September 02, 2008 GMT
Mexico Baja California

Mexico - this is how it happens. You are cruising down highway one south of San Diego which is a three lane freeway. In front is a Chevy pick up truck with a California licence plate. The overhead sign reads - Border Crossing Ahead. The truck slows down as do you, almost to a standstill. You cross a speed hump in the road and a set of metal protrusions with accompanying sign - Do Not Reverse. And then you are in downtown Tijuana. Yes really!! That cant be right - but for me it was very much reality. What happened to the big traffic queues, the immigration officials, customs inspections, dogs, guns etc. Nothing!! At least I had done enought research to realise that I needed an entry visa and an import permit for the bike. After some navigating, good judgement or maybe good luck I found an official looking building to do the necessary. The relevant documents are issued by a bank (Mexican Military Bank) - it was kind of strange having the bank girl come out to the carpark and do a visual check on the bike. Inside the bank she only spoke spanish and relied on other customers to translate, but outside spoke good english and was interested in my trip. They´had picked up a small typo on my bike registration/VIN and hence the inspection. OK here, but hopefully wont come back and bite me in the future. Having got the Mexican paperwork sorted, I was then faced with the reality that I had not checked out of the US. The immigration departure card clearly states that it has to be surrendered to a US official on departure. Only one thing for it - join the queue of mexicans waiting to cross the border and go back and do it again. Eventually found a US official to "check out" with, but they dont make it easy. Turns out that the border is effectively open for americans travelling into Baja California (north only). The border into Baja south is the "real" border.

Goodbye America. Hello Mexico.

Tijuana came as a culture shock which I was unprepared for. The contrast with San Diego which is only 10minutes away is noticeable. I think if I was a mexican living here I would be joining the queue to climb the fence (yes there is a fence). Its a reasonable size of a city, but totally uninspiring.

Mexico requires a new insurance policy for the bike (but at least I can cash in the balance of my US policy). Unfortunately mexican bike insurance is liability only (third party without the F and T), which makes me nervous and slightly uncomfortable. Maybe a larger chain and lock are called for. Every one is in the same situation, so - ever onwards.

I decide to head down the coast and Baja California (pronounced Baha - its a spanish thing). This should be an easier introduction to Mexico than the mainland. Baja is big - just over 1000miles long. The first 80 miles is very commercial - with luxury condo´s and resorts springing up. You get the impression that planning control is not high on the agenda. After Ensenada (80 miles down) it all changes and becomes true wilderness (in a good sense). The roads are quiet with very little traffic. The landscape is rugged - almost desert like in places but with mountains on the horizon. The countryside is dotted with cacti - real ones, just like you see in the movies. It is easy to feel remote here. Did manage two nights of camping - the second was excellent, with trees for shade, green grass to camp on and three swimming pools - all for 60 pesos (3GBP). However, I think hotels are the future - good value at 3 - 400pesos (15 - 20GBP).

Its not until I reach Sants Rosalia that I actually get inspired. What a sweet little town. It has proper streets, pavements and neat little houses. Makes a change from the dirt and shacks that have prevailed up to this point. And so it continues. The Baja just gets better the further south I travel. Some of the landscape is absolutely stunning. The roads are good and very well maintained - full marks to the mexican government. Only the occasional washway (culvert) requires me to slow down - tropical storm Julio came through the week before and in places took the road with it. But its all well signed. I think Julio may also be responsible for the greenery that prevails in the south - totally unexpected.

Next is the town of La Paz - I could live here, its that nice. It sits on a bay and has a perfect malecon. A malecon is a seafront promenade and the La Paz version is the place to be seen. Its pretty clear that La Paz has money - or rather the people here. Its also a popular holiday destination, but all the tourists are mexican (or maybe spanish), so doesnt feel touristy (if that makes sense).

I have passed five military inspection points. They are signified by a cardboard cutout of a soldier waving a flag (but obviously he doesnt wave). Only once did I have to stop, all other times being waved through. They act to break up the journey and provide additional interest for me. No drama, similarly with the immigration checkpoint at the north / south border.

Some interesting facts on my initial excursion into mexico:

i. the traffic lights go from green, to flashing green, then amber then red. Gives you the chance to drop a gear and get through in time, unlike the US where they go straight from green to red (no amber).
ii. the mexicana highway patrol use US spec dodge chargers. They must have so much fun chasing the banditos. By the way they are 2008 models, dark blue with a big white stripe and have a full compliment of windows.
iii. mexicans have a love of loud music (of indishtingable origins).

From here its only a short ferry hop to the mainland - Topolobampo (what a great name). Baja ferries are doing the honourable - Im sure i will be adequately impressed.

Click here for the latest Baja California Photos

Click here for the Trip Log

Posted by Graham Shee at September 02, 2008 08:38 PM GMT

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