Monthly Archives: April 2011

Returning To Mexico After A Trip

We recently returned after a fast trip to California. (Not extremely fast, as we traveled by car – almost exactly 1,800 miles. Each way.) 
We had an Agenda:
we needed to renew our car registration (smog check) so we could renew our six-month permit to have the car in Mexico 
we needed to see our import agent for some important business and
we needed to sign papers on our house sale escrow (fingers still crossed)
The drive north was mostly unremarkable, though enjoyable. In Santa Ana, Sonora, we saw our import agent, who still has several pallets of our things he hasn’t shipped yet. We reminded him that the weather has changed, and if he doesn’t ship the few remaining guitars ASAP, they will arrive in the form of firewood. He was amiable as usual, if often difficult to contact, and took us to breakfast one morning – machaca and eggs at Elba Restaurant, a very “northern” style place, rather like Denny’s or Howard Johnson’s. The prices were higher than at regular Mexican restaurants, but the servings were simple, excellent, enormous. 
That night we stayed in one of “those” motels that rents by the hour, Aqua Inn Motel, and it was wonderful. The individual garages (one reason we like that kind of motel) are directly under each room. 
The room was large, with an enormous bed, a pretty sink, and a wonderful shower. 
The lighting was interesting – there was not a lamp or lightbulb  visible. The light came from artfully designed slashes in the ceiling.  We had been having mysterious problems with our PT Cruiser, involving, we thought, the battery,and in the morning it wouldn’t start. After an extended conversation with a friendly maid and handy-man, a pick-up truck arrived and got us jump-started. We knew we needed to keep the car running, and we decided to cross the border at nearby Otay crossing. We followed directions from two helpful (?) men, and found ourselves – don’t EVER, EVER DO THIS – in a Linea Sentri, where a special card is required. It is designed for locals who cross the border often. We were detained there for two hours by vaguely pleasant USA border agents. There is a possible $5,000 fine for frequent violators. They gave us a warning and sent us along. We drove straight to a AAA and got the registration, insurance, and a two-day permit for the smog check. That night, in Santa Clarita, we got a new battery, and (so far, at least), that has put an end to the strange warning lights and other inexplicable problems.
In Lake Elizabeth, we saw our agent and did some minor repairs to the house. We were quite industrious each day, occupying ourselves with that and doctor/dentist appointments. Our agent was waiting for the ground to dry a bit for our septic test, the last hurdle in our escrow. We were quite confident about it, as our tank had been checked and OK’ed a few years back, and had always drained better than any of our neighbors’ tanks. We signed the papers and left, then received a call as we were entering Arizona. The septic tank was completely, utterly ruined and crumbling, and there was no remedy but to get a new one, and have our leach lines extended. Five days later we have not gotten an update, and we are still hoping that our buyer has not changed his mind.
The trip back to Mexico was just as fast and pleasant. There was a very pleasant meal in Santa Ana, as we were waiting to meet with our agent. We stopped at a place called Carne Asada With Chano. It was Easter week, and many places were closed, and the ones that were open were not serving meat. But at Chano’s, that’s all they serve. You order carne asada for one, or for two. It comes to your table on cunning little asaderos with charcoal in them, three huge (really! almost as big as a – well, a pancho!) flour tortillas, and lettuce,  onions, and salsa. It was excellent! 
Sometimes the sleeping arrangements aren’t quite what you would wish. But this one was inexpensive, colorful, and 
adequate . It cost about $28 for the night. The Apolo, in Santa Ana.
A little funky, but kind of cute! Like tiny little houses.
Sonora is known for its good meats, and flour tortillas. And coyotas, the two-layered tortillas with good things between the layers. Check out the online site Coyotas Malu if you like. That’s where we bought coyotas for the trip north, and the trip back to our house. In the small shop in Santa Ana, they have literally hundreds of bags of coyotas of all flavors. There was also, I noticed, a small selection of home-canned goods – salsa, apricots, peppers.
One thing I had hoped to accomplish in California was to get an “apostille” birth certificate, a sort of doubly-guaranteed birth certificate, necessary in Mexico for legal doings. That was not to occur, and it was just as frustrating as the many trips sometimes needed to accomplish things here in Mexico. We went in person to the correct place in Los Angeles – one of the “area” spots to get this done. My birth certificate was too many years ago for them to be able to certify it, and they sent us to a county building in Norwalk. There I learned that the Norwalk office only has information on birth certificates from Los Angeles County. It seems that the first guy should have noticed or informed me (wouldn’t ya think?) Anyway, I got a notarized statement from my realtor saying I was really me, and sent a request for the first step of the process to Stanislaus County, where I was born. This morning I received a call from the county recorder there, saying that my check was written for two dollars less than the fee. But they helpfully changed the amount for me so I didn’t have to start over.  Thank you, Stanislaus County!
We were very happy to arrive back at our house, and have been taking afternoon siestas to catch up on our rest. A couple of days of driving were at least twelve hours each.
I liked this local bus from Mazatlan, in the state of Sinaloa, The Tomato State. A note: you can take your car on a ferry from Baja, California to Mazatlan!
We are still catching up on the family happenings while we were gone – it was a two-week trip. More later. I am nearly finished with an entry about Music On The Radio In Mexico. 

Continuation – Truck Registration

For those of you waiting with bated breath to find out the outcome of our legalization of Foxy The Truck, it did finally come to pass. We got a call from the import agent that the truck was ready, and that he would drive it to Hermosillo for us. 
NOTE: Yes, you can get certain years and types of cars “Mexicanized”, which was our goal. It is just not practical to keep renewing 6-month permits unless you are staying very close to the border, as each renewal requires a drive to the border. The paper-work for legalizing our truck cost less than $1000. In FACT, it’s really not practical to bring a car at all unless you plan to leave and take it with you. You can read about this on other blogs.
We took a bus north to Hermosillo. The trip was described by the bus agent as a 24-hour ride from Leon. The bus was nice, with movie screens and comfortable seats. But we ended up right next to the bathroom, and the fumes of chemicals were pretty strong. The trip took about 30 hours, mostly, as far as I could tell, because of the MANY TIMES (I think it was 8 times) that we were stopped by the Federales. One time we were stopped for nearly an hour. I noticed that every time they came into the bus, they questioned the same woman a few seats in front of us. And once they questioned a guy in the back seat of the bus for a half-hour hour or so. It was hot when we were stopped, and the passengers became pretty restless. Once Chon asked an officer why they were bothering everyone so much. The answer was “Por la maldita droga” (damn drugs.) There were many large buckets of some liquid in the luggage space underneath a bus that was stopped next to us, and the agents examined and re-examined them without opening them.
I had never seen the little tiny sleeping place underneath buses where the second driver could sleep – I had no idea they existed.
The only other memorable event during the bus trip north was a wonderful shrimp cocktail we had during a short breakfast stop in Navojoa. The owner of the little spot where we ate was from Guanajuato. The shrimps were medium-sized, and in a flavorful, reddish liquid with chopped onions and cilantro with lemon or lime juices. He urged me to add ketchup. It was delicious and invigorating.
We found our agent and the truck at the bus station in Hermosillo about 5 pm. We paid him and started off for a pretty easy trip back. We worried about crossing state lines, (just because Things Happen), but we were not stopped even once.
We arrived in Navojoa around ten, and stopped at an autohotel called El Peñon (one of those), and got up and left around ten in the morning.
Traveling through Sinaloa was interesting. We usually pass through there in the dark of night. Sinaloa is a produce state, (the car license plates boast tomatoes on them, which gives you an idea) and reminds me a lot of California’s San Joaquin Valley. There had been a hard freeze in January (see earlier blog entry) and many trees and fields were burned and ruined. 
There are miles and miles of fields in Sinaloa, many bearing small signs, identifying the brands of seeds used for the planting. The names on the signs were all familiar to me, and to anyone who has driven through farm country, – I saw Asgrow, Dekalb, Pioneer, and Monsanto, among others.
We arrived in Mazatlan, the famous beach town, at five pm, and had a good caldo on the main street at a family food stand. We stayed at our favorite one of those, Xtasys, and got up early, about 5 am.  That spot charges by the hour if you stay more over your allotted twelve hours.
It took 3 and a half hours to get through Tepic. We fervently hoped to get through Guadalajara without getting confused (again) by the highway signs, but alas, it was not to be. We followed signs to Mexico City, Highway 15, as we had planned, but we ended up on a bit of highway that ended in a dirt road. We got directions, and found ourselves on a hair-raising rocky road, headed up a very steep hill when the gas tank we were using, never absolutely dependable in its indicator, ran low on gas, and began to sputter. I switched tanks as quickly as possible, the engine died. I award myself many, many bravery points for getting Foxy started again while stomping hard on the brake so we didn’t slide backwards down the hill. Of course, Chon helped to keep me calm by telling me how wonderful I was (me keeping up a constant stream of sweating and swearing , and being very encouraging in general.)
Our detour took us to a wonderful artesan town called Tonala. There were beautiful object of glass, copper and wood displayed in the streets.  Our gas tanks continued to lie to us, and Foxy nearly died again as we went up an onramp to the highway. Once again, though, however hair-raising, we maintained our forward movement and headed to Juana’s house on the other side of Arandas, the famous tequila-making town.
Juana seems to have a sort of 6th sense about our arrivals, and she hurried to the door to welcome us. She fed us something really good that I can’t recall – I think it was a guisado, and we left before dark, because there is an unmarked turn we missed on the return from Josefino once.
Now we have a Mexican automobile! Legal! Forever! No trips to the border to renew permits!