Driving The Baja

To all you who are too weenie to do it, read this

So there we were, a couple of 70 year old adventure seekers. We left California in our SUV last June 2nd, and easily crossed the border at Tijuana, into Baja. It was our well-thought out plan to drive the 1,000 miles and arrive in Cabo San Lucas, about three days later where a friend was letting us use his condo. The first time I booked a four day trip to Cabo San Lucas with Jerry, he was very disappointed that we had to leave so soon. Since then we have been flying into Cabo every year.

The next part wasn’t so easy. We missed the immigration check point and when we realized it, we tried to circle around and almost exited the country. The layout of the streets in Tijuana was confusing for us, though we had all kinds of maps and tourist books. We knew that picking up a tourist visa was mandatory so we were nervous but proceeded. I had traveled throughout Mexico and visited Baja by plane and motor home many times, but this driving was a new adventure.

Eventually we found Mexico 1 and were on our way south, without the official papers. I had travelled this path many years before and encouraged my husband to have faith that it would all work out. We took the toll road, which is well paved and a beautiful ride along the edge of the Pacific Ocean. After a while we saw a sign that said “tourist visas required from this point on”,  which only increased our anxiety. So we pulled into Ensenada and looked for a tourist authority.

My husband has no Spanish language skills at all; he grew up in Michigan. I had three years of Spanish in California schools and have a limited knowledge which includes such things as donde esta el bano?  But, we had a good translation book which I read as my speed demon husband barreled along the road. Finally we found a government building that indicated we might get help. Passports in hand we proceeded to the counter. “Oh no Senior y Senorita, you must go to the bank three blocks away and buy the pass.” Off we go walking along with naïve confidence this would all work out fine.

As we approached the bank from a block away we could see a dozen police cars and lots of uniformed men. Apparently there had been a bank robbery. Back we go to the visa office and soon they would close two hours for siesta. Husband does not wait patiently for anything so he found a nice local man and asked if he knew anyone who could help us for some dollars.  “Of Course Senior, the fellow said. What is it that you need?” With a $20 dollar bill in his hand the man ran to that bank at top speed, returning with all the forms we needed.

After obtaining the correct documents we hurried back to the government office and waited in line for one hour. After that we were legal 90 day visitors and were ready to head south again. Anxious to get away from the busy streets, we needed a good Mexican lunch, so when we came to the small town of Santo Tomas, in the wine region, we stopped. An enormous parking area in front of a palapa roofed open air cantina beside the highway beckoned to us. Dozens of long tables filled the space, looking as if they expected an enormous crowd, we thought maybe buses. After a meal of fresh tortillas, beans, salsa, and shrimp recently living in the ocean, we left after our first meal of the trip with a happy memory.

That evening we stopped at a charming motel in El Rosario. The Baja Cactus had been remodeled and the mission style building offered luxury rooms at a very reasonable price. Next to the Pemex station and across from Mama Espinosa’s restaurant was perfect for dinner and then again for breakfast. A funny thing about the hotel; they do not have an ice machine and their sign says no smoking, and no drinking. That didn’t work for us – the drinking part. So we walked to a local market and bought a bag of ice, took it back to our room and very privately, with drapes closed, as if we were criminals, poured vodka over ice and into their water glasses.