First week in Tamaulipas, Mexico


Monday marks one week in Mexico, our visas dictate that we have 173 days left.  At the rate we’re going we may need all of them.

We ended up staying another night in Texas to calm our nerves and to really get our act together.  Crossing the border felt so daunting and  scary, we needed time to psych ourselves up for it.  We rode away from the weird security of America’s Best Value Inn in Weslaco, Texas into the frontier.  It was only 8 miles from the hotel.  It was a windy, dusty day and amidst all the RV traffic we reached the international bridge at the border to cross into Nuevo Progreso. It cost a quarter for each of us to cross the  pedestrian bridge.  We saw multitudes of retirees that were slowly crossing the bridge with us.  There were children under the bridge begging for people to throw change down.  One guy told us they make more in a day doing that than anything else availablee to them, their parents were right there with them.  One of the retirees who saw us asked where we came from and where we were going.  Once we explained ourselves she kept exclaiming “Jesus Christ!  Jesus Christ!”, she sounded like a broken record.

The pedestrian bridge

Once across the bridge we were directed inside the office of immigration in order to secure our visas.  We sat down across from a poker faced man in a run down room with a small TV shhowing a Mexican soap opera, and 3 desks.  It looked like the DMV, only older and dirtier.  We handed our passports over to the official and started filling out paperwork.  Meanwhile, another official in the room looked at the immunization records we had handed over with our passports.  These weren’t needed for us to get into the country but we didn’t know this so we had handed them over.  The official read our list of shots and when he got to Rabies he looked at us funny and wondered what it was all about.  He thought we had a dog with us and when we explained that no, the shots were ours because we were afraid of dogs chasing us he burst into laughter and was practically crying.  The official handling our paperwork at the desk kept a straight face during this entire exchange.  Once we finished the paperwork we were sent to the cashier to pay $21 Dollars US each for our visas, not bad for 6 months.  We returned to the officials and we were stamped and almost on our way except for the thick smoke that was billowing into the sky a few blocks from the office.  It looked like one of the grass fires we had seen earlier in the week in Texas.  The straight faced official stared at the smoke, put the passport stamp down and called 911.  Then he finished stamping our passports and we were free to go. It was a totally bizarre day and it was only 10:30am.

Grass fire makes the scene look wild

We pushed our bikes out the door and suddenly we were in Mexico.  Wow, totally different experience than the road we came in on.  There were men with machine guns casually hanging around and the retirees had cups of beer in their hands.  The sky was full of smoke and we got on our bikes and went down the street with traffic that was moving nice and slow.  We stopped to exchange money and the retiree from earlier (the Jesus Christ exclaimer) asked if we had gotten any of the free food or beer and that we should come to the market to party.  We smiled warmly and told her we had to get going.  Honestly hanging out in the border town did not appeal to us at all.

It felt completely surreal to suddenly be in Mexico. We had been through so many homogeneous south Texas towns recently, being across the border was so different.  A side note about Nuevo Progreso, it has one of the highest concentrations of dentists in the world.  There are something like 500 to choose from.  Americans cross the border to get dental work done at 1/5 of the cost.  We were solicited as we rode our bikes for cleanings.

We’re now going to share our mileage in kilometers as we’re in metric land now-1.6 kilometers=1 mile.  We rode 47 kilometers that first day.  We started looking for somewhere to camp around 3pm and found a great spot hidden behind a bunch of overgrown abandoned building out in the country by the tiny town of Cardenas.

Stealth camping in building ruins

Palm trees near our campsite

It started raining on Monday night and continued to drizzle into Tuesday.  We went through Valle Hermoso early Tuesday afternoon and made our first purchase of gas for our stove and water.  The rain had collected in massive dirty puddles throughout the town and we exited with muds spots all over our legs and our bikes.  Fenders can only do so much sometimes.  After Valle Hermoso we went through a customs checkpoint.  It was easy and they barely looked through our panniers.

We stealth camped again behind another abandoned building that looked like it had been aquired by a cell phone company as a tower stood right in front of it.  It was quiet and behind it there were farm fields as far as the eye could see.  We had a peaceful evening.

A good spot to camp?

Perfect spot indeed

We shoved off the next day, Wednesday into the sunshine and it felt amazing.  Our destination for the day was San Fernando with the hopes of getting a hotel room.  Unfortunately this day was not our best due to all the dogs that we kept encountering that enjoyed chasing us.  We started to pedal faster past properties  that looked suspect-usually there were signs indicating there might be a dog present-trash, other farm animals, small dog houses, etc.  We also saw plenty of dead dogs on the side of the road and we started to feel thankful that they were dead and not chasing us.  We got within 10 kilometers of San Fernando and we got off the highway to head to town.  This road turned out to be tight with no shoulders and traffic buzzing us.  We reached the top of a hill and two dogs at a small store ran at us and Debi swerved to avoid one and Bryan yelled to scare it away.  There was traffic behind us honking at us and it was scary.  We pulled off the road after that and immediately started looking for things to defend ourselves from the dogs.  We put rocks in our pockets and reluctantly got back on the bikes.  We were just about to enter San Fernando when 2 dogs on the opposite side of the road started at us, 2 rocks were thrown and they cowered and ran away.  It was awesome!  We now carry rocks every day and they work.  We think that other people use this technique as well.

We stayed at a hotel ironically named Hotel America in San Fernando.  It was 200 pesos, about 15 dollars.  After we were in the room for a bit we started to notice the mold on the walls.  It was a bit damp in there.  We went into town and got some groceries at what turned out to be a Mexico Wal-Mart but with different name and much smaller.  We also  had a little time on the internet at a cafe as well.

See ya later San Fernando!

We were happy to leave San Fernando the next morning in the bright sunshine.  We were looking forward to returning to the Pan American Highway and not being on some side road into a town.  The PA highway has giant shoulders BUT they are also used as a passing/slow lane.  Luckily there’s room for us all and ample visibility with the terrain.  Thursday turned into a giant headwind and we struggled to put the kilometers behind us.  It can be wearing on the soul to pedal into a headwind all day long.  Even going downhill we couldn’t pick up any speed.  We passed a nothbound military checkpoint on the opposite side of the road.  It as rather intimidating looking with all the soldiers in full gear and facemasks.  We even passed a soldier in a lookout tower with a thatched roof, his machine gun sticking up over the edge.  4pm rolled around and we’d had about enough with the headwind, it was just relentless.  We had seen billboards for a small hotel so we decided to stop there and check it out.  The stealth camping wasn’t looking good at all, we were in ranch land all day with unending fences  and longhorn cattle.

The Pan American Highway

Bryan's handkerchief illustrates the headwind

Los Rayones Hotel was a welcome respite from the day.  It as a clean, cute, friendly establishment and we enjoyed the room and dinner at their restaurant.  It started to feel like authentic Mexico here, and not the dirtiness and weirdness of the border towns.

Los Rayones Hotel with the rooms named after racehorses, ours was "El Navegante"

Backside of the hotel at night

Friday morning we left with the intention of getting as close to Ciudad Victoria as possible, it was 130 km from there.  We had an incredible day of biking with lots of climbing and amazing descents into valleys that seemed to get more lush each time.  The views were outstanding and these were by far the biggest vistas we’ve had.  We rode 84 km to outside of Nueva Villa de Padilla, a rather sketchy dirty town.  There were road side fires, lot of people selling oranges, and another north bound checkpoint with soldiers.  We didn’t slow down at all to take in the scenery here and raced to the outside of town to look for somewhere to camp for the night.  It was getting dark fast, so we turned down a gravel road into an orange grove.  We went a few rows in and we disappeared into the tall grass and the trees.  It felt good to be there.  It rained hard that night, but we were warm and dry in our awesome tent.  It’s proved it’s weight in gold against the elements.

About to bomb down into the valley

Hello mountains-Sierra Madre Oriental

We rose early the next morning in order to sneak out of the grove.  We left by sunrise and the light was hitting the mountains that rose in the distance.  It’s refreshing to see mountains again and it was lovely to ride towards them on the approach to Ciudad Victoria.

Deep in the orange grove

Morning mountains

Taking a break outside an entrance to a ranch in the morning sun

We are writing this post from our hotel room in the capital of  the state of Tamaulipas, Ciudad Victoria.  It’s the 5th largest city in the state wwith a population of 300,000.  We got into town early, it was a bit difficult to navigate as the maps we have don’t have all the information and streets aren’t always labeled.  We found our way to the center of the city and started looking for a hotel.  The streets got smaller and smaller and crowded with more people.  We spotted a street with hotels and found one that had a good price and wifi.  The last 2 days in the city have been relaxing.  Taking a day off once a week is key for our sanity and health.  We found the main market in town and enjoyed wandering through stalls vegetables, meats, clothing, hats, flowers, pinatas, and anything else you can think of.  We had a few great meals out and the food seems to be settling with our stomachs just fine. The northern part of Mexico is known for it’s meats so we’ve been eating plenty of beef, pork, and chorizo.

Ciudad Victoria sits on the edge of the mountains

Dogs on balconies are fine by us-especially little ones

Outside the market in Ciudad Victoria

Mona Lisa, we wish we knew what was behind your door!

Tomorrow, Monday we head back out onto the open road.  We’ll be crossing the Tropic of Cancer in a day or so and the vegetation should just get lusher.  We are headed towards the coast and the city of Tampico.  Then we’ll be crossing into the state of Veracruz.  The architechture should start getting more interesting along with flowers, ruins, and the ocean.  It’s what we’ve been waiting for.

Just to be clear, it’s going great here.  The people are so nice and we feel safe.  The drug war isn’t happening in front of us and really doesn’t seem to affect daily life here.  Mostly it’s pretty quiet out on the road and rather rural between towns.  Sometimes we don’t see anyone for kilometers.

Take care out there and we’ll be back again soon.  In the meantime check where we are in the top corner of the web page-it’s our map that’s connected to our Spot Tracker GPS device.  It works most days.

Hasta la vista,

Debi and Bryan


8 Responses to “First week in Tamaulipas, Mexico”

  1. 1 Gretchen

    Oh, I’m so glad you made it through those parts safely. A little different than old Sioux huh. Michael says from his experiences in Central America the rocks are the way to go. Well the further south you go the more beautiful it seems. Loving reading about it! We can feel the warmth just from your pictures. XO. Gretch & Michael

  2. 2 Erin

    I’ve really enjoyed reading about about your adventurous trip-the blog is getting pretty suspenseful, the pictures are so well composed-I’m also glad your putting some miles between you and the border towns, they sound pretty scetchy-it must have been a bit scary.. your bravery is commendable.. I will continue to read, so keep us posted. I’m very impressed with you guys doing this-its what life is all about-and your living it:-)

  3. 3 Kate Cross

    Dog rocks seem to rule! Thanks so much for your blog. It is just so interesting. Glad to hear you feel safe. And aren’t you just so proud of yourselves for dealing with so many “situations”!

  4. 4 Frank

    So, you guys made it. The family and I have been following along all the time. Your pictures speak for themselves. Well done.
    Remember that business card I gave you in front of the Library. Well…..If for some reason you must deal with the Federalies, I would keep that card well hidden. They dont take kindly to Northeastern (USA) PD. So Ive heard.

    Good luck and please be safe.

    Bike cop

  5. Primooooos!!!!!!!!!
    Que fantastico!! A mi me gustan mucho los fotos!! Border towns… que raro… tengo ganas de ver lo que pasare cuando estais mas cerca del mar, ruinas, y edificios coloniales!!
    I’m glad to see that you feel safe and are having so much fun! Good job with the dogs jeje way to overcome some adversity!! I miss you guys mucho and can’t wait for more stories!!
    os quiero muchisimos!!! besitos y abrazos y disfrutaos!!!!

  6. I’m glad things are going well. Rocks?! I use a squirt gun on my little bike rides…they’re a lot lighter.

    Quick conversion from KM to MI: KM x 6 = pretty close in MI eg: 3KM = 1.8 MI; 33KM =19.8 MI Not 100% accurate but it works nicely. Trick is to multiply the FIRST number by 6 then add to it the second number multiplied by 6.

    I like the photos and the dramatic description of crossing the border. When you were travelling in the US along border roads, did you encounter any INS road inspections? I came upon one once about 2 AM in lower CA about 2 miles from the border. It was all lit up like a small town. The INS had a fleet of vans and MAJOR lights shining on each vehicle as it passed. Very scarry the first time seen. Not like the northern border with Canada. Not at all.

    Have fun.


  7. 7 ISRAEL

    Saludos!!!! Un agradecimiento por incluirme en su blog, no olviden visitar bomberos (fireman station) free night at that place! ánimo!!! sigan rodando!! cuídense… buen camino!

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