Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Crossing the Border

April 11, 2009, Road Trip Day #5 ...

I packed up my cute little 1990 red Toyota (henceforth known as Ruby) this morning and handed my key in to the nice guy from Poland working at the desk of the hotel. I asked him his name, which was Waldo, and I just had to do it: I took his picture so that perplexed children everywhere - and the adults who read to them - will know once and for all the answer to the question, "Where's Waldo?" Waldo works at the Marine Hotel in Garlic, Arizona and here is his picture to prove it. Who knew?

I headed out about 10am. But before I could leave town, I just had to see if I could track down Mimi, a great gal I had met in Guanajuato years ago but lost touch with and who I remembered had relocated to Ajo. It wasn't difficult. I'm not sure how many people live in Ajo but lets just say "not a lot". A quick inquiry at the one and only wine shop in town last night had quickly yielded Mimi's address and phone number. My cell wouldn't work, but Mimi's street appeared before I even had time to look for it, and there was her cute little house, complete with purple cactus with brilliant yellow flowers. Alas, there was no Mimi to be found, but I took some shots of the amazing purple cactus and left a note. Hola, Mimi, wherever you are!

First stop was about 11 miles away in Why, Arizona. Why "Why", you ask? I asked the same thing. "Because it is where there is a Y in the road" was the answer. Unwilling to go down Abbot and Costello's Who's on first? path, I grabbed a weak cup of joe from the ersatz "breakfast buffet", and set off.

Yes, those are pickled pig's feet, pickled pork jowls, and pickled Polish sausages all available for breakfast in Gringo Pass. Señor Bourdain and all pork lovers everywhere, forgive me, but I opted for coffee.

Onward to the border! During the 4o-minute drive I passed through Organ Pipe Natural Monument, which was pretty, though no prettier than what I'd been driving through and would continue to drive though for hours. But I do believe that National Monuments are good for us to have, and public bathrooms on long stretches of deserted highway are very good, so all in all I enjoyed it.

All the while my mind was going over and over everything I'd ever read or heard about the US-Mexico border. I didn't picture a wall, or Anderson Cooper and a CNN film crew, nor did I expect any problems. Running through my mind were visions of something like a toll booth manned by stern-faced border patrol guards, a German Shepherd or two sniffing about, possibly a detained car or two with some handcuffs involved, and definitely a big pile of red tape to wind my way through. I had checked and rechecked a million times to be sure that I had the correct paperwork to legally bring the car in, but I still worried a bit about that - "Will the registration be enough or will they demand the title? If so, with the fact that I have a photo-copy and not the original title be enough?" I am oh-so well aware that everywhere in life - from the grocery store to the electric company and most certainly with government agencies - rules are not so much about the rules as they are about the person who is enforcing them. So with my cheery can-do attitude tempered by a healthy dose of yea-but-what-if? anxiety, I arrived at the border crossing in Sonoyta hoping for a rule enforcer who had woken up on the right side of the cama that morning.

There was no red tape in sight. A big sign announced the Sonoyta crossing, but other than that there was little in the way of signage, no officious guards warning me what I could or couldn't do, and no obvious toll booth-looking place to ask immigration for a tourist visa or to get the papers for the car. There were just smiling people pointing ahead and saying "Derecho, derecho", straight ahead. It was SO Mexico, where everyone is smiling and everything is straight ahead.

A friendly guy in a guard outfit said hello, asked me where I was going, looked briefly in the back seat and trunk, and waved me on. I went ahead a few yards but I just couldn't imagine I should just leave without filling out some sort of paperwork, so I stopped and asked someone (a guard? a fellow traveler?) "But what about the car?" "Straight ahead on your left." So derecho I went, looking on my left but seeing only stands selling Pollos Estilo Sinaloa, Carnitas Michoacán, Burritos Sonorense, Tacos "La Capital" - a veritable smorgasbord of economical eateries featuring food from most every state of Mexico. I was tempted to stop - the aromas were tantalizing and all I'd had so far that morning was a cup of warm brown water with instant creamer back at the Why Not Y?-Who's On First?-Pickled Everything Cafe - but I really felt that I should focus on getting myself and Ruby across the border legally before stopping to eat.

I drove on. Derecho. But I worried about what I had missed and how I has missed it, why it hadn't been more obvious what to do. I spent a good ten minutes redesigning border crossings with lots of clear signage about automobiles (cue the orchestra: If I Ruled the World).

I remembered hearing, reading, knowing that there was a second checkpoint further in, but I had also be warned by a friend that when she arrived at the second stop they sent her all the way back to the first to get the proper papers for her car. I really didn't want to lose time backtracking (I had a long day ahead of my to reach Guaymas and find a room before nightfall) so I was preoccupied with that worry, but I did what I often do when I don't know what to do, I kept going. Derecho.

The road was beautiful, the sky was blue, so I cranked up Linda Ronstadt and Perla Batalla on the iPod (oh, most heavenly Pod, how did I ever live without you?), noted that the scenery around me looked pretty much exactly like it did before I crossed into Mexico but the food smelled better and spent a few long moments pondering the arbitrary nature yet powerful reality of man-made borders (Julie Gold's "From a Distance" came to mind). The irony of my struggle to find someone to take my money and review my papers so that I could legally enter Mexico made me laugh. And cry. I am torn up inside about the US-Mexico immigration/visitation issue. But we'll save that subject for another day...

A few buildings appeared at last; this had to be the official border crossing, right? Now it would get organized and all would be clear, right? One lane was marked AUTOMOBILES so I headed that way, only to find a gigantic truck parked in it, apparently for the afternoon. A bunch of guys in yellow vests were sitting around in the shade, clearly waiting for someone other than me. I drove on, almost back onto the main road, when a lovely young Mexican gal in uniform stepped up to greet me. In my impeccable (not) Spanish, I asked, "Car? Into Mexico?" and she pointed to a little house behind me. Okay, we were getting somewhere!

I went to said house only to find it empty and locked up. A fellow traveler stood outside, trying to turn in his papers so that he could return in his car to the USA. We laughed, we waited, and finally I did what any red-blooded American would do...I took things into my own hands. I gave up waiting for the guy in the little house to return, said goodbye to the laughing patient Mexican traveler waiting to turn in his papers so he could legally go back to the U.S., I parked Ruby in the shade, and I started asking the guys in yellow vests "Hombres, ¿qué necesito hacer para traer mi coche a México?" (Dudes, what the heck do I do to bring this car into Mexico?)

Pretty quickly it all fell into place. I found the Migración (Immigration) office and ten minutes and less than $20 USD later I had my tourist visa that allows me to stay in Mexico for 180 days. From there I found the bank and within another ten or fifteen minutes I had the sticker for the car that allows Ruby to stay here for six months (cost: about $36USD). From there I headed back to the highway and after a wonderful spirited discussion with the exit guard about immigration, narcotraficantes - and the lack thereof - and the US media, both Ruby and I were legally on the road in Mexico.

Note the Hassle Free Zone for US cars in the picture. Do we have that for foreign drivers? I doubt it.

Hollering a hoot of exaltation and belting out a few Mexican classics at the top of my lungs with Linda and Perla providing back up, Ruby and I rolled along through the desert landscape of northern Sonora heading southeast toward Santa Ana where we'd pick up Highway 15 and then drive almost directly south through Hermosillo (named by someone who'd obviously never been there or worked in real estate) toward the seaside town of Guaymas, where I intended to find a cute little cheap motel and plant my feet in the sand before the sun went down. Ukelele and cold beer in hand (well, not at the same time...or at least not with the same hand), I envisioned watching the sun set over the Pacific and celebrating the completion of the 5th day of the trip and the 1st night in Mexico. Silly me.

Tomorrow on to Guaymas and can join me in trying to find freakin' hotel room in a beach town in Mexico during Semana Santa, aka: Spring Break. What was I thinking? Stay tuned to find out.


  1. lovin' it! keep on writin'.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. UPS........ too we realize that you're already in and sound! wonderfull! we will enjoy every blog-post-cuento and enjoy! our last comment I was recomending a place to have breakfast in Guymas!!! jajajjaja
    muchos besos a nuestra queridissisisiisma Betsy/Pepsi!

  4. I know...blogging backwards through time is a little hard to follow! I hope to get caught up today or tomorrow and then I can start writing about NOW!! xobetsypepsi


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