Aug 18, 2011
The further south in the USA we rode, the more people told us we were crazy for going to Mexico by motorbike. They told us how dangerous it would be, or how they had friends who had friends who had been murdered, then robbed, then murdered again, and that sort of thing. Naturally, this made us slightly apprehensive about crossing the border despite our own convictions that only bad news travels well. Even the guards on the U.S. side of the border were giving us dire warnings as we were leaving. The traffic also suggested we were doing something wrong: while we were amongst a handful of others going into Mexico, the line-up from Mexico to the USA was kilometres long.
In reality, the border crossing was completely trouble free. Here was the process for us:
- #1 – Show our passports to the customs agent and fill out the tourist cards (same as the one you filled out when you visited Cancun). We requested the full 180 days.
- #2 – Get copies made of our driving permit, passport, and vehicle registration / title. All documents had to be in the same name of the person applying for the temporary import. Visit www.sanborns.com if you need more information.
- #3 – Have our copies validated. We were waved through just for approaching the vicinity of this wicket.
- #4 – Pay. We brought the copies, our originals, and a credit card (in the same name as the person on title) to the final processing wicket. The gal beside us was paying with a credit card, but the name on the card did not exactly match her ID. It seemed to be a problem. We had to pay a small deposit to ensure we would not sell our bikes in Mexico, but we will get that back when we leave.
So, yes it took a while to get through immigration and customs, but everyone was very helpful and the signage was excellent. And, although they spoke no English and we don’t speak Spanish, we were done with the border formailities in an hour and a half. Standing in the parking lot outside of the immigration building we congratulated each other on making it to Mexico!
As the border region can be a little dodgy, the plan for dia 1 was simple: stick to the toll roads and stay off the minor highways (‘because the tolls are safer’), don’t stop (stopping is dangerous, right?) and ride like the wind to get as far away from the border area as possible (again, for safety). On full alert, we stuck to the plan and came across three Federales check points in 30 kms, and one big check stop by the Mexican Army at the ‘real border’ just outside of the 50km Economic Zone. We were waved on through each and every time. In fact, the only time we had to stop was at the military checkpoint and that was because the car in front of us was getting a thorough inspection. We didn’t wait long, though, we were allowed to ride around and ahead of the cars and proceed on our way, just another reason motorbikes are good.
Our plan began to fall apart shortly after that last road block. We were getting hungry and needed to find something to eat. So, we stopped at what appeared to be a fairly popular roadside restaurant for a bite. Everyone in the room did a full double-take as we walked in from the scorching heat in our full motorcycle gear (we’ve been asked about our ‘ski suits’ a number of times) but they quickly went back to their conversations.
We rode the toll roads to about Monterrey and got fed up with the $57 we had already spent in toll fees. We could see the ruta libre (non toll road) from where we were and the road looked just as good. So, we hopped on to it and headed to the town of Saltillo, where we found a nice little hotel near the University with secured parking for $52. This is way more than we want to pay for accommodation on a daily basis, but this was day 1 and we were still feeling the place out. At least breakfast was included.
Mexico is full of surprises. The first car we saw was a bright yellow, Mexican registered Ferrari F355 Spyder, I don’t know why this was a surprise, but it was not what we were expecting. The second surprise was that the roads were in great condition. They were clean, well signed, and it was easy to get around (though, we look forward to the inevitable road challenges that lie ahead). The third surprise was that the whole Mexican driving system is not completely chaotic. It was easy to figure out and get into the groove within a few hours on the road. Just drive aggressively-defensive, and you’re golden.
What was NOT a surprise was the fact that we were not killed by narco traffickers or kidnapped by gangsters for large sums of American cash the instant we entered Mexico, as predicted by many of the people we talked to along the way (note to any potential, future gangsters: we are poor and quite unknown).
Even though we had only been in the country for a day, we could tell we would love it.