Monday, November 15, 2010

US to Mexico

We were so involved in repeated attempts to leave just the right “vacation” voicemail greetings on our cell phones during the one hour drive south from Tucson to Nogales that we forgot to get scared about driving into Mexico.

“Hi, you’ve reached Dave Zimmerman. I’ll be away from my phone… well, out of the country… crap!” [press # key]

“If you’re satisfied with your message, press the star key. If you would like to record again, press 2.” [enter 2]

“Hi, you’ve reached Dave Zimmerman, I’ll be out of the country from November… let’s see… 14th, to well… damn it!” [press # key] [enter 2]

“Hi, I don’t know where the eff I’ll be but don’t leave a message here ‘cause it’ll cost me like ten bucks to check it.” [#, 2]

“Hi this’ll David… SHIT!”

Why is it that as soon as that woman tells me to record my greeting, I forget how to talk? The only consolation I could find was that Ann was much, MUCH worse at it than I was.

We’d been told by Michael and Ceacy, some friends who’ve been spending the past several winters on their sailboat anchored off the town of La Cruz at the northern tip of Bahia Banderas, to use the truck crossing at Nogales to avoid the lines. Sure enough, we raced up the empty lane marked “Autos” and stopped at a speed bump manned by six (apparently mute) US customs officers. When the silence got awkward, I asked, “So… you guys need anything from us?” to which one just shook his head. Awesome job guys.

Seeing the cement barricade blocking the path in front of us and cones on our right,  we followed a little exit around to the left. A sign then again pointed left “To USA” so we took a right into some lanes opposite where cars were being inspected. An American guard looked up from her clipboard and said “There’s no parking here,” to which we responded “How do you get to Mexico?!” She motioned for us to go back around.

Again we proceeded down the lane marked “Autos” until coming to a stop in front of the customs officers. This time they seemed to have found their voices with comments coming from all directions, “Hey, didn’t we just see them?” and “You again?” and “What happened?” This time I was the silent one.

Determined not to go around again for fear of any new zingers the now Boisterous Border Boys might come up with, we just kept driving toward the cement barricade. At the last minute, we noticed “MEX --->” spray painted in faded yellow pointing to a small passage to the right of the barricade.  How could we have missed such a clear sign the first time around? Through the passage was another barricade requiring a sharp swerve to the left and then one to the right. The tight zig zag’s continued for eight or so more turns. Note, if you want to blow the border into Mexico, get some Mini’s and hire Marky Mark and Charlize Theron to pull it off.


At a marked pullout 30 minutes or so down Mex 15, we found the Banjercito office where I’d been told I could bring the printout of the pre-registration documents I’d submitted online. The Lonely Planet Mexico book had indicated that these would allow me access to a special window and expedite the process. I walked up to the only staffed window in the row of 15 and slid my super special “free pass” under the window. She slid it back without looking at it and asked for my title and passport. Oh well.

Fifteen minutes of harmless “oh, you have to go to that window first,” and I was in front of the immigration officer with our vehicle importation permit and tourist cards. Now he just needed to staple them together and we’d be on our way. Huh, no satisfying click from the stapler. Must be out of staples. Let’s open ‘er up and take a looksee. Yup, there’s your problem alright, no staples. Not to worry, there’s another stapler right here. You can just… oh, okay. Not gonna just use that stapler, huh? I get it, yup. You’re gonna open that bad boy up, take the staples out of it, and put them in the other one. Sure. Makes sense to me. No judgment, I guarantee one could see this play out along the border of just about any country.



Back on the road, we enjoyed an easy drive through the marked “Hassle Free Vehicle Zone,” clearly understanding its implication that the party would be over in 385 km. Given our late start out of Tucson and a tendency not to want to break our driving at night rule on the first day, we started looked for alternatives to San Carlos, still four hours to the south.



One of the only options in the Church & Church Mexico Camping book, El Penasco Rancho, turned out to be a great one. We were greeted quickly by the proprietor, Wenceslao Monroy, or more accurately, by he and his loyal rag tag pack of six dogs which he proceeded to introduce one by one to us. Turns out, his great grandfather had come to the US and then to Mexico from the former Czechoslovakia in the late 1800’s. The rancho has been in the family for more than 150 years and Wenceslao has recently renovated the original casita into a hostel where he hopes to host ecotourism groups and anyone interested in the “rural cultural lifestyle.”






After a tour of the property, we settled the truck into a sheep corral/soccer field and were soon invited over for a “traditional coffee.” Sitting at the picnic table in front of the stage he’d built to host a cultural festival for the town the week before, we drank out of blue and white speckled aluminum cups as Wenceslao proudly told us of the 2006 meeting of Indian tribes from as far away as Central America and British Columbia and presided over by the apparently-very-important Subcommandante Marcos that had taken place there. And in between explanations of the difference between San Francisco de Javier and San Francisco de Asissi, he slipped in a few of his own stories, including being held in a Nicaraguan jail just for showing his Mexican passport at the border during a less-than-agreeable period in the relationship between the two countries.



Back at the truck, I was writing up some thoughts for the day with the “viejo” Osito (little bear) at my feet when I looked up to see the flock of sheep coming towards me. While they all remained shoulder to shoulder, there were clearly two sub groups. One group would surge forward for ten steps while the other remained motionless. Then in perfect sync, the other group would hurriedly catch up and lock in ranks like an overly conspicuous sheep SWAT team. As the lead group approached where I was sitting at the entrance to their corral, I decided to practice a little Spanish and said “Como estan, borregos?” The entire flock froze instantly and leader looked at me with a baffled look that said “You can see us?”

Ann would have gotten then whole thing on video but there’s been some confusion regarding when the camera is recording ever since an earlier incident. “No, it’s not recording, baby. That’s the OFF light…”





Sometime during immigration, the family lost its Czech surname and took Monroy. These pics are from the two room rural cultural museum Wenceslao keeps on the property.





The book said the rancho was set back far enough off the road that the noise wasn’t too bad. Still, as soon as it got dark, the flatulent exhaust of big diesels downshifting picked up noticeably, and Ann and I both commented the next morning that the whole night we’d been imagining a scene from Mad Max developing out on the highway.