An Alternative Moving Experience

By Jane Castleman 

We attended the FOM program in May 2012.  Because we had plans to move to Mexico within the next few months, we looked for an unfurnished house to rent while we were here—and found one. Special thanks to Dee Grant of Focus on Mexico for her help, support, and friendship all through this process!  That helped me decide what things we would bring with us, and which we’d sell.  But what would it cost to bring everything I wanted?   I was almost afraid to find out.  I didn’t want to leave behind the beautiful things I had acquired just because I couldn’t sit in them, sleep on them, or wear them.

Before we left Ajijic in May, I visited a moving company and asked to see that mysterious object called a “liftvan,” in terms of which moving estimates are quoted.   A liftvan turned out to be a crate about the size of a big piano (actually about 7 x 7 x 4 feet.)  For comparison purposes, I asked for quotes for six liftvans from three companies, including one in Guadalajara recommended by a friend.  As I pictured my belongings parceled among those six crates alongside the stacks of cash each wanted, my eyes widened.  Like Scarlet O’Hara, I decided to think about that another day.

Fortunately, Winston Tortajada of Lake Chapala Moving had given me another option.  But before I tell you about it, you should understand that Al and I are organized by nature, I have no physical limitations—yet, and am not afraid of hard work if I can do it at my pace.  Winston included in his quote the option to choose a semi-DIY move.  I could either pack myself or subcontract the packing to a local company, and then a freight company would deliver to our home an empty trailer into which all of our goods could be loaded over a few days time by me or by someone I paid.  Then the cab would return, pick up the trailer, and take it through customs in Laredo, TX directly to my door in Ajijic.  Before they left, we would place the locks they gave us on the trailer, assuring that our goods would not be removed before they were delivered unless we got a “red light” at customs (we didn’t.)  We could even share a trailer with another customer, which would prorate the cost based on the proportion of the space we used, and our loads would be separated by a locked bulkhead provided by the freight company and installed by us.  In Ajijic, Winston’s men would unload the trailer and place the furniture wherever I wanted it.  The travel time from Tucson was estimated to be no more than 21 days and depended primarily on what happened at customs.  When I calculated the volume of interior trailer space, 28 x 8 x 8 ft., about 1800 cu. ft., and realized that’s about nine liftvans, I started to relax.  The cost for all that space was just $5400 from Tucson, AZ to Ajijic, and the tighter we packed that space, the more safely our goods would travel over rough Mexican roads.  Now it was up to me to pack well, so I searched online for packing tips.

From Craigslist, I got nearly all the boxes I needed, along with a few furniture blankets and some clean paper.  I ordered some padded paper “blankets” and more fabric blankets from an online source.  From Home Depot I got tape and plastic mattress bags, from Public Storage a couple of flat-screen TV boxes, and from a bedding store, some empty mattress boxes to fit ours.  Over the space of a month, I slowly packed all our things, like items with like, leaving the boxes unsealed.  I packed two large mirrors and some artwork between two sheets of inexpensive, lightweight rigid Styrofoam insulation from Home Depot taped together, some of them then placed into mattress boxes.  I used the leftover Styrofoam to make padding for the fronts of special pieces of furniture before wrapping them in moving blankets.  Because food items and chemicals cannot be transported by commercial freight, we planned to tow a trailer we owned with them and the other things we would need before the freight arrived: an inflatable mattress; bedding and towels; a few pots, pans, dishes and glasses; some clothing; dog food; the fragile items we weren’t willing to entrust to freight; and our valuables.  Of course we bought locks for the trailer with shanks so short they couldn’t be cut by bolt-cutters.

All along the way, I talked to Winston by phone and emailed questions, too.  He has the ideal background to run his company: he has worked in responsible management positions both for Mexican customs and for Yellow Roadway Freight.  He speaks wonderful English, and is very responsive and positive.  His motto seems to be, “There’s always a way.”  Among other things, he provided packing instructions, Inventory Forms for us to fill out, and referrals to a transit insurance company.  By following his instructions carefully, along with Focus on Mexico’s instructions on the items we’d need at the border for auto insurance, marriage license, pet health certificate, and so on, I can say the trip was almost a vacation.  Oh, and Al bought a rebuilt Garmin GPS at a healthy discount from an online source, an invaluable driving guide from On The Road In, and, since our dog was coming with us, researched accommodations through Gringo Dog.  All that was left to deal with were the topes!

A week before the move, I paid the freight bill and the transit insurance with a credit card over the phone.  (If we had not needed the entire space, there would have been a partial refund of the freight bill later.)  The day before, we had a crew from Starving Students load the trailer, Al and I together went from box to box, listing the contents briefly on Winston’s inventory forms along with the model and serial numbers of electronic equipment, TVs, and major appliances (small appliances are exempt from this requirement), marked each box with a big red number corresponding to its inventory sheet number, then sealed them.  Al then faxed the forms to Winston so they could be translated into Spanish for Mexican customs.  The cost for translation was included in Winston’s quote.

I asked Starving Students to send me a very experienced loading crew and I give them a lot of credit for the fact that everything, including crystal, arrived in perfect condition save two casseroles which I packed poorly.  Winston told me that freight trucks do not take the toll roads, but I didn’t entirely ”get it” until we experienced the topes ourselves.  In the end, we had 200 boxes, bundles, and pieces of furniture which filled the entire 28-foot trailer, the trailer arrived and departed on schedule, the Starving Students worked hard and got a big tip, the freight was held up at the border by a Mexican national holiday and disappearance of paperwork into a black hole but got a “green light,” and all was delivered 17 days later.  As I watched Winston’s men, a family of four brothers, move in four hours into the proper rooms all the goods that took ten hours to pack, I marveled over their good cheer.  Nothing was too much trouble, too heavy, too hard to navigate.  As they left, Winston said they’d be back if I needed anything moved around.  And as I thought aloud about what else we would need to be completely at home, he offered his company’s services to paint, re-wire, re-plumb, refinish.  My first experiences with life in Mexico were with the crew that did this extra work—competently, cheerfully, and cost-effectively.  The total cost for this disciplined but joyous experience for materials, labor, tips, and freight was less than $6000.  I was thrilled.

Winston Tortajada
Lake Chapala Moving
Toll Free 1-866-804-1513
Mex Phone 376-766-5008