I’ll start by saying that, despite the fact that we drove from Washington, through Oregon, California, Nevada, and into Arizona with just a 3-day Washington trip permit and no license plates, we were never once stopped or questioned. 

After the show at Wynn let out at 11pm, October 13, the night’s rainy sky turned into a raging lightning storm that lasted until just before sunrise.  The streets around our hotel were flooded and we couldn’t leave until about noon, and then because of the weight limit, we had to take an alternate highway which about 90 minutes south of Vegas was also detoured because of flooding.  It was a short driving day.

We arrived at Nogales, Mexico on October 16.  First we had to find a customs agent to process the paperwork we’d brought with us from the Mexican Consular office in Seattle.  But because of the size of the truck, no one would assist until we’d first gotten assurance that we could take the truck into Mexico.  We were about 10,000 lbs. GVW over their vehicle import size limit.  We went to see the Customs Agent in charge (with a long title that I cannot now recall).  He was a very nice fellow and after about two hours told us that though there was no way he could allow us to import the truck as part of our household goods, perhaps the Colonel of the Mexican Army Bank (Banjercito) at the immigration station 2 kilometers down the road would give us a trip permit – he’s the one with the final word on vehicle movement into the country. 

By this time it was about 4pm.  The customs inspection port closed at 10pm but the customs agent we found to help us assured us that our paperwork would only take about 3 hours to process. He called someone from his office to come get the documents to take them back to the office for processing.  Three hours later and we were assured it would only take another 60 minutes.  We sat in the parking lot and watched another large moving truck on the side of the road unloading its contents into four small trailers pulled by pickup trucks – women walking back and forth to the truck and the little cafe wringing their hands and talking into cellphones.  Soon they were all working in the dark as big semitrucks roared by heading back to the states. 

By 8pm we tracked down the agent and, bless his heart, he had also been preoccupied by our unusual wait and had been calling the office all evening on his cellphone.  It turns out that all of the customs systems computers had been down for several hours but we were assured that it would only be another hour.  By 9pm I assured Miguel that even if the papers miraculously appeared before closing time that I just wanted to sleep and had no intention of driving further that night.  

We found the agent in the parking lot and told him what we’d decided.  He recommended we leave the truck in the customs parking lot and then took us into town to eat.  We had a great visit over tacos and learned that the fussy old women who do the paperwork in the office, of course, have their own way and time of doing things.  Our agent, David, had a generally good rapport with the office women and he was genuinely surprised that they hadn’t told him sooner about all the delays. Many apologies, tacos, and life stories later, David left us at a motel where all the rooms have private garages and said he’d be by in the morning as soon as he got the papers.

The next morning, October 17, David arrived about 10 and we were in the truck waiting to pass the customs gate before we knew it.  Now, unlike when you pass through customs at the airport where you get to press a button and it comes up green for “you lucky dog, pass through without inspection” or red for “open all your bags so I can wave your underwear around,” the fellow inside the booth at the customs gate simply puts your document number into the computer and the computer decides whether or not an imaginary light is green or red.  Our light, surprise, came up red and we passed through the gate and backed up to a slot in the loading dock. 

A few hours later I understood the particular Why of our digital red light, when the fellows unloading the truck started shouting “go get so-and-so we’ve got to the part she wanted to see” as they pulled the moose skull and full rack from the back of the truck. Group photos only took about 30 minutes.  People poured out of the surrounding buildings and waited in line to stand beside or behind or below or gathered ’round the big rack. I’m sure that there are cellphones all over Mexico that are still brought out at parties with a “this is my (aunt/uncle/sister/nephew) and a moose head at Nogales customs.” 

To this day I believe that but for the inclusion of “moose horns” on our list of household goods being imported, we could have avoided the entire six hour ordeal of having the truck unloaded and then reloaded.  That and the extra 200 pesos that we had to pay for the privilege of having the truck unloaded and reloaded.

In any event, the truck received its official seal on the lock, and we were on our way to the Immigration checkpoint by about 4p. When we arrived we went directly in to Banjercito to see the Colonel.  He immediately assured us that there was absolutely no way he could give us a trip permit because there were other checkpoints between Nogales and Mexico City and they would want to know who was responsible for giving a permit to an oversize vehicle and it would all come back on him, thankyouverymuch.  So, it took the government officials two days to finally tell us definitively that we could not bring the truck into Mexico, not even on a trip permit.  But even in telling us, they were all very nice about it – just not very efficient. 

We drove back to the Customs checkpoint, but could not actually enter it because if we did we would have to go through the whole documentation and potential underwear waving spectacle again.  So we parked on the roadside just south of Customs, among all the semi’s waiting to drop off or pick up a load, and walked back up to the waiting area to find David.  We waved at everyone who recognized us along the way because by now we were familiar faces.  The cook in the little cafe looked up when I walked in to get a Coke and all she said was “You’re still here?”  David, as usual, was in the parking lot.  He couldn’t understand it either because for the Agent in Charge to say the Colonel would possibly give us a permit was like saying it was written in stone.  But, nevertheless, he was willing to help us find someone to take our goods to Mexico City. I made it clear that I would not consign my belongings to small open trailers hauled by pickup trucks. 

By about 6p David introduced us to a semi-truck driver and his fleet dispatcher who agreed to bring the moose horns, underwear, and everything else to Mexico City for the modest sum of $23,000 pesos (about $2,300 USD). I say modest because with a few phone calls, the lowest price Miguel could find was $35,000 pesos.  I agreed immediately, but being that we were in Mexico, the men had to all talk about it for awhile.  By 7p, I was reminding Miguel that his childhood friend, Alejandro would be arriving at the bus station in Nogales at about 8p and that we should be there to receive him since it was our idea to drag him up to this dusty border town in the first place.  The men agreed to meet back at the truck the next morning at 10.

Alejandro?  Oh, yes, one of Miguel’s oldest and dearest friends who just happens to be a semi-truck driver.  We’d flown him up to Hermosillo to drive us to Mexico City in the Big Bee because my confidence in driving the monster did not extend to doing so on Mexican roads (having driven them in the motorhome in July, remember that bad middle-of-the-night scene with the corrupt cops in Toluca).  But, since we were delayed in getting to Hermosillo, Alejandro then had to take a bus to Nogales to catch up with us, since I’d only bought him a one-way airplane ticket. We dropped the truck off at the hotel and David drove us to the bus station. 

Let me say right here that all of you who have asked me if Miguel has a single brother – well, I thought of you the moment this fellow walked through the door and Miguel said “There he is.” Handsome and Rakish. Yes, both in capital letters. He and Miguel fit like well worn gloves. We took a cab to the taco place and I spent two hours watching them laugh and joke and I finally felt like I wasn’t the only person in the world looking out for Miguel.  And I relaxed.

The next morning we drove back out to the roadside waiting area and soon thereafter our truck driver showed up with his full-sized semi-trailer truck.  It was about twice as long as the Big Bee.  We pulled the vehicles over to a side road, parked them rear to rear, and the fellows that had unloaded and reloaded the day before began the same process all over again.  I left Miguel and Alejandro to be vigilant and I napped and read in the Big Bee for the last time.

It took about 5 hours for them to transfer the goods and when they’d finished they’d filled the entire freight box back to front, one layer deep. Then David took our documents and two hours later showed up with a new seal and the semi-truck was ready to roll.

In between times, we’d all discussed what to do with the Big Bee and decided to try and leave it on consignment at a lot in Nogales.  Unfortunately, none of the lots wanted it.  We went back to the hotel and thought some more and considered driving it back into Arizona to leave it at a consignment lot.  Then our semi-truck driver, Don Jose, and his boss, Don Octavio, showed up.  Don Octavio is a fleet owner in Nogales and had decided that he’d be interested in buying the Big Bee if he could get it legalized, but that would take a few days and we didn’t want to hang around that long.  So we settled on the truck staying with Don Octavio until he could either sell it or decide to buy it himself.

The next morning, early, Miguel and Alejandro drove the truck to Don Octavio’s lot and I slept in.  It was luxurious.  We ate a leisurely breakfast when they returned and then caught a cab to the bus station.  The bus was preparing to leave just as we arrived and even though I got a red light passing by the Customs table they hurried us onto the bus without the requisite underwear waving.  About an hour later, I realized that we had never passed through Immigration and I was, thus, an undocumented alien in Mexico.  We all had a good laugh.  Then I got worried.  What if the bus got stopped by the Federales.  I’d heard stories about them.  How could I explain this? 

We arrived in Hermosillo and took a cab to the airport.  We bought plane tickets and prepared to check our luggage – two back packs and a medium-sized cardboard box with dirty laundry and important papers (everything else having been locked in the back of the semi-trailer).

      “You can’t check that,” said the luggage inspector pointing at the box.  I’d seen other cardboard boxes be checked and began to feel paranoid.

      “Why not?” I asked.

      “Chicken,” he said, pointing to the side of the box. 

In the midst of an avian flu scare, we were toting around our goods in a box previously used to ship chicken eggs.  Miguel hurried to the various shops in the terminal and came back with two small boxes formerly used to ship beef, only slightly bloodstained, and we moved our dirty laundry from the big box to the small ones and they were duly labled and stamped and shoved onto the airline conveyor belt.  With just a short time before departure, we called our semi-truck driver and sadly declined dinner with him and his wife at his home in Hermosillo, put the fate of our household in his hands, and ate dry sandwiches while waiting for our plane to arrive.

Two hours later we de-boarded in Mexico City and went in search of the Immigration office so I could get legal . . . but they were closed for the night and so I remained an undocumented alien in Mexico until the following Monday. I was paranoid the entire time.

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2 Responses to “10/2006-Crossing the Border”

  1. Georgia Lockwood Says:

    Ye gods, Achaessa. I laughed and nearly cried when I read this — and I thought my 3 day trip to Calif. with horses in tow was bad. I may have to do it again someday just for fun. You guys must have the patience of saints!

    gl

  2. david Says:

    The big problem is that you didnt offer to help the mexican custom officer with a nice donations to their retirement system. Remember while canada and the US are 1st world countries, Mexico is a 3rd world and thus public officer tend to work faster with alittle donation.

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