Two Miles in Four Hours (February 3 2019)

It rained A LOT last night and the place is all wet and muddy. Birds are playing in the deep puddles. But it’s a bright sunny morning and the bay is as calm as calm can be.

IMG_0807The town streets are all very muddy. One flooded field had a car, halfway under water! That was a photo (that we didn’t get.) Everything is sparkly, green, after-a-rain clean. Except for Sprockets. Can’t believe the back windows are still so dirty after the heavy rain. And all the sprays of muddy water makes her dirtier still.

IMG_0794We drive up the lush valley — lots of farms, rolling hills to the east, ocean to the west, up and down and around hills…back through the “old” wine area around Santo Tomas… the checkpoint south of Ensenada…then through one busy town before Ensenada, then Ensenada…to El Sauzal.

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We’ve had some wonderful asada tacos in Ensenada and El Sauzal but can’t seem to find any today. The taco cart where we stop to eat has tacos of stewed seafood. It’s a mix of manta (rays), octopus and shrimp, served hot or cold. We have it hot, with a cup of “jugo” the soup from this stew. It’s the first time I’ve had anything like it. I like it and it tastes strangely nostalgic, like something homey and Japanese.

Tijuana is not too far and I’m able to navigate us into the proper line this time. It’s about 2:30pm. The wait time on their website was already 2 hours (Otay Mesa is closed on Sundays) so we inch along, car length by car length (or less) in this carnival-like atmosphere with vendors galore, walking between cars, setting up stalls between the lanes…beggars…trash collectors…kids…

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IMG_0812“Oh yeah, I forgot to buy that huge and hideously ugly ceramic bulldog!”

“A creepy, giant replica of the Virgin of Guadalupe? Just what I wanted.”

People are selling puppies, ugly aprons, crap from China. (“Remember Cherokee Nation?”) There are ice cream vendors, sweet gorditas (looking like the Japanese Ohban-yaki,) churros, tacos. Gum, shaved ice, drinks. Pharmaceuticals! The actual vendor booths are closer to the gates and they have duty free cigarettes and booze, though they may be fake brands.

IMG_0755 (1)It’s Superbowl Sunday so a lot of people are listening to the game as we inch along to the border. “3-0,” Big Dog informs me after he checks his phone. As we approach the actual CBP station, someone yells out “3-10!”

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Are we there, yet?

It’s late. Darkness sets in. There are mariachis, illuminated balloons… Actually, the circus that is the Border Wait was entertaining enough to keep us from going completely nuts. (Until just before the checkpoint, we are diverted to a new lane that literally comes to a dead stop for a while. Big Dog who has been sooo good, taking all of this in stride, finally goes nuts.)

After 6:30pm and what turns out to be a FOUR HOUR WAIT we get to the immigration inspection. I had already juiced the oranges and eaten the avocado, but we still have a tomato and cucumber in the fridge so we get sent to the ag inspection area — a big cavernous garage. While waiting (more waiting!) we watch the car next to us get inspected. The back is STUFFED with shoes. Huh? You’re bringing old shoes to the US??? Finally, we are asked to step out and wait while the Ag inspector and her Black Lab (= food inspector dog; Beagles = drugs, GSD = arms/bombs) go into our rig. Turns out the tomato and cuke are fine but our frozen mangos get confiscated.

We’re finally cleared and made to wait in the car. (More waiting!) Meanwhile, B goes a bit crazy sniffing the whole place. “Who’s been here?! I leave and suddenly an unknown DOG comes in? With an unknown PERSON?” I can see what they touched by the stuff B is intently sniffing.

Big Dog has reached his patience’s limit. He’s super irritated and everything I do now is pissing him off. We get off the I-5 to get gas and I can’t find the on-ramp in the dark and we have to U-turn. I say something. He can’t find something. Doesn’t matter. It all pisses him off and he takes it out on me. He was so patient during the wait, but now his irritation continues until he goes to sleep.

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Border Crossing (January 7 2019)

The Woman gets up after the sun rises and we go outside. It’s chilly and I have to be on a leash but I find a nice spot on a grassy knoll to do my Morning Business. Why does she pick up my poo whenever we’re away from the ranch? She doesn’t bother to do this at her own home.

Speaking of home, this is a really comfy home and I could stay here forever, but I see that The Man and Woman are packing up again. After I get my breakfast and they have their coffee, fruit and yogurt, we get back into Sprockets and keep driving South.

The Fast Road becomes a Slow Road as it goes through some buildings and The Man shows papers to a uniformed person outside. We’re heading to the side. The Woman and I have to get out while The Man drives Sprockets onto a kind of platform. Eventually 4 vehicles are on this platform and a loud metal thing goes over them as lights flash and a siren goes off. This happens again and again.

All during this time, The Woman and I walk around. It’s boring here. Just a lot of metal and concrete. The rubbery plants I walk on make me want to poo again. The Man is in a shed near the platform, with 3 other men.

Still no Sprockets. I have to poo again!

Finally, The Man gets back into Sprockets and drives to us. We get in but in no time at all, they are out again, walking to a Big Building, leaving me inside. It smells different out here. I can’t quite tell what it is…

After The Man and Woman get back to Sprockets, we are on the road again, still going South, still with the ocean out the window but it feels warmer now. The towns are dusty and loud but outside the towns, it’s not too different from home. The sun goes down while we’re still driving, driving, driving…until finally we stop at a small bay. Seagrass, birds, fishy smells… The Man and Woman leave me inside for a while and return, smelling like food – something creamy, something fishy, something boozy. I guess we’re sleeping inside Sprockets tonight. Nice and cozy!

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Tanuki: After our night in Encinitas with Dano, who helped Big Dog film his documentary about the Great Pyramid, and his lovely wife, we tank up at the last cheap diesel station north of the border and then get to the Tijuana Border Crossing. I had expected delays because it’s Monday morning, but things weren’t too bad until we get picked to be x-rayed. 4 vehicles are randomly selected (we are the only non-Mexicans) and everyone but the driver is asked to step out. Then, the vehicles line up on a pad where this metal arch on rails moves down the length of the pad. It goes back and forth, stopping for minutes, then again. And again. How long is this supposed to take? We must have been there for an hour. Long enough for Bailey to poop twice in the ice plants. Ha, take that!

When it’s all over, we have to go to the immigration office for our visas. They cost $59, I think for the 2 of us — seems like the price is different every time! Now we finally get rolling! No one has asked for Bailey’s papers.

There are 2 layers of walls at the border. The US wall and the Mexican wall which is being built by Mexicans! We see that there’s a lot more rolled up razor wire everywhere. Did they bring these in when the border was being stormed? There’s a tent city next to the main road out of Tijuana not too far from the border. Guess this is where the migrants are housed. There were tourist police cars around the area. I want to believe the police are there for the migrant’s protection rather than harassment.

We take the cuota for the first time. It’s nice and goes along the coast all the way to Ensenada. It’s an easy drive along a sunny coast. After a quick taco stop in Ensenada, we continue south towards San Quintin. The road is mostly good — pot holed in only a few places — but just beyond the valley of Santo Tomas (wine country!) as the road goes up and over towards the coast, there’s major road work and we’re stuck for a LONG time. There are all sorts of vendors — ice cream, veggie sticks, yaca (I find out later that it’s jackfruit), candies, candied apples, elote (fresh corn), drinks…

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The land is very very green and lovely. As we get into Camalu valley — a major ag area — there is more traffic and we’re slowed down by slower vehicles. The sun is setting, in a blazing ball. Once again, we find ourselves trying to get to San Quintin before dark! The sun sets before we get there and we have to find the turn off to Molino Viejo in the dark but we do and SURPRISE! The road is paved all the way to the restaurant and boat launch. It’s only 5:30 or so but already dark. It’s chilly! Big Dog really wanted to come here for the molcajete, he loved it so much the last time we were here. I order a Bohemia (for me, wanting to go “lighter” after all that wine last night) and a margarita (for Big Dog, a reward for a big day of driving), clam chowder and molcajete de mariscos. It is still really good, all hot and volcano-bubbly, with grilled nopales and queso fresco.

There are a few partying in the parking lot but they disappear quickly. We settle down to a movie and then sleep.

Back Through The Wall (February 27 2018)

It was a much warmer night but the wind has caught up with us and has been howling through the night. Time to get out of here. We pack and pull out, waving goodbye to Cool Rudi.

The road to Golfo de Santa Clara is a good paved highway that goes through the Gran Desierto, then through dunes and tidal flats, with amazing wind-carved arroyos here and there. Finally, it drops down to the “town” of Santa Clara. It’s a windy, overcast day and there is not much to see at Santa Clara.

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From there, it’s a northerly route to San Luis Rio Colorado, going through a big checkpoint near El Doctor. Here, the military actually come into Sprockets, knocking on cabinets and such, looking for drugs and guns.

SLRC is a funky border town. It is difficult to find the entry point to the US and what we think is the way isn’t but we can’t turn around on the one-way street and not knowing where to get back in the long line, we shove ourselves into the short line. Our bad. It turns out to be for “Sentri Only.” We have no idea what this is about but boy, did we get it from the Border Patrol! Sentri Only is for those who have applied for expedited border crossings. Big Dog apologizes profusely, saying we hate cheaters too and aren’t queue cutters. That made one of the officers ask Big Dog if he’s lived abroad. “No one says queue in the US.” And because of our using the wrong lane (?) we got a full RV inspection. (They take away the EGG I’d forgotten about – it’s been riding with us from LA. The papaya, tomato, avocado, the meat and fish inside our fridge were all okay.)

When the CBP are finally finished with us, we go back through the wall to the US of A. 95 takes us to Yuma, then 32nd through suburbia to… where else? Walmart! Ha ha. Back so soon!

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Rudi’s beer can bouquet rides along with us

While I am getting water, milk, wine, vodka, munchies and veggies, Big Dog goes online to reactivate our data on the iPad, check mail, etc. Thankfully, we are not staying at Walmart but going back to Mittry.

Our former site is occupied so we keep going…beyond the parking and boat ramp. The road rises and keeps going and we find a spot just beyond another set of locks. It is far from the water but has a nice view and a bit of privacy although there is another camper at the site across from us who we can see and vice versa. At least we’re not on top of each other. And we are out of the wind. Ahhh.

South of the Border (February 9 2018)

Lukeville (“Use the force, Lukeville”) a short drive from the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument Visitor Center is not really a “town” so much as a truck stop. There’s gas, food, a (closed) restaurant, duty free shop (!), auto insurance (natch) and post office. There is also a substantial metal wall running east-west in both directions. Yes, Trump, someone’s already built a wall here.

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I had read that this wall, while cutting illegal border crossings, has led migrants to the more dangerous desert areas. Thousands of bodies have been found in the border areas of the desert since 2001.

You drive through the US border and then the Mexican border. It is way more relaxed than either Tijuana or Tecate. They only ask for car registration here. For those only going to Puerto Peñasco you don’t even need a visa or to go through customs but since we plan to go farther, we go to the immigration office to get our visas and such.

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Sonoyta looks like a typical Mexican town, although it seems to have more beggars than anywhere in Baja. At one point, Big Dog talked about not going to Puerto Peñasco (called Rocky Point by many of the Americans who go there) but now he decides we will, so rather than taking the road straight to Caborca, we go through the Pinacate Biosphere Reserve to the coast.

Pinacate is very much a continuation of the land we’d been in. Scruffier, drier and with less vegetation, but overall, it is very similar to what lays north of the border. National divisions are so arbitrary in a bio-geological sense.

Pinacate is famous for its craters but you have to take a 46 mile unpaved loop to see them. We decide to keep driving to Puerto Peñasco.

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Dunes appear as we approach Puerto Peñasco, a well-developed down. There are a lot of signs in English, including all the “Hassle Free Vehicle Zone” signs along Highway 3. In a certain section of Sonora, all you need is Mexican auto insurance (although no one has even peeked at ours yet) and I guess there is no customs, either.

Puerto Peñasco is also known as Rocky Point. I thought it was just the English translation of the Spanish name, but it was actually a British Navy lieutenant who named the area “Rocky Point” on marine maps back in the early 1800’s. Later, President Lazaro Cardenas of Mexico changed it to Puerto Punta Peñasco.

He was the one who built a railroad to connect the Baja peninsula with the rest of Mexico. This railroad passed Puerto Peñasco and the town began to grow, but until the 1990’s it was just a place for campers and fishermen.

Today, Puerto Peñasco is Gringolandia. It’s not as interesting or as arty/cultural as Puerto Vallarta. It’s more like San Felipe or Ensenada, geared for the North American visitor, with lots of hustling, touts, “deals” and tourist traps. We go to the malecón and immediately get accosted by different touts. One them gives us a map.

I’m still hungry even though we had a couple of tasty carne asada tacos at a street stand in Sonyta. On our way to check out Playa Hermosa and Sandy Beach, we pass Asadero El Jaripeo and get 2 carne asada tacos, 1 fish taco, a shrimp taco and a giant jamaica (hibiscus) drink.

There’s an RV park full of vehicles big and small at Playa Hermosa – hundreds of them parked in the sand. It’s a giant ocean-front parking lot!

The rest of the waterfront is taken up by different resort complexes, some with their own RV parks. This is not really our scene.

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Out of town, a road leads to oyster farms. We take the first turnoff and come to Rudi’s Oyster Farm. Rudi, from Chiapas, is the lone ostionero (oyster guy) here. He shucks a dozen oysters for us — they are salty with sea water and fresh out of the oyster beds. Ohhh, they are good. And they’re only P80 (US$5?) for a dozen!

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The road deteriorates after the turn off to the last resort complex, Mayan Palace, and we are back in the Sonoran desertscape, back with the senita cacti that look a lot like organ pipe cacti and the cordón cacti that look like saguaro with elephantiasis. We don’t know where we’re going but El Desemboque is stuck in our minds so we head there, taking a spur off Highway 3.

Alongside the road, there are mounds — lots and lots of them — made of something white. They look like large eggshell halves. What could they be? (I later find out that they are shells — caracoles and oysters. The local women go through the oyster shells collecting seed pearls about the size of the smallest glass bead.)

When we enter El Desemboque, an old man sitting outside his home waves to us. Friendly natives! Good sign! Other locals are also friendly or just indifferent. In the center of town, there is a clearing like a parking lot in front of the beach. Maybe we can camp here tonight. Big Dog goes outside to look at some “biological corridor” sign when an American guy approaches him. He and his wife live here! In an RV right across from our parking space!

DSC09557Ernie and Alicia lived in Zihuatanejo for years before coming here about a year ago. He rents out ATVs and boats while she makes art pieces out of shells and carcasses. One piece is centered around a large seahorse carcass; another is a laminated map decorated with shells. The inside of their RV is dark, like a cave, and decorated with all sorts of found objects. They seem like the kind of couple who would do well in Slab City but maybe Mexico is more of their kind of place — they are certainly as helpful and generous as the Mexicans we have met, giving us the password for their WiFi, offering drinks and rentals of their vehicles. And Ernie has one of those giant boomboxes the Mexicans love so much — the kind that can blast a million decibels through town.

I need a bathroom but there are no public baños in town.

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“You can probably use the one at the abarrote if we get something to eat,” says Big Dog so we walk over. This abarrote is your everyday general store but it also has a table outside and signs for prepared food. There’s a group of men, women and children having a little party there.

The shrimp cocktail and shrimp tostada are excellent!! Mexican seafood cocktails are soupy things – seafood with diced tomatoes, onions, peppers and avocado in a seasoned Clamato broth. The abarrote’s “coctel” is not as seasoned and tastes fresher, and the shrimp are outrageously good. They are small wild shrimp — tender, sweet, succulent and tasty!

The setting sun casts a tangerine glos on the long, flat beach. Waters are calms. Friendly dogs – most of them looking related – roam around. Kids in trucks are doing donuts on the beach, spraying up sand. Guess that’s their Friday Night Fun!

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Back in the rig, I have to shit again. It must be the salt water from the oysters. If you are easily grossed out, please skip the next section.

So, you know that we don’t use the toilet in Sprockets. There have been some unsavory moments because of this. Like having to go poop in the sand in the middle of the night. Or, worse, dumping into a tiny plastic bag while stealth camping in the middle of San Francisco. We also have a 5-gallon bucket with a toilet seat that snaps on. Big Dog used this outside while we were camped on the beach in Baja. You put a plastic bag inside the bucket and then later discard the bag. Hopefully, there is no hole in the bag. Well, in El Desemboque, I have no choice but to use the Poo Bucket. I double bag it, just to be safe. Using the bucket is teethgrittingly disgusting but once the lid is closed, the odor stays pretty much locked in.

I want to go toss the bag immediately but Big Dog makes me keep it as it is. “I’ll be using The Bucket in the morning anyway,” he says. Eeeew.

We haven’t checked our email in a few days and when we do, Big Dog finds out he needs to get some documents printed and notarized in a week or two. We also find out that we needed a “temporary vehicle import permit” to go beyond the “Safe Zone” of a section of Sonora but missed the town to get this because we went to Puerto Peñasco instead of Caborca. Do we drive back north? Where will we get the notary? At the US Consulate in Hermosillo? (He makes an online appointment for the earliest date — February 21!)

Ruta del Vino and North (March 8 2016)

It’s sunny! The rain front has passed.

Big Dog thinks we should check out Hussong’s, the famous cantina in Ensenada, so I open the iPad to see where we are in relationship to it. Miraculously, we are on the street that goes straight into the center of Ensenada.

The traffic is as congested as always and there are no parking spots anywhere near Hussong’s. After circling the area, we decide to split. It’s not as if we were ready to belt back margaritas this early in the day anyway.

DSC06160But we are hungry and there are street tacos on the strip along the highway between Ensenada and El Sauzal. The taco cart we choose is busy with customers. Truck drivers from the opposite side risk their lives crossing over the busy highway for these tacos, so they must be pretty good, right? And they are. Big, filled flour tortillas with delicious chicken and carnitas.

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DSC06180We stay on Mex 3 which takes us on an inland course to the U.S. border. It is the Ruta del Vino – Wine Route. This is Baja’s burgeoning wine area. There are beautiful hills and small valleys. It reminds me a lot of home, although there are not as many official signs to various wineries in San Luis Obispo. There are more restaurants on this highway, too, as well as olive and cheese shops.

DSC06164DSC06171DSC06175There are more interesting, modern architectural styles in the buildings here compared to the rest of Mexico which can be just simple cinder block structures or old colonial styles. In one area, construction is going on for a big restaurant ~ wine cellar ~ brew pub ~ outdoor grill. I can see an arty wall of wine racks. It is all surprisingly upscale although there is still some Mexican funkiness, which I love.

DSC06184The hills are accented by big beautiful rounded rock outcroppings. Someone has built a home inside one of the rocks!

DSC06182The AAA map seems to be outdated, as signs point in a different direction for the border crossing at Tecate. We follow the flow to… the bottom of a hill. There are 2 lanes going up the hill: one empty, the other full of cars in a line. We figure that’s the one for the border crossing and get behind the last car in line, but every so often, what appears to be a “cheater line cutter” comes barreling up the empty lane. This drives Big Dog nuts.

“Another cheater!” he yells, moving the vehicle slightly into the other lane to block their way.

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There’s much to keep you entertained…
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…but it’s good to have snacks for the wait. Who can resist “Japanese Karate Nuts.”

DSC06193As we wait, people in safety garb stroll down the line of cars, selling drinks, popsicles, snacks. A blind man is panhandling. A girl with bleached hair asks for money for her mother’s eye operation. A ratty looking dude wanders by.

DSC06190The line inches forward to the top of the hill. Now we can observe the action below, at the border, through our binoculars. Now we see that most of the “cheaters” were only trying to get into the neighborhood. (But some of them were real cheaters!) Beyond the border, the road goes back up another hill. This is where the big rig trucks and commercial vehicles are waiting.

Yay! We’re at the bottom of the hill. We get into the proper lane for “RVs, trailers and trucks” and after going through immigration, get sent to the Secondary Inspection.

DSC06196A friendly officer comes over and asks questions (“Any fruit or vegetables? Meat? Pets?”) She comes inside the RV and checks the fridge and inside a few cabinets. She also asks about shells and I show her my little collection of shells in a plastic bag.

“This one’s fine… So are these… They’re all okay. Do you have any wood products?”

“Just this piece of driftwood I picked up…” I pull out the driftwood I found in San Lucas on our way down – it’s been traveling with us for weeks now.

This is a problem. She takes it away and Big Dog has to give her his passport and driver’s license, then sign some kind of form before we are free to go.

DSC06197Across the border, the landscape is similar – round boulders sprouting through green hills. We drive past pretty ranches…through Jamul…Steele Canyon… and come across a roadside produce store. There are mountains of gorgeous looking fruits and vegetables. Oranges are only $1 for 5 pounds. We get oranges, avocados (not Hass, the regular supermarket variety, but bacon avocado which are tastier), asparagus, cauliflower and the biggest strawberries ever. They’ll make a nice gift for B and T in San Diego.

As we approach San Diego, the number of mad drivers increases.

“In Baja, you had to do some magic driving to avoid potholes but here, the hazard is the swarm of assholes,” I laugh.

We’re back!

End of Day Miles: unnoted