I was talking to our neighbor at the campground yesterday. This is a guy who, with his wife, has traveled all over Europe, Canada, and the United States. He had one trip to Puerto Vallarta once, and plans to join his son on a fishing trip out of Loreto soon. But other than that, he’s got no experience with Mexico at all and seemed kind of wary about the idea of traveling there by private vehicle. When I told him that’s where we were headed and where we’ve been for the better part of the last 4 years, he was intrigued. As always, he was curious about whether we felt safe, had encountered any violence, etc. But he also was curious about whether or not gas and diesel were readily available. I told him, as I tell everyone, that we feel perfectly safe south of the border. At least as safe as we do in most parts of the US, if not safer. We’ve never experienced any violence although, once, when we were in Mazatlán, there was a cartel vs cartel shooting in some restaurant along the beach. The only reason we even knew it happened is because someone mentioned it. It certainly didn’t affect us or anyone we know. And, the same thing could and does happen anywhere. As to gas and diesel availability, I assured him that’s it’s readily available although there’s this one stretch in Baja where there’s a gap of almost 200 miles between stations.
These kinds of questions, particularly about safety, always get me thinking. What is it about Mexico? I mean, it’s as close to many Americans as Canada is and yet mostly people know nothing about the country. Sure there’s the widely reported cartel violence that keeps people away. But that seems to be primarily along the border and mostly between rival drug factions or between drug dealers and law enforcement. That doesn’t minimize the danger if you’re involved in drugs or law enforcement but it does, or should, kind of put the danger to you or I in perspective. But even before all the cartel violence, Mexico had an air of danger about it. I remember as a teenager thinking that it’d be kind of cool to go to Mexico but would it be safe? Of course, the fact that it might not be completely safe sort of made it seem like it’d be even cooler to go there. Don’t know what I thought the threat was. Banditos? Probably. Corrupt police? Yeah, that too. I think that maybe the cowboy flicks we all used to watch had some influence. Mexico was where the bad guys fled to so it was obviously filled with bad guys. Also, there were even badder guys (the banditos) down there who even our bad guys were wary of. And god help you if some sweaty, mustachioed, pot-bellied Mexican sheriff got hold of you for any reason. You knew that if that happened you’d either wind up dead, fleeced and dead, or fleeced and in some hell-hole of a prison where, if you couldn’t afford to buy your own food, you’d just starve to death. That prison part may or may not be true. I’ve certainly always heard that that’s how Mexican prisons work but I don’t actually know that to be fact. Kind of adds to the threatening mystery, doesn’t it?
I also think the language barrier lends to the danger mystique. After all, here’s a country just south of us, sharing hundreds and hundreds of miles of border, and those people down there don’t even speak English! That’s both a little mysterious and kind of scary. After all, what if you’re down in Mexico and get yourself into a jam and can’t talk your way out of it because you don’t speak the language. I admit it, that’s pretty frightening.
So, what do we do to make ourselves feel safe? Basically, Lulu and I both believe that people are people and that they’re basically good. We certainly don’t want to assume that Mexicans are mostly scary just because the ones you hear about in US news reports are. I’d hate to think that people are afraid to come to the US because they figure everyone is as violent as all these school shooters they read about. Next, we keep our noses clean. No drugs, other than those we can get at the farmacía to ease our aching joints. We never get completely shit-faced either. That’s just asking for it no matter what country you’re in. We try to be polite and respectful of the people whose country we’re guests in. And we don’t assume that no one around us can speak English and therefore figure it’s OK to talk smack about the country, the customs and the people. If we don’t like it, we know where the border crossing is but we don’t have to insult that cab driver by denigrating his country and assuming he doesn’t know what we’re talking about. In other words, we give our hosts the same respect we hope to get in return. And mostly, we do get it in return.
What got me started on this? I’m not sure. I guess I’m just so glad to be back in Mexico and can’t understand why anyone wouldn’t be. Oh well. Guess I’ll get back to what I originally intended to write about.
After our initial 6 months in Mexico, we applied for, and got, Temporary Resident visas. You get your original Residente Temporal visa and then renew every year for 3 years. At the end of the fourth year of holding the Temporal visa, you have to do one of two things: either apply for Residente Permanente or leave the country. If you leave the country, you can re-enter and start over again or just get a 180-day Tourist Visa. In about 4 days, our Residente Temporal visas will expire and we need to renew them for the last time. A year from now, we’d apply for Permanente status. Well, we opted to surrender our Residente Temporal visas and return to Turista status. Why? Well, first off, the Residente cards are expensive. Like expensive enough so that the only way they make financial sense is if they save you the cost of air fare to leave the country every time your Turista visa expires. Originally we had no intention of going back to the US every 6 months so the Residente cards made sense. But now, with the new grandkids, we know we’ll probably visit the US a couple times a year instead of just once so we might as well save some money. Second, our next renewal (after this one) would be to Permanente status and come due right in the middle of our proposed Epic Road Trip. This could be problematic as we have no idea where we’ll be or what we should use for our address in Mexico. Further, once you have Residente Permanente status, you are legally supposed to have a Mexican driver’s license, which I’ve heard is no problem to get. However, you are also forbidden from driving a foreign-licensed vehicle in Mexico. An Oregon license plate is foreign in Mexico. So, we could maybe just import our vehicle and get it a Mexican license plate. Yes, we could, at least in theory. But, the importation process sounds like a major nightmare. And besides, there is an age-limit on importing vehicles and our 31 year old RV doesn’t meet the requirement. So, we opted to go back to visiting in 180-day increments.
So, we go to the Immigration Office today. I’m armed with a letter explaining that our situation has changed and explaining what we want to do. I used Google Translate to write the letter and hoped it was more or less understandable. Well, apparently the letter was understandable enough but the agent behind the counter was not up on how this worked. She spent quite a bit of time on the phone with someone getting it all figured out. Eventually, though, she did get it done. Then, we had to go back into the US for 30 minutes or so before reentering Mexico and applying for Tourist visas. We left the camper parked, explained to the Mexican Customs guy what we were doing, and then walked across the border. We explained to the US Customs guy, who was very understanding and helpful. Went across the street for a cup of coffee and then reentered Mexico. The US guy just waved us through and the lady at Migración was ready for us. Finally, Turista visas in hand, we headed towards Puerto Peñasco.
As we headed down the road, I just felt really good to be back in Mexico. Don’t know why for sure, just did.
We are now at Playa Encanto, outside Puerto Peñasco, where Bill and Ellie have let us use their condo while we await their arrival tomorrow. Here are a couple of the reasons we love being at the condo (besides Bill and Ellie of course):
Whew! That was a long one. I think maybe it’s time for another cerveza. ¡Salud!