Our Move to Mexico

Jess-Poster-shot

Hello folks. My nom de plume is Jess Waid. My hobby in retirement is novel writing. Currently, I am penning my fourth book, a police story. No, I am not a best seller, perhaps because I don’t have the gumption to go out and be a peddler. Did you know there are 22 million books being published each year? That’s a far cry from the 12,000 a decade ago. Of course, thanks to the Internet, most are Print-on-Demand, self-published works that shouldn’t see the light of day. Then there is the Fifty Shades of Grey exception. Whatever.

I mention this only because cheery Karen McConnaughey, apparently thinking I might be able to entertain you by describing my experience traveling from the southern coast of Oregon to Ajijic, Mexico, had no idea what she was unleashing. Actually, I think she expects what I have to say to be informative, perhaps helpful to future travelers. We shall see.

OK, here I go. Having reached my so-called “Golden Years” well ahead of my wife, Barbara, I commenced upon a search for a final place to retire. I sought a location somewhere on this planet that would be kinder to my aging joints than the blustery coast where I’d spent the past ten years. Before that, it was a dozen years on the shore of Lake Pend Oreille, in northern Idaho. Brrr.

When I discovered the Focus on Mexico website, I was intrigued. The year was 2009. That September, Barbara and I participated in their excellent eight-day seminar package, extending our stay several days because we liked the area so well. Soon, we decided that living lakeside in Ajijic was what we wanted to do. The temperate climate, the large lake, the terrain, and the warmth of the Mexican people convinced us.

The malecon, Lake Chapala, Ajijic
The malecon, Lake Chapala, Ajijic

Like most reasonable people, we tried to plan for everything well ahead of our departure date. Before we left Ajijic on that first visit with Focus, we started the process for IMSS coverage, and eventually got our FM3s. Fortunately that occurred before the rules changed. Recently Julie Vargas, our pretty and capable facilitator, advised us that new regulations now require us to change to an FM2 status. But then you likely know that. Hey, this is Mexico.

Folks, I don’t handle major moves well. I believe it has to do with not having had a stable home life as a youngster. So be it. Still, I told myself to take on the transplanting process one final time. I’ve got to say it has been quite an adjustment; one I am still dealing with; one I do not expect to repeat.

OK, on to our move to Mexico.

While in Oregon, Barbara was tasked with getting our personal house in order: bank accounts, utility, telephone/TV service bills for the house, etc., and getting our bookkeeper set up to handle the payroll account for our Mexican restaurant business in Brookings, Oregon.

My assignment was to set about ensuring that our unsold beachfront house and restaurant would be properly maintained; also, that the house-sitter, Maryjane, a talented artist, was up to snuff on the little things that continuously happen to buildings on the coast, due to the salt-laden and blustery air.

FYI, when the house sells, we will have an estate sale, and the big items we wish to keep will be packed, hauled and stored by Strom-White Movers to our Ajijic home.

What vehicle to use for the trip? After much discussion, we decided to keep our 2001 Silverado 1500 model, with its enclosed camper shell. It only had 86,000 miles on it, and best of all, it allowed us to bring down our computers, printers, and sundry personal items. We couldn’t see subjecting a newer vehicle to the narrow cobblestone passages and topes of Ajijic. Nevertheless, for my tummy comfort, I purchased new black wheels (the latest fad) and new tires. I had the pickup gone through completely, fitting it with new spark plugs, ignition wires, hoses, brake assemblies, wiper blades, a thorough cleaning, and a rust-preventive painting of the undercarriage.

Not exactly our vehicle, but here's a 2001 Silverado 1500
Not exactly our vehicle, but here’s a 2001 Silverado 1500

I should mention that earlier, in a Guadalajara paper, we noticed an advertisement for legalizing vehicles for Mexico. Deciding that was a good idea, I contacted Bella Flores Exports in Riverside, California. The owner, David Flores, assured me he could take care of our needs. As one might expect, we had some concerns and questions that, hopefully, his answers would satisfy. That meant a lot of phone tag during the subsequent weeks, a bit frustrating, especially the time when we were told he’d call us back the next day and no call came. We later learned that he was in France negotiating a deal with Fiat and Renault to import cars into Mexico, much cheaper than bringing them in from the States, he informed me.

Anyway, when Flores claimed he could legalize our truck for Mexico for $1100 as opposed to the $3,000 it would cost if we did it after arriving in Ajiic, we said OK. Then he explained that our Chevy pickup had to be empty. That meant unloading it at daughter DeDe’s hilltop home in Jamul, California, 128 mostly freeway miles south of Bella Flores. We had no choice but to do so.

Meanwhile, we sent him the original pink slip for the Silverado, along with copies of our Oregon insurance papers, our drivers’ licenses, and a utility bill from our future home in Ajijic proving our Mexican residence. This all occurred weeks in advance of our planned departure date. It was during this period that the phone tag took place.

Per Flores’ instructions, we delivered our empty truck to the Riverside address on a Wednesday afternoon, only to find his office closed. Numerous other businesses were located in the building, so I talked to the receptionist in the downstairs lobby, and she contacted him by phone. Fifteen or so minutes later, Flores’ assistant arrived. The man was pleasant but had no specific answers to my questions. So my daughter and I waited another ten minutes for his boss’ arrival.

When Flores showed up, he had his assistant examine our truck while Flores filled out some papers.  He asked me what the amount of the fee was that he’d quoted to me on the phone. I told him $1,100. He gave me a look of doubt, and pulled out a sheet of paper with figures for different types of vehicles. The fee for my truck was $1,600. He apologized for any misunderstanding, and said he would waive the $150 he normally charged for his personal services, whatever that meant. I thanked him.

Already committed to the process, I signed the agreement. Then he told me how fortunate I was, as Mexican federal law required all vehicles to be “smog certified,” but that it was the individual Mexican state’s prerogative whether or not to require the certification. He said that Jalisco had decided to adopt the federal smog law on January 1st and that meant registered owners, many of whom he suggested would be caught unaware, would have to bring their vehicles up to standard at a cost of around $500. I thought the difference between $1,100 and 1,600 I was paying very interesting.

Next, he told me I could retrieve my Chevy pickup on Friday at 6 o’clock.

On that day, DeDe drove me to Riverside early to avoid the expected heavy traffic. We arrived in town at 3 o’clock. Thankfully, the weather was pleasant because we found ourselves waiting outside the Bella Flores office well into the dark hours, when my pickup was finally delivered. Flores had called earlier and said his hauler was delayed at the border. In a subsequent call around 7 o’clock, he said they were only 30 minutes away as they were in Colton, a nearby town. Actually, it was 90 minutes later.

Apparently, the actual reason for the delay was something else. In retrospect I think I know why, because later, Flores said the camper shell, considered an accessory, meant there would be duty fees attached. I remember when we dropped off the truck, the assistant checked it over for damages, et cetera. It is reasonable that he told Flores about the shell.  So, did Flores, for whatever reason, wish to avoid the extra fee, and have the shell removed and stored in Colton before hauling it to the border for the legalizing process? I think so. Likely the delay was because they were remounting the shell.

At this point I must jump to the present. Several days ago we met with Julie Vargas at her “satellite office” at the Chapala de Real Hotel. The purpose was to ensure there would be no problem picking up our Jalisco license plates for the Chevy truck. Boy, was I glad we did. Julie said there were several steps that had to be gone through, including getting a letter from the police clearing our vehicle, and then going to Guadalajara at 5:30 a.m., likely standing in line indefinitely, and signing papers and paying a fee. Gloria is handling all of that for us. Yes, more pesos left my wallet, but soon we will have our truck properly legalized. I don’t know why David Flores didn’t advise us about the subsequent steps and fees that would be required.

OK, back to our move to Mexico.

Early Saturday morning found DeDe, Barbara and me loading the truck, getting all of our stuff stashed securely. It took us a good hour. Yes, the warm weather had me swiping at my wet forehead.

Guess what? When I tried to close the rear hatch, it wouldn’t seal. More sweat beads dripped from me when I discovered why.

The camper shell was skewed nearly two inches forward on the truck’s bedsides. Obviously, it had been reset on the bed in the nighttime hours, and likely in a hurry. To get to the mounting bolts meant unloading the bed. That wasn’t about to happen.

DeDe gave me three bungee cords to keep the shell’s rear lid shut while in transit.

Securing the lid was a security issue and a minor inconvenience on our nightly stops, when I had to unload dog crates and food bowls. Oh, guess I forgot to mention that we brought along our three small dogs: Beau, a 10 year-old six pound Papillon; Teri, a 10 year-old 14 pound Papillon mix; and, Chico, a two year-old 16 pound Schnoodle (papa a Poodle/,mama a Schnauzer).

A last comment about the truck situation: when we unloaded it in Ajijic, I discovered that the brake light wires to the shell had not been reconnected, so the added safety feature was missing during the drive. Not critical; we did have the regular taillights that worked.

Had Flores told me about the shell being lifted off, however, I would have checked to see that it was mounted properly. I’d gone through the process before we left Brookings when I’d removed the shell to repaint the truck bed. I knew it had to be squarely mounted to ensure the rear lid would seal. Ah well.

When we left Jamul, we headed for Camp Verde, Arizona to pick up our new pet, a nine-week-old Doberman Pinscher with ears freshly cropped. Ouch! I found Thor online when we decided, because of all the horror stories about bad guys in Mexico, that we should have a dog specially bred for protection. What attracted us to the Arizona breeder was the size of their dogs. Thor is expected to reach 30 inches at the shoulders and weigh close to 130 pounds. I recently invested in a grain shovel.

Our four-legged security system, Thor, at four weeks
Our four-legged security system, Thor, at four weeks

We spent the next night, Sunday, our first with four dogs, in Rio Rico, a small town 14 miles north of the border. It was a lovely, pet friendly hotel. Barbara had spent much time searching out such inns along our planned route. What had made it difficult was her not knowing what nights we would be arriving where, due to the phone tags with Flores and being unable to learn the exact date for delivery/pick up of the truck until we were already heading south. It’s a two-day drive to Riverside from Oregon.

In fact, Barbara spent hours online searching pet-friendly websites, like bringfido.com, gringodogs.com, and others including hotels.com. What she found was all of them were out of date, and their website information inaccurate. For instance, when she contacted the listed hotels in Guaymas, she was told they didn’t accept pets.

Go figure.

Obviously, this entailed changing our planned itinerary once we crossed the border.

Our advice: contact the hotels directly to ensure accurate information if you intend to bring your pets.  I suspect they have different rules for high and low seasons. Barbara finally called a number listed on a website for a hotel and got hotels.com.  She had the representative actually call the hotels in Los Mochis and Mazatlan to make sure that they were in fact pet friendly. Our stays in both locations were as pleasant as one might expect, having four dogs to contend with, one a puppy that wasn’t about to be left alone.

Our biggest surprise, a pleasant one at that, was the actual crossing of the border. We had all our paperwork in hand ready to show to the authorities. As we wheeled up to the guard kiosks and observed the dark-clad troops with their automatic weapons slung from their shoulders, I prepared myself mentally for the unknown. I envisioned getting the scary red light, then unloading the truck, and showing proof of ownership papers for the dogs, their shot records indicating they’d been properly inoculated within the past ten days, and that nine-week old Thor was three months old (the information about dogs needing to be three months old was confusing. As a precaution, the “dobie” people had pre-dated Thor’s whelping date).

Perhaps it was the holographic decal in the upper right corner of the windshield or maybe our rather non-descript and tightly loaded truck, but they merely glanced at us as the green light flashed. Our travails with Bella Flores had been worthwhile.

We were waved through!

A, the charm of crossing the USA-Mexico border.
A, the charm of crossing the USA-Mexico border.

Not convinced of our good fortune, I drove several kilometers, continuously checking the side-view mirrors for the policia and the federales before I accepted reality and found my breathing returning to normal.

Because of the pet-friendly hotel fiasco (finding a place to stay), the day we drove to Los Mochis found us riding along for nine plus hours. I had planned to be on the road for a maximum five hours because of the dogs. Thankfully, our pets put up with the rather cramped space on a blanket laid over suitcases behind us. We kept the extended cab’s rear and side windows open along with the AC fan for the entire trip

We used only the toll roads when available—one glimpse of the free (libramiento) roads quickly had us shelling out the pesos at the tollbooths. The fees varied at each one, and I gave up trying to reason why. All of the attendants were pleasant.

The route south was easy to follow, until we left Mazatlan. Ongoing roadwork had me missing the dirt transition lane (poor signage, plus I was behind a dump truck and couldn’t see the road ahead very well) to the toll road. We ended up in Concordia about half a marathon’s distance east of Mazatlan. It was a fringe benefit for me, as the small town, noted for its furniture makers, many of them of French descent, is where my father was born in 1911.

A bit of traffic in Guadalajara
A bit of traffic in Guadalajara

The downside of the scenic detour was it used up a critical hour, as I had planned to arrive in Guadalajara before the peak traffic hour. We hit it at five o’clock.

Aiee chihuahua! Never again.

About jesswaid

Currently, I write police procedural novels with the stories taking place in Hollywood during the early 1960s; a period when I was a street cop there. I've moved to Mexico to be closer to my hobby of studying Mexican history. My friend and fellow author, Professor Michael Hogan, is my mentor. I am planning to write a three-part epic story that takes place in the mid-nineteenth century. What has inspired me was hearing about Los Ninos Heroes, martyrs of the Battle of Chapultepec. Also, my father was born in Concordia, Mexico and knowing his family history is an added incentive.

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