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Into The Heart of Darkness

November 30, 2011

Ok the title and the graphic are a bit dramatic but nearly everyone you talk to in the US & Canada is fairly alarmed when you say that you are driving into Mexico. They have been fed on a near constant stream of news stories about drug related killings, beheadings, theft and other crime over the border. We’ve been regularly told that we are crazy particularly without a gun. We’ve been told that our truck will attract loads of the wrong type of attention and that a drug lord will want it.

All this has led to a little bit of anxiety before crossing into Mexico. But it wouldn’t be adventure travel without the adventure part !

Leaving Cardiff by the Sea we drove down towards the border. We’d heard that the Tijuana crossings were really busy and stressful so we had decided that the border at Tecate which is about 40 miles East would be a better bet for us. We didn’t arrive until fairly late in the day so we decided to camp near the border on the US side and cross first thing in the morning.

We managed to find the Potrero County Park which was only 5 miles from the border and was a really pretty state park where the trees were all in their autumn colours. We spent the night here and left at 9am to reach the border for 9.30.

The nice thing about Tecate is that there is no town on the US side of the border. As you drive towards the border you suddenly reach the barriers and there is nothing on the US side – no need to go through customs or stop in any way. This was a slight problem as we needed to check out with US Customs and hand back the white cards in our passports so we were properly registered as leaving the country. You don’t do this and you can end up blacklisted.

As we went through the border gate the Mexican border guards motioned us into a parking bay just beyond the border. They wanted a quick look inside the truck but that was it. We asked them where we could check out with US customs and they pointed to the foot border back into the US. They also told us where to get our tourist cards.

We had to drive around the block and park on the street just outside the border zone and then walk up to US customs as if we were coming back into the USA. We spoke to customs who grilled us about where we were going – why they cared seeing as we were leaving their country I don’t know – but they did take our little white forms. They had to then escort us back through a locked gate to the Mexican side.

After this we had to go to the Migracion office to get our tourist cards. We found an empty office but after waiting a minute or so a border official turned up. We filled out some forms and had our cards – only problem is you have to pay a fee at a bank to validate them and it was Sunday and the bank at the border was closed. The border guy told us we could do it tomorrow wherever we were. That was fairly easy and we hadn’t been asked for a bribe, threatened with a gun or even robbed yet.

Now we were free in Mexico. We had directions to get on Mex 3 towards Ensenada. This was great until we turned down a road to be blocked by a Parade straight through the middle of town. It took us a bit of negotiation to find a way round this but eventually we were on the 3 heading across some gorgeous hills and through the main wine region to Mexico’s third biggest town of Ensenada.

We got there in decent time and checked into an RV Park at the Estero Beach Hotel – where a lot of the Baja 1000 racers had been staying – although we had missed the race. There were a couple of racers still there taking their time to leave.

We spent a couple of nights at Estero Beach as we needed to chill out a bit after our time rushing around in California. However on Monday morning we drove into town to visit a bank – only to find it was a bank holiday and all the banks were shut. So we headed back to Estero beach to chill in the sun – except it wasn’t actually that warm. So we thought we’d go in the hot tub – only to find it wasn’t hot.

We decided that we needed to head South to find better weather. So on Tuesday morning we headed to the bank first thing to get our Tourist Cards validated. We found a Scotiabank where the teller even spoke English. We quickly paid for the validation – USD$21 each. And then we got on the road and headed South.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Michael McKee permalink
    December 1, 2011 11:31 am

    Prior – when in Mexico I suggest you try and visit a town called Guanajuato (?) – a really nice little university town. It is probably on your route anyway, more or less, as it is somewhere in the south west. Really pretty, quite trendy and not much drugs related violence I would think (though 11 years since I was there).

    Also worth checking out is Zihuatenejo on the south coast near Acapulco – good beach.

    Good luck and keep the blogs coming – Mickey M.

    • December 3, 2011 3:00 pm

      Hi Mate,

      Thanks for the tips. We haven’t got a plan for the mainland yet but we’ll keep your tips in mind. A bit worried about going to Guanajuato though as a lot of the roads are underground with no lights and no signposts – no way to tell if we will fit – could be a nightmare.

      You’ve been travelling a lot recently I notice – let us know if you’ll be in SA when we are.


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