February 11, 2023
We just spent our first day in Baja and I seriously can’t believe that we’re doing this and that we’re here! With all our parents’ nervousness, it can be hard not to feel scared ourselves, even when we were so excited. When Zak and I told our moms that we planned on staying in Mexico for a month or more they both had a very similar reaction: “WHHAAT?!” I understand the nervousness as a parent; I’m sure if I had a child that was driving into Mexico, I would be very nervous too. However, so far what we have seen is that people are generally good. Yet for all my bravado during the nights we spent in Arizona while prepping to go into Mexico, I couldn’t help but be nervous on the day of crossing itself.
We crossed at Mexicali East, which was much busier than expected. There were huge lines of cars going into Mexico from California. All four of our vans stayed in a caravan/ line. Switching lanes was a little tough. Luckily, Matt and Chelsea and Cora and Tyler both bought a set of walkie talkies, so each van had one, and we chatted with each other as we went through the line. When we got to the border agents, we had gone through the wrong line (we needed to go through the line with declarations, even though we didn’t have anything to declare.) They had us all pull over to the side.
For me and Zak, Cora and Tyler, and Kelsey and Magnum, our border agent named Amir gave us a quick check through. We got out of the van, he looked in our drawers and cabinets, and that was it. Poor Matt and Chelsea though had a lady who was really thorough! She pulled out their clothes and used a flashlight to look behind their walls and knocked on their ceiling for hollow spots! I had been nervous because Zak and I had firewood from Louisiana from Zak’s birthday that we kept the front passenger area. Our agent looked right at it and didn’t care! Overall, the search went smoothly, and I am feeling grateful that we decided to come to Mexico in our little convoy.
Watching Someone Get Detained…
To get our FMM passes, which are tourist visas, we went into the building in groups of 2 couples. The other two couples stayed outside to watch the vans. Zak and I went in with Matt and Chelsea. While there, there was an old lady (maybe in her early 70s?) wearing a fedora and a touristy “Mexico” sweatshirt who was being read her rights with multiple agents surrounding. She was being detained, and I was so scared for her. I was also scared for us, because if this little old lady could be detained, so could we, right?! After she was read her rights, she was sitting down and saying that she was scared, and she needed some water. Truthfully, all the agents were being pretty nice to her, even though she was being detained.
As that was happening, the agent that was helping us get our FMMs kept on saying, “Cat? Gato?” Apparently, she had heard a cat and Zak thought he heard one too… It turns out that the little old lady tried to sneak a cat into Mexico in a plastic cooler, along with a ton of weed gummies… I could hear her on the phone with her family saying, “You have every right to be angry…” Yeah, no kidding!
Groceries and SIM Cards
There are a few options to get internet in Mexico, but most of us decided that we wanted to get TelCel (Mexican) SIM cards, which allow us to get unlimited data sessions for ~ $0.75 USD for 2 hours at a time. We tried first stopping at an Oxxo Gas station to see if they had SIM cards, but no luck.
We moved onto a Walmart where we figured we could get pesos, SIM cards, and groceries all in one go. Unfortunately, all of us were SUPER hungry. The longer we were in there, the more h-angry Zak and I became at each other. (Sorry Zak! We need to start keeping emergency snacks!) We got the basics, some cereal, peanut butter, raisins, yogurt, veggies, etc. But we did not get any cash or a SIM card because we were being angry with each other, and we wanted to get out of there to get to our sleeping spot ASAP. We also thought that we would hit more stores along the way… we have been wrong so far on that front…
Of course, when we went in the grocery store in the first place, Zak was adamant that we did not bring our reusable bags and just use the bags at the register. But when we got to the check out, were there bags? Nope! We attempted to bring our little basket to the car, but a store employee stopped us on the way out and told us we needed to leave our basket there. So, we removed the contents of our very full basket and uncomfortably carried them to the van.
First Military Checkpoint
On the way to our sleeping spot, we went through our first military checkpoint. There are maybe 6 military checkpoints through the Baja Peninsula. I had read mixed things about these check points, where some people were able to drive through while others got a full search. Zak and I were the first in line in our little convoy of four, and I was driving. When I got to the checkpoint, which looked like a toll area, I rolled down the window, gave the two officers a big smile and said “Hola!” (Not much else I could say, really…) The two men were in military uniforms, but their faces and eyes were completely covered by sunglasses and balaclavas. This really scared me, but Zak suggested later that it is likely for their own safety if they encountered anyone from the cartel.
The man asked me where we were going, and I told them San Felipe/ Los Cabos for vacation. They asked our names, and then Auggie came up to the front and I introduced them to Auggie too. I had read that most people with big dogs don’t get searched. They waved us through after seeing Auggie, so there may be some truth to that. All four of us got through the checkpoint within 5 minutes. I think Cora and Tyler, who were behind us, told them that we were all in a group, and that helped move things along. That, and none of us really look like we’re cartel-material.
Afterwards we stopped outside of San Felipe to get gas, because towns and gas stations are pretty few in Baja. In Baja, you do not pump your own gas (like New Jersey!) so I asked the attendant to “Llena con regular por favor.” She showed me that the numbers were on zero, told me something that I didn’t understand, and filled it up. I tipped her 20 pesos, because I happened to have that left over from my last trip to Mexico in 2015. I asked her if that was enough, and she said yes. Turns out everyone tipped different things all the way up to 2 American dollars, which apparently is a lot. The bathrooms were pay-for to use, $5 MXN each, but the attendant who was tipped $2 USD just opened the staff door for us.
Our Sleeping Spot the First Night in Baja
There is an app called iOverlander that has a ton of amazing camping spots and other resources. We wanted to get to Papa Fernandez (~ a 4-hour drive from Mexicali), we only made it about 2 hours to San Felipe. San Felipe is the first tourist town, so things are MUCH more expensive there. ( About $30 USD/ night for a campsite, which is expensive for a campground in the US.) Luckily, we found a great spot for free on iOverlander, we just had to drive up a VERY rugged road. They say not to drive in the dark in Baja because cows sleep on the hot pavement and there are “topes” (unmarked speedbumps) and potholes.
Finishing Up Our First Night in Baja
Currently, we are on top of a huge hill in the mountains overlooking the ocean. We circled up our vans, brought out our chairs, and Matt brought out his guitar. Magnum and Kelsey have a portable fire pit, so we used our Louisiana wood for a great little campfire! We all sang around the campfire, giving Matt and Chelsea suggestions. It was a perfect end to the night.
We still don’t have SIM cards, but hopefully we will find those in the morning. Also, I got to use some Spanish today! I think working in the dermatology office in Tampa improved my Spanish skills significantly. Lastly, I am so grateful for this group of people who wanted to come down to Baja with us. None of us previously knew each other, but we all wanted to go on this adventure. Zak and I would be much more stressed and snappy with each other if we didn’t have a group around.
Spending in Baja So Far (1 USD to 18.69 MXN):
- FMM (x2) at Border- $1378.39 MXN – $73.75 USD
- Groceries at Mexican Walmart (not a full haul) – $876.19 MXN – $46.88 USD
- Gas at ARCO (~1/2 tank)- $Chase Freedom/Flex – $1130.74 MXN – $60.50 USD
CURRENT TOTAL: $3385.32 MXN — $181.13 USD