Baja…The Other California – Part Uno

So, you’ve got the U.S. State of California, formerly part of the Alta California region, and the Mexican States of Baja California and Baja California Sur.  Now that we’ve covered our geography for the day we can move on to border crossings, beaches, tacos and new friends.

In November, Jenna and I did a quick 11 day appetizer trip into Baja before flying home for Christmas.  Our friends Jason and Angela from gave us a ton of info on crossing the border, and aside from missing the “garage” and parking in a reserved taxi space that could have had us towed on our first day in Mexico, the border crossing was easy-ish.

We arrived in Calexico California (US), took a right turn, and were at the border before we had a chance to stash our guns and drugs.  A “buenos dias,”  a peek into the camper, and a nod of the head had us rolling down the streets of Mexicali.  Having driven in places like Italy, Puerto Rico, and Belize I was somewhat prepared for the different driving “styles” so we began our search for a place to park on high alert.  Double check the mirrors, don’t hit the guy selling empanadas, the traffic light is blinking green…”Go?” “Stop?”  Luckily we didn’t smash the empanada cart, but we did fearfully stop at a blinking green light and ran through what I’ll call a yellowish-red light.

After circling the block a couple times in search of parking we settled on a side street with a bunch of empty taxi spots.  Not the best idea, but hey, we’re Amateurs after all.  Next we did our best speed-walk to grab pesos from the bank and get our FMM tourist visas from the INM office at the border.  Using the pace of someone who really needs a toilet, but not so fast as to appear you’ve stole something, we were back at the truck in less than 20 minutes.  For about $20 USD each we received 6 month tourist cards…Bienvenidos a Mexico!!!

After our first week in Baja I wanted to write about my initial impressions while they were still fresh in the mind.  As it always comes to pass, what is odd becomes usual, and what is extraordinary become quite…extra-extra-ordinary? non-ordinary? ordinary? whatever, you get it.  Sitting in a hammock, overlooking the beach, I collected my thoughts and decided I would sort what I had learned into categories: 1-Glass Half Empty; 2-Glass Half Full; & 3-Reality.  I made mental notes about the feeling of border towns, the trash, the dilapidated structures and smog; the beaches, smiles, cheap food and freedom of exploration; and the poverty and lack of opportunity that makes our dollars so valuable here, the hard work ethics, and a culture of hospitality, warmth and friendliness.  It was to be a glorious blog post!  Unfortunately, Jenna handed me a beer and Angela made one of her daily calls for “Taco Time!!!”  And with that, my mental notes were drowned and buried in cheap beer, cheap tacos and rich stories from life on the road.  Sorry my friends, you’re just going to have to make your way down to Baja to see what it’s all about 🙂

Luckily, we took some pictures along the way

Our first stop was the town of San Felipe.  Just a couple hours south of the border, this place is a great start for those looking to sample a bit of Baja.  We met up with Angela, Jason, and Bodie and spent the next few days trying nearly every taco place in town.

The old shipyard in San Felipe | Strolling on the Malecon (waterfront) we pass shops selling blankets, ponchos and other goods, and restaurants and carts offering tacos, mariscos, churros, etc...all while the walking vendors, young and old, make their rounds carrying a potpourri of windchimes and trinkets, displaying cases of silver jewelry, or offering a song to those enjoying a meal. As the sun sets the town comes to life and the music begins, including young girls singing karaoke, bars inviting tourists, impromptu gatherings and locals straining their car speakers. Our daily walks on the Malecon would terminate at the north end where two vessels sit rusting in the old shipyard. We briefly look at the town's past and walk back to our camp site through the present. #sanfelipe

A photo posted by Josh & Jenna (@travelamateurs) on

We thoroughly enjoyed slowing down in our temporary home and fell into a routine without effort.  Morning coffee and a faint voice down the beach “Tamales Tamales.”  My broken spanglish “que tipo de tamales tiene hoy?” and a brief negotiation has lunch covered.  The tamales never make it to lunch and we’re ready for “taco time” when Angela or Jason stops by.  A beach vendor selling clams for less than a buck interrupts the taco schedule, and for the next hour we debate the best combination of condiments (hot sauce, lime, and a bit of garlic salt?).  We finally inflate our paddleboard and Jenna tries her hand at SUP yoga.

Our next stop is Bahia San Luis Gonzaga (Gonzaga Bay).  The drive down is a mixture of empty desert and beautiful mountains until you reach a small tienda and an OXXO gas station.  We drive along a dirt runway to find palapas dotting a blue bay with mountains tracing the crescent view.  Aside from a row of disintegrating outhouses, the place if gorgeous.  We settle in with a walk along the beach and a couple sugar cane cocktails.

Due to some poor planning and the abundance of cheap food in San Felipe, we didn’t do much grocery shopping before reaching Gonzaga.  This made our Thanksgiving menu easy…pancakes!  A nap in the hammock, a little paddleboarding, and it was almost time for some flapjacks and grandpa’s maple syrup.  Walking up to our camper I hear the voice of the youngest daughter from the palapa next to us “Do you want to join us for dinner?”  Wow, how generous and kind…I should respond with  “thank you very much”  or “absolutely, what can we bring?”  Instead, I blurt out “what are you having?” as if I’m checking the specials at a restaurant.  Doh!  I meant to find out whether they had enough food or if we would be an imposition, but ended up looking like a jerk who wanted to check out the menu before accepting a free, home-cooked meal, delivered to my belly on a remote beach in Baja.  If I didn’t already feel stupid enough, the look of confusion on the little one’s face and the scowl on Jenna’s finished the job.  Luckily my mistake didn’t get us banned from dinner and we spent the night around a fire sharing conversation over an amazing meal of shrimp, salad and steak with fire roasted garlic.  Thanks for a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Not to worry, we still made those pancakes 😉

I’d say I’m sorry for being so far behind on the blog, but I’d be lying.  A walk on the beach, a chat around the fire, a sunrise or sunset and a beer in hand are going to win-out every time over picking up this old laptop 🙂

Next – Our second border crossing into Mexico, lots of mud, whales, baby turtles and new friends.

Road Life Tip:  Digging a hole for leveling.  We don’t use leveling blocks so we usually drive up onto a rock or piece of wood to help level the rig for sleeping.  For more complicated or steep inclines we also dig a hole in front of the highest wheel and drive into the rut.  Many use this method, however, we met a few people who commented on us doing so and figured we’d pass it along.

By |2017-03-22T08:11:19-06:00February 17th, 2016|Mexico, The Trip|2 Comments


  1. Joshua Thompson February 19, 2016 at 3:43 pm - Reply

    Hey y’all get post! Glad to see life in Mexico is treating you well. We are still in planning/saving mode. Hoping to make it south of the border to do some climbing for spring break. Keep living the dream and keep the stories coming.

    • Jenna February 23, 2016 at 1:05 pm - Reply

      Thanks! Mexico is awesome and you guys should definitely come down here for Spring Break +5 months. 🙂 Keep working toward your goals and you guys will be on the road in no time!

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