It had been 9 days on the road self-supported and looking back this part of the trip alone would have been awesome
, but it was just the beginning and despite some nerves about the unknown ahead we were both pretty amped to know we had Baja waiting. Today's goal: Canon de Guadalupe. I'd seen photos and read the description by BigDog on his trip there in 2007 and was always a little puzzled why they hadn't spent the night there--it looked and sounded like a very cool place. It was only about 75 miles away from El Centro but I figured that would be a safe destination, not knowing how long the border crossing would take us.
We headed out 86 through Heber, onto 111 south which led us straight to the border. We'd been advised by the bank in El Centro to just use a Casa de Cambio
(money changing business) near the border to get some pesos as they would give us a better rate than the bank so we took their advice and got about $200 worth of pesos each, at 12.5 pesos to the dollar. There were dozens of Casa de Cambios near the border on each side, most advertising their rates--we saw from 12.3 to 12.7 so 12.5 seemed OK. As it turned out, virtually all business in Baja including Pemex stations used 12 pesos/1 dollar despite the daily fluctuations.
We reached the border at Calexico/Mexicali about 10 am and there was no lineup at all. I wasn't expecting this and before I had time to process everything we were waved through by a Mexican official and BLAM--we're riding in Mexico!
It was almost sensory overload, immediately. Yeah, everything is just-----different. Signs, colors, traffic lights, lane markings....everything has changed. Colors are brighter, people are yelling, taxis are honking. Bike messengers are zipping through traffic, and beat up Corollas are cruising along with 4-sided megaphones on top, blasting away audio commercials at about 110 dB's. And yeah, I managed to roll through my first red light in Mexico. Oops.
I had an excuse though, of course. The one last trip preparation item on our list was to get our Tourist Visas. You can do that online if you start the process about a month ahead, but all the info I'd read told me it is easy enough to get one in person when you cross the border. Just look for the "Inmigracion"
sign, pay your $20, and you're good. That was the plan so once we'd crossed the border I was determined to find that Inmigracion sign, and kinda sorta forgot about looking for traffic lights...
Looking, looking, looking...nothing. What the....? I'll be danged, we simply couldn't find Inmigracion, we circled around a couple times near the border...nothing. It's warm, we're starting to cook, traffic is whizzing by everywhere...a discussion...screw it. Let's keep going, we tried and just couldn't find it. I knew the rules: more than 72 hours, or travel beyond the border zone you must have a Tourist Visa; if not you're subject to a fine, the amount seems to be "negotiable." Well, maybe we'll be able to get a visa somewhere else...
I don't recommend doing what we did; get the Visa-----I know where it is now, see the link below. We were very lucky and were never asked for proof of our Tourist Visa, but we talked to several long-time visitors who had done what we'd done and wound up having to pay fines of between 300 and 500 USD... As it turned out, the reason I never saw the Inmigracion sign is that the building is AT
the border crossing.
Originally Posted by Strong Bad
Actually the Immigration office at the Mexicali crossing is VERY easy to find. It is the first building on the left when you cross. It is on the left side the inspection area to the right as you cross. Simply cross and find the first place you can to park. Not that big a deal, they will even let you park in the inspection area while you get your visa. It is old school in that you have to walk across the incoming traffic to go to "the bank" to pay, but again it is really really easy to find.
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This link is looking back at the office, it is the building on the right. The guy in the yellow shirt is standing in the doorway.
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We went through so quickly that I didn't even start looking until we'd passed the canopy of the inspection station and we were far beyond it at that point. BigDog can vouch for me at least--he and Dingweed had some trouble finding it too--but they were smart enough to flag down policia
and got a lights and siren escort back to the oficina
We threaded our way through Mexicali, following BigDog's tracks, and made it out to Mex 2 heading west to our first dirt stretch in Baja. We got our own escort-----as we turned onto 2 a Mexican motorcyclist spotted us, gave us a big thumbs-up and stayed on our wing for a good 10 miles. He had his small son on the back and riding a cool pale green painted chopper, complete with hand-shifter. We'd only been in Baja about 30 minutes and already gotten a taste of what was in store. The Mexican people we met were always friendly, helpful and interesting. My biggest regret on this trip was that I couldn't speak better Spanish. That's a big goal of both of us now--learn Spanish, so we can converse freely with the people we meet.
Found the exit and headed south. Dirt! Baja! Woo-hoo!
It was a fun dirt road and we were cruising, having a great time. Blue sky, warm temperatures, beautiful desert.
At some point we realized the desert wasn't so deserted...we are riding alongside a huge olive orchard.
Olives? In Baja? There must be water nearby--oh yeah, Canon de Guadalupe, our next hot springs. We were still following BigDog's tracks, but the road is well-signed and we made the turn west that would take us up into the Sierra de Juarez mountains.
I'd read SFMCJohn's report just before we'd left about someone breaking a leg in the deep sand approach to the Canon so I was cautious as we rode, but the sand was damp and damp sand is just about the finest riding surface you can ask for and we made it through grinning in our helmets.
As we worked our way through the twisty and rocky last bit it got a little confusing--there were 2 signs for Canon de Guadalupe, one left and one right. Huh? The road to the right was gated so we went left, dropped down across a stream, hairpinned in front of a rock face, and found another closed gate. Hmmm. Parked our bikes, and checked the gate--it wasn't locked, just a loop of wire holding what seemed more like a cattle gate than anything, so I opened it and we walked the last couple hundred yards. The place was deserted.
It was an oasis--palm trees, birds singing, the stream warbling, we could see little palapas and campsites, but absolutely deserted.
I didn't really have a great second option at this point but as we gave up and were walking back to our bikes two men in a 4-wheel drive van drove up. Yes, we're open, yes you can camp here! Yesssss.
Turned out they'd been working on the other side of the Canon. They showed us the site, complete with soaking pool fed from the hot springs. We moved in and hit the pool.
We were living like kings again.
I've since heard claims that the left and right sides are owned by different brothers, and some say the right side is "way better."
I don't know; the driver of the van was actually born in Santa Barbara (can't remember his name) and was doing maintenance work in exchange for lodging there, and while his Canon home was on the left side he spent all afternoon working on the right side of the Canon. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay on the left side; one of the better perks is that toilets that are fed by a continuous flow of hot spring water...the seats are WARM, warmed by the hot springs. That was a surprise to say the least, and very welcome. As far as one side being better than the other--------one thing we noticed is that wherever in Baja we traveled, the people we met always were convinced that the place they were staying was the best possible spot in all of Baja. We knew it was coming...almost verbatim, they'd say "Yeah, we've been ALL over Baja, and (fill-in-the-blank) is without a doubt the finest place to stay...you really ought to stay here for awhile..." We'd nod our heads, head off the next day to a new place, and hear the exact same statement!
soaked under the stars, and went to sleep; what a start to our Baja trip.
That night the winds picked up pretty strongly, had to get up and put away our pots that had blown off the table, waking me with a start. I was convinced El Chupacabra had been eating our leftovers at first...
We woke up to windy but clear skies. Made breakfast, packed and rolled out, looking forward to more dirt, our destination: Mike's Sky Rancho.