La Paz Ferry Terminal, Baja California Sur, Mexico. Wednesday, 12:23 p.m.
“You need to go back to Tijuana and get your tourist card.”
Beads of sweat formed on my forehead and I could feel the sticky,
moisture-laden air of Southern Baja shroud around me like a hot, wet
blanket. I couldn’t get a lungful of air, it was to thick. My anxiety
through the roof.
“Señorita, that’s more than a thousand miles away, is there anything
else I can do?” I asked in my most polite tone of voice.
“No.” she replied, and shut the window.
And there I was, hot, sweaty, and utterly defeated. When i crossed the
Tijuana border in early November my adrenaline was through the roof. I
approached the customs agent, was flagged down to have my vehicle
scanned, and less than 5 minutes later I was waved on. All good I
thought. No one checked my passport. No one checked my driver’s
license. No one checked anything. I was across international lines
with nothing more than a smile and a heavy right foot. I flew past
Tijuana, and was in Ensenada in no time.
Fast forward to 4 weeks and 1,100 miles South of California and I’m stuck.
I did not get a tourist card in Tijuana. Without a tourist card I
could not get my vehicle import permit. Without that, I could not get
on the ferry with my car and cross from La Paz to Mazatlan (the port
in the mainland of Mexico).
After a quick and fruitless visit at the immigration office in
downtown La Paz, I was accepting the reality that I would have to
drive the entire Baja Peninsula again, in reverse, to get my tourist
I felt like crying. And I did. Hot, salty tears formed at the corners
on my eyes and fell onto the hood of my car. They made small circles
on the dusty paint.
I cant believe I have to go back. I cant believe I have to do this. My
options were limited — fly from La Paz to TJ, get my stamp and fly
back, but leave my car somewhere with the contents of my life
Or — I beat feet. I suck it up, and drive 1,100 miles
North and get my stamp.
I met a Dutch guy who had the same problem. I met a Canadian couple in
the same boat. I talked to almost a dozen traveller’s who crossed the
border into Mexico and were not asked to show anything, and crossed
international lines with nothing more than a wave.
In Mexico, there is a 75km “no-hassle” zone. From the border to 75km,
you don’t need a tourist card or a TIP (temporary import permit) for
A week after I crossed I saw at the 28th parallel in Guerrero Negro
(the dividing line between Baja Norte and Baja California Sur) and was
talking to new friends at a bar. I told them what had happened at the
border, how I crossed without even a glance at my papers.
“It happens all the time,” they said. “You can get everything in La Paz.”
No worries, I thought. Wrong.
The officer at the immigration office informed me that they do not
stamp passports, therefore I could not get my TIP, and therefore I
could not board the ferry to Mazatlan.
My new Dutch friend and I weighed the options. We mutually decided
this sucked. We also decided that the best course was to not complain,
and haul ass back to TJ.
Ill spare you with what its like to drive 1,100 miles in less than 30
hours (oh, my radio decided to die that day too, so most of the drive
was in silence, only the hum of my tires to drown out my own
thoughts). But it sucked. Its sucked bad. We left in a small convoy of
my vehicle and my new friend’s Toyota, two other Dutch women also in
the same boat tagging along.
From La Paz, to Santa Rosalia, to Guerrero Negro, to El Rosario to
finally Ensenada and the border. We stopped only to get gas, quick
tacos and for one 6-hour nap.
I made it to the border at about 9:00 p.m. Friday, having left only 30
But I wasn’t in the clear. The U.S. had no record of me leaving the
country. Mexico had no record of me entering. I was an illegal alien
in Mexico. Pulling up to the customs agent the same beads of sweat the
formed in my skin in La Paz re-appeared. I was freaking. Doomsday
scenarios played out in my mind.
What if they wont let me cross? Is this home now? Shit.
The agent more or less believed my story, and apparently an American
passport is a powerful thing. I crossed back in San Diego a few hours
And that’s where I am at the moment. Re-grouping. Re-supplying, and
getting some new registration for my car. *Side note– the lady in La
Paz would not take a notarized bill of sale as proof that I owned my
car (in Rhode Island, you are not issued a “pink slip” for vehicles
older than 2001, my Forester is a 2000). So I’m having to smog my car,
which has never been smogged, and then register it in California.
But, the car is in the shop, and I know this will all be funny and a
great story in a while. For now, I’m bummed, but making progress. I am
also infinitely grateful to have friends in San Diego who are hosting
me again. The Anderson’s opened their doors to me at a moments notice
and made sure I had a place to crash when I was bleary-eyed and at my
wits end. To Matt and Lyndsey, thank you, so much.
Ross Ruddell, 29
San Diego, California