travel blog

Crossing The Border Into Mexico

    Crossing the border at Tecate into Mexico was far easier than it should have been.

       A few months ago, Karin and my mother talked me into walking across the border from San Diego to Mexico – just to say we had done it.  We walked in without a single person asking to see our passports, caring why we were there or acknowledging us in any way.  I wasn’t expecting driving in to be much different and in the end, it wasn’t.

      There is one thing I am good at. I always have been.  I can lead a trip.  I can plan a trip. I can organize a trip (don’t take this into account AT ALL when we do the blog entry on organizing the car for this trip – not the same thing and I don’t claim to have been anything but a disaster at that task).  For this border crossing, we were ready. 

      We had carefully copied, labeled and filed each and every necessary or important document.  We have a folder in our car labeled “roadside stops” and a folder labeled “border documents.”  Each folder has a more detailed table of contents written on the front with designations of (o) for original and (C) for a copy.  We read blog articles from other overlanders explaining the border process.  I had transcribed this process into a numbered list of tasks on a sheet of paper in each of our pockets.  We took exactly twice the amount of money in both US dollars and pesos necessary for the visa and motor vehicle import fees.  Gracie was leashed, collared and on her best behavior in the back seat, prepared to bark at every appropriate moment.

     We had a handwritten, detailed inventory of our vehicle contents that we quickly, after friendly greetings of “Buenos Dias, Como Estás", provided the border official. The friendly, female guard asked us if we had anything to declare.  Karin responded that we had ten bottles of beer and three bottles of wine in the back and nothing else to declare.  They asked us to unlock the back of our vehicle and we enthusiastically complied.  This was clearly an opportunity for the officals to pretend they gave a shit about what was in our car.  The inventory gave them something to hold and pretend to review.  After barely a glance into the back of our vehicle we were parking the car on a side street next to the immigration office and off to get our visa.

             The border official in the Visa office was immediately unimpressed with our lack of Spanish speaking abilities.  I received no points for my attempts.  We were simply and firmly told, “we speak Spanish here in Mexico.”  I was cool as a cucumber until this moment.  It didn’t put me off my game much but in my head, I agreed with his apparent thoughts, “yes, we are the assholes who came to Mexico and didn’t learn much Spanish ahead of time.”   He asked some very basic questions about where we were going and where we staying, sent us to the Banjercito (bank) to pay our fees and instructed us to return upon doing so.

                 We went to the banjercito, paid the fees and were back to the VISA office.  The official was minutely nicer to us this time.  I continued to attempt my version of Spanish and he continued to speak to me in annoyed English.  Regardless, we received our stamps and visas and were sent back to the Banjercito to pay our vehicle import deposit. 

The bank official asked for our title and registration. I quickly realized my mistake as I pulled the COPIES of our registration and title out of the “border documents” folder.    I was sent back to the car for the originals which i KNEW they would need.  Off my game a teeny bit more.  Karin was still, as usual, a pillar of calmness, methodical in every step, taking one step at a time.  I was calm on the inside but a total spaz outwardly - I tripped over my own two feet several times on the way back to the car, thinking more about what was five feet in front of me than my next step. 

  Now, back to the banjercito with originals.  We finally paid the vehicle import deposit, were sent to the Pharmacy across the street to make copies, made copies, returned to the Banjercito office and received our import sticker.  If you can imagine the shape of an infinity symbol, thats pretty much how this process went. 

 No one had said a thing about our dog at this point and we  could have gone about our merry way but the attorney-turned-traveller in me wanted to do things correctly so we headed to the Office of Agriculture.  We were met there by a man who did not seem to know or care why we were offering him copies of Gracie’s vaccination records.  He looked at them, still in my hand, and said “ok.”  And that was it, we were done.  All in all, the entire process took about 30 minutes. 

Finding our way out of the border town and to Ensenada, where we are now, was another matter, for another entry.

* I have to mention, because I can’t get it out of my head that I am 99% sure I witnessed the trafficking of a young girl at the border.  She looked to be around 17 years old, perhaps of American-Asian nationality, carrying nothing more than what appeared to be an empty purse.  She didn’t look “scared”, per se, but she did seem uncomfortable and unsure - she stared at the concrete in front of her. Her male escort was a Mexican man in his mid 40’s.  They didn’t speak to one another or interact but he was clearly her ward.  

I was not in my country, I do not know these people. I did know they had gone through the same  process and dealt with the same officials that we had without anyone asking questions or concerning themselves with this girl's well-being. 

I am still early in my quest to separate the mythology and realities about Mexico.  I said and did, nothing. I did not approach border guards and ask them to check on her safety.  I did not ask the girl if she needed assistance.  I did not say good morning.  I did nothing.  I recognize there is nothing in that scenario I could have done.  Heroism at the border of a country known for violence would not only have failed to help the girl but it would have been plainly stupid.  But I can’t stop thinking about her, I may be haunted by the image of this girl for a long time to come.    I don’t have much else to say on the topic and I have tried not to allow that moment in time set the tone for a country where in the last three days I have generally felt very safe and have only found people to be polite, helpful and hardworking and the landscape, while poverty stricken, to be indescribably beautiful.  

I only write this now because these entries are not to paint a pretty picture or to prescribe to the traveler version of political correctness (yes, this exists) but because I believe that travel is about being IN the world as it IS not as we would like it to be, not as we would like it to exist in our instagram feeds - not with filters. I'm not making any statements about this country or what goes on here - i have only been here for 3 days.  I am only describing what I perceived and the impact it has had on me.