We arrived in Laredo, TX after a five hour trip on a Greyhound bus. Strapping on our packs, we followed the stream of Mexicans to the bridge. 50 cents to walk across and voila – we’re in Mexico; no security checks, just distracted security guards, and a scaled down airport-like machine over a turnstile that had a green light (and probably a red one, but either it was broken or you needed to be carrying heavy artillery to set it off).
Getting a bus was surprisingly easy. The immigration office pointed out the men with binders who’d been badgering us since arriving, as official. Unfortunately they don’t seem to speak English (how many non-Spanish speaking people walk across the bridge?) After handing over money, getting tickets, a taxi ride was included to the bus station. I got in the back seat of the beat-up old taxi with an old woman and proceeded to try to strap myself in. She cackled when I realized there was nothing to buckle the strap into, and said “No aqui” (Not here).
Arriving at the station, showing our tickets at the bus company counter the guy frowned, wrote a number on the back and pointing, rattled off something. All I understood was the word “Ahora”. I knew I’d heard it before, so as I started in the direction indicated, with Warren asking what he said, I looked up the word. When I found it, I yelped: “He said the bus is leaving NOW”. We just made it and with only 5 of us on a huge luxury bus, we took a 2.5 hour ride to Monterrey – uneventful except for some interesting sights of police with machine guns and truck x-ray machines at checkpoints.
The hostel was the best we’d ever seen and the owners just downright loveable. Warren and I spent time helping them with fixing things and with their brochure, particularly the English portion. In the end, we are proud they adopted our suggested slogan “Discover all your senses in Mexico”.
Monterrey is the capital of the state of Nuevo Leon. We spent Tuesday exploring the city on foot: parks, museums (which to our delight are free on Tuesday) and the Carta Blanca Brewery (free beer in their German-style beer garden). There are actually 3 history museums: National, State and City. A bit overkill, but the technologically and historically impressive National one was a good choice since they had a very good English book (not pamphlet – I only knew the word “libro” so that’s what they gave us) to walk around with and they are constructing a San Antonio-like riverwalk. We saw cartons of Louisiana Hot Sauce bottles being packaged at the Glass museum/factory (Warren then remembered most vineyard case bottles were marked Made In Mexico- hmmm). We played it safe and went to a diner-like restaurant recommended in Lonely Planet. We know you should avoid the water/ice, but with a bottle of Coke and a glass of ice, we just could not resist. Fortunately, Warren’s brother had slipped a mini-Bacardi in my day pack – so we decided the alcohol would kill all the germs. Ahhh, Coke on ice – heaven.
Contrary to what people believe about Mexico, this city is clean, the metro is very nice (clean and guards posted at every station/train), they do not charge or treat “gringos” differently and they have wonderful sights and museums. It was like being in Texas – KFCs, Home Depot, Office Max, Starbucks (there is a God), etc. – only with Spanish as the primary vs. secondary language (except for Starbucks – triple shot latte, 2% milk, 3 Equal – try that in Spanish – there is a God).
We did two excursions, the first to the Grutas de Garcia (no relation to Jerry). Limestone formation caverns and surrounding mountains were impressive. We walked down vs. taking the cable car again since we had 4 hours to kill-. I almost stepped on a rattle snake (second time in less than a year – go figure). After deciding we were about half-way down, we met 2 young guys taking the trail up resting on some rocks. One rattled off a question to Warren but after realizing we did not understand, the other said “How far to top?” – when we answered halfway, he was so disheartened, he swore in English “Oh My God!”. After waiting 45 minutes through a down pour on the bus (there was some confusion over leaving at 3 vs 4) the bus driver, who’d been flirting with 4 young lady passengers, suddenly got off the bus amidst a flurry of giggles. Stunned passengers watched as he negotiated a horse-back-ride (without a guide) with one of the girls. The two of them took off – she in the saddle, he behind her clutching the reins just under her ample breasts. Several other rider groups came and went before they returned – at a (very painful looking – although he looked delighted) trot. Walking, he looked more the worse for wear, but still managed to get us back with only a strip of clear windshield to see through. Dinner that evening was at a place literally translated as “The Monastery” where you were served by nuns (huh?).
Our other excursion was to Chipinque park. A mini-Shenandoah (except for the cactus) just 12 KM south of the city. The park runs a free bus (which not even the tourist office seemed to know about – we of course, enlightened them). After the bus did not arrive at 9AM as their website stated, I decided to approach 3 other young guys who seemed to be waiting. Fortunately, they seemed to understand my Spanish (whew!) and it seemed they were also wondering where the bus was. After a pay-phone call (the telephone co. is a monopoly – the CEO is 4th richest man in the world) which ended up with me handing the phone to one of them, we found out b/c it was Easter week, they’d changed the schedule. A punctual 10 AM bus arrived and we spent about 3 hours hiking ~10K up into the fog. About 1:30 we arrived at an amphitheater, snack bar, large playground, and cement slides – which after deciding to use my fleece as a sled, proved FAST.
On the way back to the Hostel, we stopped at a Soriana – eat your heart out Super WalMart – and met a Guatemalan man who’d lived in Alaska and Chicago before getting deported; “If I go back I have to go to Federal prison”. And you thought Mexico sends us its worst. Friday morning, we said a few teary good-bye’s and hiked to the bus station. On the way, Warren shared one last experience. The maid usually made coffee for everyone in the morning and that morning had turned to find the coffee maker on but the carafe still full of the water she’d forgotten to pour into the unit. “Hey-zeus Krees-toes!” – a curse is a curse in any language.
For more pictures visit the Monterrey Gallery
Off to Zacatecas a Mexican resort town in the Mountains – Happy Easter!
Us and the owners of the Monterrey Hostel – La Casa Del Barrio