(© Copyright 2010 - All Rights Reserved)

  header image 2
"Doing Latin America, Mostly by Luck"

(E0) - Forward - September 2008

  Click Here for GGC Archives

  Crossing the Rio Grande


Editor's Note: In the beginning, Our Hero had not yet received the title of Golden Gringo and the Chronicles were simply email reports he sent back to friends in the United States. This one was one of the first reports and relates GG's attempt to drive to Costa Rica rather than fly.

(Also see Post Editorial Note at the end of this writing)


Some of you may have heard by now that I’ve been held up in Brownsville, TX (i.e. delayed, not robbed, although, by the looks of this town that may be forthcoming). The town might as well be in a Mexican province, it appears to be about 80% Mexican anyway. It can be thought of as Mexico without the hassles.  

The reason I’m still here is because of a lack of the proper automobile documentation sufficient to satisfy the demands of Mexican authorities.

Let me get this straight. Some 12 million undocumented Mexicans with nary a library pass can enter the U.S. without hindrance but one old fat Gringo in a 1997 Honda is a threat to stability in the Republic of Mexico? Go figure.

It all started when…

I got up really early and made it to one of the three bridges in this town that cross the Rio Grande. I was across by 6 AM for a $2.25 fare. My first time crossing the Rio Grande. On the other side I was stopped by a border patrolman accompanied by an army trooper in full camouflage and shock helmet sporting an automatic weapon, which seemed to me to lend a certain local panache to the experience.

I was told I needed a permit to drive my car through Mexico. “Donde esta es el oficina de permits..” says I in my best pig Spanish. “Aqui, Senor”. It opens at occo horas (that’s 8 AM for those of you in Rio Linda).

As I was pondering what to do, an American standing nearby suggested that Bridge #2 had a Douane that stayed open 24/7. Off was I in a split second, paying another $2.25 to get over to the good old U.S. of A.

A little different experience when I pulled up to the U.S. Border Patrol. Before the B.P. permitted me to drive on the same street where I had been only minutes before, they asked if I had any drugs or other contraband material to declare. “No” says I but then I engaged the man in a certain banter that, unbeknownst to me, made my Civic and its contents suspect. This precipitated a full search of my trunk, a mirror scan under the fenders and a sniff-by from a very mean looking German Sheppard.

I guess I should not have told him that I had just crossed over the other way a few minutes before. It occurs to me now that this kind of behavior might also be used by a drug runner.

I found the entrance to Bridge #2 and, after dutifully paying the $2.25 fare for the third time, I made it to the other side and the customs office was indeed open. As I walked into the office area my gaze fell upon a Mexican-looking gentlemen in very gringo looking clothes who was staring at me with a slight smile that was more like a sneer. He offered: “Need a permit?”. “Yeah”, I says eloquently. He immediately spewed forth a torrent of abusive language that would make a teamster proud: “Those mother......s; …they better get the tacos outta their butt; I’ve been here since midnight and I’ve had it. I’m just waiting for a shift change so I don’t have to deal with that bitch over there (pointing to a uniformed lady about 20 yards away)”.

Turns out my new friend was indeed born in Mexico as I had suspected, as was his wife, but they had been living in the States for over 15 years (I couldn’t help but wonder if they had been doing so legally or not). Obviously he had come to adopt the American mental attitude towards inefficiency. He asked me about my situation and declared, without any supporting argument that seemed logical to me, that I shouldn’t have a problem. I thanked him for his concern, wished him well and proceeded to the glass booth.

The border patrolman in the glass cage reviewed my license and passport, asked me several innocuous questions and began to write what appeared to be a permit. Hope rose. This was going to be a piece of cake.

Really. Did I ever tell you that unrealistic projection of positive outcomes was one of my character defects?

The BP agent finished his writing and gave the document the customary third-world, three rubber stamp flourish. He pushed the now official document towards me and told me to proceed to the Banco teller, presumably to pay the permit fee. I was refreshed in spirit, why I might even get to my first overnight stop at Tuxpan in time to enjoy a nice fresh fruit smoothie by the pool.

The bank teller greeted me with: “All joo need is jore license, passaporto and eder da title or regeestration para su coche”. The first two were easy. Now where was that title I had had in my grubby little hands two weeks prior. Not to be found. Neither was the registration card. A quick dump and rifle of the Civic’s contents onto the street and sidewalk produced neither document.

The American-Mexican fellow with the loud mouth stood close by me near my car racking his brain for new epithets to bestow on the Mexican government. And he also kept moving my stuff closer to the car warning me not to spread the goods too far. When I suggested to my new friend we were safe because of the heavily armed troops standing nearby in army camoflage and sporting AK-47's, he said: "Their the ones who'll steal it".

I finally gave up and resolved to return to the hotel and figure out what to do next. I bid farewell to the shift-changer American-Mexican and crossed Bridge #2 again, paying $2.25 a fourth time. I feel I must be in a privileged group; after 64 years of avoiding Mexico, I managed to cross the Rio Grande four times in one day and be turned back at the border twice. 

At the hotel I looked up the hours of the DMV in the hope they could fax me a copy of my registration. Not to be, hours are Monday thru Friday. First thing Monday morning I’ll be on the phone to them. I resigned to stay in Brownsville until then.

In my anxiety after the last bridge crossing (and also because of the we in the program) I came up with the idea of forming a new association I call the Costa Rica Advancement Program or C.R.A.P. It’s not designed to improve the quality of life among Ticos, just to get the Bobbo down there in an efficient manner. Of course you are all charter members and I would like to solicit any ideas, initiatives or stratagems you may have that might further the objective of this organization.

Just one more time across the Rio Grande would be great.

Pura Vida, Amigos

Agente Secreto, Roberto Sachez N.

Post Editorial Note: After consulting with a number of people in Brownsville who had had experience driving in Central America over many years, the most affirmation I received in Brownsville was "Well, Bob, you'll probably make it. GG decided to accept the advice of one old codger who summed it all up by saying "Sell the f...ing car and take a plane Bob". Nuff said. GG returned to Sarasota, sold the car, liquidated the vast (I slightly over state the situation here) bulk of his possessions and flew down to Costa Rica with three bags containing the total remnants of his life.

Click Here for GGC Archives