So near, yet so far! A rather eventful day, in one way or another.

Alarm at 5:30 am, car reloaded, grabbed two coffees, muffins and bananas from the hotel and crossed International Bridge II at 6:30 to Nuevo Laredo. Passed through the first customs check-point – fortunately with a green light (they use an ad hoc traffic light system to decide whether to do a strip search!) around 6:32 am – quite literally in and out. The guy asked Peter to open the back of the car, which was loaded to the roof, Pip barked at the customs lady who shone her torch inside (it was still dark at that hour), another lady removed my bath bag, unzipped it and looked inside before waving us through.

So, follow the signs to the Banjercita – the government building that houses immigration (for our temporary, temporary resident permits – which now have to be validated within 30 day to become temporary resident permits!), and the vehicle import bureau which provides a hologrammed decal that has to remain fixed to our windscreen to show it’s been officially imported by temporary, temporary resident permitted aliens! With me so far?

Although the Banjercita building is just to the right as you exit International Bridge II – it’s on  a one-way street going the wrong way, so you have to drive straight on for four blocks, hang a left for five blocks (bearing in mind it’s still dark and we’re navigating narrow streets), then pull out onto a highway and do a U-turn at the first traffic lights! So far, so good… Except, on the return run to the Banjercita, the road branches, and the sign was unlit so we missed it and ended up paying 24 pesos (we’d already paid $3.50 to cross the bridge north to south) and we’re now heading back to the US. Damn it! No problemo! There was no traffic barrier, so Peter swings another U-turn mid bridge (which thankfully didn’t attract any lights or sirens) and eight minutes after we’d passed through customs the first time, we pull up to the same customs guy, who’s now scratching his head. Anyway, his lady friend redirected us, once again and, this time, correctly took the right fork in the road to the Banjercito,which both inside and out resembled a Cold-War-era barracks.

Gratifed that there were only a few cars parked at that time – still dark – although judging by the pop-up food and beverage stalls aligning the huge parking lot, I’m guessing we lucked out with our arrival. By 7:10 – just 40 minutes after our first go-round in Nuevo Leredo, we exited with our visas stamped, decal afixed to the windscreen… everything that makes us, the car and the dogs legal in Mexico. Oh! Did I forget to mention the dogs? Having read about all the required vaccinations (done), the health certificate signed by a licensed veterinarian (done)… no one at any time asked to see any canine documentation! Ta da!!!

As the sun was finally waking up, we hit the toll road to Monterrey (200 kms) – a town with which we’re very familiar having spent several years making trips twice-annually to a major equestrian event there at the invitation of the host, and our client. Sadly, when we arrived, the glorious mountains that encircle the city were socked in with low cloud, and we were unable to see La Silla, the highest peak that’s so named because it’s shaped like a saddle.

On we go, and starting to descend, we once again find blue skies and sunshine. At this point, having made such good time, we decided we’d do the drive right through to Chapala, rather than make an overnight stop. Great – we’ll arrive a day early and surprise Peter and Terry!!! Not sure what went wrong after that – a combination of human and GPS error! Anyway, just outside Saltillo, as the toll road becomes the by-pass, we somehow missed a turn. The GPS started whining at us to do a U-turn as soon as possible. We missed the first opportunity, then I noticed we were still heading towards a ‘cuota’ (toll road) – but it was the wrong one. The ever-helpful GPS obviously assumed that we’d decided to add an optional detour into our route and started to direct us towards Chapala, but not via the recommended route. Do we still try to turn around, or continue and hope the road links up with the toll road further south? After all, we’re still heading in the right direction, pretty much. However, we then find ourselves on a single lane highway, imagine bandits hiding behind every joshua tree, so decide to turn back, renegotiate our way around Saltillo, and two hours later we’re back on the right road!

So, sorry Peter and Terry – adding that two hours to the journey was the tipping point, and we’d have been driving through Guadalajara in the dark to arrive in Chapala this evening – so we revisited Plan A and arrived at the Las Palmas Midway Hotel in Matehuala in time for a much-needed late-afternoon nap. And, what a delightful place this is. Not modern, by any means, but lovely brick chalets spread throughout a huge garden, roadways lined with palm trees, birds and butterflies everywhere, so a perfect little oasis for us and the dogs. We’ve heard good reports about their restaurant, so plan to enjoy a quiet dinner before heading off tomorrow. Or, maybe we’ll stay here for a few days… Only joking – looking forward to finally arriving in Chapala tomorrow.

Lightning storm, Las Palmas Midway Hotel in Matehuala

Oh – and as one good friend pointed out yesterday regarding Paddington Bear (thanks Karen) – there’s also a charming movie about this adorable ursine if your reading skills of children’s books are not up to snuff.

Hasta mañana

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