We have a wonderful beginning to our adventure in Mexico. We also learn that Santa has traded in his reindeer for a Harley-Davidson. Fewer stables to clean, I suppose…..
Saturday, December 23rd
OK. We followed the 41 steps to enter Mexico. Now what?
The border cities are considered some of the most dangerous places for travelers. Even though we felt safe in the area immediately after the crossing, we thought it best to get out of town in a timely manner. Time to roll back through our muddy lot.
At one of the last stoplights in the city, we saw why Nuevo Laredo is so dangerous:
Yes. A juggling Santa without a clearly displayed solicitation permit. This place is pure anarchy.
We eventually made it on to 85D and began heading south. Route:
The road we took is a toll route. In Mexico, there will often be a free highway that runs parallel to the toll road. This was the case for much of our route. I did not want to take any chances with my parents, so we just paid the toll.
Traffic slowed to a crawl for nearly 20 minutes at one of the booths. As we crept along I had a nice conversation in Spanglish with a couple of guys from Leon. They are riders too. I’ve gone back and forth about whether to leave the sign on the back of Annie for Chapter 3. It’s maybe not the wisest thing to draw even more attention to oneself. However, it prompted a very nice conversation in this instance.
I have been a lot of places, especially in the central time zone. It felt a bit strange to see mountain ridges begin to rise in the horizon as we continued south. Maybe this marks the definite end of the Great Plains. We’re definitely not in Nebraska anymore.
As I was thinking about it, I realized that this day also marked the furthest south I have been in my whole life. Though I’ve traveled nearly the entirety of North America and 12 countries in Europe, I’ve never ventured so near to the equator.
Another traffic jam occurred as we entered the city of Monterrey. This was only stressful since I was trying so hard to keep my parents vehicle right behind me. Motorcycles are an easy target for people merging into the lane (move or be moved, basically), so it was hard to stay together.
We both worked hard and were able to reunite once traffic thinned out. Driving through the city of Monterrey was a bit hectic, but there was not a ton of traffic. It felt like a real accomplishment to arrive in the parking garage of the Hotel Monterrey Macroplaza.
After the driving was over, everything just seemed to go great. There was a very helpful gentleman named Saul working the desk. He spoke great English and made sure we had everything we needed. The room was nice, the view was nice and the location (right on the plaza) was perfect. Plus, the internet speed ranked in the top 5 of my whole trip. The room was just $70/night for the three of us.
Monterrey is arguably the most developed and modern city in Mexico. It is also huge, home to about 4.5 million in the metro area (comparable to the San Francisco Bay Area in California). It is possibly the most expensive city in Mexico, excluding the areas that cater exclusively to tourists, but we found prices very reasonable.
Our first meal was an all you can eat buffet just two doors down from our hotel. It was crowded and busy, but was only about $5 per person. I explained to my parents that “nieve” is the Spanish word used both for snow and for ice cream. My Dad observed that in this country “nieve amarilla” (yellow snow) is not necessarily something to be avoided. 🙂
We walked around the plaza a little bit after our meal. The whole area felt both welcoming and secure.
First look at the Neptune Fountain:
Despite the confusion of our border crossing, our first day in Mexico was a smashing success.
Sunday, December 24th
In Spanish they call Christmas Eve “Nochebuena” (literally “good night”). We had a great day traipsing about the city. My Mom’s fitbit showed 6.62 miles by the time we were all done.
We began with breakfast at another local restaurant. Good service, good food and a waiter who was patient with my Spanish. All of this was about $14.
My Mom never feels at home in a place until she has her hands on a map:
There was so much to see within a short walk of our hotel.
The municipal building on the south side of the plaza:
Monument of the sun:
The big orange thing is called the Monument to Commerce:
As we were walking back north along the plaza, we were met by Moto Santa:
It didn’t look like they were accepting tips at all. They were just riding around passing out candy and taking pictures with people.
Neptune in the daylight:
At the north end of the plaza is the Government Palace/Museum of the state of Nuevo Leon. Kind of like in Nebraska, locals seem to have pride in their state as well as their city.
All along the grounds there were creative nativity displays, sponsored by local businesses. A cement company had this one:
A bicycle company had one made of old chains, nuts and bolts. It even has Satan in the background holding a pitchfork. 🙂
Just off the plaza is the Museum of Mexican History. There was not much English to be found, but we still saw some interesting displays.
The following chart really struck me. It shows a graph of the indigenous population during the colonial era. From 22 million to around 2 million in about 75 years. Oooof…
Next up on the agenda was a boat ride. There is a canal called the Paseo Santa Lucia which connects the Plaza area on the west with Fundidora Park on the east.
There were lots of families out and about so there was a bit of a line. This was a prime opportunity to grab some churros. 🙂 My ticket was $3, but I was able to get my parents’ tickets for $2 by explaining that they were seniors.
Paseo Santa Lucia is sort of like the riverwalk in San Antonio. Very picturesque. There are some shops, but a lot of it runs through park areas.
On the boat ride we got our first view of “Luztopia.” “Luz” is Spanish for “light” and “topia” is Spanish for……”topia,” I suppose. It is a grand holiday display with over 200 metal framed, cloth covered figures.
Fundidora (which means “foundry”) Park is a wonderful place, both in terms of concept and execution. Monterrey was a major steel manufacturing center for much of the 20th century. When the industry went bankrupt in the 1980’s, the industrial area was converted into a huge public use park. They still have some remnants of the steel era around.
This is perhaps the most iconic Monterrey picture. The fountain is made out of a cauldron/crucible from the steel days. Cerro de la Silla (Saddle Mountain) is in the background. I looked hard, but there is not really any way to get Annie up here unfortunately.
We walked further into the park and saw Horno 3 (Oven 3), a steel manufacturing building that has been converted into a museum/restaurant. You can also take an elevator to the top for a panorama of the park. Unfortunately, it was closed this day.
Our plan was to visit the Luztopia light display this evening, but Christmas Eve is the one night when it is closed. Both Mom and I overlooked this information. We were also under the impression that the boats stopped running at 5pm, so we started walking back. They appeared to be running at least until 6pm though. Ahhh….the joys of not quite understanding everything. 🙂
We used the extra time to bulk up on some of the body weight exercise equipment along the way.
It was a really pretty walk.
A fire juggling unicyclist back in the plaza:
We had had a full day, covering a lot of ground. We arrived back at the neighborhood of our hotel looking for a place to eat. Being that it was about 6:30pm on Christmas Eve, we found lots of places closed.
My Mom did quite a bit of research before we arrived (a really nice break for me!). One of the places she wanted to make sure to eat at was a restaurant where the waitresses dress up like nuns, Las Monjitas (the little nuns). Unfortunately, we had no idea where it was.
As fate would have it, we turned down a side street and almost bumped in to a “sister” in full habit. We verified that they were going to be open for a bit longer and walked down the half flight of stairs into the eclectic eatery. We couldn’t have found the place if we were trying.
We were the only ones in the restaurant and we had great time interacting with our waitress and the cook. When I told her the man to my right was my “Padre,” she looked at me inquisitively and crossed herself.
“No, no es mi sacerdote, es mi Papa!” (No, he’s not my priest, he’s my dad!)
We had a good laugh. They were very encouraging of my parents use of Spanish words and told me that I needed to be their teacher. I made sure to order a Dos Equis, which is brewed in Monterrey.
Christmas Eve dinner is always a special time and this one was very memorable. Though we were a great distance away from the rest of our family, these people really made us feel like we were a part of theirs. I’ll never remember what I ordered for supper that night, but I’ll always remember how welcome I felt.
….and at this point, we’d only been in Monterrey a little over 24 hours. There is still lots to come! I hope I didn’t overdo it with photos in this post. When you have three people you get three times the pictures! There were so many interesting things. Our adventure will continue in the next episode.
Realtime update: We are still in Monterrey. Still enjoying ourselves. Tomorrow will be our departure date. My parents will head back to the border at Laredo. I will continue south to San Luis Potosi.