Charlton's First Trip to Monterrey, Mexico

I really wanted to take a trip back to Mexico before my 'permiso' and auto-
sticker expired from the Acapulco trip.
So almost six months after my Acapulco trip,  on the evening of Friday
November 3rd,  I set out for Monterrey.  I expected things to go wrong,
since that is part of the adventure,  but I was a little apprehensive
since it was my first trip to another country alone.  But by that time
the idea of going to Mexico (by car) didn't make me feel uneasy at all,
despite numerous recommendations of not going there alone because it's
"dangerous".  The only thing that scared me was not having a better
Spanish-speaker to go on the trip with me.  It was for this reason that I
really didn't  expect much on the trip;  I knew how to speak well enough to
get gas and food,  so it wouldn't bother me if I didn't do anything except
to see Monterrey and go to Mexico again (Mexico is SO cool!).  If it looked
like I was going to have time,  I wanted to see Saltillo as well.  I only
had one weekend (I had to be back on Monday for work),  so what the hell,
it's not that far away...

So off I went.  Getting into Mexico is always a lot easier than going back
through the borders the other way.  Going into Mexico there are two stops:
one at the border to pay the toll (and, if you happen to get the unlucky
red light, a small (very small) search),  and then another one a little
ways into Mexico for entering the interior.  This second one is a little
trickier since you have to show your permiso (tourist permit) and have
the holographic sticker for the car.  There's also usually a line of cars
at the second stop, too.

After each stop the environment gets more foreign.  For those who have
never ventured into the interior of Mexico or away from the touristy places,
after the second stop is where everything becomes 'real' Mexico.  As you
pass that second stop,  people stop speaking English and stop using American
dollars,  but likewise people stop trying to sell you something at every

So I decided to use the toll road from Nuevo Laredo to Monterrey,  which
costed N$85 (about US$12) just for one way!  Everything was going smoothly
and it felt cool coming into Monterrey.  I stopped at a Carl's Jr. on the
incoming road that I was on to get something to eat and possibly ask for
directions to downtown.  Since I wanted to stay in the downtown area where
the center of everything was,  I asked someone I talked to at work who used
to live in Monterrey a recommendation for a hotel there.  He had to think,
but recommended the "Hotel Colonial" which was pretty good,  and only
cost US$40 per night.

So as soon as I found downtown (where the big buildings were and this COOL
neon Mexican eagle on the side of this bridge was) I began looking for the
street 'Hidalgo' where the hotel was located.  When I found it (it took
a couple of tries) I checked into the hotel.  The main thing I didn't like
about the hotel was that there are a couple of loud clubs close to it.
The other thing I didn't like about the place is that you can get better
quality for cheaper in Mexico,  it just wouldn't be downtown (which really
isn't a big deal).

But the next morning (actually about noon) I ventured out to see what
downtown Monterrey was like.  It was cool!  Lots of commotion,  kind of
chaotic (at least, compared with the U.S.),  and lots of people and
shopping.  I was in an outdoor shopping center - I guess you can call it
a market,  but my idea of a market involves selling food.  Most of the
things that one would buy here is something you'd find in malls in the U.S.
There were lots of shops and stuff lining the avenue (only for walking on,
no vehicles) so I decided to check a few of them out.  After walking around
for about an hour I got something to eat in the food court of the "Plaza
Mexico" mini-mall type shopping center.  While I was waiting for my order
and looking up some words in my Spanish-English dictionary,  Lidice (Liz)
approached me and started talking to me,  trying to speak English.  I tried
to speak Spanish to her and she helped me out with it,  good thing she
spoke better English than I spoke Spanish!  While I was eating she invited
me to see a movie with her and her friends.  Since I didn't have any plans
what-so-ever,  I gladly accepted.  This was what I was hoping for: to meet
some people,  experience life in Monterrey,  and even flirt a little with a
good-looking chick!

It was cool,  we took the Monterrey subway system (very nice and modern)
and then an ugly-old Mexican public-transportation bus to the University
of Monterrey.  We walked through the University (one of the things that
I had wanted to see!) to get to the movie theaters.  All the time Liz
was talking and socializing.  I could tell that she was a very outgoing
and popular person.  I soon found out that most Mexicans are!

One of the main things I like so much about Mexico is the people.  The
culture is very much more close-knit than in the U.S.  When you approach
a group of people in the U.S. you are likely to be ignored,  while Mexicans
would not only acknowledge your presence but would want to know who you
are.  And when you look around yourself in the U.S. all you can really
see are buildings, roads, and cars;  you might see a jogger if you're near
a park.  Everything and just about every-place in the U.S. has a specific
non-social function,  and Austin is probably one of the worst places in
the U.S. in this respect.  I think this can be mainly attributed to fact that
Americans tend to isolate themselves from others,  especially as they attain
more money throughout their life.  Many foreigners will tell you this about
Americans,  and I know that I am like most Americans in this respect also.

Another thing I noticed about Monterrey (which goes for just about all
of Mexico) is that things are a lot better on the inside than they look
on the outside.  Every building looks dirty and poor,  but getting the
opportunity to go inside some of them,  they all are much nicer on the
inside,  or at least they have some incredibly nice charm about them.  The
buildings,  the subway,  the stores,  the Mexican homes, etc. etc. etc.

It was a cold and rainy day,  and evidently the storm caused the power to go
out while we were watching the movie.  We sat there in darkness for a few
minutes while everyone else was whistling and cutting-up waiting for the
movie to start back up again.  We decided to leave - Liz had seen the movie
before (she sees movies very often and frequently revisits them) and I didn't
really like it that much anyway.  I was eager to see what the rest of the day
had in store for me,  because Liz had invited me to a party that evening with
her friends. 

We then went to her house to pick up her sister.  She introduced me and we
all started talking.  We talked about my plans, where I wanted to go and what
I wanted to see.  Of course I didn't really know,  but I brought up Saltillo
and they brought up Chipinque (which also rang a bell as a recommended place
to see by the guy I was talking with at work).  So they were talking about
possibly doing some of that tomorrow,  which was cool!  I knew I'd have a
lot more success touring the area with two beautiful native escorts!

It wasn't long when they found out that the party was canceled because of
the cold weather.  I didn't really understand (nor did I care that much),
because I have never heard of a major social get-together canceled by
cold weather!  But in Mexico parties and social gatherings are far more
common than in the U.S. and weather affects the Mexican way of life a lot
more than it would the American way of life.

So we decided to go to the movies instead.  The three of us got into a taxi
(taxis are fairly cheap) and went to the movie theater on the other side of
Monterrey.  They also insisted on paying for everything!  I told them that
I had a car,  and later I found out that it bothered Liz that we spent all
that money on transportation when I had a car!  But I truly enjoyed going
with Liz and getting around Monterrey without the car.

On the way to the movies I asked the cab driver (with Liz's help) how much
it'd cost to pay off the cops if you accidently run over someone on the
road,  since I almost did coming into Monterrey (there are a lot of people
on the streets even at 2am).  According to the cab driver,  about N$1500
would suffice!  I think I had heard this from another source as well...

So we watched the movie (movies are in English and subtitled Spanish, so
I had absolutely no problem!) and before the movie started I asked Liz if
she'd kiss me,  since she was being very nice to me and I thought that she
might like me.  She told me no!  Doh..!

So after the movie (at about 10pm) the taxi took me back to my hotel and
I kinda felt bad... kinda lonely.  Even though I had a great day and a
lot of fun,  and I met new people,  I felt sad that it was over and that
I had some mild rejection from Liz.  Being back in my hotel room with nothing
to do,  after about an hour I ventured out to the street to try to find that
guy that I passed on the way into the hotel.

Which brings me to another great thing about Mexico.  Action and fun find
you,  you don't need to go looking for it.  At first I was afraid of the
Mexican street-hustlers that are trying to get you to try something out or
come into their club or just ride around and have fun,  but instead of
steering clear,  this time I took him up on his offer - after that I
realized that these guys can be very valuable.  I picked up this guy who
called himself Joe.  He spoke English and knew a lot of the places in
Monterrey.  We were going to look for girls,  so he got into my car and
pointed me around the city.  He was an older man,  probably in his fifties,
he escorted me around for about an hour, I got to ask him all the questions
I wanted,  he would show me any place I wanted,  show me how to get anywhere,
spoke English,  and showed me how to get anything I wanted!  And in the
end I dropped him off wherever was convenient for me,  and we negotiated
how much his service was worth.  The cool thing about this is that I have
the negotiational advantage since the negotiating is done after the fact.
So we decided what I thought was a fair deal:  N$60 (about $8.00)!  Cool.

So I found myself in this table-dance joint in which I was told there were
rooms in the back with my "Joe" escort at my service, sitting by my side.
We were both drinking Tecate beers with lime-salt, looking at the ladies.
Of course I never do this, even in my own country!  But it was different
and fun being there (with respect to my life back home, anyway).

After getting tired of this place we left and toured the city a little more
from its night-life perspective.  I saw many interesting things,  but
ultimately I decided to get rid of the guy and head back to my hotel so
that I could get up by 10am.

Day 2:

By 11:00am the next day I was scheduled to pick up Liz and Blanca.  And
this time they brought their camera!  We first drove out to Saltillo (which
they didn't tell their mother about because it's kinda far away).  When we
first got there we ate at this nice place.  There was this young waiter guy
there from Guadalajara who spoke good English.  He was telling me how
lucky I was to be with those two fine chicks!  I remember him making a
specific gesture with his hands indicating the large breasts on Liz.  :-)

Saltillo is a beautiful little town with, like all Mexican towns,  a beautiful
central park which acts like a gathering place for the people that live there.
A lot of interesting customs take place at these central parks, like the girls
of the town sometimes get together and form a ring while the boys circle
around them in the opposite direction in an outer ring, the purpose being an
official event for checking out the members of the opposite sex.  Anyway,  we
didn't do anything quite like that (nor did I see it being done),  but here
are the pictures we took of us in the Saltillo park.

After checking out Saltillo we drove back to Monterrey and went to
Chipinque,  which is an environmental park up on the mountain over-looking
Monterrey.  It was very beautiful as well.  Here are the pictures we got!

After that we went to eat at one of the best places I've ever eaten.  It's
called "El Buey" and is a kind-of outdoor grill place with easily the best
fajitas that I have ever had!  And they were cheap, too.  N$16 for a full
meal.  We ate there while we were having the pictures developed at Soriana.
This picture was in the parking lot of Soriana (last one of the roll).

By this time it was getting time for me to head back to Austin, so we headed
back to their house.  I stayed a bit and reflected to them what a great time
I had,  then we exchanged phone numbers and addresses.  And then I left town
at about 8:30pm.

Now,  to finish where I started off in my story,  there are three stops
going back into the United States.  And with each stop it gets more and
more back to normal.  The first stop going back is at the same location as
the interior stop going into Mexico,  only the out-bound side of the
station serves as a narcotics checkpoint (complete with Mexican troops
with fingers on the trigger of their rifles).  The big stop is at the
border coming in.  Expect them to search your car relatively thoroughly
for drugs, especially with an interior Mexico auto-sticker on your car.
The last stop is just to check for incoming illegal aliens;  once you're
past this everything around you is U.S. once again.

So even though I was expecting things to go wrong on my trip,  it really
couldn't have been better!

                                                        - Charlton Harrison

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