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Day 1803: Sneaking across the border but not wanting to.

Thursday, May 27th, 2010

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Like most border crossing, I did a little research prior to make sure things would go smoothly. Making mistakes at a border crossing is never a good thing. Weighing heavily on my mind was the somewhat odd requirements put forward on Mexico tourists (not counting the weekend border crossers). The FMT is basically like a tourist visa. It is given to tourists who are looking to spend more than a few days in Mexico or those who are heading farther inland than the frontier zone (20-30kms inland from the border). I had received a blank FMT when I entered from Guatemala and left it blank, in my passport. I had been asked for my passport a couple of times while traveling around on buses and I guess one of them did give me a stamp as I did have it authorized. The only other catch to the FMT is that you are required to pay @$22US as a fee. What makes it kind of weird is that you are required to pay the fee at one of the national banks not at an immigration office. You get a receipt and when you leave you hand the FMT and the receipt in as proof of fulfillment. Well, as it is one of those things that are not required immediately, I of course did nothing until it was time to leave and I needed it. The day before I left I Googled it and found a bunch of info posted by people with all their points of views. In general I gleened that it wasn’t something that could easily be avoided so I decided that maybe I should take care of this rather than waiting until the last minute. Heading into a couple of banks and receiving the “what the hell is that (but in Spanish)”, I just said screw it and figured that at worse I handed the $22 to anyone who would take it and who would let me pass to the other side.

Even though this was to be my last border crossing, San Ysidro (the opposing border town in the US) is not my parents address so therefore I had to figure out how I was going to get from Southern California to Central California. There are not too many chicken buses plying the routes, but I learned there was something close, Greyhound. It was no different, I kept myself in travel mode and looked at all my options in not only getting to Fresno, but also how I would get from the drop off point to my parents house which was way far from any terminals. The general route for most travelers was to cross, jump on the San Diego Trolley and once arriving in San Diego split off from there. Back to day one, my plan had always been to cross from Tijuana and then take an Amtrak train home (thats kinda different). I really wanted to employ this plan but the route would have required taking the trolley from the border to San Diego, grabbing an Amtrak train that would only reach Los Angeles, switch to a bus to Bakersfield (over the mountains, no trains), and then switch back to a train for the last of the stretch to Fresno. Way too much work for somebody who is all over the “fun” of hectic traveling. Another option was a flight from San Diego to Fresno, but being that I am a “hardcore” traveler (or at least used to be), there was no way that I was going to end my trip on a freaking plane. Another huge factor was the time frame. Most transportation with the exception of the plane ended up arriving in Fresno at night which is not a good idea especially when the transport hubs for Fresno are in somewhat sketchy areas at night. I seesawed between sleeping in the bus terminal until morning, paying $50 for an overpriced fleabag hotel, or god help me, a night bus which would arrive first thing in the morning and would make it possible for me to use public transport to get to my parents house. So in the end I booked a night bus on Greyhound leaving in the afternoon right at the border. So, in general, I had the day to waste time so I spent a lot of time at an internet cafe and eating fish tacos.

As evening approached I decided I would leave a couple of hours earlier than planned to compensate for some huge border fiasco that would occur when I tried to cross without my paid FMT. The Tijuana border is the most active border crossing in the world, so I was banking on them having some sort of emergency plan for when somebody didn’t know about the whole FMT thing.

Now, most border points that I have crossed followed a pretty basic order. You go to the current countries Immigration office and get your passport stamped “out”. Next you walk over to the new countries Immigration office and get your passport stamped “in”. My plan was that upon arrival at the Mexico Immigration I could plead ignorance (not exactly difficult) and get this FMT thing worked out. I had even worked it out so I had the exact amount in Pesos stashed in my back pocket so there would be a minimal amount of time necessary. I had walked the route the prior day so I knew the way to the Immigration areas, but had not gone down the sidewalk to see how things worked. I checked the guidebook map and got the spot where the Mexico Immigration office was so I felt a little bit more comfortable walking across the bridge and through the ramps to where lines of people were waiting. For some reason though, things didn’t feel right. My traveler sense is pretty good and so I started trying to figure out what was going on. Just following the walkway, there is no detours so its not like you can get lost of take a wrong turn. I didn’t pass any offices of Mexico flag waving buildings, but the area where everybody was standing in line sure was close to where the cars were passing over to the US side. As there was a pretty long line I had time to re-read the guide book and look at the map. I also asked a couple of people at different stages of waiting if this was the line for Mexico Immigration (in Spanish although one kid didn’t understand me and his mom had to answer, stupid Americans don’t know Spanish), and they all said yea, this is it. So, we moved forward and came to the gates. Beyond the gates was a big brick building and from what I could tell it sure looked like the border check point. Okay, I wrote it off as maybe they had both Immigration offices in one building as I have seen that before. Once we entered the building I noticed that the signing was in English and some combinations. It was odd because the English was the first and larger text and I thought that was a bit nice of the Mexican Government. Then I started to notice that the guards and officers working in the building had American flag badges on. Hmmm. Why would the Mexican Government allow US personnel to just wander around in their section. When we turned the corner I saw American Immigration control. Now, that was sort of not good and possibly really good. Somehow I had missed Mexico Immigration even though there was no way I could have missed it. I figured I was busted, but oh well, stupid tourist is my specialty so I got my stupid tourist face on and gave my passport to the officer. She asked what I was bringing in to the US and I told her tourist crap. She handed my passport back and I headed towards the glass door. I figured it would lead to some sort of second check point like at the airport, but when I pushed through the glass doors, I was outside. I had unwittingly scammed the Mexico government out of $22US. Whoo hooo. What a way to end my trip scamming and saving. America was going to be alright.

Day 1802: Tijuana tranquility.

Tuesday, May 11th, 2010

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Good old Tijuana, or I guess now, poor old Tijuana. Much like everywhere else, the economy has ripped it a new one. Being a thursday though so I hope that maybe the weekend picks up a bit. Towards the evening there seemed like a lot more camera toting tourists so possible instead of being a rip roaring 24/7, lose all your inhibitions kind of place, they have cut it down to a roaring weekend and a bit. I spent the day just wandering around the center as well as the regular part of town which was like any other town just seeing what there was. As I was going to be crossing back on foot I figured I would take a dry run so that I would be familiar with where I needed to go. I found the longer route which took you across the vehicle bridge and then curves down to the immigration stretch. From the top you could see the well worn paths through the surrounding desert hills as millions of people in search of the American dream had forged. Unfortunately to get there you had to make your way past the Mexican wall which was some haphazardly bolted together sheet metal wall as well as the formidable Israeli like cement fortress walls. I was kind of intrigued be the whole keeping me out thing so I took a walk away from the hub ub so I could scout out my escape plans (had I not been a passport carrying American tourist). There were the walls of course, but more questionable were the camera towers placed along the walls. Not sure how effective the response rate was so figured that it would be better to hike it for a couple of miles to a more desolate area and do the night crossing.

Back in town I found an excellent restaurant serving fish tacos as the daily special. For 10P each you could have fish or shrimp tacos as well as a multitude of other seafood options. I had always been wary of fish tacos as to me it seemed like kind of an odd arrangement. In the north of Mexico, fish tacos are a signature dish so I figured I had better give it a shot as I wanted a base line if I ever had some in the states. I tell you what, that stuff was really good. You could also tell that we were close to the US as all of a sudden the portions doubled. I’m glad I only ordered three at a time. I ended up eating there three times before I left. Definitely will be an order option from now on.

The rest of the day was just confirmation that it was time to head across the border as I originally planned on soaking up the last of my Mexico trip for a couple of days. As I had been getting closer to the end of the trip I had started to spend a lot more time thinking about all the stuff I wanted to do when I got home and it became to the point that I was really getting ansy to get home and on to something new. So, I spent a couple of hours researching escape options as well as transport as my home town of Fresno is still pretty far from the border. Originally I had planned on taking the Amtrak train back to Fresno as I hadn’t been on that train since I was a little tike. Coming back on a train seemed a lot more adventure like as well. In the end though, it would have been a three step process as I would have had to take the trolley from the border to San Diego, take the train to Los Angeles, change to a bus to go over the grapevine (the mountain range seperating Southern California with the Central valley, and then change to the train in Bakersfield which would take me the few hours back to California. I also had to deal with time frames as I didn’t want to end up in Fresno at night time as I was planning on taking the public bus to my parents house (another couple of hours to research that). So, in the end I decided it would be better off to just grab the Greyhound bus (which I had never used and didn’t really know existed until I heard from foreign travelers using them to travel throughout the US).

Once I had a plan and a route, it was pretty much hang around looking forward to adventures to come.

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The not so mighty Tijuana river which sort of seperates the territories. You can barely make them out, but people use the left side of the bank as a staging area for mad dashes to the US. Coyotes (people smugglers are found there willing to take people across for pay. At night time it gets pretty packed.

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The right side is still Tijuana with the US starting in the hills. You can just make out the hundreds of trails which zig zag up the mountains.

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The hills.

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Right side going to America, the left side going to Mexico. America is a popular place.

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Backed up for a long way.

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The rusty corrugated walls are to keep the Americans from crossing into Mexico. The fancy concrete walls with the cameras are to keep the French out.

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High tech surveillance equipment. Thermal, night vision, etc.

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More of the wall.

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Business is so slow that they have to use the donkey for tourist photos during the weekend rather that his usual show.

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My hotel/motel. 195P. Not bad.

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In regards to prostitution, the only thing I could find were all these Mariachi hooker guys. They hung out under the archway with their instruments waiting to get picked up. Now, mariachi guys are not my thing, but apparently it’s somebodies. I guess the music business is slow.

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Fishalicious fish tacos and fixings for $3US. You can’t get that at Taco Bell, although I think Taco bell is fantastic.

Day 1801:Stocking up for the voyage.

Saturday, May 8th, 2010
dscn2323.JPG Being my last day in the capital city, I had to stock up on my tourist stuff. As this was the end run, and I have been stretching the limits of my ... [Continue reading this entry]

Day 1800: Interesting places/things.

Thursday, May 6th, 2010
With another free day to wander I hit a couple of places that I wanted to see but were closed on Saturday and Sunday do to the civil unrest and no work day Sunday. One of the places which ... [Continue reading this entry]

Day 1799: Metro day.

Tuesday, May 4th, 2010
dscn2285.JPG I wanted to pick up a few things while I was in the capital city, so I headed out to some of the outlying markets which allowed me the opportunity to play on ... [Continue reading this entry]

Day 1798: Super sunday.

Tuesday, May 4th, 2010
Mexico has a ciclovia (bicycle day), one of the best ideas I have come upon while traveling. The last one I got a chance to attend was in Bogota, Colombia. What happens is, the government supports Sundays day ... [Continue reading this entry]

Day 1797: Walking tour, Mexico city

Sunday, May 2nd, 2010
Being saturday it should have been a good day to do some strolling. However, it was a day of marches and protests so all the businesses were shut down and groups swarmed the historical center. It was a ... [Continue reading this entry]

Montezumas revenge?

Sunday, May 2nd, 2010
dscn2181.JPG A major part of a trip to Mexico involves the old Montezumas revenge. It is like a tourist activity on its own which gets a lot of headlines, but not much popularity. ... [Continue reading this entry]

Day 1796: Ciudad Mexico, Mexico City, Mexico

Sunday, May 2nd, 2010
It was a well devised plan my trip to the pyramids. After doing my last and final ruins explorations, whooooopeeeee, I grabbed my stuff and caught a passing bus back to the capital. For many people who hear ... [Continue reading this entry]