Borders, Banjercitos, and Blown-out shocks…Just another day in Baja
Driving the Mojave Road was a blast, but after weeks in the desert it was time to move on, plus we knew beaches and tacos awaited us! The first order of business after the Mojave was a place to camp. On the map we spotted Big Bear Lake which looked on the way to San Diego and our trusty GPS told us it was only about 15 miles out of the way- no biggie! We wondered what we had gotten ourselves into after about an hour of driving up through mountain pass after pass, but we finally arrived. We pulled in, paid the lady at the booth, found our site and settled in. We were a bit confused as to why she had given us a site right next to four couples who were clearly camping together even though there were over 100 sites in the campground. O’well, bruscetta chicken for dinner it was!
While making dinner, one of the campers next to us walked up and asked “Are those surfboards?” “Why, yes, yes they are!” And that is what started our extensive conversation with John about travels and surfing. He invited us over to their campfire and by the end of the night, we had met some of the most down to earth people we have ever met- and they are so much fun to be around too! John, who grew up in San Diego, gave us some good pointers on Anza Borrego, and the most scenic routes to take on our way to the border, plus an invite to come and stay with them. They even tempted us with a lift in the garage to do some last minute maintenance!
John and Kitty were phenomenal hosts, and have a beautiful home in the mountains of San Diego. We stayed with them for a few days so we could tune up the truck a bit and we even got to take ‘real’ showers and sleep in a ‘real’ bed!! In the mornings, Kitty and I would sit outside and talk about our families, share stories and talk about our future as travelers. Nate and John would hang out in the garage and talk about man stuff, and all of Johns crazy life travels. He literally could have a book written about his accomplishments, travels and stories! And they’re all ‘true stories’ :). They became not only our friends but also our mentors while we were there.
Kitty and I talked about some of the things that have not gone according to plan thus far on the trip. As we talked through it, I said “Well, everything happens for a reason, right?” She assured me that everything does happen for a reason and this is when I came to the realization that all of the things I was having a difficult time with were just ways of making us stronger and forcing us to step back and slow down a bit. It is difficult to teach yourself a new way to look at life. Everything that doesn’t go according to plan can actually become an adventure and a great story to tell.
Our last night in Valley Center, we had a potluck dinner with all of John and Kitty’s friends. What a great time! Who knew that being placed at a campsite right next to them would lead to meeting such wonderful people! The next morning we packed up and headed for the border.
We felt confident in our border crossing having read LifeRemotely’s book and had written down step by step directions on how to cross, where to go, GPS coordinates; the works! One problem; they had been building a new post in San Ysidro scheduled to open the day we planned to cross. Being hopeful that the border was late to open we drove toward Tijuana. We saw all the signs saying ‘International Border: 1 mile’, ‘Last USA exit’, etc. Oh boy! We are finally here!
We pull up to the gate where a new electronic eye scans your truck and gives you a signal when to move on. Green means go and red means pull over to the side to be searched. RED! Okay, no biggie. We pulled off to the side where they opened the back of the truck. They pulled open our drawer, looked in our fridge, and checked under the bed. “Esta bien.” Okay, we are on our way! We pulled out of customs and were immediately dumped onto a freeway. We had no idea where we were going because the directions we had written down didn’t seem to apply anymore. In a sort of panic, we got off an exit in Tijuana in search for the migracion/banjercito office so we could get our tourist visas. Winding through the the streets of Tijuana, we got totally lost and had no idea what to do. After about an hour of driving around, we decided to turn around and head back to the border. Maybe we would see the migration office on our way! No such luck.
We got stuck in traffic going BACK through to the states with no way out of it. Crap! We passed through U.S customs, told him we are idiots and asked how to get back through the San Ysidro border. Twenty minutes later, we were back in Tijuana. We pulled up to customs, red again! We felt like professionals at this point. Well, professionals at being idiots that is. We started doubting ourselves. How are we going to be able to make it across 17 or more borders if we screwed up our very first one?!
We pulled into the station, got searched and asked him where to pay for our tourist visas. He told us to pull up into the parking lot where the officials park and walked us over to the Migracion office. We went in, filled out our tourist cards, he stamped it and sent us on our merry way. We asked the nice man who walked us over where the Banjercito was so we could pay for the tourist cards. He didn’t understand what we were asking and tried to send us to an ATM. We decided to just drive South, out of Tijuana, and figure it out later.
FOR FUTURE OVERLANDERS: We later found out that what we were actually supposed to do was stay to the right toward the signs that say ‘Declaro.’ Pull in, park, and walk up to the migracion office. You will fill out the card, he will stamp the back and you will go back to your car. From this point stay left and get off of the first exit. We assume the Banjercito is still in the same place as before- LifeRemotely’s GPS Coordinates for that are: N 32°32’24.19” W117° 1’54.76”. At this point you may pay for your tourist cards and get your vehicle importation permit if necessary. As an alternative you can pay for the tourist card in Ensenada, however they told us we need to go to La Paz for the vehicle importation permit. The migracion/banjercito office in Ensenada is on a side street when you pull into town on the right. You will see big sign for it. The catch is that they charge you an extra 2 or 3 dollars per tourist card to do it here but it was worth it for us to not feel lost/rushed. Ensenada is a really touristy town, but it makes a good place to stop for the night and get an early start the next morning.
Our first few days in Baja consisted of driving down Mex 1, pirate camping as close to the beach as we could get. We would look at our Baja Almanac (thanks again to Home on the Highway for the recommendation!) for dirt roads that looked like they would get pretty close to the ocean. We found some pretty sweet spots!
On our third or fourth day in Baja, we spotted “Coco’s Corner” on the map. Nate had heard of Coco before- he is famous within the off-road racing world!! We decided we would try to camp at the end of one of the dirt roads and visit Coco- he is a character! We got some useful tips from him and were on our way. Coco really took a shining to me, and even gave me one of his newly designed t-shirts as an early Christimas present! 🙂
From Coco’s Corner we headed out to Bahia la Asuncion via Vizcaino. It is a pretty remote stretch of coast with a few nasty roads to get yourself lost on. We set up camp on a shell beach and enjoyed the sunset. The next day, the plan was to head for the east coast again and enjoy the calm waters of the Sea of Cortez. We had a couple hundred miles of dirt roads ahead of us so we were cruising pretty quick, and may have taken a few too many hard hits. Pulling into Punta Abreojos we smelled an unfamiliar burning smell. Burning smells aren’t uncommon when pulling into towns, but this was a bad burn, like chemical burn. Gross! We cruised about ten miles across a section of compacted beach then Nate pulled over to use the “facilities” and do his usual walk around inspection of the truck. “Oh…my…God!, what the HELL is that? There is fluid everywhere!” I have learned from Nate’s methods that the first way to figure out what kind of fluid it is is to smell it. Not transmission fluid, good! Not motor oil, good! Not differential fluid, good! Not power steering, hmmm., then what the hell is it? A quick look around resulted it finding a blown out shock, crap. Well, that explains the burning smell.
*A side note, over the course of 10 minutes on the side of the road we had three different people pull over to ask if we were ok and if we needed help…tell that to the Americans that won’t go to Mexico!
Anyway, with 100 miles left to go, we pushed on with a real funny feeling truck. Once we got to Mulege, we collected our thoughts, got a cell phone up and running and ordered some new shocks. Which luckily will be in a pickup of some of the guys chasing the Baja 1000. Awesome!
So here I sit, writing and reflecting from my beachfront office waiting for the arrival of our new shocks (fingers crossed), enjoying life in the sun!