Posts Tagged ‘border’

The Mexican adventure begins!

March 20, 2013

Squirrel Mama is back!  About a year ago, John had been retired for about six months. We started discussing returning to my ex pat roots and living abroad.  We thought it’d be fun to live a couple of months in a country and then try another one, seeing if we’d like to settle elsewhere or just be global Bedouins.  The dream became a doable plan when I modified my work so I can work from anywhere there is a good internet connection.  I plan to continue working part time, while exploring other countries.

A friend suggested international house sitting, and we signed up for several international house-sitting sites.  One of the first replies we received was from a documentary film maker with a home in El Centenario, a sleepy town just outside of La Paz, Baja California Sur, Mexico. 

The El Centenario house-sit didn’t work out for this Spring (though we have a potential to house sit there late this year) but it sparked our interest in Mexico as the first country to exploreImage.  John had worked in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico for 10 months in 2008.  Most of you probably know that Ciudad Juarez has the highest murder rate in Mexico, and in much of the world, due to the narco wars.  Although he survived his experience physically unscathed (although he was “patient zero” for the H1N1 virus) he was not keen on returning to Mexico.  It has taken about four months to convince him that this was a trip worth taking.  First it was “I’m never going to Mexico.”  Then it was “I’m never driving to Mexico.”  Now it’s “Okay with Baja, but not going the mainland.”  We shall see! 

As for me, I’ve driven down to Baja (from Seattle!) many times in the 1980’s.  I’ve driven all the way down the Peninsula to Cabo San Lucas with friends (again in the 1980’s) and have fond memories of the road trip.  So this was a chance to relive my law school days when I was first introduced to Mexico by my friend Sandra, whose family lived in Ensenada.

We found short-term renters for our house in San Pedro for considerably more rent than we will pay to rent in La Paz.   Although we have nothing booked in La Paz until the end of the month, our renters needed to move in March 19, so our plan was to hit the road for the border March 19 in the a.m. and slowly make our way down to La Paz over the week.

Murphy’s law definitely applies to our travels.  it seems every time we are about to leave on a trip, something happens.  Once a water pipe developed a pinhole leak behind the wall.  Another time, water started leaking under the sink (this is why we always want the house occupied while gone). This time, that nasty “Homeland Security ransomeware virus” overtook my computer yesterday morning.  Fortunately, doing a system restore to March 17 seemed to fix the problem.  But it did set us back a few hours from our planned departure time.

The trip to the border was far less eventful.  We flew down the 73 toll road past San Diego to the border town of San Ysidro, where we filled the gas tank and made a pit stop.  Then it was into the lane of “no return” to the Mexican border.  Easy crossing, we weren’t even stopped by immigration officials, just waved through – John remarked how there were a lot fewer armed soldiers at the border than he used to see in Juarez.  Once crossing the border, however, we realized we were in the wrong line because, unlike those just going in for a few days, we needed to stop at immigration to get our tourist cards and our passports stamped.  We waved an immigration official down, who guided us the wrong way (against incoming traffic) to the customs building, told us to park and escorted us into the building (again against customs traffic) into a tiny office.  The building itself was very new, very shiny and very empty.  There was no line in the immigration office.  The very friendly and helpful immigration official helped us complete the tourist cards (very tiny type, John couldn’t read it – the eyes are the second thing to go), took the entry fee (you used to have to walk to a Bank to pay it) stamped our passports, gave us our half of the tourist  card and we were back on the road.

I had downloaded a map to get us from the border to the toll road, avoiding going into  Tijuana proper.  The first 1/2 mile goes directly along the Mexican side of the ugly border fence US border control has put up.  To the left (Mexico) are ugly concrete buildings with tin roofs, billboards and lots of construction activity.  On the right (U.S.) is a patch of bare land.  In the distance in the hills you can see the large tract homes with their immaculate lawns.  The biggest contrast in economic disparity at any international border, I’m told.

We almost missed the turnoff to the toll road to Ensenada (swerving into the left lane at the last minute).  They accepted U.S. dollars at the toll booths, giving us change in dollars and then we were on our way!  The road was in excellent condition (if narrower than US roads), two lanes each way.  In some parts the median was beautifully landscaped but there was no shoulder to speak of.  You absolutely had to keep your eyes on the road (and away from the gorgeous scenery unfolding) to avoid going off the six-inch edge and overturning the car.

Once on the highway, the ugly buildings disappeared and the landscape unfolded with one gated community, highrise or beach resort after another.  This area really didn’t look much different from southern California. Between communities we would see one beautiful ocean vista after another.

We rolled into Ensenada about 1 1/2 hours after crossing the border.  It was cloudy and cool (temps in the 60’s).  We checked into the the Best Western El Cid for $67/night (taxes inc).  It’s an older very Mexican looking hotel.  rustic and charming with lots of tile, dark wood, wrought iron, stained glass, molded stucco and Mexican artesenal artwork throughout the rooms.  The walls are VERY thin, though.  Our neighbors were having sex last night and I could have sworn then were right in our room. The ones upstairs sounded like they were playing basketball in their room.

The city itself has cleaned up tremendously from my college days.  The main drag is spotless and the cobblestoned sidewalksImage gleam.  Being a Tuesday, with no cruise ship in town, it was very quiet.  I could see a lot of empty store fronts and can see how the economy is hurting, not only from the worldwide downturn but also tourists scared over media reports of narco-violence.  But somethings never changed. It’s always been my tradition to hit Cantina Hussongs, a western-looking dive bar that has been in Ensenada since 1892.  Bing Crosby, John Wayne, Marilyn Monroe and Steve McQueen have all hung out there.  We walked it and it looked the same.  We were hungry though, and told the waiter we’d be back.  The taco stand next door was still there, with same menu and we had $1.35 tacos washed down with dark beer and agua de jamaica (hibiscus punch).  Returning to Hussongs (the only visible face lift was the clean bathrooms with self-flushing toilets and no smoking indoors).  Four beers and two tequilas later (and $12 poorer), we concluded day 1 of our Mexican adventure.