The border was only a mile away, so we arrived easily by 7:30. We crossed the American side without incident, paying a minor toll, and gave the toll taker our extra US change which is virtually worthless in Mexico. We crossed the International Bridge over the Rio Grande and arrived at Mexican customs, bearing to the left to obtain a vehicle permit and immigration forms. By this time it was 7:45, and I figured we were doing well. The traffic coming into the US was backed up; heading into Mexico was free and clear. I entered the customs and vehicle import office to only to find I had to wait 1/2 hour because NO ONE WAS WORKING. Apparently they don't open till 8, although I knew they were there before 8 HIDING because I could hear them talking. WELCOME TO MEXICO!! I'm going to learn to get used to it. There wasn't even a sign indicating their hours. If the border is open 24/7, what if I arrived at 4am - should I wait 4 hours for customs to open their office?
When they finally did appear 15 minutes late at 8:15, they were very curious why I was going to Mexico for "3 months" on vacation and not business. I stood my ground saying it was only a vacation, and I guess they believed my lie because they stamped our tourist visas with "180", which gives us 6 months to either stay as tourists or get work visas. Our car permit was issued for 1 year.
Once all the paper work was done, we headed into the car, pulled up to border security and were greeted by a gruff looking, intimidating soldier who demanded in Spanish "where are you going and what's the nature of your business in Mexico?" I forgot I was going to pretend I didn't understand or speak Spanish, so I quickly replied in Spanish "I'm going to Playa del Carmen for vacation." He questioned "what is all this stuff in your car?" I managed "personal items" and he replied "only personal items?". I replied affirmatively, and he seemed satisfied and began explaining how I need to pull up to the next light and wait for it to turn green or red. If it turns green, I'm free and clear. If it turns red, it's time to lose my lunch and suffer a car search, which would be torture considering I decided last minute not to declare any of the electronic items I've hidden.
Apparently I began to pull away before he was done speaking because he yelled at me in Spanish to put it in park. What a jerk! He repeated his whole tirade about the lights, and this time I waited till he was all done before I headed on. Luck was on my side as it turned green and I was free to go!!!
I was so shaken by the whole incident it took me 10 minutes before I could speak again. By that time I was yelling at Allan to tell me where I should go. We were lost in Matamoros, Mexico and didn't know how to head south west on route 40 to Monterrey. There were no signs for 40 nor Monterrey whatsoever! We decided to head west toward the center of town, managed to find 40 and headed quickly on our way out of the very dangerous border town. Of course we decided to drive West to Monterrey, which passes through more dangerous border town, so we weren't safe yet.
About 20 miles outside of Matamoros we arrived at the second customs stop, which I was expecting due all the reading I've been doing. It also gave me an opportunity to tease Allan for making fun of me for all the books I bought on moving to Mexico, because he didn't think there was going to be a second customs stop. We went through the whole inquisition about all our stuff and where we were going. After we apparently answered all questions satisfactorily we had to play red light green light again. Thank God it was another green light. Green is now my favorite color in the world!! And I think I'm all done with customs inspections, though I have been warned about occasional military checkpoints which search for drugs. I can handle that. Allan and I don't do drugs - and neither do Rickey or Mitzi that we're aware of.
After about 3 hours of driving we arrived in Monterrey which is like a typical Latin American city with lots of congestion on roads which weren't designed for mass transit, bad drivers and no zoning laws. However, this bustling metropolis is also absolutely gorgeous! It's nestled among beautiful mountains which tower off in the distance, peaking out behind passing clouds. Monterrey has a well deserved nickname "the City of the Mountains." You may read more about Monterrey here: http://www.allaboutmonterrey.com/allaboutmonterrey.htm.
We drove around in bumper to bumper for a while in search of hotels and finally settled on a Best Western in a seedy part of town. The hotel has clean rooms, a great price and free garage parking. Unfortunately it does not take animals so Allan decided to sneak both dogs 1 at at a time up to the room in a duffel bag. I had nothing to do with it - I was writing this blog and you all are my witnesses!
Some of you reading my earlier blog entries may be aware of one of my plans to drive down the east coast of Mexico along route 180, a straight shot to Cancun. In the end upon advice from good friends in Playa we opted for a scenic adventure and are traveling down the center of the country. It may be a more difficult route to navigate with alternating roads and poor signage, but it's supposed to be beautiful!! And beauty, culture and adventure is what we're after. Bring it on!!!
For some EXCELLENT panoramic photos of Monterrey please visit: http://forum.skyscraperpage.com/showthread.php?t=104481.
Playa del Carmen Condo and Villa Vacation Rentals
We chose new Spanish nicknames. Allan's is "Basura". I haven't the heart to tell him that means "trash".
Allan shows off his new knee courtesy of Newton Wellesley Hospital (surgery was performed on June 19th, 2008). He's posing using his new [left] knee in our hotel with open air hallways, a red tiled roof and beautiful plants.
Monterrey, Mexico (stock photo)