Posted by: glenswatman | April 4, 2008

200803 – 2 – MEXICO Jalisco Aguascalientes Zacatecas Coahuila Nuevo Leon USA Texas

SATURDAY 15 MARCH – Linda wants to build a
pagoda on the roof so we pick up her handyman Clemente before visiting the
ironmongers.  It’s interesting to learn
the different building techniques used in other countries.  We are impressed that they are going to
deliver the goods within a couple of hours so drop Clemente back at the
house.  Linda wants to take us to an
area of Guadalajara known as Tlaquepaque. It’s a really interesting place with
old mansions converted into showrooms for local artwork.  Much of it is huge and over the top but
would be perfect for a hotel or bank. 
After stopping for a beer we return to the square in Ajijic for a more
reasonably priced lunch.  Time for a
siesta before heading out to visit Linda’s friend Barbara who has a house up in
the hills.  Her sister in law Leah is
staying and we find lots to talk about as she is in the travel industry.  Sit out on the terrace to watch the sunset
over the lake.



SUNDAY 16 MARCH – Barbara and Leah call round
for Steve and I so we can join them for an early morning walk up the
mountain.  The track follows the
Stations of the Cross up to a shrine and the book recommends you take water for
the new plants up there.  Given our new
information we now know that it is better to upturn the bottle and leave it to
drain slowly rather than water the base of the plant, maybe a few others will
see what we do and follow suit.  The
shrine has a superb mural of Jesus and is high on the hill giving us fine views
over the lake and down to Ajijic where we can pick out the main square.  Return for a lazy day basking in and around
the pool rounded off with an evening watching TV, the English “Calendar Girls”
movie and munching curry-flavoured popcorn. 
Give Linda a back massage before we retire, of course Steve also wants
the same. 



MONDAY 17 MARCH – A public holiday in Mexico
so better for us to stay off the roads. 
Clemente shows up with a few lads to help him move the girders up on to
the roof.  I join Linda for a brief trip
out before returning to cook us a meal and repeat yesterday evening’s relaxation



TUESDAY 18 MARCH – Reluctantly leave Linda to
head towards America.  Her directions
get us around Guadalajara; the second largest city in Mexico, on free roads so
we are surprised to find the onward road is toll.  It’s a good fast motorway but we have to pay Pesos 44 (£2.20),
Pesos 111 (£5.50), Pesos 139 (£7) and Pesos 45 (£2.25), all that for about
160km so pretty pricey.  Pass into
AGUASCALIENTES STATE and our first security check heading north and it just
doesn’t happen as they wave us through! 
It’s a very windy day and there is so much dust around it is hard to
see.  The Mexican Camping guide directs
us straight towards the centre of town where we find the Best Western Hotel
Medrano.  Around the back is a grassy
square and motorhome are permitted to park around the perimeter and hook up to
electric, water and dump.  The location
is perfect as it’s only a short walk to the city centre.  It’s early afternoon so unfortunately all
the churches and temples are closed but we do pop in to the Museum Jose
Guadalupe and the Museum of Contemporary Arts, Pesos 10 (50p) each and worth
about that to us.   It’s pretty busy in
the main square, Plaza de la Patria, with the impressive Palacio Municipal and
Palacio de Gobierno on one side.  Within
the latter are some excellent murals by Chilean Oswaldo Barra Cunningham.  Other than that it is just a pleasant place
to stroll around for a few hours. 


Pesos 150 (£7.50)


WEDNESDAY 19 MARCH – Leave around 9.30am and
drive straight through and under the centre of Aguascalientes to join the main
road to Zacatecas.  Cross in to
ZACATECAS STATE again with both military and fruit check points but no stops.  When we reach Cosio and see the sign for the
toll road we turn off on the “libre” and it works well as we rejoin the main
motorway for the last stretch. 
Couchsurfing host Alejandra has given us directions for parking by her
house, in the suburb of Spauaz, and they are excellent.  She’s in Mexico City and due back tonight
but we make us known to her Mum Leila. 
As with all new housing developments there are many unsold blocks and
the houses that have been built only finish the façade that will finally be on
show so have many walls of exposed rough brick.  They are known as detached houses as they each have all their own
walls but each of those walls touches the neighbours on both sides and at the
back.  A few blocks away we catch the
bus, Pesos 3.50 (17p) to the city centre but manage to alight a bit too
soon.  No matter as we just follow the
main road uphill to the centre.  The
city is built between two mountains so all the streets are steep and off the
main drag you see lots of narrow ones with stairs.  It’s heaving with Mexicans here on holiday and street stalls
abound.  Local stone is a beautiful pink
colour and used to good effect in many buildings especially the main cathedral
that has stunning Mexican Baroque architecture.  Nearby San Agustin is interesting as an 18th century
temple that became a casino and has since been restored. However they seem to
have made a few mistakes with the jigsaw as there are many pieces left over in
a room at the back!  Today there are art
displays where students have done their interpretation from a painting of
Christ.   Wander up a long staircase to
the western hill where we join a long line of people waiting to take the cable
car across the valley.  Not surprising
as yesterday it was closed because of the wind.  For 25 pesos (£1.25) we get superb views of the city from above
and end up on the higher “Cerro de la Bufa” opposite.  There’s an interesting chapel above and superb views of the city
and valley.  Getting back to the city is
easy as you just take any track down then zig zag your way towards the
cathedral.  A very pleasant few hours
later and we are back on the bus in time for tea.  Unfortunately Alejandra doesn’t make it back.



THURSDAY 20 MARCH – Opt for the toll road
around Zacatecas, possibly a mistake at Pesos 57 (£2.80) for the short distance
involved.  Head off the on free dual
carriageway towards Saltillo and it’s an excellent road.  I speak too soon as after 50km it becomes a
narrow single lane pot holed affair. 
After passing north through the Tropic of Cancer, marked by a
dilapidated orange globe, the road improves to being just narrow.  The stretch from Zacatecas to Saltillo is
almost 400km and has no proper towns along the way.  Terrain is mainly flat with scrub and cactus and the odd Mexican
cowboy herding his goats.  In COAHUILA
state the road improves and returns to dual carriageway.  The ring road around Saltillo is slow going
as the building of new bridges and underpasses means we have to travel on the
narrow lateral roads.  We emerge onto
the busy dual carriageway towards Monterrey hoping but not finding an overnight
parking place.  Just into NUEVO LEON
state we see a truck overturned on the opposite carriageway completely blocking
both lanes.  Lucky it wasn’t on our side
as there are no alternative routes. 
Just beyond the Monterrey toll ring road is another that is free.  Our friends Kevin & Ruth came this way
and turned off to visit the caves at Garcia then stayed on the car park
overnight.  It’s a 24km detour but we
are getting tired so opt to do the same. 
When we reach the cave area there are cars everywhere parked in all
available spots including dry riverbeds. 
Finding a spot for Harry is impossible so we continue as the map shows
the road drops back to the ring road. 
It may well do but after a couple of incredibly bumpy miles we turn around.  Manage to park badly near the caves and
learn that there are no tours in English today and although it closes very soon
there is still a long queue for the cable car up and people will no doubt stay
late as there are lots of stalls selling food and souvenirs.  Return to the motorhome and stop a passing
Police car to ask about a safe place to park overnight.  They don’t recommend here as cars pass
through and there will be nobody else. 
He suggests we follow him to Villa de Garcia where he will lead us to a
safe parking spot in the centre.  In the
centre it certainly is, on the narrow one-way road through town and at the edge
of the main square.  He says it is
absolutely fine but we are not entirely happy especially when the church bells
ring out nearby.  Steve takes a walk
around town and secures us a spot in the Hotel San Francisco car park so all is
well that ends well, except we do have to make one more move as we are parked
underneath a nut tree!



FRIDAY 21 MARCH – On the road at 8am, Good
Friday not that you would know as there are still many trucks on the road.  The free by pass around Monterrey is easy
going even if it does seem to take forever, 45 minutes.   The toll for motorhomes to Nuevo Laredo is
Pesos 254 (£12.50) but we have a map that shows where the tollbooth is and
think we can come off just before.  It’s
a very good road and we soon reach the required exit but they’ve tricked us, as
there is a tollbooth on the exit ramp. 
The next one is also the same but we quickly calculate that coming off
at this point will still be much cheaper so we pay Pesos 131 (£6.50).  In fact the free road is also very good and
we continue through to Nuevo Laredo (TAMAULIPAS STATE) then pick up the by pass
towards Columbia Bridge.   Although the
gas prices are supposed to be the same throughout Mexico we do notice that our
last fill up at the border costs a bit more than normal at Pesos 7.47 (37p)
litre.  Columbia Bridge seems to be a
new purpose built border point so easy to negotiate and find the Mexican office
to hand in our tourist visa.  Looping
back we pay Pesos 49 (£2.40) toll for the bridge over the Rio Grande and into
TEXAS, USA.  The Laredo inspection
station has narrow lanes but we squeeze through and are asked to pull into the
inspection garage.  A brief interview
relieves us of 2 potatoes then we are free to walk to the immigration
offices.  We are very happy to have our
passports stamped for 6 months, $6 (£3) pp fee which we did not pay before, as
it was included in our air ticket. 
Approaching Laredo we are struck by the contrast with Mexico.  Steve has a run in with a couple of lorries
hastening to pass us and the freeways, flyovers and shopping malls scream
civilisation – think we prefer Mexico at this stage!  We don’t adjust quickly enough to the America style road signs so
miss a turning, miss where we intended to camp and decide to carry on.   Other than the improved road quality we
could still be in Mexico as the ranches and side roads all have Spanish
names.  Over 50 miles out of town there
is a checkpoint, American border patrol looking for stowaways but they don’t
even check our van.  A town called Alice
becomes our stop, as the 24-hour Wal Mart will do us nicely.  I’m slow going around the store, as I have
to get used to the huge choice of things now on offer, again in many ways the
small Mexican shops were much nicer although overall most things are cheaper in
the States. 



SATURDAY 22 MARCH – Head out towards Corpus
Christi then onward to Padre Island.  By
passing the city takes us by the shopping malls with lines of cars waiting to
get onto the car parks.  When you
consider that Americans get so few days holiday it seems amazing that they
would want to spend any of it in a shopping mall especially on a beautiful
sunny day.  A bridge and causeway lead
to the island.  It’s beautiful, a bit
like going along the Florida Keys.  At
the visitor centre we learn that the island fans out north and south with free
camping in both sections.  Emerge with
an arm full of tourist information. 
Drive south to the National Seashore, $10 (£5) included in our annual
parks pass.  You can free camp here in
certain areas and stay for 14 days at a time and a total of 56 days a
year.  The visitors’ centre has some
interesting displays, information and free showers.  Beyond it the road turns into a compacted sand beach track and
the first 5 miles are accessible by normal vehicles, the last 55 miles
requiring a 4wd.  There are lots of
campers already set up in motorhomes tents and other vehicles so we press on to
where they are more spaced out.  It’s
difficult to get a level and we almost get stuck so settle for being a bit lob
sided.  We have a super spot just a few
feet from the high tide mark and sit out to relax and enjoy the warm sun,
sheltered from the breeze by the motorhome. 
As holiday weekend and a glorious day it is very busy but quietens down
by nightfall.



SUNDAY 23 MARCH – We’ve both slept well,
lulled by the continuous but gentle noise of the waves.  It’s a poor morning, cloudy and so windy
that the pelicans have to fly almost on the water.  Lots of transport vehicles go past, heading down the beach to
send goods out to the off shore oil rig. 
The wind gets worse as the day progresses and the sand is being blown
everywhere.  I need to make some calls
as we are trying to arrange for Claire & family to fly out to us in
Florida.  Late afternoon we drive to the
nearby campground to use the phone. At the campground you pay $8 (£4) night for
hard standing and use of showers and toilets and it seems very popular.  On the opposite side of the barrier island
you are facing Corpus Christi and we think it may be more sheltered so head to
Bird Island free camping area.  This
area is favoured by the wind surfers and still breezy but it’s a gravel parking
area so more comfortable.  We are right
on the waterfront and the sea here is much calmer and shallower. 



MONDAY 24 MARCH – I gathered lots of flight
information yesterday but still need Internet to contact Claire.  We can’t get wi-fi anywhere so drive back to
Corpus Christi to a library to us their computer.  Having done as much as possible I pass the ball over to
Claire.  Head back onto the Barrier
Island and north onto Mustang Island. 
There are many beach access roads but no 3 and 2 lead us to inaccessible
sand roads meaning we have to back all the way out.  Road 1 is now wider as a new golf course is developing the
area.  The beach sign says free camping
between markers 27 and 34 for 3 days with beach parking permit but not
indication where to get one.  It looks
like they have recently graded the compacted sand road and having pushed the
sand into banks at the side you can no longer pull over to park.  Decide to chance it where we are until
tomorrow.  Claire texts us to say
flights book, we go back to England on 10th June, return with Daniel
and Natasha on 18th July then Claire & Daz follow on 3rd
August and take the kids back with them on 16th August.  Now all we need to do is sort out Disney
tickets, motorhome parking and other travel plans!



TUESDAY 25 MARCH – It doesn’t look all that
far to the town of Port Aransas so we set off walking along the beach.  There a many of blue “Portuguese men of war”
washed up and a few jellyfish so it’s a good job the water is too cold for a
swim.  I spot a few coins shining on the
sand and we gather them up and then begin looking in earnest.  It’s much further than we thought to the
town and as we are walking slowly beach combing it takes us 2 ½ hours.  Beach parking permits are $12 (£6) or you
can camp on the beach in town for $10 (£5) night and this may be better for us
with only 1 night left.  There’s
supposed to be a 25c (12p) trolley circulating around the town and beaches but
it’s obviously not running to schedule so we walk further to the tourist office
to find out about the floating casino as well as the trolley.  Return on the bus to pick up the
motorhome.  At the Family Centre IGA the
$11 (£5.50) cruise tickets are discounted to $9 (£4.50), of course plus tax the
bugbear of American prices.  A free
24-hour ferry shuttles you across to the other bank of the river and the casino
car park.  Steve checks at the desk and
learns that if he has a drink, or two, on board we are OK to stay parked up in
the motorhome on their car park overnight. The idea behind the cruise is to get
around the Texas non-gambling laws by sailing out to sea.  Board around 6pm for the 6.30pm session and
head straight to the buffet that is included in the price.  It’s a mediocre offering but there’s enough
to fill us up.  Leaving the port area is
rather pleasant but soon after it gets quite bumpy and the ship creaks and
groans.  I think we are the only ones on
board for the cruise rather than the gambling as people are by the machines and
tables long before they are in operation.  
A band plays some pleasant music so we will probably spend most of our
time in the lounge.  Wrong on that one
because as soon as the casino opens the band disappears.  Watch some of the Texas hold-Em poker and
throw $5 (£2.50) into the slots but with 5c the minimum rather than the usual
1c it doesn’t last long.  The rest of
the evening is pretty boring and we really wish we could get off but of course
they have got you.  It’s really cold in
the lounge and in the end people are getting blankets.  Once the casino closes the band return but
most people are too tired to enjoy it. 
Arrive back just before 1am and return to bed.  Shortly after we get a hammering in the door.  The 2 men say we cannot camp on the parking
lot and must move immediately.  A bit of
an argument follows with Steve explaining that he asked earlier and has now had
too much drink to drive.  Things get
quite heated so I intercept and the man finally calls his boss and gets
permission for us to stay until 6am.  I
soothe the waters a bit further and get a stay of execution until 7am when
someone will knock us up.  It’s all very
frustrating, as we could have done things very differently had we known.



WEDNESDAY 26 MARCH – I’m awake just before 7am
anyway but no one has called.  Soon
after there are hooters and other noise to disturb us so we voluntarily
leave.    Our journey around the Gulf
Coast is pretty boring, the area is very flat and marsh like.  Near Port Lavaca we turn off to go 10 miles
out to Magnolia Beach with a rather pleasant free camping spot.  Many other RV’s are parked up and although
it’s a gravel beach and the toilets are grim we can see the attraction of the
place.  After lunch we walk along to the
“ghost” town of Indianola.  Wiped out by
numerous storms and yellow fever the residents eventually gave up and abandoned
the place.  Today there are many
signboards telling of the history and just a few hardy residents.  All along the coast there are many
properties and pieces of land for sale but the strong winds and threat of
storms no doubt deter most people.  Many
other areas are available for free camping, often with a concrete shelter
housing a picnic table.  Wildflowers
abound and we see over a dozen different varieties amongst the roadside



THURSDAY 27 MARCH – There’s just a gentle
breeze when we get up but by mid morning the Texas wind is up to full
force.  With water in the toilet block
we take the opportunity to do some cleaning up, after leaving here we probably
won’t be at the beach again for many weeks so sand should be less of a problem.   By noon there is a strong wind again, maybe
not such a common thing as it is reported on the news.



FRIDAY 28 MARCH – Make an early start for
Houston.  It’s the 3rd
largest city in USA but much less intimidating than driving in Los
Angeles.  Road signs are good and traffic
is light as we make our way to our hosts. 
Tim lives in the northwest suburb of Garden Oaks, in the kind of street
that we recognise from many movies. 
Lots of large houses with big open plan front gardens. Unfortunately the
front of each garden has a continuous drainage channel and because Tim hasn’t
bridged over his we cannot park on the drive. 
However the front area between the ditch and the road makes a good back
up.  We chat to Tim about what we might
like to do in Houston; he works from early afternoon until evening but is free
to play tourist with us over the weekend. 



SATURDAY 29 MARCH – We’re woken early in the
morning by rain but the brief downpour has stopped by the time we get up.  Set out late Morning with Tim as our tour
guide.  He drives us around the nearby
neighbourhoods explaining how many were developed just after the war but now
the old homes are being bought, torn down and replaced with “Mac
Mansions”.  In The Heights the majority
of these mansions are so well done in the traditional, gothic, style that we
would not know the difference but in other sections the new ones are massive
modern structures dwarfing any remaining single storey small bungalows.  The art car museum makes a great first
stop.  Admission is free and there’s a
bonus of a very interesting temporary art exhibition.   Cars must be roadworthy and home made.  One is completely covered in shells and another in small steel
panels and designed to look like animals leaping from it.   An impromptu detour takes us in to Glenwood
Cemetery where many famous people are buried including statesmen.  The only once we recognise is Howard Hughes
whose tomb is very simple.  A highlight
of the attractions is supposed to be the Rothko Chapel.   Externally it’s a very boring brick structure
that looks like a nuclear bunker. 
Inside there are 14 famous paintings by Mark Rothko.  In the main room it looks like the pictures
have all been covered over by purple cloth. 
A couple of others look like blackboards.  I speak to the docent and find out that these are the famous
pictures themselves and that one must spend time quietly studying them to
appreciate them.  We just don’t get it
and head out but pause to read the visitors book with amazing comments as to
how impressed people are – we feel like writing “you cannot be serious”.  Sit outside with Tim who feels the same as
us but to give it a fair chance we return to sit and contemplate a little
longer.  Well it’s a bit like those 3d
pictures that were around years ago but with these there is no image to jump
out at you but possible shadows in the depths of the paintings that could be
anything.  The adjacent Menil Collection
of art is another disappointment for us. 
Too many surreal images but a few Picasso’s and Andy Warhols although we
got more pleasure from the pictures at the car place.  Tim is with us on this so we head off in search of something more
to our liking.  Downtown is compact and
deserted at weekends with just a handful of interesting high rises.  Lunch is a delicious sandwich at a
Vietnamese restaurant.  Next stop is the
beer can house, recently resurrected and opened as a tourist attraction, $2
(£1).  Many years ago the owner was fed
up with minting the property and set out to create and maintenance free
garden.  He poured concrete slabs and
beautified them with marbles.  His next
project was to cut and flatten out beer cars into small tiles and cover the
exterior house walls eliminating the need to paint it.  Over 500,000 cans later he had covered the
house, created walls and gates surrounding it, curtains to hang from the eves
to keep it cool and other artistic features. 
Return for a rest before our evening’s entertainment.  Goode Company do a fabulous smoked Texas BBQ
and the meat is extremely tasty.  It’s a
simple cabin with self-service, long tables in and out to share with others and
a great atmosphere.  All the meat is
cooked in 3 huge wooden furnaces out back (yes we can now speak some
American!).  The Big Easy Social and
Pleasure Club, cover charge $5 – £2.50 has the cities best blues music.  It’s really busy but we manage to get a set
to watch people dancing to the band. 
Both the style of music and dancing is new to us.  Couples seem to be doing a sort of stilted
slowed down rock n roll whilst the main singer of the band is a white man whose
voice is low and gravelling as you would expect from a black person.  It’s after 11pm when we leave for the nearby
Irish Bar where Tim’s son Nick works. 
Guinness and Irish coffees are the order of the day and again it’s very
pleasant to be out in a non-smoking environment.  By the time we get home it’s after 1am but we have had a
wonderful and interesting day.



SUNDAY 30 MARCH – We’re all a bit tired after
yesterday’s excursion so make a late start. 
Tim drives us downtown where we explore Sam Houston Park where many old
homes have been relocated.  Steve wants
to see some of the seedier neighbourhoods and whilst trying to find them Tim
drives us past another quirky house. 
It’s a corner plot and the arty owner lives in railway carriages and has
used sleepers and other parts to create a fence, gate and other
sculptures.  Houston is home of the
legendary Astrodome.  The first domed,
climatised stadium in the world it lends its name to astroturf, which was first
laid down here.  The new Reliant Stadium
built next to it now takes pride of place. 
Lunch stop is back at he same Vietnamese we visited yesterday.  Tim drives us around many other interesting
parts of the city but our planned visit to the art show in the park is abandoned
due to lack of parking.  We’re all
pretty tired anyway and Tim’s back is playing up so return home for the
evening.  Tim creates a delicious home
made pizza and I make some real custard to go with a raspberry pie that I



MONDAY 31 MARCH – Tim doesn’t start work until
early afternoon so he helps out by driving us to the driver-licensing
centre.  Steve’s Texas licence runs out
this year and he wants to renew it and change the address to Tim’s.  There’s a huge queue so we decide we will
just take the forms and apply by post. 
I slide up to the information counter to ask if I can have them and am
abruptly told that I must wait in the queue to ask for them!  By the time we have bided our time we figure
we might as well go ahead with the application there and then.  Surmise that they don’t want to leave the
forms readily available in case people take the wrong ones.  You receive your form and a number and must
sit down, complete the form and wait for your number to be called.  Now you are entitled to stand in another
line to see the clerk who will deal with your paperwork.  The second part of the system flows much
faster and $26 (£13) lighter Steve is granted another licence to be sent out in
the post.  It’s late morning and a dull
day so we decide to make use of Tim’s Internet to while away the day and leave
tomorrow.  It’s a very productive
session as we learn that our Australian friends Ken & Kay are going to fly
out and join us and stay in Harry at Cypress Cove naturist resort whilst we are
back in England. 




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