"I haven't taken a spontaneous trip for
a long time," mused Shaun.
|We drove through the night and hit
Phoenix by morning. We filled a cooler with groceries and continued south to the
border at Douglas. We planned ahead and bought Mexican car insurance online, but
still spent half an hour standing in lines to get the car permit just over the border.
Don't expect efficiency! Remember, you go to Mexico to learn to slow down, relax, and stop
being in such a terrible rush all the time. Fill out your forms, take them across
the street to the bank and pay (if necessary, see driving details below),
then come back and finish up.
Here, Chantal flirts with a guard. "How can I improve my English?" he asked me as he searched the trunk for contraband. "Stop every American tourist that comes through," I advised him, "and talk for 20 minutes."
Driving details: if you want to cross more than a few miles into Mexico, you'd better come prepared with the following items: A) passport, birth certificate, or validated voter registration form from the post office. B) US or Canadian car insurance and registration. C) $24 for a 6 month car permit. D) $20 for a 6 month personal permit (required for a driver, and if you're staying less than 8 days, everyone else gets a free permit). E) $5-$7/day for Mexican auto insurance. You can get this price online or in the same office where you do all your paperwork, which is the building just as you pass into Mexico. Read up online about the various coverages and don't be afraid to splurge the extra $2 per day for the get-out-of-jail insurance in case of an accident, which is a felony in Mexico. Traffic may be different in Tijuana, but all drivers we encountered were extremely polite, obeyed traffic signals, etc. For gas, watch for the green Pemex signs, the only brand. "Lleno" (say yay'no) means "full." You'll find restrooms there, but you usually have to supply your own toilet paper ("pah-pel ah-chay") and the men's may not have a toilet seat.
|By evening, we had crossed miles and miles of steep,
dry mountains and beautiful, open valleys. As we drove through Nuevas Casas Grandes,
Shaun suggested a detour to Colonia Juarez, just 20 km out of the way, where he first
stayed with the Schmidt's on his first trip to the area nearly a decade ago. They drove
through the tiny town and up the hill to the LDS temple which now stood nearly in the
Schmidt's front yard.
Despite Shaun's insistence that Chantal was just a great friend, his friend at work (hi Kent) was contantly saying "You gotta propose to her!" so Shaun and Chantal worked out a little story to cheer him up. "Will you marry me?" Shaun asked. "What took you so long!" Chantal replied, throwing her arms around his neck. Back at work nine days later, Kent asked if Shaun had popped the question. "Yep." "What did she say?" "She said 'What took you so long?'" He could have carried the charade on longer if all the girls in the office hadn't overheard and rushed over. "Shaun's engaged?!! You didn't even say anything!" Decieving Kent was one thing, but fooling everyone else with all their enthusiasm and support was too much to carry on longer than just enough time to tell the story.
The Schmidt's had moved to Argentina (or somewhere south) for a couple years, but Shaun and Chantal decided to stick around and attend church in town the next morning anyway in hopes that Shaun would recognize someone else.
They followed a dirt road and found a spot to set up the tent next to the car, and headed back to town in the morning, where Chantal ran into two girls she had known in school or France. Small world! Kristi, Rachel and Jodi were student teaching at Academia Juarez and invited us to their place for dinner. We ended up staying the night there, jogging a couple miles in the rain and visiting a few of their classes the next morning, then resuming their journey south.
|Kristi and Chantal show off their St.
Patrick's day colors.
Shaun at the Academy gates.
|Hour by hour, the kilometers ticked away. Surprisingly,
neither of us ever got bored of the drive. The scenery was beautiful and the conversation
good. We always kept our eyes peeled for Tope (say toe-pay)
signs - speed bumps. Some topes are useful for cleaning any dirt off the bottom of
your car or ensuring that you get your money's worth from that extended warranty on your
We occasionally stopped to ask directions, partly because the signs are slightly hard to follow at a point or two (and we didn't bring good maps) and partly just because everyone was so sweet and we enjoyed talking with them. After giving us directions in Madera, for example, a police officer pulled us over to add a few details he thought of afterward. iiiWe love Mexico!!!
|Forty-five minutes before
sunset, we finally reached Basaseachic Falls. We drove to the overlook and watched the
sunset light up the clouds and the cliffs with reflected light. Shaun stared down at the
pool below the falls and remembered rappelling the 1,000' falls with Ben, swimming through
white caps at the base, and climbing the mossy wall up to safety. What fun!
We set up the tent next to the car again (taking advantage of low tourist season when we could get away with it) and listened to snow fall on the tent all night long. In the morning, we woke up to two inches of dense powder and beautiful mist and clouds floating up the valley below.
|<< Chantal makes her way down a
slippery slope. >> Shaun traverses the canyon rim before dropping down to the
Memory lane. Shaun replays all the old memories of rappelling, rescuing Ben, hiking through the woods, swimming the swiftwater, and hiking out in the dark, dark night.
Chantal prepares to leap from slippery rock to slippery rock to recross the river downstream. It was too cold to swim this time, but the churning river was tame with no more danger of washing anyone downstream and over the rocks (though we both slipped while jumping here and got a bit wet).
Next stop, Creel! Love this town. We arrived at dark and found a hotel rather than camping. It was cold! and a hot shower would be welcome. We skipped the $70/night hotel (in Creel??) as well as the $7/night one across the street (which would be great for roughing-it, world-hopping, on-a-budget-so-we-don't-have-to-go-back-to-work backpackers) and got a two-bed room for $25 at Los Pinos instead. This also got us a secure place to park the car. I've never had any trouble with theft anywhere in Mexico, but in tourist season, you'd better be careful.
|We went for a quick walk through town before
turning in, but it was too cold to stay out for long. Quote of the day, overheard from
another tourist hurrying back from dinner: "Feels like Alaska!"
Here Chantal poses in front of a bread truck - "Bimbo," the Spanish-speaking world's answer to Wonder, only in Spanish, it's considered healthy (according to the ads).
Before leaving for Cusarare Falls in the morning, we stopped at my favorite bakery. I told the woman there that I had been there years before and never forgotten it and was finally back. She seemed pleased and dished us up twenty pesos worth of deliscious pastries while her adorable children hovered nearby.
Directions: drive through down to the main square (going north), turn left (east) and right (north again) just before the tourist information center (the only right turn available). Continue for two or three blocks and you'll find it on your right. Tell her that you heard she had great stuff from other tourists.
|Shaun knocks loose rock down to protect
our heads, since we forgot the helmets in the car. Even though no water was falling where
we dropped over the edge, the wind whipped up as clouds passed and blew the waterfall to
our right right onto our heads.
Chantal was surprised to not feel nervous about the rappel.
Rafael (from Spain) and Audrey (from France) watch from above. Later Rafa walked over and asked what kind of rappel device we were using. "Do you want to go?" I asked. His eyes lit up and he accepted. After rappelling and hiking back up, his eyes glowed with excitement and gratitude. iViva la aventura!
The weather finally warmed up on Friday and we finished up our Creel adventure by renting a rowboat and paddling around the lake and taking in some sunshine.
As an extremely cute, happy family from El Paso rowed by, we challenged them to a race and they eagerly accepted. Their four paddles against our two made our shoulders ache just to keep up.
Driving home. Chantal's first time in New Mexico. We drove most of the night, camped for a few hours at a picnic area, then finished the drive home while catching spotty radio info about the war that had just begun.