I wrote earlier about taking Omnibus Mexicanos north to Texas, and promised I’d write about the return trip when I felt better about it. It’s time. I’ve had a massage and a lot of rest. It wasn’t an easy trip. Like the trip up, the major problem was at the border. Last time it took us six hours going through U.S. Customs. I wrote that taking a “direct” bus that crosses the border wasn’t such a good idea, that it would be better to get off and take a cab or walk over to the Laredo bus terminal. I should listen to my own counsel.
On this recent return trip, I considered various options of getting to Laredo from San Antonio, crossing the border on foot or by taxi, and then taking wonderful executive class ETN southward. I asked a friend whose husband owns jukeboxes and ATMs in various bars across Texas if she was going to make a collection run to Laredo. “I hadn’t planned on one, but, hey,” she said, “you speak good Spanish. Maybe you can talk to this guy named El Cocodrilo about why there was only $28 in his jukebox after two weeks instead of $500.” I started looking at bus schedules again.
“Maybe going back won’t be so hard,” I reasoned. “U.S. Customs can’t be that stringent about people leaving the country.” I’d heard about Transportes San Miguel, a line that offers cross-the-border service between San Miguel de Allende and Texas. But I could not find any information on how to get in contact with them. Search engines came up with reviews of their service, but not phone numbers. Evidently the majority of their clientele does not book over the internet. Maybe doesn’t book at all, but just shows up.
I went back to the Omnibus Mexicanos terminal in the 400 Block of Broadway in San Antonio. The schedule posted on the internet indicated I’d have to change buses in Queretaro to get back to San Miguel, with quite a layover time. But the girl at the counter told me there was a new service, a bus that left at 1:00 a.m. that went directly to San Miguel. It wouldn’t even stop in Nuevo Laredo, she assured me, but would cross the border and go directly to San Felipe, Dolores Hidalgo (two towns close to San Miguel de Allende) and end up in SMA. There aren’t that many people going this time of year. The bus should be almost empty. Would I like to try that? “Sure,” I said, and bought a ticket for $77. That was Tuesday afternoon and I showed up Wednesday night – or, actually Thursday morning. I had a few panic attacks about mistaking the date, since my ticket definitely said Wednesday, but it was definitely Thursday that the bus would leave.
At 1:30 a.m., I was among three passengers remaining in the terminal. Fifty or more other people had boarded buses headed to Zamora, Guadalajara, Monterrey, and, finally, I was told to board a bus that had just pulled in. It was labeled “DURANGO,” a direction ninety degrees off the course I’d expected to be headed. Everything would be ok, they assured me. I’d change in Nuevo Laredo. “But…” I began. Never mind. I boarded an overflowing bus, finding a window seat beside a woman who was inexplicably seated on the aisle. Oh, it was her walker that occupied the seat I needed.
I won’t go into graphic detail. I changed buses five times on the trip. The first time was before we even got to Laredo. It was at the twenty-minute coffee stop they make in the middle of that three-hour trip. I ended up climbing over the lady with the walker three times. There were five of us on the bus I changed to, headed to Mexico City. At least it was a course correction. The next was at the bus terminal in Laredo, where we found that U.S. Customs had closed the border hasta el amanecer. Until dawn. We sat with about thirty other buses (where did they all come from?) for four hours.
It was full daylight before we crossed the bridge. A uniformed Mexican official boarded the bus and asked to see our documents. I presented my passport and FM2 card. “Where’s the piece of paper you got when you left Mexico?” he asked. I had no piece of paper. The official who had scanned my documents when I left Mexico had said nothing about getting a piece of paper. The man guarding the entrance back into the country was unsympathetic. “You have to have a piece of paper. How can we keep track of you if you’re not in the system?” Well, I’d sort of wondered that myself ten days before. This card business was new. Before I’d had a little paperback book that was dutifully stamped each time I crossed the border. But who was I to pose questions at 7:30 in the morning after a thirteen-hour bus ride north? Guys in uniforms are supposed to know what they’re doing. (OK, that’s a whole area of discussion we won’t address here.)
“Are you going to let me back in?” I asked plaintively. It wasn’t even in Spanish. I was ready to grovel. He softened and said, “Por supuesto.” Of course. “But get that piece of paper next time. You have to have it.”
Next stop, customs. I was lucky. I hit the green light. The bus driver greeted me on the other side of the building and escorted me back to my bus, lost in a sea of vehicles.
We stopped for another hour at the terminal in Nuevo Laredo, and again at another customs stop. And I know I changed buses yet again somewhere out in the middle of nowhere where I and my two much-handled bags, my pillow and blankie, my bag of fruit and nuts and a giant handbag were handed over to another capable crew of Omnibus Mexicanos drivers.
The buses were clean and comfortable, the drivers were all well groomed, exceedingly polite, to the point of being gallant. But I was feeling frayed. After one change, I’d been told I’d need to transfer in San Luis Potosi. After another change, I was told the transfer would be in Queretaro. It wasn’t until we stopped for a thirty-minute breakfast somewhere at the crest of a hill near Saltillo, and I engaged the current crop of drivers in a confusing conversation, that I found that I was indeed on a bus headed directly for San Miguel de Allende. I would not have to change again. How do you say Hallelujah in Spanish?
I arrived in San Miguel at 6:30 Thursday evening. I was the last passenger left on the bus. Their “new service” evidently hasn’t caught on too well. Still has a few rough edges, I’d say.
More about bus travel in Mexico:
Wonderful trip on ETN