border crossing


I was tense, very tense as we were crossing the border. Oh, nothing about Mexico or it being dangerous or anything like that; it was just the nature of border crossings and US; last time, we had to do it twice, remember? Both ways to boot. We are just slightly scatter-brained, we start singing along to Elmo and what do you know – we miss signs (if they were there at all).

So I was tense. I didn’t want to go through all of it, twice, and I saw those miles-long lines to get into the US…oh no, mama. Noooooooo.


It was fine though. Crossing at Nogales is a whole ‘nother ballgame from Tijana, Tecate and Mexicali. The main thing I think, is that the Banjercito is quite a way from the actual crossing. 21 kilometres, to be exact. If you mess up, you can easily turn around and NOT have to actually go through the border again. It’s really easy – just cross, drive the 21 kilometers. There are signs all over the place for it, pull over and park. Mikey went in with all 5 of our passports and the truck information. The kids napped. I read. Mikey came back with it all done. And that was IT, finito, for real.

For those of you who are planning a trip to Mexico or overlanding it and are reading this post to get more information, the deal with the Banjercito is this: you are depositing money (with the army) for a temporary vehicle import permit. It’s also where you pay the fee for your tourist cards. When you leave Mexico, you’ll get your deposit back for your vehicle. The vehicle permit is NOT required for all of Baja, nor for Sonora. It’s only if you are planning to travel beyond those states.  The reason behind the deposit? It’s to make sure you don’t sell your vehicle in Mexico.

It’s a little thing like a mosquito is a little thing: a total pain in the ass if you are trying to find it in the dark; not a big deal if it’s broad daylight and you can find it easily.

And that’s all I have to say about it. Nogales is so much easier to do this that I think in the future if we ever want to go to just Baja, I’ll still want to cross through Nogales and just ditch the California crossings.


Lots of farms, trees, both unhappy cow feed lots and happy wandering cows.  Chicken farms. They’ve got a lot going on here.

We are really interested in the farming of course, but so far we’ve been surprised at how much nicer northern Sonora is than northern Baja. Also surprised at super-nice everyone is to us- I mean, NICE – warm, friendly, funny and engaging. Sure, we have all the trappings for some nice-ness (- 3 cute kids, a cute dog), but we think it boils down to not so many tourists in this region. People are just more laid back and less likely to see us as walking dollar signs. Or something. I don’t know. But it’s pretty great.

We spent the first couple of nights in a small town called Magdelena. It’s not far from either the border or from Hermosillo, the capital of Sonora, but it felt like a world apart in terms of how cute, walkable and enjoyable it was. It’s the home of the bones of Father Kino and a beautiful little church and plaza that was just happening to have folk dancing performances as we stumbled upon it.

Nothing quite like standing there, the only obvious gringos around, with a tiny Mexican town enjoying itself through its dance performances. Sunlight streaming with the setting sun, kids playing, dogs meandering, shop stalls selling any size Jesus you could possibly ever want.

Later, we had dinner at a small taco stand and dissolved into puddles of delight over the absolutely (and literally) melt-in-your mouth succulent morsels of adobada, perfectly accompanied with hand-tossed tortillas, fresh salsa, delightful chiles (both roasted and raw), cucumbers, pickles and radishes.

We may not have looked very refined as we scarfed it all down, but we sure were happy campers.

Here are some photos.

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It was bright and beautiful at my sister-in-law Toni’s parent’s house, where we had camped out the previous night. We always like staying there as Toni’s parents Ken and Diane, are so warm and gracious – and their house is this perfectly crafted hacienda with the best kitchen I think I’ve ever seen in my life.

Our timing sucked this time though – Ken was in the middle of heavy duty preparations for Diane’s surprise birthday party – we didn’t even get to see Diane. But we did see my brother Dana and Toni for one last goodbye. Then we set the Garmin on course for the Border –

Mexico Border Crossing!

– with just quick stops at the grocery store and O’Reilly’s auto for engine oil.

And then.

Right before we got on to the highway, our truck Myrtle started rattling something fierce and just died.




Mikey tried and tried but he just couldn’t figure out what was going on – he had put on new practically every thing over the past few months: new fuel relays, belts, manifolds and tons more that I can’t spell or wrap my head around.

He popped the hood, waited a while, then tried again.

She started!

Then we started driving and the same thing happened. Rattle, rattle, STOP.

Kapoot, dead.

He popped the hood again, waited, then once more, she started!

So he figured that it had to be overheating of some kind. He got her going on the road, on the freeway and away from the constant stop/start of the side roads and she was just fine. Rolling away, she felt and evidently sounded normal, so much so that we stuck with our intention of crossing the border that day. The problem wasn’t likely to fix itself, but the problem would be fixable in Mexico – and cheaper at that. Plus, we could stay in a motel more easily, budget-wise, in Mexico, if we needed to than we could in San Diego.

On we went to the border.


Sailing through those wide lanes,


sailing through the green lights,

IMG_4182go forwards, the ‘okay, move ahead”s,


sailing through… OH NO – WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAT???


We somehow sailed through EVERYTHING, passports unchecked?


It totally reminded me of that time in Sweden when I was crossing the border to Finland and I went clear across the border before I realized I’d crossed. I got all nervous about stamps and things and walked all the way back to an eye-rolling, deeply sighing passport control officer who was just annoyed with me. Stupid American.

This was worse though. Because we were sailing through TIJUANA in a TRUCK, with our THREE LITTLE KIDS – I mean, how on earth were we going to turn around and go back? We’d already gone right through!

Mikey went up, up, over and through the highway that the border empties into, turning around as soon as he could. Which was…. a mile? Two? Turning around, he found the only road leading back was the road to CROSS THE BORDER BACK TO SAN DIEGO.


Oh God. No. Say it ain’t so.


Oh fuck.  LOOK AT THAT LINE. Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo……and of course. Myrtle started overheating almost immediately. Mikey turned off the engine, popped the hood and pushed her forward, inch by inch.

Meanwhile, I sat there wondering what SIGN FROM GOD this was, really, because you know, you can’t grow up as religious as I did without every fucking thing pointing to a SIGN FROM GOD.

Hmm. The truck broke on the way to the border? – SIGN FROM GOD?

We sailed clear through without passport inspections? – SIGN FROM GOD?

We are stuck going back to San Diego – GOD, WHAT ARE YOU TRYING TO TELL ME?

So I was sitting there mulling over the SIGNS FROM GOD while praying and just basically begging every angel I could think of to NOT MAKE THIS A BAD SIGN. Mac-Q started screaming (of course) and Moxie had the biggest blowout of the year – holy cow – and all the sudden it just struck me funny and I couldn’t stop laughing because, yeah, this was a sign from God all right:


This is what it’s about, man: it’s about the shit, it’s about the mistakes and the dumb moves and missed calls and right lanes and the people over there smiling at you. It’s about the adventure and the excitement of something you can’t see the end to. It’s about that very moment, enjoying that very moment, despite – or because of? – it’s so laden with ambiguity, like a fruit that can drop ripe or rotten and you don’t know which because you’ve never the seen that particular fruit before. So you just have to sink your teeth in and hope it’s gonna be good.

After laughing and cleaning up Moxie, nursing Mac (why not? The line was moving about an inch and hour!), I started really enjoying myself and relaxing into border madness, relishing the sounds of incomprehensible Spanish and the delightful spirit of enterprising Mexicans. I started making a list of everything that I saw being sold to the people waiting in cars to cross the border:


  • car clearning (- like, wash and wax your car while you were in it, in line)
  • fruit
  • churros
  • jewelery
  • rugs
  • blankets
  • blind/limbless/wheelchair using beggars (- yeah, so much for disability empowerment, huh)
  • tosti locos
  • shave ice
  • ice cream
  • empanada
  • fresh tortillas
  • hats
  • crucifixes (- I’m talking those HUGE kind, half the size of a grown man with a pinned and bleeding jesus nailed upon them)
  • baby Jesus dolls
  • reindeer hats
  • statues of grottos
  • soccer jackets, jerseys
  • car windshield covers
  • pinatas
  • ukeles
  • plaster turtles
  • newspapers
  • magazines
  • trash pickup (!! good one!!)
  • soda
  • chips
  • cell phone accessories
  • medical brochures (? or were they medical insurance plans?)
  • bird statues
  • pottery
  • vase/cup sets
  • candy
  • bulldog piggy banks
  • hello kitty statues
  • Virgin of Guadalupe framed pictures
  • fancy fur pens
  • Huge, ornate ceramic vases
  • purses
  • straw baskets
  • tamales
  • tacos
  • Jesus hands
  • peanut butter candy
  • macaroons
  • kids wood chairs
  • straw hand bags
  • hammocks
  • tostadas
  • ponchos
  • woven back packs
  • superhero figurines
  • bobblehead dogs
  • cotton candy

Does that seem like a long list? Yeah, I guess it kind of is! But I know I was just skimming the surface.

IMG_4200We were in that line for a LONG TIME;

IMG_4202so long that we kind of forgot why were in it to begin with.

Then all of the sudden, we were at the green light and HELLOOOOO San Diego! Nice to see you again.

IMG_4215We flew on through, debated staying overnight in San Diego, nixed it because we just wanted to get this DONE, so we turned Myrtle around, went through the border again


Only this time we made damn sure we pulled over, got out and figured out where to get our passports stamped.


Bienvenidos a Mexico!


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