During our winter break in 1995, my housemate Tigris and I travelled to Monterrey, Mexico. (Tigris doesn’t like cold weather, so we decided we’d go someplace where there wasn’t any.)
We drove down to the Texas border from Boston, stopping near Atlanta to spend some time with Tigris’ friend Dean. I’d never driven in that part of the country before (I’d never driven further south than North Carolina), and I really enjoyed the drive. Tigris had checked out some books on tape from the library, so we listened to I, Claudius on the way down, and Lie Down in Darkness on the way back, when we were both awake.
The land in that part of the continent is really gorgeous. The transition, as I was driving south from San Antonio, was really striking: there was a little river or stream, and on one side of it was land that could have been the Midwestern prairie I grew up in, and on the other side was the bare ruddy-brown earth sparsely covered with scrub brush that you see in movie Westerns. I wondered why the transition was so sudden; maybe some of the land was irrigated.
We left the car in a garage in Laredo, Texas, on the U.S. side of the border, so as not to have to deal with getting permits and insurance and driving in Mexico, crossed over the bridge on foot, and took a bus to Monterrey, about two hours southwest. They showed movies on the bus; in addition to Indiana Jones in the Temple of Doom (subtitled in Spanish, of course), they showed an airplane disaster movie. I thought that was pretty shrewd, trying to scare their customers away from flying instead of taking the bus, until the trip back, when they showed a bus disaster movie!
We stayed at a cheap (and kind of dingy, but serviceable) hotel several blocks from the bus station. Our three nights at the hotel cost us less than the taxicab ride back from the bus station in Nuevo Laredo to our parking garage in Laredo, although the latter amount was inflated by the amount of time we had to wait in U.S. customs for the customs officials to disabuse themselves of the odd notion that we were Canadian citizens, despite our birth certificates.
We both really enjoyed the food while we were there: cabrito (roast kid) is a local specialty, and in lots of little holes-in-the-wall you can get a dozen different kinds of tacos and taquitos, some of them adequately spicy. :-) Incidentally, while most things were a lot cheaper than in the U.S., restaurant prices were comparable, only a little cheaper.
(On the subject of money, I had foolishly changed quite a bit of money in Boston, before leaving — just before the peso started its precipitous plummet! :-) Oh, well...)
Monterrey is surrounded by gorgeous mountains! One of them in particular, el Cerro de la Silla (Saddle Hill) has a very distinctive profile, and seems to have been adopted as an emblem of the city, e.g. in the logos of businesses. We got a very good look at some of the mountains the third day we were there, when we went on a tour of the Grutas de García, a set of caves in one of them, about 45 minutes by tour bus from the city. Unsurprisingly, if unfortunately, the pictures I took inside the caves didn’t come out, but I have a few of the mountains:
We spent some time in the Parque Central, which has sculptures and gardens around an elaborate central fountain which (a plaque informs us) celebrates the triumph of the first European settlers of Monterrey in their desperate search for water. (Incidentally, the style of the sculpture I saw in Monterrey struck me as different from what I’m used to seeing in the states: active, muscular young people in energetic active poses. It reminded me a little bit of Sotsrealizm, the semi-official Soviet artistic style.) Actually, we spent a lot of time before that on a bench poring over an extremely confusing map trying to figure out how to get to the Parque Central, only to discover from a passer-by that it was only a couple blocks away.