The first few days in Baja

We arrived at the Mexican border in the early afternoon on the 3rd of February.

Getting through customs was a very simple process. As expected, we were pulled aside, compared to the majority of cars that were simply waved straight through. The official to a cursory glance in the back, checked that we had some kind of document that proved it was ours and waved us on. He didn’t check we had insurance, or any paperwork for Aimee or even our passports. Knowing that we needed to get some kind of paperwork sorted, although you could have easily gone without it, we asked him where the immigration office was.

We parked up and went searching, not the easiest place to find, but once we were there we were directed to another person who set about getting us our tourist visa sorted. We didn’t really know what we needed, apart from that we needed something to show our entry date into Mexico for when we tried to return to the US. An English speaking person told us that the border officials might not consider visiting Mexico as ‘meaningful’ in terms or renewing our visa but when we explained we were on a B2 rather than an ESTA, he seemed to think it would be ok. It only took us around half an hour and cost $50 for both of us to get a 6 month visa for Mexico, compared to several months and $500 for a US one. Happy we had got the right paperwork, we headed back to the van and went about heading south to our first spot for the night. Starting by leaving Tijuana.

We had spoken to a lot of people about our plans to go into Mexico and had been met with a range of responses. Some voiced their outright horror at the idea and told us we would probably be shot, decapitated or at the least held hostage by a cartel. Others pronounced it a great idea, and talked of the cheap but delicious food, the lovely beaches and warm weather. On the whole, these two vastly differing opinions seemed to have one thing in common. Those who warned us of grave dangers, hadn’t actually been to Mexico (it was far too dangerous) and those who said how nice it was had just come back (all in one piece, I might add). There is also a general consensus that Baja, where we are headed, is safer than mainland Mexico, it’s Moore touristy apparently. This is all very well, but nevertheless I think we were both a little apprehensive for our first night, especially as Tijuana is generally agreed on as not being a good place to stay by everyone. Therefore, we planned to clear the city and head for a campsite just south of Ensenada on the coast. Campsites are far cheaper here, and we were happy to spend a small amount of money to feel secure.

We drove an hour or so down the coast, the scenery gradually improving as we went.

Arriving around dusk, we were greeted on the gate by the owner, who charged us $5 for the night before we drove out onto the clifftop and parked up.

This is also something that was a little unclear. It seems that a lot of Mexico accepts US dollar as payments, rather than the local peso. Unsure of whether to get any local currency, we crossed the border with only dollars and so far most places gave the price in either currency. The north of Baja is also much like the US, there are still American store chains such as Walmart and such like. I did try a cash point as I prefer to have some of the local currency, but when it tried to charge me $15 for the privilege I decided we wouldn’t bother. Still, the owner of El Mirador campsite was perfectly happy with dollars.

It was a surprisingly still night for being high up on a clifftop, and the views were fantastic.

Aimee was back in the wild again, and enjoying it. Her new LED collar for night time that Lesley had bought us was put into use straight away. You can just spot her little blue light in the gathering dark…

Unfortunately for us, the tranquillity was not long lasting. Around 2am, the winds picked up and howled around us, rocking Ruby all over the place and not giving us much sleep after.

At least the morning was more pleasant. We rolled out of bed to a nice sunny, if breezy day, and decided to walk down to La Bufadora on the base of the cliff below. Firstly, here are the morning views of our camp spot.

La Bufadora, below.

A short scramble down, leads you into a busy row of shops and street food stands.

From here you can turn right and walk out the reason for this hub of activity, just past the large “ENSENADA” letters.

At the end of the walkway, there is a cleft in the cliffs which sprays water metres into the air with each passing wave.

After waiting for a few particularly good ones, we walked back and continued down the strip of shops. This was a quite intense experience ad ever shop owner is trying to give you tasters of food and drink and get you into there shop. You cannot walk a foot, without someone trying to lead you inside or shoving their products under your nose.

Nevertheless, we made it to the end and were convinced to buy a rather good Pina Colada in a pineapple. Lee also haggled with one of the owners and bought a poncho for $20.

Apparently the reason it is like this is because cruise ships come in here and bring in hordes of tourists to the area. I’m not a big fan of the hard sell technique, and I would have happily spent more time browsing around the shops had there not been several people trying to force me to.

Back up at the van, we decided it was time to pack up and move on. We wanted to continue working our way south as it is cheaper, safer and warmer! We had picked out a suitable looking area on iOverlander and were heading to a wild camping area on the coast. Only slightly put off by the fact that not far up the coast, someone had commented that people had turned up at 4am and shot up their RV, we figured this place had a lot of good reviews and no bad ones.

We had planned to spend around 5 weeks in Baja and we didn’t feel we needed to do big drives. We therefore only drove around an hour south and experienced our first proper dirt road. It was pretty rough to say the least, and I was surprised to see quite a few standard estate cars bumping along it. We parked up right by the beach on a large flat grassy area, which was a bit windy but still very picturesque.

We walked around the beach and watched the sunset on the rocks.

The wind had died down and we decided to risk sleeping in the pop top for the night as we had been debating sleeping downstairs. This is much quieter, but also a lot of faff. Luckily this time, the wind let us sleep and no one bothered us at all.

Now starting to feel like we were settling in a bit, we picked out our next stop off. On the way we stopped off to pick up a few necessities (beer and cheese) and also to swap some of our dollars for pesos just in case. The next campsite was in the car park of a partially built hotel. For 200mxp a night (that’s £8 or $11), you got water, hook-up and a key to one of the hotel rooms so you could use the toilet and shower. All with a nice view of the sea. Pretty happy with our choice, and looking forward to a shower after some dusty dirt roads, we set off on the final part of the journey.

The dirt road here was a lot better than the one we had navigated on the previous evening, and we soon arrived at the hotel. After using some sign language to explain what we wanted, we were told they didn’t have any rooms free so we could just have the basic camping for 150mxp. This is still a pretty decent price, and we were happy to have parked somewhere secure as we had a read a few reviews that said this area of the coast was not the safest.

The hotel was definitely mid-construction, though no one was working on it. It was quite nice looking, the parts that they had done but it looked like something had stopped the project so that only half to rooms on the bottom floor and a section of the top had been built.

The camping is a dirt car park, just below on the cliff. There was one other camper there, some people visiting from Oregon. We found out that they were leaving the next day, and saw that they had a hotel key. Hopefully we’d be able to go and use the showers once they had gone. For the remainder of the afternoon we sat outside in our camping chairs and enjoyed the sun. We have enjoyed many a good sunset since we’ve been here on the west coast, and tonight was no exception.

Sure enough, once the other camper had departed the following morning we were able to go and get ourselves a shower. We had a leisurely start to the day, before heading off feeling clean, with our water tanks full. Continuing to head further south, we picked ourselves another free spot for the night. This sounded like a good one, camped up on a free campsite by the beach. The reviews also mentioned that there was a litter of puppies there a few weeks ago.

We arrived mid-afternoon, and as we parked up on the top of the cliff we were indeed greeted by three dogs. Although not noticeably a puppy, one of them was definitely smaller and it looks like out of the original litter of 6, this was the sole one remaining. As we got out of the van they jumped all over us, delighted to see another person. Feeling sorry for any animal that is homeless, we gave them some water and cat food which they demolished in a matter of seconds. At this point we realised that we were not actually in the campsite, but on the hills above it. looking down there was a flat area at the bottom of the hill with shelters, fire rings, bins and a pit toilet. Thinking that this would be much better sheltered from the wind, we headed down and parked up, giving ourselves a gorgeous view of the sea.

A little while later, another camper arrived and tucked itself away in the other corner of the campsite. We noticed that it had Swiss number plates as it drove past, the first time since we’ve been here that we’ve seen EU plates. This is the first time we’ve seen another camper that’s been built and shipped over to the US rather than being bought here.

That night we were glad of being tucked away in the canyon, as it sheltered us on 3 sides from the wind off the sea. So far, Baja is quite a windy place and we don’t do so well in the wind. All in all, this led to a rather peaceful night’s sleep, not being exposed or as close the sea as were previously.

Soon enough, we met Katie and David from Switzerland, who were the owners of van we had seen the night before. We told them we would be having a fire later, provided we could find enough driftwood and that they were welcome to join us.

After giving the ever hungry dogs some more cat food, we headed off down the sea shore for a walk and in search of wood.

The bay where we were camped is full of locals collecting rocks off the beach and loading them into sacks, before a truck comes to collect them. Each bay that is accessible by road, or vague sandy track, has these people working away with sacks stacked all round them.

We hadn’t gone far before we met with on off the stray dogs, Jake. We had given them all names (Brooklyn 99 characters) the night before. Jake stayed with us all the way down the beach, chasing sea birds and running around.

We walked over some very volcanic looking rock formations…

It was a scenic coastline, at times we walked up on the rocks near the cliffs and then at times down on the sand.

We must have walked a few miles, before we decided to turn back, Jake happily trotting alongside.

Once we were back at the camp, Lee decided to head back out and collect the wood we had seen with a bag. I was left with three enthusiastic dogs to entertain. After a little while he was back, with a big bag of wood and a small tree. We set about attacking it with a machete, but soon David and Katie arrived and we used David’s saw which was more efficient.

Another van now arrived, proclaiming to be selling windows, clearly a second hand works van that was now a camper! The driver came over to check with us whether it was a free spot and we confirmed that surprisingly it was. We had a small-ish pile of logs at this point, when Lee mentioned there was another tree on the beach. The two blokes went out to collect the tree, while Katie and I chatted. With the last tree chopped and ready, we went to watch the sunset, before getting the fire going. The guys from the other camper came and joined us and we enjoyed a few beers around the fire.

The dogs, especially the puppy Rosa, where quite happy with the arrangement. I have never been a dog person, or wanted my own dog in any way. If there was ever going to be a point where I changed my mind it would probably have been then, with a cute little abandoned puppy curled up asleep on me. It was also so cute to watch her and Aimee try and figure each other out and play together.

It was also kind of nice walking down the beach with Jake earlier, and we loved Gina’s odd eyes too!

Part of me though about taking Rosa with us, but we’d need not only more space, but more money for another pet. Nevertheless it would be hard to leave in the morning.

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