If we wait until we're ready, we'll be waiting for the rest of our lives. - Lemony Snicket
Baja to Mainland
November 23, 2014
A few days prior to swimming with the sea lions, along a semi-paved road somewhere in Southern Baja, a rock few up and took a nice big chunk out of the windshield. After driving on all those bumpy trails, Kara’s Previa required at least one new shock and Jason had a propane leak in the Westy. So, after a saying our goodbyes to TJ and Joey, a few cups of coffee and a quick breakfast on the beach, we packed up and booked it to La Paz to take care of business. We found a glass repair shop and suspension shop within a block from one another and knocked out our repairs within a couple of hours.
Kara heard from a friend that there was good surf back on the Pacific side, so she and Jason headed west to Todos Santos while we stuck around in La Paz to sort out ferry tickets, Mexico paper maps, etc. The next day, we headed to Todos Santos to catch up with them.
As we were approaching the highway, we were pulled over by a motorcycle cop, just before the entrance ramp. He wanted to know where our front license plate was. "No tengo", Brian shrugged. The officer inspected our jeep, shook his head in disapproval, and waved us on. Less than a mile down the road, a police truck came cruising up behind us with it's lights on, so Brian pulled off onto the shoulder to let them pass. Once they passed, Brian pulled back onto the highway. No good. The truck full of police officers slowed down, got behind us and motioned for us to pull over.
An officer appeared at Brian's window and asked to see his license. He informed us that it was dangerous to pull off and back onto the road so quickly. Infracción! We'd have to pay a fine.... at the police station.... anytime after 9pm!... the following day. (Something smells fishy)
"No problemo", Brian said with a smile, "may I have the address of the station, your badge number and your truck number?"
The officer then offered a quicker solution "you can just pay here. $50 (that's US dollars, not pesos)."
"No, it's okay. I don't mind going to the police station," Brian politely responded with a smile, "we have time."
The officer returned to his vehicle and came back with a better offer: $100, but only if we pay him directly. WHAT? Then it jumped to $150 and he was going to have to take Brian's license with him if we didn't pay.
Brian, still smiling, said "no problem", and again asked for his badge number and the address for the police station. The officer was visibly frustrated. He, once again, went back to his vehicle and returned with a much different offer "my commander said you can go."
He handed Brian his license back and we were on our way.
Luckily, we were warned ahead of time that this kind of thing happens all the time. They expect that you're only in town for a short period and don't have time to return to the police station. They also exptect that you will be intimidated by them and pay up when they ask. The thing to remember is that, if you act like you have all the time in the world, they typically don't want anything to do with you. Not to mention, the fines you pay at the police station are usually less than $50. If you have, in fact, done something wrong, you should get a written ticket and be sure that the fine amount is written on it.
By the time we got to Todos Santos, Jason and Kara were heading to Cabo San Lucas. Not really our scene, so we decided to stay in town for a date night and snagged a room at the Hotel California (again) and got the best pizza we’d had in over a month at a place called Gallo Pizza. In the morning, we met up with a very hung over Jason and Kara and headed to Santiago.
We drove up a seemingly never-ending sandy road to Cañon de Zorra to check out some waterfalls that, according to Kara, may or may not be functional. It was hot and a hike through the desert hardly seemed like a good time. But, it was Kara's birthday, so we threw on our swimsuites, grabbed a beer and headed out. Once we hiked down into the canyon, we could see that the waterfalls were functioning just fine. It was like a magical fairytale land. The water, glistening from the sun and golden from massive amounts of the pyrite particles on the floor, was all too inviting. And it was all ours. We were the only one's there, and since it was about 93 degrees out, no one wasted any time jumping in.
We swam until our fingers were pruny and then headed to a beach on the Sea of Cortez side called Los Frailes, which is a small fishing village and not much else. Perfection. Birthdays are cause for proper celebration, and buying fresh caught fish on the beach was something we'd been dying to do. Jason and Brian procured a kilo of fresh tuna fillets from one of the fisherman and we made the absolute best fish tacos any of us has ever had. After dinner, we built a fire on the beach and drank tequila and laughed through the night.
The next day, we said our goodbyes to Jason and Kara and headed back to La Paz to prepare for our ferry ride to Mainland Mexico!
Found a campground, with a pool and laundry facilites (washer only - line dry), just outside of La Paz. The lady who ownes the property was super nice and all of the campsites come with full hookups. Plus, there's a coffee shop on site! (Whhaaat?) That evening, we went into town for dinner and a beer (or three) and ended up back at the campground around 9pm, drank a few more beers by the pool and went to bed late and properly drunk.
Since our ferry wasn't scheduled to leave until 5pm, and we didn't have to be there until 2:30pm, we took our time in the morning, making breakfast and doing laundry before heading over. Once there, we found out that there was an extra cost for the weight of the Jeep ($12) and that Carley could not board the boat in the vehicle with Brian. She would have to enter separately and then magically find Brian once he boarded. Great! However, somehow we missed the call for passengers to board and ended up on the boat together. Freak out avoided.
Once you exit the cargo hold, you are not allowed to return to your vehicle for the duration of the trip. Since we opted for a private cabin, we took pretty much everything we could think of onto the boat with us (i.e. computer, cards, binoculars, snacks, etc.) to keep us busy for the 18 hour ride. After a bit of confusion we found our room and, although the website made it seem a bit more luxurious, we settled in quickly and anxiously awaited departure.
As soon as the boat pulled away from the dock, traditional mexican music was blasted over the intercom system. It was loud. There would be no writing or relaxing for us. We could hear people milling around on the top deck, so we went up to check it out. It was a full on party. People were dancing and drinking and having a great time! We even saw a couple of sea lion pups chasing after us. After the sun went down, surprisingly, the party fizzled out and we went back to our room to catch up on some writing.
The giant boat slowed to a crawl as we made port. "Welcome to Mazatlan" When we embarked on this journey, we had several late night conversations about how far we thought we'd make it. For us, arriving in Mazatlan was fairly triumphant. We had made it to mainland Mexico! It was beautiful.
As we tried to exit the ferry we were stopped just before descending the steps that lead to the vehicles. They only wanted to allow one of us into the cargo hold; one person per vehicle, and the language barrier was complicating things. They had stopped us in a narrow hallway, and the impatient foot traffic was starting to back up. The official forced us to go in separate directions, and Brian shouted out to Carley, “Don’t worry, I’ll find you."
Once in the cargo hold, Brian had about a 20-30 minute wait, while Carley had to stand in a hallway full of Spanish-speaking truck drivers with absolutely no idea where to go or what to do. After what seemed like an eternity, people slowly started moving down through the ship and out through the cargo hold. Brian was nowhere to be seen. So, once again, not knowing where to go or what to do, Carley just started walking to what looked like an official building. “Don’t panic. You’re only in a foreign country with very little knowledge of their language and customs. It’ll be okay. Just smile.”
Once the Jeep was offloaded, it had to be taken through another military checkpoint. After the import papers were verified and the Jeep inspected, Brian was free to leave the shipping port, but where the hell was Carley?! One of the nice soldiers pointed Brian in the direction he needed to go, which ended up being the exit of the docks into the city. Now Brian was in Mazatlan, and Carley was still unaccounted for. There was a long line of cars parked on the street with people standing near their vehicles, so Brian followed suit. After about 15 minutes of this, and still no sign of Carley, impatience prevailed, and Brian started wandering around asking anyone who would listen where they thought he should go. Most people had no idea; one person however pointed him towards a parking lot a few hundred yards away. The military guard at the entrance of the parking lot told Brian this was indeed where he needed to be, but it would cost 20 pesos to enter. He paid up, drove towards the official looking building, and pulled up just as Carley was exiting the building…Now Brian could breath again, Carley wasn’t lost forever :)
We had heard reports of Mazatlan being unsafe, so our plan was to head out of town as soon as we arrived. Looking back, this was a bit silly, as Mazatlan seems like a fine place to spend a little time, and the town that we hightailed it to probably sees more crime. We knew of a campground in Tepic that was apparently right in the middle of town. Our expectations were low, but we were thoroughly impressed when we pulled into camp. It looked like a park, with the grounds meticulously manicured. The lady who greeted us was very friendly, showed us around the place, and even picked some fresh fruit off of one of the trees in the campground for us. We stayed here for three nights, getting caught up on writing, and rarely leaving the campground. The wifi was lightning fast, so we even got to watch some Netflix.
Our plan from there was to head towards the town of Tequila, home of, you guessed it! We had heard that it was a very nice town, and popular with Mexican tourists. Most of the major tequila producers are headquartered there, and the surrounding farmland is blue agave fields for miles. We found a nice campground about 45 minutes outside of Tequila in a town called Etzatlan. Etzatlan is a rural farming community,with a pretty little town center and a beautiful little zocalo (town square).
Our first side trip from Etzatlan was to Tequila and it was a major letdown. Tequila could be a nice town, as it has some great architecture, and loads of history. Instead, it is nothing but a collection of small shops selling the same junk as one thousand identical shops within walking distance. It’s also not particularly kept up, even by local standards.
We went to “Jose Cuervo’s Mundo Tequila” to get some food and a proper Margarita. The menu touted the place as a “Pizzaria” so we ordered one of their signature pizzas and Carley had a margarita. The margarita was one of the worst that she’d ever had. All sugar, pre mix, and hardly any tequila. If anybody should be able to make a good margarita, you would think a place called “Tequila World” in a town named Tequila should know what they’re doing. Then the pizza arrived. Half cooked, no sauce, with slices of hotdog, cold ham chunks, and uncooked bacon, accompanied by a bag of ketchup packets. The pizza hadn’t been cut so we asked the waiter for a knife and some plates. He brought us the knife from the bar, that they had been using for limes, covered in lime juice, and two dirty plates. We tried to choke down the pizza but ultimately sent it back and asked for a refund after only a few bites. The waiter was friendly and gave us a full refund.
Our second side trip was to a town called Teuchitlan to see the circular ruins of Guachimontones. The circular pyramids are unique to the area and not found anywhere else in the world. The “pyramids” were interesting, and worth a visit if you are in the area, but we don’t feel they warrant a trip on their own. The town of Teuchitlan was decent and well kept. We had drinks at a small cantina near the ruins where an indigenous couple was selling traditional pre Spanish alcoholic drinks and juices.
From Etzatlan we headed straight to what would be one of the most amazing cities we’ve ever been to, Guanajuato!