First Time A Charm?
Well, who wouldn't want the first trip to be a charm? However the response from most people hearing of my intended trip was one of alarm. "How could I take such a chance?" Well, it's easy to take a chance when one doesn't know any better.
This led me to doing everything I could to be prepared for the trip. For the most part, that consisted of going to Discover Baja where I bought two books and Mexican auto insurance. A one year policy with all the bells and whistles costs about a fourth of my insurance to drive in California. Being almost as old as Moses, I even got medical evacuation services.
The books were "Baja" published by Moon Handbooks, and written by Joe Cummings and the other is published by the Southern California Automobile Association titled "Baja California". This is not free to AAA members, but both books were worth the price.
Now, let the drama begin. Customs wasn't a problem since I'd read all of the regulations. Most of them you could guess, but if I hadn't known that there was a limit of 9 or ten audio cassettes, I would have brought more than the limit. You spend many miles without radio reception down there.
For a trip like this, Baja requires the purchase of a visitor's pass. As you cross the border at Tijuana, you must exit to "Declarations" on the extreme right. The setup has changed every time I've been there, however you go to Immigration and fill out a form, take it to a bank and pay about $22. Then, take the form back to Immigration and you're ready to leave. So, I left and realized that I never saw anyone from customs. Don't let this give you any ideas. Things have changed since then, as you'll notice if you make it as far as the second trip.
The trip to the tip of Baja is simply a matter of following Hwy 1 from Tijuana all the way down to Cabo San Lucas. The first stop is always at Puerto Nuevo. This is a small community that features about a dozen restaurants that specialize in lobster. Lunches are about $7.50 weekdays and $10.00 on weekends. The price includes a Margarita, salad, beans and tortillas. They have all kinds up upgrades. "You want 2 pounds of lobster? Sí, and today we have a special price for you." To the best of my knowledge, the food and prices are about the same at all places there. If you're new to Mexico, don't drink the water in Puerto Nuevo.
Ensenada is a good place to get ready for the rest of the trip. It is very much a tourist town and you may use U.S. dollars or pesos. Sometimes the dollar prices are better than pesos at the official exchange rate. While on the subject of money, for all practical purposes Ensenada is the last place you can use a credit card for the next 800 miles. There may be exceptions, but don't count on them. So, be sure to change your dollars to pesos.
Baja Inn has two hotels in Ensenada. I stay at Hotel Cortez. Their English is better than my high school Spanish, but they're nice enough to let me use my Spanish. Keep in mind that after 45 years one's mind doesn't remember everything. A good number might be 5%.
The room I usually get is just left of center on the ground floor. I enjoy the "waterfall" sound. There are plenty of rooms away from the pool.
When leaving the pool area, you are reminded that they would like you to dry off before leaving the pool area - and their English is much better than my Spanish.
An example of my Spanish is from my purchase of 200 minutes of cell phone time from telcel. You have to love that name. They use only lower case. Some companies use not one but two capital letters, like CompuServe. It's so much easier to type a name when you don't have to use the shift key.
At any rate, during the purchase I said in Spanish "I know your English is better than my Spanish" and she said "I hope so." I love her sense of humor. Cellular rates in Mexico are much better than in the U.S. 200 minutes cost about $20 with no contracts. My Nokia phone for AT&T cellular works for telcel. My Ericsson phone for Cingular won't work with anyone in Mexico.
Back at the hotel, I got my room for a discounted rate of $55. However, this rate is MUCH lower than it seems because that's the actual cost per night, taxes included. In the U.S. we quote a rate but must pay much more because of taxes. Wouldn't it be nice if everyone quoted the actual cost that included tax since that's what we end up paying? I've paid as high as 35% extra for a car rental in either Texas or New Mexico.
The next day was spent in and around Ensenada. I had a cooler that plugs into the 12 volt outlet in my car, and I stocked it with food like ham, cheese, and mayonnaise and also some bottled water. I also selected a few bottles of red wine. The Calafia on the left isn't very good, but I think that's the best looking label I've ever seen.
So much for Days 1 and 2 in Mexico. The next morning was spent driving to La Bufadora then on to Cataviña.
La Bufadora is a tourist spot on the Pacific Coast. An incoming tide hits caves or something and, with the sound of thunder, shoots up to 100 feet in the air. I tried as hard as I could to get a picture of it, but my finger never worked at the right time. That evening in Cataviña, as I reviewed the day's pictures (digital) I discovered that the real show was watching the people. Out of all the pictures I took this is the only sequence of two. Next time I'm there I'll have the camera set to take a sequence of 5 or 6 pictures at a time.
The drive to Cataviña is where you really get away from it all. As I drove there, I came across my first military stop. A pickup truck was pulling away as I cautiously approached. My poor Spanish was a concern even though I'm sure many have made it through who spoke none. There was a man in a bunker on the right in uniform with a machine gun and helmet. About 50 yards beyond that was a man next to a stop sign, and a man next to him with a rifle. The man next to the stop sign waved me through before I even got stopped! I didn't even get to say "Ola" to show off my Spanish. I resisted the temptation to say it to him as I drove through just in case it means something other than "hello".
Before leaving for Baja, I purchased a book of four tickets for overnight stays at La Pinta Hotels. I purchased them from Baja Accommodations. They included coupons for free food and drinks. Baja Accommodations also made reservations for each night on the way down. Imagine being in the middle of nowhere and finding the motel full. Time for the shock of the day. I couldn't find my coupon book! I had to pay $70 cash! Instead of four days of free food and lodging, I'd have to use my $250 worth of pesos. That wasn't enough to get me to La Paz where I could exchange more dollars for pesos. The dollars are still safely tucked in the trunk. That night while lying in bed, I figured it like this. For the next three days I'll ration the food in my cooler. Out of my remaining $180 worth of pesos, I'll allocate $50 for gasoline, and that leaves $130 for hotels and food. I've seen some pretty run down looking hotels, but how cheap are they?
At any rate, here I am in Cataviña. Cataviña is in the midst of about a 180 mile stretch with no gas stations. It has no telephones or electricity. It is also where I saw my first cockroach that was about a foot long. You don't believe me? Well I took a picture of it. This time my finger was fast enough since he wasn't moving.
The hotel La Pinta has a generator and the rooms have air conditioning - when the generator is running. The restaurant and bar are good enough that you won't go hungry or thirsty.
At any rate, here are two pictures of that cockroach.
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