We made it! Heading into Mexico for us was kind of like jumping off a high cliff into water far below. Something I don’t care for at all in normal life. It takes a lot of time to work up the nerve to jump. You stand there and think about it more and more. The more you think about it the less likely you are to jump quickly. Finally you say forget it, and jump. Done! It wasn’t that bad after all. This is how entering Mexico with the Roo felt. We weren’t heading north again with it so we needed to be ready for whatever we would encounter south of the US, the land where we knew our way around and could handle most everything that could come our way. South of the border everything is different. Quite different!
We made the jump into Baja California, Mexico via San Diego on Sunday January 13th, 2013. Stopping for gas at the last exit in the USA on I-5 and changing some dollars for pesos we got back on the freeway and headed south. “Are we in Mexico now?” “Yeah Lynne we’re in Mexico!! See the people walking across the highway and buildings that appear to be abandoned?” We had passed through the customs area following a bunch of other cars expecting to stop at some point ahead but just rolling on through and before we knew it we were on the highway rolling out of Tiajuana. We were nervous about not stopping at customs as we entered but I decided we would figure that out the next day in Ensenada. it was late afternoon and I wasn’t about to drive at night. from everyone we talked to that was the one thing everyone agreed upon- “don’t drive at night.” Later our friends in Mexico city would tell us this about Guatemala, worrying about us traveling in a poor country (similar to how Americans saw our travels in Mexico although more informed).
We rolled south and since we were interested in finding camping before the sun dropped over the Pacific we stopped north of Ensenada at Playa Saldomondo. It was $15/ night for a site. It’s funny to think how I have huge reservations to pay for camping in the US but this was a no brainer. We finally found the manager and decided to stay there so he lifted the gate and we rolled out through a string of deserted camp spots. We had the place to ourselves. Just above the ocean we took in the views as we set up the stove for dinner and pitched the tent. Wow! It was so beautiful. The Oregon Coast which people rave about back home has nothing on Baja Coasts! It was still chilly and even more so with the breeze rolling off the ocean. I set up the tent on the lee side (land side) of the Roo and shot some night photos after dinner.Lights from fishing boats showed up in the photos along with the glow of towns to the north and south of us. I slept hard that night until early in the morning when I moved the car to be on the land side of the tent as the wind changes during the night as the air cools over the land and heads back out toward the warmer water.
We were still bundled up well as it wasn’t warm by any stretch in northern Baja. At least it wasn’t as cold as San Diego had felt while we were sick, often frosting at night and remaining cool during the day, especially when it precipitated. Who knew SoCal and Baja got cold?! This was news to us as everything from Arizona down seemed like it would be tropical compared to Washington! Well the tropics line exists for a reason as we were to learn. We drove into Ensenada and struggled with Spanish sufficient to ask to charge our phone with a Tel Cel amigo plan. Well we figured out we needed to buy a SIM card at a Tel Cel store. We stocked up on cough drops, Kleenex and cold medicine as our bodies were still snot factories! Next we went to the Banjercito to pay for our tourists cards and have our passports stamped. They were kind enough to give us directions to a TelCel Store and somehow I found it easily. Unfortunately they didn’t take visa so I was off to a bank to get cash. Thus began our cash struggles. My credit union at home told me I could take my card inside a bank to get cash and avoid fees. Ha! I was told at every bank this was impossible but I could use the ATM (with about a $10 fee!) No thanks.
We went back and had a smoothie where we had parked and then ate a breakfast of eggs. Lynne was right it was a good idea I ate so I didn’t enter the head cold brain dead state early on as we thought we had a 10 hour day of driving! On the downside we burned through pesos before realizing it wasn’t going to be easy to procure more without taking a hit. We wound our way out of town through all the traffic and were finally on the open road!We climbed through green hills and saw fall colors! I had caught up with fall after loosing it in Spokane! Woohoo! Dropping into the next valley we were in wine country- Valley Santo Tomas! It was soo pretty! We passed huge complexes of hothouses, most likely for tomatoes. Later we learned there are camps of indigenous peoples who work these huge farms. We saw strawberry fields and many other crops along the road. Busload after busload of workers were being shuttled from the fields back to a camp. The secret to America’s cheap food (in part) no minimum wage in Mexico.
We passed San Quintin. I was relieved we were getting close to our destination for the night as I was getting close to the zombie state. You know the state where Lynne says I can’t understand English. Further south before the highway heads inland we saw a small village where there was beach access to the south of it. We drove out the sandy road to the beach and parked overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Bueno! Muy Bueno!! We picked a little wash to walk down the 15′ of elevation loss to the shore. Each of these little washes was littered with garbage- mainly plastic & glass bottles and such. We would soon accept this as our new norm aside from a few villages. In the US we’ve forgotten how things used to be before the laws and regulations against littering and pollution. How in those days of more liberty there was trash on the ground and polluted waters & air. Now days a bad person in the US is a person who litters. In the 1950′s life was different. Even when I grew up in the 80′s this was still changing. In Mexico there are road signs everywhere warning to not litter (throw garbage). Lynne has never been to a place with so many such signs. Yet garbage there is- EVERYWHERE! Our strict enforcement of stiff penalties along with public education seems to have changed American attitudes over a generation or more. I look forward to a day when this happens in Mexico.
We walked along the beach and returned to the Roo. After setting up the stove on the hood we soon had soba noodles with tika masala sauce, zucchini, mushrooms, coconut milk and garlic! After taking photos of the sunset I wrote in my journal. I was still behind from getting sick in San Diego. I shot pics of the stars and soon went to bed exhausted at 6:30pm. I love early darkness and camping away from people! It was time to sleep off this cold! As we had driven south that day we shed a layer of clothing. It was gradually getting warmer. Finally! During the night I had to wake up to take a decongestant so I wouldn’t cough too much or gag on the snot factory’s makings. Ahh good times! I rested more in the morning and we were underway the next day by 11:30am. Valle tranquillo lived up to its name! It was a restful place.
After driving for a few hours we stopped at 3pm to see Valle de los Cirios. It was quite windy and hence cold! We saw lots of neat cacti on the way! I wish now I hadn’t been in such a hurry to get to our camp for the night and had more energy to take more pics of all the different interesting cacti! We stopped at another military checkpoint. Each of these would ask us where we were going and we would say La Paz. With that we would be on our way. One of my most dangerous passes in Mexico thus far (after a month and a half now) came that day while passing an older medium size motorhome from the US. As I was passing they must have not realized I was there and began taking up both lanes. I came as close to the opposing road edge as I dared! My heart was pounding! Later a semi entered our lane from the opposing direction around a winding corner on a hill. I dove deep in the ‘shoulder’.
These situations are honestly the primary sorts of dangers you are likely to face in Mexico. Baja has one highway and it’s not wide! 2 lanes with no shoulder. Yet having said this, there aren’t a lot of people in Baja. The driving is way easier than on the mainland and the mainland is a walk in the park compared to driving in Mexico City. Yes, Baja is like the Old West, open and free. After fueling up in Rosario since it’s the last stop for a ways we climbed up to over 2800′ into a deserted desert. We skipped driving over to the east coast to see Bahia de Los Angeles as were were looking to ‘make time’ south. In retrospect Baja is an easy journey from the US. One does not need the temporary import permit or anything else really. This is why one finds a higher percentage of gringos. It’s like you never left the states in ways aside from the obvious things that scream “you’re in Mexico”. It has the open space of the American West and camping is easy. This is a sharp contrast from the mainland of Mexico!
According to our gps we had a rolling average of 44mph for the day, same as the day before. There were lots of twists in the highway and slow climbs. The day before was full of small towns and people, this day was just desert! I thought both of these were slow at the time but now we view a daily moving average of 44mph to be fast! Mexico time. Mexico roads. For stretches it seemed like we were in either Arizona, Nevada or California- vast swaths of remote desert! There was a mix of gringos locals and semis on the roads. A seemingly high percentage of vehicles lacked license plates. That pesky import paperwork for bringing a vehicle into Mexico gets in the way! Plus it’s tough (almost impossible) to import a vehicle to Mexico from the US that’s more than 10 years old. As the sun made its arc toward the Pacific we made our way toward the ocean, leaving the highway 16 miles south of Punta Prieta and taking the dirt road south of Punta Rosalillita. The road was rough rocky and slow (5-15mph) but we never thought of using 4WD. A few miles south of Punta Rosalillita we found ourselves a camp. We hadn’t seen another soul after rolling through the tiny fishing village. There were shelf rocks on the beach but we didn’t have time to dally. In the waning light I shot photos, & we set up camp & cooked dinner just above the rocky beach. The wind was blowing but we had no idea the force it held in its wings.
This was the first day I could see the road south stretching out before me. Panama no longer seemed impossibly far. Getting into Mexico and moving south had changed us into the moving phase of the trip from the long and laborious preparing phase. The Mexico border had somehow acted as a huge mental barrier blocking sight of everything after that. Even with our poor Spanish we had done just fine thus far and everything else ahead seemed easy. If I were to do it again I think I would buy a Toyota with a camper or a Sprinter and save all the time on vehicle mods! But even though some of the car work seemed like overkill I’m quite glad I did it now! Working on a broken car in a foreign land is not as romantic as it sounds. I thought of the image of Lynne’s face after we crossed the border, excited by people along the road, dilapidated buildings and all the things that scream, “you’re not in Kansas anymore!” That’s part of why we are here. I like these differences too, the colorful buildings & people, crumbling hillsides above the road and more chaotic traffic (although Baja was just the primer for things to come) along with fewer rules/ regard for them can make life a lot more interesting when not at dangerous levels. Things felt very safe and we were excited to see this trend continue.
The mental road block at the border was constructed of more than the blocks of a language barrier. It was the countless sermons we’d heard by friends and family, the most extreme whom told us we’d be cooked in a pot and eaten. Ridiculous yes, but that stuff wears on you over time. And news reports build up in the mind over time as well. Cartel violence exists in places- it almost always involves people who are involved themselves in cartel or gang business but this is the face of Mexico through the news that most Americans know. Just as most Mexicans think that every American is gun crazy, carries a gun and many are involved in gun violence. We’ve forgotten to look past the tails of the Gaussian, to see a world beyond extremes, sensationalism & idiocracy of the cable news media- an industry now based on entertainment value not journalism. Math is vitally important for our understanding of the world! See the chunk of the curve more than 4 standard deviations out? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Standard_deviation_diagram.svg That’s the where our media hype factories live. Good weekend reading here! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Normal_distribution
On our first night we slept with city lights in sight and saw a highway just above us a couple hundred meters. The second night we could see a small village within a couple hundred meters. On this night the only light we could see besides the moon and stars was our solar lamp and a few distant fishing boats on the ocean! It felt like Argentine Patagonia in ways! A rough dirt road and wind, strong wind, whipping across the desert. During the day we would see lone buildings along the road but the road is paved in Baja and we lacked the looming Andes to the west. After so many years of dreaming this trip and even years of planning it I was finally in the doing of it! Even though I still had a cold that made driving a lot more exhausting it felt GREAT!!
I woke up at 3am not to sleep again. Our sole companion the wind grew and grew! Near sunrise Lynne’s side of the tent was collapsing. Sand had blown in through the mesh under the fly and coated everything inside. I should have moved the car to shield us when I awoke but was too groggy to realize the importance. I simply laid there in my sleep drunk state and listened to the wind roar. I moved the car at 7am but the aluminum poles had already received their beating! It’s not a metal meant to flex repeatedly and two sections of pole had cracked. We tore down the tent with the stakes still in the ground and wadded it quickly to avoid it joining the Pacific Ocean. In the process of my haste however I lost track of the location of 2 tent stakes. We searched for an hour to only find one of them. We returned to Punta Rosalillita via a ‘path’ closer to the ocean where I did in fact throw the Roo in 4WD and give her the juice for some loose sand portions. We made our way back to the pavement and cranked along.
The military checkpoint 4km north of Guerro Negro was the slowest yet. Several vehicles were searched. Not us, the simply said SOOB A ROOO!! after taking down my driver’s license number and plate # along with our destination. Next we stopped to pay 20 pesos and have the car fumigated- we were told to roll up our windows as we drove over the spray thingie on the ground. Safety 3rd! we were told no fruits were allowed to enter but they didn’t look through the car. I should have driven into Guerro Negro for gas (so I could have used my visa card as we were short on pesos) but didn’t realize many Pemex stations in smaller towns take cash only. We stopped in Vizcaino for fuel but only used the bathrooms as they didn’t take cards and I figured the next one would. We were officially on the next stretch of our journey, Baja California Sur or BCS!! YEEEHAWW!!