Green Cards & 4x4s

Nope, we didn’t rob a bank (though it kind of feels that way). We’re shopping for a used car in Mexico!

That means cold hard cash.

These days, you might be able to get away with a bank transfer, but you probably won’t get a deal. Plus, we don’t have a Mexican bank account, which means fees and delays. Most sellers here don’t want to mess with that.

The largest denomination we can get out of an ATM here is roughly the equivalent of US$25. So even a vehicle well under US$10,000 means a lot of bills.

It took us some time (and several trips to the ATM, even after increasing our daily withdrawal limit), but we’re stocked and ready to deal.

Fortunately, our bank reimburses our ATM fees, but I’m sure they’re hating us right now.

We’re looking for a vehicle with high clearance, 4WD, and third row seating, which narrows the field substantially. If you’ve read the last few posts, you may have noticed that the road conditions aren’t the best in and around Chacala. And the third row seating is for ferrying around family and friends that visit.

Our #1 choice of vehicle is a late-2000s Mitsubishi Montero, which seems like the perfect vehicle for our needs.

I originally wanted a Land Cruiser but quickly realized I didn’t want to pay extra for the badge and the V8 petrol engine (we’re not planning on towing anything, so that just seems like overkill, not to mention a waste of gas).

4Runners have fold-down 3rd row seating, but it’s really cramped and uncomfortable back there. And 4Runners are overpriced for what you get.

Our neighbor in Sayulita had a Montero and it seemed to tick all the boxes. Our second choice if that doesn’t work out is a Honda Pilot.

So how do you car shop in a fishing village of 300 residents without a car and 2+ hours to the nearest major city? Well, it ain’t easy. But it’s possible.

We started looking online in places like Tepic and Puerto Vallarta before widening our search to Guadalajara, a nearly 4-hour journey away.

On top of that, we’ve enlisted the services of a guy who was referred to us by a couple of area friends. He’s a bilingual mechanic who helps foreigners like us find and follow up on good leads, and narrow them down to a few worth looking at. After that, he’ll arrange transport to view these vehicles and accompany us to knock some tires and make sure everything looks good. He’ll also help us negotiate, all for a reasonable fee. One of the many things I love about living in Mexico.

Taking a virtual tour over Skype of a potential vehicle while the boys are quietly entertained in the next room.

Chilaquiles brunch at Las Brisas. Another beautiful day at the beach.

Wednesdays are the day Lori and I try to set aside each week to blow off work and go do something fun. Today, we’re going to try to hike to Playa Caleta, a popular surfing beach in the area.

However, the recent storms have not been kind to the trail, and after 15 minutes of clambering over fallen fronds and rocks, we decide to call it quits. We’ll try again in the dry season.

They’re resurfacing the one paved road in and out of town…again. They were redoing the road last May when we first visited, not four months ago.

It’s that time of the year, again! Daddy’s birthday. Here in little ‘ol Chacala I would have been more than happy with a candle poked into a street taco. So I certainly wasn’t expecting this monster of a cake! Courtesy of our new friend, Eden, who was kind enough to swing by and grab something at the grocery store in Las Varas when Lori asked for tips on where to find a birthday cake. Muchisimas Gracias, Eden (and Lori)!

It ended up being one of the more low-key birthdays I’ve had in a while, and here in Chacala with Lori and the boys, I couldn’t ask for more. Some people pay big bucks to be able to spend a few days within a stone’s throw of a tropical beach like this and we get to live here until who knows when. And tres leches cake and pizza! So, yeah, not too shabby of a way to spend a birthday.

The artiste at his new preschool. Riley was too young to attend preschool in Sayulita, so he was very excited to be able to join big brother at El Jardin here in Chacala. So far he’s really enjoying it.

Getting back to car shopping, after a trip to Tepic to view a handful of vehicles, it seemed as though we were going to have to widen our search to include Guadalajara.

We weren’t looking forward to a 6+ hour roundtrip journey to Mexico’s Second City to look at cars and were still holding out hope that something closer to home would come on the market.

Fortunately, at the last minute, it did.

It was a car in Puerto Vallarta that we came across early in our search but didn’t bother calling about because of the high miles. But at this point, we thought we’d have our guy, Santiago, reach out and get some information on the vehicle. Couldn’t hurt, right?

Turns out that the nephew who posted the vehicle on Facebook Marketplace didn’t bother to ask the mileage and just entered 300,000, because, why not? The actual mileage, was 187,000 km (roughly 116,000 miles). Not bad for a 2006, especially considering there was nothing else on the market even close.

We already had an appointment the next day at the immigration office in Nueva Vallarta to trade in our temporary resident visas for our actual permits, so it worked out to view the vehicle that same afternoon.

However, both boys needed to be present at the immigration office to receive their cards, and the trip takes about five hours roundtrip from Chacala. We knew it was going to be a very long day, but better than doing two separate trips.

Well before sunrise, Samuel, our go-to taxi driver/buddy from our Sayulita days (who recently picked us up in the middle of a hurricane at PVR) arrived in Chacala to take us on our day-long sojourn south.

Even on a Wednesday in September, arriving minutes after opening, we just managed to make the final slot for the day. Apparently some of the people in line had been waiting outside since 3am. If we hadn’t made it in, we would have had to make the five hour roundtrip again tomorrow with the boys, leaving much earlier. We were so relieved we made it in by the skin of our teeth.

Nobody likes waiting around at a government office for hours on end, but this is especially true for an [almost] 3-year-old and a 5-year-old.

Noe, for the most part, took it in stride, making his way through all of the public reading material and whatever he brought with him.

Riley, on the other hand, was a bit harder to entertain (not entirely a surprise). It wasn’t long until we resorted to the strap-the-toddler-into-the-stroller-and-initiate-emergency-screen-time protocol.

It took a couple of hours of doing the Mexican bureaucratic hat dance, but we did eventually manage to fulfill all of the additional requirements which are typical of this sort of thing in Mexico (undisclosed tramites (documents) not listed in the website list, arbitrary numbers of photocopies that the official always ends up not needing, etc).

We thought we would need to return later in the week for the physical cards, but they said we could leave with them today if we come back at 2pm, which we were super happy about.

With a few hours to kill, we celebrated with a treat at the “Coffee Shop with the Yellow M”…

…or a nap.

After a relatively uninspiring walk around the neighborhood consisting of gated communities and all-inclusive beachfront resorts, we returned to the immigration office, and left with four freshly-minted “Green Cards”.

We’re officially temporary residents of Mexico! Among other things, this means we don’t have to leave the country every six months to get a new visitor permit (for up to four years), along with other benefits including…being able to legally own a Mexican car in our own names.

The timing couldn’t be any better, as it was time to make our way to meet up with Santiago and view what would hopefully be our next vehicle.

Unlike every other vehicle we had viewed with Santiago, this Montero seemed to pass all the tests. All but one. Like every other vehicle in Mexico it seems (at least in our small sample), the Check Engine Light was lit up. So, we swung by Santiago’s friend’s shop down the street and had it scoped.

The culprit was one of the oxygen sensors. We can live with that. Everything else looked good so we headed back to the owner, negotiated a bit, and drove off with our new vehicle.

Of course, it was a bit more complicated than that. And then, of course, it decided to storm an hour into our journey home. Everything took longer than expected (typical) so we found ourselves on Highway 200 headed north after dark. Nothing like driving a new-to-you vehicle on the first day at night in a tropical thunderstorm.

After a long, slow slog in the driving rain, we made it back to Chacala just in time to enjoy the last little bit of a ferocious electrical storm.

Having a vehicle opens up a world of possibilities for us here in Mexico. All last year in Sayulita we had a golf cart, which was great in town but left us confined to a five mile radius. If we wanted to stock up at a big supermarket or travel outside of Sayulita, we’d need to hire someone like Samuel or rent a car. Now, we’re free to go anywhere anytime we want.

Our first out of town trip? Back to Sayulita, of course!

When we returned to Mexico three weeks ago to collect our things from our old house in Sayulita, the neighborhood had been completely cut off by flooding and a downed tree. That mess has been cleaned up and we finally have transport, so it’s go-time.

Sayulita looks a lot better than the last time we were here. Most of the damage from the hurricane has been cleaned up, but the shape of the main beach was significantly changed. The storm created a small dune at the water line, creating a bowl behind it where the umbrella vendors set up. Now, at high tide (or high surf), that area fills in making a sand bar island.

As a result, the surf break is much closer to shore than it was a month ago. It feels like you can reach out and touch the surfers.

And all of that storm debris? It’s still there, just collected in huge piles behind the beach chair rentals.

It’s nice to visit Sayulita, stock up on craft beer, fresh chicken breasts, and other delicacies, and visit some of our favorite joints. But by the end of the morning, we were looking forward to heading north and returning to our home in sleepy Chacala.

Finally reunited with the boys’ toys, our beach stuff, cookware, and a bunch of other little things that will make our house feel a bit more homey.

Happy hour sunset time in Chacala. Our house in Chacala has a nice little pool, but we’re still drawn to the beach. It’s a ten minute walk down the hill, so it’s hard to resist. Hanging out here for an hour around sunset has become part of our daily routine.

We capped off an eventful week with a special night out with the boys at Chac Muul, one of only a handful of eateries in town. September’s been a busy first month here, but we’re finally feeling like we’re getting settled.

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