The Journey to Casa Madera – The Run to the Border

November 23, 2010 – I was sitting in the traffic line up waiting to cross the last remaining bridge over Rio Ameca with 300 of my closest friends to come home after buying a fridge and stove for one of our rooms.  Now there is not much you can do when you are sitting in traffic but sit there and think.  I was thinking about how nice it is that the government is running the reconstruction of the washed out side 24 hours a day.

7 inches of rain in one day throughout the basin took this bridge out

Because of those efforts the bridge should be open early in new year instead of April which was the original estimate.  This wash out has made a quick 15 minute jaunt to Home Depot a 2 hour ordeal.  We only go when we absolutely have to.  It reminded me of the daunting task of leaving Anaheim, California on our way to Tucson, Arizona at rush hour….

November 12, 2008 – Our original plan when leaving Anaheim was to spend the day and night in San Diego.  We wanted to see the San Diego Zoo.  I had seen it before but it is always nice to go to a world-class facility.  Unfortunately we had been on the road for over 2 weeks and were getting tired of hotels, shuttling in all our of possessions into the room every night, and substandard food.  That day we decided the heck with it we will skip the zoo and head for Tucson.

Freeway to San Diego not far from the border

We had long ago decided that we would cross the US Mexico border at Nogales, Arizona as it provided better access to the toll highways in Mexico.  The toll highways would be faster, safer and it was a more direct route to Puerto Vallarta.

We set out  from Anaheim after the worst free hotel hot breakfast that was served to us on the trip.  While it is nice that they do that, this hotel should have stuck with bagels and cream cheese!  We had done some internet research the night before looking for a place that would sell a gps map for Mexico somewhere on our route and there was a store that listed Garmin maps in its advertisement in San Diego.  The best part was that it was just off the highway so that was our first destination for the day.

The traffic on the freeway to San Diego was absolutely brutal.  All 5 lanes were full and traffic was moving at least 15 MPH over the posted speed limit of 75.  While that’s fine in some situations, when its bumper to bumper it is a little hard on the nerves.    We made it to San Diego without incident and the steering wheel recovered from the nail marks in time.  It was time to find the Map store.

A turn here, a turn there, another turn here.  Well it should be here somewhere???  Finally located the address.  Out of business.  Damn.  However, we are not really surprised as the location sucked.  Oh well maybe in Yuma or Tucson.

Off we went on Interstate 8.  While we wanted to go to Tucson it was 410 miles and it was already noon.  We were realizing that we may have to stop somewhere else.  We would play it by ear which is the way we like to travel anyhow because it gives us the opportunity to stop and see things that might be worthwhile.   We were about to cross the Mojave Desert so we were not sure if we would see anything or not but we would make time for it if there was.

Climbed all the way from San Diego to 4000 feet

The drive was nice, especially after the hectic drive from Anaheim to San Diego.  Traffic was light and the highway was great.  It was a good thing as this was a spectacular drive.  Who would have ever thought that there would be so much scenery to enjoy crossing a desert. This is a high elevation desert so there were lots of mountains, big rock faces and Serrano Cacti by the thousands.  They were unbelievable. 

Serrano Cactus as far as the eye can see

We arrived at Yuma at 4:00 pm as the time zone had changed and decided that we would stay there the night.  After touring a few hotels and deciding that Yuma and Santa Barbara should start a most expensive lodging club we finally found one that was ok and close to our budget.  This took almost an hour and a half.  Yuma is a very oddly laid out town and it was difficult finding the hotel zones.

We unloaded the car and went outside to enjoy an absolutely beautiful desert sunset.  The one thing about touring looking for a hotel was we also saw a great many restaurants.  We decided on BBQ.  It was good but not exceptionally good.  We realized that this was a chain so it was cookie cutter formula food.  We have since been to Texas and found out what proper BBQ should be, but that is a story for another day.

Sand around Yuma, just need a buggy
The Snowbirds were already there

We spent the evening planning our route in Mexico using the paper map we bought earlier in Windsor, California.  It was important that we planned it out as we had no intentions of driving at night and wanted to make sure that we knew which towns or cities we had to stop in.  We knew that when we crossed the border that we would take 3 days to do the remaining miles.

We were up in the morning and off to Tucson as we had located a store there that did sell the Garmin map for Mexico and they had it in stock.  241 miles of desert, mountains, more desert and Serrano Cactus.

The black line in the distance is George Bush's wall

We found the store, bought our map, grabbed some lunch and headed for Nogales, Arizona.  The border town.  We thought it would be better to stay the night on the American side then try to find a hotel on the Mexican side.  That way we could get up early and hit the border before it got busy.

It was an hour to Nogales.  Driving into town was different.  This was a border town, no doubt about it.  Very rough-looking.  They had three hotels.  A Super 8 built in probably 1960, a Best Western that did not look like it was in the best area of town and a Holiday Inn that had just opened.  We tried the Holiday Inn.  No go, fully booked.  Super 8 it was.

It was early in the mid afternoon so it gave us some time to do some laundry.  Heather was doing that while I was downstairs checking email in the lobby.  I was on my way up the stairs when I heard this blood curdling scream (one that I was going to get very familiar with over the next few months) coming from our room.  I dashed up stairs trying not to drop my computer and there sitting on top of our freshly washed clothes was the biggest freaking bug I had ever seen.  Really this thing could have carried away small children.

We brought it to the attention of the desk clerk who calmly came up and killed it.  We know it came out of the dryer and was not in the room because the hotel was spotless.  It was at that point we went to Safeway and bought a bottle of wine as we had the sneaking suspicion neither one of us would sleep all that well tonight.

It was during that drive around town that we saw that the town was not really that bad, it is just old.  We hit the mall, did a little shopping and asked people for suggestions for dinner.  We were directed to a little mexican place downtown.  We were not disappointed.  The food was delightful, the people were friendly and we left well fed and watered.

We retired back to the room both with apprehension as the big event was here.  We were about to cross the border.  The scary border that we had heard so many bad things about.  What will happen?  What about all the goods we are carrying and dealing with customs?  We just could not turn back now.  It had to happen.  So we climbed into the bed whose mattress was probably not manufactured in this decade and drifted off with visions of the new adventure starting in about 8 short hours.