RV Roadtrip to Baja Post #4:

Hello again. Our internet access (and our attitude) has been extremely spotty.  I’m not sure when we’ll actually be able to upload anything…possibly not until after this whole trip is over. But, for what it’s worth, I’m writing this almost two weeks after our last post, you know, the whales (some video below).. Let me catch you up.

 

Two weeks ago, even before the whale watching, we started feeling a little oppressed by the miles and miles and kilometers and kilometers of harsh desert landscape, zombie towns, and semi-sketchy RV parks we were leaving in our wake. The landscape really is beautiful, some of the best (and frequently most treacherous) scenic driving ever. But enough is enough. Keep in mind, when we saw the whales we were barely halfway down the peninsula and we knew we’d still have to drive back again. We were kind of losing it. We were ready for some picture-perfect-seaside camping, interrupted only by life-changing fish tacos and/or local fisherman offering up some of their catch as they wearily returned in their cute little boats.*  So we decided to skip some stops in order to reach the more promising destinations in the south.20180213_123510

We had to hole up somewhere along the way, and we’d heard good things about a town called Mulege. So we went. Mulege is indeed a cute little town. There are stores there that are open regularly. There’s a very nice RV camp along the river that is walking distance to the town and the beach. It’s well-run and welcoming with shaded private sites and actual people instead of zombies. The whole town is kind of like an oasis. Parts of it are lush and green because there is a river that runs through it to the ocean. And there’s a mission. Very nice. Mulege is becoming a popular retirement spot for ex-pats, but despite the recent activity it does manage to retain some  of the characteristics of other Baja desert towns: an overall feeling of desolation, a gauntlet of dogs in the streets, almost everyone speaking Spanish. This is the kind of place that many people who know us would expect us to move to. Not quite, guys. Not quite. We moved on after a couple of days. 

 

Our next big push put us solidly in the south. We passed through La Paz, the capital of the Baja Peninsula, but decided not to stop. Once you get to La Paz, the highway basically does a loop hat will take you through a few popular spots including Los Barriles, Cabo San Lucas, and Todos Santos. We were planning to skip Cabo (we’ve heard it’s very touristy and not that rv friendly). We opted to start with Los Barriles, not only because our book recommended it but also because we got an email from someone who actually reads this blog and who’s spending the winter there. Done.

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There’s the loop. Under La Paz.

 

Pulling into Los Barriles was a shocker. It was like falling out of Mexico into a regional American beachtown, but with dirt roads and everyone on 4-wheelers. Or ATVs. Or quads. Whatever they’re called. Compared to everywhere else we’d been, the place was packed. And everything was in English again. We were tooling up and down the main street looking for the RV place, kind of freaking out. It was like culture shock. Suddenly,  Jennifer tells me that some lady was trying to wave us down. What? Did I inadvertently run over an ATV? Possible. Happily, it turns out that it was the woman, Colleen,  who emailed us! She recognized us. Madness. We made plans to meet up later.

 

Apparently, one of the big draws for Los Barriles is the kiteboarding. And the cheap retirement. It’s an interesting place. Lots and lots of Canadians and Americans either retire or spend every winter there. I’m not sure we got to speak  any Spanish there at all. Also, there’s this huge trend of people buying RV sites and building permanent structures on them. Like on top of the RV.  Los Barriles has a lot to offer in terms of kiteboarding, ATVing, SUPing, kayaking, and charter fishing.  We used to live in the World’s Greatest Small Beachtown (in Delaware) and this really was not that different. It was nice, but not enough of a payoff for all the desert driving. Without question, the highlight of this part of the trip was going out to dinner with Colleen and Betsy. If you ever have the opportunity to go out to dinner with someone who voluntarily reads about your life (unlike many, many people we actually know), do it. You will love them. I hope we get to see them again, even if they try to talk me into kiteboarding.

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Wembley remains extremely skeptical about kiteboarding.

 

Next, we set our sights on Todos Santos, a much-lauded, boho chic destination for those in the know. Or, anyone who reads Vogue. Or, anyone who might be staying at an amazing boutique hotel or renting a house. It’s a very cool place. The beaches are, in fact, stunning. Mostly freezing and unswimmable, but stunning. It’s on the Pacific and you get all the dramatic, cliffy coastline action. There are tons of different beaches and they seem mostly deserted, in a good way. The whole area is popular with surfers. The town itself is largely bent towards tourism. Lots of silver shops and leather-goods stores, art galleries, like that. There are apparently many fine restaurants in the area, with an emphasis on farm-to-tableness because of the presence of several organic farms nearby. And we found amazing mariscos, coffee, and a good natural food store, because we are predictable. 

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Natural Food Store

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Beach

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Coffee

 

Unfortunately, we were not staying in a boutique hotel. We were staying at the only RV park in town, because we are idiots. It was far and away the most depressing place we’ve stayed so far. We picked it because we wanted to be able to walk into town, which we did, through dusty streets, dodging the ubiquitous free-range dogs. What was different in Todos was that the RV park manager actually warned us that some of the neighborhood dogs were biters and that we for sure should not walk around with our own dogs. She also helpfully showed us how to pretend-throw rocks at the aggressive dogs should they bother us. Thanks, Sylvia.

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Welcome.

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Our home in Todos

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Our neighborhood in Todos Santos

 

Would I go to Todos Santos again? Absolutely. Would I drive 1000 miles through the desert to get there? Probably not. It’s just not the best way to visit. If you want to go to Cabo or Todos or La Paz or Los Barriles, buy a plane ticket and rent a car. We actually considered renting a house and parking the RV for a week or so, but that’s not really the point of this trip, so we didn’t do it. 

 

We’re kinda bummed, guys. It’s like when you’re all excited for Olympic gymnastics and your favorite gymnast comes out and does great on the first event, absolutely kills it,  and then has a tiny little wobble on the balance beam. Big deal, lots of events to go, right? And then…she doesn’t quite stick the landing on the vault. Okaaay. If she absolutely crushes the parallel bars and the floor routine she still has a shot at the podium. That’s what this trip feels like. We’re running out of opportunities to pick up enough points to make it onto the Roadtrip Podium.  Gold is almost certainly off the table. We still haven’t found that fantastic place that would make this trip make sense. I’m very tempted to rename this blog “Jennifer and Cj: Driving the Entire Transpeninsular Hwy, So You Don’t Have To.” Really. But that’s in my darker moments. And it’s not over yet. We still have to drive back. 

 

*These were our expectations because our pre-trip knowledge of Baja pretty much consisted of long-ago references in Beverly Hills 90210 and reports from friends who fly into Todos Santos (probably first-class), spend a week in what I’m willing to bet is a stunningly quaint rental house, and fly home. We love you, guys.

 

RV Roadtrip to Baja Post #3: Whale Watching in Guerrero Negro

 

Greetings, amigos. We made it from Bahia de Los Angeles to Guerrero Negro, back on track on the main route. We stopped at Guerrero Negro for one thing: whale watching. In the winter, gray whales migrate from Alaska to Guerrero Negro  to have their baby whales. According to our books, it’s an amazing experience and you sometimes get to see the whales up close and possibly even touch them in a non-Seaworld scenario. We all know Seaworld sucks. Thank you, Blackfish.

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Sea lion sighting while whale watching. No extra charge. Nature’s bounty.

Seeing the whales is really the only reason to go to Guerrero Negro. It’s not a tourist town. It’s a company town. The company is an open-air salt mine. One of the biggest in the world. Not kidding. It’s actually kind of fascinating, but I’ll spare you the details. Anyway, we spent the night at an RV Park that’s basically just a parking lot with a restaurant. It’s also the place from which the whale tours depart, which was great, because you just hop on the tour bus at 8 and they drop you back-off at 12:00. Check-out time is at 1 so we were able to leave the pups in the RV for the tour and not have to worry about Wembley attacking a whale and disrupting an ecosystem.

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This is the restaurant at the place where we stayed. It was actually fabulous. It was exactly how I imagine a nice steak house dinner in Mexico would be in 1974. We got a seafood platter, otherwise I would have ordered a Brandy Alexander.

 

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This is the guy who sat in front of me in the boat. This was my view for a lot of the trip. Also, that’s the tour company we used. Fantastic.

The tour company drives you out to the preserve and then they load you into these little boats with a captain. Our captain was Juan and we had a total of six people in our boat, including us and Juan. There are two tours per day and there are never more than six boats allowed on the bay at a time. Once we were all life-jacketed, we motored out into the bay and…bam. Whales. Very, very cool. The whales were feeling good and playing with the boats and, yes, we all got to touch them. The whole operation was stellar. Everyone was super-professional and knowledgeable. I cannot recommend this trip highly enough. And as soon as you’re done, do everyone a favor and get out of Guerrero Negro. We have some video, but there is little to no chance we’ll be able to upload it right now. Here are the whales:

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It is much easier to photograph whales playing with other boats. I imagine Jennifer and I feature prominently in that family’s photos. Sweet.

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Up close and personal.

 

Disclosure: We wrote this weeks ago. We just haven’t had enough service to post it. Posts may be appearing wily-nilly, as wifi access permits.

Next stop: Mulege.

RV Roadtrip to Baja. Post #1: San Diego to Ensenada.

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.

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This is us. Having a blast….at an rv park in Mexico.

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.

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Here’s a picture of a fish market in Ensenada instead.

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).

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Over the border!

 
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.

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Only puddle in ten acres and we found it.

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.

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Wine country.

 

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.

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Plaza de Patria in Ensenada

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Where we stayed. Kicking it like retired Canadians.

 

 

 

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Mariscos tostadas on the Street!

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.  

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$4.98 Walmart chairs looking good!