When leaving a country by plane, I hardly even remember the exit visa process. Its painless. Hand your passport to a drowsy looking official who stares blankly at you, flips to an empty page and bids you farewell. Clearing Mexico by boat involved five acts.
Act 1 — From The Boat To The Office.
This act began with a dry bag. In the bag: a pair of dry pants, the classiest shirt I have on board (the one with the fewest stains), passports, boat registration and entry visas. Next step, dive off the boat and swim to shore (who needs a dinghy when the water is warm?). Find a nice inconspicuous alley to change out of my swimsuit into my finest attire. Hope the inevitable wet spots on my pants (the dry bag leaks a bit) disappear before making it to the port captain.
Act 2 — I’ll Trade You This Paper For Another Piece Of Paper.
Get in line at the port captain’s office (only a few small wet patches left). Receive an invoice for the cost of the exit visa. Walk the invoice across town to the nearest open bank. Wait in line. Exchange the invoice for a bank specific invoice. Wait in line. Realize the thin layer of sand over everything (money, wallet, shoes, pants) isn’t helping any efforts at professionalism. Pay the total and exchange the paid invoice for a proof of payment. Return to the port captain with proof of payment. Wait. Get a port captain specific proof of payment. Act 2 complete. Beer break.
Act 3 — Oops.
Taxi to the airport to meet with immigration and customs. Wait. Watch as the immigration officials try to figure out how to issue an exit visa (seems we chose a port that only cleared 10 boats last year). Discover that despite what you were told upon entry you should have actually applied for temporary import of the boat. Oops. Long discussion with customs. I’m catching 75% of what their saying, but its not looking good. Seems we may need to do some land travel, 5 hours to Salina Cruz to pay a (rather small) fee then return with proof of payment after which we’re clear to leave … then sail right passed Salina Cruz.
Act 4 (day two) — Prepare To Be Boarded.
Customs, Immigration and Port Captain come aboard. Cross my fingers and hope they don’t ask about the import permit. Almost the first thing out of the customs agents mouth: “Tienes tu importacion temporal?”. Chingada. Hope a few ice cold drinks with smooth things over. Still not looking great. Try a new tactic; explain that if we don’t leave soon we’ll face imminent danger due to heavy winds in the Tehuantepec (mostly true). Maybe that helped a bit? Hire a boat to shore where they can make some phone calls. All the officials laugh as we explain we typically get to and from the boat by swimming. Head to an after hours congregation of officials in the port captains office. Wait as customs and the port captain have a little pow-wow. Fill out some papers. Everything gets stamped.
“Now what?” we ask, expecting that we probably have to make the stop in Salina Cruz to pay.
“Now you forget my name”, says the customs official. “If anyone asks, you never talked to me and have never heard of Puerto Escondido. You’re clear to go”
Gracias Unnamed Customs Agent who may or may not work in Puerto Escondido!
Act 5 — Hide
After getting all the stamps we felt obligated to leave … but the Tehuantepec is blowing strong as we speak. Instead we piled a few extra friends in the boat (our friends Jorge, Wendi and Nate whom Nique and I meet in Korea happen to live in Puerto. Hanging out with them the past few days is worthy of its own blog post) and head down to Puerto Angel, the next port down.
And now, we wait (and sort of hide). Looks like there’ll be a good window to cross the Gulf starting late on the 20th.
Next stop: Nicaragua.