Baja Mexico: The Journey of Almost No Return – Chapter 3: Tear the Roofs Off the Suckas

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The touristy part of Rosarito Beach. (photo by Cesar Bojorquez)
The part of Rosarito they want you to see (and pay to stay at).
(photo by Cesar Bojorquez)

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.

This is one of the nicer roadside homes we saw in and around Rosarito. (image by en.wikipedia.org)
Boasting a corrugated tin roof, this was one of the nicer roadside homes we saw in and around Rosarito.
(image by en.wikipedia.org)

Playa Saldamando

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.

When my sister tells you where to go camping in Mexico, you just do it. (photo by D. Speredelozzi)
When my sister tells you where to go camping in Mexico, you don’t ask a lot of questions- you just do it.
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

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.

Livin' la vida Baja, Playa Saldamando. (photo by D. Speredelozzi)
Livin’ la vida Baja, Playa Saldamando.
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

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.

Ensenada at night. (image property of en.wikipedia.org)
Ensenada at night.
(image property of en.wikipedia.org)

…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

Next: Chapter 4: Ensenada Immigration Follies

Baja Mexico: The Journey of Almost No Return – Chapter 2: Border Song (and Dance)

(Click here to Return to Chapter 1)

Cast in the role of "Traveling Amelie Santa-Gnome Type Character", Chico the Bear takes a look down the California Coastline, trying to imagine, if he might, what awaits south of the border. (photo by D. Speredelozzi)
Cast in the role of “Traveling Amelie-inspired Santa-Gnome Type Character”, Chico the Bear takes a look down the California Coastline, trying to imagine, if he might, what awaits south of the border.
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

Day 02

Huntington Beach, CA > San Diego, CA > Rosarito Beach, BC

Saturday, August 27th:

Chalk and I leave my sister’s place in Huntington Beach.  As we are leaving, she offers me a pocket-size Spanish-English dictionary, and I decline with a brazen, off-the-cuff “Pshaw, I won’t need that.  I’m sure everyone knows English down there.”

Allow me to interject right here to fully own and admit just what an idiotic and obliviously white-Amero-centric view that is to take.  The whole world must speak English, because that’s how it is where I’ve always lived!

Luckily my sister is not giving up that easily.  “Just take it”, she insists, firmly pushing the invaluable, weightless, 6x4x1-inch book into my limp, reluctant, ungrasping hand.  “What possible reason could you have not to take it?”

And so, not yet fully immune to the persuasive power of simple, well-articulated good sense advice, I relent, and take the little dictionary from her.

If I hadn’t, we would have never been heard from again.

Real-Life "Frogger" Zone Ahead: Proceed With Caution. These signs appear with increasing frequency along the southbound lanes of San Diego-area freeways as one approaches the border crossing at Tijuana. (image by worddrum.wordpress.com)
Real-Life “Frogger” Zone Ahead: Proceed With Caution.
These signs appear with increasing frequency along the southbound lanes of San Diego-area freeways as one approaches the border crossing at Tijuana.
(image by worddrum.wordpress.com)

First Circle of Purgatory: San Diego

We stop at the last exit before the border to acquire a temporary Mexican auto insurance policy.  Anybody who has ever made it back safely from a road trip down to Mexico owes their safe return to the fact that they didn’t go down there without some kind of valid auto insurance.

Most, if not all, U.S. auto insurance policies do not extend their coverage across the Mexican border; so it is imperative that you get your ass covered before you head down there.  And anyway, you have no excuse, since a) it costs essentially nothing to get a temporary Mexican policy, and b) the northern sides of U.S./Mexico border crossings are as thick with businesses sporting “Get your Mexican auto insurance policy here!” signs as are the street-corners opposite big city jailhouses with bail bonds services.

Wouldn't wanna be the guy to introduce illicit guns or other contraband to Mexico or anything like that. Not sure I could live with myself with that on my conscience. (image by imgbuddy.com)
Wouldn’t wanna be the guy to introduce illicit guns or other contraband to Mexico or anything like that. Not sure I could live with myself with such a thing on my conscience.
(image by imgbuddy.com)

The insurance policy costs like $24, covers us for pretty much anything that’s even remotely likely to happen to us down there (*ahem* – as long as we are not actively looking for trouble, that is), and is good for six months.  Oh, and it comes with a single “Get-out-of-jail-free” card, though the insurance dude makes sure that we understand that this can only be used if you get arrested in Mexico but haven’t actually committed a crime.  If you actually do something to get your ass thrown in jail down there, you’re on your own.  But if you get arrested on some nonsensical, bullshit pretense, which apparently is common enough in Mexico that it makes business sense for insurers to offer this perk in the first place, then you just make your phone call to the insurance people in San Diego, and they get you released more or less right away.

Insurance policy in hand, our next stop is the bank, to get cash before crossing the border.

¿Qué Necessita Effectivo?

We had intended to leave San Francisco a few days earlier than we had; but we’d been forced to wait around for my new ATM card to arrive in the mail, seeing as how an ATM card is an absolutely critical item which cannot be gone without in Mexico for reasons that hardly need articulating.

Nevertheless, by Friday (yesterday) morning we had grown too impatient to wait any longer, and so we just said fuck it and headed south without the bank card (which, incidentally, arrived in the mail about 45 minutes after we left my place).

Yeah, well y'know- we'll see. It's still early yet. (photo by D. Speredelozzi)
Yeah, well y’know- we’ll see.
It’s still early yet.
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

So here we are in San Diego, trying to figure out how much money to take out for the trip.  Not wanting to travel with an unnecessarily large amount of money, I brilliantly decide that I only need $600 to get me through the next several days, as “‘I’ll just go to the Bank of America in Cabo (San Lucas, at the southern tip of the Baja Peninsula, more than 1,000 miles away) to get out more money once we get down there (that’s foreshadowing, by the way, in case you can’t tell).”

We make one last stop, at the end of some random dead-end street behind a mini-mall, to stash our weed, and get the car in order before subjecting ourselves to the thorough scrutiny of an international border crossing.  We stuff the bag in an empty cigarette box, throw it under a bush, and are then finally ready to roll across the border, to whatever fate or adventure awaits us.  We get back on I-5 south to drive the last remaining third of a mile of U.S. soil separating us from the great unknown.

The Tijuana Shuffle

Up ahead, on the left side of the median, we can see the northbound lanes of traffic, queuing up for entry into the U.S. through the world’s busiest international border crossing.

San Ysidro Point of Entry- The world's busiest land border crossing. (photo by Phil Konstantin)
San Ysidro Point of Entry-
The world’s busiest land border crossing.
(photo by Phil Konstantin)

I have been across the Mexican border a few times in the past, but never via this particular port of entry, never for more than just a few hours, and never with the intent of going any further into the country than the strip of cheesy Americanized bars that sits, each in its own individual fashion, within a stone’s throw of some or another U.S. border crossing station. But this time we will be crossing the border at Tijuana, bound for a destination (Cabo San Lucas) over a thousand miles deep into the country, and staying for an unknown duration of time- a week or two, perhaps (we very loosely suppose, based on nothing).

I Believe I’ll Ride it Down to Mexico…

We are fully expecting to momentarily come upon some kind of toll booth/checkpoint-type thing where we will have to briefly explain to some dude- who doesn’t get paid enough to give a shit one way or the other- why we are going to Mexico, where we’re going in Mexico, and how long we intend to stay in Mexico.

But for some reason the Mexican authorities just don’t seem to be all that concerned about policing the incoming U.S. tourists, and whatever corruptive influence they might be having on their nation.  And to tell you the truth, I can’t see how this “anti-policy” has resulted in too many problematic breaches of national security sufficiently grave as to force a review of current protocols.

Getting into Mexico via the San Ysidro Port of Entry is about as difficult as rolling a ball down a ramp. (photo by www.huffingtonpost.com)
Getting into Mexico via the San Ysidro Port of Entry is about as difficult as rolling a ball down a ramp.
(photo by www.huffingtonpost.com)

Holy Moses, Have We Been Removed?

We never even slow down.  I remember seeing some cop standing next to his motorcycle on the shoulder of the highway, motionless, arms crossed, sternly regarding the freeway through impenetrable sunglasses, but doing nothing.

We whizz right by him, at speed, and before you can even say “¿Qué chingados?“, we are in downtown Tijuana, whizzing by decrepit parking lots, empty office buildings, and vibrant marketplaces, never having even so much as head-faked as if we might stop and attempt to justify this international sojourn to anybody. Our passing goes as utterly unremarked as would that of a 22-year-old brah in a white baseball cap crossing a beer line at a Dave Matthews Band concert.

And just like that, we are in Mexico.

Kind of.

I think about the cigarette box full of weed, stashed needlessly under that bush back in the U.S.A.- a million miles away.  We continue straight on through Tijuana and out the other side towards the coastline.  We’ll get our chance to dig in to some Mexican cities a little later in the trip; but for now, we’re trying to get somewhere.

Playa Saldamando Campground. (photo by D. Speredelozzi)
Playa Saldamando Campground.
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

Looka Like a Storm Brewin’

The signal slowly turns to static as we pass southward out of the reach of the San Diego radio stations.  The last thing we hear is yet another newsflash about this big hurricane that’s been bearing down on the Gulf Coast for the past few days.  Everybody’s been talking about it.  I guess it’s supposed to be one for the ages.

(to be continued)

 

Previous: Chapter 1

Next: Chapter 3: Tear the Roofs Off the Suckas