RobT: In a previous post we mentioned the fact that the trip couldn't be going any better........ well ...... today it couldn't have gotten any worse, other than jail time with a cell mate named Bubba!!
We started off from Dilley a little later than we wanted, around 7:30. Made it to a small border crossing, nothing on the US side but a small place called Colombia on the Mexican side (west of Laredo along the Rio Grande). Rode across a bridge over the Rio Grande and up to the border crossing. We were practically the only ones there. We had to dodge huge speed bump balls to get to the gate. Picture volley balls cut in half and stuck to the pavement 2 inches apart in a nice straight line .... several rows deep. Yea, I know. The guy waves us up, one at a time, to a booth. There are several military looking dudes walking around with machine guns along with a military vehicle pointed at us, atop of which is mounted what looks to be a 50 cal machine gun. No questions asked, just looked at the bikes and waved us through. Cool, border crossing in 2 to 3 seconds. Customs will be next. Nice and easy, right?
We drive on about a half kilometer and notice a building off to the right, sign reads, bank, administration, etc. Ok. This doesn't seem to be customs, but we stop, ask a guy and he says, "no, you go down the road". So we do. Mistake one.
We drive along the Border for a bit then the road heads south toward Monterrey. I remember Hank saying the checkpoint is about 50 km down the road. I assumed customs. Anyway, we are riding past all sorts of gas stations, trucking depots, side roads, etc ... well into Mexico with no sign of customs. We are both getting an uncomfortable feeling about this. We stop and Rob C asks some truckers on their lunch break, "just keep going down the road, you'll see it."
Cool. Soon after we see a sign stating customs ahead. Excellent! We get to what we think is customs and it turns out to be a checkpoint. We are now 60km south of the border. Well into Mexico without permits or visas. Rob C talks to the guy and he says we need our bike permits. Can't let you go on. Meanwhile the guy in the booth tells him to let us go on. What!?!? Rob C asks the guard where to go for our visa and bike permit and he states we need to head back to the border and gives him some directions. We debated on going back to the small border crossing at Colombia but decided to go to the bigger/busier city of Nuevo Laredo instead, as it seemed closer.
We start searching for customs with no luck. Stop and ask directions again and are given something different. I ask Rob about asking a Policia Federal. Problem with that is we are in Mexico without bike permits or visas in downtown Nuevo Laredo. Don't ask me how we managed that but we did. So ...... we are looking to get back to the border, ask a guy hanging out of a public transit bus and he points down the street. We ride around for about an hour through the heart of Nuevo Laredo and through some pretty sketchy areas (Mexican side). We end up at customs at Puente #1 and the guard says we need to go down the road, along the river to get to the building that will handle the bike permits. Fine. I pull into a lane but am motioned back as it's closed. I back the bike up and a military personnel points to me then behind me. I'm thinking there's a car there but no, I had knocked over a pylon and it was dragging under my pannier. I stop and dismount the bike. Righted the stupid thing and pull into the corrcet lane. Rob C asks the guard about permits and he gives some direction and motions Rob C through the gate. Can't go forward and through because there's a guy in a pickup putting his stuff back in the box. Back up the bikes over the damn half volley balls almost dropping it right there, Pull in to the next lane and the armed guard immediately points me to the side to get the bike searched after his buddy said we could go through. Same with RobC. We pull into these stalls, enough for a car, with tables on the left side. The customs agent, wielding a machine gun, starts talking to me in Spanish. I state "no hablo espanol". He doesn't speak any English. I ignore him until Rob C gets though so he can interpret. I guess the agent didn't like that and decides to go through EVERYTHING on my bike ..... so ..... everything was unloaded onto a table and every pouch opened, zipper undone, string untied, everything. Search is complete and we are free to go. Nothing is every said about the lack of visa or bike permit even though we did come from the Mexican side, did a U-turn right there in front of customs to headed back into Mexico.
Finally, we get to the vehicle permit building. Go through window #1, #2 and at #4 I was asked for the original bike registration. I guess she wasn't impressed by the colour copy of the original. Fine. I begin to search for the original document in my pockets. Panic sets in as it's not where I thought I put it. The agent won't let me past. I go to the bike and in 30 degree Celsius, in the middle of the parking lot, I unload everything again in search of this document. Nothing. I'm mad at myself and getting frustrated. We tried to figure out what the next step would be. Gear is laying all over the parking lot. Rob and I discuss getting Kelly to search my house for the registration on the off chance that I left it at home and have it UPS'd overnight, but to where? I call Kelly and she agrees to search the house but it won't be until after work. By now it's 3:30 back home so we are running out of time. Rob talks to some locals and they said we could get a temporary permit from City Hall in Laredo on the US side. Sounds fishy but we decide its an option. We aren't sure how that works or whether it will work for a bike from Canada. If this works, we figure on having the registration shipped to Rob C's friend's place in Queretaro where we will be in two days time. Rob suggests a new registration so we start that rolling too. I call Kelly back and she calls the licensing office. They will do it but need a letter with the proper bike info and a short note authorizing her to carry this out on my behalf. Write the letter and go back into the building and ask them to fax it for me. 3 US dollars. Done. In the meantime, Rob C is beside the motos selling a gallon of my gas from one of my jerry cans to a guy that ran out crossing the border. 4USD. Nice. We are making money during all this too. Now we have to find City Hall. After asking 3 people and 45 min later we get there. I go in and plead my case and after some discussion with several individuals and to my surprise a temporary vehicle permit for the state of Texas is issued on a bike from Canada, good for 30 days and I can take the bike across the border with that. Wow! 28USD. So, now I have the permit and the receipt to which I'm told not to lose (what, me? lose something). Kelly calls. Licensing office wants the letter faxed direct. I ask at City Hall and plead with the manager. Nothing doing. Ask for the nearest Kinkos or something to that effect. Receive some directions which seem a tad convoluted not unlike what we have been receiving all day. Ride around the corner and Rob C spots a small, house with white siding advertising income tax returns. I go in, plead my case yet again and Edy says no problem. Fax complete and sent. Kelly runs over to the UPS store and tells me Monday I will get it. Ok. Another call and its clarified that the best that can be done is Tuesday afternoon in Queretaro, Mexico. Guess that will have to do. Sigh.
We can now cross the border but its 5 pm. Yes the border is open all night but we figured by the time we get across and into Monterrey it will be dark and we'll be in one of the drug cartel hotspots, so we found a hotel on the US side. We'll hit the border, for the third time, tomorrow morning.
What is it with me and borders?!?! These are supposed to be the easier ones.
Just a side note: I better not find the original registration on my bike during the rest of the trip. If I do, rest assured I will secretly burn it!
RobC: Wow, my partner is quite the prolific writer/typist. In fact, he is prolific at everything - and fast. Just tonight he had a huge plate of grass (salad) and chicken, and it was gone before I looked up from my omelet. We laughed about the day's events and the fact that we had made no forward progress at all. We were quite dehydrated from the heat and frustration, so a couple of beers when we got to hotel went down well.
In Spanish they say, "no hay mal que por bien no venga (everything happens for a purpose)," but we are not quite sure what today's lesson is supposed to be. For sure we are not going to leave any more border crossing before we are absolutely sure that our documents are in order.
Our next post should show more progress and hopefully a bit less excitement!