December 12, 2015: After camping overnight at Lake Casa Blanca International State Park in Laredo, Texas, we crossed the U.S. / Mexico Border at about 7:45 a.m. on Friday.
The first order of business after crossing the international bridge into Nuevo Laredo was to go get permission to be in Mexico, both for ourselves and for our house. For ourselves, we can get permission to be in Mexico as tourists for up to 180 days. But our house, being a motorhome, can have permission to be present for 10 years. We wanted to be sure to get the 10-year house permit, giving us greater travel flexibility, allowing the people to leave the county without the house if needed. Without the 10-year permit, the house is just a car; if a tourist leaves Mexico, his car has to go with him.
So just before 8 a.m. we pulled up to the parking lot of the building where both permits, human and vehicle, are issued. Unfortunately, about 100 families arrived earlier than we did, so the parking lot was quite full and inside there was quite a line ahead of us. Here’s a glimpse of this very organized chaos:
We had read many different articles/blogs/travel sites regarding this process at Laredo and all reported that the whole process would take about a half hour. Despite very friendly and helpful assistance at various steps along the way, including people who filled out our tourist cards for us so they would be in nice, neat handwriting, the huge crowd was not fast to process. In total, our process took about 2 hours, but we got our 180 days and the house got its 10 years. We were pleased with the result and on our way south by 10 a.m.
With friends soon to be waiting in the Yucatan, and no real desire to hang out in the environs of Nuevo Laredo, we headed south along a route that looks to be both the fastest and the safest way to get from Texas to Central Mexico, and beyond. Instead of following the Gulf Coast around the shortest course, we head south, skirting the western outskirts of Monterrey, and through mountain passes onto the high central plains toward Mexico City.
Besides avoiding some areas best avoided by tourists near the border, this route also avoids a lot of small highways running (slowly) through small towns along the coast. The central route mainly follows nice-ish toll highways that run straight from one city to another, and provide convenient bypasses around those cities so the long distance traveler doesn’t have to slow down to go through city centers. (Hopefully, we’ll see most of these city centers at a leisurely pace at some point in the future when we aren’t booking it for the Caribbean.)
We will be avoiding nighttime travel, at the advice of many, because the roads are more dangerous. Not particularly due to banditos, but more the ever present potholes, stalled vehicles, pedestrians, livestock, etc. that can appear around any corner. So, given a decent start time, we expect to have about 7 or 8 hours of driving time available each day, and who really wants to drive more than that anyway?
Our most ambitious goal for Day 1 of Mexico travel was San Luis Potosi, about 450 miles south of the border. Our least ambitious goal was Saltillo, 183 miles south. We ended up instead at our in between destination of Matehuala, 329 miles south of Nuevo Laredo.
In part, we didn’t make the stretch because of the 2 hours getting permits. But our day was also extended because of a detour we took due to a momentary lack of faith in Google’s omniscience. Turns out, Google was right, Team Maupin Redman was wrong. After heading out of a toll plaza only a few miles beyond our mistake, the federal police decided that we were worth a closer look and directed us to pull over. The cop approached us, shook Michael’s hand and asked where we were going. The manner of the approach and handshake made us nervous; we both assumed that at best we were in for an extended stay and extended examination of our house at the toll plaza. In reality, this cop was incredibly friendly and helpful, noting our mistake in direction and spending a few minutes explaining to Laura the error of our ways and how to correct the same. (Navigationally, anyways.)
Once we got to Matehuala, we landed for the night at Hotel Las Palmas. They have an “RV Park” at the hotel. We weren’t impressed with the accommodations, a gravel parking lot which technically had power, water and sewer hookups, and a building with bathrooms, but the bathrooms were locked, the sewer emptied right into a small dirt-floored concrete vault about the size of a large cooler (we didn’t bother) and the power supply offended our surge/voltage protector to the point that it periodically cut off the power until things looked more agreeable.
Luckily, Las Palmas also had a very enjoyable restaurant that was a scene straight out of either Mad Men or Goodfellas, complete with table lamps and the blue-jacketed waiter bringing Laura a stand to hang her purse on. There we had a dish of cabuches that was completely new to us. Cabuches are the flowers of the Biznaga cactus (the orange part).
The dish was so good that it, plus a couple of beers, largely made up for the questionable accommodations. Overall, it was a good first day in Mexico.