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Rosarito Beach, BC > Playa Saldamando, BC
Saturday, August 27th:
Tear the Roofs off the Suckas
We stop for lunch at a seaside bar in Rosarito Beach, and enjoy the warm breeze as we sit on a deck drinking Mexican beer and looking through the slats at the foaming tendrils of broken waves flailing directly underfoot. The waitstaff all speak fluent English, and so I brazenly declare that my sister has over-emphasized the need for a Spanglish dictionary. *clink* We’re in Mexico!
Rosarito is the first town you come to after Tijuana when driving south down the coast of Baja; and although it is most definitely set up for and promoted to American tourists, once you get outside of the central tourism zone, the highway through town is lined with dilapidated shacks that many of the locals call home. Simple rooms made of concrete or adobe, no more than 12 x 12 feet square, and many with absolutely no roof– they just sit there baking in the pitiless, dry, and relentless afternoon sun. And on rainy days- well, that can’t be all that convenient. So not even twenty miles south of the border and I’m already witnessing the worst poverty I’ve ever seen outside of Jamaica.
We spend the night at this ramshackle little campground called Playa Saldamando, a dozen miles north of the city of Ensenada. The spot, perched atop a seaside bluff with sweeping ocean views, was recommended by my sister, who has been down this way before. Despite its proximity to the ocean, the place is kind of a shit-hole: rutted access roads with huge potholes, campsites of impenetrably hard, uneven ground peppered with disconcertingly-mysterious animal holes; but nevertheless it meets our needs for our first night abroad. And anyway, without it we would surely be paying some idiotically-overblown tourist rate for some stupid-ass fool’s hostel in Rosarito, where Mexican staff members would try as hard as possible to make sure that we feel as little as possible like we are outside of our quasi-comfortable nation of perfection- because that’s what most American tourists want as they travel the world: just enough of the new, foreign country to convince them that they have actually visited and therefore “experienced” a remote culture, but not so much as to actually expose them to any of the threats, inconveniences, or other anti-amenities associated with an actual worldly experience.
By all means, give me a cheap-ass parking lot purporting to be a campground, complete with painted rocks and digits on posts, and I promise I will fill in the rest. I know how to do this- I’ve been at it for a long time.
You Can Check In Anytime You Like…
Without first acquiring an extended tourist visa, Americans are legally prohibited from going any further south on the Baja peninsula than the city of Ensenada, which is about 70 miles down. “Fortunately”, you can get these tourist visas in Ensenada, for twenty-five-ish bucks (but you can also get them in San Diego before you even cross the border, which I would highly recommend). Un-fortunately, the process (at least from my experience) is, for no good reason, an unspeakably maddening pain in the ass, thanks to widely-pervasive apathy and institutionalized corruption, and the troublesome fact that no two Mexican officials seem to have the same idea of what the law is in any given situation.
…But You Can Never Enter
That said, the process of getting a tourist visa in Ensenada does provide an invaluable tutorial in how to keep one’s cool in the face of gun-wielding Mexicops/soldiers trying to provoke you into giving them a reason to fuck you over and throw you in jail over nothing. Because believe me- you’re gonna need that skill once you get a little deeper into the country. So, if you’re the type of person who is likely, even at your own grave peril, to lose your nerve and snap when faced with a futile and contentious standoff with powers of authority, better to find that out here in Ensenada, before you’ve really committed to Mexico, than after you’ve dropped far enough south that turning tail and making a run for the border is no longer an option.
Then again, I am most definitely that type of person, and I kept going past Ensenada; and I did eventually make it back stateside, albeit barely- and not on my own timetable.
Anyway, so yeah- if you can make it through the immigration paperwork process without assaulting a government official, then you should be fine in Mexico, more or less. That said, I wouldn’t advise choosing your course of action in any given situation based on the fact that I got through a similar situation more or less in one piece. I make a better cautionary tale than a role model, for better or worse.
Previous: Chapter 2: Border Song and Dance