Part 2 of this 2-part series….read about getting ready to leave and the overnight passage from Chula Vista to Ensenada.
This post describes
- The paperwork process for checking in and out of Mexico
- Life in Mexico – eating, drinking, getting money, provisioning
- Home again – the mini Baja Bash up the coast
Checking In and Checking Out
We arrived early Thursday morning while the Captain was on watch and I was getting some shut-eye. He turned the boat out to sea, cut the engine and I awoke to blissful quiet and sunshine. It was an easy mid-morning run into Marina Coral with a call on our way there to ensure there was a dock hand to assist getting into our slip.
Once tied up, we cleaned ourselves up in preparation for the trip to town for the anticipated customs and immigration wrestling match. One of the services the marina includes is a van ride to town with the marvelous Juan. Juan is the van driver, interpreter and paperwork carrier. Thanks to the research John had done before we left, all our papers were in order, we were only missing one copy of one of them, and basically we just sat in the little waiting area at the office trying not to look like smugglers while watching Juan run from Window 1 to Window 2 to Window 1 then to Window 3, over to us to sign something, back to Window 2…you get the idea. So very glad we did not have to do that alone, with our rudimentary Spanish.
Ensenada has moved all the necessary offices to one building – Port Captain, Immigration, Customs, Fishing Licenses and bank for collecting fees. It makes Juan’s life much easier – he says that before, all that window-to-window stuff was building-to-building, finding parking, going back and forth and sometimes he got to a building the last stamp only to find the office closed for the day.
In Mexico you can check out up to 48 hours before you actually leave. So our plan was to stay two nights and check in and check out at the same time. But when we arrived, we learned the marina had a special – pay for two nights, get one free. All it took was me saying
“We’re retired. We don’t have to be anyplace for a few days.”
The Captain was on that like white on rice, and three nights it was!
The only downside was that meant we couldn’t check out at the same time, so Friday morning we were back in the van with Juan and another dude and his crew. Our transaction was quick, easy and painless but the other dude was a Mexican national residing in the U.S. in the process of buying a boat and checking it in at the same time so our wait was a little longer. That wait gave us the opportunity to chat with the American dude who, in response to our generic “How’s it going” proceeded to tell us it was not going well, he had just had to go to San Diego for emergency surgery, sneezed yesterday and popped two stitches. “See?”
Yikes, no need to lift your shirt for a display of your hairy belly and bloodied patch, sir.
Life in Mexico – a Preview
In addition to making sure our paperwork is all in order, we wanted to use this trip as a scouting mission to get a preview for life in Mexico.
Yes, the street food is cheap and tasty – just like the books said. No, we didn’t end up with Montezuma’s revenge.
Yes, the fish market is extraordinarily full of fresh fish – at about 20-25% of the prices we pay at fish markets here. Each stall has at least one person with a lashed stick – his job is to wave the thing around and keep the flies off. The fish is on ice, but for the most part it’s uncovered. Yes, we will buy, cook and eat the fish even with the fly issue – although ceviche probably won’t be on the menu.
Juan directed us to a taco stand right outside the fish market – we managed to order with our few words in Spanish and their few words in English.
I asked if the two women working there were hermanas (sisters) which made them laugh and reply that they are companeras (colleagues). Tacos are served up hot and fresh with all the condiments on the table – salsas, cabbage, about a dozen different bottles of hot sauces and cremas (sour cream mix). And they peeled and deveined shrimp faster than I’ve ever seen human hands move.
Ensenada is a cruise ship destination, so we spent Friday and Saturday afternoons along what I called the Bourbon Street of Ensenada, watching all the turistos get wild and crazy and warding off street vendors.
Friday afternoon we managed to get to TelCel to activate the Banda Ancha – this is a stick that you insert into the laptap and it provides internet access using cell phone towers. The person who helped us didn’t speak English, so she typed her questions and answers into Google Translator for us. More efficient than thumbing through a paperback dictionary.
However, the stick didn’t work so we were back at the office Saturday afternoon, where we learned we needed to go to another larger office. We eventually made our way there to find out we needed another $299 pesos (they use the dollar sign for prices in pesos) of service added – but then we lost the stick during our travels that day. Now we’re back to square one and will add this to the list of things that need to be taken care of in November once we are in Mexico full-time.
Also on the list was finding a bank and making an ATM withdrawal. In Mexico, the bank ATMs are in a little enclosed booth to help ensure privacy. So I go in alone, press all the buttons after translating the instructions in my head, and thinking I would get $500 USD (U.S. dollars).
One $500 peso note popped out.
Which is about $35 USD. Oops. The 2nd try was more successful.
Last scouting mission was to get an idea of what provisioning will be like. For $20 USD we hired a taxi driver who took us to the Costco, waited for us and brought us back. The Costco experience is exactly like the U.S. one including many of the same brands and products – the only difference is prices are in pesos, and labels are in Spanish.
Wait – did she say “Costco”? Yes – and on the way we passed a Home Depot, Walmart, Starbuck’s, McDonald’s and Burger King.
While the Captain enjoyed a beer on Bourbon Street, I popped across the street to a supermarket. Good-looking produce, fresh eggs, milk, meats, cereal, pancake mix – the products didn’t look foreign at all – sort of like the Hispanic section in the local Safeway or Albertson’s or Piggly Wiggly.
I wonder what an “Estados Unidos” section would look like in a Mexican supermarket? Hm…..
The bottom line is – nobody needs to worry about us starving or doing without creature comforts like pancakes and wine. We’ll be fine.
Home Again – Our Mini Baja Bash
Sunday morning we took off soon after dawn. Not far outside the marina exit, what did we see but fishing buoys bobbing up and down in a line straight across our intended path. They are small, the ocean is big and we didn’t see them in time to avoid them so yes, something got wrapped around the rudder and we lost steering. The captain changed into swim clothes and snorkel mask but by the time he got in the water to look, the rudder had freed itself. After that short delay we were on our way.
The prevailing winds in this part of the world are generally from the west- northwest. Meaning on our way home we are headed into the wind and waves. Because of this, the trip up the Baja California Coast is called the “Baja Bash”. On this day, the sea was active and lucky us, we had 6-9 foot swells on the beam. It was pretty bouncy and we ended up hand-steering for the last couple hours into San Diego. But the boat was built to handle this kind of sea with ease, so we never felt unsafe.
We did learn – again – the importance of stickin’ your frickin’ head outside the cockpit. Around Tijuana we encountered three different small fishing boats – 14 – 18 aluminum boats with 2-3 fishermen in each one. No way are they showing up on AIS or radar and we only spotted them by looking around on a regular basis.
Checking into the U.S. was a piece of cake – after we called from our cell phone and waited for about 20 minutes the agents came down to the docks from I know not where, asked a few questions, looked at our passports, asked a few more questions (what food do you have, where did you get it, why did you go to Mexico, where do you find a boat like this). Then we were free to down the San Diego Bay back to home port.