On March 1st we cross the border and Hola Mexico, we’re on our way! 1,367 miles, 29 driving hours from Chula Vista, CA over 9 days, with 4 side trips along the way. (Previously…Feb 14 – March 1: Vero Beach to Chula Vista = 2,660 miles).
Lessons Learned. Indispensable apps: Maps.me, and Google Translate (especially its camera translating function)
Mexican immigration waves us across the border at Tecate. We park the car on a side street to stamp passports, validate visitor papers, and exchange US dollars into pesos. Marlene’s math: Drop the last digit before the decimal, divide pesos by two and hope for the best. Example: $390.00 MX = $20.00 US, more or less.
Side Trip #1, Wine Country
(Fri-Tue) On to Valle de Guadalupe via Ruta de Vino, to our vineyard lodging for four days. On our daily walk we make friends with two horses on the property. In the valley, there are small wineries and spectacular Napa-style vineyards. With over 150 wineries, we have a blast. Tinto (red) is our favorite, and the Chenin Blanc is special.
Oops moment: There is no room in the car to purchase wine to take with us to La Paz. Lesson Learned. Wait and shop for Baja wine in Costco and Walmart. Yep.
Side Trip #2, Crossing the 28th Parallel. Baja Norte to Baja Sur (north to south)
We hit the road very early Tuesday morning. GPS calculates 8.5 hours driving time from Ensenada to Guerrero Negro, and the pressure is on to avoid driving at night. We are duly warned that animals come to sleep on the warm asphalt and are difficult to see after dark. After a longer day than expected, (11.5 hours), we arrive at sunset to our $38.00 hotel room.
- Delays…First hour: Road blocks on Mexico 1 in Ensenada. Due to Carnival, we must detour with no GPS.
- Delays….Potholes. Lots of them for the first 2-3 hours.
- Delays…We come to a halt at a construction zone in the mountains. An hour ticks by while we wait on the road and admire wildflowers, with a long line of cars and trucks. The words “I don’t think we’re going to make it” are muttered for the first time.
- Delays…a 45 mph speed limit is imposed for miles and miles. We become familiar with a road sign: “Este Camino No Es De Alta Velocidad” – Not a High Speed Road. As the road eventually becomes more desolate, the speed limit is gradually raised. The longest stretch without a gas station is 239 miles. We do not tempt fate…we have a full tank. Along a remote stretch of road pickup trucks with gas cans in their beds are parked. These are marked as actual gas stations on the map.
Finding The Beauty: The scenery is wildly beautiful, with bruma (fog) covered vineyards in the morning, green mountain hills, fields of vegetable farms, and crops of prickly pear fruit. It stretches to flat, uninhabited desert filled with cactus fields and “Dr. Seuss-like” trees called cirios (candle) or boojum tree.
Approaching Guerrero Negro after 11 hours, we catch up to a caravan of off-road ATVs, racing and bouncing beside the highway on a dirt trail, dodging poles, holes, culverts, and critters. Turns out, we are all checking into the same hotel at the same time that night.
Oops Moment: Struggling with the hotel’s weak internet connection, we find an email with a cancellation notice of our pre-paid/reserved Air BnB apartment in La Paz. Panic! We are arriving for a two-month stay…in four days! Resolution: Upon discovering the cancellation, a rental angel, (Annabelle), diligently reaches us to authorize her to book a replacement. Granted!…Sight unseen.
- Mexican truck drivers (and there are a lot) kindly signal with their left blinker to let you know when it is clear to pass on winding, narrow roads.
- We encounter periodic military checkpoints on Mexico 1. The soldiers, young and polite, are decked out in full army fatigues with large guns. “Vaciones” (vacation) is a good word to know.
Gray Whale Watching (40 tons / 50 feet of love)
Go to the tab Where We’ve Been/Whale Watching for photos.
The gray whales come to the warm lagoons of Baja California Sur to breed and give birth every winter. Their round trip journey of 14,000 miles begins in Alaska, and the return trip begins in April. The whales put on a show, breaching and spouting, and coming right up to the boat for human contact. They are so friendly that they surface alongside the small boats (pangas), and often mothers will push their calves right up to the boats to show them off and allow petting. We were on the water with the whales for three hours. I could have stayed all day. (See the tab “Where We’ve Been” for whale photos and closeups).
Fact: In the late 1800’s, the whale population was nearly extinguished, but with attention from conservationists and regulations they have rebounded. Whale watching is highly regulated and controlled in Baja.