“Stream-lined” process and integrated building are words from time past. That was clearing into Mexico in Ensenada. Being the first Port of Entry from the US, the whole process there was geared for the convenience of the American yatistas: one integrated center that houses the Port Captain, Immigration and Customs as well as the Bank handling all the necessary paperwork and payment in less than 3 hours. Clearing out of Mexico, however, was quite a different story: a process taking not less than 24 hours, and is almost guaranteed to delay your planned departure time, it requires you to travel around town and hunt down the necessary officials to stamp your Zarpe (exit papers), which is only good for 48 hours.
After a whopping 3 months in Mexico, including the lasts 2.5 weeks hanging out in Huatulco and the nearby cute town La Crucecita, a long fair-weather window to cross the dreaded Gulf of Tehuantepec presented itself to us. On Saturday, the day before we decided to leave Mexico to El Salvador, we started our clearing-out process, as advised by the harbormaster at Marina Chahue. Being told that the Port Captain’s office (Capitanía) opens at 8AM, we took a short cab ride there only to find ourselves sitting around in two plastic chairs outside the office for about an hour. Once it opens, the staff asked us why we didn’t get our Zarpe yesterday and that there would be overtime fee to get our Zarpe today. After filling out three different sets of paperwork which all ask the same questions, we were told to come back around 2PM.
At about noon, we got a text message requesting that we come back to the office to finish our Zarpe. The message ended with the slightly confusing statement “I am wences”. Jerrad went back to the Port Captain’s office to deliver a letter stating that the bill had been paid at the marina, and was again told to come back later.
Finally, at around 2PM we went back to the Capitanía to get our Zarpe, stamped by the Port Captain but not signed. Here comes the fun part: we were told to go to the Immigration Building to get it stamped then come back to the Port Captain’s office to get his signature. I asked where the Immigration is. The lady said a blur of sentences in Spanish that sounded like “Chahue” was a part of it. Okay, we thought, it was somewhere near the marina (our Spanish language comprehension has always been based on catching some words of every sentence spoken to figure out what they were talking about, it works 85% of the time). Off we went with this taxi driver, who at first seemed to know where Immigration is, only to drive us back to the marina itself. Now we knew for sure it wasn’t in the marina, so we asked one of the marina guards where Immigration was. They told us it was near the Port Captain’s office! After a short bout of confusion, we decided to perform the silliest cab ride ever: we went back to exactly the same spot where the taxi picked us up in the first place. The driver, having neither compassion nor patience for our ignorance, raised the fare from 25 to 40 pesos (I thought it would’ve been 25 pesos still, since he has to come back anyway).
We then successfully found the Immigration building, walked in there thinking they would just stamp our Zarpe and be done with us. Of course that was what exactly did not happen. The door was locked but there were officers inside so we knocked. After a brief explanation they let us in. The officials looked at our Tourist Cards then their computers. Shortly after they came up with a paper saying I owe them money for my Tourist card (and how was it that they think I could obtain the card without paying them in the first place, I have no idea). Thank goodness we kept our receipt from our payment in Ensenada. Once that was cleared up, they asked us when we were leaving. Jerrad said 11AM tomorrow. The official then basically said, “Okay, no problem. We come tomorrow 10.30 to your boat, do your paperwork and stamp your Zarpe.” What? They will come supposedly half an hour before we were supposed to leave, stamp our Zarpe, which at that point we still have to bring back to the Port Captain’s office for his damn signature. Mind you that this whole time, Customs is not even in the picture yet. Customs (Aduana) was contacted by the Marina staff already and they would also come the day of our departure (at some unknown time) to clear us and stamp our Zarpe before the Port Captain puts his final signature telling us we can leave. Needless to say, we didn’t leave at 11 AM.
On our departure day, at 10.26AM, the Immigration officials came to our boat. The main person looked around our cockpit, then asked for a table to do our paperwork. I laughed silently. We told him we have no table on our boat. With a ”What the hell is this crap? How could you not have a table?” look on his face , the official reluctantly stepped aboard, sat on the cockpit and took out his papers, stamp and ink pad from his bag. A quick fifteen minutes later, we had the Immigration stamp on our Zarpe as well as our passports. We then waited for the Customs official to come and complete the Stamping trilogy of our Zarpe. He came about an hour and a half later and had us fill the Customs Declaration Forms. Neither he nor the Immigration officials bothered to check anything inside our boat. He then nicely offered to give Jerrad a ride to the Port Captain’s office to get the final Customs stamp and Port Captain’s signature. By 13.30PM, our Zarpe was beautifully decorated with three very official-looking stamps and the signature of the Port Captain himself. We were cleared! We can officially leave Mexico. It only took 29.5 hours.