March 5 – March 8, 2018.
“Moose!”, Duwan exclaims as we pull into El Mirador campground. Leave it to Duwan to recognize a dog she knows out here in Baja California. She hops out to greet Moose as I find a level parking spot. Duwan has been following Moose’s person, Tim, on Instagram. After I park, we meet Moose’s whole family (Tim, Kerry, and Byron [Moose’s furry brother]).
El Mirador is our third Baja camping spot, and favorite so far. But I’m getting ahead of myself. I should backtrack to our border crossing on Monday, March 5th.
It wasn’t difficult. But nothing about it was intuitive. I was glad Duwan had researched it so thoroughly.
We drove across easily enough, and were waved into a parking spot. Two agents opened the back of the van and looked in. Not a very thorough search. I suppose looking like harmless old gringos helps sometimes. Then we were waved off. We drove across the border.
Next step was finding a parking space in Tecate, preferably a short walk from the border office. It took a while, but we found one. We gathered all our paperwork and walked back to the border facility.
Someone eventually pointed us to a gate on the east side of the road. We walked up a sidewalk the length of the facility, and crossed the road we had come in on. Then we walked back toward the border, past the Banjercito, and found immigration.
Here we filled out Mexican travel cards, and were sent back to the Banjercito to pay. We took our Banjercito receipts back to immigration, and had our passports stamped. Then we walked down the west side of the road, through the Xray checkpoint, and back into Mexico. We were legal.
We changed some money at a booth in Tecate. The rate was 17.35 pesos to the dollar. Then we drove out of Tecate on highway 3, which quickly becomes La Ruta del Vino.
Yep, just like it sounds, this stretch of highway 3 is lined with vinyards. Our iOverlander app had told us that some of these allow free overnight camping if you buy a bottle of wine, or take a tour. It’s true! Our first night was spent at L.A. Cetto.
Our next stop was in downtown Ensenada on the Pacific coast. We parked in a free spot near the water, and explored the city. There are other camping options nearby, but we just stayed the night in that spot.
The next morning we decided to drive out the point south of Ensenada to La Bufadora. We passed several camping spots and selected El Mirador, which has dry camping for $5 per night. We stayed two nights.
What have we learned so far?
Here are some quick rounding techniques I use. A kilo is just over two pounds. TenK is just over 6 miles. And dividing pesos by 100, and multiplying the result by 6 will give me a rough value in dollars.
Produce in grocery stores is cheap, but you may not find bagged greens. There is no cheddar cheese in sight, and no pretzels. Aaargh! But Carta Blaca, the cheapest beer besides American light beers, is drinkable. Oh, and don’t forget to tip the grocery bagger one peso per bag.
Being a Tourist
We’ve learned to be wary in tourist towns like Ensenada. We stopped into a bar for a few beers, where we were dramatically overcharged, spectacularly underserved, and got to watch two waiters fight over sharing the expected tip. And at a fruit stand I paid someone for a bag of oranges. As we took time to select the best bag, the urchin I paid ran off. No one noticed that, but they did notice when WE started to leave with a bag.
(But these were atypical events. We were generally treated very well. And once, when we left a museum and sat outside to plan our next move, the proprietor ran out and down the steps to encourage us go see a historic mural nearby.)
The government sets the gas prices here, so it’s pretty much the same everywhere. But you don’t pump your own. So try to know how much you’ll need (in liters), and have exact change (in pesos). Make sure the pump is reset to zero before the attendant starts. (Try to remember his physical features.) If the attendant reaches for hose on othher side of the pump, get out for a yawn and stretch, making sure he resets that side to cero. Dismiss the panhandler who engages you while the pump is running. And before handing the attendant money, count it out aloud, making eye contact, so there’s no confusion. And don’t forget to tip him!
What have we learned about driving? Four-way stops are common. If bulbs on a traffic light are out, just treat it like a 4-way. Everyone, everyone, everyone wants to drive faster than Ballena Blanca, even when we’re over the limit. Don’t sweat it. In towns the roads are cratered like those in Atlanta, home! The long highways are mostly two lane with wide (but less than car-width) aprons on each side. A solid yellow line means no passing. A double solid yellow line means “Really! No Passing!” No one, no one, no one respects these lines. People commonly pass. And, surprise! Don’t use your left signal if you plan to turn. Use it to show the person behind you it’s OK for them to pass you.
And the topes! These are (seemingly) randomly placed, frequently unmarked, speed bumps. They may be for pedestrian crossing in the middle of nowhere. Or they may stretch, inexplicably, through an entire poblado (village). Varying heights, they lurk, waiting to rip the undercarriage from your vehicle.
But despite our great white blundering down the peninsula, despite the fact that the big dumb gringo van is clogging up the works, no one has honked at us. No one has flashed lights, tail-gated closely, or flipped us off. We’re just one more tope to these folks.
* All pics are click to enlarge.