Crossing the Border

read previous: “Escaping 1968”

July 2, 1968

We are so excited! Eager to get on our way to Mexico! We’d never traveled anywhere and now were traveling beyond the borders of the United States. At breakfast, we didn’t even mind that the Holiday Inn restaurant kitchen cooked our bacon on a grill that had obviously not been cleaned after grilling onions on it the night before.

We thought we were getting out before the crowds at the border, but when we arrived at the customs station everyone else was there too. There were at least 200 people ahead of us. It felt like we were in the Tower of Babel; we really wished that we had paid more attention in our high school Spanish classes. The first officer to help us spoke only Spanish; when he realized we spoke only English, he summoned another officer who spoke some English. Charles was so excited to hear English that when the officer asked him a question to which the response would have been “yes,” or “si” in Spanish, Charles responded with a French, “oui.” I teased him about this for years.

After two hours, we had our papers and were able to cross into Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, just across the border from Laredo, Texas. We navigated through streets that were crowded with cars and people. We couldn’t believe how many stores were along the way. Houses were more than a little modest, built of stone and wood.

MountainView

Mountain view

When we reached the highway, we found that it was too narrow for passing. As we approached signs, I was busily looking up the translations to make sure we were following the map. We could see part of the Sierra Madre Mountains from the highway. The views were breathtakingly beautiful. Hills, steep mountains, patches of shrubbery that looked like nappy or kinky Afros, cacti, stumps of trees, tall trees with pineapple-shaped bark on the trunks and palm-like tops.

We would be in the valley for a while, and then ascend into the mountains with solid rock on both sides of the highway for a distance, and then the rock would give way to a corduroy of green on the mountain sides. As we traveled down the mountain sides into the valleys, it was as if the palm trees that surrounded us were thousands of people with outstretched arms worshiping the sun.

It was 2:30 in the afternoon when we arrived in Monterrey, Mexico. We had no trouble finding the Ramada Inn because it was on top of a mountain. We were impressed! After the onion bacon at our last hotel restaurant, we decided to go into town to eat. Although there was a language barrier, the people worked with us to try to communicate, and we were more than grateful for their kindness.

Since there was no TV or radio in our hotel room, we thought we would buy some playing cards to pass the time when we were bored. Try explaining playing cards to a shopkeeper when you don’t speak the language. Thinking that we had bought a deck of playing cards, we later discovered that what we bought was a set of cards to play a game like Bingo, which would have further necessitated a special table. Charles, being the wizard that he was, devised a makeshift deck since the number of cards worked. That night, we played the first of many games of Gin Rummy with the strangest cards.

July 3, 1968

Leaving Monterrey, we were fascinated at how the mountainsides were covered with colorful houses. We traveled on Highway 85 to Ciudad Valles. Driving this highway was a challenge because it wound around the outer rims of mountains. It was also extremely narrow with even narrower bridges making it only possible for one car to cross at a time. In addition to slowing considerably because of all the curves around the mountains, we shared the highway with goats, horses, and sometimes people walking. We made a game of imagining what the goats and cows who stopped in front of our car to stare at us might be saying: “What are you doing here?” “Are you lost or something?”

HotelValles

Hotel Valles

Relieved to leave the highway, we arrived in Ciudad Valles just after 5:00 p.m. Hotel Valles was a pleasant change from the vanilla Holiday and Ramada Inns. It had been around for a while and was quite elegant in its own way. Built of stone with curved archways on the outside, the inside revealed high ceilings, and the space for our bedroom, vestibule, and bathroom was larger than our entire apartment back home.

Too early for supper, we explored the town on foot and became something of a main attraction to the locals. We were famished, having eaten a lunch consisting only of a coke and something resembling a Hostess cupcake so stale that it scratched our throats when we swallowed. We tried what we thought were potato chips, pappas fritos. We only needed to try one to realize that our digestive system would not be able to handle the heavy grease-soaked pig skins.

Our hotel restaurant was our salvation. The food was so good at supper, we thought we had died and gone to heaven. Charles had filet mignon and I had baked ham Hawaiian style. If I had to pick a theme for our road-trip honeymoon, it would be food. With all the culture and history surrounding us, the most memorable events for me involved food.

Thoroughly satiated and dead on our feet, we retired to our room, where I rolled my hair and Charles reviewed the AAA book.

Next stop, Mexico City!

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