Crossing the border into Mexico is simple. It is not like crossing into Canada. When you cross into Canada, you are greeted by a Canadian customs agent who checks your passport before welcoming you into their country. In Mexico, you drive over the border and don't say a word to anyone. No one checks your ID. You do have to stop your motorcycle briefly. I believe they have some sort of technology that is able to 'scan' it for contraband. You are then waived through and bam, you're in a whole new world. We crossed in Tecate, a sparsely populated area. On the other side, it is a bustling town. Almost instantly, we smelled wonderful foods being prepared. I debated saying we should stop right there to have lunch; but, I was a bit nervous stopping and getting off the bikes. From what I've heard, all bad things in Mexico happen in the border towns.
There was a considerable amount of research that got us here. First, Paul and I listened to all the media bullshit that has consumed the media and whatnot for years. Not believing it and wanting to go, we attended a seminar given by a guy that is an American, owns houses in both Mexico and the United States and has been going back and forth for over 50 years. His view is that there is a ton of wonderful riding on the other side of the border and the border is only 4 hours away. He said there is entirely too much bad press about Mexico. He also said that the people in Mexico have been nothing but nice and helpful. He did recommend staying on the toll roads and getting gas when it is available because it can easily be 80 miles between gas stops. He also said that you need Mexican insurance.
Mexican insurance is as easy as going to AAA. $6 for the policy, $15 for handling. That covered us for the weekend. Weekly and Monthly policies are available. The unsubstantiated rumor is that if you're staying for more than a few weeks, or are traveling off the Baja peninsula, you need a visa. I understand that you can buy that on the spot.
Here's the entire, uneventful, border crossing. It took 4 minutes and included me having to pull out of line to turn off my cell phone.
It is striking that one side of the border is absent of any activity and the other side of the border is a bustling city.
The first thing to get used to is road signs. Stop is Alto and is the same American red and white octagon. Speed limits are in Km/h and are black numbers with a red circle around them. If you've been speaking a latin based language your whole life, you'll figure out some of the rest. They want you to "guard" your following distance and don't want you to speed.
The road quality is generally pretty good. They wouldn't pass American standards; but, American standards are very high. In 250 miles of riding, we may have encountered 10 pot holes and a couple hundred patched pot holes. The shoulders are meant for traveling on. In fact, in some areas, there is a dashed white line marking the shoulder. You are expected to pull onto the shoulder so you can be passed. They also signal right and pull left to let you know they are expecting you to pass. You are also expected to use the shoulder if your lane is being used up ahead for someone passing in the oncoming lane. I suppose you only screw this part up once.
Once you get through these slow speed twisties, it is nothing but straight road all the way to San Felipe.
We happened to pick a weekend when it was very windy. Riding through some of the straights, we were holding about 10 degrees of lean or so just to stay straight on the road.
The road quality in San Felipe is not the best. There are pot holes everywhere and the pavement is not smooth. It's somewhat like dual sporting. The other issue is that you can count on sand being in the corners and blowing across the roads.
Dinner was definitely very good. The salsa was really good. It was as smooth as ketchup. Their burrito was kind of like the flautas we get in America. While we were there, Alfredo, the guy responsible for waiving patrons into the restaurant talked to us for a little bit. I asked him if the stories we hear about corrupt police are true. He said he certainly wishes so. He got pinched for having cerveza in the car. The federali took him to the jail, locked him up and took away his license. He said that had he caught a break and gotten a corrupt one, he would have paid 800 pesos and they would have let him go. This just goes to show that there are two ways of looking at everything.
So, while we're eating dinner, a Mexican man walks up to me with a machine that has what looks like two jump rope handles made of metal and a box with a dial that goes from 0 to 12. Clearly, this is some sort of shock device. He asks me and Paul if we want to try. Paul is smarter than I am and he said no. I thought about it for a second and thought this guy wouldn't hurt me, so I took the paddles and he slowly started to turn up the juice. Some interesting things happened in the next minute or so. The first was that I felt a vibration start. The second was that the feeling started traveling up to my elbow. It was about that time that I noticed that my hands were unconsciously gripping the handles tighter and tighter, as if I were holding on to AC current. The device wasn't plugged into anything, so I'm thinking that DC current should be pushing me away. So, I tried to open up my hands and I was able to force them open. The experiment lasted about a minute or minute and a half. $3.
So, our hotel room is a cavernous suite. It has two queen size beds, a sitting room, two walk in closets and a huge bathroom with a shower the size of a walk in closet. Sorry, no pictures - When we got there, we were hungry, dropped our stuff off and took off for food. We also were trying to get back before sundown since the roads aren't good and riding after dark isn't a good idea.
The next day, I was up at 6 something, as usual. I got up and grabbed a shower. The earlier we got on the road, the earlier I got home. I had laundry waiting for me. We were on the road before 8am.
Gassing up was a different experience. Paul bought a couple gas filters that will pull out particulate matter and water. The problem with mine was that the way the gas filler lid is on my bike, it's not possible to insert the funnel deeply into the tank. I have to hold it on the rim, and control the flow of gas through the pump. I spilled more gas in one filling than in the whole time I've owned the bike; but, I was assured of not putting contaminated fuel in my tank. Thank you Paul!
One has to understand that you're not in the US when you're in Mexico. Being searched is the norm. You'll be tooling along on the road and wham - military check point. I suppose you could turn around; but, they are on every major highway. I think we went through 4 of these. We were stopped and searched in 2. It's a simple and quick process. You pull to the side of your lane, get off your bike, one of the soldiers points to what he wants opened, you open it, he looks, nods and you shut it. They don't ask many questions; but, if they do, it's were are you going or where have you been. The calculus of military checkpoints is very simple. Be nice, be polite and go on your way. Be an asshole and you could get shot. They are looking for the normal things: weapons, drugs and lots of cash.
So, we took off before 8 and never did get breakfast, so by the time we pulled into Ensenada we were both hungry. Now, I might have mentioned that we were in Mexico and they speak fluent Spansh in Mexico. I had two semesters of Spanish in high school and the same two semesters in college. If I took those semesters for a third time, it would all seem mostly new to me. Use it or lose it. So, there we are, going through the streets of Ensenada, a bustling city with a stop sign on every single corner. Mostly, people obey the stop signs; but, occasionally, someone comes darting across the intersection. You have to pay strict attention to the stop signs. There is also this other little problem of stops signs potentially being completely obscured by trees or big trucks. While trying to navigate all this, you're looking for a good place to eat. Good is defined by highly popular. Highly popular means safe food. Trying to find a popular food place with parking (even for a motorcycle) in Ensenada is hard. There are signs everywhere. Mexicans also like color. The US is black and white by comparison. Trying to spot "the restaurant" amidst all this distraction is impossible. A turn here, a turn there and we still hadn't found a restaurant. This goes on for 15 minutes or so. It was getting frustrating. At some point, we find a strip mall and decide to take a look in there. On the one side, we see "Zapatoria Italia," obviously an Italian restaurant. Surveying the rest of the mall, we see no other eateries and decide we're tired, hungry and frustrated, so we're going to eat at the Italian place. We pull in, park the bikes and walk up to the door. It was only then that I connected with my high school spanish. Zapatos are shoes. A zapatoria is a shoe store and zapatoria italia is an Italian shoe store. Crap. Back on the bikes. This was good because I really wanted Mexican food. It so happens that coming out of this strip mall, we ran into a Mexican restaurant with off street parking. When we came in, nearly every table was filled. This met all the criteria. Restaurante de Holendesa is the name of the restaurant.
Coming home, we had a little bit of navigation to do to get out of town; but, once we were back on the road, it was smooth sailing. We pulled into Tecate and were confronted with a line of traffic, double wide, at least 2 miles long. Not wanting to make anyone upset, we went all the way to the end. While we sat there, soaking up the afternoon sun on the bikes, some guy gets out of his truck and tells us that we can go right to the front. He said someone will let us in at the front. Admittedly, this made us both feel like we were cheating. We got over that in a fraction of a second and started splitting traffic until we could get to the outside, where it was safer. We crossed the double yellow and went to the front, where someone at the very front, let us in. No sooner did we pull back into the main traffic flow, the Federal Polica on a motorcycle going against the flow of traffic passed us. From there, we split lanes again to the single lane merge. Entrepreneurial Mexicans lined the space between lanes of traffic, selling their wares, including drinks, pretzels, etc. Once we got to the front, gate in sight, we pulled in front of the first cars in line and went up to the gate, one at a time. We passed through in very short order, after our passports were checked and we were asked some questions about our purpose for visiting Mexico. There's no doubt in my mind that all those people were pissed off. Californians are probably more used to it than anyone else, given that splitting lanes and filtering down is common place; but, for the rest...I'm sure they didn't like it. Fortunately, I'm getting older and forgot all about that seconds after getting back to the main road. If only that were the end.
The United States conducts 'check points' well inside the border. I've always gotten through these check points without stopping at all; but, cars get stopped; probably so the Border Patrol can look inside their vehicles. Traffic for this stop was probably 2 miles of single lane traffic; but, we made it through in about 20 minutes. After that, it was smooth sailing all the way home.
Here are the pics:
The trip through Mexico...
All trips I've done on this contract in California...
All trips on the K1600 to date...