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Crossing The Mexican Border

by Steve Gillman

Nobody checked identification or even asked a question when we were crossing the Mexican Border, in the winter of 2004. We learned that if you stay within 15 miles of the town where you enter, you don't need a visa (except the kind that pays for the margaritas). We went from Nogales, Arizona, to Nogales, Mexico, because my wife Ana had never been to Mexico. Lunch and a drink or two was the plan.

We parked the car in a lot, a block or two from the border, and paid the parking fee for the day. As I said, there were no questions or searches or even anybody to say "welcome" as we were crossing the Mexican border. We headed to the center of town, with all the other tourists, and began to wander around.

Street Vendors

As we walked the streets, vendors called out to us continually, selling everything from Viagra to miniature guitars. They didn't know we are so cheap that at home we cut our napkins in half to make two, and shopping was below toilet cleaning on our list of things we like to do. Then again, maybe they knew more than us, since we did break down and buy a little cactus carved from ironwood. Then a six-year-old little girl sold me a bobbly-headed turtle for a dollar. We were out of control, even before the margaritas.

Margaritas and Mariachis

In a second-story restaurant overlooking the street, we had a delicious lunch, with fresh salsa, and more than one margarita. We negotiated with the mariachis (always set a price first) and had them sing for us at the table. Then, our frugality in tatters from the margaritas, we risked another wandering tour of the town.

Sitting On George Bush

An animal yelled at us just like the vendors. It was the second time we came across the donkey named George Bush. His owner was persistent, and our resistance was low, so we finally paid the $5 to have our photo taken sitting on the president, wearing colorful ponchos and hats. At least we talked the owner into taking a couple more pictures with our own camera for free.

Returning To The United States

Having margarita-breath seems to be an "express pass" through customs, as we had no trouble crossing the border back into the U.S. They didn't search us or question the miniature guitar sticking out of my backpack. It took a minute for my wife, who at the time had only conditional residency and an Ecuadorian Passport, but I was more or less waved through with a glance at my drivers license.

Crossing The Mexican Border At Nogales

Nogales is a compact tourist town. You can park behind McDonalds on the U.S. side for $4 for the day, walk across, and walk everywhere you want to go. Be sure to negotiate the price for the songs with the mariachis in advance (they don't work for the restaurants they play in). Returning to the U.S. you'll need to have your driver's license or passport.

More Border Crossing Information

Crossing the Mexican border at any of the checkpoints is relatively simple. As long as you stay near the border town where you entered, you don't need a travel visa. You also don't need a passport, but be sure to have photo identification for the return to the United States.

If you are going to drive into Mexico, you have to get Mexican auto insurance before you enter the country. This isn't difficult to do, as you will see places advertising such insurance as soon as you are near the border. Consider not bringing your car if you are just visiting for the day. It is much more relaxing to walk and use taxis. Many of the border towns are compact enough to make this practical.

For information on crossing the border at Tijuana, use the link here to go to Tijuana.com.

For information on waiting times and delays getting into Mexico at various points, you can visit the U.S. customs Border Wait Times Page.

Steve Gillman hit the road at sixteen, and traveled the United States and Mexico alone at 17. Now 40, he travels with his wife Ana, whom he met in Ecuador. Read more stories, tips and travel information at: http://www.EverythingAboutTravel.com

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