Saturday December 21, 2013
We woke up with one major goal this morning. To get checked in to Mexico. We had unfortunately timed our arrival on a Saturday, which we’ve found in many countries, goes hand in hand with overtime fees. If that’s what we thought would be the worst of our troubles when we set out this morning, that would have been fine. Instead we were manically searching the internet for any information on the check in process here. From the first hand accounts of everyone we’ve heard that’s checked in on the Caribbean side of Mexico it is A. Very expensive; and B. A huge headache if you try and do it on your own, taking up to 4-5 days for all the proper officials to meet with you and go through all the necessary paperwork. Even though hiring an agent for a fee of approx $100 on top of the $300 or so you were already going to pay to check in, it was said to be worth every penny. The only problem was, we didn’t know how to get in touch with one.
Luckily I’m married to someone with OCD who has mastered the art of internet searches and key words, and by 8:30 in the morning, had procured a step by step account from a previous cruiser on how to check in here at Cozumel. I was to go to the Port Captain which we were convienently anchored across from, get a particular piece of paper, and then take that slip to the airport where I’d find Customs, Immigration, and Agriculture all in one handy dandy spot. I was in the process of getting ready, making myself all pretty and professional for all the officials, when we heard some yelling from outside the boat. Throwing off my towel I quickly put on a sundress and ran out of the companionway to see what the commotion was.
Remember how we came in well after dark last night and had to rely on our radar to find a decent spot to anchor? Well it turns out we were too close to a mooring ball that had been empty the previous night, but now held one of those catamarans that takes hoards of cruise ship passengers out for daily snorkels and dives. They weren’t speaking English, but it was obvious they wanted us to move. I started the boat and Matt went to the bow to retrieve the anchor so we could place it down again a few hundred feet away from them. They had a diver in the water who appeared to be looking at our anchor, which the more chain we pulled in, seemed to be in pretty much exactly the same area they were now moored on. (And when I say a mooring ball, it’s not like the big honking thing we had back in Michigan, this was barely visible even in daylight.)
The closer we inched toward them, the more my heart started to rise up in my throat. It didn’t help that the wind was also pushing us in their direction. As soon as I heard the anchor up, it looked to me that I didn’t have enough space to keep the boat in forward and get past them without hitting, we were going to have to get out of there in reverse, and fairly quickly. Now trust me, I know how reverse works, you turn the wheel the opposite direction of where you want the bow to point, but somehow I can never seem to put it into practice. No matter what direction I had the wheel pointed, we kept drifting closer, and even more so to the diver in the water. I almost began to come apart, thinking I was going to run him over. Reverse wasn’t working out for me, so forward it would have to be. Quickly changing gears again, I put as much power behind the engine as I could and cranked the wheel hard. It seemed to do the trick, we were finally putting space between the two boats in the water. Just as I thought I was kind of bad ass for not actually hitting them, nevermind I should have just been thankful, a strong gust of wind came up and threw the hem of the dress up in my face as we were making our exit. Of course it would. So much for looking cool.
Resetting the anchor as far as I could get away from them without dying of embarrassment, we finished getting ready, and I grabbed all the paperwork necessary to check us in. Normally this is something I do on my own while Matt stays on the boat does some cleaning up while he waits for me to get back, although this time I had to bring him with me because even though our agent in Guatemala knew I was the captain, they put Matt’s name on the zarpe. I didn’t know if that would cause any issues while checking in, or if I’d waste half a day running back to the boat to grab him. We both climbed in the dink and landed it on the beach, and while I walked into the Port Captain’s office he waited outside. Being the smart little cookie that I am, I had written down all the steps and the papers I needed to ask for, so that when I went inside I could pretty much smile and point at it.
Good thing I did this too, because the woman working behind the counter had no English, and my Spanish was not coming across very well. “I have a boat in the bay.” That’s about all I could understandably get out. She called in a man from another room who spoke a little English, and after showing him the name of the document I was told to request, he took my papers and went over a breakdown of what I would need to do to check in. Most of it followed along the lines of what we had read this morning, now I was just waiting to hear how much it would cost me. First he let me know that because I was here on a Saturday, their office closed at 1:00 and I would need to be back with my stamps from all the other officials before that time. Then, he said that, also because it was a Saturday, my fees would be double. I sucked in my breath and waited for this figure. How much, $500? $600? He wrote something on a sheet of paper and passed it to me. $596. I let out a little yelp. Then he explained that this was in pesos, and it would be best if I could exchange my US money to this before paying the fees. 596..pesos? But that’s only about $50. I tried to contain my excitement and accept his sympathy that I was paying such a high weekend rate, and grabbed the necessary document before skipping out the door.
Instead of accepting a cab ride to the airport, all we had on us were large US bills anyway, we walked the mile there through the late morning heat, and walked through the sliding doors into the blessed air conditioning where we watched throngs of pasty white citizens filing through with their luggage, glad to be free from the snow that plagued them back home. Finding that all three offices I needed to visit were right next to each other, there were some waits to get the attention of anyone at the windows since it was such a busy day at the airport with flights coming in, but otherwise things went very smoothly. I did have to run to a window to exchange money for a very poor rate to pay another $30 US to Customs, but they were all very friendly and helpful. It wasn’t even until I was finished with the first two officials that I realized 90% of the conversation had happened in Spanish, and I’d been able to follow along and give very basic replies, which they understood in return. I guess learning another language is one of those things that you can’t over think. Once you stop actually thinking about it, it just comes naturally.
All was looking great for us to get the last stamp from Agriculture by 12:30 and back to the Port Captain’s by 1:00, completing the check in procedure and probably setting a record among most cruisers….until they saw Georgie’s paperwork. “You have a cat?, There’s a cat on your boat?”. “Yes.” “Is the cat going to be leaving the boat to go to shore?” “No, she stays on the boat all the time.” “Ok, as long as she doesn’t leave the boat”, the young woman smiled at me, while taking my papers to her boss to get stamped. I guess he was a stickler for the rules though, and any pet on board had to be examined by someone in his office. The girl hesitantly came back and informed me that someone would have to come out to our boat to make sure she looked healthy, and then we could come back and get our stamp. Now our chances of getting this fully completed today were shot to hell. A young man from the department came around to meet us, ushering us into their company pickup truck where he brought it down to the harbor and we loaded him in the dinghy for the ride out to Serendipity.
On the boat he took one quick glance at Georgie after I scooped her up and placed her in his arms, and he deemed that she was quite fit to be let into Mexico, and also a total cutie to boot. Tell me something I don’t know. 😉 He then went on to ask if we had any meats that we had brought into the country. Defeated, I mentioned that we did have some ground beef in our freezer from Guatemala, which he confiscated with many apologies, but did happily accept a glass of Pepsi before leaving to bring us back to the airport. Receiving the last stamp and being set free to go back to the Port Captain, it was now 1:30. Our one day check in was not going to happen. But at least the two of us were legal in the country, which means we were free to wander around. There’s a norther coming in on Tuesday so we need to make sure we’re in the protection of Isla Mujeres before then, meaning, we have exactly today and tomorrow to explore this island. Let’s see what it has to offer!