THE JEEP COMES HOME from CHINA
January to March, 2002
Text and Photos Copyright ©2002 Mark E. Halliday
FIRST RESCUE ATTEMPT
I kept calling down to China, talking to Ramiro the mechanic, and finally he said the Jeep was ready to go. I hated the idea of another bus ride, and had a premonition that the Jeep might not actually make it all the way. My Austin friend Vicki was in the mood for an adventure, and agreed to come down with me and drive the Grand Prix home following the Jeep!
We left Austin late Friday evening, arrived McAllen about 4 AM, and parked at the bus station. A direct bus service leaves McAllen at 6 AM, arriving China about 8:30, costs $10. Here is where I learned a bit more about the tourist-card system. If you wish to travel beyond the border area, i.e. more than 30 km into Mexico, you are supposed to buy a "Forma Migratorio" costing $20 per person. The McAllen-China bus stops at the border, where we were supposed to go in and pay $40 and get the cards, but that was only clear in hindsight. An hour later, the bus passed the interior checkpoint, where I thought we would buy the tourist cards. However, it was early, and our bus was just waved through the inspection point, this is not a common gringo route.
In China, Vicki and I had a nice spicy norteño breakfast, then walked to the Taller Ramiro.
I drove the Jeep around the block, all seemed OK.
Checking the invoice, I had Ramiro the mechanic add a statement saying 6 months warranty.
A quick visit to the local ATM, and I paid him about US$600 in pesos, not too bad for a full engine overhaul, I optimistically thought! Plus he repaired the leaking hydraulic clutch that had been a bother all through Oaxaca.
Back once again in the open Jeep, it was warm and lovely cruising along in the desert scenery, headed for the border.
But after an hour or so, the dream became a nightmare. I first felt the Jeep lose a bit of power, then came a rattling noise from the engine. We barely made it into the small town of General Trevino, with only a PEMEX and a small bus station, maybe 40 miles from the U.S. border.
I knew the Jeep was finished. I telephoned to Ramiro, to ask him to come rescue us, but it was Saturday, and he was long gone, spending my $600 and laughing away, I figured.
The bus station man said I could leave the Jeep in their back lot. I left the keys with him, thinking Ramiro would come tow the jeep back to his shop on Monday! Hah !
We took a bus back to Reynosa, and had to cross the frontera checkpoint again. This time an inspector came on board, checking all for documents. Seeing our U.S. Passports, he asked Vicki where was her tourist card? I started to explain that we just crossed this morning, and hadn't understood exactly where to buy the permits. The inspector glared at me, saying he had asked the Señorita the question, not me ! Lively Vicki fired away in her Puerto Rican Spanish, the inspector liked that ! He could see from our bus tickets that indeed, we had just come from the border that morning. He just reminded us that next time we had to pay $20 each !
Back in Reynosa, we walked across the International bridge, and U.S. entry was quite easy. Less than an hour wait, despite what I had heard about huge lines. Another bus to the McAllen station, retrieve the Grand Prix, check into Motel 6, and collapse asleep.
Next morning we took the road along the Rio Grande, I wanted to visit Roma , where the movie Viva Zapata had been filmed. From there west to Laredo, and home via San Antonio along I-35.
SECOND RETURN TO CHINA
Many times I telephoned Ramiro in China, and he said he would tow the Jeep back in the next few days. I would call again, and it never happened. I called my China policeman friend who first towed the Jeep into town. I asked him to talk to Ramiro, and he returned my call saying, yes Ramiro agreed there was a six-month warranty! But nothing really happened. After a few weeks, I could see he was not going do anything on his own ! I would have to go back and organize it. I called him and told him I would be there 8 am Monday, and to be ready.
Superbowl Sunday, I drove the Grand Prix down empty I-35 to the new border crossing west of Laredo. This very modern facility was, built under NAFTA, with huge bonded warehouses on both sides. There was even an ATM at the crossing to get pesos!
I had my six-month tourist card / car permit all completed within twenty minutes, surely a record time! I wasn't sure if the BANJERCITO computer system would know that I already had a car entered into Mexico, i.e. the Jeep, but apparently not. The Grand Prix was now welcome in Mexico until August !
I continued south on back roads towards Monterrey, avoiding the Toll Road.
Stopping at Bustamante, famous for a mountain cave, I bought some local tequila. I arrived in the Monterrey suburbs at dusk, and soon got lost.
Taking the wrong highway Southeast towards Ciudad Victoria, I kept looking for a motel in various small towns along the way. I ended up driving all the way to China, finally stopping at a $20 motel after midnight.
At breakfast I see my two cowboy policemen!
I told them I was heading to Ramiro right now,
and thought everything would be OK!
Ramiro is ready at 8 am with tow bar, just as promised!
We drive in his big pickup, norteño music blaring, to General Trevino.
The Jeep back at Taller Mechanico deRamiro de China.
I drive the Grand Prix back along the Rio Bravo, easily crossing into the U.S. at Falcon reservoir, and back to Austin late that night.
I had to drive 20 hours just to get Ramiro the mechanic to do a one hour task !
But that is Mexico, I guess.
THIRD RETURN TO CHINA - THE JEEP COMES HOME
More phone calls, and Ramiro confirms that the Jeep is once again ready. The problem had been a bad rod bearing. Not wanting to drive both ways, I found a way to shorten the last trip home. I already was heading to Nicaragua for a few weeks, and the frequent flyer ticket on Continental I was using was very flexible, i.e. I could return from Managua and fly into McAllen as the last point instead of Austin.
Landing at McAllen airport, I didn't claim my checked bags at the airport, assuming the airline would look after them, even if confused.
Outside, it was freezing cold ! A "Texas Blue Norther" had just blasted through from Canada on its way to the Yucatan.
A slow airport bus to McAllen station, and another bus to Reynosa, where I took a hotel overnight. Another dawn bus to China, the Jeep runs OK, and I leave China for the last time.
Headed to Reynosa, the jeep stops again!
I guess it is out of gas, I had calculated how much PEMEX gas I would need to cross the border, but maybe I got it wrong?
Two hours wasted hitching to a Pemex and returning with a gallon OJ jug full of petrol. It still didn't run! Damn !
Another quick look around the engine, and sure enough, the distributor cap was loose! It just hadn't been clamped properly.
At the frontera checkpoint, they just waved me through, and on to Reynosa for the final paperwork clearing the Jeep out of Mexico.
That took about an hour, and got a bit sticky when at the last minute they wanted my tourist card with which I had entered along with the Jeep almost five months before.
Those two are supposed to stay together, as I figured, but when I first left the Jeep in Cuernavaca and flew home, they had insisted on taking the tourist card at San Luis Potosi.
So I said the people at the frontera crossing 30 miles back had taken my form, they said that wasn't correct.
In the end they gave me this beautiful COMPROBANTE (receipt) verifying that the Jeep had been properly exported from Mexico according to all regulations.
Bought duty free tequila, crossed easily into the U.S. once again.
At McAllen airport I claimed my bags, which included two huge wooden rocking chairs from Nicaragua wrapped up in plastic sacks! The poor baggage clerk at Continental had been trying to find me since yesterday, and I explained what happened, he said OK, just happy he found the owner of the unclaimed bag!
Finally headed home as the sun set, it was a FREEZING cold drive home.
I put on ALL my clothes, two jeans and three shirts. Fortunately I had brought gloves and a ski cap, but I must have looked very strange at the Border Control station at Falfurrias.
Finally to Austin by 1 AM, the long saga of the Jeep in Mexico came to an end.
Text and Photos Copyright ©2002 Mark E. Halliday