Crossing into Mexico

Oct 1, 2021

We had been waiting in Tuscon, AZ for a bank card for our new joint bank account. The bank we found will refund international ATM fees, which would make sense for us as we pull whatever currencies we need at each border crossing. Long story short, the card got delayed and finally at 3:30 PM on Friday we received the UPS notification that it was delivered in the store nearest to us.

We picked it up, filled up on gas, and hopped back on I-10 West, gunning it for the Tecate border crossing. We left HW10, which led towards Phoenix, and took a more direct route West on HW8. We had a bit under 6 hours of driving that afternoon and we capitalized on time by fueling up at the beginning and near end of the drive. We ate the remaining apples in Savannah (since fruit is an illegal import) and pulled out our documents (passports, Forma Migratoria Múltiple (FMM), driver’s license, NY vehicle registration, copies of our covid-19 vaccinations, etc.), leaving them prepped on the dash. We left HW 8 taking CA-94 through its twists and turns moving South to the border. The speed limit was 55 mph but I felt like I was operating a roller coaster driving Savannah through the dips and curves at that speed.

After about 30 miles of this roller coaster track, we hung a left on CA-188S and within 2 miles hit the border crossing into Mexico around 9:30 PM. We could see the lights of Tecate, Mexico juxtaposed against the darkness of the last couple of miles of barren landscape of the US. The border patrol station was very small, especially in comparison to one of its neighbors, Tijuana. We followed the green lights as we moved past the cameras and initial border guard. We were then flagged to pull over near the main buildings. After responding to a greeting in Spanish with “hablo un poco espanol,” he asked if he could open up the back of Savannah. After seeing what was inside, and probably almost being toppled on by the skateboards, he asked where we were going. We answered with Guatemala, in which he told us we were good to go. Confused, and convinced there would be another customs stop to stamp our FMM’s and passport, we proceeded forward only to realize we were now spat out into Tecate… with no stamps.

We had found a place to park and sleep on iOverlander, an app that provides crowd sourced information on locations such as free or paid places to camp, obtain potable water, gas, or wifi, do laundry, etc. Still trying to figure out if we accidentally sneaked across the border somehow, we parallel parked along a road with some bars and restaurants. We shuffled out of there soon though as the bass of the music rattled an already throbbing headache and we realized there would be no way we could actually sleep here – it was a Friday night after all. We found another place marked as OK to park overnight on the app and headed the 8 minutes over. While we drove in the dark, I realized that the stop signs in Mexico do not have the same reflective paint as the US, so you have to pay extra caution while driving at night. Eventually, we found the road to turn on to only to be greeted with bass from a different song – we’re still unclear if it was a private event or house party. We did realize it wasn’t a bar though after looking on google maps to see when a bar would close, if it were there. There was no establishment listed. Needless to say we got little sleep last night between the party and stress that something was definitely not right with the border crossing.

We must’ve slept at least a bit because I remember some stress dreams about dealing with the FMM stamp situation and trying to find the Migration Office (which we determined would be the best place to go after doing some research) and Andre sleep talking nonsense. Before falling asleep on the side of the party road, we read about it being less than ideal if our FMM’s weren’t stamped.

Oct 2, 2021

I think the music stopped around 4 AM, but then either a garbage truck went by or someone hit a garbage can and crashing bottles woke me up at 6 AM. With little to no sleep, we decided to just get up, prep the van for a possible inspection at the Migration Office, and head over. Once there, we waited until 7 AM (when we read it would open), waited a bit longer, then called. I could hear the land line ringing as I stood outside on my cell phone, waiting next to the locked door. I was surprised to then hear a man answer the phone. I explained we were waiting outside, where upon he unlocked the door and proceeded to try to explain to us that we had to go back to the border – at least that’s what we gathered from catching every few words or so in Spanish. We scrambled, trying to piece together what we could remember from what he said between Andre’s Portuguese and my high school level Spanish. We concluded that we would for sure have to go back to the border and see what would happen, hopefully someone would give us a stamp, even though we had already crossed into the country the night before.

We parked nearby where we came through into Tecate and walked up near the fence. Luckily a patrol agent saw us and helped us out. I was so relieved for us to be met with such kindness after our oversight of not requesting for the FMM to be stamped, since many people crossing into Tecate are not overlanding or continuing farther and therefore do not require an FMM stamp. We were able to walk back into the customs area and (after some waiting) got our FMM’s stamped with no issues.

We grabbed some lunch, then headed off to Ensenada on the West side of the peninsula. We clipped along just under 60 mph feeling like we were on another roller coaster ride before being spat out in what appeared as a port city. Containers lined the road and big warehouses of Costco and Walmart loomed around us. We still got out and scrambled down the rocks to the beach, but ultimately decided we should head back East and hit the gulf for the beaches. Andre picked up a Televia for the toll roads from Walmart as well as some water and easy dinners while I got fuel (and got lost among the small side streets of Ensenada). I’m beginning to understand why some of our research from other’s experiences say that driving in Mexico is a little crazy. But it also reminds me of driving in southern Africa so I guess maybe I’m just out of practice currently.

We made the journey ~4 hours across the peninsula to the East side. We saw a lot of military presence on the roads and passed through two check points. We both acknowledged before that we feel uneasy around heavily armed individuals in uniform. As we pulled up to the first check point, Andre asked if it would help if he got out with me (if they asked the driver to step out as they had with the car ahead of us). The check points here reminded me of the ones I passed through in Botswana and Namibia, and neither of those were bad experiences. I didn’t mind these interactions, where I think they would have bothered me more in the states for reasons out of my ability to explain. I spoke the most Spanish I had in our first 20 or so hours in Mexico answering questions at the checkpoints. Again, the skateboards and pillows nearly toppling out when I opened the back doors for the inspection were likely the reason we heard laughter as we pulled away.

After a full day of shenanigans, driving, check points, and plotting, we finally landed in San Felipe, at a brewery overlooking the gulf. We chatted with the bartender and shyly asked if we could camp out for the night in the parking lot – I promised we’d buy some more beers if this would be alright. He made it seem like no problem so we bought some pork and fish tacos, drank some beer, planned tomorrow, and decided to update our blogs with the unexpected wifi.

Hopefully the next few days in Mexico will be less stressful and sleep deprived than the first two, but it’s already been an adventure and learning experience. Cheers to many more.

Andre’s post here!

One thought on “Crossing into Mexico

  1. Another very interesting blog … can’t wait for more! The pictures are great, too! I admire your bravery for sure. I remember I was terrified when I had to fly from Buffalo to Norfolk VA by myself when I was 7 1/2 months pregnant!
    Have a terrific trip thru’ Mexico….beware the guards with automatic rifles (We saw those when I vacationed in Mexico with Shari and Craig) and be safe, safer, safest ! Love, Aunt Pat


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