Sorry about leaving you hanging with that last post. Would the LCP crew receive their ‘Get Into Mexico for Free’ card? Or would they be seen as the mules of boat parts, paint, and paraphernalia that they actually are and have to pay the dreaded import tax? Turns out, we made it through, even though we got the ‘red’ light. We didn’t have to pay any extra fees. I guess we just didn’t look like the guilty type.
For those who’ve never traveled to Mexico, they have an interesting system for determining who will get searched at the border. They use this system at the airports and also at the border crossings on the road. You approach light that will show either red like a stop light, or green. If you get the red light, you get searched, more or less. If you get the green light it’s like a free pass. It’s supposed to be random but I have some doubts about that.
We entered Mexico through the border crossing for trucks at the Mariposa Road exit just north of Nogales. This would allow us to skip going through the town of Nogales, which sounded just dandy to us. After a last loving stop at Starbucks for an iced coconut latte, my final act as a dedicated American consumer, we filled the fuel tank and took our chances.
And it did, actually, feel like a game of chance. I mean, just following the signs and getting in the correct lane was fraught with opportunity to FSU. (This is my new acronym for what goes on in my head when we do things incorrectly. It translates to Flub Stuff Up. No actually it’s a much coarser version of that but I don’t want to be offensive here with my gutter speak. Use your imagination.) And FSU we did! We wound through the maze of lanes, past what looked to us like a border guard housette, absent the guard. ‘Are we in?’ I asked Mike, confused. I mean, I’d heard that this border crossing was pretty casual but no border guard at all seemed like too much to ask. What the hell. Mike didn’t know either. We kept driving. Probably it would have helped if there had been other cars, but we were alone except for the small grey Toyota truck behind us.
We came to a place where we had a choice of which way to go. Ahead of us was a cement barrier on the left, with two lanes, a drop gate, and a guard house to the right of it. (I was too lost to remember to take a photo.) Which way would you have chosen, considering the lack of any signage? Yes, that’s right. You would have stayed to the right of the barrier because CEMENT BARRIER and unlike some other countries, we stay to the right in ‘merica (and also in Mexico)! We pulled up to the guard house behind the drop gate. It looked totally legit. But no one was there. The gate stayed down. The grey Toyota pulled in behind us. We sat, waiting, the Toyota breathing down our tailpipe. Surely someone in uniform would approach us, even if just to tell us we had FSU. Nope. Nada. No one gave us the time of day. We could have eaten our lunch right there at the deserted guard house and no one would have cared.
Finally Mike got out and approached the Toyota. The woman appeared to know more than we did (although my question, then, was why she followed us into the wrong lane, but whatever. Who am I to question the mysteries of border crossings?). She said we had done it wrong and we should go around the closed gate as though we’d gone to the left of the cement barrier. Great. Just exactly what I wanted to do. Drive around a barrier in full view of people who might have machine guns at the Mexican border. Fine. Just fine. I did it. I hightailed it over the yellow speed bumps, circled around the closed gate, and drove across several lanes to what I hoped was the right place.
And that’s when we got the red light. I should have known that would happen because, I mean why WOULDN’T they want to stop the car that had just driven around their barrier? I would do the same in their position. I wonder if the Toyota got the red light, too. Because she darn well should have.
I’d like to say the guard was nice, but actually he was slightly surly. That’s fine, I have dealt with surly border agents many times, mostly coming into my own country. So I smiled and called him ‘amigo’ and ‘señor’, and gave him all the permissions to open the side door to the car and the tailgate. “Oh yes, please, Señor! Open ALL the doors!” He glanced into the interior, he lifted up the lid to the carefully and strategically placed tupperware tub of kitchen crap. He asked where we were going. I said, ‘San Carlos’. He walked away. That was all. Not even a wave or ‘have a bueno day’. I looked at Mike. Are we done? He shrugged. I sat for a few seconds watching the man’s back as he walked off. Then I drove on. We thought at that point we were in, but we couldn’t be sure. Eventually, a few miles down the road, we accepted that this was, in fact, the border crossing.
Our next stop was the immigration office popularly known as KM 21, or maybe it’s KM18. No one really knows because there are no KM signs that are anywhere close to either 21 or 18 from the direction we were driving. We saw KM2 and got excited, expecting the next number to be KM3. It was not. It was KM1, then KM0. After that we just gave up and kept driving, trusting to the fates that we would find the right place. In Mexico there is a lot of trusting-to-the-fates. It keeps life interesting.
Long before we thought it appropriate, we found the place. Maybe I should have marked how far we drove from the border, but considering the border felt like it was several kilometers long, that measure probably wouldn’t have been accurate for others anyhow. Its presence was brought to our attention by all the signs for Mexican liability insurance, which you can buy there. One stop shopping, Gringos! Not certain at first this was the place we missed the turnoff, so, this being Mexico and all, we went in the exit and drove the wrong way through the parking lot, turned around and did it right, and parked the car.
After that the immigration process went smoothly. We got at the end of the line, which was pretty long considering that a tourist bus had just pulled into the parking lot. The kind and very fast man behind the counter was stamping passports as fast as his stamp would fly. He saw that we had applied for the Temporary Residence Visa and scanned our passports, just as we were told he would. He filled out our FMM form for us, checking ‘other’ as the reason for the visit, just as the lady in Tucson said we should. He wrote 30 days on how long the FMM was good for. Wait. WHAT??? We knew that we actually had only 15 days if we wanted to get the advanced visa. I’m not sure what the 30 days stuff is, but it’s clear from immigration in both Tucson and here that after your passport is scanned at the border, you have 15 days to complete the second part of your paperwork and pay your fee for the Temporary Residency Visa. We take no chances, regardless of these alleged 30 days. I wonder how many people see that 30 days marked on their FMM card and forget all about the 15 day limit and then have to apply and pay their fee all over again?
At that point, we were cleared into the country. A sigh of relief later we were bombing down the road toward San Carlos. Here are few thoughts about that drive:
You will never want to drive at night here and it’s not because you might be robbed. It’s because the roads, even the new ones, are dangerous in their own right. There are no shoulders, and the drop offs are steep. Even if you don’t get hurt if you go off the road, your car surely will get hurt. We saw a car that had run off one part of the new highway and could not get back up.
In addition, there is chronic road work. Hey, it’s just like home that way! So you will be switching back and forth between the old highway which is two lanes, and the new highway which is 4 lanes. These places where you switch over are hard enough to see in the daylight.
The speed limit is just a complete joke. And I’m not talking about the kind of joke we experienced in Arizona where the long, straight highways call for speeds that are close to that of light; where the other drivers breath down your neck when you’re already going 75. This is more like a speed limit sign of 60km/hour (about 37 mph) on a brand new 4 lane highway. That sign then changes to 110km/hour (about 68 mph) for no apparent reason. But wait! Then it goes to 80km/hour (you do the math) and continues to go back and forth between all three just to keep you guessing. No rhyme or reason that we could deduce. Perhaps there’s a system. We failed to recognize it. And naturally, no one pays the slightest bit of attention to these signs. They all just go fast. We finally just went with the flow of traffic, worried our pace would call attention to us or worse.
We found the drive to San Carlos to be a stressful one and were pretty glad when we finally saw the sign to the town and headed down the familiar road to the marina. I imagine it gets easier with familiarity, but if you are crossing the border and driving down, take care and drive during the day. Our first stop, Marina Seca, San Carlos to check on S/V GalapagosI I’m glad to say she fared well and all our preparations were useful. As I write this we are in the work yard and getting her put back together, moving forward on repairs. More on that and our further immigration adventures another time.
S/V Galapagos, out.