Posts Tagged ‘desert’

Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas any more.

6 December 2009

Wednesday 2 December, Green Valley AZ to Guaymas, Sonora


I missed the breakfast as it ended at 9:30 Mountain time and I was still on Pacific time. Headed out to Nogales AZ to get auto insurance. Mexican insurance is compulsory in Mexico, and it is available at the border. One insurance company seems to be recommended in most of the guidebooks: Sanborns. They also publish a series of guidebooks (Logbooks) which describe what there is at different mile points along most routes through Mexico. Something similar to the Milepost, for those who are familiar with driving on the Alaska Highway, but the Milepost is much better.

Their insurance also allows your vehicle to be repaired in the US. However, why one would want to do that given the obvious competence of Mexican mechanics, judging by the vehicles they manage to keep running. I stopped at an insurance/real estate agency. For some reason, they don’t want to insure my truck for road breakdowns, it couldn’t be ‘cause it’s only 20 years old. I did live to regret this, twice but it only happened on Saturday and Sunday.

I crossed the border into Nogales, Sonora from Nogales, Arizona around 10:00AM. The difference was immediately obvious. At first I thought it seemed a bit European, but then I corrected myself: definitely not European or USian. I first tried to stop at a bank to get some pesos. I couldn’t figure out what the big “E” in the traffic signs meant. It dawned on me after a while, of course, that it means Estacionamiento—Parking. That was weird to me because even in Québec they use the “P”, even though, like in Mexico, they like putting the local language on stop signs. Anyway, I ended up parking on the street, went to the bank machine and collected some pesos. I didn’t stop any longer in Nogales but continued on.

The customs offices are 20 kms south of Nogales. First you need a tourist card, then a temporary vehicle importation permit. They also need photocopies of all the relevant documents, which can be done there for a quite reasonable 25 cents US each, or M$2.50. But it took the cashier at the Banjercito almost an hour to check my stuff and make two credit card payment. As I waited, I saw a pick-up truck full of federales in full battle gear—flak jackets, machine guns and stahlhelm—go by. I thought oh-oh!

Then to the customs. I decided to declare the wine I was carrying. In theory, you go through and if there is a green light you don’t get checked. If you are unlucky enough to get a red light, they go through your vehicle with a fine tooth comb. I didn’t want to take a chance in losing all that expensive wine I bought in Oregon and California. It seems I am allowed six litres of wine, so I had to pay duty on 4 bottles of a $M450.00 or so. This was totally and completely above board, with two customs agents taking my money and giving me a receipt which we all signed. Not even a hint of a suggestion that anything that was not completely honest would be acceptable. But the custom guards were a lot friendlier than I usually experienced in Canada and the US.

As an aside, it seems that Mexico has got rid of most of the corruption, at least at the lower levels. Like Canada and the US, I am sure it is rife at the higher political levels, especially (but not exclusively) among the right-wing parties. There are signs everywhere for phone numbers where once can anonymously denounce corrupt officials. It seems the days of the mordida are gone. Sanborns’ guide has this to say about the police in Mexico:

“You’ve probably heard nothing but bad stories about Mexican police. Most of them are helpful, polite and honest. While it’s true that many years ago, mordida was a way of life, things have changed. The best advice is to approach each policeman with the attitude that he is honest and just doing his job. … Some travelers have told us about policemen went out of their way to help them or guide them out of town when they were lost.”

I would act that the actions of the federales against the drug traffickers in the border towns—many of them actually losing their lives—is not exactly indicative of a corrupt police force.

Back to the chronology, I decided to stop for tacos for lunch. I saw a lot of taquerías along the way, but usually too late for me to stop. Finally, I saw one where I managed to stop at about 12:30: Taquería Lupita.

Taqueria Lupita

A customer eating there told me they were the best tacos in Sonora, made with home-made flour tortillas. They were certainly the best tacos I ever had. Birria and cabeza tacos, both with meat and covered with lettuce and tomatoes. I asked what birria meant, and the owner told me it was cow meat (carne de vaca), it turns out it is some kind of beef stew. When I first saw the word birria, my Italian mind’s immediate thought was that it was beer, birra. The tacos were served open-faced and you had to fold them yourself. I had an interesting conversation with the owner about languages and the similarities between Spanish, French and Italian. He knew some Italian from seeing movies. Lupita, his wife was rather shy and did not talk very much although she beamed quite obviously when the other customer complimented her home-made tortillas.

According to my Lonely Planet Mexico guide, it turns out that there is one of the best roast meat places in Mexico right next to the taquería: Asadero Leo’s. I should have eaten there too. This is a problem with Mexico: too many good places to eat and too much stuff to try. An unlike Europe where I know something of what the regional specialities are, I have a lot to learn about Mexican food. So much for being on a diet. But at least I am no longer snacking at night, which was one of my major downfalls.

The road continued in the Sonoran desert, which makes sense because I am in Sonora. Interestingly, the Okanagan first nation and others claim that the Sonoran desert continues into the southern end of the Okanagan in Osoyoos and Oliver. I guess some of the vegetation is the same. A lot of the desert looks like a giant orchard, with small trees or bushes evenly spaced. The saguaros (or sahuaros) were more impressive in Sonora than in Arizona, and there seems to be many more kinds of cactuses. I stopped for a break south of Guaymas on a side dirt road and took pictures of the vegetation.

Sahuaro forest

Sahuaro forest

A couple more things struck me: the colourful cemeteries and the roadside shrines. All of a sudden, there is this splash of colour and bight white, and it turns out to be a cemetery.

Sinaloa CemetaryI made it to Guaymas, stayed at the Armida hotel, which also has a famous steak house. While the steak house was full, I was directed to the hotel restaurant which featured the same menu. I had an overcooked filete (filet mignon wrapped in bacon) with mushroom sauce. Maybe I did not make myself clear to the waiter.


Through the desert on a truck with no name …

2 December 2009

1 December Palm springs CA to Green Valley AZ.

Got up at 8:00 although I had wanted to get up earlier to do my laundry. I must be more tired than I think, or it was the LA traffic that did me in. Had breakfast at the hotel, did the laundry and left Indio around 11:00AM.

I-10 in the desertDesert scenery all the way except around Blythe CA where there is some agriculture. I saw my first saguaro cactus just after I crossed the Colorado River into Arizona. I took a lot of pictures of saguaros. Here is this icon of the western desert, seen in innumerable cowboy flicks and cartoons.

The second one was taken from far. I thought og getting closer, but then I thought; “Hmmm, desert, rattlers, scorpions, maybe not a good idea”. Grizzlies I can deal with, you see sign, you hear them and generally can see them coming, but those small poisonous critters, I don’t know.

ratty 1st saguaro

ratty 1st saguaro

classic saguaro

classic saguaro

No lunch stop: I survived on fruits and nuts left over from yesterday. I took the highway 95 bypass to Gila Bend on I-8 to avoid the rush hour traffic around Phoenix (Is there a rush hour in Phoenix? I don’t know but did not want to repeat the LA & SF experiences.) Turned off on I-19 towards Nogales around Tucson.

On I-19, I did a double take as I saw a road sign in kilometers, but the speed limits are still in mph.

I arrived in Green Valley around 7:30 PST, went for supper at an American restaurant (pot roast with corn and mashed potatoes, washed down with a Sam Adams) and checked in to the hotel where I had an interesting conversation with the desk person.

Driving in the States

I didn’t realize how thoroughly metrified (metricated?) I had become until this trip. I had to convert distances back into kilometers and speed into kph. Same for temperatures. Overall, it seems that Americans are slow drivers, generally respecting speed limits (always with some exceptions), unlike Canadians who tend to drive 10-15kph above the limit. They are also polite; I never got honked at once, except as a thank you after I let someone pass in the curvy Highway of the Redwoods. However, the rush hour driving around LA was just as crazy as Montreal, with some people trying to create an additional lane. In Montreal, it doesn’t bother me as I usually know where I’m going, but I did miss an exit around Riverside. Also, Americans do not see that the left lane is for passing and the right for driving: they will take any lane to pass you.

I have to say that the sanest expressway drivers are—believe it or not—in Italy where they drive at crazy speeds (speed limit is 130kph (80mph), so the minimum speed is 140kph (87mph) except for the trucks who drive at 100-110). But they stay in their lane, signal that they are about to pass by flashing their high beams, signal when they change lanes (suicidal motorcyclists excepted). The calmest heavy traffic driving I ever did in an urban area was around Rome, where everyone was driving at 130-140!

Mañana México!