Other than our GPS counting down the kms to the Mexican border, the only other indicator that you’re almost at the edge of US Sovereign Territory is the snaking cue of snowbirds eagerly waiting their turn to enter the Badlands! Why would that be I hear you ask? Well Mexico may have it’s failings but affordable health care is not one of them provided you’re not surviving on Peso’s that is… I guess the border will be a little more obvious once Mexico pays for the sections of new wall between the existing parts!
Crossing into the town of Los Algodones, you’re immediately met by dentists, opticians, plastic surgeons and pharmacies all in large numbers and all appear to being doing a roaring trade. No surprise given prices are so much more relaxed than those just 200 metres to the north. Why not cross the border for a day when you can save so much money, returning that afternoon for a meal at the Cracker Barrel (Australians translation – “Sizzler”) where you can now read the menu clearly and try out your new choppers…
After obtaining our FMT cards from the Mexican Aduana (customs), which you require in order to descend further south or stay more than 72 hours in Mexico, we stocked up with the essentials (beer) and hit the road.
A first observation other than those cynical ones characterised above is the immediate slide backward in living standards and infrastructure!
Honestly I thought I was back in Bulgaria (no offence to Bulgarians intended). The similarities were quite astounding with heavily potholed roads, dusty streets hemmed with disheveled homes, completely un-roadworthy cars and a general drop in standards that seems to go hand in hand with government corruption and a struggling economy. It’s certainly easy to see why a career change involving a stroll in the dark across the arid lands of Arizona might have an appeal to it!
Continuing south through the town of San Felipe and with the day trickling away we began the all too familiar task of acquainting ourselves with a new country and its intricacies. Finding groceries, a sim card for the phone and buying fuel are always new experiences when you cross a fresh border. Our Spanish is rather abysmal – well mine at least! Jen has once again made the effort to learn some of the local lingo making the task a little easier but we do need to rely on the locals at times to help us through our language inadequacies!
Our first interactions with the people of Mexico had been wandering the streets of Los Algodones where English is very common, but now, a 100 plus km south of the border, you’re a little more likely to need some Spanish!
Friendly and helpful, just as we’ve found all the people of the world to be, is probably the best description. Going out of their way to try and help us through the language barrier! We both felt invigorated and welcome immediately and enjoy the challenge of tackling foreign languages and cultures – it wakens the senses and again Planet Earth seems to have become smaller than it was only hours earlier!
Finding a home for the night was our next priority! The north east coast along the Sea of Cortez was a hub for tourism some decades ago with a plethora of resort style RV parks developed along the lovely coastline. Eventually though, they fell out of favour as highway infrastructure increased and the tourists migrated further south leaving much of the north east coast a tourist wasteland. Grandiose plans for capturing the tourist dollar are obvious, with various facades left in ruin along the coastal drive south. Seems a common theme to start with an extravagant portico designed to welcome your visitors before, for whatever reason, forgetting the whole idea and walking away.
We settled on a long since abandoned RV Park, but the pool was pretty nice and we had the whole long forgotten establishment to ourselves!
La Gringa Nature Reserve near Bahia de Los Angeles was to be where we enjoyed our first real interaction with other travellers in Baja!
The waters down here are truly alive with sea life with Humpbacks and California Grey whales being the most notable but also dolphins and seals. Hours passed easily under sunny skies as we watched them. In the silence of our isolated camp, the blow from these giant creatures followed by the almost musical note as they inhale was a first for us and the sound of whales breathing became the wonderful backdrop to this campsite.
We knew that a maze of off-roading lay ahead for us should we wish to avoid the highways and if you’ve been following our travels then you know back roads are our preference!
A very slow drive presented itself as we elected to continue along the coast from Bahia de Los Angeles rather than follow the Highway inland and south. Slow only because the gravel road was heavily corrugated, another theme that would continue throughout our time here!
Whilst in the States we had purchased a UV light torch which had been advertised as great for spotting bark scorpions which would glow in the dark. To no avail we searched for scorpions in the states but here we finally found them…
It was quite a long transit back out to the highway along our chosen route but we managed to find an excellent campsite with a series of ancient rock paintings!
The skies had been a little ominous for a spell and open up that night they certainly did. Fortunately it eased in the morning for I don’t think it would have taken a lot more rain to make driving a tad difficult. As it was, a slimy and slippery surface was the result making sure the Patrol received a nice coating of mud on every underneath surface!
One oddity that we observed quite early on was the lack of traffic on the highways between towns! The towns themselves are bustling hubs of activity; markets, shopping of all kinds, workshops and so on but a definite and distinct lack of movement observed between these towns! Our only conclusion is that the price of fuel, which has just been raised in Mexico and is now more expensive than in the US, is just beyond the average Mexican families budget.
The town of Mulegé proved to be the start of one of the nicest sections of Baja and the town we enjoyed our first Mexican meal and Margherita’s
Further south, a large spit of land runs parallel to the coast creating the beautiful bay known as Bahia de Concepcion. With protected waters, the area is known for it’s population of Whale Sharks and it provides truly lovely snorkelling, paddling, fishing and boating, all pursuits high on the tourist agenda!
Speaking of tourists – well, we’d found them! We knew they were here but we weren’t quite sure where they all were until now!
A-Class motorhomes and huge 5th wheel caravans wall to wall, bay after bay! No – I’m not kidding! They number in the hundreds, every floating toy that you can buy jammed in trailers and on roof racks, sunbathing Canadians glistening in the sun whilst back in their home land the temperature dips to minus double digits – brrrrhhhh!
Not hard to see why they make for Mexico.
I’d heard that much the population of British Columbia could be found in Baja over the winter, maybe it’s more like most of Canada! Even whole bays temporarily named after their Canadian migrating tenants.
Americans make up a reasonable contingent as well, I might add, although Canadians seemed to have the numbers on the face of it! We represented the contingent of foreign travellers from other corners of the Globe.
Enterprising locals arrived every morning with a beep of their car horn – fresh caught fish and prawns, banana cakes and lovely hot tamales for sale. We couldn’t resist these home cooked treats and made our way through quite a few of them.
Water, firewood, souvenirs and whatever else you may need were also available from these enterprising people as they catered to the needs of the tourists, many of whom stay in the one bay for months on end, returning to their little patch year after year.
Jumping aboard a local Panga (small boat) with a few other tourists we spent an afternoon looking for whale sharks! Although we were out of luck on the whale shark front, we had a great time just relaxing as we idled from bay to bay! I must admit, the fuel hose in the open jerry can with a rag around it and a cigarette in the captains mouth had me looking for a bucket of “savlon” should it all go bad! Fortunately the wind kept the sparks out of the fuel and we didn’t need the fire extinguisher that wasn’t there or the life jackets that didn’t exist should we have blown up!
Our next area of interest was San Basilio! A truly stunning bay and probably the best beach camp of the many that we enjoyed! About an hours drive from the highway, it’s just far enough to keep out most of the tourists but for those that make the effort the reward is there.
A lovely natural harbour, it wasn’t hard to see why there were quite a few sailboats moored close in enjoying the calm anchorage. Wandering along the beach we ran into Paul and Frances. They had come ashore from their lovely yacht christened “Monkey Fist”! All the way from Darwin these Aussies have spent the last 9 years sailing the world in there 43 foot Jeanneau yacht. Along the way they provide eye correction glasses to those in need around the world donated by the Lions Club.
These amazing travellers extended us an invitation to join them aboard that evening for a few beverages and a tour of their floating home. Paul picked us up in the Zodiac and we had a terrific time with them. I asked a million questions about the challenges of sailing the world and found their whole journey quite inspirational. The only downside of the evening was the company was so good that we never picked up the camera to record the event and as such only a couple of dodgy pics tell the tale.
It was Australia Day! What an appropriate way to spend it…