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

Torture and Death in Mexico

We visited three morbid museums that reflect a certain
obsession with death and torture in Guanajuato, Mexico.

El Museo de las Momias de Guanajuato 
(The Mummy Museum)

The one that attracts the most tourists is El Museo de lasMomias de Guanajuato, or the Mummy Museum of Guanajuato. This underground museum tucked into a corner
of the old city displays scores of naturally mummified bodies found to be in surprisingly good shape when they were disinterred to make room for new bodies in the cemetery above.
The mummies were discovered in the late 1800’s after the government instituted a perpetual burial tax on the cemetery. If the families of the buried did not pay, the bodies of their loved ones were exhumed. It was during this process of evicting the dead for back taxes that the mummies were discovered, beautifully preserved.
After exhumation, the mummies were stored in an ossuary beneath the cemetery, where they are displayed today. Each mummy has a tag with a little information about them and theories on how they died. Many of them are still wearing the clothes they were buried in.
The most interesting to me was the mummy pair of a mother and her unborn child, advertised by the museum as the smallest mummy in the world.
In addition to the mummies, the place is full of existential quotes such as the following:

“Man must open himself to death if he wants to open himself to life.
The cult to life is also cult to death.
A civilization that denies death ends up denying life. “

–Octavio Paz

La Casa de Los Lamentos
(The House of Wailing)

La Casa de Los Lamentos is a cheesy House of Horrors located in a historic 18th-century mansion where serial murders occurred in the 1890s and early 1900s. The story goes that the owner, Tadeo Fulgencio Mejia, was obsessed with trying to contact his dead wife, Constanza, and committed an unknown number of murders as human sacrifices to perform rituals in an attempt to reach her. Human bones were supposedly found in the mansion’s basement.



The museum uses red and flickering lighting, slammed doors and other sound effects, a Hitchcock-style video in a picture frame, and ghostly holograms to scare the BeJesus out of the unfortunate who walk in and pay the 45 pesos admission. We stumbled upon it while exploring the Valenciana neighborhood and it was a hoot!
But we were the ones wailing at the end, because we came out of the museum to a colossal downpour. We had walked half a mile down the hill from Casa Estrella and had to wait out the tormenta before we could walk back. But what a diverting hour or two!

El Museo Casa del Purgatorio
(The Purgatory House Museum)

We stumbled upon El Museo Casa del Purgatorio, tucked innocuously into an alley near the Templo de San Cayetano (Saint Cayetano Church), while walking around the little village of Valenciana, down the road from our lodging. Aryk and Lexie were with us for this exploration of a museum that turned out to be about methods of torture and killing during the 18th century Spanish Inquisition in Mexico, when people were persecuted and killed for being Catholic.
Methods of torture we experienced through our guide included a spinning wheel into excrement (sort of an extreme sort of water boarding), the stretching table, the guillotine, and of course the gallows. The museum even featured a small cemetery with a replica of the tomb of El Pipila, the hero of the Mexican Independence movement – despite the fact that this iconic miner hero wasn’t even caught and tortured, but apparently lived to the ripe old age of 83 before dying in his hometown of San Miguel de Allende.




This museum was so gruesome that Lex had to leave and waited outside. The rest of us enjoyed it in a perverse way.
By Lisa Hamm-Greenawalt

Welcome to Messy Suitcase on You Tube! Part 1: Launching a New Life

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Discovering Mayolica Pottery in Santa Rosa

We recently had the privilege of visiting a pottery workshop called Mayolica Santa Rosa, where a family business turns out breathtaking, intricate, handmade pottery lovingly
created with dedicated fingers and devoted hearts.

The simple two-story cinderblock workshop occupies one side of the street in
the ancient, dusty village of Santa Rosa, high on a mountain about 25 minutes northeast
of Guanajuato. A huge showroom is across the street. (Unfortunately, we were
not allowed to take pictures in the showroom, to prevent any thievery of their

It’s not a place many tourists visit, especially Americans, and it’s their loss. Javier Salazar, the wonderful manager of the Casa Estrella, where we are fortunate to be staying, generously drove us and another couple, Carolee and Gilberto, up to
the village to see how pottery is made. The suites and apartments in Casa
Estrella are filled with beautiful pieces from Mayolica Santa Rosa.
The sign over the door of the store

Visiting the Workrooms

The workshop is a high-ceilinged building with two large workrooms.
In the front room is the giant kiln, as well as shelf upon shelf of unfinished
pieces of pottery ready to be transformed into works of art. 

The big white box on the left is the oven

We were amazed as we watched one man hand-draw a stunning, detailed design
onto a large pedestaled bowl. His name was Juan, and he was the only one entrusted
to design the pieces.
The artist at work
Up the stairs and in the large back room, the Area de la Pintura (painting area), several painters painstakingly
painted the colors within the lines of his design, carefully shading the pieces, which appeared
pastel and bleached until after they were fired in the huge oven.

Before firing in the oven
The intensity of colors after firing
Mayolica Santa Rosa was founded in 1963, and is dedicated to
the manufacture of Mayolica Ceramics, a porous type of ceramics that originated in
Spain. It gets its name from Mallorca Island, which was on the trade route to
Italy. All the pieces are turned and decorated by hand. The business is
currently represented by the third generation of eight brothers.
Seen outside the door to the painting room
The sign outside the painting room says (in my bad Spanish translation): “Welcome to the Painting Area. Every piece that you admire and acquire is unique because each one carries part of the artist, since it is delivered with a feeling unique for its creation, with the best quality.”

Visiting the Showroom

The entrance to the showroom

This fresco, outside the family’s home next door,
is a great example of their work.
The sheer volume and quality of the pieces for sale in the
massive, two-level showroom is absolutely breathtaking. There were plates and
bowls, cups and saucers, pitchers and vases, fountains and pots, statues and
urns, tiled frescoes, and more. The intricate designs were derived from life in
Mexico: groups of fruit, flowers, village scenes, chickens and pigs, Frida Kahlos,
and many, many Catrinas, the reverential, skeletal image of death in Mexico.

UPDATE, May 26

I just discovered several beautiful pieces of Mayolica pottery in our apartment, Casa Estrellita, at Casa Estrella. (Watch for a blog about the amazing art in our apartment!)

And I found this beautiful tile wall art by Mayolica Pottery in the fitness center at Casa Estrella. Enjoy!

Leaving Tlaquepaque & Guadalajara

It’s time to leave Tlaquepaque and move on to our next
destination, Guanajuato.
We’ve been here nearly 4 months, a little longer than we
planned to stay in any one place, but wanted to have a familiar, reasonably accessible
place for Aryk to call home on their Spring Break from Keele University in
With only a few days left, we’ve been going over our lists
of things we wanted to do here and we’ve whittled it down to just a few.

We’re Sad to Go

Both Lisa and I are feeling a little sad about moving on.
There is a lot to like about Tlaquepaque and Guadalajara. We love Tlaquepaque’s
colorful, artistic character. We love its relaxed, friendly vibe. We love living
within easy walking distance of the TLQ town square, Jardin Hidalgo, and all of
the energy, activities and food options there. Lisa has recently started making
Mexican friends. 

We’ll miss the regular routines that drive the city — the water guy’s cries of “a-gUAAAAA!,” the Zeta Gas truck’s song, the ringing bell of the trash men, the double chiming of the church clocks in Jardin Hidalgo every 15 minutes around the clock, the early-morning cacophony of dogs and roosters, the  music in the streets (whether a Mariachi band or a single hombre singing acapella), the busy mercados (marketplaces) and tianguis (pop-up markets) with countless people in your face trying to sell you their products.
We love all of the activities available in Guadalajara and
the fact that a subway from our neighborhood to Zapopan, on the other side of
Guadalajara, is scheduled to open sometimes in 2020. And with a new road under
construction, Guadalajara could soon be just two and a half hours from the Pacific
There are some things in Tlaquepaque that aren’t perfect. The running, bike
riding and our apartment are barely acceptable, but our home’s location has been perfect
for accessing the town square. We’re definitely going to miss being here. We’ve
even started discussing that this area may be a place we want to come back to
and spend even more time getting to know, perhaps living in Guadalajara proper.
But first, we need to experience more of Mexico.
In the meantime, we’re busy revisiting our favorite places
and restaurants for one last time.

Our loyalty to Guadalajara won us GDLt-shirts
at a promo event in Lake Chapala last weekend!
 Today, it’s on to Guanajuato!

Obstacle Cycling: Riding Road Bikes in Guadalajara

We are avid road cyclists. We loved living in Colorado
because of the many glorious riding routes we could choose from, ranging from bike
trails into Denver to loops on mountain roads. We usually rode two or three times
a week, including a long ride on the weekend. Lisa rocks a Specialized carbon
fiber road bike with about 27 gears, and Bob has a classic green Bianchi.

So we optimistically brought our road bikes to Mexico on the
back of our car, hoping to continue our healthy habit and explore Mexico on two

Trying to Find a Safe Place to Ride

I knew we were coming to a city of 5 million, people and despite
researching online, I couldn’t find any active road cycling clubs, or even
decent rides, on our favorite cycling route app, MapMyRide. Nonetheless, every night
during the drive to Mexico we dutifully took them off the car and took them
into the hotel rooms, and now the bikes live in the guest room of our house in Tlaquepaque.
But they don’t see the road much, and neither do we.

The roads in Tlaquepaque are rough, narrow, virtually
unsigned, and often chaotic. We’ve only driven the car four times in the four
months we’ve been here because of the challenge of the roads. There are
virtually no bike lanes in our section of Guadalajara. However, the city does
have what is called “Via RecreActiva” on Sundays and holidays, where they shut
down several major roads for recreational purposes for six hours. We’ve come to
accept that as the best we can do.

Thank God for the Via RecreActiva

So every Sunday morning, we pull on our cycling clothes,
pump up our tires, fill our water bottles, and hit the Via RecreActiva. To get
there, we have to ride almost two miles on a busy street with no bike lanes, Avenida
Rio Nilo. Bob
has almost been “doored” by cars several times, Lisa was almost run off the
road by an aggressive bus driver, and almost rear-ended a cab that pulled in
right in front of her t collect a passenger.
But it is what it is. Rio
Nilo gets us to the Via RecreActiva, and then we get to ride for one day a
If you can call it riding.

There are essentially two main problems with Via RecreActiva.
First, literally thousands of people take advantage of it –unleashed dogs
chasing each other back and forth, kids learning to ride their bikes, teenagers
doing tricks and popping wheelies, old ladies pulling carts crossing the street
at a mercado, boyfriends on bikes teaching their wobbly girlfriends how to skateboard,
 and people just walking three or four 4
abreast. It is just plain crowded and you have to be extremely vigilant to
avoid running into someone. Lisa calls it “Obstacle Cycling.”

The other main problem is traffic on the cross streets. While
your road is closed for a few hours, other roads aren’t, so you have to stop at
multiple lights and wait for traffic. This
means that you only get to ride several blocks before you are forced to stop so
that cross traffic can go.
It is better than nothing, but it is not for the faint of heart!

Trying to Find Other Riders

We have tried to make contact with other cyclists in Expat
forums here, but didn’t get anything really solid from those groups. We have
also seen cyclists riding on the sides of highways outside of the city, usually
followed by a sag wagon. But at this point we are leaving Guadalajara soon, so
we don’t plan to pursue that option.
We hope to find better cycling in our next stop, Guanajuato.
Lisa has already found a few promising routes on MapMyRide!

Enjoy a video of the Via RecreActiva here

We are headed to Mexico!!

Saturday, Jan. 5, 2019

And we are off!

Our menagerie of three humans, three cats, two saxophones, one guitar, one harmonica, two bikes and a bunch of bags and suitcases has left Grandma’s house in Mechanicsburg, PA, and we are off on our next adventure!

Six days driving 2,400 miles to Tlaquepaque, Jalisco, Mexico, with a stop for a day in New Orleans in the middle. Follow us on the journey!

 9:21 am: Leave Mechanicsburg. Ellie starts crying.

10:16 am: Welcome to Maryland. 67 miles. Ellie is still crying.

10:26: am Welcome to West Virginia. That was quick! Still crying.

10:47 am: Welcome to Virginia. 103 miles. They are coming fast and furious! Guess what Ellie is doing?

The rest of the day: Taking turns driving through Virginia and into Tennessee.

8 PM: We finally reach Athens, Tennessee, around 7:10 PM, settle the cats into the Super 8 Hotel, and are now waiting for our food at the Applebee’s across the street. Ellie cried more than half the time and then acted out at the hotel by hissing at the other cats. Such a pleasant traveler.

Day 1 is in the books!

Kitty accommodations

Kitty accommodations

Double-decker kitties

Packing the truck
Remembering the bikes

Day 2: Tennessee to New Orleans

We were too busy enjoying New Orleans to blog about this. Watch for the blog later!

Day 3: New Orleans to Laredo

12 hours of quiet cats. ‘Nuff said. Tonight is our last night in the United States. Tomorrow we leave for Mexico!