A large cloud has positioned itself exactly where the sun will rise in a few minutes. Next to me Nina and next to her, half a dozen people have made themselves comfortable in the warm white sand. Like at a postcard. A long white sandy beach stretches for miles in both directions. Palm trees grow everywhere. Then the sunrise. As Jo Walton wrote, “There’s a sunrise and a sunset every single day, don’t miss so many of them.”

Like most sunrises in recent years, this one was unique. The cloud split the light of the rising sun and created an unreal picture. Painted with gold, blue, and a range of dark hues. In the meantime, Nina immersed in the warm sea and enjoyed the salt on her skin. A fantastic picture and I take my camera that is close at hand next to me and capture the moment.

Thoughtfully, I weigh the piece in my hands and I’m happy to be able to use it again. The camera weighs 2kg – together with the lens. I wasn’t allowed to hold it for more than 8 weeks. Doctors orders. He insisted on that. Today it has been over 12 weeks since my surgery. Surgery on the cervical spine.

Well, now you know why I’m so happy to use my camera again and why we haven’t written anything here for what felt like an eternity.

But everything from the beginning. At the end of our last post, we left for Mexico with a broken refrigerator in our truck camper. And that’s exactly when I want to start the post. And one thing first – two months later, we still don’t have a functioning refrigerator.

… several months ago at the Mexican border

“That can not be it,” I said to Nina with a doubtful voice. The border crossing to Mexico was right in front of us. Closed. A barrier of bars and little red hats blocked our way. The three border huts that were hidden from the searing heat under a huge flat roof were deserted. There was no one on the streets either. The little town of Eagle Pass seemed abandoned. Shops and restaurants stood lonely and empty in the burning sun. Our air conditioning was running at full power to create tolerable temperatures inside the car. For our border crossing, we had chosen the smallest border in Texas – Eagle Pass. Here we had only read positive reports of the crossing. “There must be another border crossing here,” I said slowly, a little unbelievably as I looked at the blocked border. I studied Google maps sure enough, that little deserted town in south Texas had two borders.

A little later we passed the US side of the border and crossed no man’s land on a small bridge. We would have to spend the night on this if the Mexican border guards would not let us enter. On the opposite lane – in the direction of the USA – there was a very long queue, ready to enter the US. Only Texan license plates. So much for essential travel only. We were the only car on our side. We were not sure if that was a good sign?

Slowly, we approached the border building. The border guard, armed with a machine gun, waved us over. The moment of truth had come. I opened the window and handed our passports to the border guard. He leafed through it and then back to me. Then he wanted to see the inside of the camper. I got out, opened the tailgate of the truck and the front door of our truck campers. He searched around in all possible drawers with a flashlight for a few minutes. He smiled and said “what a cool camper”. Then he smiled even wider and said “welcome to Mexico”.

We were delighted and confused at the same time. “How does it work with the entry, with the visa, etc.?”, we asked. He said we have to go to Allende, which is about an hour away. There are an immigration office and a “Banjercito” office. Banjercito is the government agency responsible for importing vehicles into Mexico. In our case, we need a temporary import permit for the six months we planned to stay in Mexico. We entered Mexico. Yay.

Allende

We drove an hour through the desert and reached Allende at a scorching 43 degrees. The tiny place had a shady past. In 2011, an “employee” of the Los Zetas drug cartel stole $5 million. He was asked to return the money. He didn’t and so around 500 residents were killed, 80 families kidnapped and 80 houses demolished. Allende was smuggling between 500 and 800 kg of cocaine a month across the border we just crossed. That’s about $16 million. In the end, not a place to take a city tour or spend the night.

We drove past half-finished brick houses. Blue plastic sheeting covered the roofs. Mexicans sold bags of chips and other snacks on the street. In between, a wild dog looking for something to eat. Then a roadblock, in front of it a rundown house and a corrugated iron shed, in front of which four cars were already lined up. We lined up too. When it was our turn, the language barrier hit us for the first time. The woman who took our passports didn’t speak a word of English and we didn’t speak a word of Spanish. She showed us the way into the rundown building behind the shed.

Banjercito – the nightmare autorithy

We parked and we entered the building – with face masks (of course ?). It smelled of urine and inside it seemed even hotter than outside. Seven Banjareco counters stretched to our left, and a single Immigration counter to the right. The latter seemed to be unoccupied and so we turned to the Banjercito counter. Only one person was present. We passed all the required documents through a tiny hatch. The young Mexican woman took the documents without saying anything. Texan car, Austrian passport, international driving license. She typed and clicked on her computer.

The entire rear of the row of switches was mirrored. So I was able to follow the young woman’s inputs. I assumed that it was new as it took several minutes for each field. After 15 minutes she got up and disappeared through the only door in the room. She didn’t come back. For 15 minutes, I practiced patience and looked at the shabby building. I noticed that there were usually more counters, but they were covered with wooden boards. I couldn’t say whether this was due to Covid19 or just Mexican constructions. An antique TV was mounted in one of the corners. A Mexican military commercial was shown in an infinity loop. Accompanied by heroic music. I know every scene of this telenovela-produced promotional video that still makes me nauseous when I think about it.

After another 30 minutes, the door opened and Mario, a sweaty small Mexican, came out. He had one of those strange hairstyles in which the side hair was combed over the bald head to the other side. The whole style was held up by sweat. He looked at me like a cat at her next lunch. Then he put on an “I’ll-teach-you-a-lesson” smile. He handed me the papers through the slot and said “No!” In simulated regret. I did ask him in “why?” We had all the documents correctly. He smiled again and disappeared behind the door. Less later he came to us from another door into the waiting room and showed me to follow him with a wink. When we got outside our truck, he pointed to the type “F-250” that was attached to the side of the truck, stretched his index finger on it, and then moved it from left to right. Then he said “No!”. He seemed to be enjoying that. I asked him again why and already knew what he was getting at. For the temporary import permit, the vehicle was not allowed to weigh more than 3.5 tons or 7716 lbs.

A persistent translation mistake

Sometime in 2007, when the rules for importing into Mexico were renewed, there was a “translation failure”. In the USA no deadweight is given for vehicles, only the total weight (GVWR). This includes the dead weight of the vehicle as well as all possible passengers and all additional loads. For our truck, this corresponds to around 5.8 tonnes or 13000 lbs. The “translation failure” is what the Mexican Banjercito means, the 5.8 tons is the dead weight. For this mistake, which has been known for many years, there was an official document that clarified what GVWR is – in Spanish. In addition, as a precaution, I had our truck weighed on an officially registered weight station and had the vehicle number recorded on the weighing result. Our truck with truck camper weighed 3.2 tons or 7000 lbs. I gave the documents to Mario. He just looked at me, not at the documents, and said “NO!” – with a smile.

I followed him and when he wanted to disappear, I blocked his way. All documents were correct and there was no reason not to issue the TIP. He disappeared without another word. For the next half hour, I bothered the young Mexican woman with the same questions until she too disappeared through the door. I kept knocking on the window until Mario came out and after several minutes of questioning, told me that there was a possibility. He presented me with a form that has to be signed by a border official, in which the border official declares an exemption for our “too heavy” vehicle. In addition, the border official had to write a reason for the exemption. Mario smiled smugly and I hit him in the face with a straight punch. Blood burst from his nose like a fountain and he fell like a tree. Noooo, I didn’t. On the one hand, because I wasn’t an aggressive person, but mainly because Mario was behind armored glass. Little bugger.

I took the form and went outside to the truck. I tried to find another Banjercito counter using Google Maps. But unfortunately, we had no signal. So we didn’t have much choice but to go back to the border, somehow find someone who could give us the special permit, and come back to Mario.

Back to the border

On the one hour drive back to the border, I wondered how I should get to a border official without crossing the border. Since we were not allowed to enter the USA, there was no going out and then back in. It was already 4pm when we got back to the border. I drove super slow and looked for a place to park. Only about 10 meters in front of the border house I found a small parking lot with all police cars. I turned in and parked. When I got out a little Mexican came towards me and waved his hand wildly and said something in Spanish. I suspected I wasn’t allowed to park here.

I showed him the document and signaled that I needed a signature. He didn’t look at the document, shook his head wildly, and added the familiar “NO!”. So I stood there, waving my hands too yelling at him in English. After a few minutes, a Texan appeared suddenly next to us and asked me what was going on. I explained the situation and he explained it to the tiny Mexican. When he didn’t understand, the Texan went to one of the counters and asked the person sitting there. He dropped his jaw, apparently not allowed, and gesticulated wildly on his part. That didn’t seem to bother the Texan and he continued to talk to the border guard. After a few minutes of discussion, the border guard picked up his radio. Either we would get help or someone with a gun would force us away. Finally, the border guard waved the little Mexican over and explained what to do. The Texan also listened to what he said and told us that the Mexican would bring us to the entry site and that we could discuss this with a border official there. We thanked our rescuer. Thanks, y’all!

We were escorted across the street, over a weed-overgrown area between entry and exit, and finally through a small door in a fence. A soldier with a machine gun met us and accompanied us to the office building. The building was closed and dark. Minutes later a woman showed up. We explained the situation in English and fictional Spanish (that’s when you use English words and try to pronounce it in Spanish – very clever :-))

The lady was super uncomplicated, wrote a small paragraph on the document, signed and stamped the document. We learned that this Banjerito counter kept causing problems and to get to another one we would have to go back to the USA and then to another border location, two hours away. So all we have is to play Mario’s game. We crossed the area back to our truck without an accompanying person. A few military patrols watched us suspiciously.

With the four-way flashers activated, we backed away from the border. We made slow progress. Again and again, oncoming vehicles just stopped behind us. After about 15 minutes, an armed border guard came to our window and asked what the hell we were doing. We explained the situation, he thought about it, and then agreed to help us. So he guided us about 500 meters back, where we had the opportunity to turn around. Gracias, senior!

Banjercito – der Alptraum geht weiter

It was 6.30pm when we got back to Allende and again pushed our documents through the small slot on the counter. The young Mexican began to look through the documents again and to type on the four fields on her input mask – again. It took her 20 minutes. Then she got up and disappeared through the door. The minutes passed. I kept gazing at the terrible commercial for the Mexican military and that grueling music.

Nina, who was guarding the car, kept looking inside and asking what was going on. After an eternity our torturer Mario appeared and leafed through our documents. When he came across the exception, surprise showed on his face. The little sweating bugger hadn’t counted on that. He nodded to the Mexican girl and disappeared. Haha! It took about 20 minutes until we got to the payment. $ 460. $ 400 as a security deposit which we will get back when we going to leave Mexico and $ 60 for handling fees. It is extremely strange that a Mexican government agency would demand USD. I gave her our US credit card and she studied it. Five. Minutes. Long. Then she gave me the card back and said “No”. I did not understand. After several inquiries, she explained to me that my name had to be on the credit card as in the vehicle documents. I explained to her that I could prove that this was my card and gave her the necessary paperwork. After a long back and forth I had convinced her and she was ready to use the card. And out of nowhere, Mario appeared, snipped the card from the young Mexican’s hand, threw it through the counter slot, and said “No!” With a smile. Then I gave him my German credit card. He gave this back to me too since my first name was not written completely on the card. There was just a “J” on the card. He didn’t take Nina’s credit card anyway. Arghhh.

I finally asked him if he would accept cash. He said yes, but he would only take USD. Wow, I could not believe it. An official Mexican agency that only took USD? I mentally went through our options. All we had to do was look for an ATM, withdraw money, and then somehow exchange it for USD. Since we had no reception, Mario wasn’t helping us anyway, I asked at the roadblock if anyone knew where I could find an ATM. After what felt like forever, I met a huge Mexican family who was crammed together in a tiny rusty truck. Martin, the oldest of the family agreed to bring us to an ATM – in Allende. YaY.

Looking for an ATM

We drove along dark and empty streets to Allende. We reached the ATM under the gaze of ragged figures sitting in dark corners. I got out and thanked Martin. “Be careful. These are bad times for Mexico and this is an evil place. ” With these words, he drove away. We were left alone. “… evil place”, sounded like advice from a movie, shortly before the actor was stabbed, shot, or cruelly murdered by a sociopath. Or zombies. Zombies were always good.

Nina stayed in the running car, locked the door while I changed the side of the street, and entered the tiny room behind a glass door. Garbage was everywhere, stains and smeared red-brown stuff was spread out on the walls, like in a painting of Hermann Nitsch. The strong smell of urine made me choke. The small chamber did not invite to linger. Where there was supposed to be a surveillance camera, only two wires hung from the ceiling. A broken mounting plate and two bent screws verified a Mexican had no desire to be watched doing his banking – or other business.
The machine didn’t work. After I entered the code, nothing happened. The ATM just ejected the card. I wouldn’t have been surprised if the screen shows “NO!”. Second try. Enter the code. Language: English. Withdrawal. I agree with the expenses. Do not accept the exchange rate. Continue. Nothing. The card came ejected. I tried a third time. Same result. That couldn’t be true.

Nina stayed in the running car, locked the door while I changed the side of the street, and entered the tiny room behind a glass door. Garbage was everywhere, stains and smeared red-brown stuff was spread out on the walls, like in a painting of Hermann Nitsch. The strong smell of urine made me choke. The small chamber did not invite to linger. Where there was supposed to be a surveillance camera, only two wires hung from the ceiling. A broken mounting plate and two bent screws verified a Mexican had no desire to be watched doing his banking – or other business.
The machine didn’t work. After I entered the code, nothing happened. The ATM just ejected the card. I wouldn’t have been surprised if the screen shows “NO!”. Second try. Enter the code. Language: English. Withdrawal. I agree with the expenses. Do not accept the exchange rate. Continue. Nothing. The card came ejected. I tried a third time. Same result. That couldn’t be true.

That was the advantage of people who believed in fate, the universe, or the “almighty spaghetti monster”. They might wonder what they did wrong in their life to deserve this. Me, on the other hand, I had no choice but to suppress my burning eyes, the feeling of vomiting, and the desire to just lie down and sleep. I had to look for another ATM.

I found another ATM, just around the corner in an equal glass cage. I opened the door, ignored the garbage and urine smell, and insert the card into the machine. I noticed that the camera was not missing here, but was definitely without function. Red Paint spayed over the camera and the wall behind and the ceiling. Another indication that it was not working was that it was just hanging helplessly from the ceiling by one cable. Enter the code. Choose language …. nothing. The same result the second time. Then I tore the camera out of the ceiling so that the remaining cable also tore and hit the display of the ATM with all my strength until it broke. Then I left the glasshouse and returned to the truck. Noooo, of course, I didn’t. It was now past midnight, I was hungry, tired, and couldn’t believe the bureaucratic arbitrariness of the sweaty little Mexican.

I got back in the car and we explored Allende looking for another ATM. The darkness seemed to have sucked the life out of the town. Not a single building was lit or indicated that it was inhabited. Entrances and windows were barricaded with heavy iron bars. Sometimes the entrances were planked with wooden panels. When we passed a lit gas station, I was glad to see a sign of civilization. Then I saw a “Santander” ATM. In their parking lot, a person was leaning against a wall. A hoody pulled over his face and was only lit by the dark red of a glowing cigarette. I was too tired to worry about it. I parked right next to the ATM Sidewalk, took my bear spray as protection, and went back into the little glass house. No urine smell. That was a good sign. Card in, enter code, and Yesss! Money out. I took 10,000 MXN which was around 500 USD and immediately jumped back into the truck.

For the next two hours, I begged everyone to change Mexico Pesos to USD. In the gas station, in a hotel, in front of the roadblock. Two hours later I had $ 460. At the worst exchange rate in history.

Banjercito – back to the nightmare

Back to the counter. Which was now deserted. I rattled the window for several minutes. After five minutes the door opened and a never-before-seen Mexican came out and shouted something in Spanish. I ignored her and passed my papers through the narrow gap. Then she started typing. After 30 minutes I gave her the $ 460. Then I received the certificate and the receipt. Then I asked to speak to Mario. After a few minutes, he came out of the door – sleepy. I showed him the import certificate by slamming it with all my strength on the window, gave the most superior look I could manage, and then slammed my middle finger on the window as well. My lips formed the word “F..k you”. (Well, that was actually two words – I should be forgiven) With my middle finger still held high, I left this madhouse. I would have loved to tear down the television with this terrible military movie. I didn’t.

Haha!

With the certificate, we could pass the roadblock. I drove another hour on the highway until I found a slip road in the middle of nowhere and we went to sleep. It was still 32 degrees and this time we had no air conditioning. It actually took us 16 hours for our “entry”.

And here ends the first part of our journey through Mexico. In the next part we will tell you some excerpts from the journey through various states in Mexico, our arrival in Tulum, and our first time in paradise until everything suddenly changed.

See you soon and don’t forget: Stay Happy, live you life. No matter what?

I wish you all an amazing week. Follow us on Instagram or Facebook, give us feedback, and, most importantly, live your life!

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