- Tijuana and the Wall – just passing through
- K58 Surf Camp – making friends and drinking beer
- Ensenada – stocking up and navigating Baja roads and groceries
- Campo #5 – backyard camping with roosters and chihuahuas
Day One: Tijuana, K58 Campground, and Mucho Pacificos
After waiting almost three hours to be cleared to cross the border, we finally made it into Tijuana…and through it. You can read all about our three hour border crossing tour here in Chapter Two, including tips, tricks, and how to prepare for your border crossing. Hopefully it won’t be three hours.
The most memorable moment of Tijuana at this time (we only drove through Tijuana on the way into Baja, on the way out is another story soon to be written) was the wall. No, not the one that Trump built, he hasn’t succeeded in that yet here, but the one that has already been there for years. You can see through both sides, but you cannot access either side.
Trying not to get too political here, it separates two countries where people have similar dreams and goals. Both sides have beautiful scenic vistas of rolling hills and the vast Pacific Ocean, both sides have homes and businesses and honking horns of impatient drivers trying to get somewhere. There’s more trash, but there’s also more color. There’s more street vendors, but there’s also more flavor. There’s less roads, but there’s also more community. There’s less breweries, but there’s also more margaritas!
K58 Surf Camp
With our Spanish blossoming, more like floundering, we managed to pay for and secure a spot at K58 campground about an hour or so outside of Tijuana following Mexico 1. Arriving at the same time as another traveler, we struck up a conversation, and learned that this was a popular surfing spot.
We also learned that someone was recently robbed at gunpoint here – no bueno. After looking around a bit and seeing other tourists, van-lifers and surfers making camp for the night and deciding that bad things can happen anywhere, we decided to stay. We’re still alive and thankful that we don’t have any exciting stories to tell about being robbed. Located atop a cliff overlooking the ocean, the views were stunning. Paying only $10 US dollars, combined with scenic vistas of vibrant blue skies and thunderous white waves, we promptly pushed that story out of our minds, making this the perfect spot to spend our first night in Baja.
A Bar Means Beer
Watching the sun set over the horizon, the night was young. We rounded up a few other travelers, and headed towards the bright sign – BAR. Located in a very empty hotel and restaurant, it was still nice to sit out on the patio, with a live band playing in the background, talking to like-minded traveling souls, learning about Baja and surfing and simply having some good conversation around good beer (when in Mexico, good beer is Mexican beer, and tonight it was all about Pacifico).
Day Two: Ensenada, Campo #5, and Nada Cervezas
Waking up to the sound of the surf is not a stranger to us; we’ve been lucky enough to make that happen a lot in our lives. But waking up to the sound of surf while sitting atop a cliff that we drove to in our RV in Mexico, now that’s a wonderful stranger to meet. Wandering down to the rocky beach, we spent our morning watching the 30 or so surfers expertly catch the waves. Not a small feat, considering some of those waves were around 6 feet.
Trying to Find the Beer
Having only American dollars and a credit card, we needed to head further south into Ensenada, a great place to fuel, cash up, and grocery up. We did try to stop at Aqua Mala Cerveza Artesanal and Cerveceria Wendlandt, but with no success.
Spoiler Alert: We did make it back to Ensenada and visited many kick ass breweries. Check it out below, potholes and all!
No Beer, Just Potholes
Typical of us, we left late in the morning, meaning that we had to move our asses so we wouldn’t be driving at night. Which in the States really isn’t that big of a deal, but in Mexico, we have been advised not to drive at night. We find out why later. So, no cerveza for us. With heavy hearts (I exaggerate), we head off to find a Walmart (because that’s where people said to go – later in our travels, we stuck with local markets), a bank, and a Pemex.
For some reason, we ended up in downtown Ensenada. Now we’ve driven in Brooklyn, Chicago, Denver, Houston, but Ensenada, now that’s a different story. Yes, smaller, but the lanes are narrower, the roads pot-holier, and the stop signs, smaller. I know I went through a couple intersections not realizing I had driven through a stop sign until I was halfway through.
The local drivers kinda do their own thing, and we were definitely not looking the local part, so I’m sure they were watching the camper with the Gringo couple pretty closely. Granted, we have a 24 footer, so at least with that size, skirting through some of the small streets wasn’t too bad. Just make sure you don’t let Google direct you down some dirt side street, unless you have a 4WD.
Walmart done, gas done, now a bank (we had made the mistake of taking money out in the US thinking we could change that into pesos at a bank. Don’t do that, just take money out of an ATM in Mexico, and you will receive pesos in return. It’s like magic. Everyone we went to was closed, wondering what the hell was up with Mexican banking hours, knowing it was only just after 3, we suddenly realized…It was Saturday. Duh!
Grocery Shopping in another Language
Change of plans, we found a money exchange place, and all was good. Thanks, Google. Grocery shopping was another adventure. Really trying to learn the language, it took us twice as long to get anything done.
We were probably a sight in that Walmart, two gringos staring at one shelf for long moments in time and then finally moving on to do the same thing in the next aisle, You should have seen Kenny trying to figure out the beer. For as much as everyone says that there is no craft beer in Baja, there is. You just have to know where to find it, and then when you do, stock up, because the further south you get, the towns get smaller, and the cerveza artisanal decreases by the mile.
Driving in Baja: Potholes and Topes
Armed with groceries, some Mexican craft beer along with Coronas, Pacificos, Tecates, and all that jazz, and moola, and gas, it was time to get the hell outta Dodge. With daylight waning, we had about an hours worth of driving to our next spot, and only about 45 minutes worth of daylight. Heading out of Ensenada at dusk, really wasn’t a big deal, but the reason people tell you not to drive at dark, is probably more so because you can’t see the POTHOLES, than for anything else, or the topes! Potholes, you know, and while there aren’t many of them, the ones that are there could swallow you whole.
Great, so what the hell are topes? Topes are speed bumps, and usually you have some warning that they are coming up. But the first time we came across one was just south of Ensenada driving into a smaller community. No warnings! Just a huge bump in the road. Slamming on the brakes is no small ordeal in a 24 foot RV, but those brakes that we just got fixed, well, they did their job. We were not to be air-borne that night, but our water jug, our junk drawer, and a few other odds and ends sure had a ride of their life sliding across the floor up to the front to greet us with an unwanted greeting.
Backyard Baja Camping
Missing the turn into the driveway for Campo #5, turning around to find it, which even in a 24 foot RV is not the easiest thing in the world, especially on a windy mountain road in the dark. Here’s the the thing with camping spots in Baja. You can find places to camp for free; however, many of those places are down roads that we have no business driving on. By that, I mean we do not have clearance nor 4WD, and we’d like to not rip off our black tank again. (Click here for the story when it truly hit home that RAIF was not a Jeep.) So, on that note and paying a little bit of attention to our safety, we chose to stay in actual spots where we had to pay money.
Now, as to actual spots, Campo #5 was pushing the envelope on that. Pulling into the driveway of a little house on the hill, we were wondering about our choice for the night and contemplating what to do when the front door opened. Broken Spanish and pesos exchanged (about 200 of those which is about $10, which is too much in my opinion of usually paying nothing) we parked in what was mostly a large backyard, cracked the windows for the sound of the surf, and settled in for the night.
Baja Trash and Surf
Waking up to the sound of several dogs barking off in the distance, a rooster crowing like it was going to die, and the faint sound of waves crashing below our current cliff-top home, was a bit surreal. Unsure of what our surroundings actually looked like, I tentatively opened up the door, and stuck my head out, making sure that some crazy little Chihuahua wasn’t waiting at then entrance to bite off my ankles. Once I was clear, the blue skies and the white water of the waves far below caught my attention against the bright morning sun. Stunning. There’s beauty in water. So many stories to be told, held secret in each wave.
If only I could stay focused on that sight just below my feet. However, our lovely little camping spot itself, perched high atop a cliff overlooking the Pacific, wasn’t quite so lovely. No matter where we looked, there were random pieces of trash strewn everywhere, and while the hosts of the house and the spot were nice enough, and the view of nature below (as long as you put on your rose colored glasses) was stunning, there really was no reason to stay here.
PRO TIP: Many travelers come specifically to this area just outside of Ensenada to visit La Bufadora, one of North America’s largest blowholes. Air gets trapped inside a sea cave resulting in sea water being blown upwards. While the legend behind it offers a fun story, we decided not to go because of our late night arrival and the windy roads to get there. We found out later that many Baja natives look at it as cool, yes, but really more of a tourist trap. Sounds like Casa Bonita (a Mexican restaurant made famous from South Park) to me. You’ll have to decide on your own if it’s worth the trip or not.
Looking back on Campo #5 and the surrounding area, with a couple of pull out spots easily accessible enough to our limited sight in the Baja night, we should have parked in one of those for the night, instead. The advice here is to do what makes you feel comfortable in unknown areas and don’t let the judgement of others impact you too much.
With so much more to explore, we hightailed it out of Campo #5 to continue our search for surf, sand, seafood, and of course the beer to pair with it, or should that be wine?
Ensenada’s hilly region is surrounded by vineyards. So, if you’re a wine lover or not, place a wine tasting on your itinerary before leaving this area. On our way back through, we did just that. But that’s a story for another chapter.
Click here to read all the Baja Beer and Travel Journal Chapters. More will be added often.