La Paz Ferry Terminal, Baja California Sur, Mexico. Wednesday, 12:23 p.m.
“You need to go back to Tijuana and get your tourist card.”
Beads of sweat formed on my forehead and I could feel the sticky, moisture-laden air of Southern Baja shroud around me like a hot, wet blanket. I couldnt get a lungful of air, it was to thick. My anxiety through the roof.
“Senorita, thats more than a thousand miles away, is there anything else I can do?” I asked in my most polite tone of voice.
“No.” she replied, and shut the window.
And there I was, hot, sweaty, and utterly defeated. When i crossed the Tijuana border in early November my adrenaline was through the roof. I approached the customs agent, was flagged down to have my vehicle scanned, and less than 5 minutes later I was waved on. All good I thought. No one checked my passport. No one checked my driver’s license. No one checked anything. I was across international lines with nothing more than a smile and a heavy right foot. I flew past Tijuana, and was in Ensenada in no time.
Fast forward to 4 weeks and 1,100 miles South of California and I’m stuck.
I did not get a tourist card in Tijuana. Without a tourist card I could not get my vehicle import permit. Without that, I could not get on the ferry with my car and cross from La Paz to Mazatlan (the port in the mainland of Mexico).
After a quick and fruitless visit at the immigration office in downtown La Paz, I was accepting the reality that I would have to drive the entire Baja Penninsula again, in reverse, to get my tourist card.
I felt like crying. And I did. Hot, salty tears formed at the corners on my eyes and fell onto the hood of my car. They made small circles
on the dusty paint.
I cant believe I have to go back. I cant believe I have to do this. My options were limited – fly from La Paz to TJ, get my stamp and fly back, but leave my car somewhere with the contents of my life unnattended. Or – I beat feet. I suck it up, and drive 1,100 miles North and get my stamp.
I met a Dutch guy who had the same problem. I met a Canadian couple in the same boat. I talked to almost a dozen travellers who crossed the border into Mexico and were not asked to show anything, and crossed international lines with nothing more than a wave.
In Mexico, there is a 75km “no-hassle” zone. From the border to 75km, you dont need a tourist card or a TIP (temporary import permit) for your vehicle.
A week after I crossed I saw at the 28th parallel in Guerrero Negro (the dividing line between Baja Norte and Baja California Sur)and was talking to new friends at a bar. I told them what had happened at the border, how I crossed without even a glance at my papers.
“It happens all the time,” they said. “You can get everything in La Paz.”
No worries, I thought. Wrong.
The officer at the immigration office informed me that they do not stamp passports, therefore I could not get my TIP, and therefore I could not board the ferry to Mazatlan.
My new Dutch friend and I weighed the options. We mutually decided this sucked. We also decided that the best course was to not complain, and haul ass back to TJ.
Ill spare you with what its like to drive 1,100 miles in less than 30 hours (oh, my radio decided to die that day too, so most of the drive was in silence, only the hum of my tires to drown out my own thoughts). But it sucked. Its sucked bad. We left in a small convoy of my vehicle and my new friend’s Toyota, two other Dutch women also in the same boat tagging along.
From La Paz, to Santa Rosalia, to Guerrero Negro, to El Rosario to finally Ensenada and the border. We stopped only to get gas, quick tacos and for one 6-hour nap.
I made it to the border at about 9:00 p.m. Friday, having left only 30 hours earlier.
But I wasnt in the clear. The U.S. had no record of me leaving the country. Mexico had no record of me entering. I was an illegal alien in Mexico. Pulling up to the customs agent the same beads of sweat the formed in my skin in La Paz re-appeared. I was freaking. Doomsday scenarios played out in my mind.
What if they wont let me cross? Is this home now? Shit.
The agent more or less believed my story, and apparently an American passport is a powerful thing. I crossed back in San Diego a few hours later.
And that’s where I am at the moment. Re-grouping. Re-supplying, and getting some new registration for my car. *Side note- the lady in La Paz would not take a notarized bill of sale as proof that I owned my car (in Rhode Island, you are not issued a “pink slip” for vehicles older than 2001, my Forester is a 2000). So i’m having to smog my car, which has never been smogged, and then register it in California. Set-backs.
But, the car is in the shop, and I know this will all be funny and a great story in a while. For now, I’m bummed, but making progress. I am also infinitely grateful to have friends in San Diego who are hosting me again. The Anderson’s opened their doors to me at a moments notice and made sure I had a place to crash when I was bleary-eyed and at my wits end. To Matt and Lyndse, thank you, so much.
Ross Ruddell, 29
San Diego, California
Ross Ruddell, 29
San Diego, California