in black get out. One walks around the back kind of looking Lexi over as the younger one comes up to the window. Here it comes, what bogus infraction is he going to come up with.
“Where are you going?” He asks. I let him know we are heading for the Imperial Hotel. He says we looked like we might be lost and they wanted to be sure we were o.k. I guess my hesitating to get him to pass looked like I was dithering and not knowing where we were. He gave us directions to the hotel and sped off down the busy two lane road that drivers were turning into three.
We continued on for a ways following the directions from the GPS. We were passing a Pemex station where we spot our two cops gassing up. He sees us and starts waving us over. “You missed the turn’ you need to back to the round-a-bout.” We gave up on the Garmin and jumped out into the fast moving traffic and went back the way we came. Following his directions, we were still lost. PJ put the hotel in Google maps and it led us straight to the hotel. We were only a few blocks away but went right by it.
The girl at the front desk was chewing on her dinner and wasn’t much into helping a disheveled looking old gringo in short pants, but she took my money and said drive up to the end of the hotel units and I’d find the trailer park. She gave me a sheet with a good number of internet connections and their corresponding passwords. When we got set up, not a one of them showed up as options on our computers. Luckily, my T-mobile hot spot is working better than it has since California.
A black widow came crawling out of the spigot when I went to hook up the hose. I always check the electric plugs before hooking up and tonight I did the same. The first set of outlets was wired with reversed polarity and the next set had a voltage over 138. We have fully charged batteries and no need for major wattage, so we opted to just go with the 12 volt system and forego using their electricity.
We are kind of isolated at the top parking lot next to an old shut down water park on one side and big under construction event hall on the other side. A little eerie. The dogs liked the water park though. We found an open gate and let them run free on the large grassy zone inside. We got comfortable then put the dogs in and walked down the hill.
Across the busy six lane highway, lies an El Pollo Loco. We waited and waited and when we saw a sliver of an opening we darted to the median in the center and waited again to get all the way across. Frogged style. There was an Oxxo, a kind of 7-11 style store next door where we grabbed some toothpaste. We got some food and dared the highway again, taking it back to the RV where we had an early dinner.
Not a pretty city. We are basically holed up waiting for morning to get a few more clicks down the road. Day one south of the border.