Tuesday, August 14, 2012

muling my way to mexico

“So, what do you miss most in Mexico?”

The question arises amongst we expatriates as often as urine test discussions in rest homes.  And even the most acclimated of us usually has some secret vice to disclose.

When I moved down four years ago, I packed the Escape with items I had heard were difficult to obtain in Mexico.  It turned out most of my booty was available in the big stores in Melaque.  Just a bit more expensive.

I learned an early lesson from that.  Almost everything is available in Mexico – for a price.  It is that modifier that leads a lot of my fellow expatriates to place exotica in the unavailable category.  We tend to be a “thrifty” lot.

But there are very few things I cannot buy here.  And if I can't find them, I simply do without.

When I head north, I indulge a few guilty pleasures.  But I notice the list is growing shorter with each trip.

On this trip, I slipped very few things past customs.  Salt water taffy.  Jelly beans.  Boar’s Head sliced pepperoni.  Tillamook pepperoni sticks (a gift from a Powers alumnus).  Carr’s water crackers.  Listerine (soft mint -- a flavor available nowhere in Mexico as far as I can tell).  A bottle of Melatonin.  Fusion razor blades (available, but at an incredibly high price; my Scots blood makes an appearance).

All of it fit into a small tool bag-sized tote.  I could have carried it on board but for Homeland Security’s phobia of all things liquid.

And one more item.
I bought a box of greeting cards.  Now that I am regular local postal customer, I have decided to revert to my old habit of mailing greeting cards.  It suits my Edwardian personality.

The problem is I cannot find any cards in Melaque – in Spanish, let alone in English.

One of the most common questions on our local message board is: “Is it legal to bring in [fill in the blank with your favorite, fish, meat, or beverage]?” 

It is, of course, the wrong question.  What the regulations allow is often irrelevant.  The question is: "Can I slip this past customs and not get embarrassed if I get caught?"

The answer to that question is: it merely depends on which inspector you get at which time of day.  And whether you carry more chutzpah than guilt around in your personality bag. 

Arguing legalities with a Mexican customs official is a sucker’s game.  Mexico is neither Canada nor Germany.

I have had pepperoni packets waved through on one trip and confiscated the next along with piles of school supplies.  Trying to figure it out will simply lead to a core logic meltdown.

As will choosing items to smuggle.  While writing this post, I was having my oil changed.  The price?  $700 (Mx) -- or about $53 (US).  Not a lot more than I once paid in The States.  But still a high figure. 

The cost, though, was not in the service.  That was only $50 (Mx) -- or $3.78 (US).  It was the cost of the oil and parts:
  • $6 (US) for each quart of oil
  • Almost $9 (US) for an air filter
  • But only $4.15 (US) for an oil filter
It has been some time since I purchased oil at GI Joe's.  But my memory is that it was less than $6 a quart.

On the other hand, that is exactly the type of item I am not going to schlep across the border in my airline luggage.  It simply goes in the luxury category.

So, what do I miss the most?  Not much. 

And what I miss, I can put in the wistful memory category -- along with a parade of lost loves.

P.S. -- If all goes well, I am on the road to San Miguel de Allende when you read this.  I needed an additional rest day to get the truck -- and me -- ready for my eight-hour trek to the highlands.


min said...

watch out for other Driver.Ha.
That is what I tell my son ,When He goes off to work.
Telling young one what to do,telling them I trust you, but...

Have safe driving,I never drove in Mexico but I can kind Imaging what it"s
like to drive in Mexico.

Thanks for useful information.
If all goes well with our plan ,My husband and I ,  will spend some time traveling around in Mexico next year. least 3 months,When weather becomes so hard on  my100lb body.Haha
 It will be a lot of planing next year.

As a humor,I understand Money and Scots.
I am living with one.

Take a little,Give a little.

Felipe Zapata said...

GNC stores sell valerian, which is called valeriana here. I have used melatonin, and I have used valerian. The latter does not leave you feeling stunned in the morning. Much better. And readily available. FYI.

Andean said...

Have a great time in SMA. Eight hours is a long trek, I would have taken the little plane in the sky.
Pepperoni, salt water taffy, and jelly beans... you are too funny sometimes :)

John Calypso said...

The offerings available have changed over the years. Rechargeable batteries; color corrected compact fluorescent light bulbs;,fuel filters (for my diesel truck); computer accessories; raw CD's; Lawry's Seasoned Salt; shoes (feet too big for Mexico); clothes of course (underwear and socks especially); pumpkin pie puree; vitamins - come to mind.  We skipped going to the U.S. this year - and we always drive so of course we haul more STUFF!

Danpatman said...

Steve, when you get back to Melaque come by the office one day. I have something from England that you told me you missed.....

DonCuevas said...

"On this trip, I slipped very few things past customs.  Salt water taffy.  Jelly beans.  Boar’s Head sliced pepperoni.  Tillamook pepperoni sticks (a gift from a Powers alumnus).  Carr’s water crackers.  Listerine (soft mint -- a flavor available nowhere in Mexico as far as I can tell).  A bottle of Melatonin."

Available here: Jelly beans (I won't swear to this one.); Carr's Water Crackers, definitely; Listerine Cool Mint (will that be all right?); melatonin: readily available, both as regular and as Cronocaps, in 3 mgs or 5 mgs, sustained release. About peperoni: recently bought some Spanish style Extra picante chorizo, again, in Costco. Similar to, but far better than pepperoni.

Saludos, Don Cuevas

norm said...

The oil change sounds about right if they used the new hi-tec oil that is slicker than the old oil.   

Laurie Matherne said...

Interesting post. I never drive to Honduras, of course. I like certain brands of cosmetics and personal care items that are hard to find here. I can even live for months without Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning. I have become almost acclimated. I have a group of Americans visiting with me this week. I didn't request one personal item. Instead, they are loaded down with gifts for friends, which is more satisfying than getting more stuff for myself. We have lots of greeting cards in the capital of Honduras, both Spanish and English. However, we have a nearly defunct postal system. 

Steve Cotton said...

I am not certain we have GNC stores.  But I will keep my eyes open.  As far as I know, I have never notice any problems with melatonin.  Maybe I was too groggy to notice.

Steve Cotton said...

It turned out to be a 10 1/2 hour trip. But it was a fun drive.

Steve Cotton said...

I forgot to say I brought down three pairs of shorts -- made in Indonesia.  But Columbia Sportswear has better construction standards than the shorts I can buy in Mexico.  And I do not know why.  The shorts in The States only cost me $19 (US) each.

Steve Cotton said...

What I miss most is the Boar's Head pepperoni.  I have found no good substitute.  For whatever reason, I find chorizo unpalatable inalmost every form.

Steve Cotton said...

As time goes by, I may even kick the Boar's Head habit.

Steve Cotton said...

Other drivers need to look out for me.  I have abandoned every pretense of defensive driving.  Aggressive driving is now my modus.

Steve Cotton said...

I think I can guess, but I will refrain.  No sense in taking the complete joy of surprise out of my life.

Remind me to ask about the followup information we discussed about an earlier post.

Steve Cotton said...

 Nothing synthetic.  Just good old-fashioned Quaker State.

Tafreeburn said...

imagine trying to explain the use of preparation H to a chinese customs agent. a man who was on a business trip with steve ran into this dilemma. he tried to no avail to explain its purpose, when a someone finally translated for him, the agent took the tube and with a disguted look on his face, threw it into the suitcase.

love the picture of the flamboyant. had one in our yard when i lived in miami, gorgeous!  hope you are having a good week!

teresa in nagoya

Kristen Schnelle said...

Like you, my husband and I have found our muling list gets smaller and smaller. we realize we don't really need a lot of the stuff we thought we couldn't live without. Also, best way to get through immigration and customs lickety split? Carry a 7 month old with you. They put you through the ambassador line and zip you right through customs. No questions asked. :)

Steve Cotton said...

I suspect my acquisition of a 7-month old just might create some questions that would be more difficult to explain than the errant packet of pepperoni.

Steve Cotton said...

I suspect some customs agents know fully well what some items do.  They just like seeing tourists squirm.  I suspect that would be me -- if I wore a customs hat.