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).

New Orleans, Part 2: The National World War II Museum

On our single full day in New Orleans, we opted for history instead of entertainment and headed to the National World War II Museum. It was, without a doubt, one of the most spectacular, illuminating museums I have ever experienced in my life. This museum, which started out as the D-Day Museum in 2001, and is located in New Orleans because most of the landing craft used on that turning-point day in history was manufactured here. The D-Day Museum was so well received that it was expanded a few years later to become the National WWII Museum.

Lisa’s dog tag

You start by getting a dog tag to represent a soldier you will be tracking all day at check-in stations, and board the same kind of train many soldiers took when they embarked on their journeys. It was a truly immersive experience as, with seats rocking, the train whistle blowing and the grainy black-and-white landscape flying by, the conductor welcomed you aboard.

Beyond Boundaries Film

After getting off the train, we started our explorations by watching the 48-minute film Beyond Boundaries, a 4D experience narrated by Tom Hanks that used film and other sensory effects, including a 1930s wooden-cabinet radio, falling snowflakes, a plane cockpit that lowered from the ceiling to punch out an air battle scene, and more to introduce us to the sheer magnitude of World War II. The mini-documentary stunningly put into perspective the global threat presented by German Furer Adolph Hitler, Italian Benito Mussolini, and Emperor Hirohito of Japan, the Axis leaders who wanted nothing less than global domination. It ended at the climax, the bombing of Pearl Harbor that dragged the United States in the war and engaged every person in the country in the fight for the very survival of democracy.

We learned how the ill-equipped United States, previously hesitant to join in the war as Nazi forces took over country after country, stepped up when it came under attack. Men young and old rushed to join the war effort and defend their country against the invaders. Women, who were home raising children, took factory jobs and churned out an incredible volume of planes, jeeps, weapons, artillery and more.

The European Theater

The WWII Museum is comprised of five buildings, and we only had one day, so we chose to enter the Road to Berlin: European Theater gallery. I don’t even know how to describe the experience after this. We spent five awe-struck hours being assaulted from all sides by grainy black-and-white film, sound and lighting effects, real-life voices telling their stories, radio broadcasts, flashes and explosions, and much more.

This breathtaking exhibit took us through the major steps in the European campaign, starting with North Africa and moving across Italy, southern France, Normandy, the Battle of the Bulge, D-Day, England, and  Germany, that culminated in the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany. We experienced the shock that troops felt when they discovered the atrocity of the concentration camps and the slaughter of 6 million Jews, as well as millions of others deemed inferior to Hitler’s Aryan race. We met military leaders and foot soldiers, journalists (including Ernie Pyle’s life and death) and pilots. We saw airplanes and jeeps, nurses’ uniforms and bomber jackets. We shivered in the snowy woods in Germany and leaned away from incoming anti-aircraft fire from a small plane. I thought of my three Troisi uncles who flew many missions in Europe and for the first time had a concept of what their experience was like.

A plane goes down during an air battle

My dog tag soldier, John, was a 17-year-old who went to Canada to pursue becoming a pilot when the United States rejected him because of a previous broken neck. He ended up doing bomb runs for Canada, and then England, before the United States decided to let him join. He won a medal of honor and was a prisoner of war in Germany for more than a year.

Planes, Jeeps and Submarines

We also visited the US Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center, where we saw a number of WWII planes and jeeps, as well as the Medal of Honor Exhibit.

Wartime aircraft
Medal of Honor recipients

We still need to go back to see the other Campaign of Courage: The Pacific Theater, especially since that’s where Bob’s dad was stationed on a Destroyer Escort in 1943-45. There’s a whole hall, the Arsenal of Democracy, that we didn’t have time for, and a doomed submarine experience I’m interested in. The outdoor area is under construction to create a Freedom Garden.

New Orleans is about a lot more than Jazz and Jambalaya. If you visit this city, definitely devote a day or two to the National WWII Museum. To get the full experience of the museum, watch Bob’s video on the Messy Suitcase YouTube channel.

By Lisa Hamm-Greenawalt

New Orleans, Part 1: Jazz and Jambalaya

We just spent a couple of nights in New Orleans to break up the road trip from Pennsylvania to Mexico City. We rented a lovely, pet-friendly cottage through AirBnB that had a kitchen, living room and two bedrooms, just a short Uber ride from the action.  It was pristine, affordable and super comfortable.

After working out and showering, we spent our first NOLA night on Bourbon Street, a place we barely got to explore last year when we came through because it was just too loud for Gavin. But this time, with Gavin off at college, we headed down there again. Mardi Gras is still a month away, so it wasn’t high season yet, and we headed out early to avoid crushing crowds and deafening noise.

Bourbon Street is the heart of the touristy French Quarter, and we were planning to go to historic Preservation Hall to see classic New Orleans jazz. For $20 seats on the floor, we would need to stand in line outside to get day-of-show tickets. After a day spent driving, we weren’t in the mood.

Bourbon Street

So we instead opted to get a more local experience recommended by our Uber driver, Joe. First we shared a mouthwatering dinner of blackened redfish and jambalaya at an oyster bar on Bourbon called Le Bayou. Jambalaya is a kind of dirty rice with spicy tomato sauce and andouille sausage. We also enjoyed hurricanes, a classic New Orleans drink with rum and fruity juices. Our waiter kept calling us “y’all,” so we couldn’t forget we were truly in the south. After filling our stomachs, we strolled along Bourbon, taking in the crowd scene, and even saw a school band marching up the road, followed by a small parade of what I assume was a krewe, a social organization that helps put on a parade or ball during the carnival season, which runs January and February.  

Bourbon Street is amazingly loud, even in the off-season, and the road is closed to traffic so people can just wander at their leisure. Musicians with saxophones, guitars or even just spoons and plastic buckets, entertain for tips on street corners. The shops are filled with colorful art, with candy skulls, masks, voodoo paraphernalia, and jazz accouterments.

We walked about a mile to Frenchmen’s Street, a locals’ favorite area. Frenchmen’s is lined on both sides with lively bars and restaurants. As you wander along the sidewalk, you can listen to the music blasting out the open doors and choose your poison. Most have no cover and a local clientele. We chose Marigny Brasserie, and enjoyed an hour of music by a sweet jazz duo. A drunken regular celebrating her 71st birthday alone plopped down next to me at the bar and I was friendly to her. That turned out to be a mistake as she subsequently kept hitting me to get my attention, then ranting in a slurred voice about the injustices of her life and why it was horrible that the bar was showing The Waterboy and Captain Phillips on the big screen when people should be getting to know each other instead. Since she sitting on a stool between me and the band, it was impossible for me to watch the band. I guess if you want to be where the locals are, sometimes you have to put up with a local!

But we ducked out and wandered, encountering an Art Market where local artisans sold jewelry, paintings, even hand-made three-string guitars.

The band at Bamboulia’s

On the second evening, we ate at Bamboulina’s, a cozy bar with exposed brick walls, and enjoyed incredible pulled pork and a wonderful blues band. If I lived in NOLA, I think I would go to Frenchmen’s every weekend and try a different bar each time! Our last Uber driver encouraged us to try Magazine Street in Uptown New Orleans next time, so watch for that blog in the spring when we pass through again on our way back north!

Up next … The National World War II Museum

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!

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!

Car Setbacks (a.k.a. Shit Happens)

All was not completely smooth in our trip across the country
and into Mexico,as we ran into several car-related setbacks.

First, the Car Accident

The first came in late August when Lexie was working on
getting her driver’s license. One Saturday we decided to get some interstate
driving experience in and drive north on I-76, away from the crowded metro Denver
area. We were concentrating on watching cars that were merging onto the highway,
as Denver drivers have a bad habit of expecting cars already on the highway to
yield to them. Driving in the right-hand lane, we came to an entrance ramp
where a car and medium sized U-Haul truck had just gotten on the merge ramp. We
were opposite the truck so we couldn’t speed up, but before we could even slow
down the U-Haul moved right into our lane. Lexie’s immediate reaction was to
shift left to avoid the truck, but unfortunately, another car was there. We hit
that car, bounced off, and Lexie lost control. Suddenly we were heading for the
concrete median at 65 mph. Crash! Airbags deployed. Things didn’t end well for
the truck, or for Lexie’s hand, which was broken and in a cast for 6 weeks. 
The U-Haul
driver just drove on up the road. I assume he never even saw
us.

Chain Reaction

This set off a chain reaction. First, we had to find a new
truck. Unfortunately, we had already ordered a custom topper which only fit
Toyota Tacomas through 2015, and it was black. So we started looking, all over
the country for a low-mileage 2015 Tacoma in a color compatible with black.
This consumed valuable time that we needed for packing and finishing up on the
house, but we eventually found a charcoal one in the Denver area that had about
50,000 miles less than our older 2012 truck.

 License & Registration

The accident also meant that Lexie wouldn’t be able to get
her driver’s license in Colorado, because she could not drive again till she
got her cast off, which would be only a few days before our scheduled
departure. We would have to figure out that later.
And it created some difficulties in getting license plates
and registration for the new car in Colorado since CO had recently switched to
a new computer system which had created a backlog.

Next, the Battery

Our troubles in CO weren’t over yet. On the day before we
were scheduled to leave, the new truck wouldn’t start. We had it jumped and I
took it to NAPA to get the battery tested. The battery was bad, and I changed
it out in the NAPA parking lot.

Then, Rear-Ended

For our last meal in the Denver area, we decided to go to
Woody’s Pizza in Golden, our favorite pizza place. They make a wide variety of delicious
pizzas, and you go to the counter and grab a slice of whatever pizza just came
out of the oven. On the way, we were stopped at a red light on a fairly major
road, 2nd in line. Traffic was stopped behind us. The light turned
green, but the person in front of decided he wanted to change lanes so he
didn’t move until traffic on our left had cleared. As we sat waiting, the woman
in a large truck behind us suddenly rammed into the back of our truck. Our
truck was half packed, but fortunately it was drivable, with only damage to our
tailgate and bumper. Because of our tight travel schedule to make it across the
country and catch a plane to Europe, it would be three months before we could
get the damage repaired.
The new truck with topper, right before the accident
So we had to drive across the country with a badly damaged
bumper held on by a bungee cord.

Our Car Registration Expires

We parked our truck at Lisa’s brother’s house in northern
Virginia and he graciously took us to the airport for our European trip. During
the time away, our temporary Colorado registration expired, so we had to call
the car dealership from Greece to get an extension sent to Lisa’s brother so we
wouldn’t be driving illegally when we got back.

Back to Lexie’s Driver’s License

Back from Europe, our plan was to spend some time in our
Vermont house and get Lexie the driving practice necessary to pass the test. Then
we would both fly back to CO, get the new car registration and take the test.
However, since we own property in Vermont we investigated whether Lexie could
get her license and whether we could register the car there. We found out we
could do both, and now Lexie is a resident of Vermont. We also registered the
car there. Vermont DMV took our CO title and told us it would be a few weeks
before our registration and title would arrive in the mail (to our Colorado
address).
Unfortunately, the weather was abnormally snowy so we didn’t
get as much driving practice in as we expected, still Lexie was ready to take
the test a few days before our scheduled departure. Unfortunately, she didn’t
pass, mostly because the examiner didn’t like the way she parallel-parked the
truck. (Personally, I completely avoid parallel parking the truck because I
can’t do it.) She actually parallel-parked perfectly, but before she had time
to straighten the wheels out, the instructor told her she was finished and to
move on – and then deducted points for not straightening out the truck!
It was frustrating, but we rescheduled the test for the day
before we were scheduled to leave VT. Then, just as we were getting into the
truck to go to the test, the examiner called us and told us that a mistake had
been made and that they rescheduled the new test too early, as Vermont has a three-day
waiting period between tests. That meant that Lexie still doesn’t have her
license, which we will have to take care of this summer.

Cracked Windshield

We embarked on our trip to Mexico in early January, and on
the second day on the road, we took a stone to the windshield which caused a
crack. We didn’t want to go into Mexico with that so, as we were driving, we
scheduled a glass repair while we were staying at our AirBnB in New Orleans the
next day.

Troubles at the Border

We’ve previously documented our problems in getting into
Mexico because we still hadn’t received our permanent registration from Vermont
read that blog. 

Sidetracked by the Gas Crisis

And, follow our problems in getting the whole way to
Guadalajara due to the gas crisis in Mexico here! 

Rising Above

However, even with all of the minor setbacks, we made it to
Mexico and have started our new life — and we certainly have learned how to
handle adversity! And sometimes the setbacks provided unforeseen advantages. Because
of the accident, we have a newer car that is better able to handle rough
Mexican roads. Because of the gas crisis, we discovered a city we never would
have thought to visit, Leon.

How to Road-Trip with Cats

We have taken our three cats — Ellie, Equinox and Kaylee — thousands of miles in a 2015 Toyota Tacoma over the past three months. 

These are ordinary cats who hate going to the vet. Yet they have road-tripped successfully across the country from Colorado to Pennsylvania, then PA to Vermont, then VT back to PA, then the big one: PA to central Mexico.

The ultimate destination for this marathon road trip is Tlaquepaque, near Guadalajara, which is still 250 kms away from where we are right now. (We are waiting to finish the trip until the gas shortages resolve enough for us to get the gas we need to make the final journey.)

In the meantime, as we all roost at a sweet little AirBnB apartment in Leon, I’d like to share a few tips about traveling with cats.

Tips for Traveling With Cats

Advance preparation is key
Introduce your cats to their cages well in advance so they can form a positive relationship. We put the cat cages out in the family room two weeks before the trip and placed our cats’ food bowls inside at mealtime, to give them a positive association with the cages. When it was time to leave on the trip, they got in happily. (This only works once.)

Expect them to hate it
“Put me in a cage for 8 hours and I will sit and not complain,” said no cat, ever. Expect a lot of yowling and complaining. Expect them to have accidents and to occasionally vomit from the motion of the vehicle.

Visit the vet in advance
The vet gave us ideas for reducing cat anxiety, including kitty valium and anti-nausea drugs. The nausea stuff helped Equinox but the valium made it worse for Ellie. But we also made sure they were up-to-date on their shots and in good general health, and got their claws trimmed.

The cats with their favorite handler, Lexie

Keep your expectations low
Don’t expect your feline companions to travel as long as you can. After all, humans can stop every couple of hours to stretch their legs, have a snack, and use a bathroom. Even dogs can get out of the car to exercise a little and relieve themselves. But cats are stuck in a tiny cage for the duration. No bathroom breaks. No chance to stretch, or even stand up. So don’t expect them to last 12 hours a day just because you can.

We learned this the hard way on the first leg of our journey, Colorado to Pennsylvania. Bob was trying to power-drive across the United States and the cats let him know in no uncertain terms that any more than 10 hours on the road was decidedly NOT OK with them. First, Equinox had diarrhea just an hour and a half into the first leg of the trip, which was a portent of things to come. The next day, poor Ellie, a fastidiously private litter box user, let out a long, throaty, almost otherworldly groan of embarrassment as she peed in her cage after 10 hours on the road. Every day for the first four days, at least one cat vomited in a cage.

Kaylee, the scaredy-cat at home, turned out to be a natural traveler. She never cried, peed or pooped; she was a perfect little angel in the car. She just hid in hotel rooms. (More on that later.)

So we had a family meeting and agreed: 8-hour limit, if possible. That’s nice for humans, too, because perhaps we can get a run in after eight hours on the road, or do some yoga, or move in some way to compensate for all the hours sitting in the truck.

Be prepared on the road
Here’s our advice for some advance moves to make to ensure success on the road with your cats:

  • Multiple stops present multiple chances to escape, and nothing can ruin an adventure more than losing a precious furry part of your family. So get your cats chipped and register them. 
  • Get them collars with tags that have your email and phone number on them, 
  • Pack a kitty emergency kit that includes cleaning supplies, wipes, washcloths and towels. 
  • Create a bag of basic necessities: wet and dry cat food (with plastic lids for cans and clips for the food bag), a bottle of water, cat litter, a litter box or two, litter box bags (expensive but essential for travel), pooper scooper,food bowls, a plastic Tupperware container for water, plastic spoons for scooping out food, kitty toys and a scratching post. 
Kaylee settling into a hotel room in Leon

Help them feel comfortable
Here’s what we did:

  • Lexie has a quilt the cats love. It went onto her bed first thing in each hotel room and gave them a sense of home. 
  • We also threw out a couple of their favorite toys. 
  • In the car, we made sure the music wasn’t too loud or jarring. They preferred Amazon Music’s soft pop station to rap, rock or even country. 
  • We adjusted their food to minimize vomiting — just a little dry food first thing in the morning, and an anti-anxiety pill, if needed an hour before the trip. 
  • Some cats like thundershirts to ease anxiety. Ellie likes to wear a harness. 

Make sure they are secure
We initially had a vision of happy adventure cats wandering around the backseat, sleeping in our laps while tethered by harnesses to a cable Bob was going to run between the two front seats. But we discovered, after a little research, that that was a stupid and dangerous idea. Free-range cats can become like rockets in case of an accident.

So instead we bought two stackable, hard-plastic cat cages for Ellie and Equinox, who rode double-decker, Kaylee beside them in another cage. All were tightly secured by seatbelts to the back seat, and Lexie sat beside them murmuring words of comfort when needed.

Stacked cats

Expect resistance
Once the cats figure out that you will take them out of the car to stay in a hotel every night, and then put them back into the car the next morning to travel for another eight hours, they will try to thwart you. They will go into hiding as soon as you start re-packing your suitcases. In one hotel room, Kaylee found a spot deep inside the box springs of Lexie’s bed, and we had to disassemble the bed to root her out. In another, we came back from breakfast to find NO cats in the hotel room. They were all hiding deep in corners and crevices.

Can you find the two cats hiding in this picture?
(They are inside the trundle bed)
Note their favorite purple quilt, which was gifted to Lexie
from the Piecemakers at Evergreen Lutheran Church.

We finally learned to contain them early in the morning, before they could hide. In this photo, they are contained inside the shower in the Hotel Soleil in Leon.

Cats coralled into the shower at Hotel Soleil Business Class

Give them a break now and then
In the middle of our five-day trip to Mexico, we stopped in New Orleans for a short layover and rented an apartment with two bedrooms and lots of room to run around. They loved it!

Upon arrival, reward them
At each stop, the first priority was getting the cats out of the cages and giving them food and water immediately. Since they hadn’t had their usual half a can of wet food for breakfast, they would receive that right away, and then get the rest of the can at bedtime.

Find pet-friendly lodging
We found a website called Bring Fido that helps you find pet-friendly lodging (including in Mexico) and allows you to book through Booking.com. There are also certain hotel chains that are universally pet-friendly, including Days Inn (which also has laundry facilities), Super 8 (surprisingly nice for a budget chain), and TownPlace Suites by Marriott. For stays of more than one night, we would visit AirBnB or Homeaway and search for “pet-friendly” in the filters. Hotels usually charge an extra fee per day per pet and cap the number allowed at 2. If we were staying more than one night, renting an apartment was more economical and a lot more comfortable for everyone.

It gets easier
The initial three-person struggle to get each resisting, flailing cat into a cage became a two-person efficient system that became a one-person easily-managed task. A cat crying for 10 hours straight became crying half the time became crying just the first hour. Be patient. Traveling long hours in a car isn’t fun for anyone. Expect to be showered with affection in the hotel room, because they are so grateful to be out of the car and with you again.

Ellie still cries when she gets in the cage. But it doesn’t last the whole time anymore. Kaylee now sits like a Buddha watching the world go by out the front windshield, while Equinox, stomach calm from anti-nausea meds, just goes to sleep. We listen to more Ed Sheeran than we would like, and life on the road with cats is good.

The Buddha cat

36 Hours in New Orleans

After the first two days on the road headed for Mexico, we decided to give our cats a break from the car — and ourselves a chance to stretch our legs — and booked an apartment for a couple of nights in New Orleans.

We stayed in the lower level of a house we found on HomeAway.com – two large bedrooms and a spacious living/dining/kitchen — not far from Tulane University. It wasn’t cheap, but after two solid days of driving, we needed to spread out. The cats loved it! We did, too.

Traveling is exhausting, so we did not pack every minute in NOLA with activities. We wanted to experience the city, but we also needed some downtime.

The first thing Bob and I did after settling into our temporary home was to go for a run through the neighborhood, which was near Tulane University. It consisted of charming French colonial bungalows, though the roads were very slanted and there were a number of car-eating potholes. We later learned this neighborhood had been flooded by Hurricane Katrina 14 years ago.

Back from our run, posing in front of our rental house


First, the French Quarter

After showering, we made a reservation at a restaurant called Oceana in the French Corner, near the corner of Bourbon Street and Conti. But when we stepped out of the Uber, we were immediately assaulted by a deafening cacophony of sound. To our left on Bourbon, a radio station DJ was blasting loud rock music. To our right, a bunch of kids were playing noisy percussion on Home Depot utility buckets. Lexie almost screamed from the shock. We tried to navigate past them to see what Bourbon Street had to offer, even sliding into a little outdoor terrace where a quartet was playing jazz, but the bombardment was too much for Lexie.

“This is the worst city I have ever been in!” she shouted over the melee, as we covered our ears and shot for the restaurant.

Oceana provided welcome refuge, as Bob and I happily slurped up our first Hurricanes and we enjoyed classic New Orleans cuisine — jambalaya, blackened catfish, jalapeno hush puppies, red beans and rice.

Drinking a Hurricane

Lisa’s dinner at Oceana

Then we retreated to our apartment to recover.

Second Day: A Fascinating Culture to Discover

The second day we spent much of the morning at home because a rock had hit our windshield the night before and we had to wait for the glass repairman to come fix it. That gave Lexie a chance to sleep late, Bob to get another run in and Lisa to do yoga. We enjoyed beignets for breakfast, a NOLA-style donut covered with confectioners sugar.

Windshield repaired, at 11 or so we set out to explore New Orleans by day. We liked it so much more! We started on the waterfront, where we saw the Mississippi Queen paddleboat and walked along the river, taking in the surprisingly industrial view.

Bob and Lexie in front of the Mississippi Queen

We enjoyed lunch on a balcony overlooking the Mississippi River, and then started wandering. We peeked into the St. Louis Cathedral, enjoyed some street jazz, and discovered the most incredible mask store, where a man was meticulously crafting a carnival mask out of leather. I would have loved to buy one to add to my mask collection!

The mask store window enticed us

The custom-made masks were truly incredible works of art


Voodoo in NoLa

We headed toward the New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum. I have spent a bit of time in Haiti, including attending a voodoo festival, and we displayed a voodoo flag in our dining room back in Colorado, so I was curious to see how it differed in New Orleans.On the way we visited a vodoo store, which was full of fascinating items with interpretive labels, including books, voodoo dolls, herbs and medicines, and altars dedicated to various spirits and gods. I had a nice chat with the owner, the descendants of Haitians from Cap-Haitien, slaves and plantation owners, and I realized anew what a rich melange of races and backgrounds create the unique New Orleans character. Here are pics from the store:
Herbs and medicines

A voodoo flag

Voodoo dolls. (I left this photo large so you could read the labels and check out the dolls’ anatomy)


The Voodoo Museum offers “a casual and curious experience intended to preserve the legacy of New Orlean’s Voodoo history and culture while educating and entertaining visitors.” It’s only $7 to go in, and consists of a hallway and two rooms jam-packed with the mysteries, secrets, history and folklore of rituals, zombies, Voodoo Queens, altars and more. 

Here are a few photos with explanations. I also recommend you peruse the museum’s wonderful website to see and learn more.

Marie Laveau, the mother of voodoo in New Orleans

A paiting of Marie Laveau

A voodoo altar

Cute, right?

Voodoo flag

Paying Homage to Louis Armstrong


Since Lexie and Bob both play the saxophone and Lisa adores jazz, we had to make a pilgrimage to Louis Armstrong Park/Congo Square, which celebrates music and is also a major NOLA gathering place for Native American and African music and culture. 

Bob joins the jazz band

Satchmo


The Streetcar and Creole Creamery


We ended the day with a streetcar ride to the Eiffel Society so Bob and I could hang a Lock of Love in New Orleans on a fence in front of a restaurant transplanted from the top of the Eiffel Tower to New Orleans and reinvented as an event space. 

New Orleans Streetcar
Lexie taking a ride

Our NOLA Lock of Love

Finally, we visited Creole Creamery, the best ice cream in town and the only one in the world that seems to truly understand me. Instead of having to pick one flavor, they offered four- and six-scoop samplers! Heaven. Their tagline is, “Eat ice cream. Be happy.” 


The Four-Scoop Sampler



With an early start scheduled the next morning and ears still recovering from the Bourbon Street experience, we played a wicked game of Pinochle and hit the hay early. But we will be back; it was really just a taste! There are so many restaurants to eat in, we need to enjoy more jazz (we did see a street group outside the St. Louis Cathedral), tour the cemetery, visit the WWII Museum, take a riverboat ride, explore the bayous, and do so much more!