Heading back to sunny & warm Mexico for the winter, crossing the Laredo Border 1-11-2021
Updated: Feb 5, 2021
We left Corpus Christi around noon. The drive to Laredo was going to be short. Since it was raining, we wanted to give us some extra time...plus if we get lost. I wanted things to go as smoothly as possible. Crossing an international border is always stressful enough on its own. Larry did a lot of research to make sure we could cross during the restrictions due to Covid19. Most government websites said the Mexican border was closed to tourists but we heard that it really wasn’t. Some crossing points were easier than others. The Laredo one is open 24 hours but they were escorting people through town to the highway. The next crossing 20 miles north at the Colombia bridge was easier but opened at 8 am. We were planning on going on Tuesday.
We found Vaquero Village RV park on highway 83 without any problems. It was nearly directly across from the Laredo Visitor Center that we camped at in May on our way back to the States. Juan Trevino the owner was very nice and extremely helpful. He asked where we were heading and we told him to stay with our new friends near Ciudad Victoria. He had gone to a Veterinarian school in Victoria. He wanted to see if he knew Berta and Miguel. He also told us of a very good restaurant in Victoria called the El Granero. He said he eats the Negrilla fish fillet. What a nice man!
I walked around his RV park. It was a very nice ranch-style property. It looked like it once an old town of Los Botines. It had some old wooden buildings and a quaint little church near the road.
I did my exploring and Gypsy did hers. I did a few laps around the other campers. It seemed like most of the folks were staying long term. Perhaps they were at work when I was walking because for the time we were there, I only saw 2 other people. There were at least 30 more RVs with cars, patio sets, and BBQs sitting out front. It wasn’t a friendly place except for the owner, he was great. We really weren’t there to socialize. We had a mission to plan our crossing.
Monday morning, we went into Laredo to get propane and Pesos. We found out the hard way last year that credit cards really aren’t used much in the places we stayed. We also travel on toll roads and Pesos are needed. The propane stop was a breeze and we fueled up too. The bank chore was a bit trickier. We found the IBC bank to change our American dollars to Pesos. I tried to take out $1000 from our bank but kept getting denied. I had to call my bank. I apparently have a $500-dollar limit at non-chase banks. We needed to drive to Chase. When I finally got all the cash, my bank didn't exchange international funds, we drove back to the first bank. Finally, after over an hour, we had our 18,500 pesos. Larry tried to get additional US dollars from his account and that failed too. We had enough and I didn’t want to worry about that now. We made a stop at Starbucks, mainly for a bathroom and I had my last Starbucks mocha with coconut milk with whip cream….because I could! I am not a huge Starbucks fan but it was fun!
Back at the trailer, we did some more walking and talking. We’d get up at 6 am...Larry is always up but I would get up early to be at the border right when it opens. The drive to Ciudad Victoria would be at least 6 hours and we both like to have plenty of time in daylight hours. The great thing is that we knew where we were heading and had stayed there already. We discussed having all of our documents in order. We keep them all together in the truck in a big Ziplock bag. I label them with sticky notes so I can find them fast. We were ready. We would have a nice relaxing dinner, listen to an audiobook or music, and go to bed early. Great plan.
Tuesday morning tried to get the cat out to get her business done...not sure how successful that was. We put her in her carrier and inside of the truck. The weather was very chilly but I dressed lightly because I’d be driving in the heated truck so I wasn’t worried. Got to the border at 7:40 am and waited. There were only 3 other people crossing at this time so I knew it would be fast. WRONG! They wanted Larry’s current truck insurance papers but he didn’t have one as it was done online. That wasn’t good enough. Larry had to call to have it emailed to him. We had to make copies. Their copies weren’t good enough and we were sent to a customs inspector to sign off on it. He said he wasn’t authorized and we would need to go to Laredo! OMG!! We don’t even use that insurance in Mexico as we buy Mexican insurance. We were frustrated. Also last year, we never turned back in our TIP sticker or canceled it. They made us drive to another building to cancel it before we could get a new one. Finally, after 2 and ½ hours in the freezing immigration office, we drove back across to the US. Another bunch of questions and inspections. When we were driving at 10:30 am, we decided to just go back to Vaquero RV park and try again on Wednesday. Driving back, we let the cat out and she was not happy. Unfortunately, she had an accident on the truck passenger side matt….my side. We quickly pulled off the road and I jumped out with the mat. What a mess!
Another night at Vaquero! When we got there, I was so cold and stressed out, I took a 3-hour nap! Larry cleaned up the truck and the cat wandered around the park. Juan was kind and offered his help in any way. I had him print up the truck insurance documents. Same scenario as the previous night. We walked around, ate dinner, and went to bed early. I guess we slept ok. I got up before my alarm went off. If we couldn’t cross...my new plan would be to drive to Florida!
Laredo’s crossing is much bigger. We drove to the inspection building for the trailer. That was good. Then to show our paperwork which was mainly done from yesterday. They would only let Larry into the building so I sat in the car. Today, we left the cat in the trailer….we were not going to stress her out again. Larry was done by 9:30!! We were offered the police escort to the end of town and took it. We just wanted that extra bit of security. It was highly recommended by other travelers that had recently crossed. We tipped them 30 us dollars and they gave us 2 lunches in a styrofoam take out containers.
After we were on our own, the drive was uneventful. We were so relieved to have the crossing done! We were back driving around in Mexico and we feel very comfortable doing it. I let Larry do all the driving and he was good with that. I kept messaging Berta, our friend about where we were and our estimated time of arrival. At first, I said by 5 pm. Then it looked more like 4:30. We made it in good time and Larry did so well, we arrived just before 4 pm!! It felt great to be there and see Berta and Miguel again!!
Our friends speak very little English and both Larry and I speak Spanish very poorly. We all try so hard to communicate by sign language, speaking each other’s language (Poquito) and the translator app on our phones. We all do it! Berta made Larry some tacos and I had my usual salad. Yum! We both had a few celebratory beers. Viva Mexico! We were invited to play dominoes but said we were going to our trailer to relax. We both slept great even with the sound of the busy highway.
The next day we relaxed on our lounge chairs in the sun and just had an easy day. Berta wanted to take us the following day to visit a nice town about an hour away. We did go into Ciudad Victoria with them Thursday to get water, some items at Walmart and stop by a pharmacy. It was funny that on our first day we ended up at a Walmart. Miguel bought some expensive tequila and I got veggies! In the evening with dinner, we all had a few shots of tequila and it was good. Miguel cut up some Mandurian oranges from his tree to suck on after each shot. I like that better than lime now! We even got to play/learn dominos that night. Berta showed us a story that in 2016 she won the women's international domino's championship in Florida. How cool is that??!! We had an interesting time playing given the fact that we didn’t really know what we were doing. When we got back that night, we looked up how to play on the internet. If I get another chance, I hope I can do better. We played teams so we won a few as Miguel was my partner.
We left at 8 am to go to Tula first, we stopped to have breakfast along the way. We stopped in a small village called Jaumave and ate at the original Don Pedro Gorditas restaurant. It was small with a dirt floor. Berta asked what we liked and ordered for us. I got 3 gorditas. One with eggs and cheese. One with eggs and potatoes. Another with nopales. All were very good. Gorditas are small corn tortillas, two placed together with the filling. Yum! Good food. They had a restroom with toilet paper-bonus! I always pack my own TP while traveling now….especially in Mexico.
Miguel drove Larry’s truck with Larry in the passenger seat. Berta and I sat in the back seat. We chatted it up through a translator the rest of the way to Tula. I enjoyed the scenery. We drove up and down through the Sierra Madres. We passed a really cool rock formation that was called gunsight rocks. Two separate rocks that line up perfectly at a viewpoint to look like a gunsight. I got a picture!
The town was beautiful just like Berta said. We tried to do the walk along the crazy river but it was closed due to Covid. All the stores in this area were closed but on the main street, many places were open or beginning to open. While we walked around, I dropped my camera and it refused to work again. Very sad moment. I continued to take pictures with my phone but knew I would need to replace the camera soon. We found an old building that one of the founding Generals used as his home. They have made it into a restaurant with a few shops in it. They have a small museum dedicated to him and some early history of the town...Free too!!
Berta bought some plants and we walked around to see a church and some other architecture. We weren’t hungry yet for lunch so we decided to start driving back home but take a different road. It’s the old highway and it’s up on the ridge of the mountains and will take you back to Ciudad Victoria. We stopped along the way at a small old village called Palmillas. It was small and colorful nestled up to the mountains. We went to see a very old church but it was closed. We walked all around trying to get in but no open doors anywhere. We went to see if the Father was home to show us the church but no one answered. We walked around the square a bit more but realized it was empty and closed. We hopped back in the truck and drove to the old highway. It took us up to around 1230 meters elevation. The views were spectacular. Mountains on both sides of us winding up the hill. We stopped at El Camino Real de Tula. This is a butterfly sanctuary. It cost 30 pesos which is very reasonable. There were no monarchs as they come through in October. I’m glad we stopped. It had great views.
When we got to Ciudad Victoria, we drove by Berta and Miguel’s home in the city on the way to their daughter’s home. We met her daughter and son in law, Betty and Edgar. They were very nice and we took their kids, Roberta and Emelia with us to the Ranch. They were spending the night and the next morning, with Betty and Edgar, we were all going to El Cielo for the day. Emelia brought her new bunny Lu Lu with her. With Berta, we sat 4 across the back seat. We made a stop at Little Caesar Pizza (YEP) to get dinner to eat at home. We also made an emergency stop in Liverpool to buy me a new camera. Berta even got them to give me a discount. YES! Go Berta!! New camera...I’m back in business.
We left for El Cielo about 8 am. It was almost a 2-hour drive to the top of the mountain. We made a breakfast stop along the way and Berta ordered for us. That’s super helpful, especially for a vegetarian that speaks no Spanish! We arrived at Cumbres hotel and Cabanas in Gomez Farias near 11 am. We looked at the rooms that were available and decided to get a junior suite. We had some miscommunication and found out no one else was staying overnight. That’s ok. This was the first time in a very long time that Larry and I stayed somewhere other than our airstream or without the cat. Luis, Berta and Miguel’s ranch worker, took care of Gypsy while we were gone. I’m sure Gypsy loved him as her food dish was filled to the top!! We usually don’t feed her that much. Lol
We put our bags in the room and all jumped into the truck to drive to El Cielo on the very top of the mountain. It was a steep, bumpy dirt and rock road. Larry needed to put on his 4-wheel drive too. We traveled through the beautiful tropical forest. It was fun and exciting. I sat in the back on lawn chairs with the girls and their parents. Edgar speaks very good English and we had a great conversation on the way up. Betty can speak some English but understand a lot. Roberta speaks English but Emelia doesn’t. She speaks to me in Spanish very fast...like I can understand what she is saying. Lol Larry, Berta and Miguel were inside but their ride was just as bumpy. I probably earned a few bruises on this trip but it was well worth it. We stopped by a village that is used by universities to study the biodiversity of the area. Then walked through another small village where you could ride horses or slide down the very steep hill. We all took turns sliding down the hill.
We met an 80-year-old woman on the top who showed us around her home. She lived a very simple life but was friendly and very happy. Spending time with Berta, I see that she is also very friendly and talks to everyone she meets like they are family. While we were in the village, we picked oranges from the trees for a snack and I also got elotes (corn on a stick).
When we left it was after 4 pm and the sun was starting to fall behind the mountains. I knew it would be chilly sitting in the back for the 2-hour trip to town but I had so much fun with Berta and Miguel’s grandkids. I didn’t want to miss that. When we arrived, it was almost dark and they had to still drive back to the Ranch. They were going to check on Gyspy for us too. The hotel was beautiful with 2 pools. I found out they were very cold though. No swimming here. We grabbed dinner at the hotel restaurant. Larry had a beer and a tequila shot. I had a shot and a cranberry margarita. It was tasty but we were ready to relax in our junior suite. We both were tired from the day and all the driving was a lot for Larry. The 4 wheeling was rough. I knew I would have a few unexplained bruises the next day.
The next morning, we decided to go back up the mountain to look for birds or other cool animals. We only drove about 40 minutes because I was done with bouncing around. We didn’t see many birds and none were captured in pictures. I did find an awesome granite white rock that was spectacular. Yeah me! We had a small lunch before we set off for the ranch at about 2:30 pm. We both were looking forward to seeing Gypsy...but we didn’t say it. It was the first time we have left her overnight since we found her. On the drive home, we stopped a few times for photos that we didn’t have time for on the way to Gomez Farias.
Some days we just hang out where we are and do laundry. We had one of those days. It was warm enough to tan so we did on our new lounge chairs. In the evening we watched Berta and Miguel play dominos with their friends. We didn’t get invited to play this time...probably because we both sucked but we enjoyed watching them. We were getting down to our final days at Hotel Rancho El Futuro. Berta still had a few places she wanted to show us. We decided we would go to El Chorrito on Tuesday and into Ciudad Victoria on Wednesday. Thursday we would pack. We had a plan.
Larry drove us to El Chorrito with Miguel giving directions. It wasn’t hard and they said it would be all paved roads. No 4 wheeling. Lol. While we drive, I put on Mexican party music from Spotify and Berta sings along. It helps as our conversations are sporadic and we need to use the translator to communicate well. We picked up some folks walking up the hill and they rode in the back. They had a baby in a stroller and they were grateful. We made another stop at a waterfall close to El Chorrito. The town was pretty empty with a few vendors. We bought a candle to light in the church for 20 pesos. Berta bought one so I thought it was the right thing to do. The church wasn’t extremely beautiful but it was unique. They built it from a cave that the Virgin was seen in. The cave opening is behind the altar. You also can go around the side to go into the cave and look back into the church. It was interesting. Up behind the church was a huge cross and what looked like an amphitheater or outdoor church. Perhaps they have bigger events up there when the church can’t hold them. We took some pictures and then walked down the river that runs through town. Miguel bought a new cattle whip and he was very pleased with it. We had some lunch and before we left, we hiked up a steep hill to a cross on the hill. It didn’t look too bad from the street but it was steep and took us 45 minutes. Berta came with us while Miguel stayed at the truck. I think he has bad knees. Even though Berta has a bad spine as she calls it, she did amazing hiking up it. When we got to the top, she said she didn’t think she would be able to do it. Lots more pictures here and she immediately sent them to her family. They said she was strong! I asked her if she wanted to race down the hill and I think she took me seriously. She headed down and never looked back. She was the winner!
On the way back, we drove on a side dirt road that said there were some ruins called Ex Hacienda la mesa. This was a spectacular stop. This place was huge! It was built over 300 years ago and is still standing tall in many places. We walked around and Berta talked to a woman that has a home built in the middle of the ruins. We saw lots of orange and lemons trees growing here. We saw the big chimney that I never found out how it was used. They had aqueducts in the top of the structure that was used for drinking and irrigation. It still flows on one of the sections. Larry and I climbed up it to see and get a better view of the Hacienda. It was very big and we were impressed. We made one more stop to see an old church in town and then back to the ranch.
Larry had a sick tummy so only Berta and I did the last outing. We went into Ciudad Victoria which is only 30 minutes away. She is an excellent Mexican driver...passing anyone that is in her way. She took me around in the drippy fog/rain to see 3 different churches. Sagrado Corazon de Jesus, La Basilica de Guadalupe, and lastly, Nuestra Senora del Refugio. One was closed in the front so she drove around the back and we got in. lol We also looked in two very old hotels on the main square. Hotel Sierra Gorda and Hotel Los Monteros. We even got to ride with an elevator operator up to the roof of one. Then to the basement to see an antique boiler. Berta even took pictures of that. It was a whirlwind tour but we saw a bunch. Larry probably enjoyed just hanging out at the Ranch.
On our last day, we sadly packed the truck and the trailer. During the time we spent with this family, we were treated like family. They were so very kind and generous. They spent many days driving us around to see the beauty of their area. We went to places we would have never found on our own or at least found without getting lost! They shared the history of these places and why they are special. We spent time with her daughter, son-in-law, and their darling granddaughters. We spoke on the phone to their son Alejandro from McAllen Texas. He spoke very good English and was a delight to talk to. In the evening, Betty, Edgar, and the girls, Roberta and Emelia came to make dinner on the last night. Betty even made a delicious cheesecake for dessert and we got to keep the leftovers! Yeah!
The final goodbyes on Friday came at 8:30 am when we pulled the trailer behind the restaurant. Hugs were exchanged and photos were taken. We paid for the nights we stayed at their ranch but you really couldn’t put a price tag on the wonderful time we had with them. Larry had promised Luis the ranch helper that we would take him with us to the states but he didn’t pack his bag. We gave him a tip for watching our cat and helping us with laundry. This was the best place to start our journey in Mexico, year two!