I do not even know where to begin on this one. We experienced so much in such a short period of time. We left the border heading toward Monterrey Mexico. Angela found a campsite in Hidalgo that looked interesting. We decided to head in that direction to see if we could find a place for the night.
Travelling down the highway, it was a mix bag of emotions. The sheer exhilaration and excitement over powered the butterflies, the unknown, and the nay sayers’ warnings. I soon realized that beside the fact that the signs were in Spanish, Mexico was much like back home. Traffic was merging, everyone pressing for their own position. The mile markers were in kilometers, as were the speed signs. The roads were similar to a secondary road back home. They were just a little rough, but much better than I anticipated.
Cruising down the highway most times around 110 KM, everything was going well. The concern of police singling out vehicles from the US, my senses were totally alert. All of a sudden, up ahead on the right, was the dreaded Policia vehicle sitting perpendicular to the road. I looked down, and saw I was within the speed limit, but slowed anyway just to be sure. As we rolled by it, Angela and I laughed as we saw the 2×4 stands holding up the life-size car made of plywood, but painted to look identical to a police car. I guess it served its purpose. It kept me on my toes, and slowed me down. Not to mention got my heart racing.
After many miles of seamless driving, we came to the airport that we were looking for. We made our turn onto highway 53, a toll road, headed west. After a short distance we exited to find a small toll “shack” on the side of the road. Fortunately, I had seen the sign earlier indicating that the toll was 130 pesos. I pulled up to give the operator my 100 peso bill, and two 20 peso bills. He looked confused, then shook his head and reached for the two 20 peso’s only. He made change, and offered a receipt. After looking at the receipt, I realized I had misread the sign! It was only 30 pesos. Given the opportunity to cheat me out of 100 pesos, the operator chose to do the right thing. Was there something wrong with my money? Why didn’t the operator take advantage of the situation like I have heard so many times? I felt slighted. I cannot even get cheated in the most corrupt country in the world! Or is it that not everyone in Mexico is dishonest? Time will tell.
We took many turns, and navigated unmarked roads and hazards, as we continued to Hidalgo. One of my favorite turn by turn directions found on the internet was “get off the toll road and look for a small toll booth, and pay an even smaller toll”. As we passed under the large entrance arch to Hidalgo, we realized we were no longer in Kansas! It was just the way I had envisioned a small quaint Mexican town! We snaked through town, waving at the locals, and they waving back. We turned a lot of heads, two fully outfitted expedition vehicles driving through the residential streets. We have extra gas cans on the roof rack, along with the roof top tents, and front brush guards, not your typical site here, I presume.
We began climbing an incline of a back street, passing children playing and people walking in the streets. Bernard stopped to check his Spanish abilities, asking a local if we were headed in the right direction to the park. “Si”, he said. All of a sudden, we were astounded by the rock mountain that seemed to jut up from the ground straight in front of us. It was so tall, we could hardly see the top, as we approached. The excitement was building, and Bernard and I were chattering on the radios back and forth. “Man, we finally made it”! We have arrived”! “This is what it was all about”! The air was cooler, and the breeze blew through our windows like gust of a hurricane only warmer and friendlier. The sun was bright, and very few white clouds spotted the sky. It was picturesque perfect!
We made our way to the entrance of the park, realizing that we were directly at the base of the mountain. We were able to nearly drive right up to it and stop. We were in a shadow now as the mountain almost blocked the sun. The air temperature felt like an air conditioner. It was cool and relaxing, no need to have ours on in the vehicles. We hopped out to take in the sites, and stretch our legs. We decided it was a perfect time to take a new photo of our group. There were only few people in the park, and no one was there to collect the entrance fee. This is one advantage of travelling in the off-season. After circling the park, taking in the fresh mountain air, and marveling at the beauty of God’s creation, we turned around to enter the camp ground where we were to stay that night.
We were greeted by Homero, the park owner. He opened the gate and waved us in. He approached the window and spoke to us in Spanish. I asked, “Any English”? “Pequena” (little), he gestured with his fingers. We settled on a charge of $5.00/person for the nights’ stay. There are rooms at the campground that we were shown, however the weather was perfect for using our roof top tents. We were shown the showers and bathrooms and a grassy area to park. We were the only souls there, save Homero and his sons sitting under a tree drinking Cervasas. We were cordially introduced to the men and offered a cervasa, of which Bernard was happy to partake.
We began to set the tents up, and after a few minutes noticed that Homero and his family began to watch us from a distance. They likely, had never seen roof top tents in their campground. They wandered over as we finished setting up. We had fun communicating in our best Spanish, using a lot of hand gestures and facial expressions to talk. Homero, pulled a picture out to show us his granddaughter, a cute little girl, with a huge smile. After learning that we were from Georgia, “Atlanta”? Homero asked, we found out that his son-in-law was a pitcher for the Braves, Óscar Villarreal. He now plays for Baltimore. What a small world we live in!
We had camp set up and began making dinner. You guessed it! We made left over Cajun sausage over the propane single burner stove. Nothing taste better than fresh cooked food, roughing it in Mexico. The smell wafting across the brisk air was all but euphoria! We settled into our respective tents and went to sleep.
The breezes turned into strong gusts, threatening to rip our rain fly from the top of our tents. The window flap, slapped loudly against itself making a popping sound. Though it was cool, we were restless with the wind, the unknown, and getting acclimated to our surroundings. Around 4 am, we heard the loud, “Cock A doodle, do”! Are you kidding me? Where are there chickens at the base of a mountain?
We got up early and Bernard went for a run up to the mountain. Angela and I decided to skip the morning exercise and get showers. I took my bathroom bag with me hoping to get a nice shave and shower. I found quickly, that wasn’t going to happen. Being in the mountains, it makes sense that the water would come from there as well. This was proven by the crisp, cold spray that greeted me upon turning it on. Both the hot and cold knobs were turned on, but only one temperature was spewing out. You guessed it, cold! Ice-cold. It never did warm up. It is not fun juggling your soaps, shampoos, etc. while doing a little dance in and out of the ice-cold water. After I cooled down to the temperature of the water, well below chilled, I was able to finish my shower. Shaving was all together different. My facial pores puckered up like a pig waiting for lipstick. They held the hairs tighter than Scrooge holding his money. The razor blade ripped each hair painfully, one by one. Rip!
After we were all cleaned up, and Bernard had jumped in the mountain stream water, pool to cool off after his run, Homero pulled back into the camp ground. “Buenos Dias”, he called out. We chatted for a few minutes and then we showed him the Augusta Chronicle article about our trip. He was intrigued and told us he had just returned from Guanajuato recently, a beautiful little town in Mexico. He called a friend of his, also the camp director during the busy season. I got on the phone with him at the request of Homero. “Homero really likes your tents and wants me to come take pictures of them and translate for you. How long will you be there”?
Milton, whom we learned was the friends’ name, showed up about 30 minutes later. He was bilingual and spoke very good English. He translated for a more in-depth conversation with Homero. We learned a lot about the history of Hidalgo, talked of their families and of destinations that we should see. About that time, Homero’s son showed up with his two little girls, 5 and 2. They were not shy at all and enjoyed meeting each of us. They treated us like old friends, latching onto Angela, like a new English-speaking Barbie doll. They spent a couple of hours walking around the campsite teaching each other their respective language. The girls were curious about the roof top tents and followed Angela up the ladder for a better look. Milton, Homero and his son all came over to get a better look at the tents and ask questions also. The talks were briefly interrupted as Bernard got the attention of the two little girls by performing a magic trick making a hanky disappear and re-appear. There were smiles of delight by both girls and the audience. I always say, Bernard has more tricks up his sleeve than anyone I know. I was finally able to give each of the girls a stainless steel and black ring with the Lord’s Prayer inscribed in Spanish. I had ordered fifty of these for just such an occasion. The oldest of the two tried to communicate with me, saying she would keep it at her “casa”.
We packed up and asked if there was an internet café in town. Milton said he would lead us back to town and show us where it was. We said our goodbyes to the family, each of us getting a hearty hug, hand shake, and even a kiss on the cheeks from the little girls. After about 10 minutes of following him, he pulled over and said, “Here is the place, but they are on their afternoon siesta”. Now this is my kind of place. Close business and take a nap! Milton offered to take us to his home and allow us to access the internet. We parked on the street. Milton introduced us to his mother, and two sisters. All of them only speaking Spanish, made us feel right at home, with their big smiles and friendly talk. Milton told us to follow him into the living room where we were given the access code, and told to take our time. We spent nearly an hour and a half online updating Facebook, checking emails, connecting with family and enjoyed sitting on the couches of our new-found friends.
Any trepidation of entering a foreign country, and not knowing how people would respond to us, was out the window. We had met some of the most wonderful, warm, friendly people. They welcomed us in like family, even writing down their email addresses and phone numbers, with the offer to call them at anytime if we need help. “We will be your point of contact in Mexico for your family or friends”, said Milton. You just could not ask for a friendlier bunch of people.
After spending the morning with Homero and Milton, we decided we better return to the campsite for one more night. We could get a fresh start the next morning heading for Monterrey. Milton Called Homero to let him know so he could let us back in. We stopped at a local taco stand. Angela and I ordered Taco de Pollo (chicken tacos), while Bernard went a little more traditional with his Cuban sandwich. We stopped at the only grocery store in town (Mercado), and purchased some things to make for dinner later and snacks for the road. We were able to find pre packaged foods, acceptable to eat with our gringo stomachs.
While we were still packed up we decided to experience a little off-road adventure. At the base of the mountain is a dried, rocky river bed that snakes through and around the mountains at the campground. We set out onto the trail enjoying the obstacles, and uneven terrain. Scrub brush, abandoned shacks, and cattle littered the back trails we encountered. We were gaining altitude fast as we climbed higher elevations. We saw beautiful views overlooking the mountainous area. We rounded bends, climbed large boulders, lost traction on loose gravel, all in the name of an off-road adventure. We finally made it to the top of the accessible mountain and turned to go back to the campsite. Along the way, we found a large pile of bones, the skeleton of what appeared to be a cow. It had been picked over clean by the buzzards and dried in the sun.
We headed back to the campsite and noticed another campsite across from ours where loud Mexican music was playing. We stopped in and asked someone if there was internet access. “Si”, said the gentleman, whom we later learned was the owner of that campground. We ordered a Coke and sat outside with the computers. Bernard ran his extension cord to his laptop, and Angela was able to “Tango” with her parents (video chat). After we had been there a while, the owner came over to ask if we were hungry. Having just eaten not too long ago, we said we were not. He brought out a bag and set it on the table and said you have to try these. “They are Chicorrones from Monterrey”. Not wanting to be rude, but also leery of eating room temperature meat, we reluctantly tried one. They are like thick pieces of deep-fried pork, much like bacon. It tasted excellent. Bernard and I went back for another piece. Angela, still reluctant, passed. He then pointed at a tree across the parking lot and said, “That is an avocado tree”. We were intrigued to see the tree that produces such wonderful fruit! Angela and I love guacamole on almost anything.
Back at the campsite, we let ourselves in and began to set up for the night. It was nearing dark and we wanted to get to bed early so we could get a good start. Homero came to check in with us and welcome us back. After setting up, we were sitting in our lounge chairs, when we began to hear some strange noises on the other side of the cars. Bernard grabbed a flashlight and walked cautiously around the front of my Landrover. “You’re not going to believe what it is”, he exclaimed! 5 wild cows had wandered into our campsite and were grazing inches from our trucks, and 8 feet from us! What a surprise. Cows in the night! We slept a little restless that night also, waiting to see if they would return, and the wind picked up strong again.
The next morning we were up and packed early, headed for Monterrey. What a wonderful two nights we had in Hidalgo, plus today, I turned 40! We did it. We made it on the road and were having the time of our lives on my 40 th birthday. Have you set any goals that you have or still plan to meet? Leave a comment, we love to hear them! Visit our Facebook page for more photos of our adventure CAO Expeditions