Prepping for the Mexican Border Crossing

There are some details to take care of before attempting to cross the international border into any country of course, but each is different.

And until this time, I was only really familiar with crossing between Canada and the US.

I’d flown into England my graduating spring from high school but it was a school thing so we just did what our chaperones told us to do!   When I went to Mexico a few years later with a youth group again it was the chaperones that took care of most of it.

Last year crossing into Baja California we went with experienced friends who told us the ropes, and my chaperone Everette took care of most of the details while I filled out forms and managed the kids.  No vehicle permit is needed for Baja.

So this crossing into mainland Mexico was really a first time Karen-do-it-all sort of thing.

BC vehicle insurance covers us traveling across our big country of Canada and anywhere in the USA but it’s no good in Mexico or any other country.  So I purchased Mexican insurance online and got it printed off.

It isn’t mandatory, and I don’t need any proof of it when crossing the border.  But most Mexicans don’t have their vehicles insured, and if you experience an accident you can be pretty confident somebody will be coming after the gringo for some moola.  You don’t want to travel in Mexico without vehicle insurance.

Traveling across international borders with under-aged children without their other parent can sometimes be a problem since we live at a time of custody battles and temptations to snatch-and-run.  Just in case I needed it, Everette sent me a notarized letter with permission to travel as far as Mazatlan for the next 7 months, giving dates of entry and exits and which border crossing.  I printed that off, too.

Entering the land of pesos everything seems expensive when rung up on a till, but it’s really cheaper living down there.  Currently the exchange is 12.50 pesos to 1 US dollar.  Those $1700 groceries would be about $136US.

I’d need 300 pesos per person ($25) for a tourist visa, plus pesos for the toll highway Mex 15 to Hermosillo, and to purchase gas along the way.  In Mexico I’d get pesos from an ATM machine.  Before the border crossing, however, I visited a Cambio (cambio means change) to exchange my money.

I had heard that you needed to pay for the vehicle permit with $US so I stuffed my wallet with that, too.  I normally don’t carry that much money around, but crossing the border into Mexico was going to make for an expensive day.

 

Sierra San Pedro Martir National Park

park sign

A detour off Mex 1 up into the hills, so unlike the rest of the Baja that we’ve seen.  No cactus, we reach pine forests on our second day.

ascending but needing a potty stop.  We are at about 2,000 ft.

ascending but needing a potty stop. We are at about 2,000 ft.

the sun sets as we ascend the mtns the first night

the sun sets as we ascend the mtns the first night

We decided to camp along the road, out of sight, for the night and ascend the other 6,000 feet in the morning.  The windy roads took us high above the surrounding hills & above the cloud line.  We could see the Pacific Ocean behind us as we entered deeper and deeper into the mountains.  The park is about 80 kms off of the highway, and other than a few farms there isn’t anything out here except coyotes and pumas and such.

According to the basic GPS map there aren't roads up here.

According to the basic GPS map there aren’t roads up here.

Cracker pouch=evidence of change in air pressure.  Our laundry soap bubbled out of the container.  We felt the pressure in our ears, too

Cracker pouch=evidence of change in air pressure. Our laundry soap bubbled out of the container. We felt the pressure in our ears, too

It costs 54 pesos per person to enter the National Park which permits you to camp for one night.  The park fee does not go to maintaining or operating the Observatory.

Observatory

Observatory

observatory outside stairs

We joined about 10 other adults for a tour of the Observatory which is free.  Our caravan followed a white Volkswagon Beetle driven by Carlos our guide up to the largest of the 3 telescopes positioned on this mountain.  We learned about the pristine location here, why the observatory was moved here from Mexico City in the 70’s because of low humidity, little light/radio/air pollution.  We observed the landscape, looking to the Pacific 65 km to our west, and the Sea of Cortez 55 km to our east.  On clear days you can see the mainland of Mexico.  Today we can see the general area of San Felipe where we stayed back when we were fresh in Mexico.

That's Carlos beside Gaelyn

That’s Carlos our guide beside Gaelyn

Anders looks to the Sea of Cortez & San Felipe

Anders looks to the Sea of Cortez & San Felipe

Thankfully, Laars had to use a bano so Carlos took some of the kids and myself into the observatory where the others never did get to go.  We used the tiny dark elevator with a dim light (not to effect optics) and stepped out on the first floor to see the office space set up with computers where the astronomers work thru the nights.

Where astronomers do their work on computers on the 1st floor of the conservatory

Where astronomers do their work on computers on the 1st floor of the conservatory

We manoeuvred the narrow metal spiral staircase up to the third floor, slowing down behind Laars who showed signs of claustrophobia when the stairwell darkened near the top.  He was proud of himself once he entered the big dome with the telescope where there was a bit more light and way more space (going down was much easier).

The telescope doesn’t rotate.  The scope itself is on a pivot so it can tilt north and south, and the arms that support it can tilt to change the telescopes position east and west. The dome can rotate to accommodate viewing different parts of the night sky, a section of the dome opening above our heads like a garage door. The lens is kept in pristine condition, being recoated /polished with aluminum every 2 years.

the telescope

the telescope

Carlos informs us that this observatory on the Baja is rated as the 3rd best located observatory in the world, after Hawaii and Chile.  Mexican scientists visit here for free, but international scientists have to pay $1,000 for a ‘season’ which might be only 10-14 days.  But scientists do come from around the world, from Spain, Portugal, Germany, Japan, Chile, USA and others.

The high elevation was having a toll on many family members.  A few of us had headaches, were short of breath, I felt pressure in my jaw.  Low humidity means dry cracking inside our noses, even some mild nose bleeds.  Many were tired and opted for a movie in the van after lunch while a few of us hiked the 8 km round trip to the Mirador Outlook.  We were amazed at the view, yes, but the variety and beauty of the rocks along the way, too.

Everette and Anders

Everette and Anders

Mirador lookout

Mirador lookout

Anders, Mitch & Everette in a poplar stand

Anders, Mitch & Everette in a poplar stand

beautiful rocks

beautiful rocks

alpine flowers

alpine flowers

California condor’s with 9 foot wingspans, flying in groups (rarely alone) up to 160 miles in a day, were on the brink of extinction in the 1930’s with only 22 individuals.  They had inhabited the west coast of North America from Canada to Baja California but had been reduced in numbers by hunting, lead and pesticide poisoning, collisions with power lines, and consuming plastic garbage.  Their numbers are on the increase here in the park where they are protected.condor sign2

We camped in the Nat’l park for our second night, amazed at how cold it got at approx 9,000 feet.  Climbing into our tent we discovered that our high-density foam mattress felt frozen, a board of sorts that we had to ‘defrost’ with our body heat.  Sleep was hours away. Everybody needed a pile of blankets heaped on.

looking up tree

 

L puppyAt camp the children played Capture the Flag amongst the boulders, and Pinecone Wars.  We hung around for the day for them to enjoy their time in the pine forest, packing up camp in late evening to drive back down the hill to camp at a more comfortable 3,000 ft (and free).

Rain in the Desert, Dr Seuss Trees and Rattling our Brains All Day Long

Up early since we didn’t get much sleep.  We were all packed and on the road before 7am, after spending some time watching dozens of pelicans diving for their breakfast and last look for seashells.

Danaka

shell

Roads here are crazy today.

dirt pile ON the road

dirt pile ON the road

We are definitely off the beaten path as most people doing ‘The Baja’ follow Highway 1 south.  We are presented often this morning with 2 or 3 options of roads intertwining, snaking through the rocky landscape.

3 lane road, Ev tends to take the left side but not always

3 lane road, Ev tends to take the left side but not always

Other roads  always looking ‘greener’ than the one we are on.  In this case not greener but smoother, or with less sand to bog down in.  Washboard is standard.  Everette is thrilled now that he has found the side road on the left where he can go a whopping 30 kmh instead of 15!!!  This would be funner with quads!!  I’m thinking we might be having scrambled eggs for brunch today as we have our new pack of 30 eggs on our front dash to keep them safe, but on this road I’m not sure there is a safe place to keep raw eggs.

Many of the roads here remind me of going camping with Mom and Dad & my brother, Shorty, following the hydro roads in back country British Columbia.  Mom’s muscles probably all tense against the passenger door, Shorty and I squeezed in the middle with Dad at the wheel.  Dad and I casually tending to “spits” (sunflower seeds) and taking in the view not overly worried about the loose gravel and drop-off best seen from Mom’s seat.  Viewing the bright celestial sky with Dad, or catching more lake trout than him.  Sweet childhood memories.  Now we are building our own children’s memories.

Took us almost 4 hrs to cover 55 mms this morning from Gonzaga Bay to Hwy 1 & only saw one other (moving!!) vehicle that entire time.  Definitely slow going but we saw countryside most tourists miss.  We have all tires still intact….so are the eggs.

wet desert

wet desert

through our windshield lakes to traverse

through our windshield lakes to traverse

We pass thru valleys with surprisingly lush green looking cacti.  Maybe they look so green because of last nights rains? There is certainly beauty here.

Cholla (CHOY-ya)

Cholla (CHOY-ya)

MW with cactus

Ocotillo (ah-ka-TEE-yo)

Ocotillo (ah-ka-TEE-yo)

Saguaro (sa-HWAIR-o)

Saguaro (sa-HWAIR-o)

And we discover where Dr Seuss must have gotten some of his tree ideas.  The boojum tree (cirio) is plentiful in the desert that goes down the interior of the Baja.  It looks like an upside down turnip with yellow tufts of fluff coming out of the top.

IMAG4328

We cross from Norte Baja (Baja California) into the south (Baja California Sur) going through a border check where they want to spray the bottom of your vehicle to target insects, and we change to Mtn Time.  We drive through Guerroro Negro which is a town built around the salt flats.  We get delicious pescado tacos (fish tacos) the kids have been begging for since we had our first taste at a Sunday market.  You can tell they enjoy them when they start planning their birthday meals around pescado and their (Laars’) birthday isn’t until June!!

pescados

 

Tonight we are tucked along a lagoon under date palms.  A beautiful setting here we will explore more in the morning.  We are thankful that there is no wind tonight and we only have noise from a town road.  That’s is more manageable than the gusts of wind.  We have a relaxing evening talking, reading, singing songs, being together.  Family.

VIEW FROM OUR KITCHEN

new growth

new growth

gnarly tree trunk

gnarly treecool gnarly tree at our lunch break