Reflection’s on another journey to cradle of Mexican Independence

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This past week, I made another excursion south to Celaya Guanajuato on personal business, a vacation away from the rat race. I also wanted to see first hand, the reaction of the normal Mexican citizenry to the upcoming Dia sin Mexicanos

The trip south was largely uneventful as usual. Leaving NL later than anticipated and once again, becoming lost trying to navigate the city of Saltillo, I found myself stopping for naps several times during the night. My Suburban is ideal for this. Sadly, I am going to be forced to find a more economical means of transportation with the price of gasoline being what it is. It now costs $130.00 to fill the tank. Fortunately, this gets me to my destination with about 10 gallons reserve and the fill for the return trip north is only about $95.00. for a change, gasoline in Mexico is now cheaper than in the U.S. PEMEX averages $6.56 pesos per liter. There are 3.72 liters per U.S. gallon. You do the math.

How I spent my week in Celaya is largely unimportant in this forum so I’ll skip that part and jump to the trip back north.

For shits and giggles, I ran a new route on my PC Miler on my laptop! An amazing program, PC Miler. Door to door directions practically anywhere in Canada, the United States and Mexico.

Usually, I return to Nuevo Laredo using Mx 45 to Mx 57 to Saltillo and the Mx 40 to Monterrey and Mx 85 to Nuevo Laredo. This time though, I felt adventurous and headed north on Mx 51 out of Celaya headed for San Miguel Allende. A nice drive on a combination of 2 and 4 lane highway until about 10 miles south of SMA. There the highway turns into a narrow 2 lane highway curving up into the mountains. Switchback turns with severe drops on the right and no shoulders nor barriers. Top the mountain and you are presented with a breathtaking view of the outskirts of SMA including a beautiful natural lake in the valley.

Coming into SMA you pass the Mission de Los Angeles on your left which includes an ultra modern hotel. The architecture looks like something Frank Lloyd Wright might have designed! Magnificent building and tranquil surroundings. I am planning another trip south in about a month and this might be a good place to spend the night although SMA is only 30 miles north of Celaya.

Continuing on towards the heart of SMA, I come upon the first Glorieta (round-about, traffic circle) Mexico is famous for it’s monuments to heroes of the Revolution and of presidents past and SMA does not disappoint. Before me is a magnificent monument of what looks like a tribute to the Mexican Worker. It is getting dark by now and I could be wrong, but this is the impression I get.

There is a PEMEX station at this junction and I stop to confirm directions as the signage is somewhat ambiguous. Service stations in Mexico are all owned by the national oil company, PEMEX and all are full service facilities. A young attendant comes up to my window and I ask the way to Mx 57 which will take me towards San Luis Patosi. This kid could have been anywhere between 15 and 20 years old and as nice a person as you would ever want to meet. He tells me what I need to know and before I leave, he tells me, “See you later? Is that correcto?” We talk another 10 minutes or so about nothing, basically becoming instant friends.

You know people, there is the great immigration debate raging in the United States and one of the demands from those opposed to immigrant rights is that they learn English. I somewhat agree with this requirement. What people do not realize though is that in Mexico, the English language is taught in all the schools from Grade 5 through the equivalent of Grade 12. It is not an elective, but rather a requirement. My last trip to Celaya, I had the opportunity to meet one of the directors of the Pan Americano Preparatory Collegel that our two oldest children attend for the monthly review of their grades. The director that conferred with us spoke excellent English. He told me he had taught English in the past. He also noted that the problem in Mexico is people do not have the opportunity to practice their English language skills and for many, they become languid and forgotten. This attendant at the PEMEX station was evidence of this. He was proud to have the opportunity to practice what he had learned in school and when he realized I was not going to make fun of his accent or inability to pronounce words in the same manner as I do, he opened up and we had a wonderful conversation. My command of the Spanish language is a joke, to give you an idea of the difficulties.

I have received confirmation of my directions and head out going east. The streets are cobbled for about a kilometer or so. Coming out I am climbing the side of a mountain once again although still within the limits of SMA. At the top is a view point and I stop there for a moment. Spread out below me is San Miguel Allende in all of its magnificence. Central to all of it is the Cathedral of San Miguel Allende, it’s towers and spires lighted. Homes line the hillside built in conventional Spanish architecture. This is a town I have a strong desire to spend time in and explore. San Miguel Allende is a truly lovely city and a city rich in history. I am in what could be described as the cradle of Mexico’s birth. The city of Dolores Hidalgo is close by where the “grita” or shout of liberty occurred in the 19th century and is re-enacted each year on Mexico’s Day of Independence by the President from the balcony of the Presidential Palace in Mexico City. And who can forget Queratera, where Maximillian was imprisoned and eventually executed.

So now I come to the second glorieta where the road divides into 5 different choices. Here again is another magnificent series of statues and I learn something more about San Miguel Allende and Mexican History. SMA is not named after one man but a total of 5 who were instrumental in the founding of modern day Mexico. This is something else I need to research as time and the idiots blowing their horns for me to move forced me to cut short my observance of the statues.

I follow the signs to the exit for San Luis Patosi and find myself on another 2 lane highway. My PC-MILER shows it is only about 10 miles to MX 57 which is one of the main North-South highways in Mexico. It is a long 10 miles and still no sign of Highway 57 and very little traffic on this unnamed highway. I do finally come to a small town whose name I have since forgotten. I should have written it down because towns such as this are the essence of Mexico.

This town is extremely clean, laid out in a square it seems. The main street through town is the highway I am on. Businesses of all types line both sides of the road. Grocery stores which look as clean and well stocked as any small market in the United States. And in the middle of town, of course, the local church (Catholic) which is the mainstay of all communities in Mexico. This one is no exception. This iglesia is made of stone with a courtyard behind gates. The plaza of the town where residents gather to socialize. The other end of town, there must have been a dozen buses which serve these small communities. The old DINA’s that you still see in the movies but which is becoming a thing of the past in Mexico. The major bus lines such as Primero Plus and Flecha Amarillo are beginning to offer roadside service to all the small communities.

Finally, in another 10 miles or so, I am on Highway 57 going towards San Luis Patosi. Traffic is moderate at this time of the evening, mainly the Executive service buses and truckers. The trucks are too slow so I get behind a Omnibus de Mexico and set the cruise on 95 kph, turn on the XM-Radio and listen to debate about the Dia sin Mexicanos..

It has been a long day and the good food I have been served this day has made me extremely sleepy. South of Matehuela, I stop in a PEMEX plaza, park amongst the truck and crawl in the back of the Suburban for a “short” nap!

I awaken about 6 Tuesday morning with a “Oh shit! What time is it?” on my mind. I also discover that during the night, I have somehow lowered the windows on both sides of the SUV and have slept exposed to whatever might come. Nothing happened which speaks for Mexican society. And there were people walking by the SUV all night.

I head north, forgoing my morning cup of coffee. My feet and legs are sunburned from our day at Los Arcos on Sunday and I can’t put on my boots and I do not like the looks I received the previous evening when I stopped at an OXXO for a Pepsi and went in barefoot. The looks were not hostile or anything, only ones of curiosity.

Matehuela is just beginning to awaken for the day. The people, some two and three to a motorcycle or beginning to head to work or whatever they do during the day. Motorcycles seem to be the primary means of transportation in this city.

Matehuala behind me and I am back on the main highway. I am saving money by using the Libre’s or free roads which go through the towns while the Cuotas or Toll Roads bypass the towns. You miss a lot using the toll roads plus, the tolls for all sections between Celaya and Nuevo Laredo will cost you about $65.00.

Two hours later and two military checkpoints behind me, I come into Saltillo by the “free” road. This is the first time I have been in Saltillo in the daylight and I am determined to discover why I always get lost in the town when I am going south. I generally spend an hour driving aimlessly around and end up having to use the toll road after wasting gas looking for the free road. I discover why and now feel confident I can pass through Saltillo in the future with no problems.

Out of Saltillo on Mx 40 heading towards Monterrey and another military checkpoint. As with the others, I am waved through and soon I am on the free bypass around Monterrey and headed towards Mx 85.

The trip from this point on into Nuevo Laredo is uneventful and I arrive in NL about 1pm

As I write this, I think of a friend who lives in Laredo and crosses the border a couple of times a week to party and play in Nuevo Laredo as many still do. This man is convinced of the total corruption and dishonesty of anybody who carries a badge in Mexico.

I think of the idiots you hear on the radio and TV every time you turn on the news. Steve Sommers of “America’s Trucking Network” who is convinced that Mexico is a third world country with corruption that reaches the offices of the Presidency. His father, Dale Sommers, who calls himself “The Trucking Bozo” and holds the same opinion. Lou Dobbs on CNN with his agenda. Rollye James on XM Radio. All of these people do not have a clue to this country or it’s politics.

After living in Mexico for 10 years now, I think I have a pretty good understanding of a complex society and country. When I first arrived in Mexico, Cd. Juarez to be exact, it was normal to have a pile of $10 bills on the seat beside you to pay the transito cops who stood on every street corner in Juarez, ticket book in hand, ready to pull you to the curb for violations, real, but often imagined. It was the price of living there.

For Cd. Juarez, that seems to have changed. No longer do they stand on the street corners waiting to snare the unwary gringo. At least this was my impression after returning to Juarez after an absence of several years.

I have now traveled a total of almost 6000 miles in Mexico this year. 5 trips to Guanjuato State and a couple of trips to Monterrey. Can you guess the number of encounters I have had with the Police in all of these trips? I’ll tell you. 3 times!

The first time in Monterrey, a Transito official stepped from between parked cars and stopped me, wished me a good morning and advised me and my passengers to buckle their seat belts. No mention or suggestion of a bribe and nothing suggested about a citation. Only a friendly warning.

Fast forward to the Christmas holidays in Celaya. A transito cop on a motorcycle, a young guy, looks at me from two lanes over, sees I do not have my seat belt on and motions for me to use it! Nothing more.

The third time was in March in Celaya, I am double parked on the curb in front of the Palacio Municipal while waiting for someone to come from paying the water bill and the transito cop directing traffic approaches and asks what I am doing. I explain to him the situation and he grants permission for me to sit there, even directing traffic around me for about 15 minutes. No suggestion of a reward for his assistance.

Coming south out of Nuevo Laredo, one encounters a Federal Highway Police (Federales) with a permanent checkpoint about 1 km north of the 26 km interior Customs check. Further south on Hwy 85 at the Tamaulipas/Nuevo Leon state line, the State Police of Nuevo Leon have a check point. Continuing on south, when you get on the free road towards Sabinas Hidalgo, the first small town you come to, the Federales have yet another check point, stopping and searching vehicles for contraband going south. At each state border, you have the same thing. Neuvo Leon/Coahuila, Nuevo Leon/San Luis Patosi, SLP/Guanjuato and Queretaro/Guanajuato. You get the idea.

At the junction of Hwy 57 and the cutoff going towards Cd. Victoria, you have yet another Federal check point. Pulling over vehicles for random searched.

Coming back north, the Mexican Army has no less than 9 checkpoints to cross. These soldiers are young, professional and extend extreme courtesy to those who return the same to them. These guys are in place to search the 18 wheelers going north, the buses and randomly, automobiles, for drugs, weapons and illegal aliens. Once or twice I have been puled to the side and asked my destination, where I have been etc, and always with the utmost courtesy. Most of the time, I have enjoyed a few brief moments of attempted conversation with these guys. They are no different from soldiers in any part of the world. Many of them away from home for the first time and thrust into an environment they are uncertain of. Even their commanders seem young to me.

I guess the whole point of this rant is to point out that the Mexico of today is not the Mexico of legend, where all the cops and politicians or corrupt. Of course there is corruption in every level of government in Mexico just as you will find it in all levels of government in the United States. Under very difficult circumstances, President Fox has kept his promise, in my opinion, to try and clean up the corruption of old. I am sure that some Mexican citizens would disagree with me on this and probably, they would be correct. What I am talking about here though is the corruption that affected Amercian citizens visiting or traveling in Mexico.

And my thoughts also do not apply to those caught violating a Mexican law or ordinance. But consider this. In the United States, you get caught jaywalking for instance, you are caught without your seat belt, run a red light or a stop sign and get caught or on the other end of the spectrum, you get caught driving a little drunk, what happens? One hell of a fine? A day in court and a day lost from work? Right?

What is wrong with slipping the cop $20 – $50 depending on the severity of the offense? I don’t have much of a problem with this manner of doing business. Everyone wins!