Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Trial Run to Saltillo, MX

We set out bright and early on Monday 19th December (Happy Birthday Angela) on a very cold, dark Monday morning. Well, cold for San Antonio as it was 27 F.  Sorry to our northern friends and family where is was almost 60 degrees colder!

We found out how little we really understand and are able to communicate in Spanish when we first got pulled for inspection at the border post at Eagle Pass - we managed to communicate that we are going to Saltillo for vacation.  Hurdle 1 - pass.  And as usual, the first turn out of the inspection area, Gerald turns the wrong way onto a one way street.  But without any one way street markings, there was no way to know it was a one way street.

Early in the day while it was still below freezing, we saw some field workers huddled around a little fire on the ground - we felt sorry for them as they prepared for a day of manually harvesting cabbages.  The cabbages were beautiful but do we appreciate what goes into getting them into the store for us?

The roads between the border and the the immigration office (maybe 20 miles past the border???) were busy with a lot of truck traffic.    We encountered no issues at all other than the occasional horse or cow alongside the road.  It was surprising how good a shape the roads between cities were.  Much better than we expected.

The process at the immigration post was quite difficult for us because we did not understand the Spanish being spoken to us (at least not enough of it) but other people would help us when they saw us struggling.  Really everyone was nice and friendly and helpful and it never hurts to smile, say please and thank you and "hablas mas despacio por favor" (speak much slower please).  It is necessary to have copies of driver's licence, passport AND car registration so we went from the first person who checked everything, sent us over to the bank to pay with instructions to return to him.  However we didn't think that we had copies of the car registration so we had to go back to him and buy a photocopy (of course we actually did have copies all along).  You have to pay the temporary import permit for the car and also pay for each person to be allowed to enter into Mexico.

Once we passed hurdle 2 (more difficult than anticipated) we were on the open road heading for Saltillo. We only ended up on one toll road and that was on the outskirts of Saltillo, before that it was smooth sailing.  We passed areas of housing that were new, with tiny little block houses, all identical, all shoehorned into tiny spaces.  Of course we also passed many of the more expected run down places but also some absolutely beautiful mansions and some good looking ranches.

A lot of the way the roads were pretty quiet and we were very surprised to see 'retournos' (turnarounds) in many places on the highway - like having turnarounds on our interstates instead of those 'emergency vehicle only' turnarounds.

Somewhere along the line we stopped at a filling station hoping to use the restroom and found that we needed 5 pesos each - we noticed that pepsi was really cheap and we needed the caffeine so we bought a 500ml Pepsi (8 pesos or about 40c) and as the lady gave us notes for change I actually asked her "quiero dinero para los banos" and she gave me two 5 peso coins in the change - strike 1 or is that 2 or 3 .. woo hoo we can do this - at least in some cases.

Road signs get very interesting and we need to do some research on what some of them translate to but the pictures are pretty much universal.  In one town we drove through, there were the neatest traffic signals - they were oblong led lights that had the word Alto (stop) when red and Siga (go) when green or became directional arrows when green - The green lights flash briefly before turning to amber warning that they are about red and these lights  and amber oblongs could be seen from far away.

Where else do you see the speed limit reduced from 100 kph to 60 kph when there are butterflies present (remember the Monarchs migrate to Mexico for the winter).
In the Presence of Butterflies 
Not only were there pedestrian crossings (with no markings on the road surface) in all sorts of unlikely places, but we had to watch out for the bear crossings as well.

We arrived in Saltillo about 3 pm and we drove around one way streets wondering if we would every find out way to the Airbnb place but eventually we navigated through the traffic and chaos and arrived at the security gate of the complex.  Hurdle 3 - the guard did not understand us and we did not understand him.  We drover around inside the walled and gated complex and it's maze of one way streets.  Even though we had a map we still got a bit lost and ended up being stuck in the exit road and had to leave.  When we got back around to the entrance the guard was almost as confused as us and I was 'mas de un poco confusa'.  While all this was going on, our bladders were complaining bitterly and we decided to forget about trying to get the residents key and just get the heck to the apartment and 'el bano'. We found it quite quickly, managed to get the code into the lock box and get inside.  Hurdle passed.  The next hurdle was to try to figure out the WiFi and hot water in the apartment and to get our new phone working so that we could call our host and find out about the residents key.  We walked to OXXO (convenience store) which was conveniently very close to the apartment and hit the next language barrier hurdle.  We managed to buy the 149 peso ($7.50) SIM card for our phone (we had bought an unlocked dual sim card BLU phone in Best Buy for only $89.99 on Sunday before we left) but the real fun started when we tried to contact TelCel to activate the SIM.  This ended up a 4 way conversation with the very helpful lady who works at OXXO, Gerald, the person on the phone at TelCel and me - this was teamwork as you have never seen before.  I don't know how Gerald did it but somehow he managed to give the answers that were needed over the phone while I answered the question about his date of birth and read the phone number to the TelCel person. (Gerald needs to bone up on his spanish numbers!)  It was very frustrating and humbling but also a very interesting experience.  I have always been patient and tried to help people who are obviously having a problem trying to communicate when they cannot speak English but now I will have just a bit more patience and understanding - it can be quite scary and very difficult to get things done when you cannot communicate in spite of having studied the language.  So many people deal with these hurdles every day of their lives and we are going to be in that position ourselves now.  Somehow it feels as though the language lessons we have been working through are not really preparing us and we need to practice even more and learn so many more words than we already have.  We also found out in OXXO that it is easy to fall prey to the vultures who recognize you as extranjeros who may be vulnerable - one man was talking away to us about how he could look after us, he said he was "well with the police" and since our white color gives us away as tourists.  I thanked him and we left the store quickly.

Day one is coming to a close and we are tired, still cold and hoping for a good night's sleep, chance to get over the feeling of inadequacy that these tests have given me today.  I know that we can cope with all that our future is going to bring, it is our choice to put ourselves in this situation, to explore and discover - maybe explore and discover ourselves, our relationship and our abilities as much as the places that we will be visiting.

Tomorrow is promising to be warmer and sunnier than today and I am looking forward to going to the Plaza de Armas and the Cathedral as well as the Museo del Desierto in the Parque de la Maravillas.


  1. Are you sharing your airing costs? Or other accommodations? I went solo for 6 months. But only made it from a Nogales typ a Mazatlan. I would luv to do what you have done. Health says no.

    1. Nope, just hubby and I - we are pretty cheap and cook for ourselves too. Right now we think that we are living this dream for less that our living costs were back in San Antonio, TX. As for health, we left health care insurance etc. costs behind us and are self insuring here in MX because it is a great Medical Tourism destination. I am planning on having a cataract and lens replacement done here for probably a third of what I had the one eye done (with insurance) in San Antonio.

  2. Are you sharing your airing costs? Or other accommodations? I went solo for 6 months. But only made it from a Nogales typ a Mazatlan. I would luv to do what you have done. Health says no.