Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Days 5 and 6 - Into Mexico at Tijuana

We were going to spend day 5 in San Diego seeing the zoo, but the rain that has been so needed in the area decided this would be a good day to show up. This isn't a big deal. Since we're having dental work done in Tijuana, we'll just add an extra day of rest before the procedure and pop up to see the zoo before we head on out.

I have to admit, this was the easiest border crossing I've ever made. Even in Europe in the 1980s, the train would usually stop at the border and someone got on to pretend to check your ID. I believe they let me sleep through some, but if I remember correctly, the trains and busses usually stopped at the borders. I didn't drive across any borders back then. Way too easy and cheap to hop the trains.

When we got to the Mexican border, there were signs directing us for different things. We're planning to stay within the 20-mile buffer zone for now until Bruce's gums heal and we get his temporary dentures, so we didn't pull into the vehicle importation lane. We'll go back to the states, visit the San Diego Zoo, and probably cross somewhere around Arizona or New Mexico for the trip down. Tijuana is for dental work, resting, and sightseeing.

I dug around and made sure I had our passports, US drivers licenses, and the title and registration for the truck ready. There was no stop for immigration to check and stamp passports, only a customs area. Since we had nothing to declare, we went through the lanes of nothing to declare. There were several lanes for inspections and several aduanas inspectors hanging around. A few inspection lanes had cars in them. Like most of the vehicles entering the country, though, we were just waived on through. We were then in Tijuana. We crossed the US Mexico border without even stopping. We just slowed down, and even that wasn't slow enough to adequately flash a passport at anybody. We barely even hit the brakes. It took me a while to realize we had already crossed, and nobody was going to look at my documents. Very anticlimactic. I felt like Officer Obie with his twenty-seven 8x10 color glossy photographs. (In case you don't get it, listen to the song "Alice's Restaurant" by Arlo Guthrie.) I'm sure it will be different going the other way.

Driving in Tijuana is much more agressive than in San Diego. It made me think of Ecuador on quaaludes. The same clusters around traffic circles; the same relaxed rules about the lines being suggestions in certain heavily traveled areas. Just not the same crazed urgency for moving forward. Yeah, a few cars blew their horns when the light changed, but they waited for the light to change.  And there wasn't the mad dash to fill the space if an opening could possibly be viewed between cars. And, statues in the traffic circles! There was one of Abe Lincoln, but my camera wasn't ready.

As should have been expected, my phone service died with a loud beep once the border was crossed. I was using the GPS on my phone. An online GPS program. Not my brightest move. We drove around for a bit, hoping some epiphany would occur, when we accidentally found a mall. Since malls usually have places with free wifi, we pulled in and went to ----- (wait for it) ----- Starbucks! I left my computer in the car and just used my phone, so I didn't have the hostel I wanted to stay at saved (and I couldn't find it), but I did find a hotel for the night, though a little more expensive than I was planning on. Still cheap by US Standards, though. Before leaving the mall, we exchanged some dollars for pesos, picked up a nice $4 Spanish-English dictionary (since I left mine in Ecuador), and put service on the phone for Mexico. No Claro in Mexico apparently, so we went with Movistar. I got the chip for my iPhone and a month of unlimited talk, text, and SMS throughout Mexico (including to/from the US), 1 GB of data for Facebook, e-mail, and various other apps that I don't use, and another 1 GB of data for general internet usage for a whopping $22 USD, and that was with a poor exchange rate.

Let me preface this paragraph by letting you know, I am being sarcastic here (just for folks like me that might not get that right off the bat). We came across the stereotypical Mexican that people have been warning us about. You know, those ones that will steal you blind in the border towns? Here's our story of that -

Parking at the mall is paid. You enter and take your ticket, pay at the grey kiosk machine, and put your paid ticket into the little arm thingy that lets you out of the lot. We inserted our parking ticket into the Kiosk, and it told us the cost was 5 pesos. The smallest thing we had was a 50 peso bill. (I had given all of my change to the bathroom attendant. I have no clue how much change it was. I really had to pee!) The machine supposedly took those bills, but it was being persnickety to us. A gentleman was trying to help us get it to take one. We were not holding up a line at the kiosks. The one beside us was free, with people just walking up, doing their thing with no wait, and leaving. A random lady reached over Bruce's shoulder, put a 5 peso coin in our machine, and was gone before we had the chance to thank her. Yup. Gotta watch 'em.

We got to the hotel I found at the mall before check-in time, so we went across the street to eat. Awesome meal! I got grilled lamb chop, enchilada, chili relleno, frijoles and something else with a soda to drink. Bruce got steak, ribs, enchilada, frijoles, and something else with a soda. The total bill came to about $20. This seemed to be an almost upscale restaurant, though not posh. Like a TGI Fridays but not a chain and without the sports bar.

The hotel was good. It was on a quiet street, clean, and the continental breakfast included scrambled ham and eggs, chipped beef hash, and pastries. Still, we changed hotels for the one I initially wanted today. This one was a little more than we wanted to pay for the area. (Again, still cheap by US standards.)

Bruce has surgery on his teeth tomorrow. He will be having them all removed and fitted for dentures. Send good thoughts our way, and I will do another blog post after he heals and we start exploring again.


  1. Wow Beth I guess I took for granted that you don't really cross the border much in Florida! When you were talking about the border crossing into Mexico I kind of laughed because I thought you were joking. Crossing into Mexico has never been a big deal -- but going the other way back to the U.S. is another story. I have only driven across the border a few times -- and when you walk across, you go through this one-way revolving door and no one is standing there, no one cares that you crossed -- just don't try to come back without jumping through many hoops. I haven't been to Tecate in years but the border crossing there is like a frontier town -- 2 lanes. Glad you got Mexico cell service so you were able to use your GPS -- that would be kind of scary! Yes they drive crazy and pedestrians just walk out into the middle of the street and don't care about right of way. The last time we drove across the border was to volunteer at an orphanage. My ex-father-in-law drove us in his huge vehicle and said "Oh I don't need any Mexican insurance!" ARRGGH I was a captive audience. He had no idea where we were going and we had a 19 yr old girl who came with my ex-sis in law, who had never been in Mexico before, and she was our navigator! It was a harrowing experience. Please be careful and stay in the populated areas -- as there are some not-so-great elements, and kidnapers and some of the drug cartels. Not a joke -- but mostly they target other Mexicans (sadly some innocent people too). Will be thinking of Bruce and glad his dental work will be done tomorrow so you can go to the zoo! The wait time at the border varies - you can look here for border wait times https://apps.cbp.gov/bwt/mobile.asp?action=n&pn=2506 Usually Otay has a shorter wait than San Ysidro.

  2. Yeah, not many opportunities for border crossing in Florida. But I've driven across to Nuevo Laredo when I lived in San Antonio and driven into Canada twice - all before 9/11 - and still had to stop and show my driver's license and car registration both ways. Ah, well. It's a new day!! I'll be using my travel smarts that have kept me from being the million-dollar cab ride victim, so far. Cartels are just mobters by another name. They really aren't interested in harming tourists. They just won't tolerate anybody getting in the way of their business. I don't plan on getting into their business, so they're not much of a threat to me so long as I watch and don't cross paths where somebody IS getting into their business.