Photo credit: Meriah Nichols / Overland TravelinMom

Photo credit: Meriah Nichols / Overland TravelinMom

After two and a half years of preparation, my family and I were finally in San Diego and ready to cross the border to Mexico and begin our dream of traveling the Pan American Highway with our three little kids. It had been a hard couple of years of preparation, complete with major hiccups and set backs along the way.

So there we were, finally going to cross the border! This was our day! Hip, hip, hooray!

Just a few quick stops first…

We just had to make a couple of quick stops – the grocery store and O’Reilley’s Auto for engine oil. Piece of cake. We hopscotched to both, happy and excited, thinking of how the Mexican border was right around the bend for us, that our dream was so close we could almost literally see it.

And then.

Right before we got on to the highway, our truck started rattling something fierce and just died.

Just like that. Died.

My husband Mikey couldn’t figure out what was going on – he had practically replaced the entire engine: new fuel relays, belts, manifolds and tons more that I can’t wrap my head around. He had been working on this engine for well over a year – so what could this be?

He sighed before turning to pop the hood. We all waited a while, the kids and I frozen in our seats, Mikey staring dejectedly into the bowels of the engine. After a few minutes, he tried to start the engine again.

The engine started!

The truck moved forward onto the small road, but just as we began to thaw out and relax, the exact same thing happened.

Rattle, rattle, STOP. The engine had died again.

Mikey’s face set. He got out, re-popped the hood, while we froze once more, wondering what was going to happen. After a few minutes, he got back in and tried to start the engine – and once more, she started!

Mikey figured that it had to be overheating of some kind and that the constant stop/start of the side road stop signs were wrecking havoc with whatever was going on. He got her going on the freeway, away from the stop signs and she was just fine. Rolling away uninterrupted, she felt and evidently sounded normal, so much so that we stuck with our intention of crossing the border that day. The problem wasn’t likely to fix itself, but the problem would be fixable in Mexico – and cheaper at that. Plus, we could stay in a motel more easily, budget-wise, in Mexico, if we needed to than we could in San Diego.

Photo credit: Meriah Nichols / Overland TravelinMom

Photo credit: Meriah Nichols / Overland TravelinMom

On we went to the border.

Sailing through those wide lanes, sailing through the green lights, go forwards, the ‘okay, move ahead”s, sailing through, on and … OH NO – WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAT??? We somehow sailed through EVERYTHING, passports unchecked?

I mean, how can this even happen? How can someone sail through a border in a truck as big as ours with three little kids and a dog and have no paperwork at all performed? And we needed the paperwork! If we didn’t get our passports stamped and so forth, we were sure to have issues at Guatemalan border later.

So there we were in Tijuana, on a tight one way highway with no exits. There was absolutely no way to turn around or do anything, really, other than continue to go straight. We went a couple of miles until there was an exit off of the highway, then found a road that led back to the border. But the road only led back to the border to the United States, right back to San Diego.

The border back to San Diego

We were stuck in bumper-to-bumper unyielding traffic for the border back to San Diego. We were absolutely stuck – we couldn’t even exit to try and figure another way out of the mess because our truck was simply too big to weave around the other cars or through the gaps in the concrete dividers.

In order to get our paperwork done to cross INTO Mexico, we were going to have to LEAVE Mexico.

Off the highway and back into the stop/start cycle of heavy traffic (or stop signs), our truck started overheating almost immediately. Mikey turned off the engine, popped the hood and pushed her forward, inch by inch. Inch by inch. That is, bumper to bumper waiting traffic, hundreds of cars waiting to cross the border into San Diego and Mikey is PUSHING THE TRUCK FORWARD.

Photo credit: Meriah Nichols / Overland TravelinMom

Photo credit: Meriah Nichols / Overland TravelinMom

Meanwhile, I sat there wondering what SIGN FROM GOD this was, really, because you know, you can’t grow up as religious as I did without everything pointing to a SIGN FROM GOD.

  •  Hmm. The truck broke on the way to the border? – SIGN FROM GOD?
  • We sailed clear through without passport inspections? – SIGN FROM GOD?
  • We are stuck going back to San Diego – GOD, WHAT ARE YOU TRYING TO TELL ME?

So I was sitting there mulling over the SIGNS FROM GOD while praying and just basically begging every angel I could think of to NOT MAKE THIS A BAD SIGN. The baby started screaming (of course), our 5-year-old was clamoring to pee and our 3-year-old had the biggest blowout of the year – holy cow – and all the sudden it just struck me funny and I couldn’t stop laughing because, yeah, this was a sign from God all right, saying:

Welcome Back to Traveling

This is what it’s about, man: it’s about the mistakes and the dumb moves and missed calls and right lanes and the people over there smiling at you. It’s about the adventure and the excitement of something you can’t see the end to. It’s about that very moment, enjoying that very moment, despite – or because of? – it’s so laden with ambiguity, like a fruit that can drop ripe or rotten and you don’t know which because you’ve never the seen that particular fruit before. So you just have to sink your teeth in and hope it’s gonna be good.

This is Traveling.

This is the soul of what it’s all about. Adventures without Disney endings, the lows and highs of the unknown. The push to be positive in the face of something that just howls at you, the sweet and unexpected doors that open when you open up, too.

Photo credit: Meriah Nichols / Overland TravelinMom

Photo credit: Meriah Nichols / Overland TravelinMom

I laughed till my stomach hurt and even Mikey – still pushing the truck forward, inch by sweaty inch – laughed too. Then I cleaned up Moxie’s blowout, gave my 5 year old a cup to pee in, took the baby out of his seat (why not?), nursed him and started to really enjoy myself and relaxing into border madness, relishing the sounds of incomprehensible Spanish. We were highly entertained by the delightful spirit of enterprising Mexicans, selling everything from a car cleaning (- like, wash and wax your car while you were waiting in line) to the hands of Jesus and absolutely everything you can imagine in between.

We were in that line for four hours

Four hours; so long that we kind of forgot why were in it to begin with. Then all of the sudden, we were at the green light and hello, San Diego! Nice to see you again. We flew on through, debated staying overnight in San Diego, nixed it because we just wanted to get this done, so we turned our truck around, went through the border again… Only this time we made sure we pulled over, got out and had our passports stamped.

 Bienvenidos a Mexico and welcome back to the wild and wonderful world of travelling!