Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Adventuring in México

When Jonathan published his earlier post about crossing into México, little did we know what awaited us. We had just pulled off the road before crossing the border to call family to make sure they knew they wouldn't be able to reach us for a while. Shortly after posting that, we came upon the border.

We crossed really easily, almost too much so. All we did was drive into the lane that said “cars” and then into the lane with “nada que declarar” (nothing to declare). We had to sit there for a minute. I guess the inspectors were giving us the “once over” from the building before they pushed the button to lift the blockade. Then we were free to go. That was it. Which was not what we were expecting.

See, we knew we needed to get a tourist card since we would be in Mexico for more than 7 days and would travel farther than the “tourist cities” at the border. However, there were no instructions on where/how to get one. Additionally, there was nowhere to park to investigate.

After doing a couple of loops around the city, we finally found a place to park. In the loops back by the border, we had seen parking for “migración” officers. So we headed back that way. Several blocks later, we found a helpful man who spoke wonderful English who pointed us in the direction of the office. After arriving, we waited several minutes for the officer to pee and brush his teeth in the attached restroom before he came to assist us. The helpful man spoke little English, but my Spanish allowed us to communicate well enough. To my disgust, though, I forgot the word for “drive” in Spanish. Even with my spotty communication, the kind man got his point across. We needed to go to the bank, Banjercito, with our passports and this form note to pay for the card, then come back and fill out the forms.

When we arrived at the bank next door, he wanted $25 USD per card. However, when I pulled out my wallet, I found I didn’t have enough American cash to handle the transaction. We told him that we would return, and went in hunt of an ATM or a cash exchanger. We found the latter at the corner and I finally got rid of the Canadian dollars that I had had since Alaska. With that, we had enough money to handle the transaction ($290 pesos each) and we paid and got the appropriate paperwork to give to the migration officer.  The rest of the paperwork at the migration office went without a hitch.

Back out on the streets of Tecate, we thought we should get some pesos before we ran into any more problems. So, we hiked down the few blocks to the town square and into the first bank we saw. Cash in hand, we were finally able to return to the van and start travelling farther into México. Despite the constant stop signs and the abrupt transitions into road constructions, we safely made it out of Tecate on Mex 2D.

Despite the road being a Mexican equivalent of an interstate or major highway (divided 4-lane highway), they apparently struggled a bit getting through the mountains and the road curves quite a bit going through the range. Jonathan got quite the arm workout here. México also uses more words on signs than even the US. There was even one to “drive cautiously during sand storm.”

Right before we crossed the border, we pulled up information on Guadalupe Canyon Oasis, a camping resort that gives each group their own private hot spring. It suggested getting reservations in advance, but since the response would take up to 48 hours, I thought we would just wing it and see if they had open spots. The turn off of Mex-2D for Cañon de Guadalupe was interesting. We were going 110 km/h (about 62mph), and had to slow to a nearly a complete stop, as there was no exit ramp or anything. The road that followed was an unpaved, washboard road. At least 45 km of it. Then, the last 10 km was an intense class 3 off-road path.

About halfway to the canyon, we encountered a couple in a van conversion stuck in the sand on the side of the road. Turns out they were heading to the same place we were (they had reservations though). There was a sign right there for the canyon, but it looked like it pointed to the right (not straight ahead like it was supposed to), but after pulling off in that direction, the driver had hesitated and stopped. Despite the Baja Champion off-road tires they had, they got stuck. They had only been stuck for a few minutes when we arrived, but with hours of driving behind them, and no off-roading experience, they thought they were done for. Jonathan, with all his knowledge and experience, managed to get them out in about five minutes after deflating their tires and using the rocking method. No more glitches except stepping on a beetle that then looked like it was trying to spray him with foul-smelling residue. Turns out later, it was good that we made this acquaintance with the couple.

We finally made it to the “resort” with about 10 minutes of light in the sky (the sun had already set).

Two high-school-age boys, who spoke no English, came out to meet us. They wanted to know if we had a reservation. After I replied in the negative, I asked if they had anything available. Fortunately, they had several open sites. Unfortunately, they tried to put us in one that was really narrow and steep. After attempting the slope and not succeeding, I asked the boys if we could try the next one over. With some careful maneuvering, Jonathan was able to get us up there, but it was so narrow we could barely open our slider. Additionally, it was really uneven, so the van was tilted. We were OK with it, though, better than the previous option. When the boy showed me how to work the “hot spring” (the waters were fed from a hot spring through pipes to each man-made tub), he couldn’t get the water to work. So, he said that we could use the community tub, or so I thought.

As he was showing me where the bathrooms were at, he also showed me a site that had a lot more room for parking and was a lot easier to access right next to it. He showed me that the pool was already full and that we could park up here and use this site. Personally, I wondered why he didn’t offer us this one in the first place, but oh well. When I went back down in the gathering dusk, I suggested to Jonathan that we relocate to that site. He agreed, and backed out of our current spot.

That is where the trouble really started, though.

To swing the vehicle around to go farther up the narrow road, Jonathan had to get the van turned around. The road was narrow, uneven, and occasionally wet. As he was backing up, I was in charge of letting him know how far to go. Apparently, I was on the wrong side and let his rear left tire get into the mud with a palm tree right behind his bumper. So, when he tried to pull forward and head up the road, he ended up stuck and just digging a hole. Boy, I felt terrible. Guess I should have just been content with the last site. To top it off, it was now dark.

Jonathan scoped out the situation, but was feeling pretty bleak about it. We didn’t have a winch or a tow rope or anyone that could pull us out. The owner of the establishment was in Mexicali, so we couldn’t borrow his off-road van. I asked the boys if they had a rope, but sadly I used the term “ropa,” which means “clothes,” not “rope.” They said yes, so I went to see if the guys that we got unstuck earlier might assist us in our predicament. They didn’t think they could handle the driving, but they did offer the use of their van and their jack. As Jonathan and they prepared the van, I ran back down to get the rope. When I asked for the “ropa,” they were confused. So, I pulled out the dictionary to verify the term for “rope,” it was “cuerda.” Boy, did I feel stupid. Of course they had clothes (ropa), they were wearing them. No, they didn’t have a rope (cuerda). Disappointed, I went up to tell Jonathan. Good thing I arrived when I did, he was about to back their van into the privacy fence. Seeing as we didn’t have a rope, we decided to just take the high-lift jack. As we were working to free the jack from its storage position, the boys came up and informed us they had a rope. It was a lead rope and already a bit torn. We took it just in case we needed it, but felt we would have greater success with the jack.

Using the jack and a shovel that the boys brought us, Jonathan was able to put rocks under the tires to give us some traction. Two tries later, we escaped the muddy rut I got us into. The rest of the path was much easier to handle as we were going straight instead of turning around and we succeed in safely parking the new location. Although it was not even 6pm, after all that excitement it felt like it was nearly 11pm. As Jonathan tried to roll up his window, he discovered it had come out of the regulator again. I tell you, when it rains it pours, sometimes. We ended up duck-taping it (several times throughout the evening) so that we could deal with it tomorrow when we had more light and energy.

We returned the jack to our kind neighbors and started some pasta for dinner. After dinner, we finally got to indulge in the warm waters of the hot spring.

Quite the excitement for the first day in Mexico, maybe too much. Now I am going to get some well-deserved shuteye. 

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