The day before we were to leave on the ferry from La Paz on the Baja Pennisula to Mazatlan in mainland Mexico, we headed over to the Banjercito office, the official government office that provides temporary vehicle import papers for traveling to mainland Mexico. We could have done this at the Tijuana border crossing, but we were so nervous about getting stuck in lines, and not making it to our first campsite by dark, that we pushed off getting the permit for when we were to leave Baja.
You will see all sorts of vehicles in Baja, because pretty much anything goes. But when traveling to the mainland with the exception of a certain number of miles of the US border, all vehicles need to have their proper import stickers on the windshield. The permit can also be obtained at any border crossing, or port town that has ferries to the mainland, like Santa Rosalia. You can even apply for it online and speed up the fairly speedy in person process. It’s a good thing we actually didn’t pursue the online option before leaving, because I would have been stressed for much longer than the afternoon spent at the Banjercito office based on our specific situation.
For those considering the TMC ferry from La Paz, here is the process in a nutshell…or in a diagram. 1) Get vehicle import permit at Banjercito Office, 2) Go through customs check, 3) Weigh vehicle, 4) Purchase TMC ferry ticket, 5) Wait for loading, and 6) Drive onto ferry. Most people are able to arrive without reservations in the afternoon, go through the process, and depart on the evening Ferry.
We turned into the Banjercito office parking lot (well, we actually passed the entrance, ended up at the far end of the docks, talked to two different people, headed back and entered from the North), and decided to park in the paid parking area directly in front of the Banjercito office. You don’t actually have use the pay lot, as there are parking spaces just outside the gated area as well which we didn’t notice until later.
I waited in the car outside the office for what was supposed to be a 10 minute process. But Okan was taking a long time at the window. He came back to the car looking for a number on the truck door, a little agitated, not saying much, and headed back to the Banjercito window. This didn’t seem to be going well. Then the clerk and Okan came out to check the truck door and numbers. I knew whatever was happening wasn’t good, so I tried to keep Indigo busy, and kept my own millions questions at bay while whatever went down, went down. It is a very good thing in these situations I do not speak Spanish. Had the conversation been in English, I would have been inserting myself with questions, irritation, and making the situation most likely worse and more stressful.
Turns out that our vehicle’s capacity is over the legal limit for importing into mainland Mexico. Our truck has a 1.0 ton load capacity. Okan had read several different online sources that seemed to define “capacity” in various ways, and was going for the most generous of those descriptions. The most generous being the phrasing on the official website:
|Banjercito Website||Google Translation|
|“No está permitido solicitar un permiso para un vehículo que exceda las 3.5 toneladas (7,716.17 libras) de capacidad de carga“||It is not permissible to apply for a permit for a vehicle that exceeds 3.5 tonnes (7,716.17 pounds) of load capacity|
However, the Banjercito Office defines the load capacity as the weight of the truck plus the load capacity of the truck, and therefore denied our request for a permit. The clerk said our only recourse was to get an exception by the Customs Agent in the building next door. We were told the last several people he sent over, came back with rejections. Didn’t make us feel so confident as we headed over, looking for someone to make eye contact with us, so we could explain our predicament. I must admit, I was wondering if this was one of those infamous “How to bribe a Mexican official” situations, and was wondering how much money were they perhaps expecting from us, and if the Banjercito guy was working in concert with the Customs guy.
Okan approached a young tall strapping man with the most casual demeanour, Carlos. It was nerve wracking waiting for Carlos to evaluate our situation and make a decision. He came back and asked exactly what the clerk needed from him, and got on the phone as well. We sat at waited, and waited. I was hoping we looked like a nice, dishevelled, tired, hopeful, and good family deserving to bring a 3.5 ton truck into mainland Mexico. It’s amazing how conscious you become of your body language and facial expressions when trying to exude a certain aura, and keep down all the “WTH, this is so stupid” voices in the back of your head. Perhaps it was Indigo in my arms asking “Mommy, why will they not let us into Mexico?” or our distraught faces, or because it was the end of the day and he didn’t want a dramatic family scene on his hands before heading home. Were it not for Carlos being the coolest guy over at the customs office, our whole trip would be on hold.
Carlos said he’d give us the approval and provided us with the papers we needed for the clerk. We literally ran back to the other office that was closing in 5 minutes. I wanted to believe it was something about us, our family, our kind faces, that allowed the exception. But when Okan reported the Banjercito clerk’s response to our custom’s exception, was “Oh, Carlos is working today, bossman must be out”. Apparently Carlos is the kind hearted person in this story.
Our sailing time the next day was 7pm on TMC ferries, and we needed to be back the following day at 5pm to get weighed and loaded on the ferry. We wouldn’t know the final cost until just before we were leaving. We used up as much water as possible, used up the gas in the Jerry Cans, and let our fuel tank stay dangerously low. I tried to help a bit, by weeding out some books I finished reading. We were still shocked when we saw how much the truck weighed, 5 tons!, and convinced ourselves the scale was off. But we still made a mental note to stop carrying so much weight around.
We really liked the idea of staying with the camper and being able to drive right off the ferry without hassle when we booked with TMC Ferries. Baja Ferries looked appealing for the fact that they arrived 6 hours sooner, and you could rent a room with private bath to sleep through the voyage. But since we could sleep in our own vehicle anyway, wouldn’t have to pack an overnight bag, and the price was much better for larger rigs like ours, TMC ultimately won out.
We were second guessing our decision as we watched the all semi-trucks go on board the ferry, and realized we could be jammed in between all the 18-wheelers. We asked to be loaded on the top deck hoping we could sleep with a view to the sea. But there weren’t many small vehicles like ours to be grouped together, so we were looking at the possibility of being fenced in between the big rigs without even seeing the sea. We also couldn’t initially find the common area, and there was NO protection on the railings…at all. Straight drop down to the sea from multiple doorways that were open on the deck, one being about 2 feet from the back of our camper. I was shuddering thinking about chasing Indigo around the back of the truck and seeing him drop out of sight into the sea.
But we lucked out as there was a huge open space on the ferry right next to us, and Indigo got to dance around the open area. Thankfully they closed the doors on the side of the ship once we set sail, so we felt a bit safer.
The common area was pretty small and dismal, with some very solemn faced, somewhat grumpy, employees behind the counter. Dinner and breakfast was included on the trip, but the sadness of the employees seemed to come through in the food. We choked down a bit of the provided meal before heading back to our camper for some of our own food, and turned in for the night.
It was nice that we could popup the camper, but this had quite an effect on how much the camper’s top moved with the sea. We were parked on the side of the ship, which turned out to be a bit too close for comfort. Our bed which is above the cab of the truck, was coming within inches of a steel support beam each time the ship swayed. I woke Okan in the middle of the night numerous times as I was sure we were going to smash into it. I thought we should put towels or something between us and the beam so when we did hit it, so we could cushion the blow. Okan doesn’t even remember me waking him during my panic, he slept more soundly than he has in a long time. After 4 hours of vigilant watching, I finally accepted we weren’t going to hit the steel beam, and dozed off myself.
When we docked, and simply drove off the ferry, already packed and ready for the drive, we were very happy we chose TMC ferries. What it doesn’t have in luxury, it most certainly had in price savings and travel convenience. We drove out of the ferry terminal parking and got instantly tangled in Mazatlan city traffic. It was time for Carnival in Matzatlan!
We didn’t want to drive far that first day, and opted to stay one night in Mazatlan at a hostel in town. Indigo got in the pool, and pestered all the guests all day…he was in heaven with all the young people there. Saying “hola” to everyone all day, and showing his young audience magic tricks (jumping from one couch cushion to another). They had good hot showers and breakfast included, but we felt $400 pesos, was still way too much to park on the city street and get a pancake in the morning. It was double the price that week for Carnival they said, or perhaps because we were at least double the age of every one else staying there?
We decided to turn up the excitement from our Baja beach days, and head to the Carnival. If we were paying double rent because it was in town, we hoped it would be something really great. We walked to the parade route, which wasn’t too far from the hostel, but the blistering heat makes everything feel double the distance if not more. A hot dog for Indigo, some bubbles and confetti were all that we were able to enjoy before we were exhausted. Carrying Indigo in the carrier, and chasing him around large crowds did us both in. The throngs of people heading towards the carnival path were increasing by the minute, and it felt like it was already at capacity. We didn’t get to see the main floats of the parade, just the advertisers in their big rigs rolling down the street, trying to keep the gathering crowd pumped up for the main event by blasting music and throwing trinkets and samples to the crowd. Indigo did love the dancing ladies, and we did manage to catch one bag of chips. He never knew we actually missed the “real” Carnival.
By the end of our short stay, we knew it was official, we do not like traveling to big cities. The heat is unbearable, we have to carry Indigo everywhere, and restaurants with a picky eater are not very relaxing for us. Not to say we aren’t happy for the experience of Mazatlan, we are, if only to make sitting by the beach feel that much more wonderful.