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DSC06182The AAA map seems to be outdated, as signs point in a different direction for the border crossing at Tecate.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

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Escape from Hell (March 7 2016)

Big Dog wakes up early – just before dawn – and craps all over the rear bumper. (“I couldn’t make it any farther.”) Later, he goes to the useless toilet and fills that up. When I get up, I go to the useless toilet and seeing that there is a large bin of water, scoop it up with a tiny plastic pail, attempting to flush as much shit as I can from the toilet. When I return to our site, I throw sand on our respective beach dumps and try to remove the crap from the rear bumper. I am completely disgusted by it all.

The gulls, however, are delighted with last night’s debris and are having a contest with the crows over possession of the bits. Flies are kept busy and happy as well. In this strange place, the birds and flies seem to be the most normal.

I can’t wait to get out of this place.

“Do we go check out the Puertocitos camp?” asks Big Dog. That is the original one here and is near the sulfur hot springs, formerly accessible to all, but now, apparently “owned” by the camp complex.

“Nah. Let’s just get out of here.”

The road to San Felipe is equal parts smooth, clean asphalt, pot-holed asphalt and cracked-up-ready-to-fall-apart asphalt. There are many cutoffs to the water, ranging from quarter mile dirt roads to several miles. They all look the same and there are way too many “Se Vende (For Sale)” signs. What were once campsites are now “lots for rent.” Guess they are all going for seasonal guests. That makes it easier to manage but it does make the entire area less attractive to travelers.

DSC06117As we pass another “Lots for Sale” sign, Big Dog snorts.

“ ‘Lots for Sale, see Dick.’ Is that truth in advertising? There’s a lot for sale, but really nothing to see out there,” he laughs.

DSC06111DSC06113Several instant gringo “communities” are along this stretch – pueblos of a few homes and rigs planted permanently. One entrance had interesting signs posted, including “The Vulgarians – Cucumber Festival.” God knows what wackos live out here. I am equally repelled and strangely attracted.

DSC06115I had read that Playa La Estrella, just south of San Felipe is nice. We drive down the half mile or so to the campsite, one of the very few in this part of Baja. The manager or caretaker is leaving in his truck so he stops to chat with us. He tells us it’s 5 dollars per hour. What?! US$5?! For an hour?! And $40 for the night. They have palapas and a pool. And for that price, one would hope, working toilets and showers. But it’s overcast and windy. No one else is there. Why didn’t he offer us a spot for P100 or even P150? Wasn’t it worth it? The vibe here is that NO effort is worth it. For anything. What a loser area of a winner peninsula.

We reach San Felipe after a section of vacation rentals, open house signs, lots for sale (always!), gringo homes and a family selling shrimp out of their SUV. It’s US$17 for a kilo of very nice looking fresh shrimp, but we have too much fish in our fridge right now.

The main stretch is a bit ghost town-ish. The cloudy weather doesn’t help. It’s all a bit deserted and sad. And dark.

DSC06121The center of town is more Ensenada than Cabo (which is more Playa Carmen/Yucatan than Baja.) The oceanfront road is lined with a range of seafood restaurants – touristy restaurants to open air joints – interspersed with gift shops selling handicrafts or similar items, T-shirts and lots of Made In China crap.

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DSC06122We find a parking spot and walk down the street. There is a gaudy looking bar called the Rockadile, a sort of Hard Rock Café meets Señor Frog/Froy (I’m not quite sure which it is supposed to be) and nearby is the Iguana Club table dancing place looking suitably sleazy and seedy in an anachronistic way. When we go up the street behind the oceanfront street, we find an entire merchandising store for Rockadile. Perhaps they were trying to be a Cabo Wabo. Just about then we hear cracks of thunder. It really begins to rain. We hop from awning to awning to a bakery (yup) and onto a side street that goes back to the oceanfront, ducking into a mariscos place where a Mexican couple are eating.

The shrimp tacos here are very good. It’s raining harder, so we order more tacos, waiting for the rain to die down a bit. It doesn’t, so now we are ordering a fish ceviche tostada which comes on 3 layers of tostadas, with saldita crackers. This is quite tasty, too.

Other Mexicans who seem to be friends of the restaurant workers arrive and the place gets a bit busy but we are still the only foreigners. This pleases us in this strangely North Americanized town.

“Hope the rain is washing the poop away,” I sigh. (And, yes, it has!)

DSC06126Now, where to go? Mexicali and into California? So soon? Neither Big Dog nor I want the Baja Adventure to end so soon. We decide to take Mex 3 from Mex 5 and across to Ensenada.

DSC06129The wind is terrible as we approach the cutoff. There is a big and fancy military checkpoint just south of it. Then, another one as you go onto Mex 3 but they must have seen us getting checked at the earlier one because they just wave us through.

DSC06134When Mex 3 goes through Valle Santa Clara it is flat, level and pretty decent. We are the only ones on the road, nearly. Then it winds through boulder land to the Valle de la Independencia area.

DSC06136Wow. This is NOT your average picture of Baja. It is a lush verdant valley filled with agriculture. There are cool ranches and big farms. We stop at an overlook. The valley is green, green, green. Plus, while we are going through this area, the rain is almost gone and there is a lovely light cast on the landscape.

DSC06142Heroes de la Revolucion is a tidy farming community. So tidy, in fact, I wonder aloud if it’s a Mennonite community. It is so different from the dirty, messy coast.

DSC06145DSC06153Finally, we go through the Ojos Negros area which looks just like Highway 41 or 46 on the Central California Coast. There are big trees – sycamores? – in the canyons.

In fact, the entire Mex 3 route is like going from the piñon ~ juniper land of north Texas, then Highway 166 in Central California with the rocks and all the stuff growing on the rocks, then a farmland and valleys and into a steep grade to the coast.

But now it is nearly 6pm as we try to make it to Ensenada. It starts getting dark. We are not sure if Highway 3 has actually turned off but it’s supposed to run into Mex 1… We can see the Pacific Ocean so I make Big Dog turn towards it.

We have been debating whether to find an RV camp, park in a Pemex, do some urban boondocking, or find a motel.

On this road on the outer part of Ensenada, we see a sign on one building announcing motel rooms starting at P250. Usually “motel” in Mexico means love hotel and sure enough, when Big Dog parks and I run across the street in the rain to check prices, the board also lists a price for 4 hours. The ladies at reception say it is P320 a night for two people which sounds a bit pricey, although after what P300 got us in Puertocitos, I am sure this will be a better deal. Anyway, it is too late to look for RV parks and it is too cold to be in one. Not to mention, the rain, which is now pouring again. I don’t want to have to go and pee out in the rain, nor do dishes inside the RV.

Now, 320 pesos lighter, we are in a room with a double bed, TV (with lots of hardcore porn – for free!), a smelly but functioning hot shower, a real (functioning) flush toilet and a strangely stylish sink. The rest of it is as crappy as any of the cheap motels we frequent north of the border, but for me, tonight, this is heaven.

“I mean, a functioning toilet! Just steps away from the bed! No more bottles! No more rubber funnel! No doing dishes and being slightly grossed out afterwards!”

It is raining pretty steadily now.

“Sounds like frying bacon!”

“Sounds like frying chicken!”

We are both in good spirits. The vodka-Jumex cocktails are not very cold and Big Dog has to struggle a bit with their WiFi (pronounced wee-fee here) but we are out of the rain…

Until we have to go out for dinner.

DSC06154It is cold outside and it’s not easy sloshing through flooded intersections to the nearest taqueria, but it looks like a popular place. They have adobada meat cooking like al pastor and the only other choice is asada but they are both super yummy. No wonder the place is hopping!

DSC06155DSC06157Back in the room, I get to shower. The water feels strange and tastes salty, but at least it is hot enough. Now, all that’s left is going through the several channel of porn and…

End of Day Miles: 2721 mi.