Monterrey to Durango-A harrowing experience!

Posted: July 23, 2012 by Central America Overland Expeditions in Expedition/Travel

We packed up to leave Hildago first thing in the morning and met Homero as we were pulling out. Bernard pulled out a bag of clothes, that Jan from Houston had sent with us to distribute to needy kids in Mexico. There were soccer shirts amongst other clothes that were desperately needed in town. We asked him to offer the clothes to the children in town and was appreciative, saying there were many needy there.

We jumped back on the toll road headed for Monterrey and we quickly made our way into the big city. I would have guessed we had just pulled into Atlanta, as the traffic was bumper to bumper. There was high-rise buildings, massive traffic, busy parking lots, of which you have to pay to park for shopping. This one idea/trend we do not need to come to the U.S.!

Monterrey madness

Monterrey Metropolis


We stopped at McDonald’s to access some free wifi. Of course there was little English spoken so ordering was a treat. Somehow we managed to get our order across and within a few minutes were accessing the internet to “catch up”. After a little hassle getting the code, we were helped by another bilingual customer. We were able to Skype and email easily from this location. We ended up spending a couple of hours there, deciding on our next destination. We decided Saltillo would be a good distance to stop for the night. We found a hotel on-line that said they allowed campers to set up behind their hotel. As we were leaving we caught the tailend of a Police drive by. They are menacing looking with their black outfits, faces covered in black masks and machine guns standing in the back of the trucks!

Policia Federales

We hopped on the Libre highway (free highway) headed out. As we left Monterrey, we began to immediately climb into the mountains. They were pretty gradual so not much of a strain on the vehicles. Climbing up and looking back offered a beautiful view of the city, though we were happy to be out of the traffic quagmire. We were looking to get away from the madness of our daily busy life, and this was a little too close to home for our new-found desire to be laid back.

Leaving the big city of Monterrey

Headed into the mountains outside of Monterrey

We pulled into Saltillo and found the hotel rather easily. After speaking with the receptionist she walked us back to the spot they allowed campers. It wasn’t much to look at as it was a paved parking lot, with no trees, and no water or electric hook ups. The bathroom was across the parking lot, not too inconvenient, but not ideal. We could have adjusted with no problems, but were told it would be 350 pesos for each vehicle. This seemed really high especially since it was only a necessity stop as opposed to a desired spot. We decided against it, as we walked back up front, Bernard, half jokingly asked the girl, “Can we park in your yard”? She smiled and never answered. I guess that meant “No”.

Saltillo Mexico- Bienvenidos!

GM plant in Saltillo


After asking and searching for a location to camp in Saltillo with no luck, we determined we may have better chances, jumping back on the road. “Surely, there would be campsites along the way headed toward Durango”.

It was now getting to be late afternoon and we wanted to be parked and set up early so as to not be on the roads after dark. You are warned not to travel after dark because of the animals, poor signage, and topes (massive speed bumps). These speed bumps are placed randomly where they please, to slow traffic down. They are also used by locals to stand next to and try to sell you their goods. Everything from papaya, to fresh-cut fruit, to taco shells, you can have it all. No need to shop, they bring it to you.

The topes are usually positioned at the beginning of a town and, as you leave town, The problem is they are poorly marked, if marked at all. Travelling along during the day and encountering these are hazardous and will rattle your brain and jar your teeth, travelling at night could cause one to go airborne! We are still getting used to slowing down for them

We pressed on trying to find a suitable place to stay. Mile after mile we only found desolate, run down areas, some of them having civilization, many seemingly abandoned. It was a little unnerving, going so many miles, not seeing people or civilization. It was not looking good for camping. The thought crossed our mind to just stop somewhere and set up camp, but our instincts didn’t allow it. We did not want to have to try to make it to Durango because it was still a couple of hours away and it was getting to be late. We had to find a place! Mile after mile after mile, nothing but desolate, scrub brush, desert landscapes. The radio was silent for hours. I knew Bernard was as tired as we were. We just wanted to find a place and call it a night.

Pretty desolate area outside Saltillo

A more populated town between Saltillo and Durango

And miles and miles of wide open spaces



We decided the only choice we had, was to press into Durango. It was getting dusk and we knew we had limited daylight left to travel. There were no towns in sight, only a scattered group of dark, vacant buildings, that seemed to be abandoned. Occasionally, we would see a few people sitting out front of these dilapidated homes enjoying the cool evening air.

Darkness set in and our senses were lit up like fireworks on the fourth of July. Any site, or sound echoed through our brains processing what we needed to do to respond. Eyes peeled for topes, and animals, secretly ignoring any thoughts put in our heads of banditos preying on gringos.

We were nearing Durango, finally we could see the city lights off in the distance! All of a sudden there was a person standing on the side of the road waving what appeared to be a flag. My heart starting beating, like bongos, at an Indian war dance. My eyes were wide open now, looking. There were men with machine guns in the road! Is this how our adventure would end? Is this the dreaded bandito encounter we had heard about?

No, it was a military checkpoint. They are common throughout Mexico. They are certainly intimidating, since we are not used to being pulled over by our military in the U.S. especially with machine gun wielding men in camo clothing. I was a little nervous as we pulled up to the stop. Could we communicate? Would we be mistaken for drug cartel in tinted window suv’s? I grabbed the newspaper article from my sun visor, which I placed there after Bernard’s success at another checkpoint. The officer approached speaking in Spanish. I handed him the paper and said “camping”. He looked at the paper and pointed, “Su”? “Yes, that’s me, and that’s him back there”, I said. “We are camping”. He showed his partner and said “oh, camping” in a heavy Spanish accent. He smiled returned the paper and waved us through. Lesson of the day, If you are going to visit another country, have an article written about you in the paper and carry it with you! It is better than a passport or visa! A picture really is worth a thousand words, in any language…

We made into the first hotel we found and hit the bed to rest up for the next day.

For pictures not found in this blog visit our Facebook page and see the “rest of the story”. We upload additional photos here: Please click “like” when you get there if you haven’t already. And have you added your email to the box on the left of this page? If not do it now! We will notify you each time a new entry is posted. Watch for our next post as we experienced yet another encounter with the law! This time, it wasn’t so pretty…..

  1. James says:

    welcome to mexico! Looks like lots of good places to boondock out there in the desert! Soon you will be able to spot those topes from 2 miles away. Reading your posts brings us back to our first few days in Mexico. scared crapless of everythiing, dont worry youll get used to it!

  2. Chef Bourque says:

    WOW! You guys are having one heck of a trip, it sort of reminds me of when Boudreaux Bourque traveled to Mexico with his dog which rode on his burrows back. I will finish the story when we meet again. Bernard had better keep the harmonica handy. LOL Good Luck Guys.

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