Home / Journal / Mexico (the first time)

 

Morning arrives—we get out of bed, pack up our Pine Valley hotel room and dip into a local diner for a spot of breakfast. The date is May 24 of 2017, the day we chose nearly a month ago to cross into Mexico. There was certainly some trepidation felt as it had been way too long since our last bit of international travel. We had our paperwork set and were about 50 miles from Tecate, the border crossing of our choice, so we had a bit of time in the morning to do some last minute research (can never have enough!). We finally got on the road about 11:30 and began to make our way south after an ATM and gas stop in the nearby town of Alpine.

Upon approaching the border, we stop to double-check our paperwork and passports and get things prepared as we are expecting to hand our passports to a border guard. As we drive in, however, we are just waved through and before we know it, are riding aimlessly around Tecate wondering where we actually need to go. We circle the block and return to the gate to ask somebody. Once back at the gate, we are motioned to park in a secure parking area.

After inquiring with the security guard, we are told to re-enter the border zone on foot. We head inside and ask a friendly official at the agricultural inspection and importation office where we are to go. He wasn’t sure himself, so he came out and walked us from office to office until we found the correct place, which ended up being directly opposite of the office in which he worked. We thanked him profusely and then continued on to successfully pay for and receive our tourist cards and confirm that our temporary vehicle import permit paperwork was correct.

Once the general confusion and slight intimidation of the border crossing was complete, the fun was about to begin. The plan was to head west until we found the road which would route us south of Tijuana. We would then take Mex 1 Libre to our campsite on the coast about 20 miles north of Ensenada. The reality was much more confusing and silly than we had expected.

First off, we end up on the toll (cuota) road with no exit in sight until we reach the toll station just before Tijuana. Back in Tecate, in all of our excitement and anxiety, we realize we had forgotten to inform our bank we would be traveling when attempts to withdraw money at an ATM were unsuccessful. Since we didn’t actually have any pesos to pay the toll, we were mercifully allowed to turn around and head back into Tecate to find the toll-free (libre) route we had originally wanted.

Once on the free road, we decided to stop for gas and check to see if we could find a map. Luckily Britt was able to find both a map of the entire Baja Peninsula and one of Ensenada, which would be the next days’ goal. Unfortunately, it still didn’t seem clear as to what road we needed to take, but we ended up taking a gamble on what we felt was the correct one. We turned off on a road marked ‘Valle de Guadalupe’ and found ourselves on a seemingly unused four-lane highway heading south. We were hoping it was the cut-across to Mex 3 (also known as ruta de vino or ‘the wine route’), which headed into Ensenada, but were not exactly sure due to lack of signage.

A few miles later, the four-lane highway abruptly ends in a single lane road to a college. After chatting with the security guard posted at the entrance, we are assured this is the way to Mex 3 and Ensenada. After consulting a few more security guards as the road circumnavigated the college property, they all seemed to bring us to the same conclusion: this was the way we wanted. On we rode.

This road, which had started out as a four-lane highway and had been quickly whittled down to a single-lane road leading to a security gate at a local college, was now downgraded again to a pothole-filled dirt road leading into the middle of what seemed like someone’s property. Very quickly after leaving the college campus, we find ourselves riding through the first of many chicken farms. Navigating the now sandy road surface isn’t as bad as trying to avoid the many semi-trucks roaring out of the dust at us. At this point Ehren is regretting ever turning down this path, but Britt reassures him that these trucks are coming and going from somewhere, which presumably has to be a main highway. We nonchalantly wave at the passing truckers and tough it out through some pretty ripe smells emanating from passing poultry barns.

Well, here goes nothing…

I think this will get us to where we want to go… eventually.

A town at last!

After 10-15 miles of this, we are eventually greeted with a small town. Even better, running through the center of this small town is our Mex 3 highway! Ehren was beside himself with relief and actually went as far as telling Britt she was right (a big win!). We cruised down Mex 3, took a cut-across to Mex 1 Libre just north of Ensenada and camped along some ocean cliffs at K58. After a long and confusing day on the road, we get settled in our tent (after a decadent camp dinner of generic boxed mac and cheese that had been riding with us for a few days) and are lulled to sleep by the sound of the Pacific washing ashore.

Enjoying the coastal clouds.

We had to sweet-talk the proprietor to let us camp with our motorcycles because when we first pulled up, he seemed awfully concerned that we would roost around and be noisy while ripping up his campground. This is not the first time we noticed anti-bike sentiment along the northern coast, though we figure it is probably the bad rep all bikes get from others who like to rip through beaches at top speed with dirtbikes.

Pretty excited about his mac ‘n’ cheese!

The next day we make our way to Ensenada with the mission of finding a hotel for Wifi and a motorcycle shop where we can do some oil changes. We also needed an ATM (to finally get pesos!) and some groceries. It’s a short drive into Ensenada, but we’re just a couple miles in and there’s police blocking the road in front of us. We assume it is a checkpoint and try to keep our cool as the police officer walks towards us. He says something to us in rapid Spanish and neither of us catch anything intelligible. Observing our confused faces and shoulder shrugs, he quickly goes to the pickup in front of us and says a few things in Spanish to the driver. The driver of the pickup gets out, walks back to us, and in perfect English explains, “The road is closed because they are filming The Walking Dead. (We later surmise it is actually ‘Fear the Walking Dead’ they were filming, as that is set on the west coast.) You have heard of it, yes? Only a few minutes more and we can go.” Sure enough, only a couple minutes pass before we can continue on our merry way to Ensenada.

Waiting for a break in filming.

The camera crew camp.

Upon arrival, we park on a harbor street near where we think the tourist information center is (the map wasn’t exactly clear) to get some information. We find instead that Fritz has a completely dead battery for no reason whatsoever. While Ehren diagnoses the issue, Brittany wanders off in search of information. When she returns, Ehren finds that the problem is with the regulator rectifier going bad and shorting itself out—oh, great. The kind lady at the tourist center had suggested some affordable hotels around the corner along with a recommendation for a motorcycle shop owned by friends of her family.

We make our way to the first hotel she suggested and were not impressed with its rates or receptionist. Britt then decides to try the hotel kitty-corner from it on a whim and likes the kind and open demeanor of its manager. That itself, along with its more agreeable rates, was what led us to stay at that particular establishment. We pay for a night, unpack our bikes and settle in for the afternoon to get some work done.

Our first goal was to check in with family via Skype, followed by other communication and social media. Upon opening Skype, there is a message from Ehren’s father saying to contact him as soon as possible.  As Ehren reads this, his mind is racing as to what it could be—he knows his father wouldn’t spend time at a computer typing this sort of message unless it was dire. We immediately call home… no answer. Ehren’s pulse starts to race and a deep anxiety is building fast. We next try his cell phone expecting to hear that the garage holding all of our earthly belongings had burned down, or that one of the cats was run over—anything. Ehren finally reaches him only to hear, “There’s no easy way to say this… your mother has been killed in a motorcycle accident.”

Immediately our life is turned upside down, and there are no words to describe how we feel. In times of extreme anxiety the mind tends to think at a million miles per hour. After taking a few minutes to ourselves trying to cobble together some sense of sense, we talk with Ehren’s dad again about our plan. We know what we need to do. Ehren starts researching and Brittany goes to the hotel manager to let him know of our early departure and inquire about the local airport. After discovering there is no airport in Ensenada and that a flight from Tijuana would be prohibitively expensive, ways of getting to San Diego International Airport are discussed, as the both of us are—understandably—in no state to ride our bikes the 90 or so miles to the airport.

The manager tells Britt he has a friend who runs an agricultural tourism business in the Baja wine country we just rode through the previous day. He calls his friend and, minutes later, reports to Brittany that he can give us a ride to the airport and will be at the hotel within the hour. Better yet, his business partner is willing to store our bikes and moto trailer for a couple of weeks while we deal with things back home. Returning to Ehren to share the news, we both run back to our room and crack into action, quickly repacking our things and figuring out what stays and what goes. For now, a change of clothes for each of us, phones, wallets and our passports is all that we allow—everything else is thrown into the trailer.

After our hotel manager’s friend arrives, we hop on the bikes and follow his Suburban over to his business partner’s house a couple miles away from the hotel. We roll the bikes and trailer up onto his porch, lock everything up and watch as he covers it all up with a couple of tarps. After reassuring him we would return in a few weeks to retrieve the bikes, we thank him and jump into the Suburban. A quick gas stop and we are northbound on Mex 1 Cuota. We start to make some small talk on our way to the border, but during our three-and-a-half hour wait to cross we come to know each other quite well. Chatting about anything from weather in Minnesota to agricultural engineering to the best dishes to eat in Baja kept our minds from lingering on the terrible news we had just heard hours previously.

After we finally get through the border it is only a short distance to our destination. We exchange contact info and thank him graciously at the airport before we run inside to find the next flight to Minneapolis. Delta doesn’t fly until the next morning. While standing in the line for United, we search online and find that American Airlines has a flight leaving in an hour-and-a-half. Sprinting for their desk in the other half of the terminal, we get our tickets and some Panda Express as it has been about 10 hours since we last ate something. Wheels up at 8:30 p.m. PST with a 90-minute layover in Phoenix, we finally land in Minneapolis just after 5 a.m. CST.

We are driving out of the metro area in a rental car 15 minutes after we touch down. As the four-hour drive nears its end, we find it harder and harder to keep going—and it wasn’t just because we haven’t slept in 26 hours. We become increasingly resistant to greeting this new reality awaiting us at home in Bemidji. Making our way down suddenly unfamiliar streets—glowing in all of their fresh, springtime glory—we turn in the driveway, park the car and make our way into the house.

 
 

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