If you haven't yet read Chapters 69-71-73, we suggest you do so. This part is kind of a continuation of what was said there. To do that, simply click on the graphic (or its caption) on the right.

A few months ago, I got an email from Paul and Juanita Alton, relating their very interesting experiences RVing from their home in Canada to a mission in Mexico. After reading Paul's vivid and detailed monologue of their maiden RV voyage, I emailed him back and told him that I'd be really excited to be able to send this along to those who read my Travel Log.  Here's the story ----

Chapter 69 included a section "Canada to Mexico" on their trip down, and a second section "Into Mexico" that takes you to Oaxaca, Mexico. Chapter 71 tells of some of their "adventures" while in Mexico. Chapter 72, this one , and others that follow, document their wanderings on the way out and back to the USA.
Go back and pick another Chapter

Yes, that's the same map you saw in Chapter 73. This chapter continues the monologue started in 73, and will take you as far as Ciudad Victoria. Travels beyond that will  be in later Chapters, to be included here as soon as this webmaster has more time and energy.

I had no idea how talkative Paul was when I volunteered to put his travel-log here, but it's interesting enough that I'm going to tough it out and get it done ... asap.
July 4, 2006
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74. From Canada to Mexico ... and Back - Part IV
Canada To Mexico - Chapter 69
In Mexico - Chapter 71
Back to the USA - Chapter 73
In case you missed them in Chapter 73, I thought I'd include a couple of photos of Paul and Juanita. You'll see these again later in this chapters, then you'll figure out where they are/were.

I'm doing Chapter 73 and 74 today (7/4/06), then I'll finish up with the final part in a couple of weeks.
We headed out from Palenque, feeling thankful we lived in an era when one could drive to such a location. Apparently it wasn’t too many years ago that the ruins were a fly-in destination for those with private or charter planes.

As the highway from Palenque reached the main highway we endured the rows of topes as we approached the stop sign. They were not as annoying as we slowed for the intersection as they had been a few days before when we were trying to accelerate away from it. We turned right and headed east toward Escarcega turning north soon after getting to the good road on the map.

As soon as we turned we were in a military checkpoint, which was uneventful. Poor for writing about, but still the kind I prefer. The road was also nothing to write about either good or bad. As we got close to the coast we entered the town of Sabancuy. The streets through it were not marked too clearly but they were wide enough and we intuited our way through okay to the causeway leaving the town. There was only one bad moment when the street jogged just enough to look like we had hit a dead end, but our hearts recovered when a vehicle appeared coming the other way and panic did not have a chance to establish itself fully.

As we finished Chapter 73, we saw:

Travel to Isla Aquada

From an e-mail:

"Thursday we got as far into Mexico as we expect to this trip and made the turn out to the coast and started heading up the coast on a chain of islands. Right now we are camped in an RV park at Isla Aquada. Temperature is in the high twenties. The water is about thirty feet from our back bumper and it seems like a vacation."

Paul & Juanita
Our destination for the day or two was Isla Aquada. We more or less followed the directions through the town in the Church’s guide book and arrived okay. The manager was taking a siesta, so we picked a spot and settled in, parking with the back of the trailer about thirty feet from the edge of the ocean with nobody between us and the water. There is a chain link fence that keeps out the local kids and a gate to walk through onto the beach during the day. The fishermen arrive early and load their morning's catch into plastic crates for the fish buyer to dicker over. The water is a little cold for my liking (about ten degrees warmer than Jeannette Lake in summer) so we did shelling and wading but no swimming. There was a bridge that disappeared into the haze across the gap with the next island. We have a view of the bridge when sitting at the desk and the ocean and palm trees out the back window or when sitting outside.

During the day it was 27 degrees inside and out and with a cooling breeze off the ocean. Our plan was to leave Isla Aquada ‘in a few days’ and drive to Villahermosa for a night
then start driving back to Texas to start a project on March 6, but  even here there is "no time to get bored" and stay extended beyond the original allotment. The park has several discount structures depending on how long one stays, and allows you to move to the lower rate retroactively as your stay extends, e.g. if you start out at the day rate and that day turns into a week you end up overall on the weekly rate. None of these rates was as good as the Passport America price which the resort offered of so we used our PA card.

The resort has changed hands recently and the new owners are building several buildings with wheelchair access and will be flying wheel chair bound US vets down to vacation there.

There was a very interesting couple a few sites over. They were retired university professors from Arizona that had taught in China during part of their retirement and we had some pleasant chats as both our stays got longer. There was a pair of “honeymooners”, about our age, from Ontario on the other side of us in his marvelous highway bus conversion. He had led caravans into Mexico for many years and was showing his bride of a few weeks his former turf. He had some wonderful stories about the recent past in Mexico. There once had been ferries where the bridges now were at Isla Aquada and Cuidad del Carmen. Getting a caravan across those gaps would have been exercises in patience and logistics. It evokes mental images of the old riddle about getting the chicken, the fox and the grain across the stream. Some things never change, however. He also told about getting a bogus traffic fine on the bridge about eight years ago.
On Friday we drove into Ciudad del Carmen about 38 kms. away. Cd. del Carmen is at the far end of the next island. You need to drive through it to get to the bridge to the mainland. It is a fair sized city with a Gigante and an Office Depot in a mall and a Sam's Club and a Sorianna's a few streets over. Isla Aquada is at the closer end of the next island to the one that Cd. d. Carmen is on. I.A. is a small fishing village.

Well, in any case when we took our jaunt to Cd. d. Carmen I gave the toll booth a 500 peso note for a 45 peso displayed toll and he gave me change for a 113 peso toll and a receipt for same. I moved forward a bit before asking about it, but the toll display had changed and he said that was the correct amount. We spent some time driving and walking around C.d.C. and did some shopping, but not much buying and came back. When we went through the toll booth the toll collector tried the same stunt, but I didn't move and argued for a while when the guy said toll was because it was a doble (dually), but the display still said 45 pesos and I pointed this out so that's all I eventually paid and got a receipt for 45.
When we got back to the trailer and started walking away from the truck there was a loud popping noise and then a loud hissing noise. The valve stem of the right front tire had blown. I went to walk out to where I could get a taxi (motor bike with trailer), but our neighbor with the bus said he would give me a ride. Eventually found a vulvanizadora (tire guy's shop), but the owner was in the city so we found another one and the guy said he would come do the truck. After he arrived (by taxi) and a bit of negotiation we agreed on a price for him to change the valve stem and then a lower price if we put on the spare and drove him in the truck (cut out the taxi cost) to put a new valve stem on the tire and a price to do the rest of the tires (if one is rotten, chances are the others are not much better). He did that, but only had the one long valve stem and there is no place to buy others in this fishing village.
Saturday morning we drove to C.D.C. in search of a refracciones (parts) store to buy vaciga valvulas (tire stems) for the other tires.

As we crossed the bridge we drove slowly behind a Police pickup. It went slower and slower and eventually near the other end of the bridge, stopped and turned its red and blue lights on. I pulled alongside blocking both lanes of traffic. As the traffic in both directions piled up the driver waved me in front of the Police truck, but Juanita rolled down the window and I sat there asking why he wanted to stop me (all in English) until the other cop got out and stood so I couldn't go forward and the Police truck moved so the traffic could get by. The cop wanted me to pull over and wanted my license and I started writing down information and asking if he was police and why he wanted to see my license. He was not wearing any photo i.d. and as I kept asking him, loudly, in English “Are you police?” he kept gesturing to the insignias on his black and white camouflage uniform and saying “policia”. After he realized there were probably easier pickings out there he finally waved his arms at me and told me to "C" (F) off. I suddenly understood enough Spanish to leave.
When we came back, a few hours later, the police truck was cross wise on the bridge turning around after accosting his latest victim and I went slower and slower until the car behind us ignored the “No Passing” sign and passed us. The cop pulled him over and waved us around. I avoided eye contact, but out of the corner of my eye I got an if-looks-could-kill look. Later on we walked through the toll booth plaza on the way to supper and I scurried by the group of cops (including our "friend") there. I was trying to be part of the crowd of Norte Americanos all going to dinner together (the herring approach to personal security). On the way back from supper we walked on the other side of the highway. I was hoping he would be on the late shift when we left town. If not and he decided to get even I had reconciled myself to getting another piece to write when I "got out". The worst experiences make the best stories.
In C.d.C. we found a posh Dodge dealership, but the parts guy said they had no valve stems and could get them by next Friday if I wanted to put in an order. When asked about a big tire store he gave directions and off we went. Along about where the directions took us we saw Sam's Club and I spotted the sign for a llanteria (tire store) so we pulled into the Sam's Club parking lot and I went in to the membership counter and worked out that a one day membership is 50 pesos and she gave me a temporary card that would cost me the 50 pesos if we bought anything after walking through the place. The tire department had lots of good looking tires but no parts. There are no 17" tires, though. Mexico is not the place to find that size. Our Dodge dually was made here, but is not sold here. You can buy 17” tires on the black market. I have added a heavy chain to our spare tire after a friend told of losing two spare tires in rapid succession to street thieves in Oaxaca city.

I explained in my poor Spanish what I wanted to the clerk and then we went into the service bay and I pointed at them. They didn't sell just stems. After a while he gave me four for free to get rid of me and I asked for a fifth which he gave me and I left with many thanks and much gratitude. They're made in Germany so quality should be okay. When we came back through the toll booth (toll seems to be 45 pesos - no fuss) into town I went by the vulcanizadora's house (where else would he work?) and worked out a price, came and dropped Juanita off at the trailer and then went and pestered the guy (don't lose the ceramic balancing beads from inside, change the valve core back to the special one that doesn't plug with balancing beads, use my torque wrench in an estrella (star) pattern, etc.) while he and his son did the work. Then drop by the Pemex for diesel and back home again.

The next day is another sunny day, but a bit chilly, not expected to get over 80 degrees F. When temperatures are way above freezing I still think in Fahrenheit, when below freezing I think in Celsius. Comes from growing up on the coast and moving to the prairies when middle aged. Coldest temperature I ever remember in Powell River was 15 degrees F. but that was so rare as to not imprint a number and sensory equivalence. Whereas after a brief time on the prairies I learned that at -20 C. your nose hairs freeze while they don’t at -15 C. Now you know it, too. Aren’t you glad? I bet you are already figuring out how to work that factoid into your next dinner party conversation.

We had hoped to go to Villahermosa on Sunday, visit the museum there in the afternoon and continue back toward the border, but Monday worked just as well. The guy at the toll booth undercharged us and there were no cops in sight as we made our getaway across the bridge.

La Venta museum in Villahermosa is outdoors. You walk a 1.1 km. loop through jungle vegetation with stops along the way where large stone carvings and large, stone, carved heads are on display. The heads are about six feet in diameter and come from excavations of an island at La Venta a couple of hundred kms. north of Villahermosa. This was an island in the middle of a marshy/river area. It was the religious/royal centre for a group of people up until 400 B.C. They know that the group had extensive trade networks across Mexico since the carvings are made from rock from hundreds of miles away and there have been artifacts discovered at the site and throughout Mexico that indicate widespread trade.

There is also a zoo on site, but most of the displays are off limits on Mondays. We did see some monkeys, turtles, a crocodile, and a couple of jaguars. The jaguars are a lot bigger than I thought they'd be. They are built more like a tiger than a cougar. So they are about the same length as a cougar, but much beefier.

We had parked in a restaurant parking lot on the north side of Villahermosa. We had planned on taking the ring road around the north of Villahermosa and missing the downtown, but missed the exit so merged into the freeway across the middle and took some cross streets back to the parking lot (more exciting in the execution than the description - Mexicans sure like to use their horns a lot).

We paid a tip to the parking lot attendant and left the rig and took a cab to the museum. As the cab pulled away from the truck I realized I had left my hat in the truck, but not to worry - I'd buy a souvenir one at the museum gift shop. When he dropped us off at the museum the cab driver said that Wal-Mart was just a couple of blocks and no problem to walk to (that's my understanding of what he said anyway). We checked out the vendors at the museum parking lot and inside, but this area of Mexico specializes in knitted hats (very feminine) shaped something like a flat topped bowler. We took a pass on the hats. Not a problem - the vegetation between displays was very thick - just dappled sunlight on the path.

The walk to Wal-Mart was a couple of km. hike alongside the busy freeway with occasional shady spots. The sun beat down on us as we climbed the pedestrian overpass and crossed the six lane street we had come in on from the east. Once in the parking lot we took the covered walkway to the wonderfully air conditioned store. February - the dry season with temperatures +80 degrees F. and relative humidity in the 80's or 90's Wonder what it's like here in August during the rainy season? Got our stuff - granola bars (hard to find Nature Valley granola bars in Mexico - sometimes find them individually but rarely in boxes - most stores stock the soft, sickly sweet style and a Mexican brand that must be extremely good for you - cheap, massive amounts of fibre and the taste and texture of prest-o-logs. I can't translate all the ingredients but am sure the biggest component is sawdust), some mangoes, some sticky mouse traps and a new towel for the one that seems to have disappeared in our travels (or, more likely, our stops). Then we'll just grab a cab and get back to the rig, maybe have lunch at the fancy Mexican restaurant we are parked near (overall parking lot about twice the size of the Town Centre mall - with valet parking near the upscale Mexican restaurant with its waterfall down part of the front and the water wheel etc. on the other side) or the (also upscale) Bennigan's next to it (a nice beef dip sandwich would go down well about now).

There was a family of five plus a few other people at what looked like a bus stop to the side of the Wal-Mart. I had noticed them coming out when we went in. I went over and asked if they were waiting for a taxi or a bus. "A taxi." Bad sign. Juanita noticed a couple of cabs over at the Pemex in the far corner of the parking lot (This parking lot is bigger than the one shared by Bennigan's and El Jungtla (or whatever it was) we walk over there from shady spot to shady spot. One cabby was just taking the floor mats off his roof and didn't want any fares since he still needed to get gas. The other was gassing up, but was going to clean his cab next. Not interested. So we walk back toward the cab stand and consider flagging down a passing cab whizzing past on the feeder road under the freeway, but there is shortage of cabs and nowhere for any to stop so we walk out to the bus stop on the cross road. The buses that come by don't have any recognizable names except for the cross street we got off the freeway on to get to where we parked the rig, but that road goes both ways and we have no idea which way a bus would take us.

In any case the buses and taxis generally would be pointed the wrong way so we quickly conclude we should cross back over the overpass and try on the other side. Buses have same problems with names (at least we have the same problems with the names on the buses - if one would just say "Kootenay Loop" I'd give it a try). Taxis are interesting (like Chinese curse - "May you live in interesting times"). The drill is you work your way further and further up the street to where an empty cab might stop. You get in. Well, actually you can't work your way up the street far enough that somebody is not already ahead of you or just goes around you and gets ahead of you and eventually there is no point in trying to go further because the street hasn't widened enough for cabs to stop.

If you can't get an empty you hail over one that is not full yet - you don't rent the whole cab - just the part you are sitting on. In Tehuantepec a five passenger Datsun sized sedan taxi stopped for us with two men, a woman and the driver already in it. Juanita tried to get me to sit in the front, but I directed her to the front. Afterward she acknowledge that she was happier having me share the back seat with two men while she shared the front bucket seat with the twenty-something woman in the front. I had been willing to take one for the team, but knew that the team wouldn't have appreciated it once she realized the front seat wasn't empty. But back to Villahermosa. Here we are lined with our heads stuck in cab windows negotiating like a bunch of street girls shown on TV anytime they have some report of prostitution law changes or a john crackdown. The cab windows are open but have an air deflector down the top third and we don't have stilleto heels or dresses up to there, but the similarities did strike me at the time.

Negotiating doesn't help. I have no idea of the name of the district and they either have no idea of where Bennigan's, The Fiesta Inn, or the Holiday Inn are or aren't going there. All I know is that some people manage to talk their way on board and we aren't among the successful ones. We move around the corner. At least there the cabs will generally be headed in the right direction. Finally in front of the ING bank somebody picks us up. He takes us a little bit out of the way to drop off his other passenger and then drops us off. He tells us that the restaurants are new and next time we need a cab there to say the rodeo and the cabbies will know. On the way to the lot we came in on a side street that connects to a cross street that will be easier to get onto the ring road from if I can use a dangling participle which I guess it now isn't with that parenthetical expression tacked on the end or what used to be the end.

Travel to Catemaco

All thoughts of a leisurely lunch have vanished. I explain to the armed guard that I had paid off the guy cleaning the driveway when we showed up and he should get a share of that and then gave him ten pesos for coming over to see what we were doing around the truck and trailer. I quickly dremel out the hole that the deadbolt goes into. I had installed a deadbolt in Tlacolula, but discovered that once you opened it on the road the trailer had shifted enough that you couldn't close it. After this dremeling it now works with stabilizers up or down. Did some fancy backing and looping to get onto the road we learned about by taking cabs and got on the road. There was a sign for an RV park north of Villahermosa but it was ambiguous so we missed the turn, and carried on relatively uneventfully. The highway is all four lane divided, but it switches from libre (free) to cuato (toll) so on the free sections there are topes (speed bumps) cross traffic, incredibly broken pavement and even a glorietta (traffic circle with concrete walls in middle part - sometimes with a fountain in middle) at Cardenas (more of those horns - I didn't know you weren't supposed to stay in the left lane only if you were turning).

We stopped at a Pemex for fuel about 130 kms north of Villahermosa a little before 5 and I asked the attendant if we could park for the night. No problema. Parked the rig about a hundred feet back of the pumps and we walked to one the restaurants. The attendant said they were both good when I asked which was better. Roadside cafe style - plastic chairs and tables. Upscale prices, but huge plates of food. Juanita had pulpo enceboyan (spelling incorrect, but basically octopus in onions) and I had Carne Chinamerga (thin, spiced, smoked steak) with tortillas, 2 limonadas, and a milkshake for 195 pesos. Then it was back to the trailer for a fitful night's sleep. I hadn't felt well on the drive from Isla Aquada and felt worse now so Juanita smeared Aloe Vera sunburn goop on my head, I took some Pepto-Bismol and went to bed at about 6:30 while Juanita read until later. I tossed and turned and was up every hour or so for potty time and things settled down about midnight and I took a Nyquil and slept slightly less fitfully until about seven. Got up, had a shower and took an Immodium and got on the road.

After a very rough road for half an hour we switched to a beautiful cuato until the Ayucan exit. On the road toward the highway 180 I took a wrong choice and ended up in Centro (downtown) Ayucan. The streets got narrower and narrower and shortly after I said that things weren't looking good we went down a ten percent grade over a tope and up another ten percent grade and then a block later the pavement kinda ended with a two foot drop-off about three feet beyond the end of the boulevard at the end of the block. I stopped and sat there and eventually a bystander tried to give directions and then offered to lead us to the highway. Juanita gave radio directions while I backed up a block and backed into a cross street to turn around and then we followed the guy back to a cross street that we had seen on the way in and I'd commented that it looked better than the one we were on. After a couple of tries we made it around the glorietta without trailer damage. Then we followed the guy to sort of a ring road that said "no trailers" with a picture of a semi-trailer and we followed him a few kilometers on that road. There was only one pedestrian that gestured at us that we would be ripping down the wires across the street, but I didn't feel any thing and didn't see any wires hanging down the sides of the trailer then nor hung up in the solar panels when I checked a few days later.

Eventually we got back on the highway and after a few detours where they were replacing highway bridges with culverts (the detour bridge is made from about 6" pipe sort of close together and sort of parallel. I don't know why the wheels don't fall through and didn't stop to get out and look - just scurried across) made it to Catemaco.

Shortly before you get there you climb from about two hundred feet elevation to two thousand feet elevation and then you come down to Catemaco along the side of the mountain with a beautiful view of this large lake with the town of Catemaco at one end. There are boat tours to monkey island and many waterfalls in the area as well as coffee and tobacco growing. One of the waterfalls was where much of "Medicine Man" with Sean Connery was filmed. Mel Gibson has been filming in the same area since December. If you drive down to the coast (about half an hour) there is a lagoon where you can rent a boat to take you on a cruise through a jungle river out to the beach and then come back for you later.

We turned on the road to the RV park and went to the entrance. There was a pickup parked directly across from the entrance which gave me pause on how I was going to make the turn so I stopped for a minute and then decided. As I started to turn there was honking. I stopped and the cop car that was trying to pass me backed up. I thought briefly about this and backed up and waved him by. The car with four fat cops hanging out the windows stopped alongside me while the fattest read me out for a while. It was a little too fast to follow, but I got the idea. He moved on and with the help of Juanita and other RV'ers we made the turn, parked, parked again, this time at a site with sewer hook-up, set up camp, paid the owner and crashed for a three hour nab.

At about four p.m. I woke up and Juanita and I walked into town along the lake shore, stopped and visited with a couple that we had seen in Isla Aquada. They were sitting next to their rig in one of the other RV parks in town. It was basically a chain link fenced parking lot on the road along the lake. They are older and tend to park themselves in their chairs and watch things so that site would appeal to them more. We prefer the view out our back window at the shrubbery, the banana plants and the river down below. After a buying a paleta each we walked to the zocalo (town square) looked around. There were some market areas but things were shutting down for the night so today we'll go earlier. I had started to fade a bit so we caught a cab back home. I read and Juanita surfed or read and then I went to bed about nine, while Juanita stayed up and MSN'ed with her sister and checked in on the mouse. I feel much better today so will have to sign off and go do some things.
In reading the preceding verbiage on Villahermosa and the trip to Catemaco which mostly came from a long e-mail I wrote in Catemaco the morning after we got there. I realize I have not explained about the mouse.

Near the end of our time in Tlacolula a mouse invited itself aboard. I think it must have climbed up the sewer hose. For the first month or so of our time there I would remove and stow the hose as I used it, usually part of my Saturday routine. Eventually I decided to follow the suit of my neighbours and leave it attached to the rig and the sewer connection and just open and close the valves as needed. We had some problems with ants before this (they come up the power cord, the stabilizers or anywhere else that touches the ground) but not mice. In any case, not long after I started leaving the hose hooked up we had chewing noises in the night. It is a most disturbing noise. If you move to get a better idea of where it is coming from - it stops, but visions of bare wires dance through your head or, more accurately, through my head. I have no idea what dances through your head.

I had searched for a mouse trap in Tlacolula and Oaxaca, Oaxaca but had had no luck. Other than some elaborate live traps in the Abastos market, the best we had found was some miniature trays filled with sticky stuff. At some level I regretted not buying one of the live traps so I had bought one in Catemaco the afternoon we arrived, but it was more of a souvenir. They had none of the mouse sized ones, just a rat or squirrel sized one. There had been no jaws-of-death or traditional whack-your-fingers-while-setting snap traps available anywhere we looked (mental note – add mousetraps to ant traps to “take to Mexico next time” list). I had put a sticky tray in the basement compartment and one in a kitchen drawer. The one in the drawer had caught a couple of birthday candles but no mice. The one in the basement had caught nothing at all, until our first night in Catemaco. Of course once it catches the mouse there you have it. “It” being the mouse, that is, plus a trap. This mouse decided that the trapped candles were worth eating and joined them on the sticky stuff. Now it was not going anywhere despite thumping around enough to wake Juanita who then spent the rest of the night intermittently opening the drawer to look at it while it squeaked at her. When I got up in the morning I disposed of the mouse and the trap. I realize that this is not good recycling practice, but couldn’t come up with an elegant solution for recovering the trap and the sticky stuff while disposing of just the mouse. The noises in the night diminished but didn’t go away entirely until somewhere across the border in Texas after I put a couple of snap traps in the basement and caught two more mice.

The morning in Catemaco dawned as it does and I awoke with a desire to write. After writing an extraordinarily long e-mail about our trip from Isla Aquada to Catemaco, Juanita started pointing out that we were wasting a beautiful day and the best part of it if we wanted to avoid the heat of the afternoon. I pried myself away from the keyboard and we headed out in search of Poza Reyna which I think means the Queen’s Pool. When we checked into the RV park in Catemaco we were given a map of the sights of the area with all the local attractions. The camp owner told us about one item on the map called “Poza Reyna” where the Sean Connery movie, “Medicine Man” was filmed. This sounded exotic enough so off we went on the road around the lake.
We almost followed the map almost through town and after a second try found ourselves on a two lane paved road leading out of town on the other side. We went past a resort where it is rumored that some of the cast and crew of Mel Gibson’s new movie “Apocalypta” were staying. Then we passed a huge conglomeration of trailers, semi-trailers, tents and RVs. This apparently was a former RV park that Mel Gibson had bought out to use as a base for his filming in the area.

Eventually after a couple of villages we got to one where the pavement ended and I stopped and got out and chatted to a couple of teenage schoolgirls that were just arriving at their home. The photocopied map I had from the RV park was apparently quite a novelty, but basically we were told to carry on in that direction. I got the impression that “Poza Reyna” was not a common part of the local experience. After several miles of mostly reasonable gravel road, through forests with the odd stand of giant bamboo, impatiens growing wild and a few more villages and past some very expensive looking lakeside homes we passed over a small river and carried on. We flagged down a delivery truck and he looked blank at the Poza Reyna and directed us onward and that we should make the next left turn. In a mile or so we took the turn and wound up the side of a mountain. Great view of the lake. We came upon a work crew using hand tools to repair washout damage that we would normally try to use a backhoe for. They explained we were on the wrong road and we should turn around. We carried on upward until there was a bit of a driveway to use to cut and fill. Back down the mountain we went and back the way we had come on the road around the lake. We had passed a junction earlier with a road leading off to the left through two rows of trees and bearing a faded sign about an ecological hotel. We decided that this was the road and headed up it and up another mountain.

After several miles the road started seriously going up into the hills. We wound through gates and over cattle guards and even reached a point where the road was paved. Well, not really paved. There were two strips of concrete so that the really steep portions wouldn’t wash away. We made our way up and up and through a village Hildalgo de something or something de Hildalgo (I found later it was called Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla as per map below – wish I had that map with me at the time) and just on the other side of this village the road ascended into a goat path. I just stopped right there since there was no traffic I was blocking anyway. I climb up somebody’s front yard and after a conversation with the timid resident we knew that Poza Reyna was abajo (down).
I had the  choice of backing into the hillside or over the edge to turn around and elected for the hillside and “there, that wasn’t that bad, was it?” and we were in the village to buy a package of cookies and a couple of soda pops at the village store and down we went. It was obvious that the river was off to the left somewhere in the greenery

We got down as far as a cluster of buildings with the one nearest the road bearing faded lettering about ecological tours and so on. I edged as far off the road as possible and took the path down to the nearest building of size. It had half height walls and a roof with a wide gap between. As I got close the stench alerted me to the porcine inhabitants. They seemed happy as pigs are said to be and after concluding that pig farming must provide steadier income than eco-tourism, I followed the footpath toward the fence and to a house that wasn’t visible from the road. I was told to go abajo and to look for the white metal sign (I wasn’t sure about that part, but more careful, more loud repeating of words you don’t understand doesn’t necessarily impart any clearer meaning so white metal sign it was and I thanked her and returned to the truck).
I had the  choice of backing into the hillside or over the edge to turn around and elected for the hillside and “there, that wasn’t that bad, was it?” and we were in the village to buy a package of cookies and a couple of soda pops at the village store and down we went. It was obvious that the river was off to the left somewhere in the greenery

We got down as far as a cluster of buildings with the one nearest the road bearing faded lettering about ecological tours and so on. I edged as far off the road as possible and took the path down to the nearest building of size. It had half height walls and a roof with a wide gap between. As I got close the stench alerted me to the porcine inhabitants. They seemed happy as pigs are said to be and after concluding that pig farming must provide steadier income than eco-tourism, I followed the footpath toward the fence and to a house that wasn’t visible from the road. I was told to go abajo and to look for the white metal sign (I wasn’t sure about that part, but more careful, more loud repeating of words you don’t understand doesn’t necessarily impart any clearer meaning so white metal sign it was and I thanked her and returned to the truck).
The RV park is also a hotel. In wandering around looking for the owner one day I chatted with some people from Manitoba who had spent the winter there. I could handle that, but it was time to move on if we were going to get to Texas in time. Thinking of the trouble we had turning into the park I went and visited with the lady running the little store directly across from the entrance. She showed me how she makes snow cones with a chunk of ice and a cheese grater. They are 5 pesos (50 cents). I ask if they could park their pick-up truck a little differently in the morning. We talk about time and she says she will have her husband move it at seven the next morning. I have doubts, but don’t express them.

Travel through Vera Cruz, the Emerald Coast to Cerro Azul

At seven the next morning the owner of the park unlocks and opens the park gates, we drive up to it and the pickup owner appears and moves the truck and we make the turn, narrowly missing the large decorative rock that the pickup usually nestles up to, but a miss is as good as a mile they say and we are on our way.

We do some ups and downs and go through a town where people waiting for the bus to work or wearing their yellow tee-shirts and headed to the local cigar factory in San Andres Tuxtla and then it is mostly down to the near-sea-level low lands and out onto a string of islands and bridges and a stretch of land between a lagoon and the Caribbean. The highway is mostly on the lagoon side with the Caribbean several miles to the west and not visible to us until we are closer to Vera Cruz and we are past the lagoon.

We pass through the odd little town with a few topes each and eventually start meeting trucks brimming over with sugar cane.

After we avoid making some easy to make wrong choices at the junction with the libre between Mexico City and the city of Vera Cruz we then cross the toll road between the two and start retracing our route that bypassed Vera Cruz on the way down last Fall. Eventually we get back on the wonderful toll road north and that soon deteriorates to the two lane highway along the Costa Esmeralda (Emerald Coast). We look at the clock and consider the distance to our destination and glancing toward the Neptuno RV park as we drive past decide that our friends’ rig is not there. Later exchange of e-mails determine that we hadn’t looked hard enough, but it got dark shortly after our arrival in the park near Cerro Azul and stopping at the Neptuno would have made the longest day of our push north even longer.

The highway between Gutiérrez Zambra and the toll road around Poza Rica which seemed so scary last November now seems like quite a nice road with a few minor curves. It hasn’t changed, but I guess I have. We get on the toll road and head north toward Tuxpam and successfully navigate the crossover to the highway to Alamo. On our way down, you may recall that this had been a scenic tour through villages and around a mountain or two.

We carry on following the highway through Alamo and beyond, turning toward Cerro Azul when we come to the junction with the highway to Panuco and Ebano. Shortly after we make that jog in the highway and turn toward Cerro Azul we reach the motel about ten kilometers south of Cerro Azul.

I pull into the front driveway and go to the office. I chat with the receptionist and find out we should have turned into the next driveway along the highway if we wanted to get to the RV parking area. There is a driveway around the motel, but trees and other obstacles make it inappropriate for a rig our size. We have to turn around. Just as I am about to back-up another RV arrives. After a bit of mind reading that allows the other driver to match my every move and a bit of “after you Alphonse” we get out onto the highway and repeat the scene as they arrive and park their rig between our rig and the hook-ups I am trying to back into. Eventually they end up under a tree and we end up where originally intended. We end up on friendly terms and visit a bit. They are a German-Canadian couple from Ontario who are in pushing one side or the other of seventy years old and who have downsized from a class A motor home to a self-contained rig slightly bulgier than a full sized van conversion. He has had a stroke so she does the driving. They were on their way down into Mexico for a few months and had some good stories about camping on the beach near La Pesca for a few weeks. While we are talking, a young couple arrives from a southerly direction in a van with Quebec plates. They check things out and then leave to the north. The lady van driver makes some remark about ten bucks a night probably being too much for them and about how cheap French Canadians are and backs it up with tales from camping at the beach. In a little while the couple returns with their supplies from Cerro Azul and settles in about thirty feet away.

The lady van driver admits to us the injustice of her remarks and goes off to make supper while I admire the Quebec couple’s van from afar. It is a beautiful pop-top Safari van conversion. The roof lifts for sleeping space, but drops back for an overall on-the-road height very slightly, if at all, higher than a stock Safari van. I have no idea how practical the layout is for long trips or full-timing but covet earnestly the obvious drivability compared to our fifty-three foot overall length and thirteen or so foot tall set-up. Other than space I am not sure I would want to spend Mexican mountain or Canadian spring nights in a sleeping area with canvas sides or one with such limited head room. Still, next time I see one on a lot I’ll crawl through it and contemplate the fit.

We visit with the Quebec male a bit and share map data including the directions I have been given for a total bypass of Tampico including a road that shows yellow on the map, but which some informant has assured me is “as good as a red road.” In hindsight I hope that the person which gave the information to us was not getting even for something. I would hate to have wronged somebody that badly and not realize it. As a manager I have had occasion to make decisions which were resented and I understood the resentment, but stood by the decision. As a volunteer worker I have no such awareness of anything I have done to a co-worker that would deserve such feelings. I even more sincerely hope that the people I passed on the advice to do not think I did it in malice. After going on the road I e-mailed a warning to everybody I could. It was too late to help the Quebec couple the next day, but I’m getting ahead of the story again.

We had a bit of supper and I went to the older couple to ask something and ended up visiting for a while. Then it was back to our rig and settle in for the night before things got busy on the other side of the motel. This particular motel has curtains across the parking stalls to provide privacy for the visitors by hiding their license plates from prying eyes. They apparently don’t seem to stay very long and the rooms see more than one tenant a night. The curtains are there and we’ve seen them firsthand. The rest is only what we’ve been told. It was quiet enough in the grassy field we were in and we didn’t stray to the other side of the building to obtain any firsthand information. There are not a lot of places to park a rig overnight in that part of Mexico. There is a Pemex several miles south, on the road to Alamo but friends have complained of problems with women knocking on the door. At least where we were they stayed to their side of the building and we stayed to ours.

Travel to Ciudad Victoria

After a peaceful night’s sleep we were first on the road of the three rigs.

From an e-mail:

"On Friday we drove from Cerro Azul to Cd. Victoria using a route around Tampico suggested by another worker at Tlacolula. I think the road has deteriorated since he was last on it. There used to be pavement, but there are sections where most of it is missing now. One 24 km. section took us over an hour.

The road to Panuco and Ebano was violently uneven with occasional large potholes. There was enough traffic going our way that one had to move along fairly quickly to avoid being over-run and enough the other way that swerving to avoid potholes was possible less than half the time. We stopped at a midway point where some townspeople were waiting for a bus and Juanita climbed into the rig and tried to pick up some of the stuff that had flown out of the overhead cupboards."
We got to Panuco and admired the ornate structure marking a road out of town. In a block we had a decision to make and I made the wrong choice and ended up going into the town on the one-way street which was a counter part to the one we admired. After stopping for directions and getting honked at for same and for taking our time turning onto a cross street we made it back to admire the structure from the other direction. Despite appearances it was high enough to pass under and we got back on the highway to make the correct choice this time.
A mile or so out of town signs direct us to a detour that winds back into the north part of town and onto narrow streets where we play chicken on narrow, blind corners with similarly distressed semi-trailers. Eventually we are back on a real highway to Ebano and take the marked turn to Manuel. As we cross over some railway tracks the pavement disappears. In a few miles it re-appears or at least small isolated islands of pavement appear. This is the worst possible hybrid of a paved road decaying into a gravel road. The islands of hard surfacing are too close together. Try as we might we cannot avoid them or all the potholes between. For much of this the best possible speed we can manage is between and 10 and 15 km/hr (6-10 mph). We keep hoping it will get better. At first we hope that we are lost and on the totally wrong road, but we come upon a pair of guys with two shovels and a pickup truck with some asphalt mixture in the back. They assure us this is the right road and solicit a donation for road repairs. No comment.

Once or twice we consider turning back, but how much worse could it get? Apparently not much, but neither did it get better. At least not until we had crossed the state line twice and a few rivers and then the road seemed like a super highway once more proving my personal version of the theory of relativity: everything is relative.

Eventually after passing a Camaro in a mud bog on the main street of Manuel we get to the beautiful 110 km/hr highway to Ciudad Victoria. Once in Victoria we do okay through traffic until we almost reach the trailer park. After a near death experience crossing the boulevard we dart into the entrance of the trailer park and back to where we spent our first two nights in Mexico. It would be the place where we would spend our last two nights on this Mexican trip. I don’t think I will make that turn again, but will seek other locations further outside of town if we go to that city again. At least that is my understanding of our sentiments.
Cuidad Victoria

From an e-mail:

"Friday night we took in a movie - Bandidas with English sound track and Spanish subtitles. Terrible acting, worse plot, but kinda fun with the sub-titles. Saturday we worked from 8 AM to past dark repairing damage from the Friday drive - Broken chair, broken couch, light fixtures knocked down, valances hanging by one screw instead of four, stuff all over floor from being flung out of cupboards, desk drawer slide broken, all the stuff out of the other desk drawers, broken bolts on propane pipe under trailer, etc. Then we vacuumed the trailer one end to other (started to clean up broken glass from lamp from fixture and just kept going) washed mud off trailer and truck, did some laundry, dumped and filled tanks as appropriate. Didn't have time to do anything about crack started in side of exterior at corner of bedroom slide. This morning before leaving checked the frame for cracks that might be causing the skin crack. Didn't find any. Also stopped and checked a few time today during the drive for crack growth - no change. Tomorrow before leaving here I'll drill a hole at end of crack to stress relieve it, fill the hole and crack with silicone caulk and look at reinforcing the inside while we are in Big Sandy."

On Sunday we were on the road early, as usual, and opted to take the highway to Reynosa and cross into Pharr, Texas rather than the Matamoros/Brownsville route we took on the way down. There was a fair bit of work going on to the buildings on the Mexican side of the border and after some confusion I found a place to hand in our visas and our vehicle sticker, but no place to exchange our pesos into dollars and we looped around and joined the rush north across the bridge across the Rio Grande.


A tope (pronounced toe-pay often in very exclamatory tones when one is spotted at the last possible second) is a Mexican speed bump put across the highway to slowdown traffic. They can have lots of warning or no warning. The warning may consist of a sign warning about vibradores de reductor (speed reducing vibrators) which are clusters of turtles or small topes close together. It may be the word painted on the pavement, a sign with the word “tope” and an arrow or it may be one of several different graphical warning signs. Everybody slows for topes, and vendors may use this for their advantage.