Sitting in the truck at the southern most Mexico/Guatemala border I'm staring intently at the customs building, not daring to take my eyes of its darkly tinted front doors. I'm waiting for Pete to reappear so I can read the expression on his face. Will he be smiling or wearing the same expression he's worn for days, the one that emulates despondency and frustration? I've chewed my nails past the cuticle, there are beads of sweat on my brow even though I've got the A/C cranked and it's ice cold in the truck. I can hear my heart pounding at an unhealthy speed. Malta is lying on my lap, sleeping peacefully, seemingly unaware that the last few days have been some of the most stressful we've ever experienced. This trip that we've worked so hard for may just be over.
When we crossed into Mexico the first time from the U.S., everything went smoothly and we got the two of us, Malta, and the truck into the country without any problems. Coming in from Guatemala was a different story. Everything went fine at the immigration office, and although they made a big show of looking over Malta's papers (even though it didn't seem like they actually looked at them) they let her through no problem. It was when we got to the customs office to take care of the truck paper work that the problems started.
To drive our truck in Mexico we have to have a Temporary Import Permit (or TIP) which is issued by Banjercito. They gave us one in Tijuana without any question. When the woman at this border got on the phone, and then stayed on the phone for a long time, I started to get the feeling that all was not well. Eventually she comes back to the counter to tell me she can't give me a TIP. My Spanish is terrible and she doesn't speak English, so I get the gist of what she's telling me, but I don't understand the reason. Eventually she takes me to someone at the customs office who is able to explain. She says that our truck weighs too much (more specifically, our GVWR is too high) and that if we want to drive in Mexico we will need a document called a Pedimento. The problem now is that they're not equipped to issue this and we need to drive to the border office in Ciudad Hidalgo about thirty miles south. I explain that it wasn't a problem the first time we came into Mexico, and they counter with, “The guy that gave you a TIP screwed up”.
“Ok,” I think to myself, “No problem. We just need to go get this Pedimento thing they're talking about and be on our way." It was late in the day so we managed to find a decent hotel and settle in for the night.
The next day we arrived at the other border office bright and early. I explain what I need, and why, to a lady at the Banjercito who gives me a blank stare, clearly having no clue what I'm talking about. She tells me to talk to the customs office. Luckily there's a guy there that speaks English. We discussed the problem and he reiterates the fact that the guy in Tijuana “screwed up” and he never should have issued us a TIP. He then tells me I have to go to a customs broker to get this mysterious Pedimento. At this point I still have no clue what it is I'm trying to get but I wander around town looking for a customs broker all the same. All of this has been pretty confusing and frustrating, but the crushing blow comes when I eventually find a guy who says he can help. He's able to give me an explanation (finally) of what a Pedimento is. He tells me it's a transit document that they issue to commercial vehicles in order to transport goods from, say, Guatemala to the U.S., and gives you maybe eight days to get out of Mexico. ARGH!!!!!
We had one last ditch effort to try that day. We had read that there's an immigration checkpoint with a Banjercito office near the town of Huixtla about fifteen miles to the west. As I've said before, laws in Mexico can be more like suggestions, and we thought that maybe the person working at this Banjercito was having a good day and would just give us the TIP.
The border patrol agent at the checkpoint was obviously not having a good day. He seemed confused and angry that we had driven this far without a TIP and proceeded to put us through the most thorough search and questioning we had been through at any border. He told us there was no Banjercito office here and then escorted us back to the highway, told us to go back Hidalgo and get our TIP, and then to get out of the country as soon as possible.
At this point we're still in a so-called “free” zone that extends to the town of Huixtla, so we're allowed to drive without a TIP but we can't leave this small area. Sad, confused, dejected, and angry, we drove to the city of Tapachula to find a hotel with A/C and wifi so we could cool down, regroup and do some research on what our options might be.
The following days were a bit of a blur; phone calls, Google searches, Facebook groups, travel forums, more trips to the border offices, a few attempted bribes, cursing, screaming, crying. We spoke to a different customs broker who told us that he could give us a Pedimento, but it would give us only five days to get out of the country. Great, we can make it to Belize in five days if we have to. Well, we can't use it to go to Belize, we have to go to the U.S., and by a specific route to a specific border. Our truck has to stay out of Guatemala for ninety days before we can bring it back in so we can't continue south. At this point we were pretty sure our trip was over.
Grasping at straws, Natasha decides to call the company we got our Mexican car insurance from. I'm so pessimistic at this point, I think there's no way they can help us. They give her a number for the main Banjercito office in Mexico City and this is how we were introduced to our Hero, our Savior, our Guardian Angel. She was able to review our case and told us that the problem was the camper. She had spoken to the customs officials and they considered the camper a “modification”. If it was just the truck they could issue a TIP. Well, it just so happens that we can take the camper off whenever we want. She tells us if we show up at the border with just our truck, she will call ahead and make sure they give us the TIP.
The hotel agrees to let us leave our camper in their parking lot, we have someone on our side from Banjercito, so everything is looking up. But as we pulled up to the border I couldn't help but feel like it was all too good to be true. Full of apprehension, I nervously walked up to the Banjercito window and handed the woman my papers.
After what seems like hours, but probably more closely resembles twenty minutes, Pete emerges from the building looking down at his feet with an apathetic expression I can't read. What just happened?! Where's the thumbs up or the crying?! Why isn't he giving me a clue?! Finally when he's twenty feet away he looks up, our eyes meet and he begins grinning ear to ear like a five year old on Christmas morning. “We got it?” I almost scream at him. “We got it!” he says. What commences is cacophony of whooting, hollering, and jubilant little jigs from all of us, including Malta who can't help but pick up our excited energy. Our happy dance is intermediately followed by my tears of joy and exhaustion......shit the last few days have been rough. We waste no time heading back to the hotel, spiffying up and treating ourselves to giant steaks and a bottle of wine, raising our glasses to what will become our new favorite toast.....Cheers to you Banjercito Guardian Angel!
Not sure what's been up with my folks. They're quite the unstable hot mess. I've seriously been considering becoming a Mexican street dog as of late.