It’s time to get on the road, but first wanted to say a BIG thank you to Auntie Rita who happily drove us around showing us the sights, beaches & sunsets for helping us fetch supplies, let us fill her house & do all our laundry. You’re the best! So after saying our goodbye’s and a quick stop at CostCo, we pulled out of Dana Point with a fridge of food and a case of wine. Thanksgiving weekend isn’t a great time to be on the roads and the weather forecast was for heavy rains. Needing a couple more items, we headed to Encinitas to get a shovel and into REI, the American version of MEC to get a cooler bag & tent pole for the sunshade. It was then getting late so we parked up for the night around the back of Home Depot and hunkered down for a quiet night.
On the road early, 7am, we headed for the border, but first had to find water which wasn’t so easy, found a fill station & payed $3 for 18 gal enough to see us a for a few days.
The border crossing at Tijuana had been greatly updated since we drove through 7.5yrs ago. We were directed first to a large X-ray machine, I suspect to ensure we weren’t smuggling guns, thankfully they didn’t detect all the booze we were bringing in. Wine in the Baja isn’t or previously hadn’t been so good.
Then to immigration to get the passports stamped, after that we had to get the TIP (temporary import permit for the truck). They required 2 photocopies of Tim’s passport and 2 photocopies of truck ownership papers, all of which we had, but they also required a photocopy of Tim’s immigration form, which we had just been given, so we had to go off and find a photocopy machine. Which was out of the border zone, into the streets to a convenience store with a copy machine, 5 pesos (.30) per page. Back to the immigration buildings to the Banjercito Office, the TIP was $52 USD and is good for 10 years! Not bad as we had read that other travellers had also paid a $200 USD refundable deposit.
Back to ‘Bruce’ (truck), we were approached by a man saying he recognized the camper from Nitinat (a kite & windsurfing location on the West Coast of Vancouver Island). He & his wife Susanna were driving down to La Ventana for a couple of months kiteboarding in their Land Rover & custom camper trailer. It was their first time in the Baja and asked if they could join us for the drive. Just as we pulled out, those dark threatening clouds unloaded and it came down in torrents, within minutes the streets were flooded, mud & water gushing down the steep roads. It was amazing to see how quickly a flash flood can actually happen. The kids were fascinated & excited as though we were on a Disneyland ride. Thankfully they didn’t notice just how much water was pouring down the hill sides and all the mud it was bringing with it. Rocks were falling onto the road, with a very real possibility of a mudslide either onto us or blocking the road ahead. The kids did notice the dramatic change in every way from the USA to Mexico. Off down the coast road, Mex 1, for a quick stop in Ensenada to get a SIM card. 5gb for $35 CDN. First time buying a SIM card so I have no idea if that’s a good deal or not.
I had previously downloaded IOverlander and maps.me apps, which run on GPS and don’t require wifi, so navigation is all sorted.
We spent the first night at a ‘Holiday Camp’ just outside Santo Thomas. Tim spotted it on the outside corner down a steep drive way, directly off the road as we drove by, turning quickly, we carefully crawled down the steep entry. I wondered aloud if we’d be able to get back up in the morning. It was an odd place that appeared to be deserted, 3 swimming pools with nasty green rain water at the deep end, a playground for kids, tennis courts and at least 100 painted picnic tables. The camping sites were tiny, barely enough room to park a mini and 2 person tent, and would be shoulder to shoulder to your neighbour. There was a clean petting zoo-type area with healthy looking birds, out buildings for cooking, laundry, showers & toilets. A once brightly painted school bus that hasn’t moved in years, wheels rolled off the tires, broken windows with a family of cats living inside. The grounds were carefully manicured, and rundown at the same time, to be honest, it felt like something out of a Stephen King novel, you know, when the rusty swings start to move… OK, imagination running away with me, but a place to camp is what we needed, night was coming fast and we had to get off the road. Our only disturbance were the roosters at 4am when the rains had stopped. At first light, in 4wd we were able to crawl back up to the road & the rising sun.
This is our 3rd time driving down the Baja, the first was 20+ years ago, before we were married. We drove Tim’s then new Toyota Tacoma, so it must have been in 1997/98. For the first half with another couple in their truck, then solo. We had no fixed plan, just went for a drive and ended up in the Baja. We free camped on the side of the road or middle of the desert and never felt unsafe. Unknown to us, it was the time and path of drug lord El Chapo. We saw frequent small planes flying overhead and thought nothing of it until an hour later when we were descended upon by a fast moving group of heavily armed military soldiers in Humvees with a top mounted machine gun! We were making our way from a middle of the desert camp back to the Mex 1. We were searched thoroughly for guns & drugs. An intense moment as we didn’t have a word of Spanish nor they English. Hand signals, smiles, a couple of photos and we were on our way. Today there are frequent military check points all along the peninsular searching North bound traffic.
20 years ago the Baja was very different, a town marked on our paper map was nothing more than a faded beer logo painted on a shabby rundown road side store selling potato chips, beer and maybe water if you were lucky. Out back a never been cleaned toilet, a drum of gasoline and sign indicating the next gas stop hundreds of km’s away. Today there are large towns, massive amounts of agriculture and shade covered grow houses for miles. The roads are still frighteningly narrow, with with no shoulder, and some crazy drivers who don’t seem to mind coming tempting fate, I fear it’s only a matter of time till we see an accident.
The second time was 2012, Charley was 8 months old. We drove Bruce down, stayed in the La Ventana campground for 6 weeks and learned to kite board.
Our plan for the day was to park up early afternoon at Punta Baja, a recommended beach spot just 20 mins on a dirt road west from El Rosario. Rumbling along the dirt that turned to hard packed sand that gradually softened. We did see a set of tracks stop & reverse back. That should have been our clue to not venture any further forward, but I guess we were so focused on getting to the beach we weren’t really paying enough attention. Tim mentioned we could get a little bogged down, but it surprised us both as the next moment we were sitting in mud up to the axles! No choice but to get out and dig, just as well we got that shovel. The heavy, wet, sticky mud made slow progress. Jonas & Susanna gathered what sticks, branches and deadfall they could to help with traction. We managed to move a great deal of sand, that was slowly replaced by more & more. Barefoot & up to our knees in it, each secretly worried we may be spending the night where we when a car of 3 men pulled up eager to help. These young local men didn’t hesitate to get stuck in, no pun intended, 20 mins later they disappeared in their rough running car, to return with a load of rocks. They hustled, running in the thick mud with heavy loads. Fast talking, fast moving, hard working men who didn’t stop till we were free and back on hard ground. What a relief, they gratefully accepted $100 US and were soon on their way wishing us well. The sand tracks were twisted up like spiral pasta, which we thought were garbage, but Tim managed to straighten them out and put them pack into place on the side of the truck, hopefully we won’t be needing them again any time soon. The winch on the front wasn’t going to be of any help as there was nothing firm to set anchor into, and we had to go backwards.
Pulling back several hundred meters to a large open area, we cleaned up best we could, exhausted and relieved, we climbed into bed. Just asleep when we heard “Buneas Noches”, am man calling out to us. Poking our heads out the window, he explained that it wasn’t safe where we were as there was more rain in the forecast and that it was better if we came up to the house. So outta bed, dressed and drove up to the farm house. Thankfully it didn’t rain.
The next morning we were up early, after thanking the farmer and re-inflating the tires we headed for the main road. But that too was blocked by water moving to the coast from the far distant mountains. The farmer was right to have us move. The dirt road we drove in on yesterday was now a fast flowing river, had we not seen locals crossing, we probably would have sat there a few days till the water subsided not wanting to get stuck again! Crossing wasn’t so bad, both vehicles we made it through, the 24” deep crossing was no problem, then a couple more mud patches after that. Phew back on the tarmac!!
The rest of the day was driving to Guerrero Negro where we spent the night at an empty RV park, 300 pesos for the night, a hot shower and spectacular sunset that lit up the the big sky, a rolling glow of pink, orange & red. Into a new time zone we roll the clocks forward an hour. It wasn’t till we got here did Jonas discover that the front licence plate had been carefully taken from his the front of their Land Rover, the cheeky farmer must have come out and taken it, as the screws were kindly put back into position, a souvenir I guess.
From Guerreo Negro we drove over the mountains to the coast. On the way we came across a transporter truck that had gone off the road, my guess he was either distracted or a momentary lapse in concentration and seen the corner too late. One lucky man, the guard rail held the vehicle on its side, the driver had escaped, shirt covered in blood but appeared to be in one piece. It must have just happened, so I told the kids what can happen if they are fighting or too loud in the back and Dad can’t concentrate. They were dead quiet till we got to the coast.
Santa Rosalia is an old port town with lovely small colonial influenced buildings. We stopped for a couple of hours, walk around, got a few supplies & had delicious tacos for lunch
That night we camped under the lighthouse on the beach at Mulege. Setting up early we are able to kick back with a cold drink and watch the kids hunt for crabs on the low tide. A great free camp spot and undisturbed.
Another cool, clear, sunny morning before rolling out we visit the Mulege Mission. Built in 1697 by the catholic monks. A simple old church with humble relics & wood carvings, perched on high ground over looking the famed palm tree oasis with the river below, boasts the best views in town.
From the mission we drive an hour or so over the winding road to the Bay of Conception. The lovely Caribbean type bays with beckoning turquoise waters, some with sailboats at anchor, some with small settlements, others with campers by palappas. A little too busy so we continue on till we find the sand spit that we’d camped at years ago, that’s now occupied by a family who has built a shack out of materials probably blown in from the last hurricane. They have taken it upon themselves to keep the area tidy and charge for camping, no receipts given for the 150p fee, they do what the can to scratch out a living. A short day of driving, early camp on a lovely sandy beach, the kids are out playing. I take the time to organize the truck. After dinner we light a fire, roast marshmallows and search the night sky for constellations.
December 3rd we leave the beach late morning and drive 60km to Loreto.