Starlit Rambler - Adventure Travel Our Way
Colombia was filled with adventure, excitement, fear, sadness, hope, relief, and a new found perception of how precious life can be. Rachelle’s injury naturally created doubt and caused us to question our plans for the remainder of our travels. One thing was certain, we must return to San Jose del Cabo in order to get our home, The Rambler, out of the airport storage, silently hoping it was still there. The idea of driving back north to the States was short lived as Rachelle would have crawled out of her skin if she sat back in a cold, winter climate not being physically able to participate. And really we didn’t have a home back in Utah or South Carolina. Of course both Rachelle and my parents would welcome us with open arms, however our home was where we parked it. Broken back or not the comfort of home was currently parked in a storage lot near the San Jose del Cabo airport in Baja Sur.
We were blessed to have help from the interior of Mexico. Our amigo, hermano, comrade, maestro, jefe, primo; Señor Victor Zambrano. This man has a cousin in every town of Mexico and was instrumental when language and distance impeded our ability to plan parts of the trip. When it was time to book a ferry in order to make the portage from La Paz (on Baja) to Topolobampo (mainland Mexico) somehow Victor managed to reserve a cabin for the 9 hour trip along with transport of the Rambler for less than just the Sprinter transport was advertised online. It must have been his accent when he talked to the call center.
It was not a guarantee we could make the voyage from Baja to mainland Mexico with many doors being closed in our face. Remember a few blogs back when we were still trying to figure out how to get this elusive tourist visa we had mistakenly forgotten to acquire at the Tijuana border? After trying once (before flying to Colombia) to get a vehicle permit for mainland Mexico we soon realized our memory lapse at the Tijuana border created an interesting predicament for us. We would need to tell the airport we lost the visa’s we received when we “flew into Baja” (except we drove…hehe) and pay a small fee to get an exit visa in order to fly to Colombia. Upon our return to Mexico we finally obtained this elusive tourist visa which was required to obtain a vehicle permit, and a vehicle permit was required by customs to import the vehicle to mainland Mexico. Seems like a lot of rules for “Mexico” but this doesn’t even scratch the surface of the amount of B.S. we dealt with in La Paz at the ferry terminal.
A true “by the book” authority was in charge of granting vehicle permits in La Paz, the problem began when the “by the book” definition was flawed and this hombre would not deviate at all. Let me explain further. The law was recently changed in Mexico which set a weight limit for passenger vehicle permits in mainland Mexico. Permits would not be issued to vehicles with a gross weight over 7500 lbs…our van’s gross weight was 8300 lbs. Naturally I thought they were going to charge a fee for being over the normal weight but instead his response was “sorry I cannot issue you a permit.” “What do you mean you can’t issue us a permit?” No permit = no mainland Mexico and we would have to drive back up Baja (not a terrible thing but we wanted to continue to explore). This is when our multi-day fiasco with the vehicle permit office in-sued. Questioning how all these huge RV’s are able to make the passage, his response was RV’s have no weight restriction. Perfect I though as I offered to show him the interior of the Sprinter which shows how the vehicle is functioning as an RV. Didn’t matter! Because the vehicle registration has it classified as a truck. So let me get this straight Mexico Customs has a law that would literally not allow a Sprinter onto the ferry (unless it was registered as an RV) even though Baja Ferries exclusively markets a ticket on the ferry for “Van Sprinters.”
“Are you kidding me?” I said with disbelief to the permit hombre. These vans are constantly going back and forth on the ferries so what is the issue with our’s? Someone in the Mexican Customs office did not do their homework when rewriting the vehicle weight classifications or this guy was just being an asshole. I swear we are not voting for Trump (Clinton neither for that matter)! Mexico might want to consider building its own wall to protect itself from the idiocracy of the U.S. government. Still searching for solutions to our predicament, it was suggested we take pictures and send them to Mexico City in order to gain an exception to have the van classified as an RV. Sure go ahead but since it was Saturday we would not have a response till Monday at the earliest. The man did suggest going to the Customs office (only 100 meters away, these are the authorities which would check the permit) and inquire with them. If a Custom officer was okay with classifying it as an RV and put an official stamp on it we could be issued a permit. Rushing over to the office we found an officer who understood enough English as long as I spoke slowly. His exact words were, “Oh that’s bull shit,” as he went to meet with his supervisor in order to explain and grant an exception after examining the van. Perfect, we are good!
Wrong! This hombre was truly being an asshole and said he needed a stamp and signature from the head supervisor and would not accept it from the officer. Problem was the permit office was about to close, the ferry was leaving, and the customs officer and supervisor went home early since the road was being closed for a marathon. Being Saturday the next ferry made the voyage on Monday to the mainland. Shaking off our frustrations and realizing there are worse places to be stranded we made our way to the beach, discovering an awe-inspiring place just minutes away. Balandra Beach.
Talk about turning lemons into lemonade bringing the Rambler to rest where the desert mountains meet shallow, crystal clear, blue-green water, with cacti siting above it’s salty shores. Our oasis and perfect recovery room for Rachelle’s fractured back. We did something remarkable for those couple days at Balandra Beach, a new activity unfamiliar to either of us, we sat - ALL day, on the beach without doing anything else.
Monday morning came with a new determination to acquire this elusive vehicle permit in order to set sail that day. Secretly we hoped another employee would be present at the permit office but as we rounded the corner there he was with his dark bushy eyebrows, jet black hair and a look of authority. Damn! The head supervisor was present at the customs office and already being informed with our predicament he inspected the Rambler, wrote out a note, stamped and signed his handwritten document. Walking over to the permit office I felt a since of victory in my spirit ensured our paperwork had proper merit. Accepting the paperwork we silently exchanged a slight smile as Rachelle headed to the ticketing office.
“Technology is a bitch,” ever heard that term? Truer worlds were never spoken and the permits office computers conveniently went down…as I softly laughed out loud to my self. Another 20 minutes we didn’t have went by before the final permit for both the van and motorcycle was issued. Running back to the Rambler we made our way through customs, weighed the vehicle, were issued the final tickets, and were stopped by the dock hands. We cannot load anyone else, the ship is leaving…technology is a bitch! Another night at Balandra it is.
So Tuesday we returned to the ferry terminal 3 hours before departure, proceeding directly through customs without the normal stop at the permit office. Upon inspection the woman asks what is in the back of the van. Naming off all our sporting equipment she looks back to us and says, “Your only allowed two pieces of equipment per person.” I laughed out loud in an are you kidding me tone. This is when Rachelle and I shut off all Spanish and like tourist began acting like we didn’t understand what she was saying. She explained in English (which was understood) but knowing her English was minimal we looked at her with confused looks, unsure of the words coming out of her mouth. Smiling she headed over to her co-worker who knew more English in order to inquire further. “How many pieces of equipment do you have between the two of you,” he asked politely. Standing in the living room of the Rambler I pointed to the 2 bikes hanging on the back door, the surfboard, and the kite board. I took a moment then looked back at the officer replying with four. “Ok go ahead,” he replied as Rachelle and I shared another silent smile with each other. We made it!
Once on the mainland we arrived at the Topolobampo Ferry Terminal. If you remember this is the same route the two Australian surfers took before they were tragically found burned in their van. Taking no chances and arriving at 11pm, we slept in the parking lot at the ferry terminal until morning. We continued on to Mazatlan and San Blas before arriving in Puerto Vallarta (I'm just too lazy to write about it but there are some cool pictures).
Stay tuned for more Mexico adventures and our return to the U.S.!
Author: Jeremy Wilstein
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