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Mex 1 - Tijuana to La Paz in 3 days

Written on: Monday November 26th, 2007

A journal entry from: Camping Mexico

Colin:

After a long wait for my kiteboarding equipment to arrive via priority courier Alayna and I were finally ready to take the plunge and head south into the Baja. Our last night, Friday, in San Diego (well Chula Vista) was spent at a KOA just 15 km from the Mexico boarder. This was our first night sleeping in our tent on this trip. I will let Alayna explain what camping means to Americans, at least the ones we saw.

Mexico is a different ball game all together. We were at the boarder crossing at 6 AM to catch the changing of the agents such that they would either be tired and ready to go home or fresh and ready for a days work. The process of getting into Mexico is not like going into Canada or the US. The ONLY question we were asked during the crossing was how long we were planning on being in Mexico, this was only to determine how long our tourist cards needed to be good for. No questions like do you have any pets, foods, are you in the agriculture business, drugs, guns. The screening process is completely random and when we pushed the button (like at a cross walk) the light went green and we proceeded into Tijuana.

Thanks to our friend Kirsten we had a well laid out explanation of how to get on the Rosarita quota (toll) highway. The signs after leaving the boarder are large and clearly visible; this is not what I was expecting. I am very thankful that I had the information as the last thing I wanted was to be a gringo circling the streets of this poor and dangerous city.

So south we went on the quota highway. There are three toll booths before the highway reconnects with highway one in Ensenada, each toll is $2.50 for a passenger vehicle. The highway runs along the coast and has many english billboards advertising beach front real estate for sale. I cannot imagine purchasing such properties as the surrounding area seems to be an unpleasant place to be. I think that Americans who have purchased such properties do not leave the gates while they are using them.

Soo much to write about!! It has been an extraordinary experience thus far. All of the pueblos (towns) appear to be in very poor condition, the only road which is paved is highway one. Each of the pueblos has some commerce which runs along the side of the highway. There are many little open air shacks with Mexicans sitting and eating at them. There are stands where you can bargain for T-shirts and mufflers through the same vendor (not that we stopped to do so). Our first stop after the boarder happened to be at a new super Walmart which happened to be beside a Scotiabank (Alaynas).

The approach to our first overnight stop was the most interesting (ecologically) part of day one. The ecosystems are very diverse from one corner or ridge to the next. There are great expanses with very little vegetation and then there are fields and fields of cacti. Catavina, where we camped, is located at the south end of a very interesting boulder field. These boulders are huge and come in great numbers, they stretch from one horizon to the next and have been eroded into interesting shapes. I have never seen anything like it.

Last night Alayna and I were fortunate enough to find a campsite in a small town called Mulege. The site looked very much like it belonged in Hawaii because it was irrigated and sat in a long valley. There were palm trees and cactus within feet of each other. I am not too sure how long the cactus will survive as the site looks like it has been recently finished. The owner, a fellow named Ray, is a Cuban exile and has been living in Mexico for 12 years now. He used to run a restaurant on the beach which was claimed to have the best food between Tijuana and Cabo San Lucas. For a fee of 150 pesos (less than $15 USD) we had our own casita (small house) with a bathroom and electricity. There was no one else at the site which could hold about 20 RV?s. We asked if his restaurant was open but it is closed on Sundays and Mondays. He offered for us to join him and his family for some authentic Cuban cuisine (pork, black beans, and rice). We had dinner with the Mexican elite as one of the hombres was the head of immigration and the other was a big time container shipping broker who?s father was executed by Che Guevara. We definitely lucked out last night. For desert we had homemade flan which was fantastic.

Today we continued southward for La Paz, a 7.5 hr drive. Even though highway is straight and flat in a lot of areas the speed limits are very low (60 in some areas and 40 in others). The drive took us along the Sea of Cortez for a while and then proceeded inland up to a high plateau where there were a lot of irrigated fields and cowboys. Finally, we arrived in La Paz around 3:30 and managed to get into a nice campground with a 15 foot tall cement fence and wireless internet. Our neighbors have been very friendly and helpful (we have found this to be the case every night on the Baja thus far) as well as offering advice on our travel plans (we are almost certain that we will not drive south of Mexico now). As I am writing this Alayna is cooking a second round of delicious pasta and some Mexican mechanics are working on the brakes of our neighbors trailer.

Long entry, very much left out, will have to talk in person. Stay tuned for more to come. X out.

Alayna:

Heated bathrooms with hot showers, flat-screen TVs, Nintendo Wii, full cable, wireless internet, pool, hot-tub, endless electricity, outdoor kitchen, general store, shopping mall 5 minutes away, the constant background roar of a freeway and your 25 foot fifth wheel?this is camping?!? Apparently.

?Camping? at an American KOA is certainly different from any sort of camping I have ever known. Come to think of it, we had more comforts camping in Chula Vista then we do at home! (We only have basic cable and internet light back in Victoria). Well, it did cost us $40 for one night in our tent. Perhaps my fondest memory of the KOA was the numerous TV sets people had brought camping, or was it the guy behind us generously pouring lighter fluid on his fire? We were one of maybe 3 tenters in the entire campsite, and were definitely the odds ones out.

As we crawled into our little tent, surrounded by all these huge RVs, all I could think was ?it?s time to get out of this country?. So that is what we did.

It seems ironic that many of the feelings I had while driving through some of the wealthiest neighborhoods in California were reaffirmed by this one night in the KOA.

This made the transition in to Mexico quite jarring. Actually, very jarring. Driving across the US/Mexico boarder is an experience I will never forget. In a matter of minutes you leave behind a country represented by wealth, excess, and abundance to find yourself in a foreign country where it is instantly gone. Literally 2 minutes after crossing into Mexico you witness poverty, and you are the minority. It was a surreal experience that will stay with me forever.

The desert is dry, and the towns are poor. These people have very little. It is alarming to think that just a few hours drive north (maybe 3 hrs) there neighborhoods filled with multi-million dollar homes for sale (see last blog - $28 million dollar home in San Diego).

The stern faced Federales armed with AK 47s at the military checks were intimidating at first, but we quickly learned that a smile and a wave lightens the situation. Besides, they don?t seem to care about those people driving south. Rather, they are concerned with the drugs and weapons making their way north. Today our car was searched at a military check point (our first search). I was asked a few basic questions, and then a few of the Federales pulled out their cell phones and asked if they could take some pictures of and with me. I obliged. It was pretty amusing, and after they seemed pleased with themselves for snapping a couple of pictures with their arms around my shoulder. Colin and I laughed after as I noted that I hadn?t showered or brushed my hair in three days and these guys still seemed impressed :)

We camped in Catavina our first night in Mexico. A large dirt lot with a few sparse trees is surrounded by endless desert. We were the only tent among some large RVs (seems to be the trend). We ate dinner at the ?restaurant? (our first authentic Mexican meal, prepared by a women who spoke zero English), and then sat around the fire and shared many laughs with a retired Mexican cop and his wife. It cost us $6 for the night. This was a far cry from the KOA ?campsite? which now seems worlds away.

 

From Kirsten Hagen on Nov 27th, 2007

Are you guys going to be in Le Paz tomorrow still (Tuesday). I'm heading there to do some errands (Le Paz has some bigger stores that good 'ol Todos doesn't). It would be so great to see you. If not, let me know your plans.

From Kirsten Hagen on Nov 27th, 2007

I can't believe I just called La Paz Le Paz.

From Sam on Nov 27th, 2007

Punta Conejo is probably firing right now, maybe the best waves in Mexico in Nov.! Its inbetween la Paz and Cabo on the pacific road. Yeah Americans suck, Canadians rock! Fun to read your experiences. Be very careful camping on public property.

From Morley E on Nov 28th, 2007

Nice to see you made it south of the border (boarder is what you guys are hanging under a kite! :) Funny how perspectives can change, we used to feel almost the same way about leaving Mexico to go further south to Central America or Belize as you guys did crossing the Mexican border (seemingly leave all comforts behind and enter the Third World). But the poorer the place, it seems the friendlier people are. I gather Mexico has a lot of desperate people now compared to a few decades ago, so maybe the mood has largely changed? CBC has been running a series on Bhutan and its government policy of maximizing Gross Domestic Happyness (those words are written into their constitution). No real development and not much money to go round, but no real poverty either. Sounds like a neat place, and a really diffent way to treat ordinary/poor people than you find in Mexico or the US. Its great to travel vicariously!

From Ben W on Nov 28th, 2007

Hey Greener, just caught up on the trip, sounds awsome! Christina and I fly home from New Zealand tomorrow, it sucks but I guess eventually it has to come to an end. I hope you guys have a great time down there in Mexico. Take care!

From the Hoff on Nov 29th, 2007

awesome trip man, hey man, you should pick up your buds in San Jose! shyaa!

From sam on Nov 30th, 2007

Did you get a vehicle permit? Unless they have changed things, you are going to need one to get to mainland mex.. hopefully you did-

From Colin DL on Dec 4th, 2007

Hey dudes. Thanks for all the entries. You seem to have a huge following. Anyways I only have one thing to say today. When discribing the weather you use "hace" infront of the discriptive word. ie: Hace frio- its cold hace calor - its hot hace sol - its sunny. you can say muy frio but its best to say "hace muy frio" Bueno suerte (Good luck on your adventure)

From ricky on Dec 20th, 2007

hey how's things down south hoping for an update on your adventure!