Driving through Mexico–1976

I found a second letter from Panama typed on a manual typewriter and dated May 3, 1976:

“I keep starting letters and never finishing them, so I am going to write one long letter!

We got into Panama City on March 19 after leaving Utah on March 6th–two months already. We drove from Utah to Los Angeles, visited with Tui and Bob (They loved Megs) and took care of our paperwork with the Panamanian consul.  Then we set about getting our visas to travel through Central America.  At the Guatemala Consul we were told that it would be impossible to enter Guatemala because of the recent earthquake (see Shaman Priest on Kindle) and they would not issue us a visa.  We were a little taken aback, but decided we would go ahead on the power of faith and bluff! When we got to Guatemala itself there was no problem.  (Boy I make that sound easy.  We waited in a line that stretched for miles behind us including a huge Silverstream caravan group, and we were one of the first cars allowed into the country after the earthquake.  We happened to reach the border on the day it finally opened.)

Anyway, we left LA on March 9, and drove to Tucson for the night.  We debated whether we should go down through Mazatlan or on to El Paso.  We decided on the El Paso route because it was a little shorter and we assumed that in the USA the roads would be better and gas cheaper–if you ever have the choice, go through Mazatlan!

From Tucson to Mexico City we saw cactus, cactus, cactus.  It is the desert route.  Our first night we stayed in Delicias, south of Chiuaua (Chihuahua).  It is supposed to be one of the most interesting places in north-central Mexico.  That’s because there is nothing else in north-central Mexico!

The next night we stopped in San Luis Potosí.  The town there is pretty big.  We passed miles and miles of stone walls, some following the road and some taking off over the hill tops.  It was the most interesting thing we saw and we speculated for hours on what the walls were for.  We finally concluded that the people were just moving rocks over to plant and ended up with walls.

Once in awhile we passed irrigated land and it looked like heaven. Evidently the government is in the process of irrigating large areas of land. We passed one area where for miles and miles government crews were set up drilling deep wells.
Coming down into Mexico City we decided to turn off to see the ruins at Tula. Then on our way back to the freeway we took a wrong turn and got lost, spending hours wandering through the hills north of the Capital. (We were looking for a turn-off at a town at Actopan. I asked over and over and no one knew of anyplace called Actopan. Finally one old guy corrected my pronunciation–I was putting the accent on the wrong syllable and no one understood what I was asking about. When we got to Actopan we discovered that it was also named El Progreso. Oh well. We took the right turn instead of the left and came into Mexico City past Pachuca, an area where years later we spent many happy summers collecting insects.)
We finally got straightened out and into the City at the 5:30 rush hour. It was so terrible and noisy and smoggy that Meggie who had been a little trooper–sleeping through anything–woke up and started to scream. I could see that Mike was was about to join her when he pulled over in Chapultepec Park. We got our bearings and headed for a hotel, only to find we were in the wrong lane and couldn’t turn. But there just ahead was an on-ramp that Mike took and we zoomed down to Puebla for the night. Sanborne’s Insurance Guide recommended a place–the Spa Agua Azul. The review must have been twenty years old. The Spa Agua Azul was a once glorious resort. But, we had single beds with sarapes as blankets, and we were out in the woods where it got cold at night. We ate dinner in a huge dining room and were the only ones there. It was spooky. (The waiter took our order, then walked back and put on a chef’s hat to cook the meal, took off the hat and served our meal.) I expected ghosts to come out of the walls. We started off early the next morning, got up on the freeway and ran out of gas. We sat and waited for the green tourist truck for two hours and then Mike set off for a town we could see in the far distance. I watched him go up over a rise and out of sight and then looked back to see the tourist truck coming behind us. They gave me five gallons of gas and eventually Mike and I got back together.
Next, going up over the high mountain pass on the road to Vera Cruz we passed a car that had blown the clutch. We stopped and gave the driver a ride to his hometown back in the mountains. He was taking his oldest daughter to Mexico City to start at the university and had the whole family with him. By then we were nearly out of gas again so we stopped at the next city of any size and filled up. Then the gas station attendant told us they didn’t accept traveler’s checks–and on the weekend with the banks closed tight no one else in town would accept them either. I had given our cash to the tourist truck that morning so we spent a couple of hours trying to cash checks.Finally we got all but about $1.25. The attendant took it and cussed at us as we drove away.
We zoomed onto the toll road, came to the last toll booth and of course had NO money. By this time we were hysterical (with laughter). We were kicked off the toll road at a little, beautiful town called Fortín de las Flores. We finally entered some jungle! We stopped at a little inn called Posada Loma (The owners were the most accommodating people I have ever met; they cashed traveler’s checks for us and the Posada Loma is to this day one of our favorite places to stay in Mexico. We stopped there again and spent a night or two on our way home from Panama and have returned many times since.) We bought lunch–they only had thick soup and fat sandwiches and fresh squeezed orange juice and strawberry ice cream. We ordered everything. Meggie lay on the cool tiles drinking OJ and we started to like Mexico again.
If I ever go back that way I guess we’ll stay there! (See above, definitely a place we have returned to over the years!) Maybe we won’t travel on Sunday after this though.There were just too many attempts to discourage us.
We drove on after lunch past Vera Cruz that evening and stayed in a nice played called Lake Catamalco. (Mel Gibson filmed Apocalypto in this area) The next morning we went wading in the Gulf of Mexico and headed back across Mexico to the Pacific coast–driving through cactus. We spent the night in Tapachula on the Mexican border and started out the next morning for Guatemala. The border didn’t open that morning until 10:00 AM. It took two hours to drive through all the customs and border checks, bug spray, etc. Finally we could say Adios, adios Mexico Lindo. More adventures lay ahead!

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About Karen Hopkins

Karen Hopkins (1949-) was born in Los Angeles and raised in Martinez, California. At seventeen she moved to Talcahuano, Chile. After completing her university degree she worked in London, England for Pan American Airlines and traveled extensively throughout Europe, the Middle East, and India. For twenty-six years Karen taught Spanish and English as a Second Language in a variety of settings including a private school in Panama, the "most remote school in the United States" in Ticaboo, Utah, the Navajo Reservation, and a teacher exchange in Hermosillo, Mexico. Karen and her husband traveled extensively throughout Mexico and Central America, spending many summers in the highlands of Chiapas and Guatemala . Karen currently lives in Southern Arizona, near the Mexican border.
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