From Baja to Mainland: Crossing the Sea of Cortez

CaptureAfter the deserted coast of Baja, La Paz was a great place to stick around for a week, although unintentionally.  The 40 degree temperatures meant not much more than swimming or sitting in water could take place during day hours, not that otherwise was not attempted but once again mother nature won.  But as the night approached the Malecon beamed with activity.

The Malecon, deserted by day but packed by night, no really it is, not sure where the people took off for the picture
Malecon sunset watching
Evening ambience

Aside from beach and city wandering, time was taken up with scheming the upcoming route on mainland Mexico.  While the original plan was to follow the west coast highway, warnings from numerous people convinced us to go inland towards Guadalajara and Mexico City before heading south.

Working hard

Wednesday morning ready for change we packed up and headed to the ferry, only to find out that this would not be happening.   The truckers ferry (which we chose over the passenger due to dogs being allowed on deck) did not allow women on this particular occasion.  Thinking this was some funny or not so funny joke we persisted trying various avenues but ended up in the same place.  We then decided to convince the passenger ferry to allow us to keep the dog with us.  This also, did not work.   But it did spark an idea.  We figured it was about time Ella got a job, or at least the title.  We went back to the city and visited a  vet who without much or any conviction seemed on board with the idea. However as Mexico does not seem to have special provisions for service dogs,  we compromised with having a health certificate that stated the dog had to stay with us for medical reasons.   Whether dog’s or ours was undisclosed.

Other working dogs we encountered

On Friday we were back at the ferry terminal and shortly thereafter on the ferry itself.  The next 20 hours were spent sweating uncontrollably while we absorbed our surrounding.  Dolphins came around every so often and we squealed with excitement.    The sleeping arrangement which once again did not lead to much sleep consisted of a fully ventilated van to try and cool us down.  Both of our fans were running full speed and all windows, trunk and our side door were left wide open.  While the sea looked calm, the wide swells none the less rocked the ship, sometimes less gently having Brett almost fall out of our side door.  Morning confessions included worries of our van (which had a prime location next to the lowest side of the ferry) sliding overboard.

Beautifully lined up transport trucks
Navigating the truck maze


Ella keeping cool as the temperatures hit 40 once again
Our own bar stools conveniently located next to Astrid
Bird Watching
Bird being watched



Road Through Baja


The problem with having an incredibly comfortable bed for a while is having to adapt to anything less then that.  I guess fixing my thermorest (which got a hole in the first week) would help, but realistically this will probably not happen.  We did figure out that having Ella squeeze on the front seat makes for a more comfortable sleep and she seems to like the privacy and space or there lack of, but in 35 degree heat we cannot banish the dog to such tiny quarters. 

New sleeping arrangement, chosen by Ella, happily accepted by us
Back to old sleeping arrangement

After ten days in San Diego, doing not sure what, we finally mustard the courage to stop reading internets horror stories and just drive across the border.  We found Tijuana’s border to be a largely non existent entrance into Mexico.  There was no passport check, no any kind of indication that anyone cared we were coming through. It was almost a bit rude after getting ready for so long.  We did manage to back track and get the tourist card and car permit which we knew would come in handy later on, once we actually get to the mainland, which is apparently the real border crossing.

Greetings to Mexico

First stop was El Suazal, a small town just outside of Ensenada.  We found a hostel on a hill overlooking the ocean.  This was our home for three days while we practiced Pimsler’s Spanish Lessons in the local stores and relaxed.

Hostel El Suazal safegards our home while we take a rest from van sleeping.

Maria the hostel owner directed us to a mechanic specializing in radiators, as Brett predicted that are continuous overheating problems were due to a dirty radiator.  He was correct, three hours and forty dollars later Astrid was a new and improved van, we would never (so far-knock on wood), see her temperatures rise above 100.

We continued down Baja on its one and only Highway 1, which is the only road connecting north to south Baja and  veers from west to east coast.  While the road itself is in good condition the lack of the shoulder and narrow lanes make for an interesting drive.

Brendt’s truck taking the lead


Luckily we caravanned up with Brendt who was heading South to surf.  This proved to be a good idea as for the first two days the drive was deserted in terms of traffic as well as landscape. 

Along the highway

We created make shift meals from food we bought back in Ensenada for dinner and mostly fasted during driving hours.  Evenings were spent gazing at stars.

Camp in Catavina, our two cars are the only visitors

First stop was the desert of Catavina, where we stopped and filled an RV camp with our two vehicles.

As we drove on the cactuses got bigger as did the rocks

Next was San Andreas, a small town next to Rasaliita, itself a small town of about 7 homes and two stores. The road to this deserted beach camp which was about 7 km, took an hour of offroading.  Again having a companjero with a sturdy pick up definitely gave us a bust of confidence to keep going.

Road to the beach camp

The camp was a deserted beach with 2 homes and five folks visiting, we were three of those.


Brett and Brendt’s fishing excursion proved a success.  Brett caught a 5 pound Crooker on his ice fishing rod and we had a feast.

Shore fishing
Catch of the day
The feast about to begin
But first we needed firewood. Except there was none so we burned cactuses

The east side of the coast, which we were warned multiple times was hot, really was as hot as they said.  The Sea of Cortez, I would underestimate was about 28 degrees celicius, perfect temperature for my liking. 

A much greener east coast

The next morning we parted with Brendt and with a short 2 hours drive stopped in Loreto a normally touristy place in season but currently deserted by both tourists and locals who seek cooler temperatures. Next stop: La Paz.

Brett’s new look: tank tops and sombreros



Crossing the US


First day of our trip, it is 10 am, at Canadian Tire, we are praying Glen is as trustworthy mechanic as his name implies.  After all we could only come up with one other Glen and he seemed to back up this theory.   The diagnosis was a leaking break line with the recommendation to replace all of them due to thorough rusting.  Considering this would have taken much too long, we settled with only replacing the one leaking line and moved on.  We picked up Joce and Lucas (who were joining us for a two week trek through the US) and the trip began with four of us humans and our canine companion Ella.

The border crossing, which was nervously anticipated proved to be a breeze.  Most likely due to the utter confusion of answers given to the customs officer.  Starting with Brett saying we were headed for Chicago, which was followed by Joce’s answer that she was flying out of LA or Las Vegas, but first going to St. Louis before returning to Canada, while Lucas was going straight to Canada, and the two of us were actually going to Central America.  Our lack of consensus was clear proof that anyone with any intention to hide something could probably not come up with a more confusing story.  Within minutes we were in.

First stop was Chicago, which provided excellent company and tour by our local guides Jimmy and Julia.  The following two states of Iowa and Nebraska were slept through.

The grand tour of Chicago
Crossing Nebraska Photo Credit: Joce

Next came Colorado and its incredible elevational variations especially considering the state of our brake lines.  The highest reaching 3600 meters only to descend and climb multiple times, but luckily there were plenty of runaway ramps.  Our first real experience with free national forest camping happened in the Rockies at 3200 meters, where the altitude added to the overall experience.  The forgetfulness and loopiness meant incalculable trips to the van to retrieve forgotten items.  It also proved to be a great spot for laundry, due to the rapids resembling the not so gentle washing cycle.  The clothes were stuffed in bags and tied to spin in the rapids for 35 minutes, but only after Brett released a load of laundry forgetting to hold on to the string.  Luckily Lucas had this covered.

Laundry time. Photo Credit: Joce
Resting by the fire in the Rockies

The most exciting spot so far was probably the Grand Canyon at the North Rim.  Not only because it is an incredible natural landmark but because we got to experience it free of other humans, with our tents set at the edge of the canyon.  This came with a bit of a trek from the paved road, to gravel then dirt road, only to run out of road completely.  Lucas’s search for the road proved unsuccessful and we decided to take the longer but gravelled road.   However the experience gave Astrid a good run at off-roading and its owners a beaming sense of pride.  Potentially Brett’s driving skills could also have accounted for the successful return to the marked roads.  As well as Mother Nature’s signals to get out, starting with the darkness followed by a downpour which turned to hail.

Canyon at sunset
Dinner at the Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon at sunset

The following journey to Las Vegas in 44 degres heat was not over soon enough as Astrid the van, struggled to keep it cool.  Needless to say the pacific coast was a great relief.  Beach campsites with intolerable wind and beautiful sunsets were welcomely embraced. Apparently mother nature has no adjustment switch.

Pacific coast, HWY 1 camping


The Beginnings

The idea to drive to Latin America was more of a space filler among various other ideas, but seemed to have won single handedly or hands down, to be more grammatically correct. Therefore preparations began…about 10 days before our departure date.  The car nominated for the adventure was Kijiji’s own Chevy Astro, 2003, previously owned by a Montreal fire chief. Thankfully with the much appreciated help and enthusiasm from family and friends it was a very communal and exciting experience.  Final changes included: thorough cleaning, installation of linoleum flooring, side wood paneling, storage box which folds into a bed, bookshelf, curtains, two level storage space in the trunk, side tables on the trunk doors for cooking, installation of the auxiliary battery and LED lighting.  Thank you folks!

Carpet Removal
Installation of linoleum flooring and wood panneling
Anxious dog wondering why we are in the van all the time
Some drink, some work
Late evenings with the interior designer
Bed and storage unit
Ready for the furnishings, sorry no final picture.