November 27, 2021
It’s been over two years since the covid pandemic has upended our lives. It is understandable to miss things from your pre-pandemic lifestyle…like attending live football games, seeing smiling people (unmasked) on the sidewalk, hugging, having a date night, and of course, traveling. We can relate, especially when it comes to taking trips. In fact, traveling on a plane, going somewhere…anywhere…has changed for all of us.
Travel today is a whole new ball game, especially when you cross international borders. If you can actually find a flight that doesn’t get cancelled, you must: have a negative result covid test prior to boarding a plane, stay masked while you are in the airport as well as throughout your flight, have your temperature taken and hands sanitized a gazillion times, and distance from everyone according to the X’s drawn on the floor. And then, depending upon where you land, you go through the same process and may have to quarantine for up to two weeks at your destination location.
Don’t get me wrong. We are all for doing everything we can to stop the pandemic and we will absolutely do our part, but, you have to admit, things have changed.
We’ve had a great time being locked down here in Mexico. We love Mexico. We would stay here forever if we could. But unfortunately, we can’t, because we are not Mexicans. Mexico graciously allows folks like us, to visit this wonderful country for only 6 months at a time on tourist visas. And, all you have to do to get another 6-month stay is leave the country and then come back in. Easy peasey…unless there is a worldwide pandemic going on!
In 2019, when we had been in Mexico (Cancun) for 6 months we got an extension to our visas because of covid at the Cancun airport. We never got on a plane or did anything but ask for an extension, and then, pay re-entry fees. In 2020, when the extended 6 months was about to expire, we went to the INM office in Manzanillo to renew again and were told that covid extensions were no longer available, but not to worry about overstaying our allotted time.
Gulp! In February of 2021, the first three months after our 6-month visas had expired, we did exactly what the immigration officials told us…we didn’t worry. At month four, we started to fret a bit, and began to look for a way to stay legally in Mexico that did not require crossing a border. We considered getting a residency visa, but at that time it required that you start the process in your home country, which, for us, involved a border jump. At month six, visions of being escorted to a deportation bus or even worse, a Mexican jail began to cloud our sweet dreams at night.
And then…and then…like a beacon at midnight, we found out about CBX (Cross Border Xpress).
We did it. We crossed the line, spend 6 minutes in our home country, and then got a fresh 6-month visa for Mexico. This is our story.
It was our friend Wade, a retired commercial pilot, that clued us in about CBX. (Thank you Wade!)
This is how he told us it works. You can take a flight from any Mexican city (for us, Colima) to Tijuana. Both places are still in Mexico, so no covid tests or quarantining is involved. Once you arrive at the Tijuana airport there is a CBX walkway corridor that that ends at the San Diego airport. You walk the walk, and then go through customs on the US side. If you want to hang around San Diego, you can, or you can turn back around, walk the same passageway back, do customs on the Mexican side, pay the fees, and then BAM, your tourist visa is good for 6 more months in Mexico.
We figured that even travelers like us, who spend a lot of time LOST, couldn’t screw this up. So, we accepted the mission.
I found out that the Tijuana border crossing is the largest in the world. Over 50 million people cross from both sides each year. So, the morning that we left our Colima apartment, we were ready for anything. John had booked us a room at a hotel by the airport since there were no later flights back to Colima on the same day. We had carefully packed bare essentials and carried our backpacks so we didn’t have to check any luggage. We were organized, and up for the mission at hand. Our goal was to be back at our Colima apartment within 24 hours with a stamped passport and a new 6-month Mexican tourist visa.
We had been cooped up for the past 1.5 years, and, were very anxious to be out in the world again. If it took us more than 24 hours, we would be okay.
I had reserved a taxi to pick us up and take us to the Colima airport, and by golly, he was right on time. Snap!
Because we’d been watching the news, we expected the airport to be empty. Oh contraire! It was packed with travelers.
Of course, we were early, so we decided to have something to drink and wait. John heeded all the warnings about keeping his distance from the crowd. He found a comfortable corner and “isolated.”
We flew Volaris Airlines, and the flight took about 2.5 hours, and it was filled to capacity. We got back into the travel groove, with John sitting by the window, and me in the center seat. For us, it’s like riding a bike…somethings you never forget and just do out of habit. And, out of habit, John got some great landscape photos from the plane.
I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting when we got off the plane in Tijuana. Maybe I expected to see a huge group of people with bags and backpacks playing “mother may I” with Uncle Sam, or a rusty, guarded wall with spikes and barbed wire on top, or maybe even Herb Alpert distancing in the corner tooting his trumpet. Well, it was none of those things. We deplaned to find one of the cleanest, most modern airports we’ve ever visited.
Our CBX ticket clearly stated that you have to “cross over” within 2 hours after your plane lands, so we knew we had to hustle. Amazingly, there were huge lighted signs blinking “CBX” everywhere, so there was no way we could get lost.
We scanned our tickets – they would have preferred that we had our tickets digitally on our phones, but we are old fashioned – and then we entered the walkway to our home country. Even though we knew we were doing something incredible (walking from one country to another) we must have been the only ones that considered it cool because we were the only ones “walkin’ the walk” that day.
Actually, the corridor was just like every other airport passenger walkway we’ve been to…until…
John saw a sign that said to get our cameras ready, so we both reached for our phones. Then we saw THE LINE. I kid you not folks, there really is a line. On one side you are in Mexico, and on the other side, the United States. It’s a good thing we were the only ones around because we had to snap photos of ourselves in every goofy pose you can imagine. We acted all “touristy.”
Then, we considered that there were probably hidden cameras recording our folly and border agents were probably lampooning our antics. And, neither Mexico nor the United States probably are too keen on accepting mentally deranged folks. So, we straightened up and kept walking.
After a bit we were welcomed back into the United States. (The agent that checked our passports actually said, “Welcome home.”) Whew! So far so good. The corridor lead to an outdoor area where there were a few food trucks and places to sit. We moseyed around for a few minutes and then John said, “Well, have you had enough of the United States?” To which I replied, “Yep, I’m done.”
So we found the entrance to walk back over to Mexico, did the walk, and crossed the line like professional road warriors (with our eyes keen for hidden cameras) and entered the Mexico customs area.
Because we’ve been in Mexico for so long, we sort of felt like the Mexican agents should have said “Bienvenido a casa” (welcome home), but they didn’t. We paid our fees, and with a dramatic THUNK our passports were stamped. Okay, it wasn’t all that dramatic, but to us it was. We could legally stay in Mexico for 6 more months!
We spent the night in a no-frills hotel next to the Tijuana airport, and rose at 4 am to catch an early flight back to Colima. We were home at our Colima apartment in time for lunch. Ta da!
We felt the exhilaration that marathon runners must feel, minus the collapsing and puking, once they cross the finish line. And then, we found out two weeks later, that Mexico had started a temporary residency program for expats like us who were stuck in Mexico because of covid. The main requirement is that you must have overstayed your 6-month tourist visa!
Oh well, you know what they say about hindsight. Crossing the line, for us, was an awesome adventure that we will file in our trove of treasured memories. And, unless, one day on social media we see goofy photos of us straddling the line between Mexico and the United States, we are glad we did it.