Time flies whenever you are living abroad, and that’s why I almost overstayed my visa while living in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico. Typical stupid gringo story.
The Good, The Bad and The Dummy
I was living with my girlfriend at the time. She was from Monterrey, Nuevo León. We moved from the big city to the up-and-coming beach town south of Cancun. We were young, life was good, and we were doing very well.
I had already renewed my visa once, but, the longer you live in Mexico, some things seem to lose importance. The care-free life-style sort of just sneaks up on you. Before you know it, you are driving around without a license in an uninsured car and a visa that’s days away from expiring – well, that’s my story anyway.
Our days were spent like Americans on a permanent vacation, and our nights were passed like college-students on Spring Break.
“Oh, my mom is coming down from Minnesota next week” Ruth, my girlfriend at the time, now my wife, reminded me. A sense of responsibility came over me, I decided to get some things straight before meeting Ruth’s mom for the first time.
That was the week I decided to brush my teeth and get a haircut. I even bought decent underwear. I was definitely a grown man.
The Mayan Gods Divine Comedy
It occurred to me that I may need to look at my passport. Crap, I had 3 days left for it to expire. Her mom was 4 days away – the Fates casted the lot. Life is a game, my life was a comedy for whatever gods existed in the Mayan World.
“What can I do“ I asked the lady at whatever office I was at. She said, “look, you do not have to go to the states (USA). You just have to get out of here (Mexico) and come back in”.
The lady at whatever official office I was at was being careful with her words because her advice might have been crossing some lines of ethics or legality. She’s had this conversation before. I wasn’t the only idiot gringo she met…that day.
”Have you ever been to San Pedro Island in Belize? “ she asked me, sliding my passport back to me.
“No“ I said, caught of guard by the question.
”Well now would be a great time to go, you can be there before the afternoon if you take the next bus out,” she said.
Sensing that I was barely sharper than a bowling ball, she added “you can be back before your girlfriend’s mom gets here“
I understood. So I zipped back to the condo and told Ruth. She encouraged me to hurry and leave ASAP. I grabbed a backpack, loaded it with about 3 day’s worth of beach clothes and my laptop bag.
White Russians & A Mexican Road Trip
My neighbors/friends we’re excited “road trip” said the Russians. They were excited about riding with Ruth to drop me off at Chetumal, the Mexican town on the border of Mexico-Belize border.
We jumped in Ruth’s red Aztec and took an impromptu road trip down the Riviera Maya. Beers and snacks were important, so we loaded up at the OXXO (Mexican corner store like 7/11) and took off.
Ruth had a job at Grand Velas, an upscale resort/hotel in Playa del Carmen. She could not hang out since she had to work the night shift that week. I was able to find a cheap hotel on Expedia and book online while we were en route to Chetumal.
I decided I would cross the next morning. I needed to do some work since emails were piling up that day. I checked in, did some work, and explored things about San Pedro Island in Belize.
No Man’s Land & No Taxes
The morning came and it was time for me to check out and add another stamp to my passport. I caught a cab from Chetumal to the border.
I arrived at the destination. It was pretty busy for an early weekday morning. I saw lots of people walking to and from both sides of the border. It was definitely jumping. People walking and driving with loads of new merchandise, freshly purchased in Belize and for sale in Mexico.
I was able to learn that right across the border was a tax-free zone. Mexican businesses loved it. Cheap, decent quality, knock-offs, and original merchandise selling like hot cake, I found the plug. That’s where all that junk we see for sale all over Playa Del Carmen & Cancun was coming from – liquor too.
Right across the bridge/border was a popular casino hotel. I could wait. The Mayan Gods demanded another good laugh before Incoukd enter that promised land.
“Passport, please,” said the INM agent. I gave it to him. Although it was stamped, I was missing the paper stub for my visa. I didn’t think it was a big deal. They, however, did.
Gringo Get Jailed in Mexico
”Sir, you have to come with me,” the agent tells me. I asked him why. He said they just need to verify that I entered legally, and until he could verify it they would have to detain me.
They cuff me and put me in a van. We leave the border and start back towards Chetumal. All I could think of was Ruth, she was expecting me to contact her from Belize. No one had any idea where I was.
All the books I read started to play drama in my head. Gringo gets jailed and held for months, no family, no contact, no lawyer – shit, my head had games it liked to play. I thought we were friends.
I get processed in and taken to wing with regular inmates. I did not speak Spanish, fresh gringo meat just entered the camp. Should I haul off and punch someone in the face before they get any wild ideas?
“Hey, why are you here” I hear someone ask me in broken English and with a thick accent. Apparently, they speak English.
“I’m just here till they confirm something“ I respond. He laughed “yeah, me too.”
”I’ve been waiting two months for them to confirm something“ he happily offers.
Well, there goes my weekend – and appetite. However, 4 hours or so, they call my name and take me into an office. There are other inmates there. It was obvious they (we) were being prepared for transport.
The INM agent talks to me in English telling me they are taking me back to the border. My story checks out. He explained to me it took time because, well, it’s Mexico. He laughed.
Almost Home Free
They take me to the border, release me to man’s land. I run to the casino/hotel and get a room – and room service. I was hungry but I needed a bath. I decided to order food then shower. Oddly enough, the menu was all Indian cuisine. Curry chicken it is.
I stayed for a night, tried my luck on the machines. Ate again and did some walking around. Lots of little stores, lots of name brand products brought in by pirates. Business was booming.
The next morning, I decided to get my visa for Belize. “What’s the nature of your visit” the person at whatever official office asked me.
I told her I just want to get a visa so I can renter Mexico since my visa was expiring.
This did not sit well with her. Where are you staying now? I told her the hotel/casino. She asked what I did for a living and if I packed bags before I came. I told her yes.
“How many days’ worth of clothes?” she asks. I told her about a few days worth of beach clothed. She said good. She ordered that I go to my hotel and bring my bags and laptop.
I flag down a three-wheel buggy and hit the hotel room. I bring her what she asked. ”I forgot why you said you were here. I hope it’s not to just renter Mexico. That would be illegal. You are here to visit Belize, right?”
I followed “yes, I want to visit Belize”
She said “good, I recommend San Pedro Island for a few days. It’s a small island. You can take a private jet there from Belize City”
She stamped my passport and told me to get lost basically. I rented a van to shuttle me to Belize City, again booking a room online while en route.
The Happy Ending
I stayed in Belize City overnight then took a private plane to San Pedro Island. I stayed there for 3 days at Xanadu Resort/condo.
Met some local – a Rasta man. We road bikes, time flew. It was definitely a nice way to unwind.
After the 3rd day, I returned.