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high desert. small house.

Mexico Southbound – Hermosillo to Los Mochis

The time was about 1:30 in the afternoon and we were leaving Hermosillo. The dogs had been very well behaved in the car for 8 hours. It was time for a potty and water break. We humans were also eager to stretch our legs.

I threw out the idea of waiting until Guaymas, which we wouldn’t hit for more than an hour (and would require a detour from the highway). We halfheartedly agreed. Shortly thereafter, observing the ever present construction of new lanes on the side of the road, Brian pitched the idea of stopping and using a vacant construction area. Sure! As long as there was a long enough shoulder stretch for safely stopping and merging back onto the road, it sounded fine to me.

So here is where mothers start to nervously wring their hands. What on earth are my children doing stopping along a Mexican highway, far from a city, without weapons?! Have they lost their minds?!

We pulled the car off the road, slowly navigated over the rough, in-progress terrain and ‘hid’ the car behind a line of massive dirt piles. The dogs were grateful but not overly excitable in their exit from the car. We leashed them up, locked our RAV4 and started walking along the dirt road that was being used to access the road work along the freeway.

Walking the dogs near the highway. You can see the giant dirt pile and our ‘hidden’ car in the far background. The highway is to the left.

So get this – We found grasshoppers and lizards in every size to suit each other. There were small lizards and small, brilliantly colored grasshoppers for them to eat. There were medium sized lizards and slightly larger grasshoppers. And finally, there were lizards that were so big that when they sprinted through the tall grass, they created a disturbance akin to what a squirrel might create.

Upon discovering my first such disturbance, I started to chase it so that I could discover what amazingly large animal was causing it. Sydney, attached to the end of my hand via her extendo-leash, immediately sensed my change in direction and went to charge ahead of me. While I wanted to give chase, with dependable Sydney at my side, I quickly halted and locked her leash.

Beautiful grasshopper

The edge of the dirt road was awash with broken glass bottles and garbage of gross nature. I did not want either of us to walk in it. As an alternate way to satisfy my curiosity, I nudged the grass clump with my foot, attempting to scare it out. Much to my surprise, a second giant monster charged out of the grass clump to my left. How exciting!

Shortly after our attempted pursuit, we began to see mega grasshoppers. What a cool walk! After about 5 minutes in one direction, we hit a corner and decided not to round it. It felt better to keep the car in our line of sight. We went back to the car, watered the dogs and hit the road again.

Lizard on the prowl.

Once again on Interstate 15 South, we noticed our gas tank was at one quarter full. We were pleasantly surprised because our trip meter said this tank had already gone 300 miles – the distance we normally get out of a full tank. We decided to stop for gas at the next fancy Pemex (i.e. one with an OXXO).

At this point, we had stopped five times – gas early morning in Nogales, tourist/customs office in Nogales, snack in Santa Ana, more food in Hermosillo and dog potty break outside Hermosillo. It was 2:45pm when we pulled into a gas station. It looked like we were going to arrive at our Airbnb in Los Mochis earlier than expected; which was a good thing because we did not have an address for the house, no internet to contact the owner and only a vague idea of where it was.

Our gas station attendant spoke good, but broken, English. He seemed to enjoy practicing with us and provided excellent service. (In case you did not know, you cannot pump your own gas in Mexico. The gas station attendant will do it for you and usually wash your windshield while you wait.) While he and Brian were chatting during the fill-up, I went into the OXXO to visit the lady’s room. Nada inside.

I casually walked back outside, noticed the signs for los banjos to the left of the building and headed over. Locked. Upon walking back to Brian, I mumbled to him about needing to go find the key person. The attendant heard me, asked, “Bathroom!?” in loud English and then jogged over to the bathroom doors. He grabbed the key, said ‘Paper’ while pointing at the sky (like, ‘ah ha!’) and turned away from the bathrooms to go into a supplies closet. He unlocked the bathroom and gave me the toilet paper roll. How sweet.

Brian used the lady’s room next, but only because the attendant disappeared after Brian tipped him and we did not want to wait around for the men’s room to be unlocked. Besides, the toilet paper I had been given was in the lady’s room.

After our gas station stop, we pulled into the next plaza to see what we could learn about getting data for one of our phones from TelCel. This was around 3pm. We waited for assistance for perhaps 7 minutes and were then helped by a customer service representative who spoke some English. He was surprised to see Americans in Ciudad Obregon and seemed to imply he had never spoken to any in town. He had been to Tucson a handful of times and said he loves it because it is cool (ha!) – I guess everything is relative – and it feels safe. But few Americans in Obregon.

We wanted to put the SIM card in my phone but after 45 minutes of troubleshooting, we decided to put it in Brian’s. At 4pm, one hour after our arrival, we hit the road again.

We were no longer early but at least we had internet. I was able to contact our hostess in Los Mochis to give her an estimated time of arrival. Based on Google Maps, we were expecting to arrive 3 hours later. We were both kind of hungry but also wanted to make good time.

I had kind of foreseen the first day going this way. In preparation of such a focused agenda, I had fed the dogs double meats the day before. That way if we could not get them food while on the road the first long day, they would not be hungry. [I had initially planned on freezing several servings of their chicken quarter meals but then I found out I cannot bring raw meat across the border. Considering we did not really get inspected, it probably would have been okay. But better safe than sorry.]

For this first day, we had expected 10 hours of driving and knew we would have to stop a couple of times for dogos, for food and for gas. A safe estimate would be closer to 12 hours. After the 30 minutes at customs and the hour of initial nonsense, our day has expanded to 13.5 hours. We crossed at 6am and as calculated, would be arriving after 7pm.

As we entered Navajoa, we decided it would be better to eat sooner rather than later; and that way we would not be going to sleep with a full gut. We spotted a few quiet taquerias and pulled over at the one across from the Chevrolet dealership, called Don Amable. Unlike the handful of taquerias we had already passed, this one was very busy. We did not know if we should sit or seek out the waiter or what. We walked up to the grill keeper, who was elevated about 10 feet above ground and looked confused.

A waiter appeared and we ordered one plate of tacos al pastor and one of carne asada. We traded a bunch of broken English and Spanish and walked away rather uncertain about what would be presented to us. We were excited when he reappeared about 5 minutes later with a carousel of four house-made salsas and a plate of toppings (cucumbers, lime wedges and other stuff). He came back 2 minutes later with our order, which we were delighted to discovered had been divided for us. We each had a plate with one of each taco. The al pastor was especially delicious, as was the green sauce. We paid $80 pesos.

Tacos in Navajoa

We got back in the car, merged onto the road and drove about 1 minute. A cop had fallen in behind us and turned his lights on. We pulled over and Brian prepped his New Mexico driver’s license. Unlike in the US, where they radio in for potentially several minutes before appearing at your window (not that I’ve ever been pulled over or anything), the police officer parked and came right over to us.

He politely inquired as to where our license plate was. I managed to pull out of my bag of tricks a la ventana – on the window. (We have a temp plate that we had purchased with the car that was good until mid-October. I had worried about this before our trip but had assuaged any concerns by finding online many accounts of people driving with temp plates.)

The police officer immediately indicated understanding and went back to check on it. He then came back and asked us something that included the word ‘permiso’. I responded by pointing at our import permit on the windshield. He again nodded, asked for our ID, looked at it, looked at the temp plate again and then said, in English, “You can go. Thank you.” Very pleasant interaction indeed.

We pulled back on the road – after assiduously using our left directional to indicate an upcoming merge – and proceeded along. Perhaps two stoplights later, we were pulled over again. A new gentleman in uniform appeared at the driver’s window.

He asked the same question about why we were driving without a plate, to which I used my ventana word again. He checked it out and came back, looking concerned. He opened with, “Hablas español?” to which we said “un poco”.

In rough English he said that our plate is only good in the states. Then I said, “hmmm, they gave us this” and pointed at the import permit. He looked at it, seemed to partially agree but stilled seemed unsure. He thanked us and told us we could go.

Considering that the online application for the import permit did not ask us whether our plate was permanent or temporary, I started to wonder if what we were doing was legal. I didn’t know but apparently, neither did the police. It seemed foreigners were not commonly seen driving through Navajoa, so perhaps the import permit + US temp plate is a very rare occurrence.

We got out of the city without further issue.

The remaining 30 minutes of Highway 15 South in the state of Sonora were terrible. Potholes everywhere and some of them quite large. Everybody was driving rather slow (i.e. driving the speed limit). To make matters, worse, the sun was setting.

We knew to avoid driving at night. We had read that not only are topes (speed bumps) oftentimes impossible to spot (they can be the same color as the road), but potholes could be found anywhere. At high speeds, both types of road disturbances could be highly damaging. Additionally, we had heard that the free range cattle sleep on the warm pavement during the night.

Speaking of cattle, more than once we had seen a herd being tended, right off the highway, by at least one rancher. Sometimes they would be on horseback, other times on foot. They watch over their livestock and appear to keep them out of the street during the day. Grazing the animals along the highway serves the dual purpose of feeding the cows and reducing government overhead (no need to mow!).

Anyway, darkness was fast approaching and we still had more than an hour and a half of driving until Los Mochis. We decided to tail a confidently moving bus. The driver seemed to slow down before the speedbumps (YES, speedbumps on the highway) and we figured he would be aware of any unpredictable speed zones. It was called Elite and in terms of escorting us to our destination, it definitely did the job.

Brian really embraced the race and we flew for the next hour. Most of the way, we kept hot on the heels of the bus, pushing 70 miles per hour. The sun set and we kept at it. There were no other cities between our location and our destination so our only choice was to keep going. Had we not wanted to drive fast, we could have slowed down. But then we would have had to keep our own watch for road issues.

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