It was a rocky start, truth be told.
“The bus leaves at 7:30 and 9:30. Every day, the same,” said the man with the Spanish accent on the phone.
So now I’m sitting in a dingy, concrete storefront in Phoenix with my tidy luggage and my bag of snacks, like a forlorn wallflower waiting for a dance.
I’ve spent the past couple of days (and the week preceeding) calling bus operators in Phoenix to figure out how to 1) Get to a border crossing (preferably NOT El Paso/Ciudad Juarez, which is a congested nightmare). 2) Stop at the border for my “Mexican visa,” which is really just a visitor’s permit good for six months. And 3) Find a bus to Nuevo Casas Grandes, which isn’t on the tourist radar despite being near a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The plan I landed on was to take a shuttle to the Douglas/Agua Prieta crossing, walk across the border, pick up my permit, then get to the bus station and finish the 3-4 hour trip to Nuevo Casas Grandes.
Easy peezie, right?
Except that the nice man on the phone neglected to tell me that if I were the only passenger, the bus wouldn’t run that day. So I have just taken a $20 cab ride across Phoenix from the equally dreary hotel room where I have spent the past couple of days assessing my options, and now I’m staring at the van driver, who is squirming uncomfortably because he is the bearer of bad news.
He calls the boss to explain about this gringa lady in the office who can’t go home and come again another day because she lives in MICHIGAN, and who is now at the mercy of this hefe on the phone.
But there is no mercy. Oh, yes, they will drive to the border, special, just for me, for $105 dollars–more than triple the going rate.
The driver squirms and I stare.
“Is there another shuttle service?” I ask.
The man goes outside and spits a bunch of Spanish at another guy who is standing around. I hear cientos y cinco, the outrageous fare the boss wants to charge. Turns out there is another shuttle about three blocks away, and it leaves at 10. The driver takes me there and explains the predicament.
“Don’t worry, honey. We go even if you’re the only one.” I am rarely spoken to so comfortingly. I must have looked forlorn.
I wasn’t, and they did. But that set in motion a domino of delay. I got to the border in a squall of rain and wind, looking like an old crow in the rain poncho I thought I’d never use. Once again, people were kind, and I ended up staying in Agua Prieta at the border because the last bus to Nuevo Casas Grandes had already left for the afternoon.
It wasn’t until late the next afternoon that I finally dragged my tired bones and trusty roller backpack over the gravel in the final approach to Las Guacamayas and the ruins of Paquime in Casas Grandes.
Casas Grandes is a pretty, quiet puebla near its big brother, Nuevo Casas Grandes. Two things drew me to this place: the ruins of Paquime, and the nearby town of Mata Ortiz, where an exceptional style of pottery has developed, inspired by the nearby ruins.
For this first destination, I was treating myself to a stay at Las Guacamayas (the macaws), a boutique hotel virtually at the entrance to the Paquime ruins.
As I trundled down the gravel road, Paty, the hotel’s hands-on manager, ran out to grab my bag.
“We were expecting you this morning,” yelled Mayte Lujan, the hotel’s larger-than-life owner.
“I was expecting me this morning, too.” I yelled back. The cheer, the comfort, the beauty of the surroundings, and the fact that I’d arrived–finally–at my first stop, was balm to my spirit. The anxiety of the past two days drained onto the floor in a puddle.
Las Guacamayas is a place peaceful and apart.