I’ve been to Mexico five times now, but this is the first time I’ve driven across the border. And I have to say, it was anticlimactic. Probably the build up was more interesting than the actual crossing.
As you approach the International Border on the I5 freeway heading south out of San Diego, California, you see signs alerting you to what is coming. One finally says “Last US exit before International Border.” We took that one to make a few final arrangements.
But let me back up for a second. I should explain who “we” is. There are three of us. Dr. Matias Nochetto, an Argentine doctor I have worked and traveled with for several years. The third is Mary Luna from ReefCheck in Los Angeles. She is of Mexican descent. She picked us up at the airport and is driving us south. They are both fluent in Spanish. I’m not.
As I said, we took the last exit before the border. We bought gas, exchanged money (with a surprisingly good exchange rate) and most interesting of all bought Mexican Auto Insurance to cover our car while we are in Mexico. I was truly surprised how many companies were selling this insurance. Within a block of where we stood, there were at least half dozen companies. There was even drive through Mexican Car Insurance place where you approached a drive up window.
After that experience, we crossed the border. And it was mostly a nonevent. We went over a good-sized speed hump and we were there. There was a check-in station for people with “Something to Declare” but since we had nothing, we could have moved on without stopping. Except, Mary also knew we were supposed to get Visas since we were heading into Baja California Sur. The funny thing was, I didn’t realize we were actually in Mexico yet and asked that question. “Are we “IN” Mexico?” The Visa process was entertaining though. We went to one person, filled out a form, took a second form to the “bank” and paid our $22 each and then went back to the first man to receive our Visas; I half expected the first man would have taken his lunch break while we were gone. The amusing part was he never actually looked at our passports. We could have put any name down on the forms and no one would have known the difference. Right up until we got into trouble, of course. And during the course of the trip, we passed at least six military checkpoints so it was probably best.
From there, we drove together to Ensenada to meet up with a driver from the diver cooperative who would take us the rest of the way, about a 12 hour trip.
Baja is all low desert; scrub, desert flowers, cactus and dirt. That’s about it. The first three hours of the drive were pretty unnerving. The road was narrow, people were passing and it was stop, slow and accelerates through a series of small towns. After that, the road took off and we were able to make good time. It was still winding though, with no guardrails or roadside shoulders. We actually passed a semi truck that had wiped out. I am sure the drive lost attention for a second and dropped a wheel off the road. He was never able to right himself and laid it out, spilling his load. Not sure what happened to him as we rubber-necked past.
Around 830 pm we stopped at a little roadside diner. I love these places and they are all over Mexico. The US Health Department would have a conniption with them, but they are interesting. The food is authentic, hot, good and cheap. After a good, filling meal where we watched a Mexican dance competition on TV and got waited on by three generations of the family, our driver “Chacka” climbed behind the wheel and we took off again.
Sometime in the middle of the night, I have absolutely no idea what time it was, I realized we had stopped. I had been stretched out across a seat in the van so I sat up and asked what was going on. I was told “Someone hit a horse and we are going to help them pull it off the road before someone else hits it.” Not what you want to hear as you wake up. It turned out someone in a truck had hit a stray horse and killed it instantly. Fortunately, the animal was off the road so we didn’t have to do anything.
We hit the road again and finally stopped for a couple hours and we all slept around 430 am. We woke up with the sunrise and took off again. As we arrived at the water’s edge, a boat was waiting to take us to the island, a short ride away. All in all, about 14 hours travel time from when we left Ensenada to when we arrived at Isla Natividad. A long, long way to go.
This trip is a counterpoint to my recent travels to Honduras where Matias and I are working on a project to help local harvesting divers dive more safely and avoid injury. Here in Baja California Sur, we are visiting with, and learning about a group of divers who have been doing essentially the same work as the divers in Honduras. This group, however, uses a diver’s cooperative that oversees the diving, the harvest and the distribution of that harvest. I’d like to see what we can learn from this group and possibly apply some of their lessons to the divers in Honduras.
More to come later..