2012 Mexican Roadtrip: El Paso, TX to Chihuahua, Chih, Mexico

We got up early and left the Dis-Comfort Suites in El Paso at 7:25 a.m. after getting cash at the First Light Federal Credit Union ATM (does that sound like a scam or what?). Then we got gas and got on the I–10 to the I-110. It was 82° at 8:10 a.m. Surprisingly to us, there are mountains around El Paso.

At 8:19 a.m. we got to the US border control and the guard warned us about driving into Mexico. There was no line and in no time we continued on to the Mexican border control. There was no line there either and no one gave us a second look.Everyone we spoke with warned us against crossing the border at Juarez because of the danger (drug cartel wars), the crowds, the lines and again the danger. Dimitri decided that we should go through the El Paso/Juarez border because it is so busy that they know how to be efficient. His plan was to get there early (which we did) before the buses and so on arrived. His plan worked well.

On the map it looked like we could get right on the highway south from the border. Unfortunately the so-called highway went right through Juarez. Highway #45 isn’t a highway at that point. (We really had wanted to avoid going through town because of the danger everyone told us about. Oh well, and no one gave us, or or Subaru station wagon, or our 2 bikes on the bike rack, a second look.)  All of the roads were in good condition. Still no one gave us a second look. We took a toll road from km 216 to km 100 and the cost was M$139/US $10. Then there was another toll road into Chihuahua at km 31 and it cost M$53. (The exchange rate was about M$13.90 to US$1.)

We went through desert with some mountains. There were some bright green irrigated areas—mostly not. No sagebrush, a few yuccas some dry grass some dry brush. There was a very impressive Lateral Periferico, a 6 lane road around Chihuahua. Our Garmin GPS got us to our hotel but understanding her American pronunciation of words in Spanish was very difficult. That night we changed the language for Garmin to Spanish in order to have a fighting chance to understand the words.

Dimitri had made a reservation at the Wingate by Wyndam Chihuahua (Calle Sierra de la Campana 3701, Fraccionamiento Comerical Vistas del Sol, C.P. 31207, Chihuahua, Chihuahua, Mexico, tel. 614-180-3030, web: www.wingatechihuahua.com) and we thought it was a great hotel (particularly in comparison to the Dis-Comfort Suites in El Paso the night before. Click here to read the description of the Dis-Comfort Suites.) 

The Wingate by Wyndam standard room was large and had two comfortable chairs and a desk. Our room had all of the amenities we like (mini frig., coffee maker, lots of storage space). The hotel was only 3 years old and the gym was equipped with new and very good Precor equipment. Even though Audre was tired after her day of tourist-ing, she got herself on the treadmill for 30 minutes. Our standard room #556 cost $98 per day and we decided to stay another night and tour Chihuahua.The only problem with our room was that the TV was in front of the bed, bolted onto the wall and could not be turned to make TV viewing from the comfortable chairs possible. On the other hand, there was a great made-to-order breakfast. In addition there was a Happy Hour every week night with enough food for a large-sized dinner. There was a free full bar (with hard liquor as well as beer and wine.) It was amazing.

When we arrived it was In the high 80°’s with a breeze. At 28.63° latitude and 1415 m (4636’ in elevation) it was hot but not unbearable. Sorry to say but Chihuahua looks like Iquique in the northern Chilean desert. Mountains that look like brown sand (but, unlike Iquique, there was no ocean at the bottom of the sand mountains). Chihuahua is very hilly and the roads are incredibly steep in some places. It is the center of cattle country. The city has become firmly middle class with all of the maquiladoreos or assembly plans in Chihuahua. Evidently, more than 400 plants assemble mostly electronic and automotive goods for export.

Chihuahua started out life as a mining town (so did Iquique) and (unlike Iquique) got rich. Its riches are reflected in the buildings in the historic center of town. Some are quite beautiful and in good condition. (BTW, Audre described Iquique in our blog entry and so we will just refer our dear readers to that description and call it a description of Chihuahua. Click here to read it.
Why is Audre doing that? Because our Iquique description elicited a rude comment from a Chilean nationalist reader and she doesn’t want to insult anyone in Mexico with her description of Chihuahua).

When we went to Happy Hour at our hotel we met Nicholas and Magdelana Bustillos from El Paso and made a date to have dinner with them the next night. Manuel, who worked at reception at the Wingate by Windham, recommend the restaurant we went to after Happy Hour. The hotel shuttle took us to our first dinner in Chihuahua which was at was at Mesón de Catedral (Victoria #200, 2nd Piso, Chihuahua, Chih. Mexico, tel. 614-410-1550,  (A un costado de Catedral), e-mail: mesondecatedral@hotmail.com). We had a wonderful meal. It has only been open for 3 years. It is in an architecturally interesting building that fits into its neighborhood of 19th century buildings. The restaurant has a great view of the cathedral and the Plaza de Armas (unfortunately there was major construction being done at the time around the plaza.) There is a terrace as well as an interior dining room but it was all wide open and there was a good breeze. We chose to sit in the dining room that was well decorated and comfortable. Jesús was our server and he was very good and professional (and spoke good English). First he brought chips with 2 types of salsa (one really spicy and one really good). We understand that chips and salsa are served in all Northern Mexican restaurants (like in the States).  We shared everything as usual and started with “Los Comales, raja (strips) con asadero (made by Mennonites) y machaca a la Mexicana, servido en dos camales, acompañados de tortillas de maiz (o harina)” M$120. We were served two small skillets--one with a cheesy mixture and one with a meaty mixture. The combination in a tortilla was really good.  We had one glass of cabernet (Casillero del Diablo from Chile) for M$60. Our next course was “Filete de res en salsa de chipotle servido sobre un espejo de salsa chipotle, acompañado de tomatillos y papa rústica”. For dessert we had ”Pastel de elote con salsa de rompope con nieve” (M$55) and a decaffeinated coffee (M$22). The dinner cost M$437 plus tip or about US$30.

The next day we took a city tour on a trolley. (Tarahumara Tour of Chihuahua (price for seniors M$80 each = M$160 by Chihuahua Barbaro Recorridos Turisticos, tel. 52-614- 425-0006, web: www.chihuahuabarbaro.com (at 10 am, 12:30pm and 16:00). It started at the Plaza de Armas where there are some beautiful buildings. 
Chihuahua was rich! Audre is standing in the courtyard of the magnificent Palacio de Gobierno
Our guide was good (but he never told us his name). There were 6 other people on the tour. It was in Spanish but understandable or Dimitri or the other people translated for Audre. We drove around Chihuahua and the guide pointed out things we should look at and told us historical facts. The name Chihuahua derives from the Tarahumara language, meaning "between two waters;" other accepted definitions are "place of the holed-rock" or "dry and sandy place"--which is very appropriate. The name itself is older than the Spanish conquest of Mexico and has nothing to do with the dog of the same name. We call the indigenous people the Tarahumara but they prefer to be called Rarámuri (which means those who run fast). Tarahumara is a Hispanicized corruption of their name.

Our first stop on the trolley tour was the Museo Historico de la Revolucion (Casa del General Francisco Villa en Chihuahua) where the entry fee was M$10 x 2 = M$20. We learned much more about Pancho Villa than we ever thought we would want to.

Our next stop was Quinta Gameros (Universidad Autonoma de Chihuahua, Paseo Bolivar 401, Co. Centro) where the entry fee again was M$10 x 2 = M$20. Our guide called the exterior Roccoco and interior Art Nouveau. The Tiffany stained glass was gorgeous.
The Tiffany stained glass at the Quinta Gameros
After our tour (we even went to the catedral at the Plaza de Armas)  we met Nicholas and Magdelana at Bustillos at Happy Hour at our hotel. They suggested that we go to El Quintal for dinner (Groupo Siete Mezquites, Perif. de la Juventud 8511, Chihuahua, Chiih, Mexico, tel.614- 541-5454). It was a nice looking place with a live music player playing a saxophone. We didn’t like our main course but the starters were very, very good. We had a house salad to start that everyone shared. We all shared the two starters also. The Tuetanitos (M$112.07) or bone marrow was served in a small skillet and they were excellent and plentiful. The other starter was tripe (Tripitas de leches), also served in a skillet, that were good (sautéed with onion and pepper) but a little dry (M$85.34). For our main we shared one Filet Mignon (M$172.41). It was thin and very over-cooked even though we asked for it red. We had glasses of wine or beer with dinner and the bill came to M$1500 (about US$65 each couple). The evening was a great success and we had a wonderful time. We hope that they take a vacation in San Miguel de Allende while we are there this summer.