Thursday, October 7, 2010

Are You Sure This Is The Right Way?

We left Aldora early, hoping to get through Tampico before traffic was bad and the policemen were out. I've heard from more than a few people that Tampico was a shake-down town. Speeding tickets, travel documentation is wrong, you name it and it's probably happened. It's just a shake-down. $100 US or 1000$ Pesos. Christmas is coming. And it may not even be the real police. Tourists are easy pickin's and easy to find.

We made it to the bridge, just outside of town, with no problems or tickets, when we came across a set of policemen at the end of the bridge. Sure enough, we were flagged to pull over. But as bribes go, this was cheap. 50 pesos or a Coke. We've heard it's a good idea to stock an ice chest with Coke, for cheap bribes or a friendly offering.

We were off again, this time our destination was VeraCruz. Looking at the map, I decided we would head down to the coast and what appeared to be a shorter route. Not quite so. We headed down an interstate road that wasn't that begin with. After a half an hour, the road changed from paved to dirt. OK, no problem, the road has just been washed out in portions. Then the dirt became mud. Then the mud and water. It was time to turn around.

An hour lost going in on that route and 45 minutes coming out. It's now 11:30 and we are still just outside of Tampico. Not where I wanted to be. But, the next 5 hours of the drive was through the mountains, very beautiful and very uneventful. We arrived at the small town of Cardel, just outside of VeraCruz, just before dark and decided to look for a motel/hotel that would take dogs. We had heard that the auto hotels were a good place to stay and that most of them were rented by the hour (no tell motel) and would have a small garage where we could safely put the truck. As luck would have it, we found a nice little place on the edge of town. Big rooms, big bathroom with a nice shower, large enclosed garage and reasonable rates. We had found our home for the night.

And as the evening went on, the place got crowded. Probably twenty rooms and I'm sure they weren't all weary travelers. It cost us 400$ Pesos or about $34 for the night, and was the best place we had stayed at, so far on this trip.

The next morning, we were up early, looking forward to getting a good start on the road. Our next objective was to reach VillaHermosa or if we're lucky, Escarcega. As we headed for VeraCruz, I was looking for the road around the center of the city. I didn't find it. Next thing I know, we're in the city, looking for signs to lead us to the auto pista (toll road). As with our experience in Reynosa, there were conflicting signs everywhere. We drove inside of town for the better part of an hour before we finally saw a sign to the auto pista. Only it was going in the opposite direction of where we were headed and we could not find a place to turn around. The idea came to look for cops, then flip a u-turn at the first opportunity. Not the best option, but one that had to happen.

We finally find our way to the auto pista, and now we were looking for our connection to the Route 145 toll road that would take us to VillaHermosa. This is where our journey would take a turn for the worse.

As we arrived at the Route 145, there was a road closed sign and markers directing us to another road a couple of miles away. When we saw all the cars waiting to turn left at the stop sign, we knew this was going to be trouble. With the main road closed to VillaHermosa, all the car and truck traffic heading south was forced to use a secondary road, Route that would take us through several small towns and pueblos. Each of those towns had a series of speed bumps that the truckers would have to cross, but only after coming to almost a complete stop at each one. So when you have 20 or so trucks in front of you, it can take 45 minutes or more to get through each town. We were passing trucks at every opportunity, but there were always more ahead. Then after a couple of hours of this cat and mouse game, we came to a dead stop in the road. This didn't look good.

As I got out of the truck to look ahead, I could see a couple of massive tow trucks working to pull a large truck out of the gully. Work was progressing, but it was a full Corona truck and I wonder how many beer breaks these guys were taking. As we talked with some of the locals, we found out that this road had also been washed out about 15 miles further down the road so it was back to the map to look at our options. It wasn't looking good. We could stay here and wait for the truck to be cleared from the road and take our chances further down the road or we could turn around and look for another route to VillaHermosa. We decided to turn around and take our chances on another road, further west, that would take us almost clear to the Pacific ocean. From there, we would decide if we wanted to continue on to VillaHermosa or detour around to the Pacific side and approach Belize from another direction.

We checked the map and looked for a way to get to Route 147 that would hopefully get us around this mess. It was now after 1PM and we were only 50 miles outside of VeraCruz and a long way from VillaHermosa. We got gas at the Pemex station and asked if the road we were going on, would get us to the Route 147. They directed us to a road to going to Playa Vincente, that on the map showed it was a paved road. No problem. We headed down the road with a couple of other trucks following us. At first the road was a nice, paved road that passed by some big ranches. Some eight miles or so down the road that nice paved road gave way to a muddy dirt road. Again no problem. We had 4 wheel drive, so I figured we would be OK and the road wasn't that bad. Well a few more miles down the muddy road, it became down right nasty. The mud was slick as snot. The small streams were everywhere and it had begun to rain. But the other trucks in our little caravan pushed onward, so now, I just followed them. It looked worse before it got better, but soon we came across a small village where we got directions to the highway, just a few miles ahead. What a relief.

When we finally found our way to Route 147, it was now after 2PM. And it was the same story as the other route. Lots of trucks, all backed up at each small town. But we were able to pass the trucks as they slowed down for the speed bumps and we managed to not get pulled over by the local police. We seemed to be making good time and we might make VillaHermosa by dark. But this was not to be. The hurricane season had taken its toll on the state of VeraCruz. Roads were either buried in mudslides or washed out. The large trucks were forced to use these secondary roads that were not made to handle this kind of constant truck traffic. And the truckers were not use to driving these type of roads.

Another truck had gone off the road, but this time there were no tow trucks on the scene. It was going to be another long wait.

But not everybody was bothered by the delays.

Again, after a few hours wait, we were on the road once again. But now it had become slow and go. The roads were now weaving through the mountains and the roads had not gotten any better. And on top of that, it was now starting to get dark. It looked as though we were going to have to travel in the dark. Not much of a choice. Most of the towns had resturaunts, but no motels. As we came out of the canyon and onto a main road, we decided to continue, in the dark. There were no Pemex stations around where we could park and maybe get some sleep. Just a dark road and miles between towns.

After a couple of hours on the road, we finally approached the auto pista going to VillaHermosa. We could catch a good road for a while and find an auto hotel at a Pemex station, where we could spend the night. But, it wasn't going to be that easy.

On the toll road to VillaHermosa, we came across a large 4x4 piece of lumber, lying in the road. Since it almost spanned the width of the road, we had no choice but to go over it. We figured one of the large trucks had lost it from its load. Almost immediately, the back right tire went flat. So I pulled over and proceeded to get the jack and spare tire out from the truck. As I was changing the tire, suddenly a couple of men came out of the bushes, looking to rob us. It had been a set up and we were the victims. It now fell into place. The 4x4 was not there by accident, but was planted by these robbers to take advantage of the shock of the blow out and the surprise of the ambush. Give us money, they said in broken english. As one of the robbers took a swing at Mischelle, she hit him hard with the police type mag flashlight we were using, when we changing the tire. That sent him back a few feet. That's when I grabbed the flashlight from Mischelle and went after these guys like the gringo from hell. I don't think they were expecting any resistance, as they both ran back into the bush. I went back to the truck and did my best imitation of a NASCAR tire change and we were out of there within 5 minutes. Mischelle all the time, scanning the bushes, fully expecting them to be back. But their element of surprise was gone, we had the dogs and we were gone before they could regroup.

You think you are safer on the auto pista, rather than the local road or highways, but unfortunately, things like this are happening all over Mexico. Even the buses from Playa del Carmen to Chetumal are being robbed.

We found an auto hotel, at a Pemex station, about 15 miles down the road, where we could stay the night and survey the damage to the truck. We were lucky it was a 4X4 and had a higher clearance. It probably would have flipped a smaller car. Other than the flat tire, the truck was in good shape.

I wanted to get to bed, so we could get a good start in the morning. It had been a long day, topped off by a dangerous situation, and we were exhausted. Our goal was to reach Santa Elena, on the Belize/Mexico border, and get a hotel there for the night, so we could cross into Belize in the morning.


sandy a. said...

Holy cow!!! What an experience!!! Glad you made it ok, and those guys didn't have a gun (or didn't use it!)Hooray for loco gringos!!! (and gringas!)
I am enjoying your posts though; it is sobering to hear about the bad with the good.

JRinSC said...

Wow... glad Michelle is on your side!! Seriously, that is the first I have heard of that kind of stuff away from the border. I was able to find out you guys were ok earlier by talking with Dave Rider some time ago.

Glad you are there and look forward to more misadventures...