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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Bussing Back Through Baja


Most people might think that Bill and I are seasoned travelers who move around hither and yon packed light and ready to explore. We are, but after just completing a trip north to California I remember one of the reasons why I was drawn to this sailing life to begin with: I don’t have to pack.

As travelers we have become quite spoiled, wherever we go there we are –our home following along with us ready for our next adventure. In fact sometimes at night when we are sitting below in the saloon a weird feeling creeps into me as I realize that as I sit all cozy in my little spot at the dinette we could just as easily be tied to the dock in Seattle as to be bobbing at anchor in some remote cove somewhere. My surroundings are the same, I sit with Bill reading quietly into the night, my fridge is full of fresh nutritious food and the sheets on our big bed are clean and crisp. I don’t need to worry about whether or not I packed my toothbrush or brought along the right chargers for laptops and cameras. I know where the bathroom is and even where the spare toilet paper waits. It doesn’t even really matter if it is 90 degrees out or a blowing a chilling cold I just need to reach into the right locker to find the right attire. Everything we own is already here.

Then things unfolded and we needed to make a quick trip back to the states. It’s still hurricane season –until November 30th so this would be a pretty quick in and out. I packed for both of us, everything we needed in one bag and off we went across the Baja dessert. Friends were leaving for a five months trip to the Galapagos islands and wanted their SUV left back home in California so the travel up as far as Santa Anna was pretty simple. Sixteen hours of dessert, one coyote, 100’s of road side shrines and about a million cacti. We weren’t at all worried about traveling Baja. We knew we had the correct paperwork for the car, our passports were up to date, we had our TIP(Temporary Import Permit) with us in case we brought anything back with us and our visas were clear. What we weren’t sure about was how we were going to make it back to Island Bound since we had been unable to find a bus schedule for our return trip anywhere.

We decided it couldn’t be that hard so armed with a head full of suggestions from other cruisers based on their own trips and a mindset of being flexible off we went.
The hundreds of miles unfolded as Bill did his best to avoid the potholes, the cattle, the unbanked corners and the many steep guardrail-less cliffs(many with wrecked cars still scattered over rocks at the bottom of the ravines.) We were glad to have had the cruiser advice to get gas in certain towns or risk running out between stations because there was in fact a long stretch where there were lots of little towns but no gas-who would have thought looking at the map that all those towns wouldn’t have gas station?

Having lived my whole life in Seattle I often forget that in other countries moving about from place to place isn't always so simple. One look at the half dozen 18 year olds with automatic weapons at any of the many check points reminds you of that pretty fast. They do sort of feel weird though. Every so often you are required to stop for a military lookie loo. They sometimes just flag you through but more often they have you stop for a question or two and a vehicle inspection. The inspections seemed cursory at best: they never asked for papers of any kind and with us anyway they were not really looking at anything or into anything. They often had us open our tailgate and one fellow seemed to chuckle over our two folding bikes but mostly they looked like they were going through the drill. There is a job to do here (and many nationals are still dying in the drug wars every year) but it’s clear we are not their target. They simply serve as gatekeepers of the roads: A low tech response to the ongoing war on drugs. Evidently the US Border patrol isn’t looking for tired worn out 50 something smugglers either, we hardly garnered a look. Getting into the US was pretty much the same except we had to wait in a slowly inching line for over two hours even at 10:30 at night.

The most interesting part of the crossing was definitely the “open all night” market conducted in staging lanes of the border. The ever industrious Mexicans run a market of immense size right there amongst the lanes of inching cars. Even in the middle of the night you can buy tacos, sodas, chips, candy, coffee, fruit cups, ice cream, empanadas, flan, blankets, velvet last supper paintings, huge carved Jesus’ nailed to wooden crosses, Chiclets, hair clips and headbands, magazines, baseball caps, sombreros, serapes, Miss Kitty dolls and teeny tiny puppies. They cater to the always moving throng right down to the billboard with a number to call for duty free alcohol delivered right to your car. Oh and if you had a driver and a runner one of you could jump out of your car step just out of the lanes to any number of pharmacies for a prescription-less prescription of Viagra, Oxycontin or Rogain. Commerce at its best! We saved our pesos and scanned the internet for a hotel room. Finally at 1:30am sixteen hours after we left Santa Rosalia we pulled into a parking spot at the Comfort Inn San Diego. Whew!

The rest of the trip was pretty straight forward. A trip to West Marine in San Diego, a stop to pick up some friends mail, pick up a rental at the Santa Anna airport, drop off the car, a lovely visit with fellow cruising friends set to leave this season . Time flew by and we still had a three hour drive north to Santa Barbara where the kids live. It was nearly midnight when we made it to their place and luckily they’re young and resilient so were still up to welcome us in. I was pretty much at just the nodding and hugging state by then but after several more hours of visiting I finally found my head on a pillow at about 200am. After so many months of up with the sun down with the dark two night of travel and I was definitely out of steam.

We had a lovely visit with the kids but with such short notice it’s a marvel they were able to spend any time with us at all. Josh is nearing the end of his PHD work at UCSB so his days are very full and it just happened that our last minute visit fell during a week he was obligated to help teach a diving class. Dianna had her work during the days but shared her free time with us and she and I even worked our way through a corn maze at a nearby pumpkin patch. Bill opted out but stood by heroically waiting to rescue us if we couldn’t find out. Even with the busy schedules we found time for a lovely meal out and lots of late night and early morning visiting before we had to say good bye.

The trip home was a slow slog. We dropped off the rental car at the San Diego airport and caught a ride to the Greyhound station with one of the Hertz guys. Then we only had an hour wait for the short bus ride to Tijuana. Crossing the border back was simple once we figured out where not to get off the bus. All we had to do was exit the bus with the cattle call, grab our bag, stand in a short line and then push a button while a customs agent stood by. If the light flashed green we were on our way through if the light stopped on red it would mean a search through our baggage. We both green lighted and then back on the bus to the main Tijuana bus station. Again our wait wasn’t long. Armed with sandwiches and bottled water we stepped onto the 4:00pm ABC bus (along with three drivers) to Santa Rosalia and were soon stretched out in the front seat settled in for the 16 hour ride.

The long route buses in Mexico are really quite nice. They have everything you could need: big seats that recline, curtains, air conditioning, a bathroom, evening showings of Spanish language movies, and short layovers at bus stations where you can stretch your legs. At dinner time our bus driver jumped out and was first in line at a roadside taco stand. By dinner time there was only one drive in sight and we figured the other two had gotten off at one of our stops. So Bill was astonished when at 3:00am as he stood next to the bus stretching his legs the original driver stepped off the bus, opened the luggage compartment and switched places with another driver! Viva Mexico!

We finally arrived in Santa Rosalia, dropped just a block from the marina. We were a bit stiff from curling up like pretzels to sleep and freezing cold from the ever present air conditioning but it was good to be home and great to see Island Bound bobbing serenely in her slip just waiting for our next departure.


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