Entering Mexico with American Groupie

We drove from Guatemala City up to Huehuetenango just 30 miles from the Mexican border. From a mileage point of view a very relaxed 180 miles, however the road from 20 miles out of Guatemala city was really poor and just to test my flexibility my new found ‘travelling companions’ decided to see how my relationship counselling skills were. They fought from first light to early evening with her threatening to walk off in the middle of a rather beautiful range of mountains because of some comment he supposedly made. She is definitely a fiery Costa Rican and it took almost half an hour to coax her back into his car for the remainder of the journey. How do I get into these things? Give me the Taliban any day!

The last 50 miles of Guatemala is mountainous and beautiful. The crossing into Mexico was unexpectedly straightforward with friendly, helpful officials. There is a spectacular gorge that is narrow but very deep with a river several hundred feet below one side of the road and a dam created lake on the other. Unfortunately, as is often the case in these countries, the dam is classified as a military installation and photography is forbidden.

The 200 mile drive to Tuxtla was hot, beautiful but otherwise relatively uneventful. My ‘groupies’ were keeping up with me and appear to have called a truce, however I am not used to thinking for three! I am afraid Ted has no idea about travelling and has to ask advice on most things except food and drink.

I wanted to keep moving and set out early from Tuxtla for Oaxaca. Once again the whole journey was surrounded by lush green mountains. Many were clearly volcanic and the varying shapes made a fantastic vista. We have been stopped by police a couple of times including once at a roadside police station. As I pulled over to the side of the road for the officer to take a closer look at Bridget, I looked over to the building and realised it included a jail! The structure was literally a caged area measuring around 8 feet x10 feet plus a covered area of approximately the same size that offered the prisoners shelter from the blazing sun, but it was an all metal building so the heat must have been awful. One prisoner noticed the car and suddenly all the inmates were hard up against the metal mesh of their ‘cage’. I quickly discovered that at least two could speak English when they commented on the car. One asked if I would take him with me, but I replied, “You wouldn’t all fit in the car”. He said, “Never mind them, just take me”.

Further on during the early afternoon, a fuel tanker travelling towards me threw a stone into Bridget’s windscreen leaving a nasty crack. I will probably need to replace it in the States.

We arrived in Oaxaca around 5:00pm and started looking for a hotel when I suddenly realised that Ted’s Volvo was no longer behind me. Thinking that he had been stopped by the traffic lights I pulled into the side of the road and waited. After around ten minutes he still hadn’t appeared and so I walked back a little way but could see no sign of him and I didn’t like to leave Bridget at the side of the road with all my belongings inside. So I returned to the car and waited a further ten minutes before deciding that he must have turned off and was probably lost. I thought that logically if I found the Holiday Inn which we had discussed staying at, that he would eventually turn up.

There was a week-long festival in Oaxaca and so hotels were very full but fortunately the Holiday Inn were able to give me a room and just after 7:00pm I went out for a meal. Sure enough when I returned the Manager said that an American had turned up looking for me and that he thought they had gone to a restaurant next door. They looked none too pleased and not surprising as it transpired that Ted’s Volvo had caught fire and was completely burnt out at the side of the road. Lots of Mexican people in the area helped them get all their belongings out of the car and generally assisted but the car was a total write-off. They are planning to fly on to the States from Oaxaca on the first available plane, but it must have been very frightening.

All the excitement meant that I never got to see much of the city which is rich in colonial architecture and archaeological sites.

The next morning I got back on the road this time to Pachuca, which avoids going into Mexico City. The total distance we covered today was 423 miles including a 90 mile unscheduled detour! Although such a detour was inconvenient it was made worthwhile just to see the stunning scenery. It also included driving down one of the steepest paved mountain roads that I have been on and it was exhilarating, however once I discovered we were going in the wrong direction I realised that we would have to climb back up the same gradient. Bridget excelled again, not only taking the climb in her stride but also enduring the heat (mid thirties) and traffic. She has now motored at least 7 hours a day for each of the last 7 days and has two more to go before getting a rest.

My error in navigation was discovered when I spoke to a policeman at one of the many road toll booths. He asked where I was going and pointed out that it would be quicker to go in the other direction. So I turned around to head back and the toll keeper wanted me to pay to go back through the gate. I felt that this was a shoddy way to treat a poor lost tourist who after all had only turned around and so refused. We had a short stand-off before the rapidly lengthening queue of honking traffic persuaded him to waive the charge.

What should be the pen-ultimate day in Mexico started well when we found the road out of town towards Cuidad Victoria. Often an hour can be wasted trying to find the correct highway out of town. The first fifty miles passed without incident and then we turned off the main highway, which went to Mexico City, and headed north. The scenery was stunning with huge mountains all around and I would happily nominate this route as the best MG driving route in the world, if only the authorities would remove the ridiculous speed humps in every village, and often as many as twelve in a row. Considering the total lack of any road worthiness requirement on the vehicles and the lack of police to enforce any sort of driving standard I am at a loss to understand the reason for these irritating and damaging lumps of concrete.

The road surface itself is in reasonable condition for most of the route and it is beautifully banked making cornering perfect. If the local authority could be persuaded to close the road to traffic for a day it would make the best possible 150 mile MG race event.

However with all the speed humps it made the first 200 miles of our journey painfully slow, taking almost 5 hours. Then during the late afternoon I thought Bridget was sounding rather hoarse and noticed the oil pressure was unusually low and the temperature high. I decided to stop and check the oil level even though I had checked it before we left. Just as well I did because I found oil leaking profusely from the valve cover. When I removed the cover the gasket was in two pieces so I replaced it with a spare from the boot and replaced the cover. Although that has helped, the engine is missing at low revolutions and the tick over is poor. I will need to check the carburettor settings as I believe they may be running too rich.

Our last complete day in Mexico was fairly straightforward with Bridget running well as long as I kept the revs over 2500. The temperature was well in the thirties but the road surface was smooth and so we made good time.

Whilst at a filling station at a village called Linares between Victoria and Monterrey a lovely couple stopped to talk and tried hard to persuade me to stay in the village for at least a short time. They were obviously very proud of their community and before |I left they gave me a small token of local marzipan. It’s things like that which makes everything worthwhile.

We are spending the night in Nuevo Laredo and intend to get to the border early in the morning.

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