The Border of Mexico

by 04.08.18Travel, Vehicle

The Border of Mexico

by 04.08.18Travel, Vehicle

Airport Luxury.

Border crossings. A much-discussed topic amongst those unfortunate enough to require more than a simpler human pass into a country of their choosing. By contrast, those who travel by plane are coddled in airport luxury; huge travel centres set up, believe it or not, to allow swift passage of the irritable air travel guest through the various barriers and checkpoints required by law.

I remember standing in line, passport in hand, boarding pass sandwiched between the blue Canadian, or burgundy European Union, crested covers, depending on which I was using that day. A line up of fellow travelers shuffling slowly, yet consistently forward. Twenty percent of the snaking security line seemingly deaf to the demands of the security attendants repeatedly forewarning them of shoe removal; laptop segregation; and other simple tasks as they stumble towards the point at which you feel most undeservedly guilty. The ‘ping’ of the metal detector outing you as a dunce of magnificent proportions as you remove the metal buckled belt you were told to remove eight times already; sarcastic noises muttered by the remainder of the line up behind you, including a few who will make the same mistake.

The thought of spending ten minutes in line used to be an inconceivable tragedy, despite the fact that, once passed, we simply sit down on the other side to continue our holding pattern. Any wait, however, small, leads us to spend ironic hours selecting the exact items for our trip. Folding clothing with autistic precision as we layer it into a case barely big enough to contain them, and barely small enough to qualify as ‘Carry On’. Hours spent collecting, choosing, folding, cramming. All to save 15 minutes at a baggage carousel, the modern domain of the uneducated traveler. Airports. Air-conditioned. Orderly. Comparative luxury, actually.


Vehicle Crossing

The same story is not told by those traveling by vehicle. Your wheeled cage can’t simply be brought along as a dependent child. Its needs are many, it’s detailed complex. There are a few groups who, despite crossing borders, have no idea about vehicle import. Canadians and Americans flip-flopping their friendly divide. Those in the European Union visiting other EU countries. All driving through border checkpoints with a quick flash of their passport or identity card.

Drive further afield, though, and your vehicle becomes a nasty game of blackjack as you stick and twist through the importation process knowing the banker always has the upper hand. In more far-flung locations a vehicle usually requires import; presented to the border patrols as an item that, potentially, requires tax or duty on its value. A hellish and expensive process circumnavigated by a TIP (Temporary Import Permit) in Central and South American countries; a quick way of bypassing full import on the agreement that you will be leaving the country with your wheels ‘unsold’.

In Mexico this is based on vehicle age, our 2007 truck warranting a $400 USD holding deposit, refundable on exit. Other countries follow a similar path or have signed up to the ‘Carnet’ method. A multi-country document listing your possessions that you will be entering and exiting with. No sale, no import. We crossed into Mexico via Calexico in the US and Mexicali in Mexico. The TIP process a series of visits to various desks and offices. Dealing paperwork, cash and credit cards between various officials. Passport left here; take receipt there; pay some money; take documentation elsewhere; get that signed; go back to desk number two; sign some forms; take those to desk number one; forms stapled into passport; a sticker for the windscreen and a surprise second vehicle check for no apparent reason. Hopefully you get in. People usually do, always feeling like they never will.


Commercial Woes

Canadian truck camper owners have not fared well at Mexican border crossing recently. Some being turned away trying to get in from the north, and some even less fortunate being turned away as they return home from the south; having become the unwitting subjects of both the Canadian government’s abuse of the word ‘commercial’ and the lack of memo reading by Mexican border officials. Registration documents hold a ton of information from Gross Vehicle Weight to Vehicle Class to VIN numbers and owner particulars. Plenty of opportunities to fall foul of some miscommunicated interpretation that’ll take hours to resolve.

The Canadian Government feels that any full-size pickup truck should be labeled as a commercial vehicle on the Canadian registration document. This seemingly benign fact applied to your vehicle registration regardless of whether your vehicle is actually used for commerce. Border officials do not like the word ‘commercial’ unless you are handing over a considerably larger sum of money. The Mexican rulebook states that commercial vehicles with a ‘payload’ over 6 tons should not be allowed in; the border officials have interpreted that in such a way that they some do not let in private vehicles with a rate class listed as commercial and a total ?Gross Vehicle Weight Rating? (GVWR) over 6 tons. Payload is the amount a vehicle can carry, GVWR is the weight the vehicle actually is. Two vastly different equations which, if misunderstood, leaves the hapless truck camper stranded.

Our border dance saw us partnered with a friendly official who, despite being under the misunderstanding that commercial rated trucks were not allowed in, had the sense to check the truck and camper and appreciate that it was in no way commercial. He was on our side. The three of us waltzed to another office, two of us waiting in nervous deference, the third engaging in lazy debate with his older, stetson-wearing superior; resulting in the award of documents and window sticker we required to continue unmolested when we crossed from the Baja Peninsula at La Paz to Topolobampo; a spot notorious for turning away truck campers who have not already imported at another border point.


We’re in Mexico.

We jumped in the truck and moved on. Sherpa was in Mexico. We were in Mexico. I have never experienced such a huge difference crossing from one border to another. As much as I loved the US’s southwest treasures these new people, mystical language, bold and numerous signs, heavy concrete buildings, too thick paint, multitude of tiny hole in the wall stores, dust, zero appreciation for road rules, absence of road markings, and deafening love of high speaker volume, triggered goosebumps. It felt like traveling. We were traveling. We had driven to Mexico. Game on.


It is the night
My body’s weak
I’m on the run
No time to sleep
I’ve got to ride
Ride like the wind To be free again

And I’ve got such a long way to go (such a long way to go)
To make it to the border of Mexico
So I’ll ride like the wind
Ride like the wind

_ Ride Like the Wind by Christopher Cross (The excellent Joey Negro Remix is below)


During the planning of our trip, we have been fortunate to meet people who have shown a great deal of enthusiasm about the expedition and have supported us through products/services or gone out of their way to help in some way. They played a part in helping make This Big Road Trip a reality, are passionate about what they do and passionate about doing it well. If you're in the market for their product or services then we can highly recommend them.

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