I left San Antonio a 1 p.m. with a goal of reaching Monterrey by 6 p.m. local time.  How naive of me…  I arrived Monterrey at 9:30.  Between that, my car was making a funny noise, I went through four vehicle searches, some dude wanted to ride in my car, I got lost in Nuevo Laredo, almost ran through the border, and ran out of daylight in a country I have never visited.

My original plan was to leave San Antonio at 11 am but my friend, Hisham, took the morning off and offered to take me out to breakfast at Magnolia Pancake Haus.  I’m glad we went there.  The food was incredible!  Some of the best waffles (pecan waffles to be exact) and corned beef hash I had in a long time.  Eating there took a lot of time, as well as working on my AC system in my Subie.  I filled it up with a couple cans of refrigerant, following the directions closely, but the damn thing didn’t seem to fill up.  At least according to the gauge that came with the canisters.  After some time, I was ready to head out to Mexico.  I proceeded to follow Hisham towards the highway, while he heads to work, and my car started making funny noise.  Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock… then an air horn noise and my car started losing power.  Perfect!  My car is about to crap out even before I hit the border.  I then pulled over and checked everything.  I looked in the engine bay.  Nothing.  Spent some time looking under the vehicle.  Nothing.  I then decided to just hope the problem away and proceed away.  Tick tock.  Tick tock.  Tick tock… wwoooooomp!  I then decided to turn off my AC and everything seemed to go away.  Was it the AC?  It has to be!  I must of have over filled it!  After a couple hours heading down to Mexico, I had to pull over to fill up.  Last fill up of good ol’ American gasoline.  While the car was filling up, I decided to drain a good portion of the refrigerant gas out.  I turned the AC on… nothing weird.  No loss in power, no tick tock, no wooooomp!

Driving down I-35, I entered Laredo.   The highway transformed into a boulevard.  I was expecting a huge backup of vehicles, but I kept on driving down and then all of a sudden I arrived at the U.S. border customs station.  There were a couple road signs warning drivers that they are about to enter Mexico and declare the two golden rules.  No guns.  No drugs.  Cool.  I hope my biceps* and travel addiction are legal.  Maybe I’ll declare them at customs…  *my biceps are not large, they are not a threat to anybody, just my manhood.

No Guns.  No Drugs.  No Problem.

No Guns. No Drugs. No Problem.

I approach the U.S. customs checkpoint.  All the cars in front of me were waved through.  Great!  This will be easier than I thought.  Then all of the custom officers stared at my odd looking Subie and my D.C. plates and stopped me.  I smiled and tried to be friendly.  They seemed pissed.  One guy, that could be Danny Trejo’s younger  clean cut brother, asks me where I’m going.  I say Brazil.  Apparently that was not the right answer.  Then Trejo shook his head in disappointment.  He asked where I’m coming from.  I said, Washington, D.C.  He then told me that I can’t carry more than $10,000 in cash without declaring it.  I said, I only have $200 in my pocket.  Trejo asked me how I will survive on $200 all the way to Brazil.  I told him I have several credit cards and a debit card.  He asks me how much money I have, and replied a number that is much greater than $10,000.  He then proceeded to tell me that I need to declare any cash that is over $10,000.  I told him I only have $200.  Didn’t we already go over this?  He then asked me what is my occupation.  I told him I’m unemployed.  He was very perplexed.  How can an unemployed kid from D.C. finance such a trip.  I told him I had a job.  I quit a week or two before and I have been saving up for the last two years.  Fine.  Pull over, we’re going to search your vehicle.  I smiled and pulled in.  Handed over my keys and Trejo proceeded to look through everything!  He even looked through door panels, took a mirror and scanned the undercarriage.  Dug through all my boxes.  He wondered what that big box looking thing in the back was.  It was my roof top tent.  I offered to open it for him, but he believed me.  After about 30 minutes of this.  He let me through.

I paid then paid the toll for the international bridge.  They were being very generous when they called it a bridge.  I drove towards the Mexican customs checkpoint.  There was a “nothing to declare” section and a “items to declare” section.  I drove to “nothing to declare” and they waived me over to the other section.  Dammit!  I put on my dumb smile and pull in.  They ask me a bunch of questions.  I nod my head and say “Lo siento.  No hablo bien.”  They looked a little surprised.  Brown guy that doesn’t speak Spanish?  Anyways, I finally realized that they wanted me to exit the vehicle and unlock everything.  They proceeded to search through everything again, ask me where I’m going.  And some other questions that I have no answer to.  Just a simple shrug and “no entiendo.”  After 20 minutes they decided that I will not be a threat to safety of their citizens and let go along my merry way.

I drive into Nuevo Laredo.   Wait… I drove into Nuevo Laredo?  No immigration station?  No car importation office?  I just drove into town.  There were little shacks, little stores.  People were trying to pull me over.  I finally pulled over and one raggedy guy said I need a permit.  I asked him where I can find it.  “I’ll hop in your car and I’ll show you!”  Knowing my basic rules of allowing random people in my car, I stranger dangered it and drove off telling him I know what I’m doing!  Maybe the immigration office is much later down the road?  I put Monterrey into my GPS and followed it.

20 miles down the road and 30 minutes later, the town disappeared and turned into highway.   Is there no immigration?  Is there some weird new rule where I can just cross into Mexico and just drive around?  I then saw, what I thought was a toll booth.  Oh look an office!  That’s probably immigration!  I pulled in and one of the “toll booth” operators waves me to his booth.  I drive over and he proceeded to tell me that I was about to enter the rest of Mexico with no permit.  I guess you can get shot doing that.  I asked him where the office for the permit is, thinking its somewhere around here.  He said I had to go all the way back to the international bridge and find the immigration office.   Poppy cock!  It’s already 5 pm and I have to drive back into town?!  I’m losing daylight.  I’ve been told to never drive at night.  I’ll probably hit a donkey!  I put on my smile and drive back to Nuevo Laredo.  I’m an idiot and I don’t know what I’m doing.  Whatever.

It’s only about a 20 minute drive back into town.  Until I hit the military checkpoint.  Wonderful.  As usual, they waved everybody in front of me by and asked me to pull over.  Welcome to Mexico.  I pull over and answer the same questions.  They searched through my car.  I told them my vehicle has been searched twice already.  Luckily, this search was a little faster.  Only 15 minutes!  It must be a new record.  I asked one of the officers that spoke english where I can find the office.  He told me the street intersection.  I put it in my GPS and follow it.  After 20 minutes of driving through rush hour traffic, I see “Officina de Importacion.”  Jack pot!  I drove through the gate and gate officer pulled me over asked me what the hell I’m doing here.  I told him I need a permit.  He then told me that this office was for getting importation permits into the U.S. for Mexican cars.  That’s exactly the opposite of what I needed.  He then gave directions to the correct office.  He then asked me “tiene cocoa?”  Do I look like a drug dealer?  I then realized that he was eyeing one of my Coke Zeros (thanks SEPA for the unfortunate addiction).  I tossed him one and I was on my way.

Following his directions, I found the office!  I walk in and everything went smoothly.  They really have everything laid out for an idiot like me to understand.  After a few false starts, I finally obtained my permit!  Success!  Except it is now almost 7 p.m. and the sun was setting.  I’m totally going to hit a donkey.

I drive back to that checkpoint, and toll booth Guillermo was gone.  I did have to stop in front of a camera and a military officer waived me through.  I am now driving in Mexico and losing daylight.  Luckily the speed limit is 110 kph.  I haul it and look out for donkeys and other borderline offensive cliches.  Fortunately, the road I needed was a toll road.  I arrive at the toll booth.  Cool, this is Mexico, everything is cheap!  Sixteen dollars poorer, I realized differently.

At least I don’t have to go through any checkpoints.  Traffic started to slow and the 18 wheelers turned on their flashers.  Could it be an inevitable donkey-car collision?  Nope.  Military checkpoint.  Fourth time’s a charm.  That’s how the saying goes, right?

“Monterrey.  I’m going to Monterrey and staying there for two weeks.”  Things went much smoothly when I told the military officer that I’m visiting a friend there.  They still searched through all of my things, though.  I guess I can get use to this.  At least my spanish is improving!  Want to get immersed?  Look suspicious.

I finally arrive into Monterrey.  In the dark.  This place totally reminds me of Saudi Arabia.  Crappy drivers, crappy roads, crappy lighting, crappy neon signs and dust everywhere.  I did my best to decipher my GPS directions while dodging pot holes and assholes.  I finally arrive at my hotel, iStay.   I sensed a disturbance in the force.  Nope, just Steve Job’s disapproval.  Unfortunately, my car wouldn’t fit into the garage so they sent me to a parking lot that was part of the lobby, next to a fish tank.  What an odd juxtaposition.  I didn’t care.  I’m tired and I spoke more spanish than english, which means I barely spoke at all.  Gesturing.  Lots of gesturing.

Can you spot the fish out of water?

Can you spot the fish out of water?

I finally arrived at my room at 10 pm, call my girlfriend, Dana, told her I’m safe.  We both breathed a sigh of relief.  I then realized that the only thing I ate that day was waffles and corn beef hash 12 hours ago.  I went downstairs to their restaurant, Montana.  Maybe they have bison burgers!  I ended up ordering some chicharon mole enchiladas and a beer.  Nothing like fried pork skin and a cold beverage.

Bienvenido a Mexico.

Adios sanity.


6 responses to “Monterrey

  1. I’m glad you made it into Mexico, Bart! And you’re a great storyteller! How are you posting this? Do they have wifi somewhere or are you using some sort of satellite system?

    • Sorry! I just read this. Unfortunately I did not make it through there. I did look you up before I headed out to Mexico to see where you were. If you have any good contacts along the countries of Central and South America, let me know! The best experiences I’ve had so far are with people who live in the towns/cities we visit.

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