Mexico beckons us southwards, promising warmth and a change-up in culture that we've been inching towards our entire trip. We've done more preparation in the last week, than we have in the last 5 months on the road, researching border crossings and paperwork. All the reading we've done says to avoid Tijuana, the congestion at the border is horrendous. Do we cross at Tecate? Go as far west as Mexicali and then cut back into the coast?
As usual, we ask the locals. Mark said we shouldn't have any traffic if we just headed directly south since we were crossing over during Thanksgiving weekend. So we threw out all of our plans and crossed at Tijuana anyway.
A quick wave of a guard's hand and suddenly we are in Mexico!
As promised, there was very little wait-time at the border, and the passport control to enter the Baja Peninsula was non-existent! We found out that we did need a visitor's permit if we wanted to enter mainland Mexico, but this could be done in many places on the Baja. We got our permits and passport stamped at the Banjercito (bank run by the Mexican Army) in Tijuana anyways, but our Temporary Vehicle Import Permit (TVIP) would have to be obtained further south if and when we decided to cross into the mainland.
Mex-1 hugs the western coastline of the Baja Peninsula south leaving Tijuana
Piercing the veil between San Diego and Tijuana, we were assaulted by the acrid smell of pollution and the haphazard sprawl of shanties lining the hills. My immediately thought was, "It's India all over again!". We weren't frat boys looking for some illicit weekend excitement, so we didn't linger in Tijuana very long. Instead we immediately got on the toll road southbound and I was relieved that the stench of Tijuana evaporated away, replaced by the beauty of the Baja coastline.
Big Mexican flag in Ensenada
Mexicans love huge flags! You can see Tijuana's Mexican flag almost from San Diego, and as we approached Ensenada (about 90 minutes south of TJ), we saw yet another over-sized flag on the beach. We rode past the large cruise ships that dock here and vomit gringo tourists out into the streets of this port town. That should have been our first clue that this really wasn't the Mexico we were looking for. On a side-note, I was trying to figure out if "gringo" was a derogatory term or not. And was I a "gringo"? Or maybe a "chingo"? :) Then I Googled the term "Chingo"... and found out it was a swear word in Spanish! It means "a shitload" (a whole lot of). I've really got to learn some Spanish before I offend any of the locals with my ill-translated gringo puns!
As we were trying to find affordable accommodations, we found out everything is expensive here because all the tourists are willing to pay US prices on their Mexican vacation. Chingo de Gringos! Not good. We paid dearly for a run-down room on the outskirts of the downtown. It was the most we've paid since leaving Canada!
First Mexican meal in Mexico! Paying gringo prices for not very chingo tacos...
Serenaded in Ensenada. Hey where's his Mariachi outfit...?!?
Blurry photo because we were ready to bolt from the surly-looking mariachi who obviously didn't want his picture taken...
The next morning after breakfast, we met another rider, Johnny, who I'm guessing owns a Ducati dealership in Chicago. He visits Baja California quite often and he told us that Ensenada was a dump and to get the hell out as soon as we could. We were originally planning to take some Spanish classes here in town, but this conversation convinced us to go elsewhere.
Hitting the road again! Mex-1 southbound out of Ensenada
El Rosario is about a 3.5 hour ride south of Ensenada. Neda read about a great place to stay the night, very cheap and nice, called the Baja Cactus Motel. We scooped up the last room, a luxury suite above the lobby!
Neda is 3Ging on our balcony
So we got Neda a SIM chip in Ensenada for her iPhone and now she's addicted to the 3G down here. We're very surprised at the telecommunications infrastructure in Baja. Seems like they've got more coverage than some parts of the US! And cheaper as well!
Framed pictures of all the Baja racers line the walls of Mama Espinosa's, many of them personally signed.
And Neda is still 3Ging...
For the next couple of days, we frequented Mama Espinosa's, a well-known seafood restaurant beside the motel. El Rosario is one of the first check-points in the famous Baja 1000, which runs the 1000 off-road miles from Ensenada to La Paz at the southern tip of the peninsula. While motorcycle racers complete the course in a little over 12 hours in riding time, we're taking a much more sedate, and less sandy route towards La Paz.
We stayed for a couple of nights in El Rosario, taking advantage of the motel's internet to Skype into Sidestand Up, an Internet radio talk show that we had been invited to participate in. It was a really fun experience! Before our segment we got to hang out in the chat-room and talk to some of the followers of our blog. It got a bit stressful when our Skype session dropped us from the call though, as I frantically tried to get us reconnected and Neda gave a play-by-play in the chat room. :)
Posing with the cactus trees
The next morning, we continued our own Baja 1000 southwards. Mex-1 is very nicely maintained, great pavement and the sections that weave through the mountains of the peninsula are very twisty, which gives us a bit of entertainment. Unfortunately, we can't apex properly through the left-handers because the road is so narrow and has no shoulders. This means that on-coming trucks and 18-wheelers consistently run over the yellow line into our lane for fear of running off the narrow road. And the faster they drive, the more they encroach on our side of the road! We run a pretty tight curb line through all the blind curves up and down the mountainside.
Hiking around the crazy cacti
There are tons of cacti here. And all sorts. Tall, skinny ones, short and fat ones. All different shapes and sizes. Thousands of them line the landscape on either side of the road and I imagine they are spectators on race day, watching Neda and I zoom through the curves of our Baja 10000. Speaking of which, we found out that we just missed the real race by a couple of weeks, that would have been amazing to watch!
Not sure what would have happened if she actually caught hold of it. 'Cause my topcase is already fulll...