Full of Christmas cheer (and food), with the batteries fully charged, water tank filled and toilet emptied, it was time for us to cross through to the other side of the looking glass. We could check another state off our list, for as soon as we crossed the river in Yuma we were into California. The landscape changed dramatically, becoming a land of huge sand dunes covered, like northern Alberta in the winter, with yahoos on their noisy machines carving trails up the pristine slopes. The highway parallels the border with Mexico, and we caught glimpses of “The Wall”, consisting of numberless steel poles lined up one beside the other for miles. They are close enough that a person cannot squeeze through, but still allow a view to the other side. We also saw the border patrol dragging sleds along the sandy shoulders of the highway, a cruel Zen garden designed to record the prints of illegal migrants as they cross northward through the desert. There are many legitimate Mexican workers in this area, trucked across the border every morning to work in the fields and then transported back at night, but these folks live in the area of the border and have homes to which they can return. Those from farther south (these days, Guatemala and Honduras) still make the desperate crossing through what is a deadly inhospitable desert in hopes of finding a better life in el norte. The border patrol tracks a lot of them down and ships them back, only for a lot of them to turn around and try again. And not surprisingly, a few never make it out of the desert. We realized, in hindsight, that we had been approached by a likely illegal immigrant when we were in Yuma. Don, Carol, Liz and I were in the car along the the river, on our way to a tourist site, when we were approached by a dusty young man who only asked for water. Unfortunately we had none to offer, and he turned and jogged off. He spoke only Spanish, and it wasn’t until later we connected the dots to realize that he wasn’t a field worker, considering where we were, and he wasn’t eager to hang around when it became apparent we didn’t have what he needed. We could only wish him luck, long after the fact.
At the Mexicali border crossing. We were greeted by the typical Mexican shabbiness at the crossing, where our first stop was the office for the tourist visa. The building, with its broken pavements and free-hanging electrical fixtures, was open but appeared unoccupied, and Liz had to ask a cleaner to fetch an immigration officer. Meanwhile, I stuck with the van while a customs officer conducted a half-hearted search and then waved me on to the next station. Again, no one was around, and it wasn’t until I moved the traffic cones blocking the lane that another customs officer came out of another building. He was about to search again when I explained that this had already been done and that I needed a Temporary Vehicle Import Permit. he waved me one to a third building, distinctive for the line-up of people outside. While I was waiting, an official from this office came out and explained that we needed to provided copies of all the necessary paperwork ourselves. We were lacking a photocopy of our vehicle registration, so Liz had to hold my place in line while I went to the Immigration office and asked if they could make a copy for me. They could – for $5.00! For some reason, a single copy took almost 15 minutes to produce, and they apologized for tearing the original in half during the process. I returned to the Banjercito (the government bank where the TVIP would be issued) with my golden photocopy and after more waiting in line, was finally summoned to the counter. The servant on the other side was was quite civil, and satisfied with all the paperwork I produced. She proceeded to print off a ream of forms – on her copier/printer – and then had me attend the second building for a signature from the customs officer there. Then, back to her counter where she then had to escort me to the Radvan to confirm the VIN and the existence of the vehicle. This raised a concern about the GVWR or its status as a recreational vehicle or something, which required another visit to the customs officer for yet another signature. Finally, we out return to the Banjercito where I could pay for the permit and put down a healthy deposit designed to ensure that we don’t leave the vehicle behind when we exit the country. Mexico is slowly entering the the 21st century and putting these processes online, so I was thankful to still have this authentic, three hour Mexican government bureaucratic experience before it disappears!
With Bahía Concepción behind us, we will be entering the “populated” portion of Baja California. The highway will take us up over the mountains to the Pacific coast one more time and then back over to La Paz and the Cape region. There have been no large resort areas full of sunburned, drunken gringos trying to pack as much decadence as they can into their week-long package holidays. Instead, tourism north of the Cape is characterized by adventurism – everyone seems to drive a jacked-up, 4 X 4 something, festooned with some combination of surfboards, kayaks, mountain bikes and off-road motorcycles. It is fun to be amongst these dedicated adrenaline junkies. Like Bali, Haida Gwaii and Newfoundland, Baja is singular, an edge-of-the-world place that attracts people who are seeking themselves by whatever means attracts them. Having challenges like finding fuel and water and living in the midst of such a harsh environment is what has always drawn such seekers and it has already left its mark on us. But we will be happy to see the Costco in Cabo San Lucas and visit Liz’s friend, Michelle Slade, who packed up her life in Calgary and moved to Cabo three years ago. A kindred spirit!
Married mother of two awesome boys who is now living full time in a self converted Camper van and seeing more of the world.
We gave up something super special to live our dream of living a free and simple life on the road exploring new places and taking joy in the discovery of the extraordinary
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