I left El Banito around 8am. In the towns along the way, people had already started to congregate out at the highway and I expect much of 85 would be one long block party for NYE.
I passed the turnoff for Hwy 120 because the way was blocked by trucks and venders, but I had a sneaking suspicion that it was the road I wanted, and turned around after only a kilometer or two. Northbound, the turn was clearly marked, so I weaved my way through the traffic and soon found myself climbing. And climbing. And climbing. It is hard to tell if it is the cliff that hangs over the road as you venture up to Xilitla or the thick vegetation growing from it, but much of the time, I felt like I was driving through a green tunnel.
Then suddenly, hanging onto the mountain slope, is Xilitla. It is my favorite place in Mexico so far. The town sits at an elevation of 1151 meters in the Sierra Madre Oriental. Up high is the central plaza and everything else simply follows the green slopes downwards from there. The streets are narrow, made more for the Beetle, and they were packed with people and vehicles preparing for the festivities. Mexico obviously loves to party. The topes in the roads however, are like pyramids, which would not be kind to vertically challenged cars.
I had to escape the town center for my sanity, and tried to find the way to Las Pozas. Finally, I was rewarded with a road sign. The narrow street eventually turned into a rough, rock road. I asked three women separately, “Las Pozas?” and received three positive responses. In the end, it did take me to the dream of Edward James.
My plan was to rent a cabana on the grounds of Las Pozas, which I thought would be incredibly cool, and I had already met several tourists who were doing just that. Unfortunately, they made reservations, and I had not. The cabanas were booked solid. Miguel, one of the tour guides, had overheard my predicament and gave me directions to his mother’s place. Josephine had a small restaurant back up the road and she rented rooms that overlooked the Las Pozas valley.
The room was basic, but clean and a bargain. It had a bath, and a cold shower. And I do mean cold. Glacier cold.
I ate lunch in Josephine’s restaurant. The daughter, like Miguel speaks fluent English, which helped out tremendously. I can get by with my broken Spanglish, but I really should have taken more time to expand on my Spanish. At the next table, a little girl was sitting with her family, and the entire time she kept talking about ‘the gringo’. Her father leaned over to her with a grin on her face and his eyes on me and said, “Be careful, I think he understands a little.”
With everyone else here, I have become “El Americano”. I have heard it several times, and even heard it when I walked back up to the plaza. Sitting alongside the oddly cobblestoned road, I regret that The Rover is front & center. It has captivated everyone’s attention whether they pass by on foot, horse, car or bike. There isn’t much I can do about it, and I can not empty it either. I was told it would be fine, and the daughter had me park it under the families front window. It is obvious from the interaction here, that the family is respected. To be honest, I am betting on that.
The family at the next table get up to leave and the father tells me to enjoy my visit to Mexico.
I sure hope I will. I do know one thing… I won’t be sleeping much tonight.
Monthly Archives: December 2010
I left El Banito around 8am. In the towns along the way, people had already started to congregate out at the highway and I expect much of 85 would be one long block party for NYE.
New Year’s Eve is tomorrow. With a little luck regarding
accommodations I should be spending it in Xilita. It’s crazy how
the days fly by into little Outside meaning when one is traveling.
It was a long day, although only five hours of it was spent behind
the steering wheel. That was enough; it was hot. I had vent envy
today: Mac’s 109 has the safari top which is loaded with air vents.
I even missed my old Chevy today, with its huge vents right at your
shin. I probably should have considered taking the Rover out on a
high-temperature test run to work out some of those kinks, but I
never thought about that. Damn, it was hot today. The drive was
beautiful though. Hwy 80 is a narrow two-laner that winds its way
over some rough mountain terrain between Ciudad del Maiz &
Antiguo Morelos. It’s a twisting, black ribbon even on the free AAA
map, so I knew exactly what I was getting into. There are no
shoulders to speak of… and only air on the one side. Several
hundreds of feet of air in some cases. It was a fun road, although
not what The Rover was really built for. This is stunning country:
Amazingly thick, green and lush. There was even standing water and
flowing streams, which I had not seen further north and west. The
little farms & larger ranches looked prosperous. At least,
I saw more horses than burros and I am no longer surprised by the
sight of a horse riding in the back of a pick up truck. In one of
the many small towns that I passed through, a young teenage boy
waved and grinned when I came alongside him. He was next to one of
the thousands of topes I thumped over today. I braked, clutched,
shifted and waved all in one fluid motion, and I began to wonder if
the kids were sending word up ahead about El Loco Alaskano y El
Rover Rojo. I suddenly felt like Don Quixote. The truck did well,
although it suffered a case of the vapors once again when we were
high & hot. I had stopped to add a five to the gas tank,
since my mileage gauge is out of whack. Hopefully, it will
stabilize again soon. I was pouring, when a couple who had seen me
fly off into one of the few turnoffs, came back around to see if I
was all right. “No problemos?” They left me with a very cool
feeling until the vapor lock hit again. Luckily, I was almost to
that peak, so I coerced the truck to the top, and let gravity work
for us for a while after that. There was one crop that stood out,
and seemed to be giving a decent harvest. I want to say it was
sugar cane, but I am woefully ignorant as to what sugar cane looks
like. Maybe I’ll google it later. I crossed what I think was the
Rio Valles. A beautiful turquoise green, slow moving, body of
water, with what I can only describe as huge lagoons. I wanted to
stop badly to take a picture and jump into one of the inviting
lagoons, but the town on its bank was having some sort of street
fair and the place was packed with cars & people. I just
didn’t want to deal with parking. I’m such a curmudgeon.
Balneario… For the first time. I have opened the tent’s side
panels to let in a cool & moist breeze. I am in a rather
surreal campground, surrounded by trees painted white and chirping
crickets. It is a bit weird for me. I can not remember the last
time I sat out at camp in night air that is warm enough to be
shirtless and still be able to see the stars. It gets dark so early
down here! Doesn’t warm air mean daylight and lots of it? Star
viewing is done when it is forty below. It’s all backwards… For
the second night in a row, I am the only camper… umm… camping.
The cost was $8 to park The Rover in this grassy field. It doesn’t
seem like this place sees a lot of action these days, which is a
shame. It’s a nice place, very wooded with lots of shade, but if
you want hook-ups to power & water, you may be
disappointed. The grass seems like a nice change for checking
fluids. There is a bar/restaurant down below and lots of out
buildings scattered about with changing and bathrooms. I was told
there are a couple of pools that I plan on using for a quick swim
in the morning. The bar would fit in perfectly in Alaska with lots
of strange and quirky things hanging from the ceiling or nailed to
beams, including a Canadian license plate in the shape of a polar
bear. I have always wanted one of those NWT plates myself. I ate
dinner down at the cantina tonight. The food was very good, and
there was plenty of it for a very good price. An older, very lean,
Mexican gentleman with a straw cowboy hat was the only other
patron. He spoke fluent english, and told me that he had been
offered a job in Alaska when he graduated from a university in
Texas. When I asked why he didn’t take the job, he said “The job
paid $10 per hour, and I was told hamburgers sold for $15.” I
laughed, and told him that burgers went for only $12. I had
forgotten the sound of crickets.
I had to swing into Office Depot of Laredo to print out an emailed attachment from Sanborn’s showing that I had renewed my Mexican Auto Insurance. These guys are the company to go with… great customer service. As I was leaving, I ran into Paul, our host for the first visit to Laredo. It was great to see him, even if it was a short visit in the parking lot. The Rotary dinner is a Laredo highlight.
Paul seemed surprised to hear that I was venturing back into Mexico solo. I do admit to being apprehensive
before the crossing. There is definitely a comforting feeling when the person riding along next to you is as insane as you are. It’s not quite as comforting when you can’t find anyone else to ride along…
At the immigration checkpoint, I noticed the border guard’s eyes take in Guadalupe on the windscreen. This was the first time I could tell it was seen. The guard also took in the vehicle permit sticker on the same pane of glass. I handed him my passport.
“Tourista?” He asked.
And with that question, any apprehension dissipated into the Mexican air.
He was looking at The Rover.
“Sesenta-seis,” I replied.
The guard shook his head from side to side as he fought the grin that was forming. “Disfrutar de Mexico,” he said handing me back the unopened passport. Then he waved me through.
I made good time in spite of the nasty, nasty headwinds and the mountains west of Monterrey. The two mortal enemies of the Series Land Rover. I stopped at the “Speedy” Wayside rest area just past the toll, and met a couple from Dallas who had a springer spaniel puppy. I would have left with the pup as a copilot if they had offered. Luckily, they did not offer.
On a steep incline I passed a military convoy. No one wanted to pass them at first, so we all kind of congregated in the two lanes behind them until one trucker finally broke through the impasse. I snuck in between two semi-trucks and scooted around. At the top, the two northbound lanes were blocked off by police. I never saw the reason why. For 25 kms after that, traffic was locked in a bumper to bumper gridlock. The sight made me nauseous because I know I’ll find myself caught in a mess like that eventually. I have to give the Mexicans credit though: From what I saw, they were not overly stressed out. People had climbed out of their cars and were talking to one another, and some had pulled out lawn chairs and were relaxing in the afternoon sun. I did not hear one car horn, and I saw only one car cross the median to our side. Amazing really. I can’t imagine myself not driving across the grass and just going back to where I had come from. I’d rather wait a day than wait in a line.
For the first time since I have owned The Rover, I experienced vapor lock. At least I assume it was vapor lock, it isn’t really an Alaskan affliction. It didn’t take long to work through it, and I was driving slow up hills and into the wind in no time. Still, when I stop for a couple of days, I’ll take Mac’s advice and install that aux fuel pump.
90 kms outside of Matehuala, I spotted a wooden cart being pulled by a burro with two more burros following behind on either side of the cart. Riding in the cart were two teenage boys. The youngest, who was in the rear of the cart, saw me driving up the road and started to whack the older one on the back. The little wagon came to a stop, and both boys were staring at The Rover by the time we were even with each other.
I waved when we passed and both boys shot out such a huge grin and waved back so enthusiastically, that I had to laugh. Then they were gone.
Just shy of Matehuala, another military convoy passed me. It could have been part of the one I went by earlier, or it could have been a different one. All the soldiers went by with a stoic look on their face and both hands on their rifle. Then the last truck passed and reentered our lane in front of The Rover. The final soldier was standing at the rear of the truck with his back to the other soldiers. He raised one hand, waved, and gave me the thumbs up. Then they were gone.
I was reminded last night about how I started off this blog in the first place: “It’s the journey that matters, not the destination.” I’ve been pretty good about keeping that in mind, although there was a time after the second set of front wheel cylinders, and the brakes were bled, when a hose burst and I may have dropped into a minor depression. Luckily, there was a bottle of scotch to lean on that evening. Other than that moment, I’ve handled the stay in San Antonio well.
It was easy to do.
You never know who you are going to meet when you are traveling down the road, and I have always been extremely lucky in that regard. That luck more than held up in San Antonio. I owe an enormous THANK YOU to Mac, Karla, Gretchen and Mae. Thank you for the warm hospitality, the wonderful dinners, Benjamin Tacos, the bed with my protectors, access to the shop with its vault of Rover parts, the Christmas Eve party complete with carols, that beautiful scotch, but most of all, thank you for the friendship. You were all trip savers; I appreciate all that you did in getting The Rover & I back on the road.
If I think of a name for her, you all will be the first to know.
All my best,
Merry Christmas from Texas, although I couldn’t resist uploading a picture from a Fairbanks Winter Solstice.
The Rover left
Mac’s shop today, although it has another round of brake-bleeding
to go through. We installed the newly re-padded brake shoes, had
the brakes bled, only to have a front brake line burst. Mac had a
replacement made locally at Hydraulic Supply & Service Co,
which we installed, and with the help of Pete, one of his workers,
we re-bled the brakes once again. I feel like I am trapped in a
twisted Roverized version of Groundhog Day, but I am doing my best
to go with the flow. Although, I really feel bad that Mac chose my
Rover to flag down on Hwy 16 on that fateful day.
Happy Winter Solstice!
A beautiful day in Mexico. Woke up at 6am, had a quick breakfast and saw the largest skunk I have ever seen hop over an adobe wall where the Bibler was staked and amble over to where I was standing with his massive, all-white tail high in the air. I quickly closed the tailgate and took a step back. The skunk came to the edge of the sidewalk and then crawled into a hole under the concrete right behind the Rover and disappeared.
We filled up the gas tank in town and joked with the attendants at a Pemex station. “Alaska, muy frio!” They said. “No, no… Mexico muy caliente,” I replied. They laughed and shook their heads no.
At one point, we saw a horse riding in the back of a pick up truck, which is a sight you just don’t see everyday in the States. There were also burros and goats in numbers to rival the sightings of caribou and bison in the north.
We crossed the Tropic of Cancer and had traveled 20 kms or so when the trouble hit. At first, the Rover acted like it had no power going down the road, even though there was no reason for that to be the case. There was only a minor grade and no wind to speak of. I pulled over to the shoulder, and Peter guided me into the grass trying to avoid the broken glass and other tire pokers. The brake pedal was solid, which was not normal, and I immediately could smell brakes. It didn’t take long to realize that the master cylinder had locked up the brakes as tight as a drum.
Peter and I were able to release the pressure and get the truck going again. Peter immediately voted to return to Texas, I knew it was the smart move, but didn’t feel it was the right move. Eventually, I did turn around and we made our way to Saltillo without any further issue.
Driving back, I was not the warm & fuzzy curmudgeon everyone is used to. I was kicking myself about turning around, and really regretted not returning to Las Palmas to ask the nice people there if they knew of any good mechanics.
The road to Saltillo took us through some beautiful mountains, which didn’t help matters any. The slopes were covered in cedar trees and other junipers. We were passed by a young man on an old Yamaha 350, who gave me a quick thumbs up as he went by. This was the country that I had come to see and it was painful to be heading north again.
Just south of Piedras Negras, we hit our first military checkpoint. The guard was amused with us and the rig, and waved us through without even a glance at our passports. At Eagle Pass, we were pulled out of line, the vehicle was x-rayed, checked out by the dogs and emptied by the border guards. They only half-assed looked at a few items before telling us we could go. Welcome back.
It was obviously time for Peter and I to part company, so I dropped him off in San Antonio to catch Amtrak again. I think it is safe to say that both of us realized that the Circle to Circle trek was not a trip Peter was suppose to make, but hindsight is 20/20 and woulda, shoulda, coulda never gets you anywhere.
I had sent Mac an email from Saltillo, and he confirmed my suspicions that it was a master cylinder failure. He offered me his shop and expertise to work on the truck, which I took him up on. I’ll have more on Mac and his family later, but suffice it to say, they have been great and have gone above & beyond anything I could have expected.
The new master cylinder is in the truck. We also replaced the passenger side front wheel cylinders and fixed an axle seal leak. We agreed that I really needed to re-line the brake shoes, so they are in the shop today for that, and should be done by 5pm. If all goes well, the Rover should roll out of Mac’s shop with a revamped braking system tomorrow afternoon.
Honestly, what a roller coaster ride. Not much I can do but go with the flow. Mac wants to call my Rover “Texas”, because it doesn’t seem to want to leave this state. I’m not quite ready to go that far…
P.S. A very Happy Birthday to AJ & Megs.
We stopped here at La Palmas in Matehuala. I was told the place is run by some great people, and that Mexico Overlanders should support them with the tourist crunch that is going on right now in Mexico. So far, everyone here has been great. We have the back RV area to ourselves, and there are only a few rooms rented by the looks of it. But we do have a shower and the overnight charge for the Rover and the Bibler is $23.50 USD.
Time to search for the cerveza.
We crossed into Nuevo Laredo, but didn’t spend any time there since we had already visited on two consecutive days. En route to Monterrey we had to stop to show our papers approximately 20 miles in. The agent was professional and courteous. He took our passports, glanced at our FMT, and declined the automotive stuff, and we were on our way. That was the only time we were stopped.
For the most part we went against 75% of advice given and drove the libre roads, jumping on the toll roads only when they made our life easier. All went well and we saved some pesos.