Tuesday, April 1, 2008

¡Ay! Chihuahua

We are in Janos, Chihuahua,
parked in the courtyard of the Hotel Janos (map).

It was past one o'clock by the time we finally cleared through the border yesterday. We did our shopping in the morning at Wal-Mart, got a couple of items into the US mail that needed to get out, and started to prepare for the crossing. At some point, we remembered that we needed three copies of most of the paperwork (driver's licenses, vehicle titles, registrations, etc.), and we went back into the store in search of a copier.

Wal-Mart did not have one, but Safeway did, and we had the copies and were on our way a little past noon. There was no line at all for the Mexican side, and we drove up to the designated spot for RV's. After a cursory inspection by the Aduana (customs), we walked inside to immigration to get our tourist cards, and the Banjercito for our vehicle permit(s).

There was a brief moment of confusion regarding the scooters, but, after a quick check with a supervisor, we were informed that both were under the limit for importation paperwork -- they were considered "toys" and did not need any. (When we bought Louise's scooter last year, we were under the mistaken impression that the limit was 50cc, which is, in part, how we ended up with a 49cc Honda. The limit is actually 500cc, which would admit some fairly major bikes. My 150cc Kymco is well under.)

About $50 bought us an import permit for Odyssey that is good for a full ten years. The tourist visas cost us about another $50, good for six months. We'll easily save this $100 on our next fuel stop, making this visit to Mexico "free."

We had to zig-zag through Agua Prieta, due to some deep vados at the street intersections that Odyssey could not traverse straight-on. Once we were on Mexico 2, it was smooth sailing, although the highway is quite narrow, making for some butt-clenching passes of oncoming trucks at speed.

Mexico 2 follows the border all the way to the Sonora-Chihuahua line, south of the New Mexico bootheel. It then turns south as it crosses the mountains, a good climb of several thousand feet, liberally sprinkled with 25mph switchbacks.

While there are plenty of roadside turnouts that, had they been in the US southwest, we would have considered to be prime overnight stops, our comfort level with this sort of thing in Mexico is somewhat lower. This is particularly true in the border region, where the trafficking of both drugs and humans attracts more of a criminal element than elsewhere in Mexico. So we proceeded here, to the first town on 2 east of Agua Prieta.

We made two full passes of the town, looking for a restaurant or other business where we could ask for permission to "passar la noche." At around 5pm, however, most restaurants were not yet open. The ones that were had several big rigs parked out front -- this town is essentially a big rest stop along this major truck route. Without any sort of guide to inform our choice, we had to go on appearance alone, and this place looked freshly renovated and trying to appeal to the limited tourist business in town.

When we asked if we could spend the night, we were invited to do so, but our intentions to patronize the restaurant were thwarted by the fact that it is not yet open. The proprietor declined to accept any payment unless we wanted to use one of the electric outlets (we did not) -- apparently they have had RV's here before. The courtyard was comfortable, quiet, and secure, and we had a peaceful night. There are perhaps two guests in the hotel, at least one of whom is a gringo who wandered over to ask about the bus.

This morning we will head south on Mexico 10, through Nuevos Casas Grandes.


  1. Sean,
    I'm confused about your "import permit" for Odyssey. You say that it is good for 10 years, but you were in Mexico just a few months ago (as well as other visits in the past). So, is it good for a 10 year stay and you have to get a new one every visit? Or....
    Hope we cross paths on another DR one day.

  2. That's a great question, Bob.

    This is Odyssey's third visit to Mexico.

    On the first visit, starting in October of 2006, we did get a ten-year importation permit for the bus. The permit involves, among other things, a hologram that adheres to the inside of the windshield with rather permanent glue (any attempt to remove the hologram destroys it).

    When we left the mainland and arrived in permit-free Baja, the wagonmaster of our caravan persuaded everyone to turn in their holograms, even the ones that were good for ten years (the ones on cars and pickup trucks, as well as our motorcycle, are only good for a year). The reasoning was that if you lose the hologram (due, for example, to windshield breakage or perhaps a fire destroying the coach), Mexico will never know that you, indeed, removed the vehicle from the country, and you will never again be able to secure an import permit.

    At the time, we reasoned that springing another $30 (what they cost at the time, IIRC) the next time we entered Mexico was cheap insurance. We will face the same decision again when we leave Mexico this season.

    As it turns out, the advice was prescient, since we subsequently broke that windshield, and trying to rescue the hologram intact to get it back to the Mexican Aduana would have been a challenge.

    When we visited San Felipe last month, we never left the "free" zone, where no permits are required, so we did not stop to get any. The free zone includes all of Baja and the northwest section of Sonora, as well as a strip 20km wide along the entire US border. This lets you drive in for some quick shopping, dinner, or nightlife without the hassles.

    There are customs checkpoints outside of the free zone where they will be looking for your hologram. We stopped at one such checkpoint today, where they asked to see our importation paperwork and made a brief interior inspection.

  3. We have replaced windshields with holograms attached (twice) and had no problems with Aduana. We had the windshield guys remove the hologram with a razor and re-afix it to the new windshield. We then had them cut out the square of old windshield that the hologram had been attached to and brought that to Aduana. We had absolutely no problems either time and Aduana reassured us that we didn't even need the small square of old glass.


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