We were on the road again and headed for Mexico City! It was a fairly short (3-4 hours) drive and we expected to be in our hotel rooms by late afternoon.

Things were smooth and uneventful—until we got to the toll booth at the border of México state. That’s where a Policía stepped out and waved us over to the side. I knew right away this was not going to be like our previous experience with the cop who helped us find a good restaurant.

Evidently there’s a rule called Hoy No Circula, which basically translates to Don’t Drive Today, and because Jai’s license plate ended in a 1, we were there on the WRONG DAY. Not only could we not enter the state on that day, the cop told us that they would have to impound the car.

Random photo from online to give you an idea of how we felt. We’re the guy in the car.

The rule was legit, it turns out, but the routine that followed definitely wasn’t.  These two guys had the good-cop-bad-cop routine perfected. The bad cop was off to the side saying, “Let’s call the tow truck now,” while the “good” cop was saying, No, let’s give these guys a break. He told us the fine was 6000 pesos —about $325. (We later found out the maximum fine in this case was more like 2000 pesos.)

Long story short, they ran their routine on us and “did us a favor” by allowing us to pay only 2500 pesos–because that was the total amount Jai and I had on us. In cash, of course, and no documentation of any kind. This was so they would allow us to leave, WITH our car, and go somewhere to wait until 10pm that night when we could legally enter the state and proceed to our destination.

Here are myself and Jai in Querétaro being philosophical over a beer.

We wound up retracing our route and going back to Querétaro, a very nice place where we found parking and had dinner and beers to kill time until we were legal.

We were  a little freaked out by our police encounter–so different from our earlier experience–but we decided to be philosophical about it. No real harm done, and a road trip is supposed to be an adventure. I was just glad I hadn’t had more cash on me!

Sometime between 11 and midnight that evening, very tired, we finally drove into Mexico City. It just happened to be the evening of September 16, Mexico’s Independence Day, and as we drove into this huge city, our first views of it were accompanied by extravagant fireworks displays. It was magical enough to wake us both up a bit. We finally arrived at our hotel and that night we fell into our (separate) beds and were immediately unconscious.

We spent 3 days in Mexico City and had a great time. I hadn’t spent any time there in quite a few years, and I was reminded again what a great city it is and how much it has to offer. We shopped, went to museums, ate out, and generally sampled just a tiny tiny bit of this amazing city. We agreed we need to go back soon.

By now we were both ready to get home, but there were still two days of driving ahead of us. We planned to spend the night at Laka Chapala, and Jai went online and found us lodging there at a place called Quinta Quetzalcoatl. The drive was long, but turned out to be easy compared to the previous adventures trying to get into Mexico City. The roads were good, but expensive; we paid over 800 pesos in tolls on this leg of the journey. We came to a tollbooth about every 30 minutes all day long. Driving in Mexico is expensive if you want to skip the bad roads. I guess it was worth it, though; we arrived in Chapala in late afternoon without being exhausted.

Chapala is a charming little town right on the shores of Mexico’s largest freshwater lake, and we found Quinta Quetzalcoatl (known conveniently as QQ) pretty easily. And there was onstreet parking right by the entrance, glory hallelujah! We grabbed our bags and knocked on an old wooden gate set into a long wall that ran the length of the street. The owner buzzed us in, we opened the gate and walked in…

…and entered a jungle paradise. The grounds were a walled-in tropical forest with pools and big trees and green everywhere. It was beautiful, and I was immediately enchanted.

The owner, an Australian guy named Rob, was warm and welcoming and showed us to our (fabulous) rooms. The place made me wish we were staying there longer. My room was not only huge and beautiful, I spent the night in one of the most comfortable beds I’ve ever slept in. I can unreservedly recommend this beautiful place if you’re ever in Lake Chapala.

I put together a patchwork panorama photo to give you an idea of how fabulous my room at Quinta Quetzalcoatl was. I wanna live there!

Once we settled in we went and had seafood at a little restaurant near the lake (Isla Cozumel, another recommendation), watching the sun set over the mountains and night fall on Lake Chapala. It was a nice way to end the next-to-last day of our road trip.

Hmm. It’s a very nice lake, but I think I prefer the ocean.

We got up the next morning and headed out on the last leg of our journey. We took a different route for this stretch back to Puerto Vallarta, through the mountains.

This was more southerly than the route we had taken on our way from PV to Guadalajara, and in most cases less desirable because the roads are not so good. But we wanted to see the area and I’m glad we did. Driving through the mountains was a little nerve-wracking because of the winding, pothole-filled roads, but the scenery was amazing.

It was late afternoon when we rolled into Puerto Vallarta, back after 8 days of driving. I remarked to Jai I was seeing our city through new eyes. After seeing so much of Mexico and so many different landscapes and types of city over the previous week, I was viewing PV not just as a city, but as a Mexican city, with a better idea how it fits into the whole. Mexico, like any other country, is far from perfect, but I find the more I learn about and experience of my adopted country, the more I appreciate it.

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