Topes, tacos, Tecate, travelers, and tore up roads, these are the 5 T’s of Baja that we quickly learned in our first week in Mexico. Number one, topes. These invention of the Mexican devil, known as Mexican highway 1, are put on the roadways to plague the unsuspecting overlander as they make their way to the nearest beach. Although numerous books, blogs, and warnings have been made of these suspension wrecking bumps, we were not quite prepared for the entity that is a Mexican tope. Sometimes, there might be warning signs on the road such as a innocuous appearing car ascending a sudden steep hill, or a bump outlined by rays of sunlight as if to foretell an amazing feature in the road ahead, but not always. Often topes precede towns, but not always. If you are lucky, there are topes are in the middle of towns to warn of stoplights at intersections that are not really intersections, but not always. Occasionally, topes are preceded by a series of mini topes, but not always. From what we can determine from our Mexican driving experience thus far topes are just what they are, there but not always.
At least topes are followed by tacos, in our 5 T’s of Baja. I used to be able to wax eloquently about the attributes and virtues of tacos for quite some time as they are one of my top five all time favorite foods, but I had no concept of a true taco until I ate a taco from a dusty roadside stand in Baja Mexico. No fancy sauces or cheese on this taco, simply tortilla, beef, salsa, and a squeeze of lime. In other words, pure delicious heaven. Since that first taco in Ensenada, the only meals we have eaten out are at roadside taco stands. Most of the time we have a hard time understanding the Spanish (mostly because we are major slackers and didn’t put any effort into learning before we left…major mistake), but we can understand a few words, rez, pollo, o pescado? maize o harina? and then hand gestures towards the heaping mounds of lime, salsa, chiles, and cilantro….yum. We have also recreated a few delicious vegetable tacos in the Skamper, but are still building up our courage to buy meat at the market.
Those who know us well know we enjoy a good cold beer. Adjusting to the Mexican heat after 4 years of Alaska living, aka temperatures never above 70 F, has been difficult for us, this difficulty has been eased by a wonderfully cold Tecate (or 2) each evening at camp. I miss the hoppy IPA’s from the states, but put a squeeze of lime into any Mexican beer and it turns into a refreshing, tasty beverage. From the RV park in Santa Tomas to the cool crisp air in Parque Nacional San Pedro Matir, to Playa Santispec in Bahia Concepcion on the Sea of Cortez we always look forward to popping the top, raiding the fridge, and that first sip of refreshing coldness.
In the first six days we spent in Baja, we met a total of four groups of travelers embarking on the Pan American highway. Our first day after making it through the Tijuana border relatively intact, we headed through Ensenada with our first beach camping destination in mind. Its only 17 miles down a dirt road, and we have no information about the conditions of the road, but we knew we could make it. Lesson numero uno of Baja was learned a mere 4 miles into the the 17 mile road, guide books are outdated and always research road conditions before turning down one. We were pummeled by huge, merciless washboards and feared that Suzie would get shaken off the back of the truck so we turned around. Not 5 minutes after we turned around a sweet Toyota land cruiser type vehicle with European plates roared by us, stopped and we pulled up beside it. We had met our first fellow PanAmer’s! Aly, his wife and 4 year old daughter are from Germany and plan on taking 8 months for their journey. They are experienced overlander’s and interesting people and we look forward to seeing them on the road. Our third night in Baja we pulled into Bahia de Los Angeles after a long day, on the tail end of the storm/hurricane that had swept up from Baja Sur. The next morning we explored the beach and the town and were relaxing at the campsite when 2 gringos approached from the beach. It was Joe and Kylee of Patagonia or Bust. We knew they had left San Diego the day after us and were camped just down the beach. They spotted Suzie from the water and that evening we enjoyed some cervezas and conversation, hopefully the first of many such meetings! After two nights in Bahia de Los Angeles and a night in Punta Chivato we headed to Bahia Concepcion, from all reports full of beautiful sandy beaches and crystal clear water. Pulling into Playa Santispec we noticed a group of 3 Sprinter vans, we had ran into Bryan and chatted briefly in San Ignacio, but here was the whole crew from Southern Tip Trip in one place. Joe, Kylee, and Aly and his family were also all camped at Santispec and we gathered around discussing our vehicles and plans for the rest of the trip. It was so much fun to chat with everyone and we enjoyed a good time at the restaurant that evening with the overlanders and the entire snowbird population of Bahia Concepcion. Those snowbirds sure know how to party!
We came into Mexico expecting the roads to be rough, but they have held a few surprises. As I mentioned above, the topes have been a bit more brutal then anticipated but Mex 1 hasn’t been too horrible. It has mostly been every single dirt road we have turned onto. Washboards, ruts, rocks, and washouts have plagued us and limited our ability to get off the beaten path. The first night we were determined to make it to Todos Santos 17 miles down a dirt road, only to be thwarted by 6 inch deep washboards. Undeterred a few days later we headed for Punta Chivato past Santa Rosalia, 10 miles down a dirt road. We had heard that the road was decent, but the storm damage from the hurricane a few days earlier had turned the road into a washed out river bed. We persevered past not one, but two stuck graders and made it to a pristine, deserted, free beach.
The next day the graders had freed themselves and the road was in much better condition. We then attempted a dirt road on Bahia Concepcion, but that was washed out and required 4WD as well. The hurricane had wreaked havoc everywhere!
Overall Baja has been everything we expected. We are savoring our time here taking in the pristine beaches, ocean, delicious food and friendly people. One more week in Baja then to mainland we go!