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Driving down to Mexico again

Karen Blue

I'm just back from California with my new car. It's a '93 Ford Explorer that I purchased from a good friend on one condition--that she help me drive it back to Ajijic. Yes, she's a very good friend. And yes, I swore in an earlier column I'd never make that drive again.

I lied.

I had driven her Explorer on previous visits and knew how well it had been cared for. Even with 103,000 miles on it, I decided it would be a great car for me in Mexico. My '93 Mazda MX6 had served me well, but it didn't adapt well South of the Border. I can't get parts for it here and it was slung too low for the Mexican topes (speed bumps). My back-seat guests complained of smashing their heads against the window every time I hit a pot hole. The explorer easily handles the topes, the tallest of my friends, tons of luggage and those huge terra cotta pots I'm so fond of.

When I tried to sell my Mazda, I learned it's illegal to sell an American plated car in Mexico. I'll have to drive it back to the states. Ah, but that raises two more thorny issues. Its Nevada registration and insurance have expired. Mexican officials looks the other way until our registration has lapsed five years. I have Mexican insurance, but it doesn't cover even a day outside the country.

My solution? Like Scarlett O'Hara, I'll think about it tomorrow. My sexy red Mazda sits outside, a mere shadow of its former self, dwarfed and humbled by the magnificent mocha champagne Explorer.

The purchase of Marcy's car was another adventure. I didn't want to pay a full year of California registration and I didn't want to buy a six-month car insurance policy for one day's drive.

My solution? We went to the DMV together. I showed them my Nevada driver's license and they provided me a one-month registration until I could get the car to Nevada and re-register it (fourteen dollars). Marcy and I crossed our fingers and diligently drove seven hours to the border without insurance and without event.

Could I have two American plated cars in Mexico? Friends said no. I checked my visa and there was no record of my Mazda on it. Knowing the lack of computerized records, I chanced it. No problem and the paper I signed at the border said nothing about owning two cars. I did promise that I would personally remove the car from Mexico. Now, I have two cars that one day will have to be driven back to the states.

And the trip? We left from Shaver Lake on Saturday morning, arriving in time for dinner on Tuesday. It was 2222 miles and took 35 hours to drive. We had excellent roads all the way until we left Mazatlan. The roads between there and Tepic on the coast of Mexico are some of the worst in the country. They are building a new toll highway, but it'll be another year before it's finished. Rainy season means potholes. Potholes, slow trucks, goats, cows and rain made for intense driving. The rest of the trip was a breeze on well paved toll roads. The Mexicans call them quota roads. We paid 542 pesos in tolls, or about $50.00 USD.

Marcy and I crossed the border at Mexicala, just south of El Centro. We scooted parallel to the US/Mexico coast for a few hours and went through customs south of Nogales. I had the Explorer loaded with things I'd left behind on my first trip -- boxes of family photo albums, financial folders, cherished possessions and a couple boxes of various items friends had asked me to bring back. Included were two telephones, a few sound boards for computers, various health care products, candies and other to-die-for items.

It took about forty-five minutes to register the car. I needed a valid registration, tourist visa, credit card, passport and two copies of each of those documents. They made me the copies at a cost of $2.00. The customs official peeked into a few of the boxes, asked us where we were heading and waved us on. Simple as pie.

We stopped each evening when it got dark, found a place to stay where the car would be protected and enjoyed wonderful meals in several Mexican towns. The trip was so uneventful, we made up a great story to tell our friends. One asked, "Why don't you tell the story in your next column?"

I said, "I can't." She asked why.

"We made it all up!" Laughed Marcy.

You'd think that this is the end . . . but it isn't. Yesterday, before we took Marcy to the airport, we wanted to say hello to Marcy's friend's father who lives in Guadalajara. We pulled into a Pemex station to look at a map. The Explorer died. The engine wouldn't even try to turn over. Pemex stations are only gas stations -- they don't have mechanics, but each of the attendants started asking drivers who came in for jumper cables.

Eventually an entourage formed around the Explorer. Our friend Mary was on the highway trying to wave down one of the green angels who travel the roads looking for people in need of help. Within half an hour, we had tried two sizes of jumpers and two sizes of car engines. Nada.

Maybe it was the starter. Maybe the regulator. Maybe it was an electrical problem. What to do? One of the earlier customers returned with a mechanic friend to help us. He miraculously started the car with a piece of wire and we followed him to his father's electric shop about five miles ahead. It turned out to be the battery and, someone must have been looking out for us, because there was a battery shop next door. Half hour later, thirty-nine dollars for the battery and four dollars for the installation, we were off to our last lunch before Marcy left.

Now, that is a true story and one which is representative of the helpful nature and cleverness of the Mexican people.

Published or Updated on: October 1, 1998 by Karen Blue © 1998
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