Even though we arrived ridiculously early (4 hours) for our ferry ride to Mazatlán, the air conditioned ticket office was already full of truck drivers, so we bought our tickets and drove to the loading area. We watched some exterior ferry repair work with questionable fall protection procedures (Scott and I are trained, so we know what we're talking about here ;) and waited it out in the heat. We were the third vehicle loaded, so we got to watch the whole procedure for packing in the big rigs. The ferry crews definitely have it down - there wasn't a spare inch between any of the trucks. We ate dinner onboard with a Canadian-German couple headed to Nicaragua in their RV (who had many of the same thoughts we did about the roughest stretches of the Mex 1 highway through Baja), enjoyed the sunset, and retired to our cabin (aka the van) for a restless night. The low hum of the ferry engines and the slow rocking weren't bad, but the occasional starting of any one of the rigs around us was enough to wake us up (especially knowing they were doing so to run their air conditioning). In the morning, we got a close-up view of another impressive operation - a tugboat flipping our ferry around into the port. The tug operator, in a tank top and flip-flops in his captain's seat, nudged our much larger ship neatly into place and tooted his horn when we shot him a thumbs-up. It was another 45 minutes before we drove off the boat, but during that time we met ferry worker Marcelo. He's a Mazatlán native and was so excited we were visiting his city. He also happened to have spent 12 years living in Manatee County, FL (near where Scott is from)! He would have loved to stay in Florida (where both his children were born), but couldn't get his visa extended any longer. He told us he was especially happy that day (after we commented that he seemed a very happy guy) because it was his last day of work before spending a month at home with his family. When we saw him later with his son, his grin had gotten impossibly bigger than when we were talking to him. It was so great to have an actual conversation with a local! Hopefully our Spanish will improve so we don't have to rely on the English skills of others to do so as we keep traveling.
Miles traveled: 254
Miles driven: 0
Hours onboard ferry: 20
Hours of sleep: <4
Next up, mainland Mexico! (Really.)
Alternate alliterative title: Sand, Sweat, Salt, and Sunscreen
We got savvy to southern CA freeway driving just in time to cross into Mexico (after we easily took care of our 180-day tourist cards at the border) where we encountered a whole 'nother driving experience. First, people walking along (and sometimes on or across) the narrow freeway. Then construction zones that do not adhere to the rules we're familiar with (Scott and I are trained in traffic flagging, so we know what we're talking about here). The only thing that seemed more unnerving than the driving was stopping, so we didn't until we reached Ensenada. Found parking right in front of a taco stand in the fish market and plopped right down for our first Baja tacos. These lived up to the hype, but what did we know. Got a SIM card for our phone, went to a grocery store, and headed south to our first campsite. Luckily Scott remembered that it was on the road to La Bufadora or else we might not have found it. (We were still sorting out our navigation strategy.) We pulled into La Jolla camp, found a beachfront site and settled in. There was only one other family camped along the beach, so we figured we were in for a quiet few days. Ha! Turns out the next day was Friday, and lots of people packed in around us (see pics for our favorite moment of the day). We were able to relax a bit, went for a swim, and cooked up some chicken mole (from a carton) and rice for dinner.
It was a great camp spot but we were eager to move on to the Sea of Cortez, so Saturday we went back to Ensenada for more supplies, and headed south. We knew we shouldn't expect to make the kind of time/miles (kilometers, I mean) we're used to on our US road trips, but we didn't know we would be playing dodge-the-lane-wide-potholes on shoulderless, narrow roads while making room for semis coming at us the entire time (except during a fish taco lunch stop, of course). Once we just slowed down and figured out the system for signaling drivers behind us to pass (not that they waited for us to), we relaxed and adjusted our planned stop for the night. So glad we did! We stayed just outside Cataviña (at Rancho Santa Inez), which has the most incredible array of cacti set among huge granite boulders. I've not spent much time in cactus-type deserts, but can't imagine any better. We hiked the hills around our camp that night and the boulder fields west of the town the next morning. It was all so beautiful and strange that I barely remember getting stabbed in the hip, and foot, and then other hip after walking a little too close to a few of the cacti. Those chollas are not messing around.
Sunday we were on to Bahia de los Angeles (42 miles off the Mex 1 highway, where apparently they patch potholes). A quick stop in town for more fish tacos (the absolute best so far) and then on to our waterfront palapa at Camp Archelon. Fantastic, friendly place, but holy heat. Once we got settled in, the breeze off the bay actually made it somewhat (er, almost) comfortable. Kayaking in the morning, more fish tacos for lunch (meh, and we have some basis for comparison now ;), and a proper siesta. Cooked up some pork for dinner and chatted with owner Antonio about where we shouldn't miss and where we could skip during the rest of our time in Mexico. Broke camp Tuesday morning (hot already at 7am) and headed back to highway Mex 1. Pothole-free diving all the way to Guerrero Negro (Baja California Sur!) where found our next camp (Malarrimo RV park, fast wifi and hot showers). After some tacos (not fish this time), I had a successful, if disappointing, exchange of pertinent information en español with the laundromat attendant (me: "Agua fría por [point to washer]," her: "Solo agua caliente (only hot water)," me: "Oh, ok. Baja calor por [point to dryer]," her: "Solo alta calor (only high heat)," me: "Oh, ok," while hoping my clothes still fit when I got them back). The point is, I understood her and her me. Those Spanish lessons are paying off!
Next destination was Bahia Concepción, the place I had most been looking forward to in all of Baja. We planned to check out a few beaches before deciding where to camp but driving into Playa Escondido we couldn't imagine finding anywhere better (and we were right). Again, the heat was crazy, but the occasional breeze and the great swimming and snorkeling made it quite (er, somewhat) bearable. Also, the tamale vendor who came by each day meant we didn't have to cook much, which we couldn't even imagine doing in those conditions. Our weather station (aka thermometers, one degF, one degC) only briefly dipped below 90 degF a few mornings and spent most of the time hovering around 100 degF. So, yeah, hot. But we met a nice couple headed back to WA who gave us some tips for places to see and also shared a kilo of fresh scallops with us. Besides them and caretaker Manuel, we had the beach to ourselves each night.
After four nights of sweating it out at Bahia Conception, we headed to Loreto for showers, laundry and wifi (Riviera del Mar RV park perfectly fit the bill). One thing we didn't count on was suffocating humidity. We had adjusted somewhat to the heat, but this was something else. So after one night there, we decided to head back to the Pacific side in search of cooler temps. The only place we could find on our way south was 10 dirt miles off the highway at a surf camp (Punta Conejo). The Tin Can finally got roughed up a bit on some washboards and rocky roads! When we got to the camping area, it was totally empty, so we went searching for the best ocean view campsite. Let's just say that I am perhaps a bit less cautious about the van's capabilities than Scott so, yeah, I got stuck in some soft sand. Several times. But we got out without any gear or tools, so now we know a bit more about road conditions the van can handle, right? (Scott shaking his head.) In the end, we didn't get our ocean view site but we did get 60-70 degF temps and slept without sweating on our pillows for a night, so it was all worth it. (Scott still shaking his head, but conceding my point.) Even though we enjoyed the cooler weather (and gorgeous sunset, stars and sunrise), we decided to move on to La Paz.
Our first stop was the ferry terminal to get our TIP (vehicle import permit, needed to visit mainland Mexico). Immediately, we were told that the listed (not actual) gross weight of our van is too heavy to be considered a regular van (as it is registered). We were sent to customs to get a stamp classifying it as a motor home. The folks there could not have been nicer (so much bad Spanish on our part), but it took almost an hour of multiple inspections to convince the person in charge to give us the stamp. We think pointing out our bucket baño sealed the deal. (We're not quite sure what would have happened if we hadn't gotten the approval from customs, but we know that the people at the TIP office would have done everything they could - So helpful!) With stamped registration in hand, we got a TIP good for 10 years instead of the normal 180 days for passenger vehicles. At the office next door, another amazingly patient person walked us through our options for ferry passage to Mazatlán. After taking care of business, we found a great free campsite a few miles north of the ferry terminal at Playa Tecolote. And had a fan-freaking-tastic cold seafood platter for dinner at one of the restaurants on the beach. Perfect for our last night in Baja!
Next up, mainland Mexico!
We're STILL working on the best way to show our route as we travel. For now, here's a map of some of our tracks in Baja and all our campsite locations. (Turns out we STILL had loaded too much info into our GPS and it ran out of memory AGAIN before Scott cleared it out.)
Summary Statistics (Baja/Total):
Miles driven: 1183/2484
Driving time: 27:45/55:45
Average MPG: 22.5/21.0
Number of fish/carnitas tacos eaten: ~20 (We should have had more.)