¡Adiós Estados Unidos y Hola Mèxico!
I wavered about which border to cross, Nogales Arizona or Tecate, California, but mother nature made the decision for me. The warnings about the windstorm that blew through most of California made it clear that highway 8 into Arizona would be too dangerous for Oso. There were also several days of torrential down pour which might have made the roads susceptible to flash flooding. So to the Tecaté border we went. The drive was lovely and started my heart pounding with anticipation of the border. I’d cleared out the refrigerator so I wasn’t carrying any fruits or animal products but I was a little concerned about 3 large zip lock bags of dehydrated vegetables Joanne had made for me. As mentioned earlier, I’d spent a lot of time making sure the dogs’ paperwork was exactly as it should be and I was a bit worried about all the freeze-dried dog food I had with me. Last minute I’d panicked about having enough food for the girls and bought 40 pounds from the pet store down the road from where my parents lived. I know I can get plenty of raw meat and bones for the girls in Mexico but my mothering instinct took over. In Northern Canada the only dog food I could find was Purina and I don’t’ want to put the girls on that kind of diet for the next year. In any case, I occasionally take comfort in knowing that I wasn’t adopted because my Harrison Obsessive Compulsive worry kicks in.
I hit the border so quickly I didn’t have time to rehearse my thoughts. I wanted to prepare myself for the expected questions (having just crossed into Canada I knew there’d be a lot of probing questions about where I was going, why and for how long, what I had with me and a search of the vehicle). I read that I’d have to get out of the truck with the dogs while they did their search so I had leashes laid out and keys ready for unlocking all the camper’s storage areas. I wanted this to go as smoothly as possible.
As I pulled up I saw four young border guards standing with semi automatic rifles and I waited to be instructed to pull forward. A young woman walked over to the passenger side window and signaled for me to roll it down. I did so partially and the dogs rushed toward her barking. She smiled and walked calmly to my side. In simple English and hand gestures she asked me to get out and open the camper’s back door. She climbed in the back, opened one kitchen cabinet and the refrigerator, climbed back out and told me that I could go. HUH? That’s it? She told me to park around the corner and come back to immigrations for a stamp. Wow. I’m forever amazed at how worked up we can make ourselves, the stories we build and the energy we waste only to be shown that life can often be very simple.
So I climbed back into the truck and pulled out and turned down the side street. A car coming towards me slowed down and the man waved at me to stop. I was going the wrong way down a one way street. I said, “Oh! Lo Siento!” He laughed, “No Problema!” I left the girls and Oso and headed back to Immigrations. I think the border patrol was watching me because as I approached they quickly guided me down the correct passageway and into the building. I’m sure they were thinking “Poor old gringa.” The inside of the building was clean and neat and could have passed as any US official building except for the path of cardboard that ran down the hall. I felt like Dorthy as I skipped down the brown cardboard road and into the small immigrations office. Here I faced my next fear… explaining to the authority about how long I’d be here and most importantly why. In many of the countries I’ve traveled I’ve felt that there was some suspicion about my agenda, albeit, my agenda is frequently odd…. Ah , to drive as far as I can go…???? (Canada) To climb the canyon walls…???? (Jordan) To see if anyone thinks they might be my ancestor…..??? (Syria) Because I’m meeting my friend who collects cloud samples….??? (Chile and Namibia)
I was worried if I told them that I was driving to South America they’d think it was suspicious. Why was I was driving down Baja California?
And I still had all the dog’s papers to worry about!
Nervously I handed over my passport and braced myself for the interrogation. “Buenas Tardes, Senio.r” (I read that it’s considered rude to simply jump into conversation without saying hello, and I ALWAYS thought it was rude to be in a foreign country and immediately begin a conversation in English). He asked,“Why are you coming to Mexico?” I said in Spanish, “I’m driving to Guatemala to take Spanish lessons.” His response was… “Why not here!” I said that I was going to take some here in Mexico too. He smiled…probably because my Spanish was so bad, and handed me some papers to fill out and pointed to a desk. As I struggled to fill out the form he chatted with me. We proceeded to talk in both poor Spanish and English and in between our conversations he was listening to some Spanish/English tapes. I finally admitted to him that I couldn’t read the form because the words were so small. OMG… he told me that he was facing the same problem and handed me some readers! I then had to go to the Banco to pay for the visa, get a vehicle permit and come back for more paperwork. So off I went.
There was a little confusion about whether I had an RV or a truck. The young man decided that it was easier to walk back to Oso with me and take a look. I told him where I was going (to Sud America) and we had a great time trying to communicate in English and Spanish. He was from Mérida but now lives in Tecate. To make a very long story short….. He ended up having to call Tijuana to figure it out and in the end the ‘machinery ‘ broke down anyway so I had to wait until I arrived in La Paz to finish the paperwork. He finished my Visa, I went back to immigrations and they stamped some paperwork, I went back to the Banco and paid some $$$ and was finally on my way. I think I spent about 2 hours there and by the end my immigrations friend told me he thought that I was ‘Perdido” lost because I was leaving them after such a long time and said, “Adios Bikki!”
What kind of Border Crossing Is THAT?
Well, It was now 4pm and the sun was setting. One of my steadfast rules was supposed to be NO DRIVING AT NIGHT and here I was, my first day on the road heading into the sun set. Of course my GPS decided to take me on an alternate route (I had a feeling I should be heading south out-of-town but what do I know?) and it directed me toward Tijuana so I could take the coastal route to Ensenada. This added an extra hour to my trip and brought me through some extremely confusing crossroads.
I arrived in Ensenada at 8pm. I didn’t know where I was going to stay for the night so I decided to head through the city and hopefully find the RV park I’d read about. I passed one after the other mega-resort RV facility but couldn’t bring myself to stop. ICK. As I left Ensenada behind me (I admit) I was getting a little concerned. I drove by what looked like another major facility and then drove into darkness. I had left the coast and the highway was taking me inland. I knew this wasn’t good since I might be leaving ‘civilization’ and gas stations behind so I turned around and headed toward the RV park I’d just passed.
I drove through the palm lined entry and huge iron and adobe arches wondering what kind of Gringo Park I was entering. As quickly as the lighted archway greeted me a dark sandy road laid out ahead. I followed it down and could see a lighted building on my far right but continued to follow the road. It took me through what appeared to be a manicured road of palms (it was so dark it was hard to tell) and up on a vista. It was clear now that there were some RV spots (pull-throughs with water hookup). There wasn’t a camper, RV, truck, or car to be seen. The place was empty. I decided to go ahead and pull into a spot and stay the night. I figured that someone would come through in the morning. As I got out of the truck I could see the silhouette of someone down below at the build I’d passed. Great… at least they know I’m here. I let the poodles out of the truck. The poor things hadn’t been out since their last potty break hours before. They went crazy! They KNEW THEY WERE ON THE ROAD AGAIN. Nickel tore off to run loop-de-loops and the other two followed.
It didn’t take long for someone in a pickup to pull up. He didn’t speak any English but he was able to communicate to me that I needed to go to the building below to register. With a walkie-talkie he talked with the guy below: license plate number and (I suppose) what he needed me to do). In broken Spanish and a lot of gesturing we came to the conclusion that I would ride with him to the office and pay.
The funniest part of this was after he dropped me off he told me that he would be my husband. I knew that he wasn’t really saying that he wanted to marry me but I couldn’t figure it out. The other guy (who would eventually register me) repeated that the other man would marry me and when they realized that I had no idea what they were saying, they gave up. After I paid for two nights and filled out lots of paperwork, the man with the pickup pulled up to give me a ride back to the camper. It was then that I realized what he was saying…. He was trying to tell me that he’d WAIT for me. LOL
Back at the camper I tried to give him a tip for the ride but he refused. We parted with an Adiós and Hasta Mañana.
I let the girls back out and they ran and ran and ran and ran. I fixed myself a quick dinner and finally went to bed to the sound of a donkey braying.
What a great introduction to Mexico. Amazing people and the forewarned about Scary twisty cliffy skinny roads.