Gary’s Blog: Getting through Mexico

October 1, 2014

From: Gary

Morning,

Sitting in a Hostel in David Panama, the journey pretty much over..

Today will be doing the run around to get the truck out of the customs lot, have to go here and there and back again, for paper work and paying..

but we should be out by tomorrow morning, and on our way up into the mountains, the last 100 km of the trip to the target area..

Today I am going to write mostly about the trip through Mexico.. as I have been too busy driving etc. to blog until now…

 

We crossed Los Indios Free Trade bridge, finally, after over a two month wait for paperwork.  And, as Tami blogged earlier, it was hell on the American side.  In retrospect, I think the American official was angry because it was pretty obvious that we were escaping America, and his family had likely taken similar risks to get into the USA…But we did get past him and his overly officious attitude and threats.. thanks to some serious thinking and doing months earlier on my part..

The Mexican side was a relief in comparison, but we ran out of daytime thanks to the bullshit on the American side, and spent the night in a hotel just over the river and past the border offices…  In the morning everything was wet from rain, and I had only gotten about three hours sleep before we started off again, driving for the first time in my life on Mexican highways…  We ended up getting turned around in the first city, and I pulled over to ask directions, but before I could even get stopped, a guy and his wife pulled up asking if I was lost?  I told him where we were heading and he said follow me, and guided us back into the city and got us on the right road, then pulled over and wanted his wife to take photos of the truck and us…

His name was Isais, and he was happy to have gone ten km out of his way to help us, and he and his wife waved as we drove off..  Tami was astounded… that we had been helped in seconds without even asking..  and the guy had stopped traffic in Mexican style so we could get turned around, she was laughing as we took up four lanes and made good our redirection with cars stopped to give us room…  Definitely a mini adventure for her…

After that we had to navigate past two towns the truckers had warned me not to even think about going through, even though they were on our required route…  We skirted them, by going an alternate route, but I had to stop and ask directions a couple times to accomplish this due to the lack of road signs etc…  After we got to the Hostel in Panama, I learned from another tourist, that two American friends had tried to go through that area, and had come upon another pair of Americans walking down the side of the road who had just had their car stolen at gun point.. They decided to continue, and ran into a Mexican in a car who talked to them and said: Americans huh? and instantly got on his cell phone as they drove off.. They realized it was a set up, and turned around in a hurry, while being shot at…  and managed to escape, and find the alternate route and finally make it through..  I felt lucky and thankful to the Central American Truckers who had warned me specifically not to go through the towns, that they were Cartel owned… Speaking Spanish, and knowing who to talk to had undoubtedly saved everything Tami owned… I drove truck for years in the US, and knew the truckers would know the reality.. All along our trip they proved to be our best source of info…

Our Biggest problems in Mexico were first navigation, the road signage was almost non-existent, and most often signs only listed towns that were neither on the map, nor on the list of required towns that we had to pass through..  Which meant we ended up driving through cities with narrow traffic choked streets, trying to find our way through by compass direction from the sun, in a truck we couldn’t turn around.. But again I was asking directions and got help from people who drove out of their way to lead us…  The worst was Tampico on the coast, which was our safety goal according to the truckers.. I ended up realizing that we had to cross the bridges over the river, and that one needed to head for  the bridge however possible..

In the desert area ahead of Tampico, we stopped to buy some farm cheese from a street vendor in a little town out in the middle of nowhere, and the vendor told me that two policemen had been murdered by the cartel that same week in that town..  We drove past the police station.  It was abandoned…

Our whole trip through eastern Mexico running the length of the gulf, some 1200 miles according to the truckers, we never saw another foreigner.. It was a Gringo Desert. Sad,  with the hotels pretty much empty, and many of them boarded up due to lack of tourists..  Everybody was friendly and helpful. People were constantly taking photos of the tuck, and the Federales were professional and friendly, and loved the truck and what we were doing… They laughed that it was a woman who owned an army truck, and that she didn’t speak Spanish etc… and everyone of them waved happily as we drove off…

In the next major coastal city after Tampico, Vera Cruz? we got into the usual city mess, trying to find the bridge, and missed a turn, and ended up trapped by a city cop who dreamed up a bullshit infraction and basically extorted us out of $200…  Then he stopped traffic, so we could get turned around, and one block back, then over the bridge… Tami was livid….  I thought it was a good lesson for her about third world reality, but I felt sorry for the Mexicans who have to live with crooked cops every day of their lives..

The US government has spent millions trying to help clean up the border crossings etc. of corruption…   From what I learned and saw on the trip, it was money wasted..  There’s only two ways to stop it…  Air strikes on the border offices, or insist on a reduction of paperwork and criteria to sane enough levels that it’s not used as leverage to extort people…  Basically what is going on, is that there are so many bullshit requirements, that people crossing, citizens or truckers are spending an entire day, often two, to drive across two sides of a line, and costs in the hundreds of dollars for all the paperwork, and no shortage of officials looking for imaginary infractions with which to extort…  Basically all the major road transport for Central America is being held up at every border for highway robbery, and so slowing down the entire national economies, so that office drones can have jobs filling out reams of paperwork, and extort people in the process…  Usually it takes longer to do the paperwork, than to drive across the entire country… and then they only give you a certain number of hours to get out of the country as a trucker…  so you are always driving tired, trying to make the next border, and start the stupid games all over again..  

After we crossed into Guatemala, we got caught up in a highway blockage done by striking workers for about three hours, Traffic backed up for at least 20 miles, and no police removal of the blockage…  This slowed us down and when we got to the El Salvador border we were fined $100 for being late..

 Luckily we were using paid border assistants, working in pairs, helping run paperwork, who knew the ropes, they were expensive, but invaluable.. and they called ahead to each next border and had a guy waiting for us…  In El Salvador we had seven hours to cross the country, and got across the border so late that I drove until midnight in a rain storm on winding mountain roads with the truck having ancient headlight technology…  and through five mountain tunnels by basically following a trucker who knew the route and the curves, and who was loaded enough to travel at our speed,  he also used his turn signals to telegraph curves ahead to me in the dark and rain..  it was extremely stressful and dangerous…  but we made it through, and avoided an $1100 late fine…

At the border with Honduras, we picked up a pair of brothers who ran paperwork and got us through all the officials trying to extract from us, and they rode with us across Honduras to deal with police checkpoints…  Honduras was my biggest worry for good reason,  and they got us through for less than the usual extortion published on line, and also got some screwed up paperwork fixed to prevent problems farther south… It was quite a run across Honduras, with four people in the cab with only two bucket seats, we hadn’t had a bath in days due to the time limits etc., and were glad the windshield opened up on the truck for the guys sake…  It took four hours to cross the Coastal section of Honduras, with me dodging thousands of potholes, shifting the truck transmission under Tami’s legs up on the dash by gripping the shifting stick about half way down, and the two brothers looking like a couple of gay pirates trying to sit on one bucket seat together… it was quite the adventure and Tami really appreciated those guys….

Surprisingly, the worst was yet to come…   But it wasn’t in Nicaragua… We managed to do that fairly well in spite of having to go through part of Managua and over a mountain range due to the way the main highway was built, Nicaragua was very nice, and I thought we were past the worst of the trip..

We got to the Costa Rica border in the afternoon, and ran right into a trap…  A border official claimed we couldn’t go through with Tami’s stuff as personal items, because we had some tools on our list, stuff normal for guys doing hobbies in the US, and some gardening tools, and we didn’t have the required box truck that could be sealed for commercial trucking, so he charged us import duty and made us wait over a weekend to pay the duty..  The duty was about $160, but with all the incurred costs, everything added up to about $900, which I learned from an upset employee was a scam they were doing to non-Latin foreigners, any way possible, and confiscating vehicles etc…   And causing them days of delay at best…  basically infringing on right of passage treaties with the US and Canada, and running up bills on their citizens…  Here at the Hostel we ran into an American who had the exact same game played on him a year ago, coming through with a small pickup truck, and he had to threaten to dump all his stuff in a pile and drive off….

I got the name and Cedula number of the official running the scam, and we will file a denuncia with the Costa Rican government, but after living here 18 years, I know that the legal system is about equal justice for all, unless you happen to be white….  Costa Rica has an attitude problem and has had for generations, where the national mindset is to screw over foreigners, anyway they can think of… This is why thousands of long term foreign residents are leaving each year now…  including myself… after 18 years of putting up with their wink wink nod nod justice and rip off games….  I need to get going this morning so will have to finish this later, but want  to end by stating that the only cure for this will be word getting out about the problems and Americans, Canadians, etc., boycotting tourism, retirement and investment in Costa Rica, until they hurt enough to knock it off… personally I wont buy a banana from them…

Morning, The next day…  we paid the duty on truck, trailer and Tami’s stuff yesterday, and today we go pick up the truck and the dogs, pay the hostel bill, and off into the mountains…

I wanted to mention, that all these Latin American countries have a screw foreigners mindset..  I’ve had it explained to me by locals as far south as Peru…

Or as Paul, the guy we met here at the hostel explained it, you can’t live here without hating them… which is sad…  

 

To be continued in a new blog when we get internet access again…….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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