There goes my resolution to write daily. But no time for self-abasement–there’s too much adventure to share! Here’s a quick rundown of the first two days of our overlanding trip into the interior of Mexico.
Saturday, Jan. 5, 2018 | Crossing the Border Into Mexico
Our crossing at Laredo-Columbia could hardly have gone more smoothly than it did. The steps (pasos) were clearly marked: migracion, copias, banjercito. The only line was at banjercito, with only one person in front of us. Once we were at the window, it took about 20 minutes to get all the paperwork completed.
The only hiccup was we didn’t know the TIP decal for our Jeep cost $60USD on top of the $400USD deposit. So two thirds of the U.S. currency we set aside for our FTP visas went towards the decal. Fortunately, we could pay for the FTPs with our credit card.
We breezed through the border inspection and the police checkpoint getting onto the 85D toll road to Monterrey. Before we knew it, we were cruising into the interior of Mexico.
Brief Stop in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon
Monterrey is the ninth largest city in Mexico and anchors the third-largest metro area in the country. Navigating to the city center was a two-person job. We only made one error. We made a left turn onto a four-lane, one-way road with a median down the middle. We should’ve turned into the right-most two lanes, so we could make the upcoming right turn. Instead, we turned onto the left side of the median.
Fortunately, our most serious driving error of the day wasn’t too painful!
We set Google Maps for Museo de Palacio, which is at the northern end of Monterrey’s grand Macroplaza. We basically drove through and around the Macroplaza until we found a good parking lot. We ended up parking on Juan Zuazua at Jose Maria Morelos (those are both street names). It was a clean, fenced lot with an attendant and we felt confident parking there.
We walked across the Macroplaza and down Jose Maria Morelos, a pedestrian-only street. As we tried to soak in our first stop, our goals weren’t super glamorous: find a bathroom and eat lunch. We accomplished both, enjoying a torta (sandwich) and tacos de barbacoa (barbecue meat tacos) for lunch.
We left the ice alone (an issue when Eric and I were in Cancun in 2016), and avoided the water since it wasn’t bottled. We’ve been taking Culturelle for over a week to boost our digestive systems. Our plan is to play it safe here at the beginning of our trip, and branch out as our systems get used to the new food.
Having said that, I don’t obsess in this area. I had coffee, which contained water that may or may not have been boiled. And then Caspian is sitting next to meet licking two halves of a lime, which probably wasn’t washed. And if it was, then it was washed in nonpurified water. So there you go.
Finding Our Camping Site in the Mountains
We were in a bit of a rush, trying to get to our campground before 3 p.m. This is the cut-off time we’ve set for ourselves during this whole trip. We want to be at any camping spot and set up well before dark.
So we headed south out of Monterrey and into the mountains near Santiago. Our goal was El Salto, a wild camping spot we found on iOverlander. The drive was beautiful and impactful. We twisted along mountain roads, through towns full of hard-working people–some of them displaying artisan work of wood and stone, and others cooking delicious-smelling meals outside their homes.
Then a rookie mistake. We entered the site coordinates into Google Maps and blindly followed until “you have arrived.” When we actually looked at the map, we realized Google had taken us as close as possible to the coordinates…at least, on the nearest mapped road. But our coordinates were well off the road, and we should’ve taken an earlier cut-off.
By this time, it was 3:30 p.m. We were mentally exhausted from the long day (and not sleeping much the night before) and didn’t want to go searching for the unknown. Instead, we looked around where we were: what appeared to be a rocky, dry riverbed with a couple of ATV trails running through it. We chose a pull-off near the cliffs where we could see the road, but no one on the road could see us.
And we popped the rooftop tent and got set up for the night.
Our First Night Camping as Full-time Overlanders
We had a handful of passers-by before nightfall, on ATVs or other 4×4 vehicles. They were curious about our tent, but didn’t stop to talk. They were just out enjoying their weekend recreation.
When we first arrived, the landscape seemed harsh and uninviting with the rocky ground. But once we got out and the setting sun started lending us some shade, the area seemed quite lovely. Caspian ate some Cheetos while I started dinner. He had no shirt on, since he got into the mustard and squirted it all over himself.
Our grilling setup of Jetboil + cast iron cooktop worked well, once the cast iron heated up. We had a simple meal of bratwursts in tortillas with cream cheese, a keto/Seattleite favorite for us.
After dinner, Caspian, who just started potty-training, did his business in the middle of the Mexican mountains. Yes, we’re potty-training while overlanding.
#LittleNomad went straight to sleep in his sleeping bag. Eric and I sat up for a short time, reflecting on the day and trying to absorb where we were. That it was all really happening. Like I mentioned, we were absolutely spent. So we turned in early, cuddled up in our new Big Agnes Dream Island double sleeping bag. Eric had to talk me into springing for it, but it really is amazing.
Sunday, Jan. 6, 2018 | Up Before the Sun for Drive to San Luis Potosí
We got up around 6:30 a.m. I passed things down for Eric to load in the Jeep, while I got Caspian up and dressed. Normally, I’d feed Caspian breakfast first-thing (he normally eats at 7 a.m.). But Eric wanted to “drive up the road” and get breakfast at a local place.
It didn’t take long to run into a couple of issues with that plan. First, it was early Sunday morning. No one was awake, not to mention serving breakfast. Second, we actually weren’t going back the way we came. Instead, we were headed west through the mountains, to eventually connect with 57D south to San Luis Potosí.
One and a half hours later, we were on the toll road. Having realized we weren’t going to find the breakfast spot he dreamed of, Eric found a dirt pull-off. I opened the tailgate and got some yogurt and blueberries out of our ARB fridge. I had a bowl of cereal myself. Then, I found a sunny spot for Caspian’s potty at the front of the Jeep (out of sight of traffic). He seemed to enjoy his vantage point, as the semi trucks whizzed by. What a kid.
It was a long driving day, including a stop for lunch and a couple of stops for gas (we aren’t going below half a tank, especially with the fuel shortage). We’re only driving about 60 mph, which is the official speed limit. No one else follows the speed limit, but we don’t want to be the one vehicle that’s targeted. We’d rather take 15 minutes longer to get somewhere, then spend an hour on the side of the road with the police.
A big positive to 60 mph is our fuel consumption. Even with the heavy load, we booked about 18 mpg today. Eric’s pretty proud of that.
Dream Come True in San Luis Potosí
For the next 10-11 nights, we’re staying in an Airbnb apartment just off San Luis Potosí’s main square. The area is stunning and we’re thrilled with our apartment. This one is going to be hard to beat.
As we stepped into the square, the cathedral towering over us, I felt a wave of emotion. When we first started dreaming of this trip to Mexico, we watched a YouTube video of an overlanding group visiting here. I was captivated, and latched on to this place as a personal goal. And after all these months of intricate planning, with no small amount of stress and nerves, I’m here.
I have so many thoughts. Thoughts about this city and the Mexican people. I have so much to say about safety, and safety concerns. I’m glad we’re settled for a few days, so I can have time to process everything and share it.