Have I mentioned Joe, a reporter from the AP? He gave us a call a while back and did a little interview. Joe also gave his buddies a call who know the Baja and passed on some insights that have really helped with our route finding (or lack of finding and some dumb luck). He also warned us about washouts in the north, more on that in a minute and explained ranch protocol in the south. Joe shared a couple of phone numbers with us in case we run into trouble as well which hopefully we wont need.
It’s amazing how on all of our adventures we keep running into great people like Joe who offer a helping hand. The world is filled with great folks if you just look.
Crossing the boarder is a simple affair. You get in line, drive through and head out. But don’t forget to stop at the immigration office to get your visa if you will be going south past Ensenada. Driving in Tijuana is a full contact sport where the weak are pushed out by the taxis, buses and locals. Focusing on defending our space in traffic, trying to read the street signs, dodging stray dogs and maneuvering through the five car wide round abouts where the concept of lanes is ambiguous at best had us halfway out of town before realizing we didn’t pick up our tourist visas. An hour and half later, through a couple of back alleys and again through the round abouts from hell had us at the official office to get our visas approved.
Government workers the world around seem to have one thing in common, They seem to find joy in hassling the foreigners. But after an hour or so of pointing out just how stupid we were, we left holding our newly stamped visas and heading for Ensenada.
The first rule of Baja… Never drive after dark. Our late start, detours and lack of Spanish linguistic skills had us taking the turn off to Mike’s Sky Ranch just as the sun dipped below the mountains. The dirt road to the ranch is 22 miles climbing up into the hills. In the dark it is 22 miles of dodging cattle and low flying bats as you come around the corners not knowing where it drops off. With no reservations, we just showed up and hoped for a bed and hot meal. We drank, ate dinner and chatted about the day with the other 30 or so guests calling Mike’s home for the weekend. After a dinner of what was most likely one of the cows we had just driven past, Brad and I sat pool side contemplating life, the adventure ahead of us and searching the night skies for intelligent life.
At the ranch you head to bed at 10:00 because that is when they turn off the generator and you hope you remembered to stick you head lamp in your pocket.
The course leaves the ranch and heads west through the hills. This part of the Baja 1,000 race course can only have been planned by Satin and made worse by Mother Nature who over the years washed away chunks of the road. Two hours of driving and we were less than tree miles from where we began the day. The course may have once been over a “road” but with the rains exposing large chucks of rock and removing entire sections of the course, we were driving 100 yards, getting out to scout ahead, driving another section, backing up to find a way around a washout and spotting trough the boulders that collect in the stream beds.
Making our way through this section was mostly hold on tight and hope the shoulder will hold the weight of the truck as we crawled tentatively over and through the gullies. Somewhere around mile eight, we climbed back onto terra firma that would take us the rest of the way. At least if we could keep finding the route. And although the road no longer disappear from under us, it still managed to be filled with endless ruts and gouges.
Second rule of Baja… Hydrate, pee, hydrate some more. While back home they are stuck in 40 degrees, overcast and rainy, we are enjoying 78 degree days, blue skies and light breeze. And since we did not see speeds over 30 km/h we have plenty of time to count the cows and sheep as we crisscrossed the ranches. We wonder what the ranchers think of us as we drive by.
Our plan to approach this adventure may not have been full proof and we are getting by with the aid of some dumb luck. The International AT&T plan Brad set up on his phone is not letting him call or send text but we are able to get face book posts out and Google Maps is working when we can find a cell signal. Visa in their infinite wisdom decided someone must have stolen my credit card and shut it off until I was able to reach out to them and explain we really were in Mexico. Unfortunately the little Pemex stations we are using in the middle of nowhere don’t take credit cards. And when it comes to route finding, we have managed to get turned around, a lot. But all the dirt roads seem to lead back to the course and our GPS keeps pointing us down the right road which miraculously comes out right next to a Pemex station. I guess the prayer flags we put out last night are paying off.
Check the last great road trip face book page. We are putting updates there when we can but were are never sure where the signal will come in…. But when it does, Brad’s phone starts lighting up like Día de los Muertos.