Crossing the border
We left Yuma Tuesday morning, October 6th.
The drive to the border crossing at Tecate, California/Tecate, Mexico had quite diverse scenery. Yuma is right on the AZ/CA border and almost as soon as we crossed it, we were in the Imperial Dunes Recreation Area and it was quite gorgeous. There is a canal that runs along the highway which makes quite a contrast to the sand dunes.
Several miles further down the highway, the land becomes vegetated once again with typical scrub desert plants with solar panel fields and wind turbines. We stopped in El Centro to top up the gas tanks and were surprised how large this town was – even had a Costco!
The countryside changes again once you turn off the I-8 and you are climbing amongst mounds/ mountains of rocks. We say mounds because they don’t seem like several mountains or hills, more like someone piled up rocks. We climbed up to over 3500’ and then back down again before reaching the border. At one point the sign post actually says “sea level”.
Our guide books mentioned that once you get to the border, to park your vehicle and walk across to get your tourist card. Well, we drove right up to the border and parked behind a pickup with its flashers on and thought we’d do that too. You do actually just walk across the border, go to the immigration office and fill in a tourist card for your visa, the agent checks it and then sends you to the little bank next door, to pay the fee and come back. Then he stamps your passport and hands you your portion of the visa which is good for 180 days. By this point, a border person told us to move our vehicle as we were taking too long so we parked beside the inspection office.
Next comes the vehicle import paperwork. Here we encountered issues. We had read that it’s best to “import” your vehicle as an RV because that gets you a ten year visa for it rather than the standard 180 days. We thought “no problem” our vehicle IS an RV.
So once you get your visa, you bring it, along with the proof of insurance, registration and title back to the bank. Here is where we learned our vehicle is registered as a pick up NOT an RV! Despite pointing to the vehicle, showing them that the insurance we purchased says Tiger CX and showing them our owner’s manual, they claimed the VIN is associated with a pick up not a motorhome so the max permit they could give us was 180 days. Then to top that off, they tell you they need a copy of your visa but of course, you’re only given the original and neither the immigration office nor the Bank, have a copier. So we thought, “okay, that’s why they tell you to walk across so you can got back into Cali, get a copy in town and then get your permit”. Wrong! we walked back towards the truck and got stopped by US border patrol and told to turn back. When we explained what we needed, he said, “no go back – you could be fined $5000 for what you just did”. So we go back and Doug walks through the gates into the Mexican town of Tecate and finds a copy place while Fran waits at the bank with the other papers and our rig.
Now we planned to stay in Mexico for up to a year and got insurance for that length of time despite knowing we’d be making two trips home in that time (your US insurance is no good in Mexico). So we were concerned about the fact that our visa is for 180 days and we’d be leaving the country in December for three weeks and not taking the vehicle. To add salt to the wound, we know you have to turn in your tourist visa when you fly out and get a new one upon your return. We were not certain if the vehicle permit also had to be handed in. The agent at the counter informed us, but only when asked, that no, it did not have to be turned it when we leave the country by plane BUT the vehicle has to leave the country before its 180 days are up or we forfeit the deposit we made. So, we are going to have to leave Mexico by April 1st and then came back in to get a new permit. Fun fun fun! Not the end of the world as we are travelling beyond Mexico so it will just add a detour in our road trip. We’ll dip into either Belize or Guatemala for a couple of weeks and turn back.
So once we got the paperwork sorted, we got back in our vehicle to actually cross the border. When you go through, there is a set of lights; if it turns green you’re all good; keep going. If it turns red, you have to stop for a random inspection. Well we got a green light BUT we still got pulled over. So they asked us to open all doors, walked through the entire truck, asked us to empty one of the storage bins, looked in a suitcase, and asked about alcohol. When Doug told them how much we had we were over but they let it go.
We opted to take the inland route the 100 km (60 miles) to the coast driving through the wine route rather than the toll road. It was about equidistance and free. It was a little slower, but it introduced us to one lane highway driving in Mexico. There are large shoulders and when you are driving slower than others (which is most of the time for us!), you just drive partially on the shoulder and they’ll pass you. Truckers will put on their left signal for you to let you know to pass them, not that they are making a left turn. Speed limits are all over the place and locals seem to ignore them anyway. As we are now outside the US, distances and speeds are all in kilometers and seem slow but that’s fine with our current style of driving.
Using the iOverlander app (and our Mexican camping guide) Doug found us a campground on the beach north of Ensenada. It was a small beach but a well maintained campground with no hookups at Playa Saldomando – we enjoyed a lovely walk on the beach, met the only other campers there and watched the sun go down. The other campers were three girls travelling in a pickup, also on their way to the tip of Argentina but they were doing it in six months! Two were Aussies and one was French. Hope you’re traveling safe Sam, Natalie and Marie.