My first trip into Mexico started with a coolant leak two days before our scheduled departure.
With the odometer ticking past 211k, my ’97 Lexus LX450 decided it needed a little more maintenance than it had been given so far. As I discovered this on my lunch break at work and had no time to properly diagnose the leak, I promptly ordered an OEM Toyota water pump and hoped for the best. My parts showed up at the Toyota dealer by 9am Friday, so I managed to get Friday off from work and dove into the truck. Fortunately, it wasn’t a difficult job and I had it wrapped up fairly quickly. Turns out the leak was likely coming from the upper radiator hose, so I replaced that too.
But hey, it never hurts to have new OE parts, right? Once we were confirmed leak-free, I was ready to pack up and go.
We left Phoenix on Saturday morning and crossed the Mexican border at San Luis Rio Colorado. Waiting in anticipation for my first time crossing the Mexican border, passports at the ready…we looked at the multiple lanes of traffic backed up and expected to be sitting for hours. Surprisingly, being accustomed to rumors of US border entry wait times, traffic kept moving and we ended up in an empty lane, with no traffic ahead. I drove up to the stop sign and stopped; a border guard came over to my truck and asked where we were going. “Baja,” I replied without much explanation. He glanced up at the 35” spare tire strapped to my roofrack, looked back at me and then waved us on. Good to go. Wow, that was easy.
After a bit, we ran into our first military checkpoint. I was intimidated by these at first, coming from the “Land of the free” – but it was not scary, nor difficult. The first checkpoint was surprisingly quick – the soldier just peered through the back window, saw our stuff, and we were cleared through. We also found our first taco stand! $1 each, fresh off the grill.
We continued down Highway 5 to Campo Mosqueda, where we stayed the night at a campground next to a lake.
This was a fairly uneventful day. We continued south on MEX 5, then west on MEX 3 to Mike’s Sky Ranch.
Other than the odor of gasoline, one friendly dog, and one guy working on a dirtbike, it was deserted. We went back to MEX 5 and drove south to San Felipe. We stopped at a little restaurant near the downtown / beachfront strip and, after deliberation on where to stay, camped on a beach by a lighthouse. At this point it would’ve been nice to have the second row in the Cruiser removed entirely instead of just folded forward – I am a bit too tall to comfortably fit, so I had to sleep a bit squashed.
Continued south on MEX 5. There was no gas in Puertecitos and no food places open. We did find the ocean, of course.
Scattered around there was an assortment of apparently abandoned, or at least empty, restaurants with ‘open’ painted on them. No people to be seen – reminiscent of a zombie movie. We continued on to Gonzaga Bay, grabbed a quick lunch and drove inland to Coco’s Corner. The long gravel road would’ve been a blast on a dirtbike or quad, but we managed just fine at a relatively leisurely pace. We found Coco’s corner – a little oasis of livelihood amidst a network of desolate dirt roads. We met Coco and his cats, and he recruited us into attaching some adhesive tape to a license plate to add to his collection.
Coco had amassed an impressive collection of international currency, various license plates, and assorted undergarments dangling from the rafters in his shack. We signed the guestbook and continued to MEX 1, then drove north to El Rosario where we finally found a gas station with fuel! Total distance between working stations was approximately 250 miles, making me thankful for the 10 gallons I had strapped to our roofrack. We had dinner at a famous restaurant, the name of which I can’t recall (honestly I preferred street vendor food over many sit-down establishments). We rented a campsite at an RV park in town and had the entire RV lot to ourselves. I fell asleep to the sound of fireworks nearby.
I woke up to a rooster who insisted it was morning before I was ready. We drove out and tried to find beach in El Rosario, but couldn’t figure out the correlation between the (sometimes inaccurate) map we had brought along, and the maze of unmarked roads. We relinquished defeat, knowing we could find another beach later on. A GPS would be helpful for the next trip – mental note. We headed north on MEX 1 and found what looked like a broken bridge, abandoned after the new road was created. I tried to climb it anyway…
At the end of the day, we walked through a mission / hotel and spent some time on their absolutely gorgeous beach.
We then left the highway in favor of a little dirt road that paralleled the coast until we located a campsite.
For the lofty sum of 60 pesos (approximately $4 USD), we stayed there and enjoyed the sunset.
We departed the campsite after taking a plethora of photographs of the beach and the derelict shipwreck. We drove north, further up the coastal trail, but had to go inland around the bay.
We ended up back in town on MEX 1. We topped off the truck, found some food, then returned back to the beach road and promptly got lost in Baja.
After a couple of hours with neither of us admitting to the other how scared we actually were, we retraced our steps back to MEX 1 and went north to Santo Tomas. We took a long road out to the coast again (just can’t get enough of the beaches!) then back once more to MEX 1.
Wrapping up the trip, we drove north to Ensenada where we found a car wash and a taco stand. We camped at a small campsite (Campsite #5), which is perched on a cliff side overlooking the ocean. Awaking to a windy storm and hearing the metal roof of our little shelter, next to where we parked, I decided to move the truck. I gained a safe distance and looked back to see the metal roofing doubled over in a “U”, apparently only held down by a pile of rocks. Phew!
Christmas Day! Nothing particularly eventful today – we drove north through Ensenada and took MEX 3 up to Tecate.
We crossed the border into the United States – this was the first time on this trip where we needed our passports!
All in all, we had a great trip and I am looking forward to the next time we’re able to spend some time visiting the beaches in Baja.