So we got up Monday morning to cross the border, hoping to make it to campground known for climbing located outside of Monterrey, Mexico by mid-day optimistically. We were out of the state park by 9:30 this morning, stopped for gas and so forth and headed towards bridge 2. For the last few days we had been checking out various blogs and forums researching the first leg of our Mexico trip. In all honesty, we not all that excited about Northern Mexico – we’re aiming for a beach as quickly as possible. But we do have some places we would like to stay as we are making our way there.
So we first got gas, breakfast and some cash and then headed out of town towards bridge 2 which is where all our internet research said we needed to go. There was a bit of Monday morning traffic that we encountered but nothing that seemed too bad. All and all we were thinking that the crossing didn’t look to terribly bad. Our excitement to get to Mexico was building. Now to get to Mexico you have to cross the Rio Grande, so all the crossings are bridge crossing. And these are large bridges- wide rather than long. The Rio Grande is certainly not like the Mississippi. There were still four lanes of traffic each way, with a number of jersey barriers that Trevor had to navigate his way through.
The first thing you do is pay a toll to cross the bridge. We had some problems deciding which lane we were supposed to be in because there was a lane that specifically said BUS- which we took only to realize they were referring to large passenger busses, like Grayhounds, not busses converted to RVs. But we got through the toll and headed towards customs. And this is where we started to have our problems.
They began to explain to us that we were on the wrong bridge- that we were supposed to cross at bridge three. We had never heard of bridge three- my Internet had only talked about bridges 1 and 2. I explained this to the customs guy and he kind of smiled and then said he would need to call his supervisor to see if we could cross there or not. Once the supervisor came over it became clear that they seemed to think we were a commercial vehicle. After a couple of times of explaining we were a private vehicle and thinking they were going to let us through they ultimately turned us around and told us we needed to go back to the U.S. I’m sure Trevor can explain in more detail how difficult it was to navigate the bus back around on a bridge with four lanes of traffic and jersey barriers but we did it and then headed to US customs.
Of course being a big bus with solar panels and kayaks on top, US customs flagged us for an additional search. They all seemed a bit confused that we hadn’t even been into Mexico and everyone seemed to have a different idea of what the Mexicans had meant by bridge 3. Apparently what the U.S. refers to as bridge 3 and what Mexicans call bridge 3 are different things. But while I had been waiting for all this happen I had done some more Internet research and found that there is another crossing about 20 miles away at the Columbia bridge and we decided to try there.
The crossing at Columbia was much smaller and much less busy. There weren’t any lines and everything seemed to be going smoothly. The biggest questions customs had was did we have any beer or wine. Once we passed customs we thought everything was set. The next step was to get our visas and the visa for the bus. We proceeded to the immigration office, filled out our tourist cards and were told we needed to get the visa for the vehicle first so they knew how many days to issue our visas for. As we walked through the empty Aduna office the guy selling insurance came over to help us get copies of our documents. And here is where we ran into our next set of problems.
When we registered the bus in RI we were unable to get a new title for it because RI doesn’t title vehicles from before 2002. So our title still has the previous owner on and says the vehicle is a bus. Also, rather than going through an inspection in RI to say we were a camper, we chose simply to register it as a private vehicle. The lady said we might have problems at some campgrounds, we never gave any thought to how it would effect the border crossing. Apparently, Mexico does not allow vehicles in that are private busses- who knew. After going round and round with the lady there- who understood our bus had been converted it was explained that unless we had a document that said “motor home” she would not let the bus into the country.
So back to the U.S. we went, through customs again. Which took quite some time because we were directed through the commercial line. I had read a blog from people who had written to us about volunteering with us, about how they had issues crossing the border because their VIN number was wrong. They had gone back to Laredo and gotten a temporary 30 day Texas registration and crossed with that. So that was our plan. Off we went to the County Assesors Office which functions as the DMV in Texas to get new documents. It took about an hour but TX issued a temporary registration saying the bus was a motor home. Just like that.
We returned back to the same campground and spent the night, drank our beer and headed back to the Columbia bridge the next morning. Everyone, including the guy who collect the bridge toll, remembered us. Customs again asked us about beer and wine and this time I said “No cervezas. We drank them last night.” And with our 30 day temporary Texas vehicles registration we got a 10 year vehicle permit for Mexico. Welcome to Central America, where things don’t make sense. Then we went to buy our Mexican insurance and apparently the guy who sells insurance there wasn’t at work yet and no one could tell us when he would be in. So we jumped on the Internet, bought a policy and were on our way.
We drove to outside of Monterrey, to La Posada El Potrero Chico, a spot that is well known for climbing. Once we arrived, We decided to spend two nights here while we figured out a little more of our route south. The next place we are really aiming for is San Miguel de Allende but it will take us an extra day to get there. Right now we are just enjoying good Mexican food, refreshing our Spanish and enjoying being here.