We’re on the road! We ended up leaving Austin on Saturday morning rather than Friday night. The trip south from Austin initially felt like just another drive. However, once we hit the border and crossed the bridge into Mexico, we started to feel like this thing is really happening.
Our last meal in Texas for a while!
The border crossing itself was surprisingly easy. We were stopped at a checkpoint on the Mexican side of the border. We told them we had dogs, so they didn’t open up the back. We let them look in the windows, then they sent us on our way to the CIITEV to get our Permisos Vehiculos (vehicle permit) and visas. We were lucky enough to find a blog detailing this process, since it isn’t obvious to the border-hopping newbie. As instructed, we followed the nice blue and yellow signs down a very non-official-seeming road, made the craziest U-turn in our lives, then made it to the CIITEV!
Crossing the border!
Due to our being slightly frazzled and tired because Penny whined and woke us up every 40 minutes while staying at Silas’s house the previous night (thanks Silas!), we accidentally waited in the line of cars that were waiting to be inspected and have their temporary vehicle permits cancelled in order to leave Mexico. Whoops. While waiting in this line, Penny freaked out and forced her way past the barrier keeping the dogs in the back and ended up on top of all our gear. After figuring out that we were dorking up this whole process, we hopped out of line, parked, left one of our two keys in the ignition with the AC running, moved the dogs to the front seat, and locked the car.
Now, it may seem like a super sketchy idea to leave a car running in the parking lot to keep our dogs cool, but it worked really well. There are also windows all along the front of the building, so we were able to run out and move the car so we could see it at all times. Our dogs being slightly scary-looking helps, and they LOVE being in the front seat.
Inside the CIITEV, there were a bunch of government-employed helpers available to assist with filling out the necessary form for entry into Mexico. The forms were in both English and Spanish, but it was nice having someone guide us through it quickly so we didn’t make mistakes. After visiting windows 1 (Imigracion), 2 (Copia – copies of forms) and 4 (Banjerecito – pay refundable import fee and get permit) we were on our way!
Signs were plentiful and helped us relatively easily get out of Nuevo Laredo and on to 85 / 85D to Monterrey. Emily pointed out that this might be the quickest way to get to see some mountains from Austin, especially if you have the vehicle/visa process down.
We arrived in Monterrey, our first big city in Mexico, and after successfully navigating a few turns, we got a bit lost. Luckily, our spidey-senses were tingling and we were able to turn around easily. Retorno = “Here is a gift from the Mexican transportation and highway authorities. You screwed up, but we’ve left you an out — you’re welcome.”
This will save you when you make a wrong turn.
We did end up at the Novotel we were looking for. It’s a fine place to stay, if a bit uninteresting relative to our subsequent lodging. Also, not the best for travelers with dogs — the elevator trips to take them outside were kind of a pain. Luckily, there was a nice open area at the Lincoln dealership next door for them to romp around.
The next day, we made the trek to San Miguel de Allende. By the way, if you want to get somewhere as fast as possible in Mexico, the autopista (toll road) is the way to go. It costs some money and I’m sure we’re missing out on some cool stuff, but it saves loads of time and the roads are generally in great shape.
After getting lost shortly after arriving in town (this will become a pattern) we arrived at the San Miguel RV Park and Tennis Courts, a fantastic place to camp that is just a few blocks from the action in San Miguel. We also met Pat Williams, who happens to be from Wimberley, TX! He’s riding around the world on a motorcycle over the next year and was about a week into his journey when we crossed paths. Check out his blog!
Our campsite in San Miguel de Allende
Before setting up camp, we had heard from the proprietor that it had been raining the last few nights and would probably rain again. “No worries,” we thought, “we’ll just throw on the rain fly and we’ll be fine!” Satisfied with our preparations, we walked into town to find some yummy food. We totally lucked out in that regard: we found a great restaurant that served chile relleno en nogada, one of Emily’s favorite dishes. After stuffing our faces, we walked back to camp feeling great.
As we were sitting in the tent texting our families and checking on some emails, it started raining. After a few minutes, I noticed that my edge of the tent was getting wet. Then it started raining harder and there was thunder and lightning. And water started dripping from above. Our tent, as it turns out, is not waterproof! Emily had the great idea to move the tent under a covered library/hangout area near our camp, where we stayed the rest of the night. Not the best night of sleep, but we survived. All in all, we really enjoyed San Miguel and wished we could have stayed longer — we’ll just bring a better tent next time.
On Monday we got up bright and early, packed up our wet tent, made coffee, and hit the road for Córdoba. There’s not a lot to say about this drive, except that there are lots of awesome suspension bridges in Mexico!
Mexico loves suspension bridges.
Take that, Sundial Bridge.
We stayed with a lovely couple, Frank and Ania, at a chalet on their property in Córdoba. The place was very cozy and we had a great time. We went into a nearby town, Fortín de las Flores, to find dinner. We ended up at a small restaurant on the square with three things on the menu: gordas, huaraches (I think), and tostadas. One of the proprietors explained what each item was — gordas were explained as “like a gordita” and we already knew what tostadas were — but it was way beyond our abilities to comprehend, so she just brought over an example of each one. We saw them and said, “Yes.”
On Tuesday, we got back on the autopista to San Cristobal de las Casas. After we got lost, then unlost, we ended up at yet another great house just a few blocks from the pedestrian-only section of the Real de Guadalupe. We met Megan from Asheville, North Carolina who was about to leave San Cristobal after being there for a month on a grant to learn more Spanish for her career teaching ESL classes. We went out to a fancy dinner on the Real, got some hot cocoa (a little different than we’re used to) and headed to bed in anticipation of our next border crossing.
Fancytime in San Cristobal
Wednesday was a huge drive. There were lots of two-lane twisty roads through mountains that reminded us of being in the Sierra Nevada mountains on the way to the border at Cuauhtémoc.
Feels like California
It was easy enough getting our paperwork sorted when exiting Mexico. The offices we went to were in a somewhat sleepy town, only made busy by the traffic through it. The border crossing on the Guatemalan side, in La Mesilla, is also fairly straightforward, but it is a crazy stretch of market stalls and loads of pedestrians and scooters.
In Guatemala looking back into Mexico
The border at La Mesilla
It took a little time, but we got through, managed not to hit anyone on the way out, and continued along a very twisty set of roads down to Panajachel, on Lago Atítlan. When we arrived at our lodging for the night, Emily proposed that we stay an extra night to take a break from the road. I agreed, so we’ve had a full day of no driving at a beautiful home right on the lake. We’ll share more about our experiences here in a future post. In the meantime, here are a couple photos!
The view from Casa Jucanya