Baja North –
Tijuana to San Rosalia
March 19, 2007
First chore this morning is to fill up with cheap gas –
we’ve heard the price is considerably steeper in Mexico and heaven
knows it is already expensive here. We’ve been paying as high as
$3.25 per US gallon in California..
Turns out we were dead wrong about the gas. The price of
Mexican gas is fixed by the government at $65.20 peso per litre. This
works out to $2.53 US per US gallon. Considerably cheaper than California
Second chore is to stop in Chula Vista and get some Mexican
insurance for the truck/trailer since Canadian/US insurance is not valid
in Mexico. We had tried to do this in Los Angeles but the AAA office there
was pretty clueless about what was involved. Chula Vista is a border town
and they are totally organized about it. Full coverage for truck including
legal assistance, liability etc was $257. The trailer is covered for liability
but not for damage to it.
It was suggested we check prices along the border and buy
it at some gas station (they all have signs
advertising insurance policies) but we felt better about doing it through
AAA. If there are any dramas they will help us sort them out. The insurance
includes legal assistance.
So then, through the border. We were pulled over for inspection
but all the fellow did was poke his head in the trailer door and wave
us away. I tried to give him our passports but he just said “Vamanos,
We need a tourist visa and since we are going over to the
mainland in a few weeks, an import permit for the truck. In the guide
books it says we can take care of this in Ensenada, where we are heading
for the night anyway.
At the Immigration office in Ensenada, the official managed
to convey (he spoke little English, we little Spanish) that we would have
to pay a fine since we did not get our tourist visa at the border.
“But the border guard said Vamanos!”
Shrug of the shoulders. Since we have only been in Mexico
one day, actually more like one hour, the fine is only 50 pesos, about
$5 each. But there is more. The paperwork must be filled out in triplicate
at another office. Where is that? Why next door, of course.
Next door a lovely young woman with impeccable English explains
the process to us and apologizes for the border guard pushing us through.
The paperwork is completed, another $5.50 each, please.
So, now to pay for the tourist visa. At the Immigration
office? No. At the bank. Where is the bank? Why next door, of course.
Sure enough, across the hall a bored looking fellow is watching soaps
behind a glass partition. The sign over the window says “Banquo.”
Fifteen minutes of key punching on an ancient computer and
much officious stamping of forms, and 574 pesos poorer (about $28) we
walk away with our tourist visas. But no import permit. That can only
be issued in La Paz. We hope. And since we will have been on the road
several weeks by then, we hope there is not another daily “fine”
for failing to secure the permit in Ensenada or Tijuana. One can only
Carried on to the campground recommended in the guide books:
Campo Playa on the
outskirts of Ensenada. This is typical Mexico. Dusty, pot-holed lanes,
no lights in the toilet block. Most things do not work. But the owner
is a cheerful, friendly fellow. He overcharged us, I am sure. $25 US because,
” I am in the city limits of Ensenada and have to pay $10,000
per year taxes, not like those guys down the road.”
Whatever. I only had a ten and twenty so he gave me $3 change
and said he would get the rest to us. When he didn’t show up again
Steve chased after him till he got the final $2! That’s Steve.
So we settled in and went for a walk. Ensenada is not a
great introduction to Mexcio – dusty, dirty, garbage strewn squats
on every empty plot of land. Salsa music blaring at eardrum-splitting
levels from the car dealership across the road. The proprietor of the
campground assures us that it will all stop when the dealership closes
in the evening.
While out for our walk we come on a place making tacos and
they smell so good we pull up a stool and order a couple. I was busily
heaping them with chopped fresh vegetables and guacamole when I realized
that fresh veggies is the one thing we are warned not to touch without
soaking in some purifying fluid ...oh well. First night in Mexico and
we may be heading for disaster in the bowel region. We’ll see.
Price was right – 25 pesos each for 2 tacos and a
coke. People were friendly when they saw how much we enjoyed the food.
Fellow sitting next to me helped me with my Spanish. When I asked the
price, “Quanda costa?” he corrected me and said the more correct
expression would be, “Quanda fue?”
March 20, 2007
Well, the bowel thing worked out alright. Either due to
good luck or the expensive Dukoral vaccine we took before leaving, we
both feel fine. Today we proceeded down Hwy 1 through many dusty little
strip-mall towns till we got to Cataviña in Central Baja. It’s
high desert and the cacti are incredible. There are huge boulders and
cacti of so many different varieties. It is so quiet and beautiful here.
The people managing the campground live onsite but we are the only campers.
the government built the highway down through the Baja in 1974, they also
installed government campgrounds. They were well equipped with cement
pads, fencing to keep the banditos out, showers, toilets, and generators
for electiricty in the remote areas. Why, I don’t know, but sometime
in the past 20 years the campground operations were abandoned. Now locals
have basically taken them over and are running them.
This one at Cataviña is very nice. Neat and clean
as can be with lots of cactus gardens planted all over. They work very
hard at making it nice. But there is no water or electricity here. The
bathrooms are as clean as it is possible to be when you have virtually
no water, but they have not been repaired since 1974. There is no door
of any kind on the women’s which I only know is the women’s
because Steve tells me the other one has urinals. Inside the men’s
there is a big barrel with some stagnant water. You put a bucket in and
haul it over to the women’s where you squat over an ancient toilet,
then pour the water in. This is the bucket flush method. Not the Westin,
for sure, but when nature demands, welcome enough.
Cataviña is not much of a town. There are the relics
of a Pemex (petrol) station – stripped and non-functioning. Other
than that, a functioning (barely) hotel which had a couple soldiers marching
around in front of it fingering their guns.
Very strong military presence here. Every few hours we are
stopped at a military checkpoint.
These are kind of interesting. They actually have these bunkers made of
old tires painted white with a palm frond roof. The bunker is some distance
from the inspection station. A soldier sits in it, with his machine gun
in his hand. I snuck a photo of one as we sped past.
They are looking for guns and drugs. A few times they have
looked in the trailer, but just poke their heads in. Usually they just
wave us on through.
But back at the campground we were enjoying our after dinner
coffee when suddenly there was a loud growling noise ...then another,
then another. We were surrounded by 22 units, mostly large diesel pushers
all traveling in caravan. They actually came into the campground and drove
round and round, until the units were all circled, like wagons.
Canadians and Americans left El Paso over three weeks ago and are traveling
in caravan through Mexico. Friendly people but very insulated and isolated
from the people and the country they are traveling through. Almost like
they are in a submarine. In these massive buses they have complete facilities
from showers to televisions to washing machines. They almost never leave
their unit. They socialize only with each other. The whole trip is organized
and run by a wagon master and tail gunner who make all the arrangements
and deal with officialdom from immigration officers to campground proprietors.
It seems like the caravaners never really leave home.
They are also scared to death of everything and everyone,
certain that: the water will kill them, the locals will steal everything,
the food will make them sick, the electricity will fry their appliances.
Just plain scared of everything and will probably stay that way for ever.
A handful of them came over to talk to us and it was always
the same: “You are doing this on your own?” Absolute
awe. It’s the craziest thing.
Unfortunately, their style of travel does bring a lot of
frowns from the locals. The roads are very narrow on the Baja and when
you have 22 humongous buses in front of you, with a whole raft of extremely
timid drivers (they told us they were averaging 25-30 kph while Steve
was doing 60-80 kph), the truckers go nearly nuts. The roads are only
18 feet wide, that’s 9 feet per lane and NO shoulders. The trucks
and buses have a very tight fit of it. In fact, this caravan had suffered
2 lost mirrors and one of them was actually clipped by a truck.
They also cause a lot of problems at the gas pumps. When
22 huge buses show up to fill up it closes down the pumps for everyone
else for hours.
As mentioned, the roads are extremely narrow which wouldn’t
be so much of an issue except
that, most of the time, there are no shoulders. The road drops straight
off ...at the worst, right into space. So it is white knuckle driving
The small towns we pass through are all similar ...very,
very dusty because the only thing paved is the highway. So every car that
drives to a shop is raising a dust storm. We are both finding that our
noses and throats are very irritated. Wish we’d brought a case of
Halls throat lozenges along.
The one thing I really hate here is the garbage. There is
so much of it. And plastic bags? An abomination on mankind. I can still
remember when the only kind of grocery bags were paper. Then somewhere
along the way these cheap plastic bags were invented. Now they are everywhere
...even caught in the cacti. Every time you approach a town it’s
like there are plastic bag gardens out there. The person who invented
them should be shot.
When I was shopping in Escondido the cashier was putting
nearly every item into its own bag – eggs, bread, crackers. I re-bagged
them all into the same bag and she looked at me like I was touched in
the head. I was feeling so guilty about using any bags and she was giving
me my goods in their own bags. It’s craziness.
March 21, 2007
Left Cataviña on a bright, but nippy note and the
day just got progressively colder. This is Mexico? We were planning to
stop in Guerrero Negro so we could take a whale watching tour in the morning.
But when we got to Guerrero Negro it was freezing cold, the wind was blowing,
the sky was billowing charcoal and spitting rain. So basically we were
faced with spending the afternoon sitting in the trailer staring at each
other, hoping for better weather in the morning. We had a look at the
campground and there was NOTHING there. Not a bush or a tree. Nothing
but brown dirt ...rapidly turning to mud.
So we kept going another 140 or so km down the road, hoping
that things would improve by San Ignacio, also a place you can get whale
watching tours from. Nada. Worse weather in fact.
So we continued to a bigger town further south, Santa Rosalia.
This town is on the Sea of Cortez and is soooo different from the other
towns we’ve been passing through on the Baja. Whereas they were
rundown, everything dirt and dust and despair, basically one street strip
malls, this town is neat. The roads are paved, the sidewalks are clean
and the people look happy.
...it was an interesting day of driving, sometimes through cactus gardens,
other times the cacti were the tall skinny kind that look like a kind
of tree so it was like driving through a forest of cacti. Other times
we drove through totally flat valleys, sometimes agricultural areas, then
into mountains, right past a big volcano called “three Virgins”.
Try as we might we couldn’t figure out what the three were, because
there was just one humongous volcanic type mountain with some surrounding
humps. The lava flows were extensive with the road cutting right through
We were surprised at how diverse and interesting the landscape
is through central Baja.
In San Rosalio we are staying at the premier RV park. The
guide books describe this as a well-kept attractive place and the fellow
proudly display all manner of certifications from major tour companies
on his very dusty walls. But it’s really just a big sand/dirt field
with a fence around it. There are washrooms and hot showers but they are
totally decrepit and falling apart. Fortunately, my expectations are low.
None of this is cheap by the way. Well, Cataviña
was at $6, but tonight we are paying $18 for this dirt field. The shower
was hot – thank goodness I have my system for showers in dirty places.
First, I wear rubber flip flops. Then I take off all my
clothes in the trailer and put on my t-shirt dress. Then I take my shampoo,
soap, towel, etc in a cloth bag with straps. There is usually at least
a nail to hang the bag and the dress on. I keep the flip flops on. After
the shower I dry off then just slip the dress back on to walk back to
the trailer where I dress.
I developed this system in Africa where the showers were
even worse – sometimes just a couple of old boards in the dirt to
stand on with a barrel of cold water overhead. By not trying to dress
or undress in the shower I avoid dragging clean clothes along the filthy
floors. By using a bag with straps to put everything in I avoid putting
my stuff on the filthy floors.
The town of San Rosalia is picturesque Mexican instead of
desperate Mexican. This means colourful old buildings leaning into each
other, everyone is an entrepreneur, everything is painted a different,
bright colour, lots of music. The sidewalks are all different levels with
lots of holes and drop offs. You need to watch your feet. I am used to
doing this so have no problems but Steve has never had any trouble and
takes a tumble because he just walks along without looking.
We stopped at some shops ...bought some bleach in one to
purify our water for washing up, picked up a couple boxes of kleenex,
and some fresh buns at the bakery. Mexicans love their pastels –
pastries. Every mercado has an extensive selections of cakes, pastries,
cookies, etc. Hard to resist except that in most situations they are sitting
out on open shelves. You take a pizza pan and tongs, then move along the
shelves, putting what you want onto the pizza pan. Then the lady bags
them up and tells you how much. Early in the day this is okay, but by
late afternoon every kid in the shop has hung his nose over them, the
flies have had their nibble and the whole enterprise looks less appetizing.
Stopped for dinner at what must be the town’s best
restaurant – blue tablecloths covered with smaller white tablecloths,
nice atmosphere. I ordered enchiladas, Steve wimped out and ordered a
pepperoni pizza. We were given a basket of nachos with four different
sauces ...muy piquante salsa, yogurt type dip, sour cream, and another
muy piquante red pepper sauce.
Then I was given a bowl of soupa. It was pasta y pollo (chicken)
in a savoury tomato broth. It was beyond excellent and between the nachos
and the soupa I would have been happy to have stopped right there. But
then the enchiladas came and they were excellent – a soft tortilla
stuffed with sweet green peppers and cheese, covered in cheese and a tomato
sauce and broiled. They were accompanied by refried beans and a lovely
saffron rice. Excellent meal that I could not finish.
We had great coffee con leche and I ordered a pina con leche
as well. This was a drink I fell in love with in Costa Rica ...basically
a pineapple milk shake. But obviously it has not made it this far north
because I got a glass of pineapple juice and a glass of milk!
Excellent meal that neither of us could finish. Steve brought
his pizza home with him for lunch tomorrow. The bill for all this wonderful?
$20 including the tip.
Tomorrow we head for the beautiful Bay of Concepcion.
Report #3 - Bahia Concepcion to Cabo San Lucas
to La Paz
|Unless otherwise noted all
prices are quoted in US$ or Mexican Pesos. At time of writing, 10
pesos = $1 US or CDN.