"Tourist Cards": The Little Building Beside the Road Logo
"Tourist Cards": The Little Building Beside the Road



September 27, 2000, by Gene Kira:

Back in the early days of driving south on Mex 1, Baja California's Transpeninsular Highway, most of us knew that you needed a "tourist card" to go to fishing in Baja, but I must admit it was years before I ever laid eyes on one.

That educational event happened one day when we were convoying south with some knowledgeable people, and I was surprised when the rig in front of me pulled off about 10 miles south of Ensenada and stopped at a small, lonely, unpainted concrete block building, standing all by itself beside the road.

We all went inside and presented our birth certificates to the Mexican official, who politely filled out the old-style forms and stamped them. Three of us, including me, lacked birth certificates. No problem! We showed the man our California driver's licenses, gave him half a pack of cigarettes (this was back when all real men still smoked), and five minutes later we were on our way again.

This system persisted for many years and many thousands of miles down Mex 1.

(In those days, we didn't have insurance or Mexican fishing licenses either, but that's another story.)

Sometimes, the lonely little building would be open for business, and sometimes it wasn't. If it was, we stopped; if it wasn't, we just bombed on by and didn't worry about it. It wasn't what you'd call a "big deal," but it was a pleasant ritual that we looked forward to, for it meant that we were heading south for another trip full of fun and adventure in Baja.

Gradually, the place where the little building stood came to be called "Maneadero," and the little town around it grew and grew. One year, the little building acquired a nice brown paint job. Another year, it was green and they had installed window shutters. Then came a telephone line, and eventually, a phone to go with it.

The little town of Maneadero began to get crowded with houses and stores, and taco stands and tamale ladies, a Pemex gas station, kids and dogs, and people waiting for the bus, and pretty soon, you had to drive carefully and look hard to find the little building, or you would miss it in the passing swirl of dust and colorful Mexican signs and storefronts.

And then one year, we arrived to find the little building boarded shut forever, and the friendly officials inside were no longer there. Maneadero itself was now a part of Ensenada, swallowed up whole by the growing city to its north, and we found it necessary to stop for tourist cards at the busy border crossing in Tijuana or at the even busier immigration office in Ensenada where there was never any parking for our rigs.

And half a pack of cigarettes was no longer a bona fide substitute for a birth certificate. Now, we needed the real thing or it was definitely going to be "un problema." But, we paid our dues, and we kept driving south past the little building as it gradually grew smaller and smaller among all the new city projects, and season-by-season, the annual weeds grew tall and dry against its walls.

And now, life has gotten just as complicated in Baja as it is as home, and we need passports, and insurance, and fishing licenses, and boat permits, and our simple, free little tourist card has become a big, long, legal-looking form with a $20 fee and a visit to the bank attached to it.

The last time I saw the little building, it had become part of the store next door, and thus, after so many years, had lost its identity and its original purpose. Lately, I haven't been able to find it at all.

I sure wish I had a picture of it.

(Related Baja California, Mexico, articles and reports may be found at Mexfish.com's main Baja California information page. See weekly fishing news, photos, and reports from the major sportfishing vacation areas of Mexico including the Baja California area in "Mexico Fishing News.")