We left from Encinitas, Alta California, late afternoon on November 1st, heading for the border. We were finally ready to cross into Mexico. We had completed our necessary upgrades and were more or less on schedule with our goal of crossing the border by the end of the month.
California is expensive so as nice as it is, we were happy to get going. We got held up with a minor set-back, that was someone had backed into the van overnight while it was parked on a dead-end street, outside a friends house that we were staying with. Massive vertical dent, managed to stay above the parking lights on a van that’s tall to begin with, while somehow crushing in the bumper. Looked like a pay loader or a giant back-lift truck botched a K-turn and backed right into it. Poor beast, took it like a champ though. The lights still worked and it was the driver-side back corner so you could hardly see it from the driver’s perspective. Tweaked the back-door pretty good though.
We were quoted 2- 3000 dollars to get it fixed in USA, but someone we met on the sidewalk while we were parked at Swamis, upon explaining to them our predicament, recommended a man he knew who is an American contractor from Mexico that knows a guy with a body shop in Tecate who does nice work.
Well, we decided to take him up on that offer, so he gave us the number to this guy, Ernesto, who knew the body shop guy, who’s name was Paco. So after spending the night parked at the border on the American side, we crossed into Tecate early Nov. 2nd, the day of the dead.
Personally, I was relieved and pleasantly surprised to find this out because for some reason we thought ‘the Day of the Dead’ was Nov. 1st, and we thought we’d missed it. Tecate was pretty mellow, some light decoration here and there, some kids walking around with half a skull painted on their face. I was happy to have made our mark and enter Mexico on such an occasion. It felt like a good omen. The border crossing went without a hitch, no line just beautiful morning light, we basically drove right through. They opened the back doors and shut them. Easy. We did a couple round robins on foot, back and forth across the border, getting the paper work sorted out, the visas and vehicle import permit but again no line, no problem.
We were lead to Paco’s shop and sure enough, he and his employee nailed it, in only 3 days. Luckily, Ernesto, his wife and nine daughters couldn’t have been nicer and he, though we never saw him in person, had his wife and daughter meet us and guide us to their beautiful home on a mountainside overlooking the city and valley. The first night we slept in the van, the second we had to leave it overnight at the body shop, but they came, picked us up and brought us home with them. We were hanging out, watching movies, shooting the breeze, having a grand old time. Chilly at night though, Tecate is higher in elevation than I anticipated. They were so sweet and kind, treated us like honorary guests. I made a drawing there, and Ernesto’s wife made us our first plate of chilaquiles, which is still a favorite dish of mine, especially after that experience. We gave Paco $375, thanked him profusely and were off.
Moving on, we made our way to the coast paralleling the border until we reached Tijuana, then made a hard right heading for Playa La Mision. Our friend Even, a surfer and shaper from Santa Cruz, who we met in Montauk, has a family house there.
The border, is a giant maroon wall-like fence, made of metal panels. It meanders up and down the mountains in a seemingly straight line, you see it from afar, across the canyon. It looks like a Christo installation, if it weren’t for the color. There’s a river between the highway and the fence, which is on average, about halfway up the mountainside. Approaching Tijuana, the ground flattens out and it becomes two fence-like walls, based in concrete, mounted with barbwire, a kind of no man’s land in the space between. Rough area, very us and them feeling. There’s a shaded slab of concrete every 1/2 a kilometer or so with a border patrol parked on it. The buildings on the American side look like concentration camps. At Ernesto’s place you can see the red fence across the valley, it looks small and thin, but the mountains looks steep and formidable. Ernesto’s wife, who’s name eludes me, said when she was young it was just a barb-wire fence and they used to crawl through and try to make it to the US. If they got caught, they would be put in a holding cell for some hours but would eventually be let out, and the next night they would try again.
We made it to La Mision just after sunset, with the help of Evan via cell-phone. He was still in Arizona, not due to arrive for a few more days. His grandparents have a beautiful house there, right on the beach. Stunning location, priceless empty semi-hollow waves breaking out front. His mom, grandparent’s, sister, and her little boys who were wrapped around both of my legs within a minute of our arrival, welcomed us in. Good people. Ev’s family hosted us for a few days before Evan and Jackie arrived. They were so cool, treated us like family, and we hardly knew them. We stayed a week and had a lovely time, scored epic surf, and were honored to get to know them. We slept most nights in the van, but were delighted to spend the final nights in the blue room, overlooking the ocean.
Said goodbye to Evan and Jackie and spent the night at San Miguel on our way to Punta Cabras, where we used our 4x4 for the first time. The place was amazing, practically deserted, except for some gnarly dune buggies shredding down the road. Turns out they were practicing for the Baja 500. The road to Punta Cabras was tore up pretty good. Hardly a road, looked more like a dry river-bed. An arroyo leads to the empty beach, a semi-circular cove flanked by two points. The waves were basically perfect, I got my best barrel there. We also met the Kiwi’s, Sam and Glenn, and the Canooks, Adam and Steve. Righteous dudes, driving boss RV’s, we met up with them a lot more further on down the road.
Onto Cuatro Casas where we met the Australian guys, Adam and Dean, and re-united with our new and now great friend Malwina! She was undecided how to go about her trip, and last minute made the decision not to follow those guys and ended up staying with us until we parted ways in Todos Santos. From then on, it was sheer bliss and one shocking and awe-inspiring revelation after another.
It was a major blow to our moral upon learning the horrible truth of what happened to the Australians, lumps in our throats as the story unfolded. Our hearts and prayers are with them and they’re loved ones to this day. They were the nicest guys, truly and whole-heartedly. I remember thinking how incredible open and friendly they were. Vibrant with life, made me feel like I was on the right path. We caught up with them one more time at The Wall, had a fun surf sess. before they took the ferry to mainland. I was really hoping to see them again. We dedicated the rest of our travels through Mexico in their memory.
This brings up a prominent point that is the infamous reputation of mainland Mexico. Even Baja, as the guide clearly informs. As we were manifesting this trip and acquiring first-hand information, a lot of people went to great lengths to remind us how dangerous Mexico is, as if something bad was sure to happen if you go. We would ask them, ‘have you been there?’ the usual reply was no. Well, our experience in Mexico up till the incident with the Aussies was really humbling and eye opening. Mexicans are really nice, funny, fast, hard-working people, and have treated us like their own since we arrived. They all did give us the same instruction, not to drive at night. So far, we’ve been sticking to that. Thinking back to that day in Abreojos when the news became official, I’ll admit we were devastated. Having recently formed a new group of friends on the road, we all knew without saying that it could have been anyone of us. I was shocked that it was Adam and Dean, they seemed so together. We couldn’t help but question our choice of life on the road. We felt so vulnerable, like something could happen at any moment. This was hard to stomach because until this happened, our interactions and experiences with Mexico and it’s people had been proving the misconstrued rumors of uninformed Americans to be completely inaccurate. In the end, freedom trumps fear and I refuse to let the actions of desperate people or the fear mongering of ignorant people to hold us back from fulfilling our dreams.
By the way, Mex 200 is for the most part in pretty good shape, almost like an extension of Hwy 1. Even the Transpeninsular Hwy through Baja is a joy to drive, in the day time, though there’s hardly a shoulder and it’s almost always accompanied by a steep embankment. Hair-raising with a passing semi, they feel like they could blow you off the road with the head wind they create, they’re that close.
The Wall, Punta Rosarito, is the last of the seven sisters and one of the many beautiful right-hand points in the region. We stayed for what seemed like an eternity, enjoyed perfect weather, which we found out is quite rare, as it is a windy spot.
Windy days, blowing off-shore a lot of the time, we weren’t complaining. Plenty of surf. The landscape is magical and enthralling, the geographical isolation is consistent and dependable. We loved every minute. Most of Baja is like this, and Punta Rosarito is supposedly the most crowded of the seven sisters. Also, it’s the closest one to the highway, which is a major perk because the roads in Baja are seriously rough. I mean, they had me on the edge of my seat practically the whole time, white knuckled, bug-eyed, holding my breath, bouncing back and forth, cursing, at times on the verge of tears. But the harder the ride, the better the pay off. I finally got my air pressure right, much thanks to Mickey Munoz, who we luckily met in Todos Santos with his wife Peggy, but that’s a whole other story that took place further on down the line in Baja Sur.