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Thursday, February 16, 2012

10/24-2011 Baja Road Trip

A Quick Trip Back to the States

Most people might think that Bill and I are seasoned travelers who move about hither and yon packed light and ready to explore. Well, we are, sort of. But after just completing a trip north to California I was reminded of one of the reasons why I was drawn to this sailing life to begin with: I don’t have to pack. We have become so spoiled, wherever we go there we are, our home following along with us ready for whatever comes next. Sometimes at night when I am sitting all cozy below in the saloon an odd feeling rolls over me: we could just as easily be tied to the dock back home in Seattle as to be bobbing at anchor thousands of miles away.
From my vantage below my world is 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. Everything we own is already here. I don’t need to worry about whether or not I packed my toothbrush or brought along the right charger for my camera. It doesn’t even matter if it is 90 degrees out or blowing a chilling cold all I need is to reach into the right locker to find flip flops or wool sweaters.

Life transpires even in Mexico and we learned we needed to make a quick trip back to the states. Hurricane season is still in full swing so this would have to 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 in Santa Rosalia wanted their SUV back home in California so we had the luxury of a borrowed car for the trip up. Getting north to 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 cliffs sans guard rails. In places we could see down the ravines into the twisted metal of the wrecked cars still scattered over the rocks below. 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. Every so often you are required to stop for a military peek-a-boo. 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 at least with us they were not really looking at anything or into anything. About half the time they had us open our tailgate and one fellow seemed to chuckle over our two folding bikes but mostly they looked like they were just going through the drill.

There is a job to do here -and the local papers are filled with the murder news of the many 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 because we barely rated a look. Getting into the US felt like a formality though I know they take their jobs very seriously. We arrived at the border at 10:30 on a Saturday night and had to wait in a slowly inching line for over two hours.

The most interesting part of the crossing was definitely the living, moving open-all-night market held in the 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, a rental at the Santa Anna airport, drop off the borrowed car and a quick 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 nice 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 neighborhood pumpkin patch corn maze. Bill opted out but stood by heroically waiting to rescue us if we couldn’t find out. Still even with the busy schedules we found time for a some nice meals 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. An hours’ wait landed us on the bus to Tijuana with a quick cattle call border crossing: off the bus, grab the bags, stand in line and then a red light/green light push of the button tells your future. Either you get a green and you pass right on through or hit a red and bags are searched, papers checked and rechecked, receipt a must and tariff due. We both hit the green and climbed back on the bus to Tijuana.
The bus station at Tijuana (by the way Tijuana is pronounced “tea wanna” not “tea a juan a”) was bustling and with a bit of help we managed to buy our tickets to Santa Rosalia. Again our wait wasn’t long and soon armed with sandwiches and bottled water we stepped –along with three drivers- onto the 4:00pm ABC bus. Soon we were stretched out in the front seat settled in for the 16 hour ride.

The inter town 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 then there was only one drive in sight and we figured the other two had gotten off at one the many stops along our way. Then 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 a little before 8:00am. Tired and a bit stiff from curling up like pretzels in our seats and frozen to the bone by the continuous air conditioning we were finally dropped off a mere block form the marina. It was good to be home and great to see Island Bound bobbing serenely in her slip.

Kat
kat

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