The Big, Bad Border: Crossing Into Mexico

Have you ever driven a car and had police lights turn on behind you? Do you know that adrenaline rush you get when you think you’re being pulled over, but really you’re not even speeding and they’re just in a rush to get to Tim Horton’s or something? That’s me at border crossings.  I’m not doing anything illegal. I have nothing to hide. Yet I practically shake with adrenaline.

With all the horror stories you hear about the drug war and violence going on in the border states – not to mention all the shit we got from our friends and family about even considering driving through Mexico – our level of nervousness prior to crossing from Arizona into Sonora was through the roof.

20140212 Entering ArizonaPicturesque Arizona

Nadia and I arrived in Tucson, Arizona the night before we planned to cross the border. We wanted to give ourselves the evening to make sure the Jeep was organized and to pick up any last minute supplies, since we’d be heading for the border crossing in Nogales before any stores opened in the morning.

We arrived in Nogales at sunrise. We rolled into a gas station to fill up and buy some tape to stick our flag to the back window (we’d made a Canadian flag out of construction paper the previous night to ensure people didn’t mistake us for Gringos – sorry, you guys have a bad rap).

20140213 Canadian flagRepresentin’ the Great White North

Gas was the cheapest we’d seen so far at $3.05 USD per gallon (about $0.80 per litre). Coming from Yellowknife, where gas was $1.38, that is fucking mind blasting. We filled our tank on cheap gas, taped our Canadian flag to the back window, and we were off.

The windy road leading to the crossing was virtually empty. We cruised up to the gate, got a green light and just like that we were in Mexico; it was just that simple. I couldn’t believe it; it was the complete opposite of what we’d expected (cue scene of Mary-Louise Parker crossing the Tijuana border in Weeds).

20140213 Nogales crossingThe surprisingly quiet border crossing

The pace changed from slow and calm to rushed and aggressive pretty damn fast. The drivers in Mexico have a move it or lose it type of attitude towards driving, so it’s either keep up or wait in line. We had one last thing to do before we could freely travel in Mexico – we needed to import our vehicle and purchase some tourist visas.

Any time that we gained from the easy crossing at Nogales was lost at the second checkpoint. With multiple copies of our documents on hand, Nadia and I thought we had our bases covered. Apparently, however, there is a correct and incorrect way (we had the latter) to copy your documents for customs. So, we paid the 25 or so pesos to have our documents properly copied, purchased our vehicle permit ($550 USD) and tourist visas (25 USD) and went on our way. At the second crossing we went through the Nothing to Declare lane without delay and went on our way (green light again).

It took such a long time to do so little. The process at the second checkpoint was slow and uneventful; but so fucking rewarding – we were now officially free to travel throughout Mexico for the next six months.

20140213 Driving with a dogWe made it to Mexico and Sophie couldn’t be more thrilled!

See how our drive through “drug country” went and where we spent our first night south of the border.

LJ is a heavy equipment operator and musician. Born in Winnipeg, MB and raised in Yellowknife, NT, he’s since lived and performed throughout western Canada. He loves craft beer, crime novels and a good jam session. An avid fisherman, expert barbecuer and novice surfer, he’s currently enjoying all Mexico’s west coast has to offer.

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