Thursday, October 1, 2020

Northeastern Mexico and Southern Texas

My nephew John is a dual citizen of the U.S. and Mexico. He speaks English and Spanish and he loves to travel. One of John's goals is to visit all of the capitals of the Mexican states. One of my goals is to visit all of the Mexican states. We planned a Labor Day trip to northeastern Mexico, visiting each of the capital cities of five Mexican states, and then a foray into southern Texas which was regularly in the news because of the Trump administration immigration policies. This would all take place in the course of four very long days with a huge amount of driving. 

Thursday, August 29, 2019, I left my home in Redlands about 8:30 p.m. to pick up John from his home in Riverside (I'm not counting this as a day, the day was about over). We drove to San Diego and parked near the border next to the General Abelardo L. Rodriguez Int'l Airport in Tijuana. John and his wife regularly travel in Mexico and they almost always fly out of Tijuana. They find flights are much cheaper there. We parked in the U.S., went through U.S. customs using a special pass, walked across an inside bridge into Mexico and went through Mexican customs.

Friday, August 30, our Volaris flight left Tijuana at 2:08 a.m. and arrived in Monterrey at 6:58 a.m., after a 2 hour, 50 minute flight crossing two time zones. That early morning flight is murder on sleep but does marvels for getting lots done during a day. We pre-booked a rental car from Enterprise at the airport and set out for Garcia Caves [Grutas de Garcia], 58.7 km northwest of the airport (36.5 miles). We had time to stop for breakfast before the caves opened at 9:00 a.m., so John found Restaurante Los Primos in Garcia, about 5.5 miles from the caves. I got a wonderfully simple and good breakfast of refried beans, chorizo, eggs and tortilla, along with some wonderful salsa options. The spectacular mountain range that the caves are in is the Sierra del Fraile, or Friar's Range. We caught the first tram of the day up the mountain and got a tour through a part of the huge cave system, which included the typical structures found in large caves. Afterwards, we drove back into Monterrey and visited the Nuevo Leon state capitol building [Palacio de Gobierno] 

and walked by the Metropolitan Cathedral of Our Lady of Monterrey [Metropolitana de Nuestra Senora de Monterrey] which was closed. 
Then what may have been the best thing of the whole trip, we ate lunch at El Rey del Cabrito [King of the Kid (Young) Goat]. Goat carcasses were roasting in the front window and we shared broiled cheese with chorizo and goat leg, breast, shoulder and head, which we ate by itself and in tacos along with some wonderful taco add-ins. The food and atmosphere combined to make it one of my favorite meals ever. Then it was off to Saltillo, the capital of the state of Coahuila, a 96 km drive (53.5 miles). We got a quick look inside the Palacio de Gobierno and visited St. James Cathedral [Catedral de Santiago de Saltillo] which was across the square. 

We spent the night at Hampton Inn by Hilton Saltillo Airport Area. 

Saturday, August 31, we faced a long drive (377 km or 234 miles), from Saltillo to Zacatecus, the capital of the state of Zacatecus. Zacatecus was my unexpected favorite city of the trip. We visited the weekend of La Morisma, which celebrates the triumph of the Christians in Spain over the Muslims. We saw colorful characters marching through the streets in a very long parade. We visited the governors palace, the Cathedral Basilica of Zacatecus, and the Rafael Coronel Museum, which had a wonderful exhibit of wood, leather and clay masks. From Zacatecus, we had another long drive, to San Luis Potosi, the capital of the state of San Luis Potosi, 193 km or 120 miles. Along the way we made a 15 or 20 miled diversion to Pinos, what John called a Pueblo Magico, a place of interest for tourists. Pinos was known for pottery. We didn't find anything that compelled us to stop, but we did find a vendor along the way selling cactus fruit and cactus cheese, which turned out to be a very sweet and strong brown cookie made from the fruit. In San Luis Potosi we visited the governor's palace which had a protest going on in front, the Cathedral of San Luis Potosi and the original viceroy's home that is now a museum. We had a buffet dinner at a hotel just off the main square and then checked into the Hotel Panorama where we spent the night. 

Sunday, September 1, we had a long drive from San Luis Potosi to Ciudad Victoria, the capital of the state of Tamaulipas, 335 km or 208 miles. Along the way I spotted a caracara, a bird I've always wanted to see. We stopped and I got some photos, then stopped again a short time later when I saw some more. We drove through beautiful uninhabited country. We were going to attend church in Ciudad Victoria, but the times we had had been changed and we missed it. So we drove to another part of town and caught a different church meeting. Afterwards, John found a seafood restaurant for lunch in downtown called Restaurant Vitamar. From there we walked to the governor's palace and Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral, across the street [Catedral del Sagrado Corazon de Jesus]. This capital city is noticeably less ostentatious than the others we visited, reflecting the poverty in this state. Then another long drive to Matamoros, 323 km or 201 miles, right next to the U.S. border. We visited Our Lady of Refuge Cathedral [Catedral de Nuestra Senora del Refugio] where a mass was taking place and only spent a few minutes, then had dinner at La Cancilleria, an amazing restaurant. We had some difficulty finding the road to cross the border into the U.S. at Brownsville, Texas, but the border crossing was no problem. We drove to Port Isabel, 37.2 km or 23 miles, where we stayed the night at Port Isla Inn. 

Monday, September 2, Labor Day in the U.S., we drove 8 miles to the South Padre Island Bird and Nature Center, which opened at 7:00 a.m., where we walked their elevated bird trails. Then we drove 24.4 miles to Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge which was off South Padre Island and up the Texas coast a ways. We walked some nature trails near the visitor center, then drove to Laguna Atascosa, a freshwater lake, and hiked the Gator Trail. We drove back to Port Isabel and visited the Dolphin Research and Sealife Nature Center where we signed up for a small boat ride into the Laguna Madre, the water between the Texas Coast and South Padre Island which is basically a spit. We saw bottle nose dolphins and a number of sea birds. Afterwards we had lunch in Port Isabel at Los Tortugos, a seafood restaurant. Then we headed back to Mexico, first on Hwy 48, then Hwy 550, then I-69E through San Benito and Harlingen, then on I-2 to McAllen, where we headed south and crossed the border near Hidalgo into Mexico near Reynosa, Tamaulipas. From there it was 134 miles back to Monterrey's General Mariano Escobedo International Airport. We left at 8:09 p.m. on Volaris and arrived in Tijuana at 9:02 p.m. From there we had a two hour drive back to our homes. Overall we drove about 20 hours and 1,029 miles (not counting our drive back and forth from Tijuana and Redlands) and saw lots of beautiful and interesting country. 
     Plain Chachalaca  (Bob)
     Eastern Cottontail  (Bob)
     Eastern Brown Pelican  (Bob) 
     Reddish Egret  (Bob)
     Caspian Tern  (Bob)
     Royal Tern  (Bob)
     Black Skimmer  (Bob)


  1. Great summary, the only thing you forgot was on the way back to Monterrey we made that pit stop and we went to that little town that only had a gas station and it was full of boots. Why it had a gas station I do not know because we were the only one with a car, everyone else had horses. I think it might have been a cartel town, but in addition to the boots I remember it because I bought the longest roll of triki takes (my favorite store bought cookie in Mexico) I have ever seen. Anyhow, had to add that last memory, it was a great trip. Any time you want to plan another trip let me know. Maybe we go to Michoacan and find the source of Michoacana ice cream. The cathedral in the capital of Morelos is said to be made of silver and baptized the emperor of Mexico.

  2. I'm glad that the two of you were able to take this trip together. I'm a little jealous as I love Mexico, but that is a LOT of driving.