At the Border – Daze 1 (part 1)

by Jim on 15 April 2010

I don’t know that I actually expect anyone to read all about our time at the border.  But it’s one of those things you just want to document.  It’s really quite something the number of minor problems that avalanched on us, specifically during a couple of days.

And let me make it clear I’m not complaining – just intrigued – although I am concerned about one thing, and I’ll tell you about that at the end.

The Very Short Version

If you really don’t want to read everything, here’s the very short version.  We had a delay at the USA/Mexico border, had some van trouble too.  Then we got it worked out and fixed, and we came home.


For the brave who want to know the details, a little background.  We were combining some business and pleasure into a ten day road trip up to Dallas.  For various reasons we ended up packing mostly business into the first part of the trip.  Paperwork, shopping for ministry items (although we did shopping for us as well), getting packages for people, visiting with people.

Most of the visiting was both business and pleasure – and it was a highlight.  Let me make that much clear.  It was great to see some friends, and that also forced us to slow down briefly during the first few hectic days.

The night before we left Dallas to drive to the border, we had some trouble finding the place we were looking for, and ended up being out late.  This was a rough few days for Hannah and Nathanael, especially Nathanael who usually needs 12 or 13 hours of sleep a day.  But this was an especially late night for all of us.

We drove to Laredo, at the border, the next day.  Long day, another late night, and if I’m not mistaken I had a migraine attack that day.  So we crashed into bed in the hotel quite late – exhausted – but looking forward to – finally – some slower days – the holiday/vacation part of our trip.

Daze 1 (part 1)

The next morning didn’t start well for me – I was feeling very sick to my stomach, maybe just due to a lack of sleep.  I felt a little better after breakfast, and we headed for the border.

We had a couple of items to "declare" at the Mexican border.  It went very smoothly, and I paid far less than I was expecting.  Hold on to that nice feeling.

Registering Vehicles

Once in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, we had to register our van and trailer.  I went through the whole process, but when I told them about the trailer they asked me for a paper I didn’t have.  My fault.

The paper – if it existed – would be in Mexico City – in our house – somewhere – in a box maybe?

I started messaging and calling Rod, our coworker in Mexico City.  I was having some trouble calling him, because I was so close to the border and my cell phone was still roaming in the USA, even though I was in Mexico.

In the middle of these calls back and forth, Nathanael knocked the cell out of my hand (by mistake) and it broke in three pieces.  I was frantically trying to get it back together so I could talk to Rod again.

I finally got the cell reassembled.

I remembered I did have some paperwork for the trailer with me – I went in again, but they wouldn’t accept it.

Rod said he would go to our house to look for the paper.  I said I would call him from a land line.

I went inside to the row of payphones, they were all out of order.

Found another payphone, but my card didn’t work.

Got Shari’s card, and it seemed to be working, but when the time came, I couldn’t get through.

Meanwhile – and this is important – Shari was trying to keep the kids entertained in the van (the very tired, bored kids – watch for a running theme on that one).  Since we didn’t know how long this was going to take … we didn’t think about … the lights in the van … which were slowly … draining the ….

But back to Rod.  He had to go buy more cell minutes because this was so expensive calling to and from the USA (even though, as you remember, we were in Mexico).  We relied on messaging back and forth, and – wonder of wonders – he found our trailer paper right away (filed under "trailer" in our filing cabinet – amazing!).

Rod said he could sent the document "overnight" (not literally, but you know what I mean), and that it would probably arrive in a couple of days.  He suggested it would be easier to send to a USA address, and we already knew a good hotel across the border, so we made the (maybe wise, maybe not) decision to cross back into the USA to wait.

Perhaps we could still have some family time after all, while we waited for the document…

Back across the border…

As we arrived at the international bridge to the USA (like, after it was too late to turn back), we realized the van battery was low.  The line was stop and go – there was no hope of recharging.  A third of the way across the bridge the van stopped running.

I pulled out the booster cables and tried to get someone to stop, but no one would (I think technically you’re not supposed to stop on the bridge.  But still….).

Finally a man drove up in an official looking car and gave me a boost.  But without giving the battery a moment to charge, he removed the cables and drove away as soon as the van started.

It quickly stopped running again.

A worker on the bridge came over to help.  He stopped a man in a white van beside us, and we boosted again.  He quickly removed the cables and told me my battery probably needed water.

The van quickly stopped running for the third time.

Almost halfway across the bridge, the friendly bridge worker said we could push it.  With the trailer? I asked.  Oh sure, he said.

He was right.  And slowly, bit by bit, we pushed it all the way across and over to the side, just before the US customs booths.

He told me to ask the US officials for a booster (those little battery charging machines, you know).  The official didn’t seem too interested, but the bridge worker went and asked himself.

The booster appeared, but the van wouldn’t start.

Could we get someone going the other way to stop?  Eventually we did – a very kind man in a white truck stopped.  He spoke little English, but I finally explained I wanted to keep it connected for a few minutes to charge the battery a bit.  He agreed.

We managed to drive up to the customs booth, but while we were having our passports checked, the van died.  Again.

Our passports checked out fine, but the officials were talking – they had no idea what to do with us.  So we waited.

Finally a car drove up and gave us a boost, and we were told to drive over to one side where we’d be out of the way, and a tow truck could come for us.  We made it barely far enough.  (That’s the fifth time it died, right?  I’m losing count…)

The officials checked out our trailer, and we were good to go.  Get off US government property.  Now.

But that was easier said than done….

Next time – cats and dogs and needing cash – as we continue with "Daze 1" tomorrow.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Gary & Ardys Winger April 15, 2010 at 7:28 pm

Enjoyed reading Daze 1, and waiting for the continuing story!

June Vannatto April 15, 2010 at 8:32 pm

Waiting for Day 2….this brings back memories of things that happen in Africa!!

Greg in Mexico April 16, 2010 at 9:20 am

Wow…they told you to “get off US gov’t property now!” ???

Jim April 16, 2010 at 8:58 pm

You mean you’re actually reading all this? I’m honoured! 🙂

No, they didn’t specifically say,”Get off US gov’t property now!”. However, their manner said it. They were very antsy about us being there, let me put it that way. I don’t want to say Obama isn’t hospitable, but… 😉

Grandma C. April 18, 2010 at 8:48 pm

I can’t say I “enjoyed” reading this, but it was pretty exciting.

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