Crossing into Mexico

On the Road with Maya in a Mini to Mexico

After almost a week of traveling through the states stopping in Tallahassee, Florida, Biloxi, Mississippi and Beaumont, San Antonio and Laredo, Texas we were ready to make the crossing and begin our adventure in Mexico.  We had spent a year researching, planning and doing all the things that needed to be done to get our ducks in a row, have permission to bring our car and clearance for Maya.  Now was the true test. 

We were told to use Eagle Pass, but once we got to San Antonio and checked in with folks who had recently done the crossing, we decided to go with our second choice, Laredo.  We spent the night at Family Garden, a pet friendly, funky little place where it seemed all the truck drivers and ex-pats with pets stopped.  It was a perfect spot for Maya and Tootsie and after 3 nights in the same hotels, it was finally time for them to roam in the secure yard with out leashes and get to know each other.  They hit it off great, both being Mayan Beach Dogs, they seemed to get each other immediately. 

After cocktails in the garden, hot dogs and popcorn (included in the price) we were off to bed to prepare for our early departure. 

Early to bed, early to rise and ready to go as the sun was coming up, we were first in line to fill out our paperwork at the border.  Step one is similar to flying into Mexico at the Immigration desk, you get your visa forms and fill them out and take them to get your passport stamped and receive the bottom portion of your visa form.  Remember never to lose that bottom portion, you will need it when you leave.  If you do lose it, it is a bit of a hassle to pay for a new one and last time it happened to me it cost about $25US. 

With passport and visa form in hand the next stop was around the corner to pay for copies of our visa.  If you have not made copies of your other documents this is your last chance to do so.  We had 3 copies of everything. 

Once the copy was made we stood in line for customs.  This is where and when you get your TIP, Temporary Immigration Permit, if you are driving your car into Mexico.  You will need proof of ownership OR if you are leasing your car a permission letter from the lender along with valid driver license and proof of Mexican Insurance.  Be patient, everything is done by hand, Mexico still loves its paperwork and the officers are extremely thorough and painstakingly slow.  Just keep smiling.  You will pay a deposit on your vehicle and receive your sticker, which you place in the middle of your windshield next to your rearview mirror.  Thank them and you are welcome to enter the great country of Mexico!

Meanwhile back in the cars, Maya and Tootsie await us.  We drive through the gate and were motioned over to the side where a customs officer greets us and asks us to open the car doors and back.  They look at Maya, smile and welcome us again to Mexico.  NONE of our paperwork to bring Maya into the country was asked for but we felt better knowing we had everything we needed, just in case. 

The first day was one of our longest drives. This part of the country is mostly barren and the roads are not the best.  The terrain is desert with high mountains in the distance.  It is basically a no man’s land, except for the steady stream of truckers.  Driving for hours, you start to appreciate what it would be like to have to walk for days with nothing in site.  I don’t want to put forth too many of my personal opinions about the exaggerated fearmongering going on about our border situation, but I will say two things.  One, I think the average American needs to get off the couch and get in the cars and drive.  Drive as far as you can on all of our highways and byways and see for yourself, first hand, where our money should be going.  Let’s clean up after our own natural disasters and fix our own infrastructure.  Second, I think that anyone who sits in Congress should have to not only visit our borders, north and south, but travel into and meet out neighbors, learn the terrain, experience the environment first hand before signing legislature that affects, not only their constituents, but our neighbors and allies.  OK, I’m done.  But trust me, this was my opinion after just day one and we had not even hit the endless mountain ranges that lay ahead of us! 

After hours of driving we arrived at our first destination in Mexico, Matehuala and the Plaza Palmas. It is where everyone stays if they cross near Eagle Pass or Laredo.  The motel is very clean but very basic and right off the main road.  It’s easy to get to but watch for crossing the road.  We missed the turn and ended up doing our first “retorno” of the trip through this incredibly narrow tunnel, that with our rooftop box we barely squeezed through, and our sensors were beeping at us until we emerged on the other side. 

Plaza Palmas also has a lovely dining room where we had both dinner and breakfast the next morning.  In the back of the property is a nice grassy area for the dogs to wander.  It also has a nice pool area, but in January it was a little too chilly to take advantage of it, maybe on our way back in April. 

A couple of notes, regarding traveling by car through Mexico.  The roads are unpredictable, meaning one patch of road can be pristine and excellent and, without warning, the next patch may be extremely torn up with huge potholes.  Don’t take the roads for granted, be aware at every turn.  Learn about topes, they are speed bumps which there is often no rhyme or reason as to why there would be one there.  Often times, where you have construction sites and at topes there will be locals selling anything from fresh fruits and candies to gum and hats. 

Rest stops and bathrooms.  Get over any preconceived idea of what a bathroom should or should not be and be prepared to pay 2 to 10 pesos.  Also be prepared to bring your own TP and hand sanitizer. Some Mexicans even travel with their own toilet seats, because those are definitely optional.  Caroline and I came up with our own sort of rating system for the banos along the way. 

Obviously, the rule is don’t drink the water.  You can wash in it and do laundry and dishes, but before you use your cups and dishes make sure they are dry. “Tourista” (AKA Montezuma’s Revenge) is waterborne, not airborne. If you are careful not to ingest unfiltered water your chances of you getting it go down dramatically. 

Also we followed advice and did our driving only during the day.  If for no other reason than it is easy to see the road conditions in daylight.  We never once felt threatened or in danger!  Everyone we have met has been absolutely welcoming, helpful, warm and engaging. 

Mexico was in the midst of a gas situation and there were places that gas was non-existent or had lines, we were extremely fortunate that we didn’t experience any shortage that slowed us down in the least. 

Next stops: San Miguel de Allende, Guantajuato, Cholula, Puebla, Oaxaca, Palenque, Campeche and Telchac.

Lydia Pontius