Baja Mexico, December 14, 2021 – January 12, 2022
Querencia: A place from which one’s strength is drawn, where one feels at home; the place where you feel your most authentic self. (Language: Spanish)
It was an emotional day when we finally crossed the border to Tijuana. It was December 14th and I woke to the news that my dear uncle had passed away in Minnesota. It felt strange to be travelling in the opposite direction of family that was hurting and I was feeling regret for not having visited him. After days of sunshine in Oceanside, California it was incredibly stormy, adding to the moodiness of the day. The wind was fierce and it felt like we were towing a massive sail down the road. Will had become comfortable driving Francine, but this was an entirely new experience and challenge to keep it between the lines. Our confidence in her also waned after she threw a few tantrums on the journey south from Tacoma. We wondered if we shouldn’t have been so cheap and bought something newer. I was doing my best as navigator, but I missed turns and was confused with exits. The anticipation of crossing the border into a country where we didn’t speak the language with a house on wheels was scary and unnerving. Tension was rising and we were at each other. I was crying and secretly we were both wondering what in the world we were doing.
Fortunately, the border crossing was smooth. We were in and out in 45 minutes with our Temporary Import Permit (TIP) for Francine and a 180-day tourist visa for Mexico (FMM). The crazy weather continued for a few hours, with roads in far worse condition than those in the US. Will had never been so stressed driving in his life, and he spent 20 years driving through icy and snowy roads in Canada & the US! We stopped in Ensenada where we stumbled through Spanish to fill up with gas, withdraw pesos and order tacos. I was on a 640-day streak with Duolingo and embarrassed of how little I could speak! We agreed that heading straight to the Valle de Guadalupe region for our couple nights was a great idea. It has become a well-known area for food and wine, and by mid-afternoon we were ready for wine! We stayed two nights at an RV Park run by a kind expat from America whose is deaf, and his family moved there when he was young to run a school for blind children. We took his recommendations for wineries and had some interesting tastings!
We were craving beach, so we drove on to San Felipe where we spent an unexpectedly frigid night before continuing on to Bahia de Los Angeles. There we stayed at an eco RV park that was started by a couple who were marine biologists in the area. Sadly, the husband died quite young so their son quit his job in the wine industry to return home to run the business with his mom. It was a story I related all too well with. We had great chats and supported them by purchasing bottles of local wine from their selection! We met fellow travelers, and enjoyed several glasses of wine with a German biker named Andreas who was pedaling through the desert. Although we loved this place, we weren’t thrilled to still be wearing wool sweaters, so after a couple nights we continued south toward the beaches of Baha Concepcion.
Our first night wild camping in Mexico was at a square in San Ignacio near a mission. This is also where we drank our first margarita (or three…) and tried mezcal. The combination of teens squealing their car tires around the square all night, a man raking at 4 am, and me stressing about work lead to a terrible night of sleep (perhaps margaritas and mezcal didn’t help). We drove through a hangover to the quaint town of Mulege and camped surrounded by banana trees, friendly Canadians, Americans and hummingbirds. Knowing the beaches further south wouldn’t have any services, WiFi or cell reception, we charged up, stocked up on supplies, emptied our tanks, filled up with water and headed to Playa Los Cocos on December 23.
We intended to stay for one night, but we secured a palapa on the beach and ended up staying for four and enjoyed a magical Christmas. Bioluminescence lit up the shore at night and our bodies glowed as we moved through the water. We’d watch the pelicans dive like fighter pilots after fish. Vendors arrived daily selling fresh seafood, produce, mezcal, rugs, tamales, hammocks, ice, kayaks for rent, etc. We didn’t need to leave. And the best part of the beach was the people. We wanted to adopt Francois, the beautiful man in the palapa next to us, to be our dad. He lent us his kayak and bikes, took us on a hike, gave tips on future destinations and we shared deep life chats around the fire (after he warned us that scorpions do like to hide in firewood, so beware!). He shared his incredible love story of his life with his wife, who he sadly lost in their mid-50s to early onset Alzheimer’s. A heartbreaking story, but he was making the most of his life and is a man we’ll never forget. We liked him so much we followed him to the next beach.
We stopped for a couple nights in the town of Loreto. We met a nice couple from France & New Zealand on the street who were doing the same journey as us in a Sprinter. We also bumped into Kuan & Victor, a cool couple we’d met at Los Cocos. Will was drooling over their rig at that beach, so he easily spotted them again. They strolled past us enjoying 2-for-1 margaritas and sat down to have a chat. We hit it off like a house on fire and decided we’d be travel buddies to Agua Verde, the next beach we were following Francois to. After a few more cocktails and guacamole, we made a plan to head out the next morning with walkie talkies and convoy through the rustic roads to the paradise we’d heard about. Francine is a much older, much frailer sibling to Kuan & Victor’s “Chemin,” so we were lucky to have them assist with airing down tires to drive the rocky roads and wait for us along the way. After a few hours of bumpy driving, we arrived at the beach for delicious fish tacos and beers. We met two couples who were on an 8-year sailing trip, which made our 1-year driving trip seem wimpy! Hearing the choices people make to prioritize travel and adventure has consistently inspired our journey.
The next few nights were magic. We put Francine to the toughest test so far getting to camp down a steep, bumpy, washed-out road, and joined 5 other camper rigs/vans we’d met at Playa Los Cocos. We had beaches in the front and back of us, mountains on the sides, clear water, jumping fish, diving pelicans and spectacular stars. At low tide we could walk 20 minutes to the fish taco stand and a little tienda/store. Kuan, Victor and I used our best Spanish to ask the owner of the taco stand if she’d be up for cooking a New Year’s Eve meal for our crew of 11. She graciously agreed and served us a delicious buffet of tacos, beans, fish, mole, rice, margaritas, etc. We had to be there by 6 pm as she had a party to get to! Back at camp we had a bonfire after and all were asleep by 10 pm. On New Year’s morning I took a coffee on a hike up the mountain to watch the sun rise. It was the perfect start to 2022.
We reluctantly left our little paradise on the Sea of Cortez when the wind set in, and crossed over to the surf town of Todos Santos on the Pacific. We parked out front a hostel so that we could use showers and WiFi and explore the town. It only took a few hours of being in a touristy town before we were antsy to hit the beach again. We made a stop at the taco stand where the most locals were hanging out and then hit the beach for a few more nights. To our delight, the whales were breaching and spawning and active the entire time we were there. We’d hear them communicating as we’d swim underwater. We walked down the beach to watch baby turtles get released into the wild. It was also the right time to watch the moon set on the horizon shortly after the sun set (have I mentioned that Baja is magical?). And to make things even better, Kuan & Victor joined us for the action!
Being inseparable at this point, the four of us took off together inland to enjoy lobster tacos and margaritas made from the local cactus in Miraflores. It was a steamer of a day, so we drove back across to the Sea of Cortez to camp on the beach near Cabo Pulmo. Victor & Will gathered firewood while I cooked dinner inside Francine. I heard frantic commotion and looked outside to see my crew holding their feet up. Scorpions had started crawling out of the firewood when they threw it on the fire (Francois was right!). Although all remained unharmed, 5 scorpions and 2 poor little lizards attempted unsuccessfully to escape the burning firewood that night. We found a new beach for the next night. We all said it was to find better snorkeling, but pretty sure we wanted to escape nightmares of scorpions!
We left our buds and headed north to La Ventana to see an old Canadian friend from Melbourne. We met her at a Canada Day party our first year in Australia. She had since moved to London but was in Baja visiting family. We had a great catch up and then headed to La Paz to recharge and prep for our ferry ride to the mainland of Mexico. We parked Francine in a tight spot at a cool hostel in the centro (city center). Will worked on the camper while I did laundry and explored the city., and we were delighted when Kuan & Victor chose to drive in to join us for our last night in Baja. We walked to a great spot for food and drink and closed the joint down (closing time was 8:30!). Back at the hostel we enjoyed one last drink together in the common area. An author from Mexico City was staying at the hostel and sat down to join us. Then a whirlwind of a man bolted through the door spewing a story of being assaulted by a taxi driver. He sat down and dominated the conversation. He claimed to be an “Indiana Jones” looking for treasures in sunken ships, to have owned an island covered in bird poop he wanted to sell, to be trained to sing by Frank Sinatra, to have won the Ukranian X Factor , and to have appeared on Doctor Phil after being kidnapped by his Ukranian ex-girlfriend’s Russian friends. We thought he was full of bologna, but after much Googling we realized all his stories were true. (This guy…Modern Day Indiana Jones: https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1991-04-17-me-215-story.html. X Factor in Ukraine: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9E996gxRerA, Doctor Phil: https://www.villagenews.com/story/2011/05/09/news/fallbrook-man-and-his-mother-to-appear-on-dr-phil-show-may-13/28098.html, and there is certainly much more!) What a night to end our time in Baja.
We savored our last morning in Baja by running along the malecon (waterfront) and enjoying coffee with Kuan & Victor. We bumped into our buddy Andreas from Bahia de Los Angeles and learned he gave up on pedaling his bike and shipped it to Mexico City!
Filled with flat whites and warmth of friends, we headed to the ferry terminal. We’d heard nightmares about getting a spot on the ferry and the crossing itself, so we arrived shortly after 11 am for a 7 pm departure. Despite our attempt to make a reservation with TMC Ferries a few days prior, they had no record of it. We spent $323 USD on our ticket and waited until 5 pm to board, which involved Will backing Francine all the way to the top of the ferry. Aside from three other campervans, the ferry was filled with freight, including a trailer full of crying goats parked next to us. The couple we met on the street in Loreto was in their Sprinter van next to us. We had drinks together in Francine and shared stories of our adventures and plans for the next phase of the trip. The seas were calm and we were allowed to sleep inside Francine (which beat the alternative of sleeping on the floor of the lounge). After fifteen hours on the water we arrived in Mazatlan.
We’d been on the road for two months by the time we arrived in mainland Mexico. Surprisingly neither of us felt a desire to book a hotel or get a night away from Francine. Perhaps it can be explained as querencia. We were now fully confident with her and she felt like home. We were learning to travel and live at a slower pace, enjoying the highs and lows of the experience. We were (and are) feeling our most authentic selves.