Hola! We’re fine. Just wanted to get that out of the way in case anyone was worried. We’re actually way better than fine. We’re having a blast.
Yes, it is true that we didn’t get off to the most auspicious start. Both the books we bought about traveling into Baja with an RV and two dogs clearly stated that we would sail straight through the border as long as we had the necessary paperwork. So we spent some time in San Diego getting all of that paperwork in order. I know, I can hardly believe it either. When we got to the border crossing in Tijuana our whole plan kind of devolved. There were 6 million people and 217 lanes of traffic, all conveniently labeled in Spanish, which makes a lot of sense because it’s Mexico. Whatever lane we ended up in was staffed by a really nice and extremely intimidating woman in a black tactical vest. She opened the back of our van, took a look, spoke some rapid-fire spanish at us and strenuously pointed us to another checkpoint area. This was a little disturbing because approximately 95% of the other cars passing through the border didn’t even really slow down.
It turns out we’d been selected for some kind of high-tech scanning. We finally grasped that passengers and pets were not allowed to stay in the car, so under the scrutiny of another friendly border patrol officer, Jennifer tried to exit the van gracefully while both our dogs went completely ape-shit. There was barking. There was snapping. Wembley took a head-dive out the door. Jennifer was not looking happy dragging those two morons off to wherever they were being sent. I definitely would not have let either of them into my country. We don’t have any pictures of this because when I tried to pull out the camera Jennifer had a meltdown. She thought the Mexican authorities would think we were spies. We’re not.
I had to stay in the van. By myself. And then I just kept smiling and nodding until I figured out I was supposed to drive the van onto this special ramp with like 6 other suspicious vehicles. Then I had to get out of the van and go wait behind a concrete bunker with the other drivers while all of our vehicles were subjected to what looked like the World’s Biggest MRI. Then there was a really loud siren. And then we were all allowed back into our duly irradiated rides and ushered to another little parking lot area where I saw Jennifer and the pups sitting and chatting with some lady in some kind of tent building. So I figured we’d have to wait for the results of the scan, maybe do an interview, and get our paperwork checked. Not so much. Basically, the guy in the parking lot just let me pick up my passengers and take off. No ID’s checked, no passports stamped. Not a glance at our International Pet Health Certificates, Mexican auto insurance, or our pre-paid tourist visas. Nada. And the next thing we knew we were cruising through Tijuana on the highway and it definitely felt like we missed a checkpoint or did something very wrong. So we were in a bit of a panic, trying to figure out if we needed to hunt down some sort of immigration office. Ultimately we just kept driving. Shocking, I know.
(Turns out we didn’t do anything wrong. This is standard operating procedure. Because Mexico is a nice country and they want us to come visit).
Our first stop was supposed to be at a campground in Baja’s wine country. We had no idea Mexico even had a wine country until a few days ago when we met some lady in a state park in Arizona. She’s from Belarus and she told us all about it. Anyway, it’s called Valle de Guadalupe. We looked it up, found a campground that looked promising and headed over. It’s only about an hour and a half from the border so we thought it would be a good place to spend the night and collect ourselves. The drive was beautiful and amazing, skirting the pacific ocean at first and then climbing up into the mountains. We made a few wrong turns but finally made it down a winding dirt road through acres and acres of grapevines to our destination, at which point I turned into what I thought was the driveway and promptly sank the front tires deep into a mud puddle. First day. Out in the sticks. Super-heavy RV stuck in the mud. See? Not auspicious.
Lucky for us, the campground owner, Cesar, hooked us up to his pick up truck and pulled us out. Hero. This is where our luck turned back around. The campground, called Glamping Ruta de Arte y VIno, is basically 10 acres of open land dotted with restored vintage Airstream trailers that they rent out, plus a little communal area with showers and a bar and a little kitchen. Sometimes they show movies. Winter is their low-season so there was hardly anyone else there. It was amazing. Cesar told us all the great places to go. We ended up staying 3 nights. Villa de Guadalupe is basically like Napa-South. Tons and tons of wineries, beautiful scenery, some of the best food I’ve had in a long time. There are lots of little hole-in-the-wall places, but also a ton of more upscale eateries some of which are attached to the vineyards. The recognition of the strong wine game attracted the attention of some amazing chefs. Everything is kind of campestre, which I think means country-style. Everything local. Lots of grilling over wood and eating outside. Suckling pig. Smoky beef cheek tacos. Handmade tortillas and shredded lamb. Fresh cheese. Oh, and the ocean is only about 30 minutes away. You know what? You should look it up!
We did a few great wine tastings. Turns out the reason you don’t hear a lot about Mexican wine is that like 95% of it goes to restaurants in Mexico city. You’re only allowed to bring back 1L per person, so the best way to enjoy Mexican wine is to drink it in Mexico. Which is what we’re going to do. The van is stocked.
After 3 nights in the Valle we headed down to Ensenada, which is probably the biggest city we’ll see for a while. We’re in shockingly pleasant RV park called Ramona Beach right on the Ocean. We took the local bus into town today where we had some top notch ceviche tostadas from a semi-famous street cart called Guerrerense, changed some money, and bought some toilet paper.
We were planning on having some fish tacos and trying a Margarita at the bar where they were invented, but apparently Monday is the day that everything in Ensenada is closed. Oh well. Maybe on the way back. Now we’ll either head south or possibly detour to the east to check out San Felipe and some hot springs we heard about. Stay tuned.