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This Is Different

This is different

Forget everything I have said before. The trip so far was just a stroll in the park. Adventure starts now. Mexico is different, very different. I drive to the border between San Diego and Tijuana. Huge fences everywhere and signs warning people that guns are illegal in Mexico and you can’t just take them in (that is actually the only thing the Americans warn you about). I get closer and closer to the border I expect the queue to show up any time. And then… there is no queue. I actually barely slow down when the Mexican police already waves me through. I’m in Mexico… I guess.. But where do I get mu passport stamped and do I import my van? I had read/heard many stories about how the offices are hard to find. I had written down three different options (one from google maps, one from the Mexican government website and one from other travelers). I zigzagged through Tijuana for more than an hour (always trying to make sure I don’t end in the very long queue for getting back into the US). No office… Nowhere… I get a bit nervous and annoyed. The fact that I hadn’t slept much and that Tijuana is a traffic mess doesn’t help. The contrast from the US is way bigger than expected. The potholes have roads in them and it’s mostly unclear how many lanes there are and who has to stop for who. Backup plan: I had read on multiple websites you could also get your passport stamped in Ensenada and your car imported just before you board the ferry in La Paz. So I decided to opt for this option. So I drive the 1 hour to Ensenada, forgot to tell my GPS to avoid toll roads. The toll boots accept credit cards, just not the ones with PIN codes. I haven’t got any pesos yet so I’ll have to pay the gringo price in dollars. In Ensenada it is easy to find the immigration office. Simple bureaucratic process. Show passport and fill in form at counter 1, pay and get the form stamped at counter 2. Back to counter 1 to get your passport stamped. Done. Easy. The pay counter has the same name as the one that supposedly does car imports. So I ask the lady if I could get that done here too. She tells me that this is not a border office so she cannot do the car import but she confirms I can get it done in La Paz (the fact that she was a border office when she stamped my visa forms seems to be irrelevant). I go for my first Mexican campsite at the beach. No assigned spots, just park anywhere, just not on the actual beach. The campsite costed 15 euros which turns out to be insanely expensive (After 60+ euros last night I thought it was pretty good). I drive up for a nice beach spot and see another VW van a bit further down. They already come running at me excited about another European license plate. Turns out they are Swiss. I didn’t have time to get groceries yet so instead of letting me eat whatever I still had in the van they invite me for beers and dinner. Perfect.

The next day I start with getting groceries. In the store I think everything is kind of expensive, I must have accidentally taken the fancy supermarket. Still, I buy the stuff I need and I end up paying 5 euros for a whole lot of food. I guess I have to get used to the exchange rates. In the parking lot a Mexican guy walks up to me all excited about my plates. He used to live in Belgium. We try to talk in some Spanish/French hybrid but after speaking German all night with the Swiss guys and Dutch and English with friends back home my brain only manages to start speaking some random Italian. This trip is either going to make me a polyglot or it is going to make my brain explode in a terrible language mess. When I drive away from the supermarket I see loads of police with the flashy lights on and I see my first dead person of the trip. Welcome to Mexico. The drive that day leads along the pacific coast. Ocean on my right hand side, desert with sand, rocks and cactus on my left. I cross three military checkpoints and by the third one I know what to say in Spanish to let me pass quickly. The towns on the way once started as a gas station, then got a bar added, then a shop, etc. etc. But all just ugly concrete blocks. Not really worth the stop. Plus my mind hasn’t switched yet to be OK with parking the van in a place like this. I end up at another beach campsite owned by the always happy Fidel. I’m the only guest and have the beach to myself. This campsite has power and non salty hot showers (the last one only had cold salty showers) but costs only half from the last one. I like where this is going, if only there were other people around.

Tiny van next to big cactus

Tiny van next to big cactus

Baja California only has one road leading down the peninsula. There are some side roads but mostly it’s just the main road. I heard good stuff about Bahia de Los Angeles which is on the other side of the peninsula. One of the side roads should lead me there and should be in good condition. During a full day of driving there was not a single town. The only fuel station on the way was abandoned years ago. Another thing I noticed is that there is no shade. The desert is beautiful but the the cactus are too narrow and the bushes too low to give any shade. There are also no turnouts next to the roads. So for lunch I have to pull out on a relatively flat and accessible bit at the side of the road (did I mention yet that there are no shoulders or turnouts?) and sit in the van to get any shade (the sun is almost right above me here). In Bahia de Los Angeles I find an eco campsite. Which in this case means no power and a very elaborate recycling system. So far in Baja it’s actually either no trash cans at all or very specific recycling. I get a palpalpa which is little palm leaf roof with three walls where you can park your car next to. The shed gives some very welcome shade. The water in the sea is perfect for a swim.

Sunset at Bahia de Los Angles

Sunset at Bahia de Los Angles

Whoah it’s hot, I’m getting baked in the van. Time to drive. Back across the peninsula to the main road. I start to notice gaps in the guard rails along the highway. Behind every gap there is a cross. Better be careful in those curves. I get as far as Guerrero Negro a border town between the states of Baja California and Baja California Sur. It is famous (at least to me) for speed bumps which are taller than they are wide where you need to almost stop to get across. I drive past the town to watch some salt plains, wetlands with loads of birds and an abandoned lighthouse. The campsite is a parking lot behind a hotel restaurant which actually is quite OK. I’m the only person in the campsite again but I see a motorbike that has passed me at least 4 times today. Turns out they’re an Israeli couple on the same trip, they ask me if I want to join them and a Turkish couple (also on a motorbike, also same trip) for dinner in the restaurant. Always!

Salt plains in Guerrero Negro

Salt plains in Guerrero Negro

Today the main road crosses the peninsula. All the travelers I had met so far in Mexico were talking about a hurricane that would/would have hit the southern bit of Baja this week. Quickly it became clear that it would already be gone when I would get there, but yesterday the people were saying the roads might not be passable. My lunch stop was a nice colonial town of San Ignacio in the mountains at an oasis in the desert. Clearly the hurricane had come by here. Roads were flooded, trees had fallen over and there were a lot of potholes. People were very busy cleaning the mess and luckily the road was passable. The town with an old church was the first nice town in Mexico. Good spot for lunch at the town square. When I got to the coast the roads got worse. The last few days I saw a lot of signs indicating possibly flooded roads. This mostly meant a fun dip in the road. No reason to slow down. Now these dips were filled with sand and rocks and you had to be careful to pass. I had planned to explore and stay in Santa Rosalia (The last few days I also drove through a El Rosario, Santa Rosalita and El Rosarito, very confusing). Anyway the town was a mess. The main road up from the coast was filled with dirt. Next option Mulege. Also filled with mud, the bridge leading to the monastery was actually flooded away. But then I came to the beautiful Bahia Concepcion. Perfect blue sea and white beaches. You could camp on the beach next to one of the nice huts. I have no problems staying here.

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