Chapala or Bust: Our Ultimate Road Trip, Part 1

Per the request of one of our readers, we’re reaching back into the memory time capsule to bring you the story of our journey from Wisconsin to Chapala by car.

It’s an odd thing, reducing one’s life to a carload of stuff. What goes; what stays (in storage or in Aunt Sallie’s attic or basement or garage); what gets donated; what gets tossed. This can be a truly agonizing process. Our advice, having gone through it: get help. A more blind, objective eye can be a great assistance.

We determined the cubic footage of the storage space available in the car and ferreted out all the nooks and crannies into which belongings could be stuffed or coaxed. Then we relentlessly began the trips to a small storage unit we had rented and many more trips to Goodwill.

We added a roof rack to the car and had a strong young man to help install and secure and load it for us.

On the designated day, we waved goodbye to Wisconsin and began our journey.

Yet, here is the kicker of the story.

We were heading to Chapala from Wisconsin via Arizona.

Looking at a map, this makes no sense at all. Basically Chapala is a straight shot south through Texas into Mexico to Guadalajara and Chapala.

But we were adding a good two to three days of driving via Arizona.

Why? Glad you asked.

One can drive across the border with a U.S.-plated car without a permit within a zone of twenty-five kilometers (about 15.5 miles). Any further and a permit from the Mexican government is required.

This, of course, meant that we needed a permit.

Looking into what paperwork we would have to present to get a permit, we determined that the vehicle registration and insurance were required. Also, we would have to provide a payment of earnest money (basically a security deposit) that would be returned to us when we took the car back out of Mexico.

And, the point of contention: needing the title, or, if the car was financed, a letter from the lienholder giving permission to bring the car into Mexico.

We had neither.

Now, there was not agreement on whether or not the title or letter would be required in order to get the permit. Some websites said definitely yes; others said no.

We had paid off the car, but not quickly enough for Arizona (where to loan originated) to issue the title back to us. So the only way to get a copy of the title was to present ourselves at DMV in AZ to obtain said document.

We figured better safe than sorry, so we diverted our trip by over 1,000 extra miles to get a copy of the title.

Fortunately our chosen border crossing, Nogales, had an AZ DMV office. We stopped and got the title and proceeded to cross the border.

Here we were, loaded to the gills (at least the car was). On the Mexican side, an officer waved us over and asked if we had any alcohol or cigarettes. No, neither. I opened the tailgate. He looked at the household bric-a-brac and waved us onward.

Just in case you’re worried, Google Maps worked (and works) perfectly in Mexico. We’re both Verizon subscribers for cell service and had bought Verizon’s plan that covers North America and Mexico. So we had no issues with either cell service, internet or mapping on the entire trip.

About twenty-five kilometers south of the border crossing, we came across another official installation that clearly was the place to get both our tourist visa and the car permit.

The process really was easy-peasy.

And the title? They did not ask for it. When we actively tried to show it to them, they waved it off. Didn’t want to see it.

Will that be your experience? We can’t say. Our motto in Mexico is the Boy Scout motto learned oh so many years ago: Be Prepared.

More to follow.


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