Welcome to the Mainland…
“Yes, and there are actually two companies you can choose from.”
That was the answer given me by the young police officer serving as our first point of contact at port when attempting to quickly hop on the ferry to Mazatlan.
“There,” he said, “and there,” pointing at a couple of buildings beyond.
“Leaving today?” I wondered.
He nodded in agreement and sent me off to the opposite side of the complex, another building entirely and told me that’s where I could arrange for the proper paperwork that would allow us to transport our old 1978 Volkswagen Bus to the Mainland.
“Real Mexico,” you might call it. It’s both exciting and hilarious, and so we head to that building.
“Hey buzz come with me,” I mutter, falling out of the Bus as my oldest son, Tristan, climbs over water bottles and out the front door to follow suit.
“Everything is good,” the government official says from behind the glass, referring to the various myriad of documents I was required to show.
“Except, you need copies of these all.”
Luckily, the 20 minute drive back to La Paz in our old VW Bus–which likely would have left us happy to stay at an RV park–wasn’t necessary. The clerk sent us around the corner to their internal office and told me to make a copy there.
Tristan and I fumble around a bit trying to figure out which of the many official looking doors we were supposed to be opening, and an armed policeman emerges from one of them.
He’s carrying a rather large rifle, yet holds the door for us.
I was certain in that moment that he was holding the door for us to enter into what turned out to be a perfectly normal situation, but I won’t lie…the main reason we walked in there was because a guy with something akin to a machine gun was holding the door open.
There were three cubicles in the room, the door closed behind us, the officer now gone. A man was speaking on the phone in Spanish, muy rapidly I might add, and the other two were empty. I saw a scanner/printer in one part of the room so I went to look at how it worked, assuming I should make the copies myself.
“One moment my friend,” he yelled from his cubicle. He was serious but jovial. It took awhile, but he managed to make a copy of my passport, tourist card and proof that I owned that old rusting “Komb”i I claimed as my home. All the while, he’s on the phone having what I assume to be a heated customer service call, en Espanol.
“Is it okay?” He showed me the copies and I agreed that they looked fine. Kind of funny considering he works for the same organization that requires me to have copies, I thought, but then again, would the DMV or Border Patrol in the U.S. ever provide you a copying machine?
“Four pesos, amigo,” he said between breathes in his other phone call. I shuffled around in my pockets, producing one, then three…
“That’s good,” he took the money and–still talking– returned to his cubicle.
Tristan and I returned to the first window. Signs stated that hats and sunglasses and cell phones weren’t appropriate, but instead of reading like threats against terrorists they simply stated it wasn’t polite given the nature of the transaction.
The official behind the window, still pleasant, looked at the copies I handed him.
“Bueno?” I asked.
He shook his head. Apparently one of the copies was slightly covering up my signature. Another trip to the cubicles.
I opened the door, giving Tristan the nod to go in first. Classic “be polite and let your son suss out the situation” type of move.
He was still on the phone call but ended it when we walked in.
“Mas?” he asked. His face was dripping with stern but his voice like a Sunday at the beach.
I nodded and put the papers carefully in place on the scanner. He pressed the button. The phone rang again, and as its his job to do, he answered.
During that next length of time–and remember this is long before any chance of a ferry crossing happens–I found myself in the most unfortunate of situations.
Unable to get the copier to do what he wanted (that is, copy something) I heard this government official, annoyed at perhaps the faulty copier but I’m certain the person on the phone, hang up and then utter “mother fucker,” beneath his breath but loud enough to assure me this was his normal language.
And just as I was smiling, almost about to laugh allowed, feeling so comfortable in such an interestingly odd situation, a very slender, strapping young lass of a woman came through the door.
Oh and I do mean that. She was 5’whatever taller than all three of us boys and put together like a mannequin. She began speaking in that fast type of Spanish that my ears can’t even begin to pretend they are spectator sports to…and she was not in a good mood.
I noticed the two braids that held back the rest of her jet black hair and thankfully so, because they through me off course enough to immediately stop the chuckle that was desperate to arrive from my throat.
She seemed to yell at the other man a bit. He genuinely laughed after everything either one of them said. She remained sincerely unhappy. My desire to speak fluent Spanish rose to a high.
Eventually though, Tristan and I had our copies. We secured the vehicle permit. The hours grew. Renée and the younger two boys in a metal can with no AC save what the windows rolled down could provide.
We roll back up to the original inspection station. This time it’s a woman who doesn’t speak English. I don’t have to ask my translator, Tristan, for help. I know what she’s saying.
We look in the back of the Bus. She asks me what we’re doing. I say “campiamento” and she looks at me strangely. “Camping,” I try and repeat in English.
She laughs and, smiling at my niños, waves us through.
Sadly, this is only the beginning. Suddenly our world of friendly enough Mexican officials who can speak English disappears and suddenly we find ourselves in a parking lot with multiple options.
The family still in the Bus, no AC, a blazing orange day of an April afternoon, I look around attempting to decipher the best course of action.
My attempts at Spanish with two individuals, a trucker and a maintenance man, failed, I yell for Tristan’s help again.
He follows me into what appears to be the most likely place to get a ticket onto a ferry.
We walk into an excruciatingly small building where three Mexican men sit in chairs, watching soap operas, clearly truckers. Behind glass windows are at least five women, employees of TMC, the “truckers” ferry that goes to Mazatlan.
There are two ferry companies indeed, just as the original official had told us. But only one was running today. And it was for truckers.
Tristan standing beside me, I sit in the chair nearest the door. Every time it opens, it pushes against him and bumps the corner of my seat. A Mexican trucker comes in, hands one of the women a slip of paper, and either sits down or walks back out. They don’t wait in line, and there is one, they just do it.
The line itself is made up of three men. I turn to the man beside me, mustering up the courage to attempt my version of Spanish on him.
“Está en la fila,” which I believe means “are you in line,” but given my attempts at pronunciation, for all I know, could mean “are you a chicken?” or “would you like to step outside and settle this with knives?”
He nodded at me.
We both looked away, and I decided that trying once more, in a different way, might be the best course of action.
“Are you waiting?” I know I said it correctly, and in Spanish. He leaned toward me. I tried again, this time simply saying, “You wait?” as though speaking to him in a caveman form of his own language would work better.
He leaned closer still. I looked to Tristan for advice on what I may have said incorrectly. He was on his phone.
“You don’t speak Spanish, do you?” the man tilted his head back and smiled.
Tristan burst out in laughter.
The guy then told me to go to the counter. The woman behind sent me to a place to get a ticket I needed before she could talk to me any further. The guy giving out the ticket sent me to another place where a man who spoke English well enough could be bothered to give me a ticket and send me back to the woman who was happy to take the ticket and then tell me to sit down.
When I didn’t gather that information the first time though, she was happy to say it a bit more emphatically and with a pointing of a finger to a seat.
Spanish soap operas were on the TV. My family, I assume cranky kids and all, were in that hot VW Bus now for three and a half hours. I was falling asleep in my chair even as now dozens more truckers filled a room not nearly large enough for a six pack of sombreros.
4:30 rolled around, the ferry leaving at 5, and nearly the last trucker stood at the window, scratching his ass and annoyed at how long everything was taking.
4:38 and he was gone. He’d only been there a few minutes.
Going on four hours and (did I mention my family likely pissed off in the Volkswagen?) I still didn’t know for sure what was happening.
4:42 Tristan comes in. “Can I help?” He’s a good boy, and he asked in earnest.
“We’ll all you’ve done so far as my translator has been to sit on your phone,” I scoffed.
He walked back out of the room, now just me and a single other trucker.
4:48 Renée comes in.
I don’t have any answers.
4:52 Renée walks out.
With only five minutes to spare, and I’m falling asleep in my chair here, the last of the five women behind the glass left calls me up. She ends up knowing a little English. I pay her with a credit card and she points in a general direction of a boat.
“Allí?” I ask, pointing beyond all of the buildings I’d suffered through hilariously today.
“No,” she shakes her head and laughs to herself. “Ahhh,” she pronounces the first syllable slowly, “yah,” or “allá”.
We end up on that boat. An old Bus on a ship full of truckers and sailors.
A cook tries to get us to rile up his boss. His boss gives our youngest some playing cards. We sleep with the top popped between a big rig and it’s all-night-long motor humming and a few Mexican travelers who were permitted access significantly more easily than we were. As day breaks, old men bid us a good morning and then ignore us as I would expect.
It’s supposed to be an 18 hour trip. We wake up 15 hours later at the harbor.
Bienvenudos a Mazatlan.
And welcome to the Mainland.