Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Day 6- the journey continues

I knew today would be a long day, but I didn’t realize how long. It started as the day began, at a little after 12AM. .Hipolito and I went by the line forming on the road,. towards the customs entrance for transmigrantes. The line was already down the street and across the stoplight from the entrance. We almost decided to camp out in line and sleep in our trucks, but decided it would be better to get a good nights rest in a bed and get up early and go get in line at that point.

By the time we were able to get to sleep, it must have been around 1AM. The bunk beds we were sleeping in, were not that bad, just not home. Hipolito tossed and turned and finally woke up around 3AM and said “lets go get in line, just to make sure we’re not too far back in line”. We wanted to cross as early as possible so we could, hopefully make it past Tampico before dark.

So out we went, getting to where the line had been forming the night before. Only now, the line was gone! Did they let everyone through? Oh shit, now what!

So we started driving toward the customs entrance and saw they had moved the line over near another entrance and the line now had grown to over a hundred cars, trucks and buses waiting for customs to open at 8AM. And we were at the back of the line.

So we parked our trucks, and tried to find a way to sleep until 7AM. With my truck so jammed full, there was virtually no space anywhere except the drivers seat, and even that was tight for space. So I did the best I could, and fell asleep for a couple of hours, in the shape of a pretzel. When I did finally wake up, I was stiff and sore and probably should have not fallen asleep in the truck.

So now that I was up, I thought I would take a couple of pictures of the line that had formed, for the blog. Wrong. A customs’ security agent came over, quick as the flash went off and informed me that there was to be NO PICTURES around the border area. So what did I do? What else. I waited until he was gone, and took a few more pictures. You would not believe the things I saw in that line. Virtually everyone there was going to Central America. Not only that, they were all towing cars, car parts or more. I saw school buses towing school buses, school buses towing cars, trucks towing cars, trucks towing trucks. And most of the trucks were Toyota trucks, like mine. There must have been a hundred Toyota trucks, truck beds, doors, hoods, etc. No wonder I can’t find another Toyota truck like mine for sale. They buy them all and ship them to Central America. I know why, because they last forever. But I was really surprised with the school buses. They didn’t look that old, but they were from schools around the country.

Everyone there was waiting for the 8AM border opening. We met a few that were headed to Belize and they had all made the trip several times before, so we thought we would hook up with them, so they could show us the best way to go and where to stay along the way.

8AM came and went with no activity at the border crossing. So we waited. And waited. Now 9AM came and went and still no movement at the border crossing. What’s going on? Finally the security guard came by again and told us that management had not planned on opening the border crossing today and it would not open until Monday. That’s not right. What about the hundreds of people now lined up at the transmigrante entrance? Finally the contacted the Brownsville office and arranged for two officers to come over and open up the border for transmigrantes’. They finally opened the border around 10:30AM, almost 2 ½ hours late. So much for making Tampico by dark.

As the line began to move, we slowly moved forward and around 11:30AM we were able to cross the US border into Mexico. Now the fun begins. Just like the airports in Mexico, you go up to a stoplight and press a button. Red light or green light.

I hand the lady at the Mexican border my “transmigrante” paperwork and she actually presses the button for you. She takes my paperwork and inserts it into the machine and then turns to me and starts explaining the process… in Spanish. I only speak a little Spanish and my best line is “ uno mas cervesa, por favor”. I don’t think that line works at the border. Anyhow, she wouldn’t give me back my paperwork and kept trying to explain RED light. Now after a few false starts, I finally got the Mexican word for red (and that’s about all). And just like the airport, I’m thinking, oh, shit. Not that I’m smuggling drugs or guns, but I knew that would mean a delay and our plans for Tampico were quickly disappearing.

So, over in the red zone holding area, we see more of the same people we were standing in line with earlier. Seems that red was the color of the day. Now we wait for our name to be called so they can search our vehicles. Hipolito was just as unlucky as I was. So we wait….and wait. Finally, our names are called after two hours of waiting. PLEASE tell me they don’t want me to unload the Toyota truck. That would be another day just unloading and loading the truck again. The inspector grabs the “pedemento”, which is the Mexican version of the bill of lading, and starts looking at my truck. She asks me about Pampers and if I have any inside. I explain in my best spanglish that we have no kids and don’t have any Pampers. Mexican contraband. I don’t know why, but Pampers is a big thing in Mexico. She opens the shell of the truck and moves some things around, sees the bicycle, writes something on a piece of paper, hands it to me and motions with her hands to a building 100 yards away. I look at the piece of paper and it has 150.00 written on it with what appears to be the word “bicycle”. I’m thinking to myself, there is NO WAY I’m going to pay $150 for duties to pass a bicycle through Mexico. The bicycle is probably not worth that much. I then find out, the $150 is in pesos, or about $12 US dollars. OK. But I’m only passing though, and I have to show that I have the bicycle in my possession when I leave Mexico, so why do I have to pay duties? But for $12, I need to get this show on the road, so I pay. Now they want $11 to pay for the inspection. It’s beginning to feel like a shake down.

I now have my receipt for the bicycle which I show the inspector. She gives me back my “pedemento” and I am on my way. Well at least 100yards closer to Belize. I pass the guard station, only to be stopped again, to have my truck fumigated. And another five dollars.

I pull into the parking lot so I can get my visa. At the window, I find it is another $25 for my visa. Then back out to the parking lot to get my Mexican insurance from a broker who has a stand there. And you guessed it, another $20.

It’s now almost 2:30PM and we are finally on the road. That lasts for about one mile. We need to exchange American dollars for Pesos. I can remember when dollars were taken everywhere, but now they are only taken in the biggest tourist towns. I exchange $400 into Pesos and we are on our way. We hook up with a Belizian, Juan, who makes this trip 4 or 5 times a year, and he will guide us through Tampico.

An hour or so down the road we have our first stopping point, which is a customs inspection station. I give him my “pedimento” and a fifty Peso note to help expedite the paperwork. He glances at the pedimento, sees the fifty peso note, gives me back my pedimento, and I am on my way in no time.

It’s now getting close to 5PM and we are less than 50 miles inside of Mexico. Three hours of light remain, so we press on. Tampico is now out of the question. But at least the roads are in pretty good shape and we are moving along at 70 miles an hour.

We are on the road to Tampico, and it’s starting to get dark. We press on, trying to get as far as we can, but not wanting to drive in the dark. The towns around here are few and far between, so we decide to stop at the next town. Unfortunately, that town is still a bit of a drive. So, as much as we don’t want to drive in the dark, we need to in order to get to the next town. It’s on this narrow road that I find the reason we don’t want to drive in the dark.

Cars and trucks are passing us and the “No Passing” signs seem to be just a suggestion, not the law. Same goes for the speed limit and the double yellow lines. Even the buses pass on a double yellow line, on a hill. It’s here that we witness our first near miss. A car passes us and 4 other cars, right near the crest of the highway, just as another car is coming from the opposite direction. The roads have steep drop-offs to the side and this car has no where to go. It was only by inches that he misses meeting his maker. And even worse, a couple of miles down the road, he pulls into the gas station. A hair raising experience, just so the guy could get to the gas station one minute earlier than the rest of us.

That was it. We pulled into the next motel to spend the night. We are an hour out of Tampico and will try and pass through it in the morning. The motel is a nice quiet place with not much around. The room costs 580 pesos, but at that point he could have charged us double and we still would have paid.


evopete said...

Wow.. I can not beleive you guys had to deal with the drama on Sunday.... Typicall border drama... I think it's so intresting that so many cars get to Mexico and central America from the us. A bit worried About the guys you meet but I know you guys are good, just be careful and watch out for each other. Love the bit on how you had to almost give up a child to get across and would have charged you for that too.

oldretiredguy said...

Geez....and I thought our government was screwed up, but glad you are safe and on your way. Tell Hipo I said HI.