Crossing The Border: Viva La Mexico!

After a week of camping, hiking, and park-hopping through the National Parks of Utah and Arizona, we left the Grand Canyon for a two-day stop in Vegas. We spent most of that time holed up in our room, getting our money’s worth of free WiFi and long showers, but we took time to eat lots of expensive steak, and wander the strip with our cocktails. We might have blown half our monthly budget that week, but what happens in Vegas, right?

We left Vegas for San Diego, with a one-day detour to drive the end portion of the Mojave Road. I was fortunate to get to drive a portion of this when I was doing the Rebelle Rally and taking KP back to this area was something I had hoped I could do.

We made it to San Diego the following day just in time for dinner and a visit with our friends, the Bordens. They gave us all their insights and tips on crossing the border and regaled us with stories of their Mexican antics and getting kicked out of the Cabo airport… good times. : )

Finally, it was time to leave the country. Our timing was interesting in more ways than one, as our border crossing came exactly one month after we had started the trip, and two days after Trump was elected… I wonder if the wall will be done by the time we get back? It took us most of the morning to do all the research and prep on leaving the country, that we had put off doing, so it was nearly 2pm by the time we reached the border.

The border at Tecate is not what you would expect when you think of a typical border. There are two lanes that go through one gate and about two people on duty to do inspections. Since we had a truck and camper, they pulled us aside to “inspect.” The guy asked me to roll my window down and asked “Se habla Español?” “No, lo siento,” we said, and we really were sorry. We both felt pretty bad that in all the time we’d been prepping for the trip, we barely spent any of it practicing Spanish. He spoke great English though, and asked KP to open the camper and then asked what we were doing in Mexico? After a very cursory glance in the camper he waved us on our way and we entered the gates to Mexico. The whole thing took about 5 minutes.

Part of the reason we took the border entry at Tecate was the size and ease, but the other big reason was it opened onto the Ruta del Vinos. You can see that they are pouring a lot of money and resources into the quality of this road in order to attract more tourism, especially Americans. It would be easy to take a day trip or weekend outing from Southern California and explore this part of Baja. That being said, driving through Mexican road construction is definitely an adventure. Few to no signs tell you where to drive, and more than once we saw cars, and semi-trucks, driving on the new unfinished road, to the horror of the poor guys who had just finished that section.

In our Baja research, we read that a few people had camped at these wineries. You simply go in to the tasting room and ask if you can “acampar” in their parking lot. They said no problem, sold us two REALLY good bottles of wine for a grand total of $18 American dollars and directed us to a spot in their lot where we could camp for free. We sat at one of their beautiful outdoor seating areas ate our dinner and watched the sun set over the vineyard. Our first night in Mexico was one we’ll never forget.

Our next day we spent exploring Ensenada and learning about the joys of taco stands. We have always been fans of street food, but a fish taco served mere feet from the fish market and not more than 100 feet from the ocean is hard to beat!

We spent that night camped next to the ocean just outside of town and did some real “overlanding” in the morning - i.e. took the camper off the truck to work on the air compressor, and do some simple repairs. After another round of tacos, this time carne asada, we drove a little further south to scope out the Baja 1000 course and the place we would take our group of amigos coming from home to watch the race with us. Lucky for me, I have very good contacts now after the Rebelle Rally, so my buddy Nick told me to camp at Punta Cabras. She was so right! We drove to the middle of nowhere, with the ocean on one side, the race course directly on the other side, and small fishing villages down the road in both directions. We spent the afternoon watching pre-runners (all sorts of vehicles testing the course before the actual race) on one side, and dolphins on the other. If KP hadn’t drug me back to the states the next day, I would still be there.

Crossing back over to America the next day was a little bit disappointing. After going through the border into Mexico, we expected the other side to be similar, but we arrived to a line of cars several miles long, and a two-hour wait. Then a thorough search of the camper and truck, confiscation of our eggs and remaining avocados, and another security checkpoint just 3 miles past the border. The whole experience left us feeling unwelcome and a little sad. With as happy as the Mexicans were to have us in their country, it was sad to see how uninviting we could be.

A day of setting up international phone plans, buying groceries, sourcing extra truck parts, and Panda Express saw us prepped and ready to head back over the border the following day. We met up with our motley crew of race fans, KP’s brother Jordan, his best friend Brian and his brother Keenan, and our former boss and lifetime friend Cliff and his son Luke. There was a definite excitement running through our camp the night before we crossed, especially from Brian, Keenan, and Jordan who had never left the country! We got everyone to the border nice and early and had another quick easy crossing. We got our pesos and everyones remaining errands done, and a quick run through Ensenada saw us arriving back to our awesome camp by lunch time the day before the race… or so we thought.

I’ll let KP pick up the story from there next Monday.