December 7 – 17, 2022.
When you tell people you are going to Mexico you get all kinds of reactions. Our favorite is “How exciting!” But there are also those whose first thought is to give you warning, “Be careful,” they say, “It’s dangerous!” And then there are the people who wonder why we’d want to go to Mexico in the first place.
This is our fourth trip to Mexico. And we have found lots of reasons to return. The biggest reason might be the weather. I keep reading news reports and picture everything above the border as completely frozen over. Where we are currently in Mexico the nights are brisk and the days are warm. It’s just about perfect. Another reason to go to Mexico is the value of the dollar. In January after a full month in Mexico, we had by far our cheapest month traveling in the last year. Unless you are in a popular tourist area food is cheap, eating out can be ridiculously cheap, museums are super cheap, and staying in campgrounds is reasonable enough that we can do it often. Gas is expensive but no more expensive than in some states in the US.
But are those reasons enough? What about the danger??? I always like to respond to people that we used to live in Atlanta. Is Mexico any more dangerous than living in a big city or going to school or being in a US capitol? I don’t know. Still, Americans, Canadians, and Europeans come flooding over the borders of Mexico by the tens of millions every year.
To be honest on our first trip to Mexico (to Baja) I was a little on edge. I didn’t feel like we had planned enough. There were lots we didn’t know about the ins and outs of traveling and camping on the peninsula and I didn’t feel comfortable. We were supposed to go down to La Paz and meet some friends but we turned around after a couple of weeks and headed back to the US.
Our second trip to Mexico was to the Mexican Mainland. I spent a whole summer researching and planning. I felt like I had a good grip on what we wanted to see and do but I still wasn’t completely prepared for the differences in traveling in Mexico as compared to the US. We cut our journey a little short and headed back to the US after 3 1/2 months.
Starting out any adventure is a bit scary. I was quite tentative about sailing across the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas for the first time. And when we started van life it was a bit daunting to find places to stay and to sleep in the van in the middle of nowhere. But with time and knowledge, I have become much more comfortable with all the new adventures our lifestyle takes us on including traveling in Mexico. I’ve found that experience and familiarity with the language help a good bit. And so does just letting go of expectations – good and bad.
This time we hoping to stay for 6 months (the time allowed on our tourist permit). I didn’t do much planning before we left. For the last year, I have developed a new philosophy on travel, less planning, and less stress if things don’t go right. If you have read our two previous Nomad Reports you will see that a lot has gone wrong. But we take our house with us everywhere we go and at the very least we always have a place to live (of course, unless something happens to the house, more about that in next month’s Nomad Report). And, you know, here in Mexico we have the bonus of staying warm and not worrying about money too much. Hopefully, with this series of blogs, I will be able to show you what the attraction to Mexico is besides the ever-present sun and cheap tacos.
Potrero Chico Parque
Our first stop after crossing the border was in the town of Hidalgo, Nuevo León. A rare Mexican Harvest Host spot, Rancho El Sendero, is located there, and since we still had a Harvest Host subscription we decided to take advantage of it. Besides free lodging, we didn’t know much else about the place. So we were surprised that Rancho El Sendero was full of young climbers. Looming over the camp was the peaks of Potrero Chico Parque – a world-renowned climbing area. The view was amazing.
On our second day in Mexico, we visited the park and took a long walk along the road that runs through it. That night we parked along the road and were the lone boondockers under the towering peaks.
We had a day to kill before we headed to our next reserved spot, a Boondockers Welcome location where we would make new friends and have an amazing time. We drove from Hidalgo to the big city of Monterrey. I had heard that Monterrey was big and modern and it didn’t have the sort of charm that is found in other Mexican cities. I had heard right. Big glass buildings loomed over El Centro. There was an “old town” but it was very quiet and not very interesting. Still, I found Monterrey very Mexican with its beautiful churches, lots of eateries right on the street, and at least one bustling mercado. The biggest disappointment was going to a mirador that overlooked the city where we saw a carpet of smog obscuring the view. Our visit to the city was brief so I know we missed lots of things that probably make the city worth a real visit. That night we had our first experience sleeping in a Mexican gas station parking lot. It wasn’t a place you’d want to hang out at but it was convenient and safe.
Parque Ecológical Chipinque
Before we headed to our Boondockers Welcome location the next day we visited Parque Ecológical Chipinque, a recommendation from our upcoming Boondockers Welcome hosts. The park was located right outside of Monterrey up a steep climb. We went for a hike and kept going even after it got quite strenuous until we found the letters for Chipinque. Some young women were having fun taking selfies in front of the sign. They offered to take a pic of us after they were finished. I love seeing the letters of the names of towns when we visit but I’m always amazed that someone thought to tote letters to the top of a mountain. We found letters like this on the side of a volcano with volcanic steam billowing out behind them when visited Mexico 4 years ago.
The best part of the day, though, was seeing a White-nosed Coati. We’d had seen a coati briefly once before in Tucson, Arizona but this time I was able to get pictures!
Santiago, Nuevo León
In Santiago we met Juan and Chris, our Boondockers Welcome hosts, who would become our tour guides the next day and our friends (for years to come, we hope). Santiago is a Pueblo Mágico and has the kind of charm that is found in most of Mexico’s magic cities.
We went to breakfast with our hosts in the morning and then for a drive to see the nearby waterfall at Casada Cola de Caballo (Horsetail Waterfall). Like most water attractions we’ve visited in Mexico, this was a busy one. But unlike in the US where visiting a waterfall consists of just a hike to see the cascading water, in Mexico, there are gift shops, places to eat, horseback and carriage rides, and, of course, a zip line. The falls were beautiful.
Back near town, we visited a lake, Presa La Boca, with many options for enjoying a cruise on its waters. In the US I might scoff at the over-commercialization of natural spots like this but in Mexico, it seems to me to be an extension of a culture that seems to love to party.
Later we got to experience El Centro Santiago at night. The Christmas displays were lively. Lights lit up the cathedral wishing everyone a merry Christmas and a prosperous new year. But the real excitement was when it started to snow! It was only fake snow but the joy it brought was real.
La Laguna de Labradores
When we said goodbye to our new friends we decided to check out one of their boondocking suggestions and headed south to La Laguna de Labradores. We needed a few days to decompress and camping by a lake seemed nice. The lake is off the beaten path in a town I’m sure few tourists visit. I read a few reviews about this spot on iOverlander that indicated that the police might harass us in this location but we trusted our friends’ recommendation. It looked very peaceful when we arrived.
We did a hike the next morning to a sinkhole, Pozo de Gavilán.
From La Laguna de Labadores we headed to another Pueblo Mágico, Real de Catorce. I will tell you more about this fascinating city and our visit there in another post.
After Real de Cactorce we decided we needed more rest and a couple of hot showers. We ended up at a campground, La Aventurarte, in the small town of Guadalcázar in the state of San Luis Potosi. We didn’t know anything about this area until we got there. We soon found ourselves at another climbing campground and learned that there were a couple of caves in the area that we could explore.
From Guadalcázar we got back on track and drove to a new state, Tamaulipas, just to mark it off our list. Our destination was the Pueblo Mágico, Tula. Christmas was closing in fast and Tula was packed. It was a long way to drive just to turn around but that’s what we did. We did stop and take some pictures but I’m not sure if that qualifies for really visiting the state or not. Not every adventure goes as planned.