This morning, we flew from Tijuana to La Paz. “But Tijuana is north of La Paz—at the USA border, isn’t it??” Yes, dear reader, yes it is. “But aren’t you riding south? And aren’t you on a motorcycle?” Yes, yes we are. “So why the heck did you fly to Tijuana?”
Two and a half weeks ago when we crossed the border from San Diego to Tijuana, the border patrol did little more than wave us through. Eager to get to Ensenada and start our Baja trip, Josh and I rode straight on, assuming the crossing was normal. As the weeks went on, Josh and I wondered if there would be consequences for not having our travel papers or passports stamped. Surely this may cause problems down the line? Surely.
Josh had done extensive research on these kinds of logistics before our trip: what kind of paperwork was required? Would we need special licenses? Insurance? Visas? What should we expect at the borders? After a full run down of Mexico’s policies, we felt fully prepared for our crossing into and out of Mexico. We bought an international drivers license, paid for tourist cards, knew the procedure for registering the bike in Mexico, and had multiple copies of our licenses, passports, and motorcycle registration and title. We knew that after stopping at the border, we needed to find a small blue building to get our tourist cards stamped. Typically, crossers will buy these cards on site at baby blue, but they are available for purchase online. Since we pre-purchased our cards, and no one stopped us at the border, we kind-of-sort-of assumed we didn’t need to pay a visit to dear old baby blue.
“Oh, yeah, I had a buddy who didn’t get his card stamped at the border and he had to fly back to Tijuana!” Say what?! After the off-handed comment from an American man we met in Mulegé (thanks Greg from San Fransisco for royally freaking us out), Josh began trolling his motorcycle forum for answers. Was the man living outside a hotel in his trailer right? Would we have to fly back to Tijuana to get our cards stamped?
Numerous travelers assured us we’d be ok: “I knew a guy who just got it stamped at the boat dock to La Paz!” guaranteed a forum friend. “Just go to the airport and wait until an international flight comes through-they’ll stamp your shit!” wizened the elderly gentleman having breakfast next to us in Loreto. “The immigration office will do it—just smile and act like a dumb Gringo and apologize ruthlessly!” suggested the Californian staying at our hostel, who sailed to La Paz on his 28-foot sailboat. Mixed forum responses and stressful nights later, we decided our best bet was to try the immigration office in La Paz, the beautiful warm beach town on the southeastern coast of Baja where we plan to take the boat to mainland.
The next day, we braved the Instituto Nacional de Migración in downtown La Paz. Hopeful, yet realistically expecting the worst, Josh and I approached the pursed-lipped woman, who I named Susan, in the empty immigration office. “You didn’t get it stamped? And why didn’t you know to do that?” Snapped Susan. “They waved us through, we thought—” “You didn’t do your research?” But it wasn’t a question. “We did, but—” “It’s in the fine print. You didn’t read it.” We weren’t her first. Gruffly, Susan snatched our forms from us and flipped them over, revealing the small, fine print she was referring to. Susan rushed her pointer finger to the page, ready to scold us with her best I told you so upon showing us our ignorance. “Right—” Susan paused, looking at us, then looking at the paper, then started to ferociously read the print to herself. She was obviously struggling to find the fine print she had previously suggested was so blatantly clear. I chuckled inside. Silly Susan. She’ll give in here. She’ll stamp us now. Stamps from Susan. Susan-stamps—“Here!” She proclaimed, and as her eyes thinned and her grin widened, my heart sank. Susan underlined one sentence. Satisfied with herself, she turned the paper towards us. “It’s right here. You have to get it stamped at the border.”
It was in that moment I knew we had lost the battle. We tried every card in our hand, begging for forgiveness, batting our eyes, even wondering out loud about the airport or the boat terminal to see if she’d confirm our leads. “That is completely illegal!” Susan was not about to give in now, and her stern head shake told us all we needed to know about how our stupidity amused her. “You must go back to the nearest USA border.” Tijuana.
We spent the next two days at the beach. We had booked our tickets to Tijuana for Saturday, returning Sunday. We tried not to think about the possibility that we wouldn’t get our stamps there, even after all we had learned. Susan had to be right. She wouldn’t play us like that, sending two innocent Americans off to Tijuana on a wild goose chase just for kicks.
Or would she.
At 17:00pm (that’s 5:00pm American) last night, we landed in Tijuana. Immediately after deplaning, Josh took a leak. (I have to build the suspense somehow). We had no choice but to head for baggage claim. I started to worry. Would this really work? I mean, we are leaving the arrivals area and I don’t see signs for immigration anywhere? God damnit Susan! We saw an officer with the immigration symbol on his uniform, and in his best Spanish, Josh asked him where we could find an office to get our cards stamped. With a small chuckle, the guard pointed down the hallway and said something about left and right in Spanish. Yes. Hope! Susan was earning points quickly back in La Paz.
Once we found the immigration office—or, podium I should say—we gathered all our paperwork and identification and approached the braces-toothed girl behind the window. We barely finished explaining our plight before she rolled her eyes and laughed. Gently, she took our tourist cards, walked away from us to the second window, and stamped them.
Trying not to break the glass and hug the pubescent immigration girl, Josh and I buried our earsplitting smiles and outbursts of joy under a calm demeanor. We had our stamps.
The rest of the night proceeded like any other night in Tijuana would: 1) An Uber to the Banjercito where we managed to get our Temporary Vehicle Import Permit (TVIP), which we previously were unable to obtain until our tourist cards were stamped; 2) A trip to our “private room in an apartment” booked through Airbnb, where our college-going host had his seemingly stoned buddy, “Alfonzo in a red car” drive by to give us the keys to the apartment and inform us that, “no one else is here, you can have any room,” and C) A successfully executed vegan dinner of lettuce, dried fruit, Mexican pastries, and a box of the Mexican equivalent to French Toast Crunch, which we ate outside the Dreyer’s Ice cream shop situated in the grocery store.
Now, bellies grumbling (likely out of anger or confusion rather than hunger) and minds at ease, we are flying back to La Paz with stamped papers, a TVIP, and a little less cash in our pockets. Now if only the guy sitting behind me would stop farting.