The car battery was dead when we tried to head to La Paz, again, so we switched from Dad’s RAV 4 to our trusty and huge Dodge truck. Add buying a new car battery to the day’s agenda. We arrived at the Immigration office a few minutes after they opened. The office is a small white building with the a band of red and a band of green about a third of the way up its exterior. The Mexican flag. Inside are tightly packed rows of chairs, three windows for officers, a bathroom, a sign-in sheet and a number dispenser like the butcher used to have when I was a kid. The space gives the impression that desperate people spend hours waiting their turn for assistance. We’ve (so far) never waited more than five minutes and haven’t even had a chance to use the bathroom. There was one guy in line ahead of us. That was good since I left all the papers in the truck. Burt ran back to get them while I stared at TV. A Mexican version of the US’s The View was broadcasting. It’s called the HOTTIES. I kid you not. It’s a morning news program with a panel of five young women. Okay, maybe I misread the headline and they were talking about a band or porn stars. But I’m pretty sure I read the name of the show. Before I could figure it out Burt returned and it was our turn.
So far all our paper work appears to be in order. The officer, different than the one of two days ago but equally friendly, found our accounts on their computer system, so I had successfully applied on-line. Then she reviewed our paper forms and all the copies with us. She helped us fill in a few blank spots and was pleased to see we had three copies of the bank receipt for paying for the visas. She handed us a receipt saying we’d made the application and told us we should hear something in ten days. Ten calendar days is the 8th of December. Ten business days is the start of the holiday season. It’s out of our hands now. We made our submittal in ten minutes.
Before we reached the car I received two official emails, one for each of us, saying our visas were in process and they gave a link to our personal account where we could check the status of our application. I will try to avoid checking it several times a day. In college I would check my P.O. box several times a day even though I knew the mail only came in once a day. This compulsive mail checking developed because a friend would slip fun notes in the box’s slot and I never knew when one would arrive. I never shook the habit even when the note fairy graduated. Texting and all the other modes of communication we have today have ruined the note leaving habits of our past. Even Mexico is sending me email. Burt texts.
I hope we did it all properly. Time to start enjoying our season here. We stopped in at the old municipal market and picked up some fruits and I bought a liquado of strawberries, papaya, milk, honey, and ginger. Liquados are the original smoothie. My server accidentally made twice what I paid for but she gave it all to me anyway but only with a small cup. I drank and she refilled. Burt bought two bottles of local honey. The honey is the color of black tea. Then we headed to Soriana a modern and enormous grocery store and department store all in one. Sorianas are like Walmart Superstores with appliances. At Soriana I found Splenda for my ant eradication program. Reputable online sources say Splenda kills ants. Glad I don’t eat it. And finally we went to an AutoZone and bought a new battery for dad’s car. He’ll be here in two weeks. I’m sure he’ll appreciate a functioning vehicle.
Now we are home and collapsed in bed. It’s warm. Ants are around but their numbers are greatly reduced. Birding plans tonight.
So there’s this thing I wanted to tell you about but so much time has passed it seems I should move on. So, next time I’m wondering what to write about remind me to describe Jack’s house to you. Burt calls it a unibomber cabin. He’s got the drift of it but Jack’s place is more interesting because he’s not intentionally leaving behind modern conveniences. Jack’s home is magnificently uninviting and it has water and electricity. I’d like to capture the sensations of visiting in writing. Meanwhile, here we are in Mexico.
After leaving Jack’s place in the Sierra foothills we’d planned to visit San Francisco area friends. The vast and thick plume of smoke from the Camp Fire forced us to keep moving south to look for clearer air. Smoke is nothing to mess around with when you have a heart issue and when you’ve already been exposed to severe concentrations in the past (Hello, Montana?). It was sad to bail on friends but bail we did. This brought us to the central coast for a few days of pre-Mexico chores and an early Thanksgiving feast. It was smokey but not deadly in the Paso Robles area. I was irritable. My constant state these days. Backache, eye blob, trumpitis and the hot flashes have returned. Our friends were nice to me, anyway. I dragged everyone out to see Bohemian Rhapsody and it did wonders for us all. It was a fun movie even if it strains credibility.
Finally we were on the road to Mexico. Then we realized we had more chores and it was Thanksgiving week in LA. We were slowed by our desperate need for new batteries for the gNash solar system and tires, too. This put us in the deadly no man’s land between Bakersfield and LA. The Tejon Pass area. OMG. An hour north of LA on the Monday before turkey day and the roads were full of semis all looking for a place to pull over and make their required rest stops. We drove ina circle for an hour. There was a Walmart we almost dared becuase teh manager said it ‘might be okay.’ They only rented the lot. Dispersed signs said otherwise when we finally spotted them. Rather than dare the LA spaghetti we headed back NORTH to a Pilot truck stop. It was full at 5:00 PM. We went to another huge vacant parking lot. Abandoned mall. More signs forbidding parking. Burt was tired. I was my usual crabby-assed self. Finally we decided to hit a state park about 15 miles west of the freeway. We arrived around 8PM. It was dark. There was room. We were up at 4 AM and on the road towards Potrero State Park. That place was empty when we arrived but due to fill by the next day. An entire family tree had rented the place for Thanksgiving. That disaster was barely averted. A day later and our usual spot to hang before we cross the border would have been full, too. We learned to avoid LA during the holidays after a couple of bruising trips early on. Ever since we’d made an effort to enter Mexico from points further east but we forgot there was a reason and it wasn’t merely because we happened to be there. Maybe we’ll remember this time. LA and San Diego and all points in between from the Sunday before Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day should be avoided at all costs. State parks on the coast are filled months in advance. And they cost too much, too.
My mood lightened as soon as we crossed the border and then a day later Burt was sick. He dragged his ass and our home down the peninsula in 5 days instead of 3. I did offer to drive but the thought of me one-eyed driving on the shoulder-less transpeninsula highway was an idea neither of us could stomach. The extra days gave us time in La Paz to start our visa process so it worked out brilliantly.
And so here we are. The gNach is on her spot in El Pescadero. Ants swarmed in as soon as we landed. Burt’s been unpacking these last two days. I have torn the trailer apart rooting out the ants. I found an open bag of raisins and a withered fig that they were using as their home bases. All food is tightly sealed and all crumbs swept away. Hopefully they will migrate on their own. When I’m not spraying the army of hormigas with white vinegar I am rounding up the paper work to finish the next stage of our visa application process.
Here’s an abridged version of the visa process: 1. Apply for the visa in the US. This means show up to a consulate with passports and many copies of evidence that you can afford to retire in Mexico. Bring photos. 2. Cross the border and make sure you fill out your new visa forms correctly showing you are seeking residency. You now have thirty days to finish the next stage. Go! 3. Freak out when you realize two weeks of national holiday and a changing of the federal government all occur within your 30 days. 4. Read online to make sure you don’t mess up. 5. Freak out and lose more sleep over the new president (AMLO) and his minions and the holidays. Last time the government changed all the immigration procedures went out the window. 5. Show up in the migracion office of your county or state. For us this is La Paz. La Paz ia an hour away from our home. 6. The migracion officer is very helpful but she says: you know the holidays are coming up. You must move fast. We ask when the holidays start. We are given a very vague answer with a shrug. Any day now what with the president changing this Saturday and the Virgin of Guadalupe of the 12th and Christmas on the 25th and then New Year’s Day….I’m verklempt just writing this. 7. There is an online form we must submit online and print. There are forms in hard copy we must fill out. There is a fee we must pay at the bank and bring back a receipt in triplicate. They ask for a bill that shows where we live, power or water, I explain we have solar power and use trucked water, we have no bills. She says bring a google map. We need more photos. The dreaded official ID photos of Mexico. Our officer suggests we can get it done in La Paz today. 8. I run to an internet cafe to fill out the online form but the guy has stepped out. He’s left a sign saying he’ll be back. Burt is off trying to park. 9. Burt returns but the internet is still closed. We head off to do the photos. 10. The photos are below. No hair on forehead or ears. There’s a communal pomade pot for slicking your hair into submission. You can imagine how inept Burt and I were. The results are stunning. 11. Head back to internet cafe. Guy still not there but two nice women want in so they call him. He shows up. He’s sad to inform me the internet doesn’t work. Then it suddenly does. I spend 40 minutes looking for and filling out the forms. I go to print them and the internet crashes. No charge. 12. I take advantage of this disaster to head back to migracion and ask a few questions about the forms. This works well because the officer now recognizes me and seems eager to help. She takes me step by step through the forms. 13. I decided I am too tired to face trying on-line forms in Spanish again. I’m too tired to make sure I don;t screw up. If you make a mistake on your forms the whole process is rebooted and you lose your fees. 14. Burt an I decide to head to Pescadero and make camp. 15. Ants. 16. I successfully fill out the online forms. 17. I head into town to pay taxes, transfer money, pay for visas at a bank and get my copies of all forms. 18. The tax office internet is down. 19. The bank informs me I am using a bogus number for my money transfer. I panic. Am I committing fraud or have I lost $3,000? 21. In a deep funk I swing in the tax office. The internet is restored and I pay my less than $100 in annual property taxes. 20. I go home to regroup again. 21. April prints out the online forms. 22. I find the correct transfer numbers. 23. We head to the bank to get our money and pay for the visas (we’ve been home 48 hours) with the plan to head to La Paz and execute the next step. 24. At lunch Burt says,”What time do they close?” I check. The answer is at 1PM. We give up for another day. 25. The car battery is dead. 26. Ants.
So tonight, after two days of ants, unpacking, cleaning, copying, form filling, and bureaucracy dancing we are going out to dinner. Tomorrow at 8AM we are going to La Paz with many more copies of everything than they said we would need. Please pray, cross your fingers or make sacrifices according to your beliefs. The office is open 9 AM until 1 PM. And here’s the gospel truth, this system is a piece of cake compared to the US and for this I am grateful. We have to get her done. The new president arrives in just two days.
The eye emergency took us to Tucson earlier than planned but it was on teh agenda so no biggie. Our buddy Turtle housed us while we ran errands and did some minor work for her. She has a new porch shade and we started the process for our Mexican Residency Visas. We also reestablished a banking connection so we can transfer money to Mexico more easily. We hope to build a casita for our later years and we hope to start it this year. Building requires cash.
Turtle is the Northern Jaguar Reserve Coordinator. We met her last year when we went in to the Reserve for a construction scoping trip. Turtle wasn’t with us during the actual building last December but we knew she was out there in the real world ready to help if we needed a hand. We’ve stayed in touch and she was helping with logistics of our aborted Aros River float. Burt had agreed to help her with a minor project during their many email exchanges regarding shuttles and river flows. Once I was reassured I did not have an exploding eyeball we headed over to Turtle’s place.
Despite my aching back and super annoying vision we managed to get a lot of fun and life chores accomplished while simultaneously building a shade structure. Burt and I are have finished step 1 of applying for our temporary resident visas. I compiled a few pounds of paper documentation showing our financial status and marriage license and current photos. We handed it over, and I wasn’t so comfortable handing a stranger a detailed accounting of our financial holdings but I did, and our able and friendly handler, Grace, gave us our visas in return. That was after she made sure we had enough pesos to qualify. We had to prove to Mexico we were not likely to become a burden on them. The temporary visa has lower financial requirements and offers a door to full time residency after four years at those lower standards. The temporary visa also allows us to drive US tagged vehicles in Mexico. If and when we switch to permanent residency we’ll have to formally import a vehicle to Mexico or buy a Mexican tagged vehicle. Mexico (like states in the US) requires its residents to register their vehicles with them.
After the trips to the Mexican Embassy and the copy center we hit our bank and got our on-line banking organized for the great bleeding of pesos we expect this winter. We’re only building a modest place and it will cost peanuts compared to the US but those peanuts (due to US banking laws) are hard to get into Mexico. This is an area the residency will help, too. Now it will be easier to have a Mexican bank account and I can just write a check on the US account and drop it into a Mexican bank. We’re building a redundant system of money moving tools.
One of the highlights of our Tucson spell was the Day of the Dead Procession. Our friend Randy is one of the organizers and founder of this event. He was the Northern Jaguar Reserve ranch manager but has moved on since we spent two weeks out in the wilderness with him last year. The procession welcomes and integrates a mix of cultures and their customs regarding death. It is a beautiful reflection of the complexity of our broderlands. This year’s centerpiece was a silver ‘urn’ where the public placed notes to the departed. At the end of the event the urn was lit on fire. Randy, dressed in red and wearing a mask, pulled the urn through the streets while his attendants placed the paper offerings inside. The quiet, stately parade of costumed participants moved me to tears.