Tortillas, frijoles, and salsa-our new world for the next three months. Our trusty Scnic carries us from the crisp cool air of the Sierra Madre mountains to the thick pollution of Mexico City; from the sweltering jungle to the gentle breezes of the Caribbean. On the whole, Mexico is a safe country to travel in-with the right amount of caution and luck.
Crossing the U.S. border at Nogales, south of Tucson, our initial impression is, "It's not so bad," considering the perceptions we have of the drug-trafficking border towns. Nogales is no Tijuana or Ciudad Juarez, yet there is no mistake we have definitely left the insulation of America. The roads are full of potholes, half washed-out by torrential rains. Dilapidated, rust-eaten trucks compete with enormous semis and buses on the narrow roads. The pollution is palpable-not too many emissions laws here.
As we wind our way out of the mess, we are eager to keep moving as we don't fancy being on the roads after dark-too many warnings of assaults-and we still need to pass immigration. Arriving at the official Mexican Immigration and Customs checkpoint, we park the Scnic and head into the office. Two men sit behind the counter, handing out registration forms and stamping passports. Not a computer in sight-this is all manual. He sends us to get copies of our passports and registration forms, then stamps the form, inserts it into our passports, hands them back, and looks on to the next customer. We look at each other in puzzlement. Do they not stamp passports in Mexico? We ask, and we receive, along with a strange look from the Immigration Officer.
Our next step is the Scnic. There is a certain routine to registering your car in a foreign country, and making sure all the papers are in order normally eases the process. But even after crossing 30 countries, we still anticipate that anything can go wrong. Of course, in Mexico, we have some complications.
Aside from the fact that the process of temporarily importing a car into Mexico involves a number of lines to wait in and multiple trips to the photocopier, the slightest mishap can halt the entire process. The issue of a typo on a document containing the Scnic's chassis number is easily resolved, but when we discover that the $400 deposit we must leave cannot be taken off of our malfunctioning credit card-and pesos are not accepted-we become slightly exasperated. There is no bank machine here, which means we will need to drive back to Nogales to withdraw cash. After little success in finding an ATM that functions, an elderly man saves the day-he points us in the direction of a Commercial Center. We are able to retrieve the amount we need and we are out of the city shortly.
As we head south towards Hermosillo, the highway does not feel to be overtly dangerous, and plenty of vehicles ply the route. But when we reach town, we have another situation. Several "sun-bunnies"-retired Canadians and Americans who drive down here in their RVs to spend the winter on a barbed-wire-ringed plot of land overlooking the beach-tell us, "Be careful going across the Sierra Madre Mountains, and leave early. You don't want to get stuck there at night. In the '70s, this country was safe, but these days, you never know-and the police can be the worst!"
We still wonder what all the fuss is about and as we calculate the kilometers from the coast, we don't have any doubt in our minds that we will be able to reach a National Park where we hope to camp before dark. However, we do not take into account the roads: extremely narrow and winding, and full of potholes. Not exactly prime conditions for making good time. Add the breathtaking views as we climb up and over one mountain after another and well, let's just say we find ourselves doing exactly the opposite of what we've been warned against. Spotting a small village nestled in the side of the mountain, we decide it is now or never: night is approaching. As the Scnic makes her way down the narrow, water-rutted dirt roads between one-room concrete houses lit by generators, we wonder where we are going to stay. When in need, ask. A young boy jumps up and yells, "The football grounds! There is lots of space there!"