Escape from La Paz?

I woke up to James peeking at me from under some stinky shirt he’d wrapped around his head as some sort of stupid sleeping mask. “Dude, do you remember the movie Groundhog day…”

It’s Thursday morning, the weekend’s approaching and we still had a daunting list of tasks:

  • Test Murphy’s cards at an ATM, all of which still have large lines
  • Get in one of the gasoline queues, as the needle’s on the E-line
  • Pray that the immigration office has electricity and that their computers are back online so we can get out tourist cards
  • Pray that a bank is open – not an ATM, but a bank where we can deposit money into an immigration account and get a receipt
  • Purchase a temporary vehicle import permit for the grey and peligroso member of our team
  • Get a ticket for a boat, any boat
  • Actually get on the boat, any boat

The odds were stacked against us but since it was a deal-breaker, we waited for the immigration office to open and went there first at nine o’clock. A guard opens the door for us and they have electricity, we feel the aircon. All of the computer screens are dark though. An official tells us he hopes the computers will be back online in an hour or two, so we plead our case – we need to get out, people are arriving from Cabo, Hurricane Polo is coming, all valid reasons why the rules should be broken. He says he doesn’t have the authority to make exceptions, but if we come back later the top official will be there and she’ll decide what to do. “Have hope”, he said. Yeeaaaaaaa

We head back to the mall where we found money yesterday and the HSBC is not only closed, but their ATMs are down now too. The guard tells us there’s no way it’ll be open today, and that none of the other banks in the city are open today either. Clearly a poor source of intelligence, we walk fifty feet around the corner to a competing bank and not only are their ATMs open, their tellers are open. Lines for both but Murphy gets cash and I confirm with the receptionist that they’re open all day. Across the road we find a gas station with a miraculously open pump and we slide right in. They only have premium. Who cares! The gods are on our side today.

Back to immigration. A couple of computers are up! The official we spoke to earlier waves us up to his booth, and there’s a dark-haired, dark-eyed beauty working on the other computers. She looks up to make eye contact and her massive doe eyes briefly look into my soul, making me forget where I am and what I’m doing. Yeeaaaaaaa! Wow. Snap out of it MacKay! It turns out she’s la jefa. Our official informs us the computers are back up and starts passing us a series of papers to sign and date. As in eight or nine pages each, all in Spanish, with no time to even attempt to figure out what we’re signing. We’re probably enrolled in the Mexican Army now. Fuck it! A stint in the army might be good for me. He also tells us that they close at 1pm. What?! “Do you think we can make it?”. “If you go faster.” Yeeaaaaaaa

We went faster.

We had two bills for the immigration that we needed to take to a bank, pay, and get a receipt (apparently, due to fears of corruption the immigration office can’t accept cash). We book it back to the Banamex and get in line to hand them cash. We’re up in no time, they actually have a “take a number” system, 5 tellers, and everyone seems to know what they’re doing. Receipts were printing OMMFG! What kind of magical land is this Banamex? We’re in and out in fifteen minutes, and completely blown away. Should Banamex ever try to overthrow the current Mexican government in a coup, they would definitely have my support.

We slam it back through traffic and back into immigration for the third time in the morning. They start making copies of the paperwork the bank gave us and pull out the cards we completed yesterday. Almost there… and our official asks us to take a seat for five minutes while “a decision is made”. What the fuck does that mean? As much as I enjoyed being in the presence of the dark-haired boss I was chewing my nails, and maybe Murphy’s too. Eventually they come out and give us our cards, with no indication of what “the decision” was. Jesus Christ, we actually got something done.

With a full tank of high-test 92-octane dinosaur juice the pussy-footing-around-town routine goes out the window and we hammer it back to the hostel. Toss them the keys, thank them for everything and tell them we may actually be gone. The young lady working the desk (I never actually caught her name) tells us she’ll hold our room until five p.m. in case things fall apart, and I thank her profusely. This is as good of a time as any to really stress how great the Baja Backpackers hostel is. Eva, Carlos and the rest of the crew were all amazingly hospitable and gracious, especially considering the entire hurricane situation, and that they were taking care of us while simultaneously trying to get family out of Cabo. Stay the hell away from BCS right now, but if you’re there when it’s back to beautiful normal, I can’t recommend them highly enough.

High-tailing it to the port of Pichilingue, we meet a convoy of utility and military vehicles disembarking from a ship and more vehicles coming in on the road from Cabo. We run to the customs office to get our vehicle permit, there are only a few people in line and we’re to the booth in no time. The customs office is a sharp return to the bureaucratic incompetence we’d become so well-acquainted with over the last few days – they need copies of my passport and vehicle registration, both of which I have, but also my tourist card, which I don’t. And they don’t have a photocopier. Even though they need copies of stuff. Yeeaaaaaaa So I have to run to a nearby office, hand over four pesos for two copies and run back, all while holding up the line that had formed behind us. They also jacked up the normal price of the deposit because we had to pay in pesos (they normally only accept USDs), but we only get the regular deposit back, so there’s an extra $100+ USD in their pockets. There’s money to be made in disasters. Fuck it, we got it, and we run to the terminal to get our tickets.

The terminal is even more of a shitshow than it was last night. There are still only two lines open but the number of people has exploded into the hundreds. The heat is stifling, everyone is packed together, children are crying. We start crying. Wait! We decide to be clever and go around the back of the terminal to where there’s a smaller, hidden ticket office to see if it’s open… YES! It is, and there are only six people in line. Thus began the two hour wait for five people to be processed. Yeeaaaaaaaaa

We were in, we could get on a boat, whoa we could get on the 2pm boat? I show my phone to MacKay. It’s 1:45. Yeeaaaaa..what? We can!?! Nothing happens that fast. Then some previous customer enters and interrupts our moment of euphoria by pushing past us to hand the ticketing girl a pack of hotdogs and walks right back out. The world stopped. Everyone looked at the hotdogs. It made no sense. Everyone started laughing. She put down the hotdogs and handed us the tickets. We were still laughing. Now we were hysterical. Are we really getting out of La Paz??!

We Duke Brothers slide back into el-BP and blast off towards the ferry loading area. I mention to MacKay how it really is a rally, every little thing you have to do turns into a race. We get in the loading queue and a hazard vest dude is already waving us up. We scramble to stick our vehicle permit sticker thingy up by the rearview while we slam peanuts from a can into our mouths. There hadn’t been any time to ramp up the taco tally today.

We get to the vehicle loading runway and are stopped by a security guard who tells me to get out. Only the driver can bring the vehicle onto the ferry. I jump out, James rips off what he believes to be my ticket stub and hands it to me. I slam the door, and he peels off, the last vehicle allowed on the boat.

At this point, the story diverges into two totally different experiences…

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