Note: any Spanish dialogue has been converted into roughly equivalent English.
Step 1: The Crossing
When you’re attempting a border crossing for the first time, don’t use Google Maps to tell you which way to go.
Noah and I learned this lesson one bright and increasingly-hot morning as we are pulling away from our last cheap gas in Laredo. “OK Google, what’s the fastest route to Monterrey, Mexico?” A map appeared, clear as day, showing our quick three-hour route through the border crossing to Monterrey. Add in some time for customs and the temporary import of the car and we’re in Monterrey for a late lunch. Easy.
“Merge left onto I-35 South”
Light traffic this morning – seems a little odd. A sign appears: Authorized Vehicles Only. That’s not us. We must have missed a sign. Let’s loop back around and try again. Only trucks on the road this morning. I guess they must be taking all of the American jobs down to Mexico and bringing back all of the Trump ties. I don’t think about NAFTA often enough.
Sign appears again: Authorized Vehicles Only – Bridge IV. That’s not what we want. Everything we’ve read says Bridge II. Google has betrayed us.
A reroute to Bridge II adds about an hour onto our trip – fair enough. After we cruise away from the US, Noah notes that as we pass through the Mexican side of the border, there is a green light to go ahead and a red light if you have been chosen for further inspection. Guess which one we got.
“Is this your car?” the Mexican customs agent asks.
“Um, yes,” Noah opens the glove box and I provide the title.
“is there any alcohol with you? Arms? Tobacco?”
“Just some Kentucky bourbon.” I begin to pull the three half-full bottles from the trunk and lay them on the curb.
She looks through the trunk, pulling bags ands towel (poorly) stuffed in each corner. “jusrt clothes?” she asks. I nod.
“Enjoy your trip,” she says and hands back my license and title. Thank God. I get into the car and put it into drive. There’s a slap on the trunk.
“Hey, don’t forget your alcohol.”
Step 2: The Aduana
Now in Mexico, we have to make sure that the car is street-legal. Some guys who claimed to be with the Aduana offered to show us the spot to temporarily import the car for noting more than a cold Coca-Cola but some giant blue signs pointing the way did the job.
There are four main steps to temporarily importing a vehicle into Mexico:
- Registering yourself to drive as a tourist (FMT)
- Purchasing temporary car insurance (more expensive than you might anticipate)
- Getting a temporary import permit for the car
- Getting all of this copied, reviewed and paid for.
After less than an hour of head nodding, we had our shiny copper-colored decal for El Tiburon and were back on the road.
Step 3: Driving
We had been on Mexico 85 maybe 30 minutes when a Policia Federal came up the shoulder in the wrong direction with his lights on. Odd. No sooner had he passed us than he did a 180-degree turn back onto the interstate to pull us over. We hadn’t even had time to f*** up yet! I roll down the window as he walks up.
“You have your permits?”
“Yes, sir.” I hand him our papers as Noah hands them off.
“El Tiburon?” The officer raises an eyebrow.
“Yeah,” I laugh.
I mumbled through some response about how we thought it would be fun to pain the car like a shark and that we were sporting shark shirts provided by a friends brand. The officer – a reasonable man – is unmoved but tries to help me out.
“Are you surfers?”
“No,” I smile again.
“Ok,” he says, clearly disappointed at the lack of substance behind our automotive antics. He reaches out to shake my hand. “Have a good trip.”
Relieved beyond measure, we put on the last remnants of a Laredo radio station and continue down the highway.
Author’s note: as of the completion of this post, Noah and I have been pulled over three times. Each time there was no infraction, just curiosity about what the heck we’re doing in a shark car. Each time, the officer has ended with a hand shake and sent us on our way.