Posts Tagged borders

TJ Crossing

Posted on December 19, 2014 by 3 Comments

It didn’t occurred to me that I’ve never driven across the border from Mexico into the U.S. until I started getting close. Tijuana was our first try.

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We got lost. Driving around Tijuana wasn’t so bad, but following the signs to the border was a joke. I think we missed every on-ramp and circled 4 or 5 times. We even got in the wrong line and had to start over. Amateurs.

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When we finally got in the correct line, it was backed up about 90 minutes. This gave the vendors plenty of time to come around and offer us blankets and sombreros and everything else under the sun. We blew our last few coins on tiny sodas and a hospital donation can.

When we made it to the border station, we handed over our tourist permits and passports. They handed back the permits and the American border agent asked if we had a good time. A guy holding a German Shepherd asked if we caught any good waves. They handed back the passports and that was that. Back in the USA.

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Minor issue – we never technically checked out of Mexico. We still have our permits and we didn’t get stamped out. We didn’t even see how we were supposed to. I guess we’ll have to wait and see if that comes back to haunt us later. Amateurs.

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Filed Under: Baja, California

Crossing at TJ

Posted on September 6, 2014 by 3 Comments

Oops, we did it again.

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Border Day!  We haven’t done this in a while.

We made the exact same ‘mistake’ we made the last time we crossed over into Mexico – we made a last-minute decision to cross late in the afternoon and just went for it. This time, the San Ysidro post at Tijuana. Still, this is pretty easy stuff. We even crossed in good company when another VW bus pulled in front of us right before we drove into the security checkpoint. Guess which two vehicles got stopped for inspection?

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Border crossing days are always a little funny. Even though we pretty much know the routine and have quite a bit of experience with this, we still get the border day jitters. You always have just a tinge of anxiety that something is going to go wrong immediately after you cross that imaginary line.

Tijuana is the busiest border crossing in the world, and it should be rated ‘beginner’ level for sure – at least crossing *into* Mexico. Haven’t tried getting out here yet.

This border post is huge and moves quickly. Maybe you’ll get pulled over for a random inspection or maybe not. They just asked us to open the doors and they peeked inside. That’s it. No documents, no passports – nothing. Just keep driving and you’re in Mexico!

Baja has a ‘special trade zone’ status and is different from the rest of Mexico. Driving in Baja with your foreign vehicle doesn’t require any permits. Just keep driving. If you later want to cross to the mainland by ferry, you can get your temporary vehicle import permits down the road at the port in La Paz.

For stays in Mexico longer than 3 days, you’re technically required to have a tourist permit. There is supposed to be a migración office right where we crossed, but we must have just driven past it. We asked around and some people told us it was closed – not sure if this was true – and we needed to go to the Otay Mesa post (another border crossing) about 4 miles away. So, we did and found the office and paid our $25 USD each for a 6 month permit. Easy – there was not a single person in the migración office and the officers seemed surprised to see us. They had to get up off the office sofa and miss a few minutes of the fútbol game.

There is an even better way – and we even knew about it – but the border day jitters had us anxious to get our permits right away. We’re a little rusty. Don’t do this.

Instead, just drive away from the border and start goofing off and enjoying Baja. Driving across and away from the border with absolutely no paperwork is the way to do it. Seriously.

You have 3 days to get your tourist permit – but nobody is going to check anyway (really).  Later, assuming you’re driving through Ensenada (about 50 km away) you’ll see a big sign near the entrance to town for their migración office at the port. Stop here and get your tourist card in a much less-hectic and smaller town right on the beach. Then, have a margarita and watch the sunset over the Pacific.



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Filed Under: California, Mexico

Border Time – Venezuela/Colombia

Posted on July 19, 2013 by 3 Comments

From Coro, its a long desert highway to Maracaibo. There’s not much to see… and no cool wind in your hair.

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Maracaibo is sweltering hot and where the traffic comes to a halt. You will crawl through the city.

This happens to be the last chance to buy gas before the border (100 km). After here, there are gas stations, but they won’t sell it to you. You need a special ‘chip’.  In principle, this is supposed to prevent people from crossing from Colombia and smuggling away gasoline at impossibly low prices. In reality, it just makes long lines in Maracaibo and gives a black-market monopoly to the local chip-holders.

In any event, you can buy gas on the side of the road ‘illegally’ from people holding golden soda bottles. The marked-up rates are still 1/4 the price of gasoline in Colombia.

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If you happened to cross from Colombia and all you saw was this 100 km stretch of road, you would be forgiven for turning around and going back to Colombia. This is a harsh place. It’s FARC territory. Extreme living standards produce extreme ideologies.

Except for getting turned away at a few gas stations, and maybe 30 police checkpoints (seriously), we didn’t make any stops until we got to the border.  It took a long time.

Total number of police stops in Venezuela: too many to count.

Number of corrupt officials encountered: zero.

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At about 10 km from the border, there is a SENAT office on the main road where you stop and hand in your temporary vehicle papers and get an exit stamp in your passport (vehicle owner only). Then about 5 km from the border, there is a toll booth where they actually try to collect a toll and exit fee. This has got to be the only operational toll booth in the country. We paid the 5 bucks and got a receipt – they insisted we would be asked for it at the next checkpoint – we weren’t. Then, finally at the border you will get out at customs and a nice lady will write down your information and then you take the form to the window and stamp out. Easy peasy. There was no inspection of any kind. The one  border guard we talked to was very nice (possibly drunk) and just waved us through.

On the Colombia side, there’s just one stop. Park in the dirt lot on the right – in front of the DIAN office. Walk across the street to the aduana and get your entry stamp. It’s all computerized and it only took a few seconds. You get 90 days.  Back at the DIAN office, they will want copies of all your documents (vehicle title, passport with stamp, license). There is a copy shop next door and there are plenty of money changers. Get rid of your Bolivars, as they are worthless everywhere else in the world. Getting the vehicle paper was straightforward, but took forever. Again, no inspections of any kind.

While processing my documents, the guy broke his stamp. If you’ve done this before, you know how important this stamp is. It was comical, actually – like this guy’s authority was instantly sapped from his body the second his stamp broke. He didn’t know what to do with himself. We managed to fix it enough to make one more smudge and we were on our way into Colombia – the first country we have re-entered from the opposite direction we left!

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Filed Under: Colombia, Venezuela

Crossing the Equator and a Border.

Posted on June 4, 2013 by 2 Comments

On our last morning in Manaus, we went on another wild goose chase with some guys from the club, looking for a distributor. Again, no luck. At least we got an escort to the city limit.

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We only went as far as Presidente Figueiredo before calling it a night. The Reserva Waimiri-Atroari is just north of here and the road is only open 6 AM to 6 PM. The next morning, we made a break for it and drove the 150 km across the reserve with no stops – we couldn’t if we had wanted. It’s all jungle – there wasn’t a single place to pull over. I did see one road with ‘do not enter’ posted all over it, so  I guess it led to an indigenous village.

Much farther down the road, we crossed the magic invisible line. The first time that Red Beard has been in north of the equator in two and half years. There was an accurately-placed monument, but for some reason it looked like a hockey stick.

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Our 600 km day ended in the farm town of Boa Vista. Not much going on here.

The next day it was another 300 km or so to the border town of Pacaraima. Again, not much to look at on the way. We at least managed to climb up 1000 meters in altitude at the border, so the scenery has changed a little bit.

Checking out of Brazil was a little more effort that we expected. For no particular reason, handing in our car papers took almost an hour. We were the only ones there, so it must have been a new guy. Our vehicle document was stamped out in triplicate. Then, we were just in time for the exit aduana to close for lunch. So, we killed an hour waiting for the office to re-open to stamp our passports. Five minutes and we were done. The exact day our visas expired.

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Venezuela is 30 minutes behind Brazil, so we had to wait a bit for it’s office to open after lunch as well. One of my favorite wacky dictator power moves is to invent your own time zone, and Chavez went for it. I’m not sure why you would choose 30 minutes, though. I would go with 12. Definitively twelve. If you’re going to arbitrarily impose authority, I say make it arbitrary. No more Mondays – let’s do Tuesday twice!

When the officer asked us for our hotel reservations, we didn’t have a good answer. Oops. This seemed to be a snag, but we eventually invented a hotel name and he decided we weren’t very interesting and that was that. You’re supposed to have proof of itinerary and an ‘exit ticket’ from the country, but we got off easy.

Getting our Venezuela car papers was the biggest deal of the day. We had all of our documents, including our ‘international vehicle insurance‘, but it still took an hour and a half. No reason. You just fill out all the papers and wait. Still, it seemed that the bigger wait might be for the folks returning to Brazil.

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It’s official. We’ve driven into 19 countries.

Hasta Luego, Uruguay. Oi, Brasil!

Posted on December 13, 2012 by 14 Comments

And, about 6 months later than we expected, we are finally crossing into Brazil. The good news is, exiting Uruguay and entering Brazil was a pretty painless process. The Uruguayan officials are so laid-back, that it reminded us why we liked the country so much. And, we even saw our Westy buddy again – he’s a teacher in Chuy and has to come through this checkpoint every day.

The town of Chuy (Uruguay)/ Chui (Brazil) is a market town, and contains some duty free shopping on the main street that divides the countries. Interestingly, the entire town(s) is between the migration offices for each country. It’s a no-man’s land. We had been without Uruguayan pesos for a few days (there are no ATMs from La Paloma to Chuy), knowing we were about to cross into Brazil. Not a huge problem, but we were ready to refill the pantry and get some fresh food. We were down to the canned stuff. So, we sent Jason off to the ATM, while Bode and I manned the bus. He was gone an unusually long time, and Bode had been eyeing the pancho stand near us and I’d promised him one when Jason got back with some Brazilian reales.

When he finally returned, he had the bad news. He was unable to get any money. He went to 3 banks and tried maybe 8 different ATM machines inside the banks*. Each time he got different errors: ‘unable to process’, ‘communication error’ and one machine even went blank and reset itself. Finally, he got ‘denied’. We pulled out the laptop and found that we actually had a wi-fi signal so we immediately checked our bank account. About $400 dollars had been taken out of the account. We called our bank, and although a withdrawal showed up in our account, it hadn’t fully processed, so they weren’t able to do anything. But, they helpfully informed us that we would now be denied on subsequent attempts because we were over our daily limit. Now that we had some time to think about all the attempts and the weird machine behavior, we started to get nervous. We decided not to try my card and we would wait it out and go to the next town. Luckily, we had some US dollars with us and we exchanged those. The first time on the trip the emergency stash was necessary.

We had high hopes of finding all the little things we needed really cheap here. But, nearly all the shops carried the absolute lowest quality crap. The only decent store was an airport-quality, fancy-pants duty-free shop at the end of the street. I think there may have been good deals on LaCoste clothing, perfume and makeup, but no car batteries or motor oil. We didn’t have much money anyway, so we spent a portion of what we had on a bottle of Jim Beam (which we haven’t seen since the duty free in Punta Arenas, Chile), Bode’s hot dog (he wasn’t going to let us forget that), and gasoline (we are thrilled to be spending only $6 USD/gallon now) and took off for the Brazilian immigration.

Our Brazilian visas, obtained six months ago, are still valid. Whew. We were actually a little worried about that – we had heard stories. The officials were nice, and one spoke some English. Getting the car in was a breeze – just the title and driver’s license was required. Again, we had heard stories of problems.  And, there was no food inspection (or any inspection at all). As Americans, we get 90 days. We can request an additional 90 days at any Federal Police station. Apparently, 180 consecutive days per year is the absolute maximum time we’re allowed in the country. If anyone knows ways around this, please let us know.

Then, we were off to the next sizable town – Cassino.

This gave us a few hours to build up anxiety over the ATM deabacle. We were eager to check our accounts again. We opened up the Brazil guidebook and found this little unhelpful nugget:

One of the biggest scams to watch out for is people hacking into your bank account after you use an ATM machine. There have been many reports of this by travelers throughout Brazil.

– Lonely Planet guide.

Spotting roadside capybaras took our mind of of it for a little while. Later, we found wi-fi in Cassino and learned that Jason’s account had been suspended due to ‘fraudulent activity’.

We passed a couple of closed campsites (still off-season) before we saw a guard inside one of them. I got out and asked (in Spanish) if there was camping. Well, I learned the hard way that the Brazilians do not like you to speak Spanish to them. He gave me the business. Something about, “If you Uruguayans are going to come here, you need to learn the damn language.  Jackasses.” Something like that. We told him we weren’t from Uruguay. “Argentina?” No, Estados Unidos. Since we weren’t one of the two major offenders, it softened him up a little, and he told me to learn Portuguese and gave us directions to an open campground.

By the time we got there, we were deflated. Our first day in Brazil, and we’d already been scammed (maybe) and scolded in Portuguese. This is the kind of night you’ve just got to pull out the Ramen noodles and go to bed. Tomorrow’s plan: deal with the ATM card mess, get money, buy real food.

*we’ve consistently only used ATMs that are physically inside a bank for 3.5 years with no issues until now.

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Filed Under: Brazil, Uruguay

Vamonos a Uruguay! Otra vez!

Posted on October 26, 2012 by 1 Comment

Finally back on the open highway, one more time through the Entre Rios area. The speed limit signs went from 120 km/h to 100, to 60 to 40 more times than I could count. But, luckily the weather seemed to keep the crooked cops inside (but not the hidden radar trucks). We were only stopped once, again asked for insurance paperwork (which is fake), left to sweat a few minutes while they went behind the car and stalled, and then told to have a safe trip. Whew.

There has been a lot of flooding in this region, and it was a gray day, so it wasn’t a very exciting drive. We stopped for gas, a trip to the vinoteca an lubricentro to spend the rest of our Argentine pesos. Finally, we hit the border and were able to check out of Argentina and into Uruguay in one efficient stop. They even gave us a year for the car papers. Pretty generous for a country you could drive across in one day. And, they let me keep the eggs and broccoli which they were supposed to confiscate.

It was nighttime before we had stopped for some more groceries and found an open campsite (the one our friend recommended was closed for the season). No hot water, but the restrooms were open, and it was free.

The night was really windy, and a bit more rain came, so we decided to take off before we were stuck in another muddy camp.

We’re back–but not moving on

Posted on October 18, 2012 by 4 Comments

And 15 hours later, we were back in Buenos Aires. Jason and I aren’t good airplane sleepers, so we were wiped out when we landed at 7am. Bode, who normally rocks an overnight flight was too excited about the individual TV on the seat in front of him and stayed up nearly all night too.

Loaded down with way too much stuff and a cranky dragging kid, we waited for an hour to pay our $160 USD (each!) reciprocity fee for entering Argentina. We think this might be our 8th entry, but if you come through the airport, you pay.

We had scattered car parts throughout our bags, but the first bag through the x-ray alerted the Customs official to a carburetor in my bag.  You can’t bring auto parts into Argentina. Period. We kind of knew this, and it’s why all the parts here are so expensive. But, I guess we thought if we were bringing in parts for our own car (not reselling them) we’d be okay. Not so, according to Customs—big fines, illegal.  He’d spent so long telling us this, that the other bags had gone though x-ray and I’d slipped them back on our cart–all while Bode was throwing a zombie fit. He must of not wanted to deal with our mess, so he said this time we could go ahead – and sent us on our way with a  brochure listing all the things that are illegal to bring into the country for the next time. We tore out of there and felt pretty lucky.

An hour taxi ride later, we were back at Rody’s shop drinking mate. I started sorting out our bags, and Jason started in on the car repairs. Except he accidentally broke the oil pump when he was removing it to fix a leak. Oops. Rody had another, although the Argentinean version was just a bit different. Jason spent the rest of the day putting that in and the car back together before he realized it didn’t work. No oil pressure.

Day 2- The guys try all sorts of new tactics – and a second new oil pump (and you won’t believe what this costs), with no luck.  Then, back to the original to see if it was a different problem all together – the broken original still worked. Now, we’re getting a piece machined down the street and aren’t too hopeful. Nothing is working.

So, fingers crossed something works today, or we aren’t going anywhere soon. This is all part of the joy of travel, I suppose – all the trivial things that would be so simple back home are now incredibly difficult and frustrating.

It’s good to be back, but this is one hell of a way to re-start our journey. We haven’t even started on the ‘big’ projects.

And, I know we had big plans to answer some of your questions and create a Best-of series, but I was completely unmotivated. Now that I’m back though, I’ve found the camera in my hand a lot (considering we haven’t left the mechanic’s garage) and a lot more inspired. Before, we’d been away from the U.S. for so long, that it was a culture shock for us to return. But after 3 months I’m better able to appreciate the differences in lifestyle and conveniences, and I’m hoping to be better at describing them. For now, I can say I miss the shower at my Mom’s house and we are already stepping all over each other trying to get used to moving around inside the bus again.

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Filed Under: Argentina

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