Drive to Mexico 2020

Our second time driving across the Mexican border was a bit different from the first, even though we used the same crossing – Colombia Solidarity Bridge in Laredo, Texas.

Getting Us Into Mexico

The first time we crossed, in January 2019, we had Mexican Visas, the first step in attaining Temporary Residency in Mexico, because we expected to stay long-term. This time, our Temporary Residencies had accidentally expired because of the extra time we spent in the States taking care of my sick mother, and we knew we are going to stay less than three months, so we entered with Tourist Visas.

The difference was that this time, we each had to pay a Tourist Visa fee at a cost of $575 MXN, about $390 US. (Note that this fee is included in your airline ticket fee when you fly into Mexico). This entailed the initial stop at Immigration office, a stop to pay at the Banjercito window, and then another stop at Immigration to finalize our paperwork.

Getting our Truck Into Mexico

Next, we had to get the Temporary Import Permit for our car. This cost $400 USD, which is supposed to be reimbursed when you leave Mexico, plus a processing fee of approximately $51 USD. I wasn’t as prepared this time as I was previously and I had left copies of my driver’s license and passport buried in a folder in the back of the truck, so we chose to stand in the copy line at the border facility and get those copied.

Registering the truck

Next, we had to drive through Customs. It seemed as if every car was chosen for inspection, and ours was no exception.

Inspecting the Cats

This time was that they asked for documentation for the cats. We were traveling with only two because Ellie, the third, was now living at Champlain College in Vermont with Gavin, our youngest. Effective January 1, 2020, you no longer need a Certified Health Certificate to bring a cat into Mexico, but they can physically inspect the cats for open sores, health problems, etc., and you need to prove they have rabies vaccines. The Inspector made us pull out the paperwork, which unfortunately was stored in the far reaches of the truck, entailed a near-total unpacking. He very thoroughly reviewed the paperwork.

Noxy and Kaylee patiently waited during the truck inspection

X-Raying the Truck

Next, Lisa and the cats had to get out of the truck while I, once again, drove it through the x-ray machine. Once they reviewed the x-rays, we were free to go.

The truck x-ray machine
Our truck is inside this x-ray machine

In the end, it took us about 1.5 hours at Mexican Immigration and Customs. Fortunately, there weren’t lines (which is why we like Colombia), or this could have been much longer.

Welcome to Mexico!

And then we were in Mexico! We didn’t take time to celebrate, but pressed forward to get to our first night’s lodging before dark.

Lisa’s favorite sign

We drove about 6 hours to Matehuala, where we had a reservation at the same cat-friendly motel we stayed at last time, Las Palmas Midway Inn in Matehuala.

Our new Garmin GPS seemed to under-estimate our travel time, by about an hour both days. We didn’t run into traffic either day, so that wasn’t the issue. Maybe it was the fact that many of the Mexican roads we drove on incessantly changed speed limits, going anywhere from 110 kph to 60 kph and back. It may be difficult for the GPS to deal with that along with the fact that there may be few people driving those routes and providing route time feedback. It could also be that we drive the speed limit while many Mexican drivers don’t necessarily do that. I don’t really know how the GPS time estimation works, so this is all just a guess.

We love our new Garmin GPS

Another thing that may impact the time estimation is the number of toll booths. Overall, we passed through 10 of these booths at a total cost of $924 MXN, or about $50 USD.

Stopped by the Mexican Cops (the Federales)

Finally, the last thing that was different on this trip was we were stopped by the Federal Police on two occasions. The first of these seemed to be more friendly. The second one was at an organized Federal Police checkpoint. Here they pulled over several people and performed inspections. They asked me 3 times if I had weapons or drugs (armas, pistolas, drogas) and then had me open the back of the truck and open selected suitcases, even going to the point of asking me where my shoes were in one of them, which I had to subsequently dig out. They also frisked me. Asking me to empty my pockets, patting me down and having me lift up my pant legs. So, that was a different experience than last time as we weren’t selected for the inspections as we drove through several of those checkpoints before.

Nonetheless, we arrived in Mexico City with enough time to unload, park the car and find an extremely nice restaurant to have a couple of beers, dinner and watch the Super Bowl (in Spanish).

Locking our Love Forever with Love Locks

Happy Valentine’s Day! We wanted to celebrate the annual day of love by sharing the story of our love locks.

A couple of weeks ago, Bob and I attached a little gold padlock to the new Love Lock Bridge near the Riverwalk in San Antonio to lock our love forever, then kissed and took a selfie to mark the occasion. On our lock was written in Sharpie “RG & LH,” inside a hand-drawn heart pierced by Cupid’s arrow. The bridge was actually a chainlink fence along the San Antonio River, but it was covered with hundreds of locks of other couples declaring their undying love.

It was the 15th time we have declared our forever love by placing a lock on a bridge. Normally we are not super-sentimental people, but love locks are a ritual we have grown to cherish during our travels, leaving our mark on bridges and walls all over the United States, Europe and Mexico (so far).

Paris, France

It all started in the summer of 2016, when I was planning to accompany Gavin’s scout troop on a week in the romantic city of Paris. Before we left, Bob gave me a padlock and asked me to write our initials on it and hang it on the Pont des Arts Bridge, which was famous for having so many lovers’ padlocks affixed to it that it groaned under the weight, and authorities had had to cut them off. He had seen the bridge during a weekend he spent alone in Paris during a business trip, and thought it would be nice to have our own lock there.

Surprised and touched by this rare sentimentality, I happily obliged. After the troop set off for the next leg of their trip, Switzerland, I went down to the River Seine and searched for the love locks. The city had decommissioned the Pont des Arts Bridge in 2015 because of the weight of the locks, so I went to the Pont Neuf. It was covered with thousands of lovers’ padlocks tumbling down the banisters and onto the railings of the river walls beyond. Across the River Seine from where I stood was a magnificent view of the Louvre. I locked our padlock, blew a kiss to Bob across the ocean, and took pictures. I’m sure if the locks get too heavy, authorities will cut them off again. But until then, RG & LH will grace the Pont Neuf in Paris, the city of lovers.

Paris

It was a grand, and small, gesture of love. It felt good. It made me think about why I had married this man, what we had experienced together, and how special our life was.

Hamburg, Germany

Three years later, we were visiting my brother Patrick in Hamburg, Germany, and walking along the Elbe River when we saw another bridge covered with lovers’ locks. We didn’t realize the tradition had expanded beyond Paris. Since we were leaving the country the next day, we went and found a hardware store to buy a lock, wrote RG & LH with a Sharpie and enlisted Patrick to hang it for us. A few weeks later, he sent a photo of our lock on the bridge. (Thanks, Pat!)

Hamburg

And with that, we were off, searching for love lock bridges, or creating our own, everywhere we went, together or apart. While on a five-week tour through Europe, we hung locks everywhere.

London, England

In London, we strolled across the pedestrian Jubilee Bridge and listened to a street musician playing Caribbean steel drums while we snapped our padlock in a spot all its own and kissed above the Thames River.

Rome, Italy

After a long day of sightseeing as a family in Rome, when Gavin’s and my feet were aching from miles of walking, Bob trekked back in the rain to hang a lock over the Tiber River. 

Rome

Sorrento, Italy

Farther south in Sorrento, on a solo weekend trip while I was off doing genealogy searching with some Italian cousins, Bob discovered an iron fence with love locks along the Mediterranean coastline about a mile from his hotel during his morning run. He spent the afternoon searching for a padlock and a Sharpie, but a torrential downpour forced him to wait to return until the next morning, when a break in the rain gave him time to quickly walk there and fix the lock in place before heading for the train station.

Sorrento

Hydra, Greece

In Greece, during a daylong boat trip, Hydra, an idyllic fishing village where bleached-white houses climb up the mountainside from the azure Mediterranean, offered herself as an entrancingly scenic host to our love lock.

Ludlow, Vermont

The tradition continued when we returned to North America. First, we affixed a love lock to a bridge in Ludlow, Vermont, where we have our second home.

New Orleans, Louisiana

Then we headed down to live in Mexico for the first six months of 2019. During a two-night on break the road trip south, we took the streetcar to hang a lock on a chain-link fence in New Orleans, under a banner that read Love Locks NOLA in front of the Eiffel Society, a club built from parts of a former Eiffel Tower eatery.   

Leon, Mexico

When we came to Mexico in January 2019, the first city we stayed in was Leon, where we found the Puente Del Amor (love locks bridge) at one end of the Causeway of Heroes, a wide pedestrian walkway that serves as the gateway into the old city. After spending an afternoon looking for ferreterias (hardware stores) to buy a padlock, we put our lock through the padlock of another lock at the top. The bridge looked down upon a highway, with mountains in the distance.

Lake Chapala, Mexico

We never found a good spot in Tlaquepaque, where we lived for four months, or Guadalajara, the city next door. But we visited beautiful Lake Chapala, half an hour south, for a day trip and walked out to the end of a fishing pier to hang our lock on a rusted turquoise railing overlooking Mexico’s largest freshwater lake. On the way, we had been stopped by announcers for a local radio station who were broadcasting live, and thus posed for the obligatory selfie in our new orange Guadalajara T-shirts.

Guanajuato, Mexico

By far the most interesting place to hang our lock was the magical town of Guanajuato, where there’s an alley so narrow that people can kiss from across two balconies. There’s a tragic legend of a young man who was killed for stealing a kiss from the daughter of a rich man. We put up our lock and kissed across the alley. (Fortunately, Bob survived.)

Montreal, Canada

We lived in Vermont during summer 2019, and took a couple of trips to Montreal, Canada, hanging one lock on a bridge overlooking Gay Village and the other on a small bridge in the main pedestrian area along the St. Lawrence River, looking out at a huge Ferris Wheel.

The Farm, Cascade, Pennsylvania

When we visited The Farm, the family homestead in the mountains of Central Pennsylvania where Lisa’s paternal grandmother grew up, we hung a love lock from the rusty metal rope that secures the entrance to the old lane.

Thwarted

We were occasionally thwarted in our efforts. In the beach town of Cambrils, Spain, there was no official Love Locks bridge, so we scouted the promenade along the ocean but never found a spot where we could thread a padlock. There was an official Love Locks spot in Barcelona, but we didn’t have time to visit it. We have looked several times while in Burlington, VT, but have not yet found a spot for a padlock.

Part of the tradition of the Love Locks is to throw the keys into the river to seal your eternal love, but we don’t do that because we don’t think it’s good for the health of the fish or the river. Thus we still hold all the keys to each other’s hearts.

Our Love Locks Map

Click on each pin to see an image of the lock in its home!

Up Next …

We have just arrived in Mexico City and are looking for a place to hang our 16th lock. We’ll keep you posted!

Enjoy the video of our love locks experiences on the Messy Suitcase YouTube Channel. Happy Valentine’s Day!

By Lisa & Bob

On the Road Again!

After 7 ½ months back in the States, we are back on the road again – this time, bound for Mexico City!

We left Bob’s mother Jane’s house in Mechanicsburg around 8 this morning, with a considerably lighter load than the last trip to Mexico: no Gavin, no Gavin’s luggage, no Ellie the adventure cat, and no bari sax. They have all migrated to Burlington, VT, where Gavin is in their freshman year studying filmmaking. We were also able to leave a few things at Bob’s mother’s house. She passed away three weeks ago, and we will be returning in the summer to fix up the condo and sell it.

Bob in the truck with the cats, ready to go

But till then, we are getting on with our life! And that means driving south.  First stop, Athens, Tennessee, tonight! We are staying at a clean, cheap Motel 8 that accepts cats with no fee and has a number of dining options within walking distance, plus about eight cheap gas stations.

Tomorrow we will hit the road again by 7:30 or 8 AM and drive to New Orleans, where we’ll spend two nights. Then, after another day driving, we’ll spend two nights in San Antonio to break up the 40-hour trip.

The newest addition to our dashboard menagerie, an African wild dog that Aryk gave Bob for Christmas. (He needs a name)

If all goes according to plan, we’ll cross the Mexican border at Laredo, TX, spend a night at the Midway Inn in Matehuala, México, and arrive in Mexico City on Feb. 2, hopefully in plenty of time to find a bar with the Super Bowl on TV. Hasta luego!

We Have Booked Our Mexico City Lodging!

We have booked a wonderful penthouse apartment just a couple of blocks from Chapultepec Park in Mexico City for our 2 1/2 month stay this winter and early spring.

We have done a bit of research into Mexico City, talking to friends who have lived here or visited, and reading books and perusing online resources, to determine which were the safest and most fun neighborhoods to live in — Polanco, Juarez, Roma Norte and Condesa among them. We knew we wanted to live near a park for running, near public transit, and within walking distance of restaurants and other amenities.

The kitchen and dining room

This apartment in Juarez was on sale for half-price because it was a new listing on Airbnb, so we are getting a big place in a great location for pauper’s prices. It’s also a new apartment, and newly furnished, and the landlord says most of the other apartments in the building are not yet occupied. It has two bedrooms with large closets, a little room with a bar, a full kitchen/dining/living area, a patio, and even a roof garden, where the landlord, Eduardo encourages us to practice our instruments. He doesn’t normally allow cats but is making an exception after I begged. (I think he thought it was worth it for the income.) This is the unit: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/40229764

This location is perfect for us because it’s just a couple of blocks from Chapultepec Park, one of the largest city parks in Latin America. This park is more than twice as big as New York’s Central Park, with a zoo, seven museums, live music, and of course great running (which we missed in Tlaquepaque). There’s even a lake where I can kayak!  

Chapultepec Forest Lake (Source: Pixabay)

The apartment is also a couple of blocks from Paseo de la Reforma, a wide, tree-lined avenue that runs across the heart of Mexico City. We’ll be able to run down it to the city’s historic district. It’s also about three blocks from Calle Chapultepec, another popular avenue with lots of restaurants and nightlife that starts at the park by the same name.

Paseo de Reforma (Source: Wikimedia Commons, Fortepan — ID 73834: Adományozó/Donor: Romák Éva)

There are several close subway stations, which is good, because we will park our truck in a secure parking spot when we arrive and not use it again until we leave.

We are confident this is an apartment where we – and the cats – will be able to spend a safe, happy two and a half months in Mexico City.

Enjoy our YouTube video about our successful search for a place to stay in Mexico City!

By Lisa
Hamm-Greenawalt

Back in the Saddle Again

It’s hard to believe it has been seven months since we left Mexico. A brief summer interlude in Vermont getting one of our vacation homes ready to sell and settling our youngest child, Gavin, into Champlain College in Burlington turned into a much longer stretch in the USA when Bob’s mother, Jane, called us in August to say she had just been diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Enjoying a boat ride in Montreal during a weekend off working on the Vermont houses

So after spending the summer painting a house, tiling a kitchen, planting two gardens, refinishing a floor, staining two decks, replacing windows, and doing more tasks than I care to remember on both houses – punctuated, thank God, by a couple of long weekends in Montreal and Burlington and many visits to local craft breweries – we moved into Jane’s house in Mechanicsburg, PA, in October to care for her in her last months.

While living here, we kept busy. Lisa signed up for National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo) in November and wrote a long-postponed book. Bob threw himself into the editing of his many videos from our time in Mexico for the Messy Suitcase YouTube channel. We both spent countless hours studying Spanish and practicing our instruments (Bob saxophone, Lisa guitar). We spent 9 days in Cancun in November, during a period when Jane was doing better and we needed a break.

The official winner’s certificate for Nanowrimo. Lisa wrote a YA fantasy novel called Elephant Rock.

We also spent time with some of Lisa’s family members around the winter holidays, and got to know Jane’s neighbors in her over-55 community. As her health deteriorated, we became quite attached to her regular visitors from Homeland Hospice, who became our family’s lifeline: her CNA (certified nursing assistant) Sherry, who came every day to bathe and dress her; her hospice nurse Hannah, who visited weekly; and our social worker Pam, who supported us all in too many ways to count.

Jane was able to lift a glass of champagne on New Year’s Eve. She passed away a week later.

Meanwhile, we cared for Jane and tried to keep her comfortable. We watched Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy with her. The kids came home for Christmas break and got to spend time with their grandmother. Bob’s sister Beth came to visit regularly.

And on Jan. 7, 2020, at the age of 89, Jane Greenawalt left us.

Now the funeral is over, the spawn are back at college, and we are officially empty nesters. Although Jane’s stuff still needs to be sorted and dispersed, and her condo needs to be fixed up to sell, we are deferring that till the summer.

It’s time for us to get back to our lives, at least for a while. So we are planning to return to Mexico later this month and spend the rest of winter and half of spring there. We’ll come back in late April, before Gavin’s school lets out for the summer, and spend some time in Vermont before returning to PA for the next round of heavy lifting.

This time we are headed for Mexico City! We are excited at the prospect of living in a big city, after spending the summer in rural Vermont and the fall in this Harrisburg suburb.  We are currently deciding between several condos in a safe neighborhood – Condesa, Roma Norte or Polanco – near a huge park (a requirement for us as runners). We are also looking at language schools, because we plan to study Spanish every day, at least for the first month, the way we did in Tlaquepaque last year. It will only be for two hours a day this time, because Lisa is editing her book and we want time to enjoy the city.

We’ll keep you posted as things develop! Right now the plan is to leave Jan. 28 and drive our trusty Toyota Tacoma (with two cats on board; the third now lives with Gavin at school) slowly south, stopping in Cincinnati, Memphis and Austin on the way so we can see some friends and take some breaks from the road. We should arrive in CDMX (Ciudad de Mexico, Spanish for Mexico City) on Super Bowl Sunday.

Wish us luck! Hasta luego!

Mexico City, here we come!

Messy Suitcase Video: Why Guadalajara?

Beto (Bob) is developing his video editing skills, and working on putting the many videos he has made over the past year of traveling in Europe and then Mexico up onto the Messy Suitcase YouTube Channel! 

After toting his GoPro all over Mexico, and now Vermont, plus the drives back and forth, he’s just learning how to edit the footage, so please be patient, and feel to comment with words of encouragement.  Each video will get better, and they will be packed with fascinating info and our illuminating comments and observations.

We’ll hope you’ll follow our the Messy Suitcase YouTube Channel,  and ring the bell to be notified as we put more videos up. We are also open to new ideas!

Enjoy the video Why Guadalajara? 

Why Guadalajara? video