MEXICO - ON THE SECOND GO
The regular readers might remember that our previous blog entry ended with the promise to continue where we left off, which was: “We left our I-94’s (US permits) at the US-border and crossed the Rio Grande into Nuevo Progresso, embarking on our journey into Mexico - at least we thought so.” As always it took longer to write the sequel but here it is. Some of you might know this feeling; You want to grab your keys that you always put at the same spot but they are not there; It is in the same second you know that it is not even worth searching for them because you remember exactly where you forgot them. This was the feeling I had when I opened my document folder in the customs office of the small border post in Nuevo Progresso when I was asked for the registration documents of our Rouletout. I knew they were still on the copy machine of a Staples in Corpus Christi, Texas where we prepared additional copies of our important documents 2 days before. Of course I had the copies and the officer even asked his supervisor in Reynosa if we could cross into Mexico with copies only. Pictures of documents and Rouletout were sent back and forth via WhatsApp but after a while it was clear, no way. Anyways, the small border in Nuevo Progresso couldn’t even have processed an RV (mobile home) with the right papers. We were told to go back to the US, get our original document and pass the border in Reynosa. We crossed back over the Rio Grande and were welcomed with disbelieve. Of course our I-94’s were already processed but the officer on duty helped us by re-activating them somehow and after a short inspection we were back in the US. I called Staples in Corpus Christi and of course they had the document “we hold it for 7 days” the friendly lady said but this was it. Next call to our dear friend Hans whom we caught at Houston airport - on his way to Mexico - asking for help to pick-up the document and send it to Pharr, the Texan border town. Being a perfect organiser he activated a friend to pick it up and FedEx it to Pharr before boarding his plane (Thank you Hans and Rob!). 2 days later we were finally ready for our second attempt to cross the border.
The border post in Reynosa is significantly bigger but the Mexican side was also a major construction site. It took a while to find the right lanes and soon we were sent to the brand new truck scanner. Something appeared on the images and after 3 rounds through the scanner with selective unloading we were cleared to go. The paperwork took a while, the officer in charge was also the supervisor of the Nuevo Progresso crossing and well familiar with our attempt to cross there 2 days earlier thus she wanted to make sure we were not presenting any copies ;-). Once the deposit for Rouletout was paid and the tourist cards issued, we were finally ready for our next adventure. We by-passed Reynosa and took the carretera (country road) south-west towards Monterrey.
Our first destination, the world famous climbing sport of Potrero Chico near Hidalgo was not far but we decided to stop at a lake near China for the night. We met some locals that offered us one of the typical huge bottles of Mexican beer and we practiced our limited Spanish. Later, a family of fishermen got stuck there in the mud and it was only long after dark that we were able to get them out of their miserable situation. In all the excitement they even crashed their car into the pulling car, but who cares ;-). The next day we arrived in Potrero Chico (PC) where we found a great spot to stay directly at the exit of the canyon - we didn’t know at that time that this would become our home for the next two months. The cliffs of PC are impressive, with many long multi-pitch routes and hundreds of sport routes, all in a short walking distance from our spot.
Most other climbers stay in one of the many camps but everyone frequents the few food stalls, restaurants and most importantly, Edgardo’s Margherita trailer in the middle of the canyon. Edgardo pulls his trailer in position typically late afternoon and his daily campfire is the place to be, drink and meet everyone after climbing. We climbed a lot, on rest days we toured the area with our motorbike, shopped in Hidalgo and enjoyed the Mexican lifestyle that overwhelmed PC on the weekends. This is when loud Mexican music can be heard throughout the canyon, the smell of tamales, tortillas and burritos is everywhere and proud cowboys ride their horses up and down the canyon next to crazily styled cars. In short, you will never get bored in PC.
We had to take a break from climbing for 2 days when the first snow in 70 years fell in PC, very much to the astonishment of everyone and mostly the locals that came up canyon in crowds to take pictures in the snow. Another interesting observation we made is that in Potrero Chico mostly the older generation speaks English pretty well. Gilberto passed ever day at our home on his morning walk and always taught us some new Spanish phrases, we met old and new friends from all over the world, some we had seen the last time in Thailand or somewhere in the US and got visited twice by Hans and friends. We visited the hot springs in St. Joaquin, had baby goat in Monterrey (gabrito, a local speciality), got our teeth fixed in Hidalgo and Rouletout’s instruments in Monterrey. Time was flying by. We had a surprise visit by “Ibru”, an old Spanish friend of Berna and we explored the first pitch of Sendero Luminoso, the famous 15-pitch route free-soloed by Alex Honnold.
There was still plenty of climbing to be done but with a heavy heart we decided to move on to our next destination, El Salto or better, Cienga de Gonzales - a tiny village up in the mountains south of Monterrey. On our way we visited Monterrey, enjoyed the food, the museums and the street art. We climbed for a day in La Huesteca - a breathtaking canyon just outside of Monterrey and then we took the small and winding road up from Santiago to Cienga de Gonzales. We parked in the rough gravel bed of the main canyon and started exploring the area. Cienga de Gonzales maybe has a few hundred inhabitants, a few small stores with essentials and most importantly, a food truck that brings fresh vegetables and fruits twice a week.
On the weekends the village goes crazy when the crowds from Monterrey arrive to ride their ATVs through the canyons and party everywhere. This is when you avoid the main cliffs in El Salto (mostly Las Animas) as the dust and noise make climbing impossible. Luckily there are plenty of other cliffs in side canyons. Again, we climbed a lot, hiked on rest-days and used the internet at Armando’s small shop where you can get access on an hourly basis. We met Logan and Mallory who were the only ones also staying in the canyon (everyone else stays either at Don Kika’s or the newer Climbers Camp). It was mid February and the temperatures were getting hotter, we tried to climb in the shade and not many other climbers were staying in town anymore.
We celebrated our wedding day with a great barbecue with Armando’s family and Logan and Mallory but then it was time to leave. Our bodies were tired and we wanted to take some time to head towards Baja California and back north. Alma - one of the many strong Mexican climbers - recommended us another climbing spot on the way west and so we left Cienga de Gonzales with the promise to come back. We crossed the mountains towards Saltillo and Torreon and after a few days reached La Presa, the place recommended by Alma and probably one of the most beautiful spots we have seen. We crossed the river twice, cut a few big branches and reached the perfect camping spot next to a beautiful small river and the cliffs. We enjoyed our stay, relaxed, climbed a bit and explored the area. Luckily a local farmer warned us of a planned flooding of the area (a barrier up-stream is opened once a year) and so we continued further west. We crossed Durango with its pretty historic town and winded our way through the mountains towards Mazatlan at the Pacific coast. We organised our ferry crossing to La Paz on Baja California and spent the days waiting under palm trees at a beautiful beach. It was also the time to ingest great seafood and fish in the touristy but pretty town of Mazatlan, full of street musicians. The 14 hours ferry crossing was uneventful (with the exception of the military check before boarding when Mutlu convinced the officers to not enter Rouletout with another dog ;-)) and we arrived on an early morning in La Paz, Baja here we come!
We didn’t really know what to expect of Baja California so we started our way further south, towards Cabo Pulmo and the southernmost tip of the peninsula. Amazing landscapes, wildlife and secluded beaches all the way. Some of the minor roads were pretty rough but the beauty of the landscape made up for it. We saw whales heading back north from their winter grounds in the Sea of Cortez and slowly moved north, switching between the Pacific coast on the West and the coast of the Sea of Cortez on the East, whenever possible, ingesting delicious fish burritos. The local maps are not really a great help to identify road quality and so we ended up on some really bad roads in really lost areas. Heading north from La Paz was one of them. After 2 days of driving with rarely any human encounter we climbed up the mountains on probably the worst road ever driven - we lost our exhaust pipe but our Rouletout made it, climbing huge rocks in steep terrain, crossing soft sand and one or the other river bed. In Ciudad Constitucion we found an excellent welding shop (the owner races the Baja 1000 rally) and we got all our welding done (even the stuff we dragged along since months).
Next stop Porto Alfredo Lopez, the grey whale station where we took an early morning tour with 2 other tourists (which allowed us to stretch our tour as we were out of cash) and got the chance to play with and pet a baby whale. Dozens of mother whales with their babies pass in front of Porto Alfredo Lopez on their way north and some of them are curious and willing to play with human spectators. A truly unique experience. We crossed back to the east coast, got stuck in the sand (not a big deal), visited one of the many old Spanish missions and slowly moved further north. Near Guerrero Negro we spent some time at lost beaches, did another whale watching trip in the Ojo de Liebre (nobody wanted to play with us this time) and headed to Santa Rosalitia, last village before the long and wild coast called the “Seven Sisters” for the seven incredible beautiful and lost beaches lined up over the next 100km or so. The road is first ok but then gets really bad, rocky and narrow. On day 2 we passed a small farm (the first an only building on this stretch) and shortly after that we decided to turn around, the sideways inclination of the narrow road just above a deep gully was just too much. I tried to dig the road but the ground was too hard, we turned around and drove back towards the farm when I touched a sharp rock with the left back wheel. In seconds all air was gone and we barely made it to more or less flat ground. We started working but the ground made it hard to lift Rouletout high enough to change the wheel. After a while the farmer arrived and soon sent his only worker for help. We dug a hole under the tire and managed to change it. We left some cigarettes with the two (obviously they are hard to get out there) and followed their instructions to another beautiful and lost beach for the night.
We crossed back to the Sea of Cortez at Punta Final and stopped for longer at a great spot north of San Felipe. San Felipe is a touristy town that had seen better times but our beach was amazing. Even better was the fact that it somehow was on the way to work for a Pinacolada truck, a pick-up truck driving along the beach with fresh pineapples and preparing awesome Pinacoladas. We enjoyed our last days at the beach and then took the road north towards Mexicali and the border, ready to again enter the USA. Thank you Mexico, we will be back soon!
More pictures in our Mexico gallery!