We arrived at the Tecate border post, and driving slowly towards the barrier the green light went on, the barrier was raised and the border guards waved us through into Mexico. “Is that it, are we now in Mexico?” Tom asked. I wasn’t sure, that was way too easy after everything we had read. We drove into the little town, found parking and walked back to the border post where we applied for our Tourist Permit and asked where we could get the permit for our truck.
“Not here, you go either to Tijuana or Mexicali for truck permit,” the border official replied. Ah ha, not quite what we had planned for so we walked back to wait for a bank to open to pay for our tourist permit and to discuss our options.
We decided to drive along the Mexican-USA border to Tijuana, as it was closer than driving the 150kms back to Mexicali. The only challenge would be that we had neither maps of Tijuana, nor an address for the office we were to get the permit nor any directions.
“This should be interesting,” Tom said and it was.
We headed for the toll road to Tijuana that runs along the USA Mexican border; it is a pretty drive; 55km (34 miles). We saw the huge fence put up by the USA to prevent illegals from crossing into the states. White border patrol vehicles could be seen, driving along in USA territory probably watching us watching them. The road was quiet except for workers removing large rocks from the road that had washed down in the recent rains. Surprisingly there were water stops along the roadside, “aqua aqui”, are these for people traveling on foot crossing this desert? There is also a large fence between the lanes making it difficult for persons to cross the highway.
We soon found ourselves in Tijuana, fighting traffic trying to determine the direction we should be heading. As we entered Tijuana, we saw a sign to San Diego that we followed, but soon realized that we must have made a wrong turn since we were now driving through residential areas. Roads got narrower, houses more run down, there were dogs on the side of the road rummaging through garbage, children out playing and the locals doing their chores. Nobody paid any attention to us, despite our vehicle screaming “lost tourists.” We knew we should be heading north and we needed to get to the other side of the valley, the only question was how. Pulling out all our African navigation and driving skills, we began tackling a large congested city without a map or address. The only thing we knew for sure is we had to find the border crossing between Mexico and USA, as the office had to be close to that. We headed north and finally came to a road with a traffic lights, this was good since that means we are back on some kind of main road. We kept heading north until we saw once again the sign indicating San Diego the only problem being that we did not want to get stuck on a highway heading back to the USA and not be able to turn around. When we determined we were close to the border we parked our truck and began to walk following the crowd and vehicles north. We asked for directions but no one was able to assist us. Soon we saw the huge mass of people and vehicles lined up for miles all waiting to cross into the USA. Time for us to turn east as the office would be on the road coming into Tijuana. We crossed the highway, and finally found a taxi driver who directed us towards the office. We found it with a lesson learnt; make sure we can get all the documents required at the border crossing we choose to enter. However, we are also pleased we had the opportunity to experience Tijuana, meet some locals, and witness the chaos of one of the world’s busiest and challenging border crossing.
It was lunchtime and Tom was hungry. Heading back into the crowd we found a street vendor, not a tourist looking person except us in sight. He pulled the cows head out of the pot and began to pull large chunks of meat from the skull, I felt we were back in Africa, the people friendly and pleased to see us. Life was good.
Getting out of Tijuana and onto the highway was chaotic, traffic was not moving so we decided to get off the highway and just head south. We arrived in Rosarito and pulled in to get some food supplies. Soon after entering the store however, we found ourselves wondering all about Mexican food, what is it, how do we cook it, all the questions we ask when entering a foreign country. This was going to be an interesting experience.
Our first Mexican camp was at Ensenada and we spent 2 days exploring the area. We drove out to witness the La Bufadora where the mountains plunge perpendicularly into the ocean. The water rushes into a cave and is blasted out reaching heights of up to 20m/66 feet.
Ensenada had a lovely museum and we spent several hours learning about the Mexican culture.
On Christmas, morning we crossed the Sierra de Juarez Mountain range heading west towards San Felipe on the Gulf of California which is also called the Sea of Cortez. We met some other Swiss overlanders Roger and Mirjam who we have been bumping into since they are also on route to Argentina.
After setting up camp, we set off down the beach for a walk where we were greeted by an elderly, friendly Canadian who introduced himself as Lloyd. I made a turkey Christmas dinner and invited some people but nobody has shown up,” he said. “Do you want to join me and Bernie for Christmas dinner, turkey with gravy, stuffing, vegetables and pie?” he asked.
<div style=”font-size: 75%; padding-left: 2.3em;”>Campsite San Felipe“I made a turkey Christmas dinner and invited some people but nobody has shown up,” he said. “Do you want to join me and Bernie for Christmas dinner, turkey with gravy, stuffing, vegetables and pie?” he asked.
“Sure but we have some other friends” we replied. “Sure but we have some other friends” we replied.
“No problem bring them with you.” “No problem bring them with you.”
We all joined Lloyd, Bernie, Lance and his wife Frances for a wonderful tasty Christmas dinner on the beach. Then Bernie let out a secret it was also Lloyd’s 88<sup>th</sup> birthday we all sang happy birthday to an amazing man with a great sense of humour and wit and a great cook. He is the manager at Campo Mar Sal if anyone is ever in the vicinity, clean camp with hot showers.
Driving south along the coastline across Sierra Santa Isabel, we headed for Punta Bufeo to camp. We soon learnt the hard way we were not in our Land Cruiser 80 series, which seemed to be unstoppable in any terrain.
Attempting to locate a campsite amongst the beach dunes our Nissan truck became stuck deep in the soft sand and we were going nowhere. Learning a vehicle limits usually means getting stuck or struggling to make it over a rough road. We are only beginning to learn the limits and ability of our truck camper. It did amazing over the rough terrain but we did not lower the tire pressure enough going over soft sand. We looked at each other and said our usual, “it is time for a cup of tea before we tackle this situation.”
Then coming over the horizon we saw the most beautiful sight, a truck of Mexican military men heading towards us, coming to our rescue. After some digging and attaching the towrope, we were ready to be pulled out. The men were friendly, professional and soon had us safe and back on hard ground offering us lots of advice and suggestions. After much “muchas gracias,” we waved them good-bye. They were great.
The following morning after driving miles and miles of bad rough road across the desert, we stopped at the Bahia San Luis Gonzaga, which is located in a beautiful bay with a stunning view across the ocean. We chatted to some Americans staying there before heading off again. We arrived at the famed Coco’s corner where we once again met up with Roger and Mirjam. It was only another 20km to a tarred road and the highway heading south to Guerrero Negro where we hope to do some whale watching.
Imagine being larger than a bus, weighing up to 45 tons and having to give birth to a one ton 4.5 m (16′) baby. This what a gray whale does each year after swimming south to Baja California Mexico from Alaska just to give birth. They begin arriving at the beginning of each year in the 1000’s many heading for the Laguna Ojo de Liebre also known as Scammon’s Lagoon. We headed out in a little blue boat in search of gray whales in the lagoon and soon we spotted the puff of water in the air and saw our first gray whale. In fact, we saw several, and we followed behind watching them lifting its fluke (tail) out of the air before diving deep below. We saw sea lions resting in the sun, dolphins swimming ahead, pelicans, and other sea birds flying across the water. They begin to give birth sometime in January so we were too early to see any baby whales but it was wonderful to be in the fresh air and watching nature once again.
Baja California is the world’s largest peninsula with the Sea of Cortez also known as the Gulf of California on the east coast and the colder Pacific on the west. The peninsula measures 1,200km in length and is one of the driest places on earth. Embraced by the seas on either side the land between these two oceans is dry, dusty and covered with millions of cacti. Winding, narrow roads cut across the desert, over mountain ranges and through little forgotten villages. We drove from the Pacific side across the Desierto De Vixcanio to San Ignacio a village surrounded by leafy palm trees a stark contrast to the surroundings, an oasis in the middle of the Baja.
We parked alongside the river and had lunch under the palm trees while watching the birds and ducks enjoy the water. We headed into the centre of the town to see the . The church dominates the plaza, which is surrounded by magnificent large shady trees. A few tourists sit on the sidewalk in the little restaurant alongside the plaza drinking coffee. It is siesta time and most of the locals are resting.
We entered Santa Rosalia a town facing the Sea of Cortez. Strolling through the town center, we stopped at Panaderia El Boleo a bakery influenced by the French who occupied the town at the end of the 19th Century. The breads were fantastic, the best bread we have had since leaving Calgary, but perhaps most surprising is that it has one of the world’s first prefabricated buildings. The Iglesia de Santa Barbara is a church designed by Gustave Eiffel (creator of the famous tower in Paris) and built for the World Fair in 1889. Made of light metal the building was later dismantled and shipped to Santa Rosalia where today it serves as the town’s main church. It is not a big church but inside it is charming and worth a visit.
Mulege is a little town with the most narrow of streets, despite that we were able to drive through the town and get out to explore it before heading to find a campsite. We arrived at the campsite only to find that some other camper who shall remain nameless had parked his huge rig and trailer across the entrance of several campsites. This is why some countries get a bad rap with behaviour like this. He was just too lazy to unhitch his trailer or perhaps he was just very new to camping etiquette.
One of the most spectacular locations on Baja is around the Bahia Concepcion and it is here that many folk from BC come down for the winter and camp on the beach. In fact, we have met more Canadians in Mexico than we ever met in the USA.
We set up camp on the beach at Santispac and it was not long before we were sharing Canadian weather updates with all the local Canadians. It is so Canadian to talk about the weather, it is as Canadian as wearing a toque. Whereas the locals complained about the “frio” or cold weather in the Baja, the Canadians were out sunbathing thinking this is great. Isn’t everything just so relative in life? Baja has not been as warm as we anticipated. They do have a winter in Baja although everyone says it is warmer in Baja South.
Tom bought several kilos of large shrimps from a local fisherman and grilled them on the beach. Yelling to passersby, he invited them to taste his cooking. The shrimp were great and it was a fun way to meet fellow campers.
Cooking on the beach continued with a pig being grilled over a fire for New Year Eves celebration at the little restaurant Ana at the end of the beach. We all arrived at 5pm to ensure we got a table as it was packed. There was an eclectic mixture of people gathered to celebrate the arrival of 2011. Sunburned and bearded gringo retirees, locals and kids all just showed up in their camping attire although a few ladies were dressed to the hilt. Soon the music started, the margaritas flowed, the delicious meal served and the volume got louder. Inhibitions disappeared and the dance floor filled up as we counted down the last remaining hours of 2010. At 10 seconds 10:00pm, they began the countdown to the New Year. Since most people are “older folk” they use New York time to ring in the New Year and then they can all retire. It was a lot of fun and I certainly felt the effect of the Margaritas well into the following day.
The next day we were invited to join our fellow Canadians to go clamming. They collect the clams by digging them up at low tide on the beach; they are then turned into Clam chowder. So after piling into there vehicles and driving to a nearby beach we spent the next hour or so bent over and digging like dogs. Soon we had a couple of bags and after freeing the vehicles from the soft sand headed to the local bar for a libation.
We never stuck around long enough to taste the chowder since we wanted to head south to La Paz. La Paz is the state capital of Baja. It was time for a few days rest, catch up with laundry, practice some more Spanish and do some route planning.
Today is Tom’s birthday and I am still trying to decide what to give him. He has everything that he needs, so it is difficult. Actually, what he really needs is a haircut and he flatly refuses to let me near him with a pair of scissors. He says I am “not trained to cut hair.” I think he forgets that we are “roughing it” and a few chunks cut out of his hair or a bad haircut is not going to cramp his style. You would think he was off to a fashion show the way he reacts to my offer. I cut his hair once and although it was 37 years ago, he is still traumatized by it, even though I promised not to laugh this time.
We have now been in La Paz 11 days. Our original plan was to just pass through, but we got a flat tire and that resulted in us attending Spanish school. Oh, yes in trying to explain to the nice Mexican tire man what we needed it soon became obvious that our biggest problem was not a flat tire but our Spanish. We may as well have been chatting to the man in the moon.
Our Spanish tutor must have thought we were perverts. Our Spanish was even worse than we thought. Tom told her he climbed naked, I told her I was sexy and then asked Tom how much his balls cost just after he told her I washed with soup, all in Spanish of course. Why on earth would anyone invent words that sound like other words but have completely different meanings, just to confuse us? It was a struggle but we persevered. Our tutors were great but Friday was the best day because we got to eat cake at our graduation. I still don’t know how to ask a tire man to fix my tire in Spanish, we never got to that level but we had a ton of fun and lots of laughs (at ourselves of course). I read in the Calgary Herald about a dog that knows 1022 words in English that is more words than I know in Spanish. So what does that tell you? I should have been a dog! I am still trying to persuade Tom we need a dog now maybe I can convince him that the dog could be our translator.
We traveled to Spanish classes daily on the local bus. On our first trip sitting amongst the locals, we were wondering how to ask for the bus stop, or to stop the bus, when a man turned around and handed us a piece of paper. On the paper were all the phrases translated that we would need if traveling by bus. One problem though we did not know the address of the campsite. He now involved all the passengers, everyone discussing where the campsite was and where we were to get off. Nobody knew the exact address but an elderly lady said she knew where the campsite bus stop was. They were all so kind and helpful to us and with time, we got to know some of them as they traveled with us daily.
The locals told us the whale sharks were in the bay, so we headed out in search of the largest fish in the world. We signed up for a boat tour and headed out to sea with several other folk wanting to snorkel with the whale sharks. After about an hour there was suddenly lots of excitement and a whale shark was spotted in the water.
“Everyone quickly get ready to get in!’ shouted the captain. There was a scramble to get our flippers on, I grabbed my mask and snorkel and was adjusting it when suddenly the boat hit a wave and I was thrown overboard.
“S..#@#” I said, as I struggled to adjust my mask and find my snorkel in the water. I immediately swam away from the boat, as I had no idea where the boat’s propeller was and did not want to be sucked into it. I just headed out to sea. Tom watched and wondered if he should rescue me but decided against it, as he did not want to miss swimming with the whale shark. This of course is my version his is completely different. (He was a navy seal in his younger days)
I was rescued by a passing boat and later I returned to our boat. Tom was busy having fun but he did say he was pleased to see me again in between all the excitement of his whale shark swim. At least he noticed that I had been thrown overboard and was missing. Swimming with the whale sharks was amazing and another must do for anyone who loves animals. However, be forewarned hold onto the rail on the boats as there are big waves in the ocean.
We have met some wonderful people in La Paz, which is actually the capital of Baja California. It is a colourful and friendly town. It has great restaurants and beaches. We discovered it has great restaurants when we stopped into one for a snack. Practicing his Spanish Tom gave the waiter our order and then we waited. Finally, the waiter returned with a huge platter of seafood. Tom had managed to order the largest and fanciest dish that cost us our entire week’s food budget, it was delicious and Tom of course flatly denies knowing what he was ordering.
We left La Paz on Tom’s birthday and headed down the coast towards Cabo Pulmo a national marine park and the only Pacific coral reef in the Sea of Cortez where we hoped to do some kayaking and snorkeling. Passing through a tiny little village called Triunfo we discovered the Museo de la Musica (Museum of Music.) It is a wonderful collection of pianos and a few other musical instruments and obviously, the collection is a work of love. Beautiful music filled the air as we entered the museum and we could not resist we danced our way through the museum as we admired the collection.
We arrived at Cabo Pulmo and found a beautiful beach but the wind was blowing hard creating a tumultuous sea of waves and white horses. We could only admire the view, as this was neither kayaking nor snorkeling conditions.
While walking on the beach a puppy joined me; and the puppy and I immediately fell in love. I was so thrilled I had found a birthday present for Tom why had I not thought of it before. I would give him a puppy. The scraggly mangy but cute mongrel followed me back to the camper and I held him up to Tom and declared, “I got you a birthday present.”
Tom looked at me and said, “You are not taking that puppy with you to Argentina!!”
“But he understands Spanish, he could help with translations” I begged, I pleaded, the puppy wagged his tail vigorously, barked happily but it was all in vain. Tom rejected my gift to him. Tom, puppy and I sat on the beach watching the sunset over the sea that evening. We toasted to Tom’s 61st birthday and wondered where we would be on my birthday. I have not told him yet what I want for my birthday but it begins with P, and I will be devastated if I don’t get what I want.
While sitting on the beach we discussed buying some 2nd hand snorkelling gear and wet suits rather than always renting.
“I don’t want a 2nd hand wet suit, because people pee in wetsuits,” Tom declared.
“What on earth is the difference between renting a wet suit and buying a 2nd hand one?” I asked. “If we don’t buy we will be renting peed in rental wetsuits anyway,” I stated.
The following day we went in search of 2nd hand gear. We arrived at a dive shop and asked if they had any 2nd hand gear for sale. No snorkels etc but they did have some wet suits and directed us towards a for- sale rack of old and tatty wet suits all marked $20.00. In amongst the wet suits was a lovely pink one still with its tag on. “Is this suit for sale as it is brand new?” I asked.
“If it is on the rack you can have it for $20.00” Bingo I had hit the jackpot an unpee’d in brand new wet suit that actually fitted me. “See’” I said smugly to Tom, “you should have been more Buddhist and you might have been rewarded with a new suit.”
“Como sea” Tom replied in Spanish green with envy.
We arrived in Cabo San Lucas with some trepidation as we heard it was so “fancy and full of tourists.” Driving on a super two-lane highway, we passed Costco, Sam’s Club, Wal-Mart and McDonalds as we headed for the campsite. Yes, we were definitely back in a North American city. Once we had checked in we headed up to the bar counter to order a margarita a great opportunity to practice our Spanish with the bar attendant, ok so it is also an excuse for having another margarita.
We headed to the marina where we took a water taxi to see Land’s End, the Arch and then to be dropped off at Lover’s Beach (Playa del Amor). Our boat captain nicknamed “Flash” was funny and gave us an excellent tour of the area before dropping us off at Lover’s Beach. We were amazed at all the colourful fish swimming in the clear seawater. Tom jumped off the little boat and got all excited. Wow, I thought this must be why the beach is called Lover’s Beach, if men get so excited just arriving here; but I was soon brought back to earth when Tom said, “Look at those magnificent weathered granite rocks! Take a picture with me and these rocks,” he asked. Oh, yes my romantic geologist.
The next day we set off to do some snorkeling. I had my new wetsuit on which I obviously needed, as the water was quite chilly despite the warm sun. We dove in and immediately hundreds of colourful fish surrounded us; it was stunningly beautiful. As we swam along, I suddenly noticed several money notes floating past me heading for the bottom of the ocean.
“OMG it is ours money” I thought, I tugged at Tom trying to draw his attention to all the sinking notes, grabbing him we surfaced.
“Your money, your money it is sinking” I yelled, “Go fetch it!” By now, we had attracted other snorkeler’s attention.
“You need a Scuba diver,” shouted one man. He is a Scuba diver I yelled back as Tom took and deep breath and headed down chasing his money, swirling around in the currents.
The other snorkeler looked as Tom disappear below the surface and grabbed his companion yelling “Oh shit look at that guy go”
It took Tom three deep dives without tanks to retrieve all his money, but he did, all $1000, 00 pesos. Talk about money laundering Tom has his own style. Tom had forgotten to close the zipper on his pockets with the money. It was fortunate that Tom did not have a wetsuit on, as he would never have been able to go so deep with a wetsuit and no weights. There seems to be never a dull moment for us.
We ended our stay in Cabo San Lucas kayaking with friends from Calgary. A wonderful way to begin our goodbyes to Baja Mexico, we have loved being here and highly recommend it as a place to relax and escape the winter weather.
We arrived at#32373c the Pacific Ocean and as we drove over the sand dunes, I saw a huge splash in the ocean. “What was that?” I asked. Tom glanced up to look where I was pointing and to our absolute amazement, we saw a huge humpback whale breaching in fact there were several of them. I felt as if we were witnessing a National Geographic special there were whales everywhere and so close to shore. We quickly parked and ran down to the beach and witnessed one of our greatest wildlife experiences. The continuous spray from their blowholes seemed like a fireworks display, there were so many whales constantly shooting spray into the air. We were speechless (although not for long.) We had never seen so many whales and all so active. For a moment (only a brief one), I wished I had married a marine biologist what on earth were all these whales doing. I had a million questions and next to me was a geologist! The whales were so close to the beach I was afraid they were going to be beached. It seemed like they were having fun surfing in the waves. As the huge waves of the Pacific Ocean gathered momentum the whales where in the light of the wave, it was stunning. They were breaching we saw eight breaches, spy hopping lob-tailing, and then we witnessed in the distance bubble net fishing. The locals gathered on the beach alongside us to witness this natural marvel, we did not want to leave but we had to move on.
We celebrated our viewing of the whales by splurging on enchiladas for lunch at the restaurant Tequila Surprise, in Todos Santos, which has the best Mexican food we have ever had.
We headed back to La Paz to spend our last few days with friends Glen and Naomi from Calgary. They had invited us to stay with them in their condo on the beach. Naomi showed us to our bedroom and I squealed with delight at what I saw, two huge beds a bed each what a treat after so many months of camping; a warm comfy bed to myself. What a way to end a great day; whales spectacular, a gourmet meal, great friends and my own bed.There was only one more thing for my geologist husband to see before we left La Paz. So we headed north of La Paz to see the mushroom rock and do some snorkelling off the beach of Playa Tecolote a beautiful but now deserted beach. Time now to leave Baja and head across to mainland Mexico.
To get to the mainland of Mexico we took a ferry from Baja across the ocean to Mazatlan. We decided to go on the commercial cargo ship rather than the regular Baja Ferries, which takes passengers and vehicles. The reason was simple it was going to be much cheaper even if we had to share the deck of the ship with livestock. We arrived at the port and had our cargo weighed and measured (truck and camper), went through security and headed off to wait for boarding with the other trailers, trucks, including a truck with packed tightly with goats. There was a lot of military around and we were warned not to take any photos. Finally, it was time to board but I had by then left and headed off in search of a toilet. When I returned Tom was already aboard so I explained to the officials my husband was on board and waiting for me and he allowed me to pass. They park the trailers and trucks within a few inches of each other so Tom had to request that we be parked with some space around us so we could get into the truck and camper as we planned to sleep in the camper during the overnight crossing. The ship left the dock at 1700 and we arrived at Mazatlan 0930 the following morning. The crossing was noisy, dirty but fun and I loved the motion of the rocking ship as we traveled. I felt very sorry for all the goats that had no food or water and could not move during the crossing. In addition, they were packed in two layers so the goats on the bottom were pooped and peeped on all night by the goats on the top.
The locals tell us Baja is not like Mexico when we “get to Mazatlan you will see the real Mexico” they tell us. They describe Baja tourists (gringos) as “weird” and “that the people who come here are all running away from something”, we have to agree. We have met more eccentrics in Baja than we ever have met before. We have seen squatters or old worn out hippies looking for free living on the beach to multimillionaires living on yachts with a helicopter on board as an accessory. Snowbirds have taken on a new meaning for us. The only thing they have common is that they are all not Mexican, a lot of fun to be with, and there seems be to more Canadians than Americans traveling in Baja. All the warnings we get about traveling to and in Mexico have come from non-Mexicans. All the Mexicans we have spoken to say what a great time we will have once we are on the mainland of Mexico. If you have not been to Baja yet this is the time to get here, it is fun, safe and beautiful and to all our Canadian friends it is warm.