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Report One
Vancouver
to Mexican Border

Report Two
Tijuana to San Rosalia

Report Three
Bahia Concepcion to Cabo San Lucas
to La Paz

Report Four
El Fuerte to Copper Canyon to Creel

Report Five
Mazatlan

Report Six
Puerto Vallarta, Melaque
Faro de Bucerias

Report Seven
Zihuatanejo

Report Eight
Acapulco & Puerto Escondido

Report Nine
Oaxaca

Report Ten
Caribbean

Report Eleven
The Long Road Home


 

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This is the first in a series of reports about an 8-week roadtrip from Vancouver, BC through western US and into Mexico.

Report #1
Vancouver to Escondido

Welcome to our latest road trip. From our home in a Vancouver, BC suburb, we’ll head down the west coast of the United States through Washington, Oregon, and California to the Baja. We’ll move fairly fast in the US, using the Interstate 5 highway.

Truck and TrailerWe’ll slow down once we cross the Mexican border at Tijuana and travel down the Baja Peninsula to Cabo San Lucas at the southern tip. Pulling our tiny,1979 Trillium trailer behind our 96 Toyota 4Runner, we’ll then had back up the peninsula to La Paz and take the ferry across to Topolbampo on the mainland. From there we’ll head south to Acapulco then make a left turn and head east through the interior of Mexico to the Caribbean where we’ll head north, following the coastline till we reach Texas and point the truck north and home. Should take 6 to 8 weeks.

March 12, 2007

After a weekend in Seattle with family, we travel about 700 kms south to Woodburn, Oregon. Nice clean RV park, $30 (US)for the night and glory be, they have a television set in the laundry room so we get to check in on our not-so-secret guilty pleasure, Amazing Race.

In years past we’ve traveled down the coastal route – highly scenic but slow. On I5 - Oregonanother trip we did the interior route, seeing the Napa Valley wine lands, Yosemite, and Death Valley – even better. But this trip our objective is the Mexican border so the I5 is it. Eight lanes of hot asphalt heading due south – normally something to avoid, but in truth, we’ve never taken this road through California before so are looking forward to seeing what kind of terrain it takes us through.

Leaving Woodburn, Oregon in the morning, the landscape is pastoral. Rich, vibrant green fields with lots of brand new lambs. In fact, saw one ewe under a wagon, licking her slimy wet newborn.

As we got closer to California, the terrain changed, becoming more hilly then more mountainous. Between California and Oregon it gets VERY mountainous. Area is called Grant’s Pass and there was lots of snow at the sides of the roads.

Mt ShastaFirst night over the Oregon border is in Weed, California. Not much to recommend this town except an exceptional view of Mt Shasta which looms over the area. At this time of year it is stunningly beautiful, blanketed in snow-covered glaciers. Weed sits at 3500 feet and the night is a cold one. The flannel sheets were a good investment!

I am making a good attempt at cooking healthy for us. Last night we had pasta with tomato sauce and salad. Tonight I cooked chilli and made cranberry bran muffins. The trailer is equipped with a good-sized fridge, a two-burner gas cooker and we have added a toaster/convection oven so that we can have a little more flexibility in the cooking department. So far so good.

I am reading Barak Obama’s first book, Dreams from my Father. Excellent story teller. I actually read his second book, The Audacity of Hope, before leaving. He’s an interesting man.

March 14, 2007

Was a long day of driving yesterday. Quite interesting though, lush green hills slipping down into agricultural areas. Decided we needed a break so stopped for lunch “out” I5 Northern Californianear Corning. A real truckers stop with a humongous, “all you can eat” buffet for $7.99. That buffet and a hundred like it on this highway explain why so many of the truckers sport scary big bellies. Mashed pots, gravy, veggies swimming in butter, fried chicken, ribs, hash brown casserole, umpteen desserts. I had the buffet but controlled myself, more or less. Stuck to ribs with salad and only two desserts instead of trying every one.

We are struck by the numbers of trucks on this highway. In fact, the traffic is predominately trucks. There must be a better way to move goods than to have millions of trucks on the road all the time. Must be a lonely life. Saw one older driver with a tiny Chihuahua ...encouraging him or her to do their thing on the grass verge at the rest stop.

We see a lot of truckers at rest areas which, by the way, are excellent on the I5. Every 40-50 miles there is a pull off with clean restrooms, phones, picnic areas and lots of room for kids and dogs to race around. We stop at many of them – to stretch our legs, change drivers, have a snack, and do the obvious.

Camping in San Luis State Recreation AreaWe are spending the night in the San Luis State Recreation Area – Basalt Area, just beyond Santa Nella. The Basalt camp area is the only one with showers and flush toilets – have to have our comforts. Otherwise we are well equipped for primitive camping in the trailer. We’ve installed two marine grade batteries so we have our light and capacity for recharging.

Not a lot of people camping here at this time of year but enough to make us feel safe.

Tons of birds in the many trees around us. Very pretty setting. Cows grazing in the rolling hills around us. Could hear them mooing - comforting soundtrack to drift off to and wake up to.

Slept well and headed out for a great walk in the morning. Saw a field full of bunny Deer in San Luise State Recreation Arearabbits, huge nests of myna birds and three deer grazing at the side of the road.

Arrived in Los Angeles about 5 pm. We are staying at an RV park that is about a mile from Disneyland. Walking there would be an option for sure, but after a full day of standing around in line ups I expect that walking home, even a single mile, will look daunting. So we pay for the shuttle. It’s only $3 (US) to ride back and forth all day long.

The campground is 100% asphalt – well, that’s not true. There is a little patch of grass in the corner with one chair on it. But mostly asphalt and surrounded by main roads with cars screaming past all night and day. But that is pretty much what I expected from Los Angeles. Cost of all this luxury is $52.90 (US) per night. Not bad, considering I saw listings for up to $200 (US)per night – for campsites!

March 15, 2007

Spent today at the self-styled “happiest place on earth,” Disneyland. My first trip here was on our honeymoon, 31 years ago. My second trip was with the kids when they were 2 and 5. The first visit was totally wonderful, the second a little less so, but still fun to see through the eyes of children. I was almost afraid to go again.

There are now two Disneylands – the old traditional Disneyland and the newer California Adventure. It seemed to us, on reading the descriptions that CA was all about roller coasters and scary carnival rides. Someplace we might take grandkids some day but not so much fun on our own.

So off we went, arriving about 10 minutes after the park opened at 9. Steve asked if there was a senior discount and sure enough, they took a whole $2 off the price! And they even gave me the discount too. Didn't know whether to be pleased about that or not. One-day entrance was $61 (US).

First stop was Adventureland and the new Indiana Jones Ride. Strapped into a Landcruiser type vehicle we were tossed around pretty violently while our vehicle careened through dark and musty smelling caverns. Steve loved it.

They are extremely clever about crowd management here. It looks like there is virtually no line-up for a ride but once you get inside you find yourself walking and walking and walking ...for at least 20 minutes per ride. As long as you are walking you think you are getting somewhere, but it’s just back and forth, up and down, and around. We must have covered about 20 km in our day at Disneyland. Really wish I’d worn my pedometer so I could prove it.

Pirates of the CaribbeanBut eventually you do get to the end of the line. You board the conveyance and have your three minutes of wild thrills.

Next stop for us was the Pirates of the Caribbean. This has always been, hands down, the family favourite. The recently-produced Johnny Depp movies were actually based on this ride (an innovative attribution for sure). Disney has now returned the favour and renovated the ride to reflect the movies. We approve the changes. Especially the great bit at the end where you actually pass right through a waterfall without getting wet. Very cool.

The Haunted House was exactly as we remember it. No difference. Thank goodness, this was always a tie with the Jungle Cruise for next best favourite.

Jungle Cruise, DisneylandThe Jungle Cruise was exactly as I remembered it – animals popping out of the river and the jungle – hippos, elephants, baboons, vultures, lions, tigers, zebras, crocodiles. Thirty years ago I enjoyed that ride soooo much. How I longed to travel and see all those animals for real.

But the idea that someday I’d fly off to Africa was a dream so farfetched to me at that time in my life that it didn’t even bear thinking about. But it did and I’ve experienced it all – elephants staring at me in the shower, lions settling beside my tent, vultures diving into a carcass, hippos guarding their territory, and crocs ...we’ve swum with crocs in the Northern Territories of Australia. Not purposefully, but there he was, two big knobby eyes surfacing directly in front of Steve. Never saw that man swim so fast. Me? I was clocking my best time too, no doubt about it.

The only thing that was new to the ride for us were the jumping piranhas from the Amazon – and we’ll go there too in the next few years.

Enjoyed lunch in the New Orleans district. A beef dip sandwich was $7.99 and there was lots to eat. Prices are not a rip off. Not cheap, but comparable to anywhere else in LA.

People wear the strangest get-ups to Disneyland. One woman was dressed like a pirate, complete with eye patch and a pirate scarf on her head. Her back was bare, displaying a full-back tattoo of Tinkerbell. Her husband had long stringy grey hair and the oddest body shape I’ve ever seen, kind of like a basketball on top of string bean Grumpylegs. But his feet were what got my attention. He had on high-heeled sneakers with springs in the heels. He was already 6 ½ feet tall for sure, so he didn’t need the height but whatever. Their young daughter? Blue jeans, a mauve kangaroo jacket, and big dark sunglasses – presumably so no one recognized her.

Headgear seems to be all the rage here. People pay in excess of $30(US) for Mickey Mouse ears with things hanging off them – long floppy goofy ears or dreadlocks or filmy bits of netting a la princess ....people of all ages wear this goofy head gear but most of them adults. Have no idea what they are thinking. Steve tried on a "Grumpy" hat ...figured taking a photo was as good as buying it and the price was better.

There is a Petting Zoo with a country cabin where kids can decompress by sitting and quietly colouring – a real haven from the hyped-up happy-happy-happy outside.

We took a wild ride through Toad Hall, and went on Roger Rabbits car ride, and shot aliens in the Buzz Lightyear ride. Steve’s score was 82,343 aliens while I only got 400. Must be a guy thing.

We went on the Star Wars ride with C3PO and R2D2 – such a thrill 20 years ago ...a little hokey today but still good fun.

By 4 pm we’d had enough happiness to last us another ten or twenty years.

March 17, 2007

Took breakfast at a place recommended by the locals. The neighbourhood was pretty rough but the breakfast was humongous – 3 eggs, 3 pancakes, 3 sausages for $3.49 (US). Exceptionally good and quite a bargain because we are not finding California at all cheap, quite the opposite.

Decided that Steve’s discomfort about the soft, squishy tires on the trailer should be addressed – didn’t I mention that? Turns out the existing tires are actually passenger tires and inappropriate for the heavier trailer. So $157 (US)bought us a new set – much sturdier as they run on 50 pounds of pressure instead of 30. Feel good about this outlay for sure as the one thing that haunts me when pulling a trailer down a freeway is fear of a blow-out.

Drove out to Long Beach for a look around. Took the local roads instead of the freeways and cruised streets that look like they came right out of a 1950s movie set. Kept looking for Frank Sinatra or Dean Martin were going to step out onto the sidewalk in front of me at any moment. Stopped for dinner at a place called Mimis. Good dinner – meatloaf and mashed potatoes. So much food I could not eat it and took half the meatloaf home. There was enough for two lunches.

Saturday, we arrived in Escondido, north east of San Diego. We are staying at the Dixon Lake County Campground – beautiful sites up in the hills looking directly over the city of Escondido – lights all a-twinkle in the dark. It would be a fabulous view if it weren’t for the smog which casts a dirty grey blanket over everything. The smog combined with the ocean mists means no blue sky appears in LA or environs until at least 1 pm, and even then, the smog NEVER dissipates, so the best you get for mountains are just these ghostly outlines.

Nonetheless, after three nights on the asphalt in Anaheim, this is heaven – sitting out, watching the birds and squirrels and lizards at play and work.

With our water tank, propane fridge/heater, and double marine batteries we are well equipped for primitive camping.

We thought. Turns out the batteries were not delivering power to the lighting system. An hour or more of Steve digging around in the dark while I held the flashlight turned up faulty wiring. Clever man fixed it and we are now fully lighted and comfortable. Let’s hope that is the last drama on this trip.

Had a simple dinner of tomato soup and a cheese bagel. We are still full from the cinnamon roll we had at cappuccino time.

Let me explain.

We stopped for coffee at an IHOP and noticed the photo of nice cinnamon rolls on the menu. So we each ordered one.

What arrived at the table was a huge cinnamon roll that had been split and fried like French toast. Then it had a chocolate caramel sauce poured over it. Then it had whipped butter mounded over it as well as a dollop of icing. Finally, as if that were not enough, there were two. On each plate!

Every once in a while someone asks me what is the difference between Americans and Canadians. I KNOW there is a difference, I can feel it. But defining it has always eluded me. Now I think I’ve found the beginning of the answer in the cinnamon rolls.

The American "culture" is to always try to improve on something. It is a characteristic that has both a good and a dark side. The good things can be counted among the medical and technological advances we welcome. But the dark side says: more is always better. A good idea, like a cinnamon roll, cannot be left alone. If a cinnamon roll with icing is good, then one with whipped butter slathered all over will be better ....and fry it ..that will be even better ...and oh yes, should be even better if we pour chocolate sauce all over it. And if one is good then two will definitely be better.

Last fall we stopped in Kaslo, a small town in the Kootenays of British Columbia, for coffee. We went into a tiny, hole in the wall cafe just as the cook was pulling hot, home made cinnamon rolls out of the oven. She served them up with just a small dollop of real butter on the side. Never occurred to her fry it or cover it in caramel sauce or soak it in mounds of whipped butter.

Simplistic perhaps, but the beginning of an answer, I think.

Tomorrow we are off to San Diego Wild Animal Park, another stop on the ole honeymoon trail.

March 18, 2007

As zoos go, the San Diego Wild Animal Park seems to be a good one. The animals San Diego Wild Animal Parkare all kept in large, natural habitats that cover over 1100 acres. Paid $27 for a ticket that included a ride on a tram that circumnavigates the park. We pretty much walked the whole thing too.

Thirty-one years ago I was SO impressed.There’s no doubt the animals I saw here fed into the travel fantasy developing in the background of my life. There were and are: rhinos, lions, zebras, gazelles, gorillas, leopards, tigers, and millions of birds including Gorilla, San Diego Wild Animal Parkthe noisy, smelly flamingos. Hard to be impressed by thirty or forty flamingoes though, when you’ve stood on the shores of Lake Nakura and witnessed hundreds of thousands,a literal sea of pink.

The gorillas seemed sad. A large, muscular male sat up on top of a rock and glared at us. Fair enough.

Had lunch at the park – a chicken and sun dried tomato sandwich with a handful of grapes and a small patch of salad, $7.99 (US). It was good, but scant on the salad and grapes. By contrast, Steve had a cinnamon roll and coffee later in the afternoon – the cinnamon roll was the size of a dinner plate. Would have thought he’d have learned about southern cinnamon rolls but he’s a sucker for sticky buns, as heCinnamon Roll

calls them.

It was another example of “more is better” Except I notice now that the concept only applies to fat and sugar-laden baked goods, not fruits and vegetables. My sandwich was advertised as being served with a “side” of salad and grapes. I would hardly call three forkfuls of greens and six grapes a “side.”

Tomorrow, we set off for the Mexican border.

Carolyn Usher

Unless otherwise noted all prices are quoted in US$ or Mexican Pesos. At time of writing, 10 pesos = $1 US or CDN.

Report #2 - Tijuana to San Rosalia