When the trip to California was planned, I started thinking about how close San Diego was to Mexico. I had heard that pharmaceuticals are exceedingly inexpensive there, and, having a neck injury, that was pretty appealing. After doing some research into whether or not it was safe to venture into the country, I decided that it was, and added a little jaunt across the border to the itinerary.
Oh it all sounds so idyllic.
The Friday morning, the second to last day of the trip, I woke up, threw on a denim skirt and a pretty summer top, grabbed my purse and sunglasses, announced I’d be home by noon at the latest (it was about 9AM) and headed out toward the border. On the way, I Instagrammed this photo with the caption, “just going to Mexico quickly. BRB.”
Be right back, indeed.
I parked the car about a quarter mile from the border, in a lot I had researched. I wasn’t at all nervous about going to Mexico on my own, but in the interest of ensuring I came back with everything I left with, I left my iPad and most of my money in the glove compartment.
It was an easy walk to the border – down a street, over a pedestrian bridge, down a flight of steps and then around a corner. I stopped on the way to exchange some money into pesos, and then headed for Mexico, unsure of what I’d find.
Oh but first I took a selfie on the bridge with the Mexican flag in the background, because of course:
Getting into Mexico is easy. The border is literally a turnstile. I’m not joking:
You walk up to it, go through it, and bam, Mexico. Actually, that’s not entirely true. Just on the other side of the turnstile are men in army fatigues with huge fuck off guns, but they mostly just stood there and didn’t make any eye contact. There was also a sign saying that bags would be searched, but they didn’t even look twice at me as I walked through. Then I emerged in the sunlight, and then bam, Mexico.
I had read online that the wait to get back into the U.S. would be about 100 minutes, so I decided to quickly do my shopping and then get in line. I had thought about going a little ways into Tijuana to do some souvenir shopping, but found a pharmacy right next to the border, and ducked in there. It took less than ten minutes to buy three bottles of strong muscle relaxants (the same thing that you can find in Robaxacet but like three times as strong), and then because I was alone and didn’t know where I was going, I decided to forget the souvenirs and just get in line to go back. Really the trip was about just doing something kind of different, being able to say I’d been to Mexico, and adding another adventure to the trip. So to me it didn’t matter that I’d be in Mexico less than two hours total.
Oh, and I should mention here, because it’s important later, that I had to pee at this point, but I didn’t think I’d be able to find anywhere with a public washroom nearby, so I figured I’d hightail it back to the States to use a washroom there.
Oh, the universe is laughing at me right now.
It took me a few minutes to find the line for the U.S. border, and when I did, there were two of them, which confused me until someone explained that there was a line for regular people and an accelerated line for people who have the Mexican equivalent of the NEXUS card. Only by the time that was explained to me, I had been in the line for half an hour, and didn’t really want to go all the way to the back of the line. Cue Kate sidling over to the other line and just inserting herself into it.
It wasn’t such a hot idea.
I had realized by that point that the wait was going to be considerably longer than 100 minutes, as I had been there more than 30 and hadn’t really moved. I still had cell service so I quickly sent a text saying it might be a bit longer than I had thought but that I still thought I’d be home by 1PM.
Cue two hours of the people in front of me yelling at me in Spanish that I was cutting the line, and that I was stupid and ugly and white. Here’s the problem. I understand a lot of Spanish, but I don’t speak very much of it anymore. So if someone is speaking to me in Spanish, I can understand most of what they are saying, but I can only answer basic things. I understood every word these people were yelling at me, and all I wanted to do was yell back, “yo entiendo todo!”
Related to nothing, somewhere around this time, I looked up and saw this billboard and just had to take a picture:
Around the two and a half hour mark, my feet were starting to feel a little sore, but it wasn’t that bad. I still had to pee, but not really any more than I did when I got in the line. I had no cell phone signal anymore, because literally, I went further into Mexico in the winding border line back to the U.S. than I did shopping, so I was a little bit bored, and I was hot because it was 45 degrees and I was in full sun, but I just kept thinking of the tanning potential.
Three hours into the line, I was dying of thirst, and when a roadside vendor came by selling bottled water for twenty pesos, I bought one. I was a little hesitant but I figured that they always tell you to drink bottled water in Mexico so I thought I might be okay. More than anything I just hoped that if I got sick, it wasn’t until I was back in the U.S.
Incidentally, around this time I watched the woman in front of me purchase a shrimp cocktail from another roadside stand and then proceed to drink it, and I’m completely serious when I tell you that I nearly puked on the spot. Shrimp. In 45 degree sunshine. Dear. God.
Three and a half hours in, I began to despair.
Four hours in, I was exhausted. My feet were aching. I was pretty sure my tan was turning into a crazy burn. I felt dehydrated. Whereas the Spanish-speaking people in the line made friends and talked to each other and took turns keeping each other’s places in line so they could sit down and rest a while, I was alone and couldn’t converse with anyone around me. And to be completely honest, I felt a little like I was losing my mind.
So when suddenly I could hear different languages being spoken near me, and I realized I could understand them, it was like a gift from the heavens. Somehow four French Canadians and one American were in front of me in the line, and as I listened, I realized that they had all been almost near the front of the line when they’d realized they were in the wrong line, and they’d been sent all the way to the back. The Canadians and the American weren’t together but I guess they’d all woven their way back up to near the front of the line.
I didn’t even care that they had gone in front of me in the line. I was so relieved to have people to speak to that I was happy for them to stay there. I learned that the Canadians were on a 6 week road trip through the U.S. and the American guy, whose name was Steve, was a San Diego resident and had only been in Mexico for a few hours. He had to work in another couple hours back in the States, and was hoping to get back in time. The problem for all of them was that a Mexican cop was looking for them in the line, to tell them to get back to the back of the line – and in fact this is exactly what happened to the French Canadians. Steve kind of turned away, put his ballcap and sunglasses on, and I was more than happy to try to help “shield” him from the cop. This nearly backfired, because the cop actually thought that all four French Canadians, the American and I were all together – and understandably, the line was like a thousand Mexicans, six white people and then a thousand more Mexicans. I began to panic, thinking about how there was absolutely no way I could go to the back of the line and wait several more hours, and I decided right away that if I had to, I’d find a shady place to sit, and just wait until later in the evening for the line to die down before I tried again. I just kept repeating, “no no, cinco horas!” to try to convey that I had been in the line for approximately three days.
In the end, the French Canadians were sent to the back of the line, and I felt bad for them, but I was mostly just relieved that I hadn’t also been. Steve’s phone had a signal, and he was kind enough to let me quickly send an “I’m not dead don’t worry the line is just taking forever I’ll text you when I can this kind stranger let me use his phone don’t reply to this it will cost a fortune” text so that other humans would know I was alive and also not bound, gagged and in the trunk of a car somewhere. He also became my personal hero when he agreed to hold my place in line while I ran into a little convenience store just to the side of the border line and bought a bottle of Powerade. I was so tired and hot and dehydrated that I was shaking from head to toe, and that bottle may have literally saved my life. Up until that moment I actually had been thinking I might pass out, and I just kept praying that if I did, it wasn’t until I was actually in the border building, because I was pretty sure the Americans would help me then, but if I passed out in the line outside, I knew the Mexicans would just step over me and leave me there to die.
Four and a half hours in, we were finally inside the building, which provided some refuge from the heat but no real relief. We were corralled into lanes, and I spent most of the time bent over with my arms leaning on the lane dividers, my forehead resting on them. If I’d had any fluid left in my body, I’d have been crying. Remember when I said I needed to pee when I got in the line? I no longer needed to. It was like my body was like, “we’re taking this back.”
At some point in this part of the line, I heard a funny noise and opened my eyes, still bent over at the waist leaning on the railing. Hanging out near my feet was an adorable (and huge) chihuahua type dog. I don’t know if he belonged to someone in the line or if he was a stray, but seeing him made me smile in the midst of what was very nearly a breakdown, so I snapped a pic.
I’d had a thought about halfway through the line that the muscle relaxants I’d bought aren’t sold in the United States and therefore there was a chance they wouldn’t even let me bring them into the country. Five and a half hours after I got into the line, I finally reached the front. A border agent took my passport, glanced at the drugs and waved me on through. I was probably at the desk less than thirty seconds. Five and a half hours for less than a minute’s scrutiny.
Once I left the counter, I had to put my purse through an x-ray machine and then I was free.
I slowly made my way back to the car, and when I got there, I just sat for a minute with my eyes closed before tiredly starting the car and heading back to the condo. It was after 5 PM when I got there, and when I walked in the door, the first words out of my mouth were, “I know I was gone forever and it wasn’t what we planned for today but you can’t be mad at me because I’ve had the worst day ever and I’m sore everywhere and exhausted and can hardly move!”
Yeah I was pretty desperate.
The first thing I did after I took off my sandals was to fill the bathtub with cold water and sat on the edge to soak my poor feet, which I had watched begin to swell in the line. I’m not kidding, as soon as I dipped my feet into the water, it turned black – I was absolutely filthy. The water felt good but it really wasn’t cold enough, so we dumped all of the ice from the maker in the freezer into the tub and I sat there, practically moaning in relief, until it was all melted.
This is what my foot looked like about an hour after icing it:
Those marks, by the way, are from the shoes I put on after the ice.
You’d think after a day like that, I’d want to have a shower and climb into bed. But actually we still had things to do that night – namely, a ball game. We decided we weren’t too fussed about getting there right at the start, so after I’d changed out of my disgusting Mexico clothes, we went across the street to the Spaghetti Factory and had dinner before walking down to the stadium.
Petco Park is really beautiful. It’s one of the newer major league ballparks, and it shows. It’s modern and clean and just really nice all around.
My ballpark pictures that night show a tired, possibly slightly overtanned girl.
Despite being absolutely exhausted, I did really enjoy the game. The Padres beat the Braves 10-1 so it was an exciting game to be at. Especially considering they celebrate home runs with fire:
It was a pretty enjoyable way to end a horrific day. I did laugh to myself during the game as every time I looked down at my foot, I noticed that it was swelling up again. I figured it would go down by the morning after getting some sleep.
And sleep is exactly what I did when we got back to the condo after the game – after showering off the remnants of Mexico, of course, because there was no way I was going to get into bed in that state. I nearly wept with relief when I finally did slide between the sheets that night.
The verdict on Mexico? You know, I’d do it again. I’d do it differently – I’ve since learned a lot about how best to shop in Tijuana – but I’d do it again. It was worth it for the cultural experience (my God, the difference one wall makes is incredible – extreme riches on one side and extreme poverty three feet away), and I think I’d have enjoyed the shopping and possibly an authentic Mexican meal somewhere. And I feel like I should state that in spite of what I jokingly call my Mexican near-death experience, there was never a time where I felt fearful, at least for my safety. So many people I talked to about my plans go to to Mexico expressed worry about how safe it was. I never ever felt unsafe or like I was in any danger, except for when I thought I might pass out and collapse from sunstroke, exhaustion and dehydration. But that’s not Mexico’s fault – if anything, it’s the United States’. So yeah, I’d do it again. But I’ll be very glad not to repeat this exact experience – once in a lifetime is enough for that.