MEXICO!!!!!! APRIL AND PART OF MAY 2016
Hello Wiggie friends! Here we are just across the United States border into Mexico, and its’ 14th April. We crossed at a small place, east of Tijuana, called Tecate. Very easy crossing. We had read so much about the USA/Mex border crossing and were super organised. We were told (read instructed, by people who had done the border crossing) when you get through Customs, drive for at least 3 hours and get out of the ‘danger zone’. Albeit while Pen was doing the important paperwork stuff Ian drove through the border with Wiggys’ side doors completely unlocked and rocking open following inspection. Yep an easy border crossing, but although we were relaxed and organised you do feel the pressure. Just relax guys!
In all honesty, we did feel the pressure . We were on guard. We had heard so many stories, and to be truthful from people that had never done this crossing.
The political hype in the US is very wrong and emotional about the danger from Mexican drug runners, border runners and misfits and does engender a feeling of uncertainty.
What a shame for the majority of the Mexican people, such lovely people.
Anyway, danger is real, and does exist, and there is a zone prone to drug runners and “aliens” ( American word for Mexicans crossing border) running, fleeing across the border attempting to avoid the US Border Police on horses and in vehicles we saw all along the Texas/ Mexico border. this is drug cartel country, but we were fine.
We already had our drugs on board! Aspirin, anti inflams, anti ageing etc. If you stick to the major roads, don’t drive at night or camp alone, it’s fine. It was. We saw no one.
We feel safe in Mexico. Soft, gentle, tough survivors. so welcoming.
From the border we drove much of the way through the lovely rolling hills of the Baja wine growing area of Valle de Guadalupe down to the Pacific side of the Baja to Ensenada. No reliance on GPS (Sat Nav), Garmin stopped at the border. No Problem really as only two roads down the Baja, one hugging the pacific coast and the other hugging the sea of Cortez.
Our journey down the beautiful Baja California (would take us over the 1000 miles to the bottom of the Baja Sur) so, off we set through the Californian Baja Norte, to Ensanada on the west coast of the Baja. We had been told this was a good city to start off in, as it is mostly English speaking, and we could stock up with supplies. A good camp site on the waterfront just south of the city was recommended in our Mexico Travel guide. Never trust all you read! Truly awful. But we’re self contained in Wiggy, all we need is a safe haven.
The USA was a totally awe inspiring breeze, yes, it was. But here in Latin America we are pushing new boundaries. No language skills at all. Regardless, this our journey. We’ll make it work.
A slight detour south of Ensanada to La Bufadora home to a blow hole and big tourist draw card.We arrived pretty early in the morning so the local entrepreneurs were only starting to set up their stalls which were to line the whole of Main Street. We bought snacks of dates and dried fruits to sustain us for the day. Aquaculture (Tuna and Salmon) off the coast was hugely visible as we journeyed the twisty cliff top roads of this peninsula, obviously an important industry for this part of the Baja.
We had decided to cross the Baja to San Filipe on the east coast to the Sea of Cortez. The road across is long, steep and winding. San Filipe is now a small, basically tired 2nd grade tourist town once more given over to mining, and struggling. However, the view from the extremely basic park on the seafront was fabulous.
We were really starting to see the rural and urban areas of poverty, and the very difficult lives of many extremely hard working Mexicans, farming, running simple cheap (but excellent) roadside food stalls and other meagre survival outlets.
We left San Filipe south along highway 5 to drive through high winds and sandstorms along the coast. We followed this “Highway” (read, not a highway). A work in progress one would say, with around 80 kms of truly terrible dirt road, narrow and winding. Semi trailers and vehicles all creeping along, wondering if they or we would lose a mirror or two on this goat track stretch. The Wiggie (our truck) thought nothing of it. She is made for these conditions.
On this stretch we met an American, Kurt, who owns a business called Black Dog Outfitters, motorcycle gear. He suggested we stop at Gonzago Bay further south. So many of our travel stop overs have been by recommendation we now take those without question.
Travelling Hwy 5, onto Hwy 1 we once again met the crystal blue waters of the Sea of Cortez on our left hand side we pulled up at a Fuel stop/shop called Rancho Grande, an isolated and very prosperous general store that owned part of the beach across the road on Gonzaga Bay.
Many very relaxed Mexicans sitting in the shade outside the store, watching the world (very remote here) go by. A few dogs at the shop as well, that looked just like your typical Australian border collie/ kelpie crosses!
The beach camp sites ( about 15 of them) consist of a palm leaf covered hut, called Palapas’ for shade, and very dodgy long drop toilet behind. No water, no showers but we carry both, so no problem here. The sea to the east and view of mountains to the west behind us was indeed spectacular.
The sea was beautifully calm! We stayed for 2 days, Ian fished a bit (read donated bait) We met Carlos and Michael who were camping two sites up. These two old friends were there for three weeks camping, paddling their kayaks to haul in beautiful fish way out in the bay. They gave us 3 bay bass for dinner!
Where you find Mexicans you’ll find Mexicans music. And fire works! Be it driving, eating, camping, talking, swimming, there is always music in the background. Lots of tuba involved, oompah oompah, then repeat, then repeat!
On 95% of the Baja the desert meets the sea. Birdlife is wonderful, with thousands of pelicans and other coastal and sea birds abounding. Spring on the Baja is already quite hot, and gave us a taste of what to expect further south on mainland Mexico.
After another horror stretch of road we camped at Conceptcion Bay, beautiful sandy beaches, one of the highlights of the Baja, and went inland with a bit of a wiggle and landed in La Paz! Mexicans are good salesmen with obvious years of experience with Gringos’ and relieved us of a few too many pesos’. They were so slick! We can laugh at gullibility, so that’s good.
There is a small very arty town on the west side of Baja Sur (south) called Todos Sandos, which is where the real Hotel California is (of Eagles song fame!) We really enjoyed this part; it’s highly touristy of course, but a good dose of the 60’s/70’s déjà vu. Totally paid over the top pesos’ here again by to a real smoothie with cigars and Tequila.
We thought we had experience to handle! This guy fleeced us! We may learn yet dear reader.
We did the loop right down the bottom of the Baja Sur. Cabo San Lucas which has been traditionally the playground of the North American mainly Southern Californian rich and famous yachting crowd, was fine, but touristy!
Apparently the marine mooring fees in this pretty little harbour have become almost extortionate. Most of the moored marine craft were for tourist excursions or Deep sea game fishing trips. Tourist resorts all over the Sur are in a downturn.
All the way down the Baja were various property projects at various stages of abandonment. Some just had magnificent gates and walls and partially completed concrete buildings. It looked like everyone one said ‘no way Jose’ and went home!
Up the right hand side of the Baja to Los Morrilles and then back to La Paz, to book our ferry ride to Mazatlan, on the Mexican mainland.
The weather on the mainland was getting hotter by the day and we had regular daily temperatures that hovered around 95deg.
Next, a 3 day journey inland through the notorious drug cartel county of Sinaloa. We stuck to the toll highway roads and never drove during the night. That’s an absolute no no. Durango and Creel saw us climbing some 5000 ft and to much cooler temperatures to the area known as Copper Canyon. Everyone has heard of the Grand Canyon in the USA but this place is exceptional and extra, read extraordinary!
Copper Canyon has an area 7 times larger than the Grand Canyon and is deeper! 1.4 Klm’s. It’s possible here to drive down to the bottom of the Canyon! You cannot to that in the Grand Canyon.
It’s an exhilarating terrifying 2 hour journey descending on a very skinny dirt road, little wider than a goat track with sheer drop offs of 1000 mtrs. Room for one car only with very irregular passing spots. Regular flower memorials all the way attest to the real danger on this road.
At the bottom of the Canyon nestles the town of Urique, home to some 3000 mainly Tamaruhan Indians famed for their long distance running. Temperatures were close to 100 deg. 3 days in Urique we tasted the delicious fruit of the cactus, were enthralled with the Hummingbirds and the locals were equally enthralled with Wiggy.
Ian was (by his own admission) terrified about our one way exit. Up. Which was up, up and further up and experienced over 2 days anxiety/panic attack about driving out of this colossal switchback road canyon to safety The high cab ride in Wiggy only exaggerated sure death with one mistake with gear change (do not stop. Ever). No reversing on a switchback with a 1000 mtr sheer drop behind your 6mtr vehicle!!! You do not reverse!
You want fun? Don’t do the drive down Copper Canyon to Urique. You want to live the world? Then do it!!
We did it.
7am was advised to be the safest to climb this 20 km “goat track”, as you can follow the yellow school bus. Wiggy was slipped into 4 wheel drive, low range 2nd gear and we grunted our way up this truly terrifying exacting and horrible track out of the canyon. The yellow bus was a godsend, and probably related to Fangio.
Los Mochis (Sea of Cortez) was our destination from Copper Canyon over the Sierra Nevadas Occidental Mountain Range. Over 10 hours we were only able to travel 130 kms distance 4 wheel drive all the way another truly rugged Mexican road. Wiggy got a slow puncture (best outcome as far as punctures go!). We were able to use our on board compressor to top up air every 30 mins rather than spending 2 hrs changing our wheel.
We came upon a group of local young guys with a flat tyre, no tools, wheel brace or Jack!! Wiggies tool box came in handy. While these young (lovely) guys sat on rocks they watched as their puncture was fixed, tyre inflated, and we were back on our way. (They did offer a certain mind numbing inhalant which one our party of two imbibed, as she thought it was poetic, making the rest of the journey to Los Mochis somewhat shorter and less stressful). They were probably up to mischief as they absolutely refused to have a photo taken, and became briefly very hostile when Pen got out her camera. It was certain they had something going on up in ‘dem ‘dere’ mountains, but were extremely grateful for our assistance and probably would offer us safe passage if anything else happened in the mountains.
We had stayed in touch through a travellers Internet site with a lovely, fellow traveller, Edmundo, who is a Los Mochis local, an exporter of corn to the US, an international traveller, a bike rider, and seems to know everyone on the travellers Internet!
He interrupted his busy life to arrange for us to stay on his fathers farm just out of Los Mochis, underneath a huge tree, out of the heat, with facilities like showers, toilets! Locally they grow huge corn crops, miles and miles of crop, all exported to the USA.
Next major stop for us after Los Mochis was Jacotopec on the shores of Lake Chapala, which is Mexicos’ largest lake and 1 hour south of Guadalajara. We immediately extended the awnings on Wiggies left and right sides and turned on our little internal fan which afforded us some cool, At an elevation of around 5000ft we had some cooler temperatures overnight. Fortunately this venue was very ‘hot’ friendly.
It is one of the major raspberry growing areas in Mexico. Lovely for us.
Our friends Lachy and Beckie, who are expat Americans and live in a lovely little town nearby, Ajijic, had told us about this semi rural sports/spa park, so we booked.
Lots of local knowledge from our friends, and settled under a big tree we were able to walk into the local town, and had our first Wiggie dinner with “proper” guests. Beckie plays guitar and has the singing voice of an angel.
While we were quietly parked, chatting with next door neighbours we had just met from UK, Sue and Alan, Volkswagen Combies began “invading” the campground. A pavilion, music stage, food stalls, and all things VW took over the whole place.
We had become part of 2016 “National Mexican Combi Festival”. Totally unexpected and just fantastic to be part of the festivities and met many new friends. Some 400 hundred Combies, beautifully kept or restored were ready to party for the whole weekend.
Sue and Allan chose to leave, our option also was to move out or stay. We stayed! No contest!! What a hoot it turned out to be! We must have given a tour of Wiggie to about 50 people.
We met Jim and his friend Steve, a Louisiana man, who are the sole members of the “Hooligons” Club. It has no agenda, no President, no financial arrangements, and they love Combies. They wanted us as members but we declined cos’ we just couldn’t be members of any club that would have us as members!!!
Dinner invite from Israel and family (now Facebook friends). Beautiful and exceedingly messy beef ribs. Little English, and our even non existent Spanish was no barrier to a wonderfully shared table.
Apart from being their guests for a night when we arrived, Lachy and Becky so very kindly gave us a bed before we had to fly to Mexico City and on to Havana, Cuba.
Also our Wiggie fridge was struggling with the heat, drawer runner was a “no runner”. They drove us to the airport for our trip to Cuba and fixed our fridge while we were gone! What wonderful hospitality. Xxxxx.
Stay tuned for Cuba.