Chihuahua and Sonora, Mexico - July 2000

Picture of chihuahua Monday Morning we drove into Mexico which began the first in a series of unfortunate travel occurrences. At the border we were well aware that we needed tourist cards to enter the interior of Mexico as well as a vehicle pass. So to begin with we actually had the following exchange with a border guard:

 Me (rolling window down):  Can you tell me where I can get tourist cards for the interior?
 Guard:   Son, do you have any idea where you are?
 Me (desired reply):  Taco Bell?
 Me (actual reply):  Yes, that's why I want a tourist permit.
 Guard:  This is the Mexican border.
 
This was followed by a lovely morning in the Mexican border town of Agua Prieta. The process for obtaining the required documents was something like this:

 1.  Wait in line for vehicle permit.  Reach front of line, be re-directed 
     to get tourist permits first.
 2.  Produce US Passport, get friendly old customs agent with 1942-style manual typewriter
     to type out official looking form one painstaking letter at a time.
 3.  Pay $1 US for his time.
 4.  Go to bank to pay for tourist cards.  Naturally, they would not tell us where the bank 
     was, but for $1 US they sent someone to direct us.  
 5.  Pay $1 banking fee + tourist card fee and get receipts.
 6.  Return receipts to friendly old customs agent and get tourist cards.
 7.  Wait in line for vehicle permit.  Fill out forms, pay $1 US processing fee.
 8.  Get sent to another copy room to obtain copies where a friendly customs agent will
     gladly make copies for you for a $1 US fee.
 9.  Return to vehicle line with copies, receive permit, pay (gasp) $4 US fee.
 
After all this you might wonder why we wanted to go to Mexico... so did we.

Anyway, we finally were free to enter the country proper, which we did by fleeing the disorganized ugly sprawl of Agua Prieta as soon as possible. Mexico Highway 2 runs just south of the border through the states of Sonora and Chihuahua. The boundary between the states is also the continental divide in the Sierra Madre mountain range. When you cross into Chihuahua you are immediately accosted by a slew of warning signs about how dangerous the road is, and how many people have driven off it to their untimely deaths in the last few months. Just for added effect they leave all the mangled wreckage lying around in the canyons.

Now we don't claim to be excellent Spanish speakers, in fact we're barely adequate. However we do know that we shouldn't take a job translating government documents into Spanish like some 'English-speaking' folks in Mexico. This is text taken directly from our hard-earned car permit: (All text and punctuation faithfully reproduced as is)

 TEMPORARY IMPORT OF VEHICLES
 PROMISE OF RETURNING THE VEHICLE
 
 According to that settled down in the articulate 139, fraction IV of fiscal character of 
 External Trade 3.18.9, I Declare under of saying the truth that I carrier out the 
 temporary import; likewise which commit to return to the foreigner in the authorized 
 term, I declare that I won't make infractions or crimes related with the undue use of 
 the same one during my stay in Mexico.
 
 Likewise, I am informed of those who rot to drive my vehicle in national territory.
 
 Mexican residents abroad: It is allowed that the spouse, the ascendancies or descending 
 of the importer, provided they are abroad residents; when it is driven by some different 
 person from those authorized, invariably it will travel the propietor of the vehicle on 
 board (I Articulate 106, Fraction II, I incise and of the Tariff Law).
 
 For the foreigners: Rot to be driven in national territory by a foreighner that has 
 Tourist's migratory qualities, Visitor, Local and Distinguished Visitors, Students and 
 Inmigrant financiers, Non Inmigrants with the characteristics of Ministers of Cult or 
 religious associate or of Correspondent and Transmigrants. (I articulate 106, 
 fraction IV, incise to) of the Tariff Law, the RUles of Fiscal character of Trade 
 External 3.18.11 and 3.24.14.
 
 I am informed that it is forbidden:
 1.- to sell the vehicle (I Articulate 105 of the Tariff Law)
 2.- the vehicle can't be used like load transport or it stops managerial activities.
 3.- to exceed the term that has been granted by the Authority to return the vehicle to 
 the foreigner.
 4.- to declare data or to use false documents to care a vehicle temporarily.
 5.- that the vehicle is driven in national territory, for a different person to those 
 authorized in terms of the tariff legislation.
 
 Likewise, I manifest that in the mentioned behaviors, I will be subject to the lost of 
 the vehicle, to the economic sanctions or inclusive crive could be configured sanctioned 
 with prison pain.
 
 NOT TO RETURN THE VEHICLE, IMPIES NOT TO BE ABLE TO CARRY OUT FUTURE IMPORTS OF VEHICLES.
 
 SINCERELY
 
 ________________________________
 Name and signs of the importer
 
 

Picture of tornado Descending into Chihuahua is a vast plain where the city of Janos lies and one reaches the first actual road leading off in some other direction for hundreds of kilometers. Driving across the plain we were watching a thunderstorm to our south when suddenly it decided to spawn a tornado. It was far enough off that we could actually watch it roam about the plain and after it dissipated another one took its place almost immediately. This continued for almost half an hour and at one time there may have been three or four at once. The upper picture was supposed to be one of them, though taken through a car window at 110 KPH it ended up just being a picture of a storm and some desert. The lower one is a contrast-enhanced close-up which still takes a little imagination. Shortly after this picture was taken we were stopped for a 'random' drug search which involved standing on the side of the road while a Mexican soldier with an automatic weapon opens all the doors on your car, closes all the doors on the car, and then lets you go. We don't know what sort of drug they expect to find that way but they're more than welcome to do it as long as they have automatic weapons.

Picture of paquime_1 We were in Mexico to visit the Paquime indian ruins at Casas Grandes which look like this. Really they are quite stunning, but first, to our ultimate dismay we stopped for lunch. The clock in the car read 2:30 in the afternoon. We stopped in the new town nearby appropriately named Nuevo Casas Grandes. Here we found an absolutely excellent taco stand where for practically no real money you can eat your fill of carne asada tacos and a variety of toppings. Really that has to be the essence of Mexico right there. This was the highlight of our day in Mexico in fact.

Picture of paquime_2 Another picture of the Paquime site. Really quite awesome looking isn't it? The indians who lived here had clever T-shaped doors which prevented attackers from entering with a weapon. How? We don't know, this is as close as we got (with zoom lens) because the site was closed when we arrived. We chalked this up the whimsical nature of the caretakers and headed back disgruntled and disappointed. But on closer inspection, somewhere in the middle of the desert we realized the error of our ways -- it was actually our fault. Yes, Arizona is in Mountain Standard Time - all year long. Which means that in July, when most of the country is in Daylight Time, Arizona effectively shifts into Pacific Time. Crossing into Mexico put us back into true Mountain Daylight Time. But then in a freak of cartography we crossed into Central Daylight time in Chihuahua thus losing two hours (and the chance to visit the ruins). Alas. Well, tune in to some future trip story where we visit Casas Grandes while it is open.

Picture of tx_mexico


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