It’s Thursday morning here in Ensenada, a slightly chilly light air is coming in the from Pacific, the sun is up and it’s going to be a good day in this mid-size Baja Mexico city. Beetle arrived Monday just before dark outside the very tall breakwater, made the left turn around and into the large Port of Ensenada. I have a slip reserved at Marina Cruiseport, Octavio is up at the Harbor Master’s office and he has excellent English language skills (he also has family in Phoenix, Arizona and in Menlo Park, California – so he travels there a lot) and he’s set up Beetle for the slip and the marina staff will help with checking into the country.
So made it in around the huge outside breakwater, found the marina (avoid the yellow buoys, they seem to mark underwater obstacles), run down the marina’s inner breakwater and there is a well maintained large marina with lots of different boats – some are here for the long term, many are short-term transients such as myself. And the slip even has sufficient depth to keep Beetle’s keel out of the mud.
I tied up, visited Octavio, then went to sleep. Plan is to meet back at the Harbor Master’rs office at 9:15 Tuesday morning to set up the paperwork and take the Marina’s shuttle over to the check-in building. The nice thing about entering Mexico is Ensenada is all the functions need to import a boat (Aduana Customs), go through Immigration, and formally arrive (Ensenada Port Captain) are all co-located in a single room. As you need to pay for the services, there’s also a (tiny) branch of the Mexican Military bank (Banjercito) also in the room. In most places these offices are scattered across town – which can turn gaining entry clearance into a day of walking back and forth the miles between functions; here, they are all together.
Mexico loves their paperwork. The start is to make six (I believe, Octavio did this for me) copies of the crew list (just me), a medical declaration that I don’t have Covid, and a formal request for entry into Ensenada for Beetle. Off we go to the building, along with a couple from their power boat Off.Line that has also arrived at Marina Cruiseport. Our “guide” manages to park the large shuttle van in the tiny Port Captain parking lot, we walk in and he heads for Immigration so we follow along like ducks to stand in front of the glass window behind which the Immigration lady operates. Our guide extracts paperwork from his manila envelopes (one for each boat) and hands it through, time goes by, then suddenly you hear a whole series of loud THUMPS as the she stamps copies of the paperwork with the same stamp, she initials them, I initial them, then hand over my passport and she finds a blank page and stamps the VISA into it, and initials it, and writes in how long it is good for. Seems we’re no longer using FMM tourist cards and now just use the passport. What anyone does with all the copies of the same information is beyond me – would be simpler to host one paper on a database and then everyone could reference the same virtual piece of paper.
There are receipts for everything, one is printed as two side-by-side vertical receipts on a single sheet of paper. “Please write your name here, and sign your name just below it – on each side of the paper.” I do, Immigration takes the sheet back, she carefully aligns a metal ruler down the paper’s center and tears it in half – I am given back one side, she keeps the other. That receipt is in Beetle’s folio of paperwork…
Conveniently enough, I no longer have to then visit the bank to pay the immigration/entry fee – as there’s now a credit card reader on my side of the window. This saves the “trip” to Banjercito (there’s a long line for the bank just behind me and it’s not moving quickly). I’m done. Our guide walks the folks from Off.Line through the same process; I ask where we’re going next, he points to the Port Captain’s window to my right, so I go wait there. I didn’t realize this would be an hour and a half wait, but eventually got tired of standing and sat down on one of the half dozen chairs set around a big Christmas tree in the middle of the floor.
The Port Captain’s attention turned out to be the bottleneck for us today, particularly as there was one lady running the front window accompanied by a very official lady all in dark blue uniform and stern look as she examined all the paperwork – though she had a lovely smile when I later thanked her. The problem is that with just one person manning the window, I discovered there is a second window also being serviced, this second window is for the commercial shipping people that come through and the commercial folks have priority over the leisure cruising folks. Each time a new fellow walked in wearing bright orange or blue overalls and went to the second window our work stopped and she would go take care of their paperwork. The going rate is about ten minutes per paperwork. Time goes by.
As we three are sitting around the Christmas tree you start to look around at whom else is here, and yep there’s the guide from Baja Naval with his boat people, the lady from Marina Coral with her boat people, plus our guy from Marina Cruiseport – the guides are all friends and are used to spending lots of time shepherding boaters through this room, much joking and banter between them. The folks off the Friday Harbor boat wander in, we start talking, fairly soon we’re all talking to the other boaters, what are the plans, where’s everyone going and when, it turned into something of an unexpected social gathering at the government offices.
Eventually we are finished and three hours after departing we are returned to the marina in the van and the boats. Aboard Beetle I promptly hoisted my Mexican courtesy flag to the starboard lower spreader – Beetle has been formally entered into Mexico.
I did some boat cleanup (as usual most mornings), and in doing the organizing found myself counting the number of spare zincs on board. I had five for the MaxProp and three for the prop shaft; I figured it would be nice to have five for eaches, and there’s a marine hardware store opposite the Port Captain’s office over by the big boat yard. Not too sure what zinc might be called in Spanish, I took one of my spares with me and walked across the malecon to the store, showed the fellow what I wanted and he went off and picked two more off the shelf – done! It’s fun to find things when you would like to.
Also stopped by the Smart and Final grocery store to verify they are still there, and they are. Found Hussong’s Cantina and in particular the small taco restaurant next door – they have verygood Al Pastore tacos – but they were closed. Unfortunately they don’t post operating hours outside, all you see is a metal rollup door floor to ceiling – not even an indication it’s a restaurant. Did some more walking around town, and in general found the area to be clean, somewhat rundown with more than a few closed businesses, and pleasant.
Wednesday it was up and at it, a giant cruise ship arrived and docked adjacent to Beetle on the other side of the roadway – they have tons of busses running around delivering passengers to different places. The arrival of cruise ship brings out all the malecon street hawkers – Need a picture taken? Sunglasses? – we have best! Lunch? Eat here! – makes it slower to walk along the waterfront. Despite the cruise ship tourists the area did not feel full or busy, and instead just about right. My guess is the economic downturn from the Covid shutdown was not kind to Ensenada.
The outboard motor has been having issues with not wanting to run smoothly when moving the throttle from idle through to middle to fast; at low-middle it wants to shut down. I’ve done some reading about that and found that a mostly-blocked fuel filter can be a cause, so swapped in a new fuel filter. Having done that I found I was down to three spare fuel filters and I have time to procure another couple since I’m in a bigger city – good lucking finding a filter in Turtle Bay or Mag Bay! Checking online I found there is a Mercury and Tohatsu dealer five blocks away, so I had a pleasant stroll over to the shop and while it is a larger leisure marine store the fellow didn’t have any filters so small and did not know where I might find one. Rats!
Today the plan is to re-visit the marine hardware store by the Port Captain, perhaps they have some? Also on the list is run the outboard to verify it works, pull the speedo sensor to keep it clean while in the marina, run a load of laundry, and do a quick shop at Smart and Final.
AT&T Internet APN Issues
A significant issue that is impossible to resolve ahead of time is whether or not my cellular telephone will continue to operate in Mexico; it would be convenient if it would work using my current AT&T service, and if it doesn’t I know the Mexican carrier TelCel (largest wireleses carrier in Mexico) has a store in town where I can purchase a SIM card and monthly pre-paid service. There are two functions I would like, one is making calls back to the States, the other is getting internet access.
In Oxnard I talked with AT&T International Support and was told that my plan covers North America, which means Canada, USA, and Mexico – so everything should work just fine and I don’t need to do or change anything. AT&T has a significant presence in Mexico and in theory they have roaming agreements in place with other carriers. When I arrived I found that the phone service works great but the internet connectivity is dead. After four hours of phone calls with six different AT&T people, nobody could figure out the problem. Note to self: write down the AT&T contact numbers *before* you need them, as once in Mexico I can’t look them up without internet service, and dialing 611 on the phone gets me to an AT&T robot speaking Spanish that I don’t understand and then it hangs up. Fortunately the marina has excellent WiFi and I was able to use that to find the AT&T phone numbers once I figured out how to bypass the auto-redirect AT&T uses that directs users in Mexico to the AT&T Spanish websites (which I don’t understand therefore is not useful to me).
Turns out the problem is with the APN (Access Point Name) settings on my phone and nothing to do with my account. The phone in the USA runs APN “nxtgenphone”, and here the APN is set to “nxtgenphone mx”. I asked AT&T about the APN as I’ve run into that before, and nobody had any suggestions or was even too sure what I was talking about. More digging online via WiFi lead to a couple of pages describing different APN settings to use in Mexico, so I tried them out and Voila! the Note 8 can access the local internet. The changed settings that worked for me, when creating the new APN are:
APN “nxtgenphone mx” (was “nxtgenphone”)
APN type “default,hipri” (was “default,suppl,mms,fota”)
Create the new APN, select it, nable cellular data, enable International roaming, enable LTE, enable 2G, then restart the phone. After verifying connectivity it’s also a good idea to check back with AT&T to make sure you’re not getting hit with high charges for using the phone in Mexio. So far I’m good to go.
It’s going to be a fine day, not too much I need to get done!