Hola! I'm writing a series of posts that will outline what we love as well as what we have struggled with while relocating to Mexico. We aren't calling this a permanent move yet, just a visit for a few weeks. If we love it, we will stay. If we don't, onward to other places! I'm writing these posts from a place of privilege and naivety, and I'm very aware of that. Please reserve judgment until you go through this experience yourself.
People talk about moving to Mexico and how amazing it is, but they always share their stories after they've lived here for a few years. I could have benefited from real, raw commentary about the move from someone when they first arrived. The problems and struggles you have upon arrival are very different than those you have a few years in.
Crossing the border into Mexico
The week leading up to making our drive to Mexico, I was super anxious. I am an anxious person in general and I catastrophize evvverything in my head, but this was excessive even for my standards. I read too many “horror stories” about people getting stopped at the border, arrested for having a kitchen knife in their belongings, and many other awful events that supposedly transpired when people were trying to cross the border from the U.S. into Mexico.
I obsessively read about border wait times, which borders to cross at, what to say, what not to have in our vehicle, and more. The day before we were set to leave, we decided to get our FMMs (tourist visas) ahead of time so we could hopefully have a smoother border-crossing experience at San Ysidro the next day. We tried to get them online but didn't know enough Spanish to figure it out. Go figure.
We left our dogs at the apartment and drove to the border, which was only about 25 minutes from where we were staying in San Diego. We asked where to get our FMM and the border agents, who only spoke Spanish (and spoke it very fast!!), had no idea what we were talking about. We finally got the point across but where they pointed, we took a wrong turn – which people had said was impossible to do but we accidentally crossed into Mexico… without our FMMs, because we passed the building and there was no turn-around!
We pulled over to ask the policía where the FMM building was, but they yelled at us in Spanish and told us to keep moving. 😂
So here we were, driving in Mexico (which is an experience in and of itself – more about that later), and I'm freaking out thinking we are going to get nabbed by the National Guard or something for not having our FMMs, and we would have to try and explain (in very broken Spanish) that we weren't trying to sneak in illegally… we just missed our stop!
Not understanding what any of the signs said, we had no idea how to get back to the building we were supposed to be at. It was stressful, to say the least, but Kevin is really great at staying calm so I just let him handle it while I tried to breathe.
On our way back into the U.S., the roads were lined with vendors and folks selling food, drinks, trinkets, bags… anything you can think of, really. Kevin got a coffee for 40 pesos ($2USD) and he said it was really good. 🙂
We got back to the border, crossed back into the U.S., and then had to turn around to go back to the border to get into Mexico, because we still didn't have our FMMs. The agent at the U.S. border couldn't tell us how to get our FMMs either. So we just drove into the U.S. then back around to the Mexican border again. We had a kind Spanish-speaking friend on the phone who spoke to the agent, who told them/us how to get to the FMM building.
For those of you who are wondering, the FMM building is BLUE and it's on your RIGHT and it says SAT. You park right in the parking lot in front of the building. I had so many people tell me different things… oh it's a blue building on the left, it's a building on the right but you park on the left, I have no idea what they were talking about but it wasn't accurate info at all.
We walked into the SAT building, guided by a nice security guard, and he took us straight to the counter for our FMMs. We got lucky here because there was a long line on one side but he brought us over to a clerk on the other side that had no line, and she filled our FMMs out for us! So while others were struggling to understand the form in Spanish and fill it out, they were there for maybe an hour and we were there for about 10 minutes for all four of us. We were very thankful!
We crossed into Mexico, found a turn, and came back to the U.S. Then I took a nap!
Crossing the border, for real this time
The next day, we were packed up and ready to head out. We stopped to get some donuts at The Donut Bar and of course, some coffee for the road. We had all of our belongings as well as our dogs this time, so I was sure it would be a different experience. The previous two times we crossed, they opened the van doors (side and back) and looked around.
This time, we had so much stuff and everyone online was telling me they would stop us and go through it all and it could take hours. We also had our dogs and all of their paperwork. When we crossed, the agent pulled us into the secondary lane and opened the back door. Closed it. Opened the side door. Closed it. Told us to go ahead.
It was that simple?
I couldn't believe it. We had been manifesting it all morning – saying “it's going to be so easy we are going to be like ‘what?!' after we get through” – but I mean you don't really fully believe it til you see it happen.
All we had to show them was our passports and FMMs. They didn't ask for the paperwork for the dogs, nor did they go through anything or make us fill out forms to declare our belongings (which can also happen and I was told happens frequently). Again, we felt very lucky!
Driving through Mexico
Once we crossed into Mexico – for real this time – we had about a 2 hour drive to our destination: Ensenada. We had previously planned on going down to Punta Banda; the house we were renting was way up on a hill and pretty remote, and would've taken an extra 45 minutes to get to. We were thankful for the short drive and though I didn't take many pictures, there were plenty of sights and sounds along the way.
When people say there are huge potholes in Mexico, they are not exaggerating – along with no shoulder AT ALL in some parts. Like there is a drop off that's a foot or two high on part of Hwy 1, with no guard rail or anything. Also, people here make up lanes when there are no lane lines. I thought it was a two lane road at one point but it ended up being 4 lanes and people were turning *around* us from the right, to turn left. It was a lot to take in and I was so glad Kevin was driving.
The state we are in is called Baja California – more specifically, Baja Norté. Baja Sur is south. Ensenada is a touristy area, so you will see million dollar condos on your way in but you will also see houses that you may mistake for abandoned buildings if you've never left the U.S. or seen houses that look like this. Some don't have electricity or running water, but then in a mile you'll see another half a million dollar house.
The drive down looked a lot like California, which makes sense since it's on Hwy 1. The roads are taken care of pretty well compared to what I read about. That's the thing about reading articles and talking to people online; everyone's going to have a different experience and until you actually get here, you have no idea what your reality will be. It's best to stay as open minded as you can.
Living in Mexico
We've only been here a week so I'm not going to pretend I know what it's like to live in Mexico, but these are our experiences from our first week of being here.
MC is absolutely head over heels with everything here so far, and begs to go to the mercado daily so they can look around and shop. Converting USD to pesos has been fun because it's like getting more money. 😂 20 pesos = $1USD (roughly), so imagine multiplying your money by 20… exciting, right?
Sapphire hasn't been out of the house as much, because she has schoolwork to do all day, but she's gone to a few places and so far has loved everything – except not knowing the language. She's intimidated to even try to speak Spanish so we are working on just a few words at a time, like “cuánto cuesta” (how much does it cost?).
The problem with asking how much something costs? The person responds in Spanish, very quickly, rapid-firing off numbers don't understand. 😂 So we tell them “poco Español” (broken way of saying we only know a little Spanish) and ask them to speak slowly.
Sometimes, I just open my hand full of pesos and they count them out – which I realize is a great way to get screwed over if someone is not honest, but I've counted after the fact each time and nobody has ever taken more than they were charging.
Kevin already knew he loved Mexico, and we actually visited Ensenada together when we first met and he took me on a cruise (way to win a lady over, I'm tellin' ya…). He's traveled the world and has spoken Spanish (off and on in different capacities) since he was a child, so he was much more comfortable straight out the gate than we were. He is also way more easy going than any of the rest of us are 😂 so the adjustment for him has been easy.
I could tell right away that Kevin felt more at ease being here than he does in the U.S. – for obvious reasons, based on how Black folks are treated in the States. He will be writing a post about this, and his experience and thoughts, soon! I have him busy editing my PLR for the next few weeks.
Pros and Cons of Mexico
There are pros and cons to everything, but the pros definitely outweigh the cons here. My biggest struggle thus far has been Spanish. While Kevin, MC, and Sapphire all have Spanish tutors they meet with online weekly, I haven't done much besides DuoLingo. I tried Babbel but didn't like it. I figured Kevin knew enough to get us here, and I'd learn by immersion…
Whew. It is way more difficult than I imagined. So now I'm taking it more seriously and have enlisted the help of a few folks online to help me learn Spanish in exchange for me helping them learn about blogging.
Everything else has been pretty simple, other than small stuff like trying to order a pizza. We can't figure out the addresses or how they work, and can't speak enough Spanish to order over the phone. Thankfully, Little Caesars is only like a mile up the road, so we can grab two pizzas for dinner on our way home from the mercado. Speaking of pizza, we got two large pizzas for $153 pesos ($7.44USD)!
Other conveniences like Costco, Wal-Mart, Office Depot, Home Depot, and various fast food chains are within a mile or two of where we are staying. We did go to the mercado de fruta (fruit market) and bought some shredded cheese, chips, and salsa. If I'm being honest, we didn't buy many fruits and veggies at the mercado.
Why would you go to a fruit market and not buy fruit, Sadie?
I am still adjusting to how things are done and when I see rotting fruit and flies everywhere, including all over big cuts of meat just sitting out, IDK I just… can't eat it. I'm already picky, but add in severe chronic nausea since my thyroidectomy, and I'm next level snobby about my food. This means when I see that it's surrounded by bugs, I'm not touching it. I'll keep looking for other markets to shop at, but for now, Costco is my saving grace.
We did get some asparagus and cherry tomatoes, and they were delicious. My friend suggested washing everything with iodine, but Kevin is allergic, so we are going to have to find another way to safely wash our fruits and vegetables. Until then, we will be buying them from Costco.
First impressions of Mexico
I'm finishing up this post and realizing that the first few days were much more difficult than the last few days of this week. At first, I was pretty overwhelmed. The language, the differences, the driving, all of it… it was a lot to take in. I'm feeling more at peace now and I know next week will be even better. Next week, we are looking at houses to rent. We will update soon!