Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Safely Back in the U.S.

The Trip From San Miguel to the United States: Leaving on Saturday, we got off to a good start and everything fit into the car, much to the relief of Mary Ann who thought maybe she would have to be strapped to the top of the front fender. We laughed about the full load remarking we still had room to purchase a large piƱata, but that just might obstruct the view out of the back. Our first road day was to be an easy one going through Guanajuato, Leon and Aguascalientes to Zacatecas. One thing about Mexico is that they have some magnificent huge manufacturing plants in their major cities. Just outside of Leon in Silao, there is a huge General Motors plant. On the way into Aguascalientes we seemed to drive for miles past what appeared to be a brand new Nissan plant. I assume this is all due to NAFTA and cheap labor.

We were returning to Zacatecas as we thought from our trip into Mexico that it was a city worth exploring. It is set in two canyons with high mountains above the canyons. It was originally one of the great silver cities of the Spanish conquest. After arriving early in the afternoon at the Hotel del Bosque, which is located on one of the canyon rims and the site of the Eden Mine and the base of the cable car to the top of El Bufo mountain, we walked down into the Historic City Center. It is laid out on a long boulevard between the churches and the parks. It is clean and what seems like a very prosperous city. The city is famous for the Battle of El Bufo which was the military taking of the city in the Revolution of 1910, when Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata became famous as heroes of the revolution.

Our route from Zacatecas was to be the most aggressive of our trip. We were headed to Durango and then across the Sierra Madre Occidental mountain range. The drive was difficult as it is termed by the locals as the road of 3,000 curves. I can attest that there are at least that many. However, the upside of the route is that the vistas, the rock faces, and the mountains are gorgeous. It is clearly one of the most beautiful and picturesque regions of Mexico. After descending from 8,000 feet to sea-level we reached luxurious and relaxing Mazatlan. We stayed at the Inn at Mazatlan which is beautiful RCI resort in the Golden Zone. We immediately hit the pool and walked the beach. We had 2 for 1 drinks during happy hour while enjoying the pool and soaking in the sun. For dinner we walked the Dorada Zone and enjoyed dinner along the beach at the Playa Mazatlan.

The road north from Mazatlan is mostly straight through lush farming and an improved toll road. The Mexican government is definitely into toll roads. There is always a free (libre) alternative, but we have stuck with the 110 KPH option. For the day from Mazatlan to Ciudad Obregon we traveled about 400 miles and it cost us a little over $50 (500 pesos) in tolls. Another unique part of Mexican road travel is the inspection stations you go through. This is common throughout the country, but especially prevalent in the States of Durango, Sinaloa, and Sonora. The inspections are of two varieties, one a military check point and the other a fruit and vegetable checkpoint. We must look pretty harmless as we have never been pulled to the side for a full inspection. It probably helps that as we do not speak fluent Spanish the guards mostly just become frustrated and wave us on. We did have one that looked in our trunk and who we think decided he did not want to even begin to tackle that problem.

Ciudad Obregon was hot but we had air conditioning and a pool to sit by. Our big surprise was that the trip north from Mazatlan caused a two hour time change so we had stopped at 1:00 p.m. instead of 3:00 p.m. like we thought it was. Oh well, we will probably lose the time again on the trip into Arizona.

The drive from Ciudad Obregon to Nogales was uneventful. We drove through Guaymas and Hermosillo. North of Hermosillo the country becomes rocky, mountainous, and a lot of cactus. It was very picturesque to people who obviously enjoy dry terrain. We did see a very serious accident outside Guaymas where a bus ran into the back of a semi truck. It looked like there was a resulting fire. When we arrived on the accident all of the bus passengers appeared to be watching from the nearby hills.

Our worry was to accomplish the border crossing with as little delay and problems as possible. Mary Ann really did not want to unpack the car at U.S. customs. When we had entered Mexico in Juarez we had to register and pay a tax for use of the car in Mexico. You pay the tax with a credit card so they have the numbers in the event you do not remove the car from Mexico. At that time we received the six month authorization papers and a permit for the car window. The AAA advised us with no uncertain terms to make sure we got our car checked out` of Mexico, otherwise they assume you sold the car in Mexico and charge the taxes to your credit card. Today when we were about 15 miles south of Nogales we were diverted to a very nice young lady who checked our papers, handed me a razor blade to remove the window sticker, and then processed our car departure. It was much less painful than the entry.

At U.S. immigration and customs the only problem was the long line and delays in getting to talk to the Immigration and Custom Enforcement lady. She was very nice and passed us right through. Ironically our impression of driving in Mexico was that it was easier and safer than U.S. freeway driving. Phoenix freeways are a real bear so close to rush hour. In any case we were safely back in the U.S.

A Final Mexican Quirky Living Note: You will recall my moaning about the topes, the speed bumps that are endemic to all of Mexico. After crunching over hundreds of them on the way back to the U.S., I just want to raise the question of what came first, the topes or the fruit juice stand at every topes. You are always offered the chance to buy fruit, juice, and unrecognizable eatables at each slow topes (Mary Ann thinks they should be called bumpies). At least they are not as objectionable as the kids at stop lights who jump out and try to wash your windshield!

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