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Juxtaposition


“Madness!!!!” It is unstated but said in the eyes of everyone we meet and tell what this family of four and a dog is doing as we head out on a road trip throughout Mexico in the dead heat of summer. At first it was our friends when we told them what we were doing, now it is in the expressions of the gas attendants, border guards and even the owners of the RV sites in Northern Mexico where we pull up in our 28-foot motor home.

68 days of crisscrossing Mexico, West to East, North to South. Experiencing heat (well over 40 degrees Celsius), road conditions (some of the smaller non toll highways are better suited for off road vehicles than a home on wheels) and a strange twilight zone emptiness in almost every RV park we have visited (they are all empty for the summer) so far seems to confirm our madness.

My wife Dorothy has planned out a journey for our family that has seen us drive over 3000 kilometers across United States, into Mexico at a small border crossing just south of the famous American Wild West town of Tombstone, Douglas.

The American engineers who designed the wide ribbon of super highways called Interstates must have been beauty blind for the real magnificence of the journey’s landscape and small towns are those that follow the routes of the older highways. Small towns in Nevada, like Austin, who can proudly proclaim it is “The Friendliest Town on the loneliest highway in America,” almost all seem to be set for a National Geographic photo shoot. This the week of the Fourth of July and every town sports hundreds of “Old Glory,” proudly displayed down every main street.

It is a route that takes us through Washington State, Oregon, some of Idaho, Nevada, Utah and Arizona, past desert, lakes and monuments that please the eye and the soul, before entering our destination country at the Mexican town of Agua Prieta (dark water).

It is here; in Agua Prieta that one is plainly reminded of the great upheaval that is occurring in Mexico. Half way through what must be the equivalent of an industrial revolution, Mexico is experiencing changes at a pace unseen in North America since the eighteen hundreds. Social changes that normally would take a century are happening in a decade. Free trade, computer technology and a tremendous desire of the Mexican people for change has driven this country forward. Though great poverty still remains, the growth of the middle class over the last ten years has been astonishing. This can be seen in the cars, the department stores and clothes.

Many of the markings of a third world country that once were evident in Mexico have disappeared. The corruption with the immigration officials has long since vanished, though reminders are left hanging on the walls of customs buildings telling people that there are no bad apples allowed. Bribes have been replaced with sophisticated computer equipment to create hologram importation decals for your car window.

As we cross into this Mexican border town, we are asked for money immediately, only this time it is a drugged out glassy eyed American woman asking for food for her children. Her story is that her husband was in the wrong place at the wrong time and now he is in a jail on the wrong side of the border. The bruises on her face she claimed resulted from falling during her epileptic seizures. She is a persistent, knocking on the widows of our huge RV; hands held out, eyes staring directly into mine, pleading.

Border towns are never appealing, nor usually so pitifully ironic.

The family, with proper documentation in hand, drives off down the bumpy secondary highway, leaving behind all of the cliché descriptions that one can put to a Mexican border town. This Highway 2 is truly a secondary road, no shoulders, potholes and industrial sized speed bumps (topes) in every rural community you go through slows you down to a crawl.

The slowness would have been painful had not the Mexican people been so gregarious. As we drive by in our class c diesel powered “rig” everyone waves and smiles, young and old alike. It is as if we are in a parade or conquering heroes returning home. It is only when Dorothy reads in a guide book that traveling circuses are often led into town with similar motor homes that we realize that our popularity on the road is a most likely a case of mistaken identity.

The highway snakes up a mountain range, the Sierra De La Catarina. It is here we traverse the continental divide and pass into the State of Chihuahua from Sonora. The rubbish at the side of the road near the border is no longer prevalent, however it is replaced by free ranging cattle that drives our dog into barking fits as we slowly pass the livestock often standing in the middle of the road.

The road conditions improve as the No 2 meets Highway 10, though real improvement won’t be had until we reach the toll highway between Ciudad Cuauhtemoc and Chihuahua City another 200 kilometers south. The dry cactus and brush grazing land quickly shifts into a fertile valley. We pass young Mennonite women who are very conspicuous even though dressed in their simple and unadorned garments. They too wave to us, as we drive past, staring into the cab as if to glimpse a lion tamer or clown.

It is in Cuauhtemoc that we decide to call it a day. We pull in to the trailer park only to find a fenced Doberman. The park is empty, the reception is open but no one is there either. We spend our first night alone in Mexico in an RV park with only the howls of dog.

Down toll Highway 45 between Chihuahua and Gomez Palacio, the driving is easy, the sights unspectacular, but using the dictionary we discover that in Spanish there is actually a word for a walnut vendor…nuecero. Driving in Mexico is always an adventure, road signs that at best are unfamiliar, driving habits that are confusing and in some areas, road conditions that would get governments thrown out back home in Canada.

Still the most exhilarating part of any day traveling in Mexico, is when one turns their 28 foot motor home off the highway and into the towns and cities where it is almost guaranteed that the driver needs nerves of steel and an ability to keep cool under great duress. One wrong turn and one may be forced to back out an entire block between cars with only an inch to spare on both sides. Overhead wires, trees and macho drivers need constant vigilance.

Then there is the various types and sizes of topes (speed bumps); big, small, round, flathead, vibrating, rope and what I call the reverse dip, a trench dug in the road. These topes can be well signed, signed and hidden. They can be on back roads, major thoroughfares and even on highways; they appear to be the only means of taming the speeding driver in Mexico.

Street signs are irregular and many of the town’s roads are being torn up and replaced forcing detours that at times can leave you in the opposite end of the city. If this was United States or even Canada, we would almost certainly be on our own, but here in Mexico we have been pleasantly surprised by the actions of taxi drivers who led us through the town to our destinations and then refused any compensation or the older gentleman in Chihuahua who noticed we were lost, flashed his lights and offered to lead us out of town.

We turn east at Gomez Palacio and head towards Monterrey, Highway 40 is another toll road and the driving is fast as we head towards an oasis resort near the town of Parras. Turning off the highway halfway to Monterrey the dry desert turns into a lush refuge where wine grapes are grown and water springs from the ground in enough abundance to keep several wineries in operation.

So much for guidebooks! We have been RVing in Mexico for over 14 years and this is one thing we know. Read all you can but be prepared for anything.

After driving all day from Chihuahua to come to what was billed as the best resort between Saltillo and Durango, Ricon de Monterro. The author spoke so highly of it that you were sure he/she was part owner. We were sold, committed, and why not. We stretched our “drive time” so we could treat ourselves to luxury; mingle, rub elbows with the hoi ploy that supposedly frequent the resort.

We pulled in and after driving for 10 hours and said to ourselves it is, “Just what we need.”

We drive on down the kilometer long tree lined driveway. The kids spot the pools, the tennis courts and the nine-hole golf course. There is, however, no signage to indicate that this is an RV location. We have children and after the glorious entrance, THERE IS NO WAY WE COULD POSSIBLY NOT STAY HERE!

We sent in the heavy guns. Dylan and Dorothy accepted the mission and were prepared to negotiate hard.

“Yes” it was true that they were going to have an RV park, said the reception manager. But plans change. They have nothing. Perhaps if we committed to three days they could possibly do something.

“No” Dorothy said. We have only one night…and we are desperate. “Please!” It was an honest mistake. “See” Dorothy says pointing to the RV guidebook that directed us here. “It says you have 12 spots with sewer, electricity and water.” “No” he laughed. “We do not. Perhaps this is a joke.”

“We have children,” Dorothy says as if they would somehow be thrown out onto the street.” They need a place to stay.”

This is where Dylan, our 10 year old daughter comes in…She has been trained to smile sweetly give the angelic “oh PLEASE look” with her big brown eyes. The looks that can make grown men melt in a moment.

The manager was a puddle on the floor in the lobby. He called for some help and the children, dog and rig were escorted to a grassy area on the edge of the complex. We were fixed up with electricity – no water.

The manager and Dorothy negotiated a rate -he asked what rate was charged elsewhere. We settled on $20.

We were all very happy. Crash, our two-year-old bearded collie, was free to roam on leash for an hour or so – running through sprinklers and charming other guests with his demeanor. The children had great times swimming and blowing of road weary steam in the pool. Later Adam, our 13 year old even managed to talk the reception staff in to letting him use the net so he could retrieve his hotmail. We sampled a tropical drink and cerveza at the bar after strolling through the landscaped resort grounds.

Is this a campsite? No. Would we come here again? You bet. Only come earlier or stay longer to enjoy the complex.

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