Ciudad Cuauhtemoc to La Mesilla

This morning we crossed the border from Mexico into Guatemala. It was painless. I read about a couple of guys who crossed in 20 minutes so I was confident it would be easy.

To start with we needed to leave Mexico. We missed the exit point which is about 3km from the border. It looked like a government building but didn’t look very border like. For future reference I think it’s here. After we back tracked we started at the Banjercito and checked out our motorbikes. The fella took photos of the VIN numbers then printed some papers and gave us a certificate showing we’d exported our bikes. No money required. Next we went to the next door building and exported ourselves from Mexico. Again, painless, and no money required.

Then we rode across the border and were flagged down by some fellas who wanted to spray the bikes. They asked for 13 quetzales for each bike. They didn’t take pesos. At this point we had some pesos left and no quetzales. Just our luck, there was a money changer on hand. He charged us 70 pesos for 30 quetzales, xe.com puts that at 45 pesos. An unnecessary expense of $2 USD, we’ll survive.

After our bikes were sprayed, we got in line at the Migracion office. A couple of buses had just arrived so there were a lot of people waiting in the midday heat. While Tomas stayed in line I went to the atm to get some quetzales at a slightly more reasonable rate. When I got back the queue had disappeared and Tomas had done his paperwork. I went into the office and after some confusion about my entry stamp into Guatemala exactly one year and one day ago, I was processed into Guatemala. Total cost, 20 Mexican pesos.

We went to the next building over to import our bikes. The process was painless. We needed our Mexican export certificate, title, license and passport. Four signatures later we went next door to the bank and paid the 40 quetzales fee. Then returned to the window to collect our paperwork and stickers for the bikes.

All paperwork completed, we were into Guatemala. The process took about 2 hours which was due in part to our confusion over the process, some waiting in line and then just the process. Althought it took longer than the entry into Mexico it felt decidedly more expedient. Personally, I spent much less time waiting than entering Mexico.

Baja Bound Mexican motorcycle insurance

I’ve read that 3rd party liability insurance is required in Mexico. I wasn’t asked for any proof of insurance at the border, but I hear it can save me going to jail if I get into an accident. So, a couple of days before crossing the border, I bought a policy. I read somewhere that Baja Bound were a chunk cheaper than other insurers. I ran a few online quotes and they came in under $100. The next cheapest policy was over $130, but to see that quote online I had to check a box that said I did have US or Canadian insurance on the vehicle. The guy on the phone told me it didn’t matter for liability only packages, but the web site wanted an extra $50 if I said no to that question. Weird.

Within a few hours of buying my policy, I received an email from Hank Morton at Baja Bound. He thanked me for my business and had noticed that I mentioned the insurance on my blog, he shamelessly asked for a plug and said he’d be happy to give me a $20 rebate. Awesome! I’m impressed. These guys are clearly on the ball in terms of their online branding. I suggested Hank donate the $20 to a charity of their choosing and he explained that they already work with a range of charities, so that would be easy.

I had one issue during the order process. I checked the box that said no, I don’t have US or Canadian insurance on the vehicle. But while entering vehicle information the site said that US or Canadian insurance was required. Hank confirmed it is not, so it seems like a miscommunication on the site. Otherwise, the ordering process was painless and I had my certificate immediately.

I’m happy to recommend Baja Bound for motorcycle or car insurance in Mexico.

Roma to Ciudad Miguel Alemán

Yesterday I crossed the border from the United States into the Republic of Mexico. I was slightly apprehensive about the crossing. I’d read that the border region is dangerous due the ongoing drug war in Mexico. I also read that the paperwork process was confusing and might be time consuming.

My apprehension was unjustified. The border crossing was an outrageously slow process, but it was simple, I managed with minimal Spanish and I felt safe throughout the process. I’ll document how it went here, and hope to document all my future border crossings.

I’ll also summarise the facts in a few bullet points, scroll down for the quick summary if you’re in a hurry. 🙂

I paid the $3 bridge toll on the American side. Then as I crossed into Mexico I kept moving. Nobody stopped me or even looked me over. I could have continued merrily on my way without doing any paperwork whatsoever. I believe Mexico has a free trade zone within 25km or 30km of the border. Within that zone visitors from the US have no need of a visa, paperwork, or otherwise. Just wander in. The crossing back into the states is a little more involved though!

I had read about the Banjercito, where I would get some sort of permit to take Bessy (the bike) into Mexico. I knew I had to stop there voluntarily otherwise I wouldn’t get the appropriate paperwork and would have to come back. There were a few people in dark blue uniforms lounging around a table smoking. I stopped to ask them where I could import my motorcycle. I attempted to say “I’m going to Monterrey” in Spanish, knowing that Monterrey is beyond the free trade zone. I was pointed to the Banjercito, across the way.

I turned immediately left and rode 10 metres up a one way street the wrong way to pull into the carpark in front of the Banjercito. I have read that at some borders the Banjercito can be quite far from the actual border. Here in Ciudad Miguel Alemán it is physically adjacent to the Migracion office, easy.

I walked into the Banjercito office and was served immediately through a glass counter. The girl spoke little or no English, about the same as my Spanish! A helpful fella translated and explained I needed to go to the migracion office first. After a little navigational difficulty, I found it. The migracion office is on the same side of the road, 3 doors closer to the USA side of the bridge.

The migracion official was interested my plentiful visits to Cambodia. I used to cross the Cambodian border every 3 months in Thailand, so I have 3 or 4 full page Cambodian visas in my passport. After a bit of pleasant chit chatter translated by the various people in the office, we established that I was retired, riding a motorcycle, and 90 days would be sufficient.

They asked how long I wanted to stay in Mexico. I believe I could have asked for up to 180 days but they mentioned 90 and I figured that would be fine. If I stay any longer in Mexico it might take me years to get to South America. The migracion officer filled in my form for me. All I had to do was point out the address on my driving license, sign, and smile.

I was handed the carbon copy to take to the Banjercito to pay the fee. It was about $20 USD for the Permiso Personal I believe. Although the simplest part of the process, I think this was the most time consuming. There were two or three people in front of me in the queue at the Banjercito and it took forever to get through them with only 1 caja open.

Eventually some vaguely manager looking fella came out and started shouting at the poor girl behind the counter. Then he called a young fella from the back office and a second caja was opened.

When it came time to actually pay the fee, I handed over my good old British Chip & Pin visa debit card. This caused some confusion. He tried swiping it several times, apparently struggling to understand the Spanish instructions on the machine telling him to insert the card into the chip reading slot. Finally his colleague assisted and put the card into the slot. Then the machine asked for my PIN number, in Spanish of course. Well this caused even more confusion. He didn’t have a PIN number, so he called the manager looking fella. Then he cancelled the transaction and the manager tried the same process again.

Watching all of this I knew what was going on but lacked the Spanish to intervene. I was also puzzled as to how I was going to enter my PIN number through a 1 inch gap in the glass window. The machine had no detachable keypad and was several times larger than the hole in the glass. Oh yay for Mexican engineering… 🙂

Eventually, after the manager asked me, in English, to tell him my PIN, I suggested I try typing it through the window. In my head I was running over the risk of telling them my PIN number. I figured I’d have to call my bank nearly immediately and have a new PIN number issued. That would involve it being mailed to my mum, she’d need to read it, forward it on to me, etc. My card would be out of service for a week or two at least.

While they held the keypad up to the window, I was able to stick my finger through and punch in the numbers. Not exactly great PIN security, but it seemed preferable to reading my PIN number aloud for all and sundry to hear!

So, payment number one completed, I returned to the migracion office to have my, now paid, Permiso Personal, stamped. This part was painless. I walked in, handed over the paperwork, it was stamped and handed back to me. Muchas gracias.

Now I went to the copias booth which had been pointed out to me by the helpful translating fella earlier. The girl in the booth looked cute to me, but that might have been more to do with her flawless, effortless command of English than her physical appearance. I was grateful to be able to complete one part of the transaction without guessing what was being said to me. 🙂

I required copies of my paid and stamped Permiso Personal, my driving license, my vehicle title and my passport. I already had copies of all my own documents, so I only required 1 copy of the Permiso Personal at a cost of 50 cents. Expensive for a photocopy perhaps., but a bargain to be confirm, in English, that I had all the copies I needed!

I returned to the Banjercito, this time to get my temporarily import my vehicle. The girl behind the counter was incredibly diligent. She checked every piece of paperwork slowly and carefully, then compared every document to every other document and the computer screen, to ensure my name and other details were identical in all cases.

The same confusion arose with the Chip and Pin payment once again. This time, not content with the Spanish equivalent of “transaction confirmed by PIN”, she asked me to sign the receipt. Then she fished out my first payment receipt and had me sign that one just to be sure. I know all of this was completely unnecessary but it seemed so much simpler to just sign than debate it. This permit cost about $30 US dollars.

Then some lengthy discussion broke out in Spanish. Various permits and pieces of paper were handed about, discussed, disapproving looks exchanged, tempers flared, one girl whose job seemed to be standing around, looked apologetically at me as if to say “sorry about these crazy people”. Finally, after maybe 20 minutes of standing at the counter handing my documents back and forth through the glass more times than I remember, I was handed my completed paperwork. I checked that I had all my own documents, and now a new vehicle import sticker. I was set. Muchas gracias, I bowed with my hands palm to palm as if praying, and left the office.

I decided a victory cigarette was in order. I checked the time and realised the process had taken a little over 90 minutes. Wow. Arriving early in the day was good advice I had read somewhere! I rolled a smoke, checked with the assault rifle armed military fella if I could smoke there, and lit up.

A few minutes later a girl from the Banjercito office came out and asked me for something. I wasn’t sure what, so I volunteered the import sticker. She said something along the lines of, could she take it back inside for a few minutes. I smiled, of course, no problema. A few minutes passed. I responsibly disposed of my cigarette butt in a nearby barrel. I sat and waited a few more minutes.

Finally the girl who had served me returned with my sticker and asked if she could borrow my debit card just one last time. At least, that’s what I assume she said. She took my card and ran a pencil over the name section to take an imprint on one of her many pieces of paper.

When I was first given the import sticker they asked me to verify the VIN number and if it was correct, I was good to go. Now the girl wanted to double check the VIN herself I think. I pointed it out on the bike and made some sort of “same same” remark.

I asked about sticking the permit on the bike. The instructions say stick the permit behind the rear view mirror on the inside of the windshield. No such location exists on my motorcycle and everywhere on the bike is exposed to the elements. She didn’t seem concerned and swiftly stuck the permit on the underside of my windscreen. I tried to ask about rain but my Spanish and hand signals weren’t up to it. By this point I decided to take what I could get and leave before I was asked for my card once more.

I donned my gear, buttoned up, and rolled out from the border following the well marked route to Monterrey. Yee haa, I was once again in the Republic of Mexico, and it was warm. Viva Mexico!

Summary

  • Went to the Migracion office, got a Permiso Personal to import myself
  • Paid for the Permiso Personal at the Banjercito
  • Returned to Migracion to have the now paid for Permiso Personal stamped
  • Visited the Copias hut to make copies of the Permiso Personal, my driving license, my vehicle title and my passport (bring copies of everything)
  • Returned to Banjercito to purchase temporary vehicle import license
  • Attached the sticker to the front of the bike and rode off some 90 minutes later

Adios Guadalajara

Adios Guadalajara. I’ve called you home for the last couple of months. My first step into Latin America. You felt so familiar and comforting upon my return from Belize. Now, I shall bid you adieu. I shall roll onwards to pastures new.

Tomorrow I’m booked on Mexicana flight MX565 from Guadalajara to Mexico City, then MX385 from Mexico City to Guatemala City. I’ll stop in Guatemala for probably just over a week. I’ll book a flight from Guatemala City to San Jose, Costa Rica for the middle of next week.

My house and flatmates here in Guadalajara are awesome. One of the best houses I’ve lived in. I’ll have fond memories of this place.

Ana

Cancun to Isla Mujeres

Tara and Kelly are joining us here on Isla Mujeres so we prepared a detailed set of instructions, complete with photos, on how to get from the airport to the island. Let the fun begin…

1) Be sure to fasten your seatbelt while on the plane. Your seatbelt is fastened like this:

Fasten your seatbelt

Your seatbelt is not fastened like this:

Fasten your seatbelt not like this

Your seatbelt is not unfastened like this, teeth are not required:

Don't unfasten your seatbelt like this

2) Toilet use while on the plane.

Using the toilet in an aeroplane can be a challenging activity. Follow these simple steps and you’ll have trouble free toileting in the sky.

Be sure to wipe down the baSSin after use:

Wipe down the bassin

Then after making a deposit in the toilet bank, be sure to commit it to interment with this handy button:

Be sure to flush after use

Then in order to exit from the toilet cubicle there is no need to headbut or otherwise attempt to destroy the door. This sliding handle will require much less force:

The door is unlocked with this handle

3) When returning to your seat from the toilet, this is not how you sit in your seat:

Don't sit like this

4) Disembarking from the aeroplane, it is best to approach this task with the maximum possible enthusiasm, as Mike here demonstrates:

Disembark with enthusiasm

5) Luggage retrieval

When awaiting the arrival of your luggage, the conveyor belt is not for standing upon:

The conveyor is not for standing on

Your bags can be safely collected from the conveyor like thus:

Collect your bags safely

6) When leaving the airport, be mindful of the timeshare vultures attempting to lure you into their lair of deviance:

Dodge the timeshare vultures

7) Outside the airport

Be careful, this man has a baton, and this is not a taxi:

This is not the taxi

Avoid the taxis, the taxi desks, the taxi dispatchers or anyone else who approaches you offering transportation services. You have been warned. Instead, look out for white vans, and enquire around them for transportation to Puerto Juarez. You should be able to pay 250 pesos for a van trip directly to the port.

Head for the white vans

At this point we should tell you, outside the airport you can have one of two things, money or beer, but not both. You have been warned!

Money or beer

8) The boat from Puerto Juarez is yellow. If you’re taken to another port, the boat may be another colour.

The boat is yellow

Our penultimate tip, here Mike models how not to sit on the boat:

Don't sit like this on the boat

9) Finally, should you spot santa on the island, he should be mounted as such:

Santa should be mounted as shown here

That concludes our guide on how to reach Isla Mujeres from Cancun airport. Should you have any difficulty during the trip, Michael can be reached at +52 33 1007 6070 (dialled 045 33 1007 6070 from a local phone). Rumour has it that Callum may be available on +52 33 1356 9553, but this can neither be confirmed nor denied by the author.

A Mexican wedding

I’ll add some pics to this post in the next couple of days when I’m at a computer with a USB port.

This post comes to you courtesy of mty tablet. I’m writing this as we’re arriving into Mexico City on the overnight bus from Guadalajara. It’s quarter past seven, the sun is up now, but there’s a thick cloud over Mexico City this morning.

It’s the Mexico I recognise from the movies. The streets look dusty, the fences and buildings a little delapidated. Somehow this feels like the real Mexico, but perhaps it’s really the Hollywood Mexico.

We’re in town so Pepe can collect a letter from a government office here in the capital. He’s headed for Spain in the next few weeks and this letter is the final piece in a long paperwork puzzle. I came along for the ride.

This post is about a wedding though, not about Mexico City. More on the capital of this country later.

I was fortunate to be invited to attend the wedding of Yamil and Karina on Saturday.

I gave up on formal clothing quite a few countries back, so I noq travel with only one shirt, semi-dress trousers (recently acquired on my cannabis shopping spree) and blackspot sneakers. No formal shoes, no business trousers, and definitely no tie. I decided that if I don’t meet the dress code for venues, those are the places I don’t need to be.

Given my very limited wardrobe, dressing for the wedding was something of a challenge. I donned my outfit and Pepe kindly loaned me a woollen overcoat to up my formality a little. The church service began at 8pm in a church nearby.

The church itself was a fairly modern affair. White washed walls, a modern PA system. Not the usual excesses of some older Catholic churches. The couple were already seated and the service was underway when we arrived. Pepe said it’s quite normal for people to arrive late into the service, though we were only a few minutes after 8.

By 9pm I understood why some people were happy to arrive well into the proceedings! There was plenty of singing, a bit of praying, some apparently harsh words from the priest, and lots of other church malarky. I was impressed by the communion, it was a highly efficient affair with no less than four church folk dishing out the holy biscuits. They’ve got this Catholosism at scale down to a fine art it would seem!

From the service we stopped by a birthday party en-route to the reception. There was a barbecue going at the party and the various meats smelt fantastic. After a few tecquillas and a nibble on the barbecue we left for the reception.

I’d guess we arrived at the hall around 11pm. Goodness knows what they’d been doing for 2 hours, but the bread hadn’t even made it to the tables when we arrived! I think the meal was finally served around midnight, by which time I was most disappointed that I hadn’t taken better advantage of the barbecue earlier. The Latin schedule is definitely different.

After eating came the throwing of the wedding bouquet. Firstly all the unmarried women joined hands and charged around the room in a flurry of Latin diva’ness. Then they assembled behind the bride to catch the flowers. Then came then mens turn. The running was cut short when the groom’s brother knocked the bride, 5 months pregnant, off the chair she was standing on. There was some fussing, but she appeared to be fine. Then the groom threw his wife’s garter belt over his shoulder and one lucky man caught it. Not me I’m pleased to report!

Then came the music accompanied by some sexy Latin dancing. Alas there was some shortage of single women and I’m told one doesn’t usually dance with strangers at a Latin weddimg. So there was no salsa practive to be had for me. I made do with a quick boogie to “If you’re going to San Francisco…”. 🙂

The dj finally called it a night around 3am after conceding one more song to the ferocious cries of “autra, autra”. Then it was onwards to a nightclub I was told. So we pile into the carpark, most people blind drunk, hop into a few cars, and off we go. My repeated offers to drive, as the only sober person present, were gently declined with reassurance along the lines of “don’t worry, we do this all the time”!

We made it one peice to the club, after a good 30 minutes of drunken chin wagging in the car park. La Folie was pretty dead by nearly 4am. I’m told the party starts winding down around 2am. Eventually the music stopped about 5, another good 30 minutes of drunken nonsense followed, and we finally left the club about 5:30am. Then ensued some debate about where we were going next. I was firmly rooting for bed, which eventually won out and I hit the hay by about 6am.

All in all a great night.

I told the groom, via Pepe’s translation that he had gotten off lightly, there are no speeches at Mexican weddings!

It was a wonderful opportunity to see Latin and Mexican culture from the inside. My sincere thanks and gratitude to Pepe for the invitation.

More on our Mexico City adventures to follow in the next couple of days. We’ve arrived in the bus station now, so it’s off into the jungle of 20 million people. Hopefully I’ll find some wifi to post this later on.

Arrived in Guadalajara

After a short 3 hour flight from LAX, I arrived in Guadalajara. I timed it well, Mexico were playing Honduras for a place in the World Cup. At least, I think it was related to the World Cup! We collected a Venezuelian friend of Pepe’s, dropped my bags, and straight to La Diablita Cantina.

Alas, Mexico lost 0-1 to Honduras. The defeat was taken in remarkably good spirits by the Mexicans. Apparently the local team lost just a few days ago, so perhaps they were emotionally prepared.

I left my camera at home, but I grabbed this (rather poor quality) snap from my phone. It was a great welcome to Mexico, a perfect first night.

Now I’m searching for an apartment in Guadalajara. Any tips / suggestions / pointers / etc would be greatly appreciated.

Mexican Adventures

Once we crossed the border we stopped in a local pool hall for our first beer on Mexican soil. I felt I had to record the moment to share!

Mexico First beer on Mexican soil

Then we pressed on to a small fishing village called Puerto Nuevo. Most of the prices were in US dollars and there were men outside almost every restaurant encouraging us to park and dine. It reminded me of Thailand. Hassle the foreigners with a passion! We found a hotel and headed back to Rosarito for the Friday night celebrations, as there wasn’t much happening in Puerto Nuevo.

It was Zanna’s birthday so we hit the town in style. We spent an absolute fortune, but it was worth it. It all started with margaritas on the beach. We were treated to our very own bonfire.

Mexico Fire on the beach

It turned into a pretty long night. I think we got home around 4am, then continued on till the sun was well up. In an outstanding burst of foresight I realised about 9am that we’d better check into the hotel for another night in order to avoid being rudely awoken and booted out at the rather brutal 11am check-out time. I had horrible memories of awaking to the screaming of maids in Bangkok.

We took it easy on Sunday, it was a late start. Then on Monday we hit the Mexican countryside. We were trying to avoid having to go back through Rosarito on our way north. We ended up in some pretty sparse mountains and I felt I had to snap a shot for el blogo.

Mexico The Mexican countryside adventure

We spotted this outrageously bright building and I felt compelled to stop the car and brandish the camera. It turns out it’s both a garage and a computer repair shop. How very industrious!

Mexico Mechanic come computer repairshop

We stopped for lunch in Tijuana on the way back, at a trendy, European style coffee shop. Zanna was desperate for the loo and it was the first place we came across with a carpark!

Then the epic ordeal of getting back into the US began. Most of the roads we found signposted for San Diego were taped off with Mexican police officers directing traffic in other directions. Eventually we found a lane where we could get round the tape, and spent at least 2 hours waiting in line.

We finally reached the border. The officer glanced briefly at my passport. He asked what we were bringing back into the US, a few beers. They didn’t even look at Zanna’s driving licence and then we were waved on through.

So, that was Mexico. I certainly won’t hurry back to Tijuana, but I hope to explore more of Mexico, further south and further from the American border!