24 January 2007

A Weekend that was

In hindsight, it was a pretty interesting weekend. I traveled around 700 miles by a bus, around 300 miles by car, got my mac and mp3 player; well it was indeed an interesting weekend. Read on.

First the travel. I decided to go to Austin to pick-up my laptop, as mentioned in my previous post, from Monterrey. Buses from Austin to Monterrey are plenty and quite cheap. A return ticket from Monterrey to Austin will cost you just 90 USD if you take a grupo senda bus. From what i saw, these buses are the ones that look best. Most importantly, since you have to cross the immigration on the US border, you will need a bus driver who has lots of patience to wait till you complete the formalities. In my case, i was the only guy waiting to complete my immigration and the driver was waiting for me.

So my bus started from Monterrey bus stand (It is called "center de autobuses") at 8.00pm. But my journey from my house to bus stand was not without its usual excitement. The taxi i had called for did not arrive till 7.00pm and with the peak hour traffic, it would take at-least 45mins to reach the bus stand. Luckily, my colleague offered to drop me in his car and that problem was solved.

It started raining once i reached the bus stand. Actually it was pouring cats and dogs. The bus however was punctual and started exactly at 8.00pm. The buses were the volvo ones you get back home. By normal standards, the bus should have reached the US border by 10.00pm. It reached the border at exactly 12.00pm. It took another two hours for it to move to the point where we were asked to disembark. The customs guy who asked me a few questions was actually funny. Upon finding out that i am an Indian and i write software, without even blinking he tells me "You guys make upwards of 85K USD an year. Why are you taking this bus?". I was about to tell him not to piss me off at that unearthly hour, but he kind of climbed down and said it was just a joke to shake the sleep off me. The queue to get into the immigration office was pretty thin as it was not the holiday season. People who have traveled tell me that during holiday season, it takes around five hours to clear the queue.

The immigration process was actually smooth. However, one needs to have some warm clothing as it was pretty windy and cold. I had two t-shirts and a jerkin and covered my ears with a towel, a-la, Wood-Tamizhan style, around the head and covering the ears. You also need to pay 6$USD as immigration fees.

Grupo senda has a bus stand in laredo very close to the border. In fact once you clear the immigration, take the first left and the first right. You will reach a drugstore. I could not get the address as it was quite dark and there was no one in the bus stand, but i think it can be found out pretty easily. The reason why i am putting this is because of this. Typically, it takes around 5 hours for a bus to be checked. The internet is full of people reporting that you can get down at Nuevo Laredo (On the mexican side), take a taxi and cross over to Laredo (On the american side), or get down at Nuevo Laredo, walk across the bridge and get to Laredo and take a bus from there.

My simple piece of advice is to take a bus till Nuevo Laredo border, get down and walk across the bridge, get to the Grupo senda bus stand in Laredo and take another bus. That way, you can save atleast 3 or four hours. Imagine spending 5 hours in crossing a checkpost for a journey that is just 6 hours. Criminal wastage of time.

Since it was raining like crazy, the bus took another 5 hours to reach Austin, while the actual journey is four hours. The grupo senda (Turimex) bus stop in austin is here:
Gasolinera Chevron
2300 East Ben White boulevard.
Austin, Tx.
I do not have the phone numbers for this. I had asked the guy to write it on the ticket which he did. But the bus driver tore off a part of the ticket as his receipt, and thus the number is lost. But, i think one can get the number of this place by looking it up in some sort of yellow pages or something.

The other turimex stops are in San Antonio, Dallas, San Marcos etc. A simple check on google for "Turimex San Antonio" gives you the phone numbers.

SO after reaching Austin, my friend and myself proceed to houston. One of the places that pops up when you search for "places to see in houston" or "Houston must see tourist attractions" is the space center. I had already told my friend that from the website descriptions, it looked to be a criminal waste of time. But then again we wanted to see what it really was.

It turned out to be a waste of gasoline for 300 miles and 50$USD. Man such crap. Zilch. All high falutin descrptions for nothing. Check out the description for Blast off theater. What do you think of ? Some kind of simulation about how space vehicles are launched right ? Nothing. Crap. Just some Imax effects and smoke. It literally is hot air ;-)
My honest piece of advice. In houston never ever go near space center and waste your money and time. Better would be to just hit the coastline (Which we could not do due to lack of time) and relax.

However, as is with everything, there is always some good in bad. For 10$USD we feasted (feasted is an understatement. We gorged.) on some amazing Mexican buffet. This buffet is located close to exit 35 on I35 East near Houston.

Saturday ended with spending some time in the 6th street in Austin downtown. It was pretty okay. But what i was surprised about austin was that the downtown looked pretty small. Heck, velachery in madras where i live is far bigger than that ;-)

On sunday, we decided to check out some natural cave formations in Austin. That was pretty good. But the best part was that we decided to check out some lakes and have a dip in them. We spent almost the entire afternoon searching for some good lakes and found out lake travis in the evening when it was almost dark and the temperature had dropped considerably. To get to lake travis, go on Texas71 East till you reach Texas 620. Keep travelling in Texas620 to see some real good spots where you can just sit all day fishing, or wallowing in the water. But as they say, we got there just around evening where we could not do much swimming or something and hence had to return back empty handed.

But the highlight of the entire trip was at the mexican border. The guys check each and every bus. How ? By just unloading the entire luggage, and loading it back into the bus ! How is that checking ? But that was not all. Picture this. The cop asks me something in spanish of which i understand nothing. There are two buttons. One for a green light and one for a red light. I presume the cop was asking me something like "do you have something to declare". I just said shook my head indicating a "No" and pressed the green light and walked away. If they really want to check something, they should have an x-ray machine or they should not check anything. My bus reached the checkpost at 3.30am (It started from Austin at 11.30pm) and left the checkpost at 8.00am. What a criminal wastage of time.

In a nutshell, it is better to take a bus till Nuevo Laredo checkpost, get down and walk to the border bridge. It is just about 500 mts or so. Once you finish your immigration formalities, just walk across and catch the bus to any point in Texas. The bus was fairly empty on both legs of my journey, so getting tickets should not be that much of a problem.
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Posted by Shyam Krishnaswamy at 2:57 AM


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