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DAY 4: Driving from Los Angeles to Playa del Carmen

The good news: I had survived my hardest day on the road since leaving Los Angeles, and today I was meeting up with my brother in Puebla to continue the drive to Playa del Carmen together from there. The bad news: I still had six hours of driving ahead of me to get from San Luis Potosí to Puebla, and I was starting to get anxious.


DISTANCE DRIVEN: 713 miles / 1,147 km


Av. Carlos Pellicer Camara #5202, Villahermosa, Tabasco

On my second day in Mexico, I was having a hard time finding an ATM en route. It took me about 30 minutes to cross San Luis Potosí on my way to Autopista 57S toward Querétaro, without a single bank or ATM at sight. So far I'd been lucky to find gas stations that took credit card payments but today I'd be taking toll roads and I needed cash to pay for that.

Thirty years ago, crossing through Querétaro added an hour of misery to our frequent family trips, with my dad on the wheel, going between Mexico City and family in Northern Mexico and Guadalajara. Today, I planned to take the new Autopista Arco Norte (M40D), a fast toll road that connects San Luis Potosí to Puebla,* completely bypassing both the city of Querétaro and humongous Mexico City, which can add 2 to 5 hours if not avoided. The highway transitions were fast and seamless, and the sparkling road was a joy to glide on. My only trouble continued being the absence of ATMs along the road. A couple of hours into the trip, I had already exhausted the few pesos and dollars I had on me. I was hungry and thirsty, and the most expensive of all toll booths, Arco Norte, was still ahead. This had me worried and mad at myself for assuming I could use my U.S. debit card everywhere and that there would be as many ATMs at my disposal as in the U.S. Not the case.

By the time I got to Puebla, I was famished and penniless. My brother came to my rescue agreeing to meet me at Los Cochinitos, a Mexican restaurant right at the entrance of Puebla, on the highway. I lost count of how many tacos I ate before we got back on the road, with him at the wheel from thereon.

From Puebla to Villahermosa

It was such a relief to meet with my brother at that point in our journey. I had never been on the road on my own for more than a straight day and although faithful Rudy had been a great travel buddy so far, I was starting to miss human interaction.

We got delayed on our way out of Puebla by almost three hours. First, we had to reorganize some of the cargo -- including the child seat that Rudy had been chilling on this whole time -- to accommodate the extra passenger. Then we were stuck trying to leave the city due to unexpected highway maintenance work. It was almost dark by the time we got moving again. The rain started pouring down on us soon after, followed by a dense fog that followed us through the state of Veracruz.

My brother kept going all the way to Villahermosa, Tabasco, an 8-hour drive that he somehow managed to do it in less. We checked into our hotel past midnight, drained and exhausted.

*From San Luis Potosí, take Autopista 57S toward Querétaro; connect with Autopista 57D toward Mexico City; take Mexico 45 to connect with M40D all the way to Autopista 150D to Puebla.

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