Communications Abroad

 

Communication Tech

Do you ever have those times when you just want to disconnect from the world? Where you just want to turn your phone off, switch off all your electronic devices and just decompress? Yeah, us too. With the amount of information at our fingertips, sometimes it’s good to just disengage, unplug and unwind. When you’re a full-time traveling family though, the difference is the amount that people at home worry about you. They’re always concerned for our safety (I’m glad they are, because that means people care) and want to make sure we arrive safely at our destinations. Even though we’re on the road full-time and don’t always have access to the internet, we seem to always be on the internet looking for something. Anything from whether they have Uber where we are or trying to find a place to eat or just looking at a map to figure out where the hell we are and where we’re trying to go, not to mention the homeschooling situation we have, we seem to always be plugged in. We too need a break.  A break from social media, a break from homework, a break from trying to keep up with writing blogs, or figuring out how to make a vlog. Sometimes, it’s great to be unplugged, but as the full-timers we are, it’s not usually an option. Someone somewhere in some time-zone is trying to make sure we’re still alive and we’re thankful for that.

What we’ve found while traveling abroad over the last 14 years, not just since we’ve been on this trip, is that communications are one of the MOST IMPORTANT, if not THE most important aspects for any length of travel. When we first started really traveling abroad it was a little more difficult to keep in contact. There were international cell phone plans, but they cost an arm and a leg, and depending on the network of the country we were visiting and whether our cell phone company had an international agreement with them, the connection would be hit or miss, and usually a miss. We had an app at the time, “WIFI cafe hotspots” which would show us where there were WIFI hotspots near our location. It all worked off GPS, no internet required. It was great. We found numerous hotspots using this method and were virtually never out of service. We had set up a VOIP on our phones, either Skype, Viber, Facetime, WhatsApp or something similar in order to call home. We would do this for a month at a time while we were abroad.

After a few years, we started buying disposable phones for the countries we’d be in. This was helpful because for whatever reason, we always need to make local calls to businesses in the area and calling internationally is kind of a hassle, not to mention it costs a small fortune and you’d need to re-mortgage your house when you actually get through and complete a call. This option was fine for local, in country calls. However, calling home was difficult because we’d have to figure out the country code exit number plus our country code plus the phone number and it amounted to practically a whole new phone number before you actually entered the phone number you were trying to dial in the first place.

Fast forward a few years later and about 20 countries, we started using SIM cards. We would fly into an airport and pick up a pre-paid SIM card and get a 30-day plan. You just have to make sure you have a phone that is capable of GSM/CDMA capabilities and you’ll practically be able to use any SIM anywhere in the world. We would change out our home country SIM card and insert the new one, program it or have the person at the kiosk program it for us and add a plan. This usually gave us plenty of data and was SUPER cheap, seriously in every country we visited that we’ve done this for, it has been less expensive than having the same data plan in the USA. Usually by a minimum of 30%. In Mexico, Belize and Guatemala, you can purchase a SIM card and pay the equivalent of $25 for the month and have access to 12GB of data and unlimited SMS, social media and phone calls. And if you run out of data, you can choose to purchase more and it can be filled on the spot. No problems. Thailand and Cambodia are ridiculously cheap, I think we spent maybe $15 for the entire month and had nearly unlimited data and surprisingly, it was good. Just make sure to do your research before you leave your home country so you’re informed of what the best carrier is for your travel situation. Not all carriers in other countries are as competitive as they are in the USA when it comes to connectivity.

Mint Mobile

For this trip, we decided to leave our trusted Verizon provider and go with Mint Mobile. This was a GREAT decision for us. It worked practically flawlessly in the US for the four months we had it there (it runs off of T-Mobile towers). It was so cheap I now wonder why we kept Verizon for so many years. They have three different data plans, 3GB, 8GB and 12GB. You get those GB every month, and whatever you don’t use, rolls over to the next month. The plans start out as low as $15/month for the 3 GB plan, but you pay quarterly, so up front the plan would cost you $45 for three months of service. I chose the 12GB plan for us because I did a lot of hot spotting for Kaden’s homeschooling. You could get the 12GB plan and if you chose to pay for the entire year, the total cost FOR THE ENTIRE YEAR is only $300.00. Yes, that is not a typo. Seriously, three-hundred dollars. The best thing about it? You can use it internationally. Just charge up your International Roaming balance in the amount of $10 or $20 and you’re good to go. They charge data by the MB when outside of the USA. However, the rates are super cheap in Mexico and Canada, but get pretty pricey outside of those two foreign countries. If you turn off your roaming data, this could last a really long time. Just be cognizant of how much web-surfing you’re doing. If you constantly need to be connected, get a local SIM card or this one could cost you a fortune. The upside? If you don’t change the SIM card, friends and family can still call you while you’re abroad at little to no cost to you. Seriously, this is one of the best options we’ve come across for necessary access to communications especially if you’re afraid of trying a SIM from another country. You can pick up a Mint SIM card for $5 at Best Buy. The directions are simple and if you choose, you can keep the phone number you already have.

Solis X

Another thing we did, prior to leaving the USA was, we bought a Skyroam Solis X. It works awesome in the USA and some bigger cities in Mexico. In Belize it was really an orange hockey puck paper weight. Not useful AT ALL. The website says it has coverage in Belize, it doesn’t. We spent an entire month in Belize in most every major city and town and not once did we get any connectivity, though it searched and searched for signal. We’ve had the pleasure of trying it out in many areas of Guatemala, and it’s kind of hit or miss. In large towns and cities, it works well enough, but the download and upload speeds leave a lot to be desired, maybe it’s because we’ve been trying to use it during the holidays, Christmas and New Year’s celebrations in Guatemala, which are SERIOUS business. It’s like 4th of July on steroids, constantly for two full weeks. I imagine the bandwidth was being used by the hundreds of thousands of people that were on break during those weeks. The countries that are more developed will definitely support the device and you can subscribe to a monthly unlimited plan for $99.00 per month, you can stream all you want and you can connect up to 10 devices. We tested it in the USA before we left and it worked great with 6 devices connected and running different searches and streaming all at the same time. They also offer day passes for something like $10.00 per day or 5 day passes for $45.00. All in all, it actually works really well in more developed countries. We’ll review the device on their website soon enough. We’ve only had it for 4 months and 4 countries.

Weboost cell

We also installed a weBoost cell phone signal booster in the car. This coupled with our Skyroam Solis X is actually pretty amazing. For example, Bronson was talking to his dad on one of our VOIP programs using the Skyroam Solis X while in a house, and kept losing reception. He took the Skyroam out to the car and connected with the cell phone booster and had a clear and strong signal. Having the two things together has been really great while trying to get homework done on the long-distance car rides between destinations. It doesn’t always work, but when it does, it’s lightning fast. I hope they end up getting more contract with other international cell providers.

 

Since we do spend a lot of time in more remote locations rather than in more developed areas, we’ve found that while the Solis X has been great in more developed areas, it’s not always the best for remote access points, unless you’re on the top of a mountain where you can get unbelievably awesome cell service, so it’s really helpful to have a local SIM card charged with Data that supports your needs. Here in Guatemala, with TIGO having the best service but being more expensive, we can only get 6GB at a time for 30 days on a prepaid plan. The best thing about TIGO is that it’s all through Central America and Colombia, so we might luck out and be able to use the same carrier without roaming data… We’ll keep you updated when we find out. They have a 35 GB plan, but according to a TIGO representative, in order to qualify for that it has to be a residential hook-up, which sucks because that would cover all of us for maybe three months and only costs $65.00, so just about the same as the Mint Mobile plan in the USA for 12 GB/month, or a few bucks less.

Jetpacl

Remember, whichever method you choose, you have to consider how long you’re traveling and where to best decide which communications plan suits your needs. When my family came to visit us in Belize for a week, I used my old Verizon Jetpack and charged up a SMART SIM. This gave them access to data and ability to use our VOIP program if we got separated, since they rented a car and traveled separate from us. It worked out great for them and cost us $25, plus we had data left over to hotspot our computers and do homework and research. Just be mindful of what you need to accomplish. Are you trying to go cheap? Easy? Cheap and easy? Is it important for you to keep your phone number for people to contact you or do you communicate mostly by e-mail? If you travel often and international and have to keep your phone number, consider getting a skype or google fi number. These plans can be used around the world, they use data so you never have to change your phone number and even with a SIM card from another country, you can still receive phone calls and SMS messages at that same phone number. If you use WhatsApp, which is what most countries seem to be using, it usually will come with unlimited calls, SMS and picture messages in the same data plan you purchase with your new SIM, but the phone number never changes. Just weigh your options before deciding that re-mortgaging your home to pay your cell phone roaming bill is worth the ease of use.

Money Matters!

credit cards

Nobody likes talking about finances, well hardly anyone. In the USA it’s pretty taboo to even speak of money in conversation. However, in this post, I’m going to address some issues of money matters while traveling abroad and help inform you readers of what you can expect if you’re planning on visiting another country and need some cash.

If you’re up to date with technology, meaning 21st century, it’s likely that you bank online and have apps installed on your phone to monitor your credit cards and bank accounts. If you do, just make sure you’re checking all that stuff on a secured network, not an open network. People can steal your data really easily from an open network. Since we’ve been traveling out of the USA, we’ve been unfortunate enough to run into a gamut of problems with the safety feature, two-step verification for all of our accounts. I’m talking any account that holds any payment information from Hulu and Netflix to Amazon and our Banks. All of the banking apps we have on our phones these days require a two-step verification process if for some reason you lost your phone or forgot your password or changed your phone number or e-mail address. This is a great measure of security, but when traveling abroad for any extended period of time and having to do banking can often be a little stressful. For example, we have credit cards with Capital One. They have been awesome. Every time I’ve ever had to call, I don’t wait forever to talk to a live human being and they have always been able to resolve any of the issues I’ve had. The problem comes when you change your SIM card while traveling abroad and then try to login either with your fingerprint or with your password. The online system will lock you out. I actually had to set up a skype US number that I can use for all of my two-step verifications. This was $50.00 for the year. However, there are still some companies that won’t verify through a VOIP program because the phone number doesn’t have a “user account” associated with it. Meaning, the number is unregistered with any company and they can’t verify who actually owns or has possession of that phone number.

The work around? I have the app on my phone and I login from my laptop. Capital One asks to send me a verification code and they default to your US phone number, which is great… If you still have it. They give other options, one being a phone call (You can’t use skype until you update it in your account contact information) and the other being opening the app from your phone and verifying that you’re actually trying to access your account. The caveat— Don’t replace your phone and computer at the same time, then you’re shit out of luck and have to call them. I was fortunate enough to be able to verify through the app and it logged me in on my computer. From there, I went in and changed my contact info and updated with my Skype number and set it to default. The online system gave me the green light and said that I could now use that number for notifications. I still have yet to see if it will.

Our bank had the same problem. Even if you have a travel notice set with the company, if you change the SIM card in your phone, they will request a two-step verification to make sure it’s actually you trying to access your account. I love this option in theory. When I’m in Belize and I’m trying to get money from an ATM machine and the ATM says “unauthorized, contact your bank” it really puts a damper on the trip. I will usually try logging in from the app and verify the purchase, then it will allow me to withdrawal money. If it doesn’t show that I even tried to access money, I then have to call the bank and figure out what the hell is going on. Usually it’s a problem with the ATM server not communicating with our bank. This happens a lot in Guatemala. Often times the merchant’s bank is not authorized to connect to an out of country server, which is why it’s super handy to be able to access cash from an ATM. We’ve run into this problem a few times with merchants, online purchases and ATM’s. They all have different parameters they work in. In larger, more developed cities, you’ll have an easier time using a debit card for Point Of Sale purchases. In most smaller towns and villages, cash is king- still, and always.

Mint Mobile

One way we’ve been able to work around it is using Mint. You can purchase a SIM card for $5.00 USD at Best Buy. They give options for calls, SMS and Data and plans start at $300.00/year. Yes, you read that correctly. Three-Hundred dollars per YEAR. I had the 12 Gb plan and it was $130 every 3 months, but if you prepay your whole year, the cost decreases. We also don’t do a lot of streaming, so we don’t really need Unlimited data. With Mint, you pay in advance for a 3-month, 6-month or 12-month plan. The network is great and we never had a problem connecting while in the USA or Mexico. They also offer a roaming package when you leave the US. When in Canada and Mexico, the rates are very reasonable and international data can be bought in $10 or $20 packages. They charge you per minute (something like $0.02 per minute and something Similar per Mb of data.) Our data, phone and SMS service in Mexico went far. I never had to recharge my international roaming balance while we were there for the month. Once you’re out of Canada or Mexico, Mint still works, but the cost increases significantly. You can really burn through your data on the plan, so if you want to use it and are going somewhere else outside of the US, Canada and Mexico, make sure you turn off your roaming data. Then you can turn it on when you really need to access it. We are still able to use the Mint SIM, but I’ve opted to put it into our Verizon jetpack MiFi. This way I can still receive texts for the two-step verification and I don’t use any data, so I’m not spending a ton of money trying to keep my balance in the black. We’ve tried using Verizon and getting the daily package, but it’s expensive and nearly NEVER works. You’ll have better luck with T-mobile. In Mexico, T-mobile works on the Telcel and Movistar networks. We get SIM cards for our phones in whatever country we’re in and send our new info home on a VOIP program like Viber, Skype or WhatsApp. This way we can be contacted from home and local companies and new friends can contact us on local numbers. We’ve found it very helpful to have local numbers when you’re staying abroad for an extended period. More about communications in another post later.

ATM's

No matter where you go, money matters. We don’t like carrying a lot of cash, but it’s necessary in many small towns and villages. If you don’t mind carrying cash, try to order cash from your home banking branch prior to setting out on your trip. The exchange rate is about the same as you’ll get at an ATM machine, but if you’re unfortunate enough to have a bank that charges international banking fees, the cost of withdrawing money from a foreign ATM can end up costing you a small fortune. Not even kidding. Credit cards (depending on who you use) often don’t have the international fee’s the banks charge. Check with your bank prior to take off to see if they charge international exchange rate fees. Many ATM’s in foreign countries will charge you, then you’ll get hit with the exchange fee from the bank, plus the ATM fee. If you bank with USAA or US Bank or Charles Schwab (to name a few), they don’t charge you the international fees or ATM fees or will reimburse you for all ATM fees you incur. This could save you literally hundreds of dollars for your trip, depending on how often you need to withdrawal money. I suggest pulling out as much cash as you can in a case like this, because it prevents you from having to visit the ATM as often.

Motorbike Confiscation! Yes, it really does happen and yes it CAN be really expensive!

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That’s a lot of motorbikes

 

Let’s start with some rules of the road for motorbikes. Regardless of what you see other people doing, by Mexican law, you MUST wear a helmet and at least one person (the one on the back) MUST wear a reflective safety vest (or at least carry it with you). You MUST also carry a copy of your TIP, Mexican Insurance and Title/Registration and ID. If you don’t have these, they WILL confiscate and impound your motorbike. We know, because it happened to us and about 30 other people (mostly the locals). Keep in mind, these rules are not regularly enforced.  You will often see people wearing helmets, loosely or not at all and almost never, a safety vest. However, if you get pulled over and are found without them it could cost you a substantial amount of money. Especially as a tourist.

The fine we were able to knock down from $1800 pesos ($90 USD) to $507 pesos ($25 USD). The process to recover your vehicle is tedious and by US standards, disorganized, just like the DMV. It literally takes you all day. First you have to go to the Recaudadora Estatal (essentially the DMV) to pay the ticket. Then you have to go the government office in a location 6 or so blocks away to show proof of all paperwork; the TIP, Mexican insurance, registration/Title, ID and proof of payment to the Recaudadora Estatal). From there, you have to go to another office (not really in walking distance) to pay the impound fee and get a receipt (our fee was an additional $750 pesos or $37 USD). Then you have to take a cab to the impound lot to recover your vehicle. Keep in mind, this cost is only for motorbikes. Other vehicles are significantly more expensive. Usually about half of the cost of your entire vehicle to get it out of impound from what the locals say. If it were our ambulance we would have ended up paying almost $25000.00 because they calculate cost differently on the fines for vehicles.

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Recaudadora Estatal

We were lucky enough to befriend a wonderful lady in Chapala named Adriana who spent the entire day arguing with people to get our fines reduced. She actually called the chief of Police the night it happened to complain about the high fee and told him that we, as her friends, shouldn’t have to pay it and that we were visiting her from the USA. He was able to lower the fine to the lowest bracket that the local’s pay even though we had more moving violations than other people since there were three of us.

We had been riding around town on side streets going pretty slow (I know it’s no excuse) and didn’t see anyone wearing helmets, so we didn’t really think about wearing ours (though we always make Kaden wear his, regardless). I had just had my hair bleached and dyed bright electric blue/purple. We were on our way to dinner when everyone kept yelling to us from the street. Riding the motorbike, you can’t hear very much when the wind is in your ears, so we couldn’t hear what they were saying. We thought they were probably noticing my hair, since we hadn’t seen anyone with any wacky hair colors thus far on the trip. We were stopped in traffic, when a nice man in a vehicle next to us began to explain that we needed to drive on the right side (in the bike lane, which is illegal unless you’re on a bicycle) or we would  get pulled over just up ahead.

We thought it was weird that the man was telling us to break that law (even though, yes, we were breaking a few others that were way more dangerous), so we continued driving in the traffic lane. Then we saw it… The police check point. They motioned for us to pull over and then it hit me. He wasn’t telling us to ride in the bike lane or we would get pulled over, he was telling us that the police were in the bike lane up ahead pulling motor bikes over! Well shit. I guess things really do get lost in translation. My translation at least.

Everyone on motorbikes in violation of something were pulled over and given tickets and their bikes confiscated and impounded. Most of them being helmet and safety vest violations. The local Policía Vidal (traffic police) didn’t care that there were three of us on a 125cc scooter, they cared that Bronson and I weren’t wearing our helmets and I didn’t have my safety vest on. We also didn’t have a copy of our TIP or any of that paperwork because Bronson wanted to take it out for taking up too much space in the storage compartment.

Note *****Be sure to carry copies of all of your paperwork in every vehicle listed on your TIP!!!

We were forced to find a ride back to the house we rented where I told our new friend about our evening excursion. The following day, she took us to all of the places we needed to go in order to get our scooter back. Literally, she spent the entire day shuffling us from place to place and sweet-talking people to get us moved to the front of the line.

The entire day took us 9 hours and Bronson barely made it to the impound lot to pick up the scooter. If we didn’t get it that day (Friday) we would have had to wait until Monday, and we had planned on leaving Saturday. The most impressive thing? Adriana didn’t ask us for anything in return. We offered to cook dinner, buy groceries, pay her for her trouble. She wouldn’t accept anything from us. She even invited us over to have dinner with her family. How many people do you know that would give up an entire day to help non-native speaking, foreign people shuffle through an entire day of the nightmare that is the DMV? I don’t know any. Add this to the list of reasons that we LOVE Mexico!

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Impound lot where we recovered our scooter

 

 

You Actually DROVE through SINALOA??

“Aren’t you scared?” It’s been such a common question since we left home 10 months ago. The simple answer is no. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of things to be scared of, but being aware is key to staving off the fear. You can’t believe everything you hear on the news. No matter where you go, the same problems exist everywhere. They might manifest themselves in different manners, but ultimately, the problems that exist are the same.

People talk about the drug wars in Mexico and South America (usually you are told about the drug wars in Colombia), yet in America we have drug wars on street corners. Really, the difference is just the places these things are happening. We have gang wars in America just as they have in Mexico. If you’re aware of where these things are happening and you avoid these places, you won’t have any problems. When we would tell people we met on the Baja that we were planning on shipping to Los Mochis and driving through Sinaloa to Mazatlan and on to Nayarit, they would ask, “are you sure that’s a good idea?” The answer is no. We’re never absolutely sure about anything on this trip. We had a plan to avoid the state of Sinaloa when we started the trip. However, after talking to some people (ex-pats) who make the drive multiple times per week on the same highway we would be taking, we decided to take the chance and just go for it. We had absolutely no issues driving through the entire state of Sinaloa to Nayarit. We paid a total of $40 in tolls and didn’t encounter one police or military checkpoint. While in Baja, we encountered a military checkpoint in every town we drove through only to find out that Baja is a major drug trafficking route, more-so than any other border area at this time. Yet we felt perfectly safe in Baja. The cartels are not in the habit of harming tourists. It brings international attention to them if that happens.

What we’ve found for the last 5 months in Mexico is that most everyone we’ve met is very willing to open their homes and lives to show you their country. A country they are very proud of, regardless of their status. Status doesn’t seem to mean much in Mexico, most people are very poor. Of course, they will try anything to earn a penny, but we have to keep in mind, most of the people in Mexico earn the equivalent of up to $500.00 USD per month. So yeah, they have to try to supplement their income somehow, just to survive.

School in Mexico is not compulsory. Parents have to pay to have their children in school. This is an added expense many cannot afford. That’s why you’ll travel around the entire country and see children out selling things when (as Americans) we think they should be in school. Most children in school come from more privileged families. It’s like College for the United States. If you have money, you can afford to pay tuition for your kids and they can have the best education. If not, you either choose not to go to college or you go in debt to get the education. Many things are bought on layaway here in Mexico. They have payment plans for items that cost as little as $25 USD. They have year-long payment plans for that. People make-due with what is available to them and they shy away from the things that are luxuries that we as Americans consider necessities.

Are we crazy for wanting to see how other people live? Are we crazy for taking a chance and giving up the luxuries of the American life to live simply and be able to do what we want instead of what other people expect us to do? Are we crazy for taking our kid out of school and trying to teach him ourselves? Are we crazy to be living in such close quarters and being around each other 24 hours a day, 7 days a week? Maybe. It depends on how you see it. I wake up next to my best friend every day. I get to monitor what influences my son and his reactions. I get to make corrections to him when he gets out of control and I don’t have to wait to see negative behavior. I can stop it as soon as it starts. I get to change my scenery every day if I get bored. I get to choose a new activity every day.

To some people we might sound crazy. To others this might seem like the perfect life. One they strive to have one day. The truth is, reality is somewhere in between. It’s not perfect. It’s not without its challenges. We have plenty of time when we get on each-other’s nerves and we just want to have a separate space. Traveling can be difficult. We never have a plan to stay anywhere. We literally make plans to stay somewhere the very afternoon we need a place to park. We fly by the seat of our pants. Sometimes it works out, others it doesn’t. Nothing is ever perfect and the only constant in life is change. The truth is, you have to be willing to adapt and overcome. This life isn’t for everyone. Very few people we know could actually give up their comforts to try something like this and that is okay. However, for us, like everything else in our lives, “great things never came from comfort zones.”-unknown

I know many of our friends who want to live vicariously through our travels. Mostly because they know they value the life they have and they enjoy what they have and what they’re doing in life. They are content and happy. For all of them, we envy you. I mean, we had a hard time living in the same town for 12 years. We literally averaged a house move every 2 years. As long as we were moving it was okay. Having the change of scenery was paramount to being able to live in the same place for so long. We envy you because no matter where we go or what we do, we will never be satisfied. We will always look for something different, something more, something better even though we know the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.

 

 

Playa Escondida

DSCF5625We had gotten maybe 15 miles into our trip from Mulege when we came across the town of  Posada. We were told about a little secluded beach just after Posada that we wanted to check out. The directions we were given was “you’ll come to a town called posada, when you get just past posada, turn left and go over the saddle.”

Well, we went past posada, past El Coyote and Barrillo. Suffice it to say, we missed our turn and had to turn around. When we did, we came to the town of Posada and decided to drive in to the town and ask for directions. There was not a soul out and about. Everything looked closed and we were having one hell of a time finding internet service. We decided to skip the town and try to find Playa Escondida ourselves. This time we drove very slowly out of the town (the town is so small if you blink you’ll miss it) and noticed an obstructed sign that said Playa Escondida. We turned and drove down a dirt road and saw some people camped out on a beach, but it wasn’t secluded so we deduced that it wasn’t the beach we were looking for.

We came to a steep incline where the saddle of 2 hills met. We drove over it and were greeted with turquoise water and a few Palapas with people camped out. As we drove closer to the beach, we knew we had found the slice of paradise we had been looking for. The only problem, we didn’t have enough food to last us more than a couple of days. We sucked it up knowing we’d likely have to leave sooner than we had wanted, but oh well. We set up camp, inflated the paddle boards and took to the water as soon as we could. The water was warm, but there were tons of sting rays in the water. I asked a local lady about them and how dangerous they are and she told me that last summer a man had nearly been killed when he was stung by one. He barely made it to the hospital and the last she heard he had been in a coma for a time before he made a full recovery. She told us if we get in the water to shuffle our feet so they swim away as they blend in with the sand.

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As we hopped on our boards and prepared to paddle into the great beyond, we looked down into the crystal-clear turquoise water and saw tons of sting rays scattering about, schools of beautiful striped fish and even some starfish could be seen hanging out on the bottom of the ocean floor. It was quite a sight to behold and we never even had to get into the water.  After about half an hour of paddling the winds picked up and Kaden started getting swept further and further South. Bronson had gone out to him to keep him calm as it was becoming increasingly difficult to paddle against the wind. A kind fisherman allowed me to get in his boat with him to go retrieve Kaden. Once we got to him, I had Kaden climb into the boat and I took the opportunity to get more exercise in and paddle back to our campsite. Crisis averted. Kaden has always been told about what to do when getting swept out to sea with rip currents and wind so this was a good test for him to apply what he knows. He didn’t do so well, so we obviously need to do more training with him. We got back to camp, let Kaden have a good cry, cooked dinner, played Jenga and headed off to bed.

The following morning, we awoke to a man who was bringing fresh water to anyone who needed it. He was shortly followed by a man selling fresh vegetables and a couple of people selling the fresh catch of the day. I was very excited because this was apparently something that happened every day. This meant we could stay as long as we wanted!

We met a couple of travelers who had invited us on a hike with a local man to go check out some pictographs. This local man took us on a 2.5-mile hike out in the desert to see some pictographs and a couple of caves. On the way back, a couple of the girls in the group started venturing away from the group which made our local guide have to go after them. Suffice it to say, we all got lost and had to find our way back. The local man was slightly displeased because he only knows the track to take there and back, and if he has to go away from his track it’s very easy to get lost. There are no marked trails to this place. If you don’t know where to go, you could get very, dangerously lost. The hike back was about 4 miles, so the hike took most of the day. It was hot and dry so we hopped in the water when we returned to camp to cool off.

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We only camped here for 4 nights because we really wanted to start heading south. It was the most beautiful beach we had stayed at and it was quiet and most of the campers kept to themselves. Many of them are full-timers. They actually live there until the summer when it is unbearable to be there. Then they fly somewhere else and spend a few months away from the Playa until it cools down enough to come back.

If you ever have a chance to make the drive, Playa Escondido is worth every bit of the $150 Pesos per night to camp. I will say though, it would be difficult to get a rig in there that is longer than 30 ft or has low ground clearance.

 

 

Crossing the Sea of Cortez

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First and foremost, prior to leaving Baja to get to the mainland, you MUST acquire a Temporary Import Permit for your vehicle at a Banjercito. There is one located at the ferry port in La Paz if you didn’t acquire it in Tijuana or other mainland border crossing prior to leaving the free zone of Sonora. If you have a tow vehicle, you’ll need a TIP that identifies each vehicle you have. The cost for the TIP itself is only $60 USD. However, you will have to pay a deposit usually in the range of $200-$600 USD depending upon what kind of vehicle you have and your tow vehicle. If you are bringing in a vehicle classified as a motorhome, your permit will last 10 years. If you have a regular vehicle or motorcycle your permit is good for 6 months.

We got lucky, we are classified as a motorhome, but we also have a scooter as a tow vehicle which complicates things. The tow vehicle is attached to our vehicle, not as a separate trailer, so we only got a 6-month permit. I could have asked for the vehicles to be separate, but I would have had to pay 2 TIP fees. The good thing is that because we are a motorhome, we didn’t actually get charged a deposit. Our fees came out to a total of $60.00 USD. We were fine with the 6-month permit because we are planning on only being in Mexico for 6 months. If we need to, we can go to any border crossing or airport and renew our permit at the Banjercito.

The things you’ll need to obtain your TIP (you must make copies of all of these documents as they keep them and they will not copy the documents for you. If you don’t have access to a printer or copy machine, there are local papelería’s around that will do it for you and it’s very cheap)

  • Passport
  • Visa
  • Registration/ Title (something verifying the classification of the vehicle and VIN)
  • If you bring a pet, a recent health certificate and current shot records (just in case they ask. They never and I mean NEVER asked for Roxy’s health certificate but better safe than having to quarantine)

They will require you to fill out an inventory sheet to account for all items in your rig. You fill out 2 of these, one for them and another for your records. The person at the counter will enter all of your information into their computer system and take your deposit and non-refundable fee and issue you a TIP to place in the windshield of your vehicle. They want this placed as close to the rear-view mirror as possible to make it visible to military or law enforcement personnel. If you do not have this permit, if you get pulled over, you WILL get your vehicle confiscated and impounded. The fees to get your vehicle back from what I hear are astronomical. Nearly the cost of your vehicle itself. I don’t know first-hand about this, but I do know first-hand about getting the motorcycle impounded.  I’ll address that in another blog post.

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Banjercito tag that let’s Law enforcement know you’ve paid the import fee.

You have two choices of ferries to use to cross the Sea of Cortez. TMC or Baja Ferries. There are slight price differences between the two, with TMC being more cost effective but less comfortable. You have a choice to ship from La Paz to Mazatlan or Topolobampo (Los Mochis). The ferry to Topo is shorter, but if you’re headed south, it’s a 4-hour drive to Mazatlan. The difference between the two ferries is that Baja Ferries requires you to ride in the passenger area and does not grant you access to the cargo area. If you’re traveling with pets, your pet must be crated and stay in the vehicle/crate. The ferry from La Paz to Mazatlan is a 13-hour trip. You can book a room to sleep in or you can sit in the passenger area of the ship which is usually packed with people and they don’t allow you to spread out and sleep on the floor. Booking a cabin is an additional cost.

The TMC ferry is who we chose to cross with and we chose to cross to Topolobampo. When we arrived, a customs officer met us and inspected our vehicle and our TIP paperwork. She then had us drive over to the cargo parking area where they measured our vehicle and weighed us to categorize us for cost. We were 7 meters long with the scooter and the max is supposed to be 6 meters, the nice man and I were conversing in Spanish and he told me he’ll measure us at 6 meters and not to tell anyone. Then he asked if we were a cargo van and showed the price between the cargo van and the motor home. It was $7,300 pesos for the Motorhome or $2900 pesos for the cargo van plus 1908 pesos for 2 extra drivers- we had to pay passage for Kaden with Baja Ferries it would have cost In pesos- 11,300 for the motorhome +$1197 per person x2 (initial driver is free but again, we have to pay each passenger and Kaden counts) + 2750 p for motorbike to go to Mazatlan. He decided to categorize us as a cargo van but again, not to tell anyone and didn’t charge us for the motorbike since it was attached to the ambulance and not officially being “towed”.  We weighed in at 14,960 lbs, putting us well into the commercial vehicle category. In total it cost us $250 USD to cross to Topolobampo versus over $800 USD to cross to Mazatlan. Even with toll roads and camping along the way we still managed to save $500 USD.

During passage, we were able to stay in our vehicle to make sure it was secure; the dog didn’t need to be crated and we were able to walk around the cargo area with her to get her out of the vehicle. They offered dinner, which was gross, but edible. There is no passenger area, everyone stays in their vehicles. This is a cargo ship, so mostly large shipping containers and diesel trucks making deliveries. They have hot showers and toilets, but not exceptionally clean if I’m being totally honest. It’s a no frills, not for comfort crossing, but we stayed in our vehicle with the fan blowing and the doors partially open for ventilation. The diesel situation was getting out of control while sleeping because everyone was sleeping with their AC on which meant the engines were running so we kept our fan on to blow diesel fumes out of the ambo. We slept okay and woke up in the morning mostly refreshed and ready to drive to Mazatlan.

When we disembarked I was expecting to have a customs officer look through our vehicle and inspect our travel documents, but nobody came and nobody seemed to care. We offloaded and drove right to breakfast in Los Mochis.

We arrived in Mazatlan after a few hours and got some work done to the ambulance, ate lunch and dinner and drove to a local RV park right off of the Malecon and secured the last spot.

All in all, the crossing wasn’t bad, the price was right and we arrived safely in the state of Sinaloa. We had no issues with paperwork, getting the TIP or the initial inspection of the vehicle. Just remember, always keep your documents with you and travel with your passport or at least a copy of your passport at all times. We’ve been asked numerous times at inspection stations all over Mexico for our documentation and twice we didn’t have our passports but could furnish the copies. We have been advised to always carry them with us by the local law enforcement. We’ve been lucky to have the forethought to keep copies with us everywhere we go and we advise others to do the same.

 

Mulege, a “city” on the bay…

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On our way to Mulege, we planned to stop in the port town of Santa Rosalía. This was actually the busiest, most developed and biggest “city” we’ve come across since crossing the border on the east side of the Baja Peninsula. The streets are small, packed with cars, motorcycles, scooters and pedestrians. There is hardly room to move around in a vehicle. Anything you read that says you’re better off parking a little out of town and walking in or taking a tow vehicle in is absolutely correct. Though, I’d really only consider taking in a tow vehicle that is the size of a motorcycle or scooter, not an actual 4 wheeled vehicle. You’ll likely find nowhere to park and it’s frustrating trying to maneuver through the narrow one-way streets. We thought we would find a little café and try to do some homework, however, after trying to maneuver through the streets and finding nowhere to park, we headed just south of town to an RV park that no longer exists. After the failed attempt at finding somewhere to set up camp and find somewhere to get Wi-Fi for homework, we gave up and decided to keep moving south to Mulege.

It was a short drive from Santa Rosalía to Mulege. Maybe 45 minutes. We drove underneath the arch that signifies the entrance to the town. The streets are narrow and mostly one way. It’s a bustling community and they take pride in keeping the town clean. There are parks scattered throughout the community, though the placement of some of these parks leaves more questions than answers. There is this awesome Tortilleria just as you enter the town. We were told by our cousin to check it out. When we got in there we saw a man standing on a table pushing stuff into what looked like an enormously oversized coffee grinder. At the bottom, another man sat in a chair and pulled out fresh tortilla after fresh tortilla. The shelves were bare except for a handful of flour tortilla packages. Of course we bought some, you absolutely cannot pass up fresh tortillas.

We passed through town looking for a specific RV park and realized we were on the wrong side of the inlet and we needed to keep on the outskirts of town. As we were coming to this realization, we happened upon another RV park and looked around. It was such a beautiful and quaint RV park. It had palm trees, banana groves with bananas growing, grass parking pads, water, sewer hook-ups, electricity, clean bathrooms and was located just about half a mile from the town square. All this for $200p per night. The equivalent of $10 usd.

We decided to stay for two nights. We unloaded our things, set up camp and set out on the scooter to explore. We came across a few places. Kaden’s favorite was the Panaderia. Of course, because they sell all sorts of junk food. We went there every day.

I had decided to stop in at a local pharmacy to get some antibiotics because I had been sick since just after Christmas and couldn’t seem to kick it. I had already done a ten-day treatment of Amoxicillin because I self-diagnosed with severe bronchitis, bordering on walking pneumonia. I wasn’t getting better, in fact I was seeming to get worse, so I walked in and requested Azithromycin, but they only had erythromycin, so I settled for that. The woman at the counter told me I needed a prescription for it, so I asked her where I go to get one. She said, “right here.” She explained that if the medicine cost over $125p you needed a prescription. She took my name and wrote that I was a tourist, the cost and name of the medicine and sold me the antibiotics.

I walked out with my 5 day supply of erythromycin and we walked the streets taking in the shops, sights and wonderful smells of all the street food being cooked. We took Kaden back to camp because he wanted some separate time from us. We left him at camp and went into town. Bronson and I found this awesome restaurant. The food was delicious and the Margaritas were even better! We ended up (as we often do) talking to a bunch of people around us and made quick friends. There was another couple who were down there visiting their ex-pat parents. They have an 11-year old daughter. We decided we should get the kids together so they could play.

The following morning, we met with that family and took our paddle boards across the street to the inlet and jumped in the water. We let the kids play for a bit until the other family had to leave. We spent most of the day under the sun on the inlet, soaking in the rays and enjoying these fleeting moments. We ended up liking the area so we extended our stay by 2 days.

We had been invited to an event happening at the Racing Bar by some folks who were also staying at the same RV park. Turns out, it was the owner of the establishment’s birthday. She was turning 60, and the community was putting on a celebration for her. There was live music, free tacos and $10p donations for drinks. Kaden was not enjoying himself because he didn’t recognize some of the music. We ate, had a couple of drinks, left our donation and headed out toward the light house. We couldn’t actually get to the light house because it was on Federal land and had been fenced off. Most locals will go up there anyway, but if anyone would get caught, it would be us and then we’d be suffering the worst of it, so we opted against trespassing.

On our way back, we could see a church steeple from the top of a hill. We took maybe 3 wrong turns before finally finding the dirt road that led us up to this seemingly abandoned church. It’s a church with a 270-degree view of the Sea of Cortez. It’s gorgeous. I was a little baffled by the fact that there were signal boosters in the bell tower of the church. To each, their own. We snapped some pictures and headed out to find this abandoned hotel which at one point in time housed the rich and famous. The views from this hilltop retreat are phenomenal. I’m in utter disbelief that some foreigner hasn’t come in and bought the land to build a monstrous villa or hotel on it. If I had plans to settle down, I may have considered it.

We ended up meeting another caravan of full time RV families passing through. We were invited to their campsite for a campfire and kid time. When we arrived, the kids made themselves comfortable with each other, and before we knew it, they were making short movies. By nearly 10 pm, we were exhausted and still had a 20-minute scooter drive along treacherous dirt roads to get to our campsite across town. Kaden didn’t want to leave and I was starting to feel worse. We made it back to camp, cleaned up and hit the sack.

The following morning, Bronson drove the scooter into town with all of our laundry. When I say all, I mean everything except what I’m currently wearing. This included all of our bedding, floor mats, clothes, towels, throw blankets, etc. I was all but happy to pull out our -20-degree sleeping bags we keep for backpacking. It was already warm and I wasn’t needing to roast to death at night. Nonetheless, our laundry got done. We picked it up the next day and decided to head out of town toward Loreto.

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Did Somebody Say Whale Watching? (Guerrero Negro and San Ignacio)

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The evening we arrived in Guerrero Negro, we decided to splurge for a nice dinner at Malarrimo. We had delicious Filet Mignon dinners with drinks and Flan for dessert and the entire cost was about $50.00usd for all three of us including tip. The dinner was excellent, so much in fact, we ate there more than once.

We set up a tour to go on a whale watching excursion which was a bit pricey, but well worth it. We got up at the crack of dawn the next morning and got on a tour bus that took us out to the lagoon. The tour guide had told us that the previous day, the Marine Biologists were out counting the Gray Whales and counted over 680 whales and their calves. They were convinced it was going to be a fantastic day to be out on the water.

After about a 30-minute drive, we came across this huge mountain of what appeared to be snow. In the middle of the desert. Turns out, Guerrero Negro also is a salt mine. The sea salt they get there is 99.9% pure sodium. It’s so pure it actually can’t be used as table salt. It is a major producer for companies who need to use the pure sodium and they also take some to a local salt factory to produce table sea salt. They only distribute locally.

After we headed out onto the water, we came across two large barges filled with mountains of salt. It was quite something to see. After being on the water for about 20 minutes, we began to see water shooting up from the ocean. It was the whales blowing water from their blow holes! We started to slowly make our way over to where we saw the spray coming from and before we knew it, there were no less than 4 Grey Whales surrounding our boat. They were rubbing against our boat and breaching their heads up alongside the boat allowing us to pet them. They were so playful! They kept circling our boat, coming up and letting us pet them, they even teased us a bit by staying up out of the water, but just far enough for us not to be able to reach them. The tour guides think that the hum of the boat engine attracts the whales because they know they’ll get to play with humans.

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We spent 4 hours out on our whale watching excursion. I would definitely pay for it again! After spending all the time out on the ocean, we were tired and hungry. We got back to the RV park and ate once again at Malarrimo. We decided after touring the town for the rest of the day, that we’d head out to San Ignacio the following day. Beside the whale watching tours, I really didn’t find anything of much interest in Guerrero Negro. It’s far from any beach and to get to the beach you have to drive through a land fill. It’s a 20-minute drive and there is literally nothing out there to see. The town consists of 3 major roads and a handful of side streets.

The following morning, we packed up our stuff and someone had told us about this taco truck just up the street who serves the best fish tacos. We made a point to check it out. We were not disappointed and for $1.50 usd per taco, you couldn’t go wrong. The menu is small and simple with offerings of only 3 kinds of tacos and 2 types of tortillas. You put all the fixings on yourself. There had been a man who said he specifically makes a stop at that taco truck every year just for those tacos, and after having them, I can definitely see why.

We headed toward San Ignacio. We arrived just after 3 pm and went straight to the small town square. We had lunch at this little restaurant with a miniature pit bull parked in front. The dog was so friendly, he threw his ball at me and waited to see if I would throw it for him. He escorted us into the restaurant and sat by my side the entire meal. When we finished eating, he walked us out of the restaurant as if he were saying good-bye.

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We walked around the small town square and around Mission San Ignacio Kadakaaman. We decided to get a camping spot just down the street so we could come back the next day and go inside the mission. The camping spot was interesting. Very quiet, the grounds were kept and mostly clean, but it was a little 3rdworld. The toilets did not flush. To flush them, you had to bring in a bucket of water with you. Oh, by the way, in the entirety of Baja, the sanitation stations are not equipped to handle toilet paper, so you cannot flush your toilet paper in the toilet. Waste baskets are provided and you are expected to throw your toilet paper in the waste basket. Also worth a mention is to bring your own toilet paper. There have been many times that we’ve gone to a bathroom and found out there is no toilet paper. We’ve been fortunate enough to have the savviness to check the bathrooms when we first arrive to know what to expect.

When we arrived at the Mission the next morning, we ran into the bell ringer who told us the entire story of the mission in a very condensed version in Spanish, seemingly as fast as he could speak. He was responsible for the ringing of the bells of the cathedral every 5 minutes, so he was speaking very fast. I didn’t catch all of what he was saying, but I got most of it. In my head, the translation of Spanish to English went a little something like this:

Fernando came over here and wanted to build a place of worship for all to come. He was an evangelizer and scientific explorer. He designed this building and had an architect draw up the plans. After building the sanctuary and before the wings were completed, he had a vineyard on one side and grew grapes and a walking garden on the other. It took him 9 years to complete the roof of the sanctuary. Sadly, before the rest of the building could be constructed, there was a war that broke out and Fernando was killed. The grounds were set on fire and everything burned. Then, other people, Dominicans came in and reconstructed the mission from the plans Fernando had drawn up with the architect. They completed the building and it took 70 years. That was in the late 1700’s and the building still stands today and church services are still held.

Now, I don’t know how much of this is true, I haven’t done any research on it, and I don’t know that the Spanish he was speaking actually translated correctly in my head because he was speaking so fast. So really, I only got bits and pieces of what he said and kind of pieced it together.

After this kind man said his piece, he went outside, rang the bells for about a minute and ran inside. As we were walking the grounds we began to hear what sounded like a sermon happening, and peaked our heads into the sanctuary. Up in the pulpit, the priest, and podium was the bell ringer and another woman. They were preaching to a nearly non-existent congregation. It was just us three and two other people sitting in the pews.

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After the short service, we went and got breakfast at the only open restaurant in town, packed up camp and headed toward Santa Rosalía.

 

They call it “Bay of The Angels” Bahia De Los Angeles.

DSCF2229When we left Coco’s Corner, we ventured to Bahia de Los Angeles. We were excited to see this bay as we had been told there was a small town with provisions. We came into town and were a little shocked to find that there were 2 Pemex stations in which to fuel up the vehicle. The first one you come to doesn’t take cards, it’s cash only. We decided to just pay in cash and go to a bank to get more money.

When we got into town, we were surprised to find hardly anything open, no bank or ATM machine and the options for provisions were two stores with mostly empty shelves. Really, we were looking for a map of Baja. We gathered what supplies we could and ate lunch at one of the two places that were open. They advertised wifi, but it was something you had to pay for, which would be cool except most times we’ve found throughout Baja, the wifi is often not working or is so slow, we can’t get anything done that we need access for. We skipped this option and instead tried to use our phones on the TelCel network. Well, that didn’t work either. The network goes dead from just South of San Felipe to Guerrero Negro, which is 250 mile stretch of washed out roads and long, narrow and winding roads. Bahia De Los Angeles is right in the middle of this dead zone. We took it in stride and decided that for the entire week we were traveling through this dead zone, we were going to give Kaden vacation days from school.

It was nice not being connected to the world. Albeit, not so much for our families. We try to contact our families every time we get to a new location or set out for a new location. We’ve often found that once we get to a destination, especially in northern Baja, there is no reception so we try while we’re driving, to notify them of our plans; usually by text or a quick call before our service cuts out.

Due to the dismal amenities of this town and our need for supplies, we only stayed in Bahia de Los Angeles for 1 night. We set up camp at Dagget’s Sport Fishing Camp. It was a nice location right on the beach with private palapa’s. They had hot showers (but the water really came out as a trickle) flush toilets and views for days. The sign advertised it as an “rv park” but there were no such amenities. The electricity was not working, there were no sewer connections and no water hook ups that we could find. There was, however, a more recently built motel on some of the property and active construction for more structures.

I had asked the owner if there was an ATM or bank around and he said the closest one is in Guerrero Negro, which was nearly 3 hours away and where we were heading to next anyway. He charged us $150p per person, rather than per night so the total cost was $300p. Kaden is still under 12, so he was free. That seemed a bit expensive to me for Baja standards and what amenities you don’t get. We paid $20usd per night at Kiki’s in San Felipe and had hot showers with enough pressure to wash my hair, electricity, sewer hook ups and flush toilets with a 2 story palapa right on the beach. The $300p is equivalent to $15usd, so comparatively it was a bit more expensive considering the amenities you don’t get.

We were practically the only people there. There were only 3 other families camping out there with us, so it was quiet and all we heard at night was the sound of the ocean waves crashing along the shoreline.

We headed out to Guerrero Negro the next morning and tried to get GPS signal to navigate our way there. Well, without any signal for the 250 mile stretch of road, we had no luck. We literally looked at the zoomed-out map of Baja and navigated that way.

We went through yet another military checkpoint and inspection station where they actually sprayed the undercarriage of our vehicle. Apparently when you cross into Baja Sur, they do this for invasive species… Um, what? What about the rest of the vehicle? Is it unlikely that little fellas are going to hitch a ride somewhere else besides the undercarriage? Oh, and you also had to pay $20p for that service.

The good thing about Baja, all the major highways are pretty well marked. The road signs are easy to see and directions clear. If anything, I found it more difficult to follow the GPS than to actually look at the road signs and follow them. Even when the roads are washed out, the alternate route is clearly delineated and easy to follow. When there are multiple roads leading other places, they all come up to the same road, just in different places. You really can’t get too lost getting back to a main road from a diverted road. You will definitely put your mapping skills to the test if you’re unfamiliar with maps. We consider ourselves darn near expert map navigators at this point in our lives, yet this time we happen to not even carry a map of the country we plan to be in for 6 months to a year. Well, we thought we had everything pretty well planned, but there is always something that’s forgotten. If you choose to come this route, I highly suggest stopping somewhere to get a map of Mexico and Baja prior to leaving the USA.

We finally rolled in to Guerrero Negro around noon and stopped at an RV park that had a restaurant attached to it. We set up camp and set out on the scooter to explore. The first stop, the bank. In Baja, cash is king. If you can pay in Pesos, the exchange rate is better. By paying in USD, you’re essentially throwing money away. Not many places take Visa/MC or Amex. I actually think I may have only seen 2 or 3 places in Baja Norte, it’s more prevalent in Baja Sur, but it’s not widely accepted except in places that charge large sums of money for their products. Most places you’ll dine will be cash only, so make sure you keep cash on you. The good thing though, if you like to pay in US dollars, is that they take Pesos and USD.

 

 

Coco’s Corner

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When we left San Felipe, we headed down Highway 5 south. We had been told the road was pretty rough and decided to tough it out and try it anyway. Turns out, the entire stretch of highway was missing bridges and some roads which made driving toward Puertecitos a bit daunting. By Google Maps, the drive from San Felipe to Puertecitos is only an hour trip, maybe hour and a half. Getting to Puertecitos was no problem. Yeah, the road was rough and it took a little over 2 hours due to the roads being washed out and diversions everywhere, but the road was still passable, even for 2wd vehicles.

When we got to Puertecitos, we wanted to get to the Hot Springs, which are tide dependent. If the tide is high, the hot springs are washed out and there is no getting in to soak. We happen to get there at that high tide time, so we didn’t get to go in, and the lady there was charging nearly $800 pesos for us to go in! That’s over $40. No thanks.

We skipped the hot spring and headed down further south. We wanted to make it at least to Coco’s Corner. This place is actually a home owned by Coco. It’s on the Baja racing circuit and quite in the middle of nowhere.

After driving very slowly on highway 5, and being very sick, we arrived at Coco’s Corner about 6 hours after setting out from San Felipe. Keep in mind, it’s 122 miles, and should have only taken maybe 3.5 hours to get there. The roads were so bad we found ourselves getting our brains rattled by the washboard roads that had been a makeshift detour around all the bridge failures and washed out roads. We literally were driving about 5-7mph for a really long portion of road because the washboards were more like speed humps. We launched off of a couple and I was sure we were going to break our chassis. Luckily, we didn’t.

We arrived at Coco’s Corner just before sunset and asked him if we could stay on his property. He happily obliged. He explained to us it was too dangerous to drive the road at night and insisted we stay the night and gave us a place to park and stay. He told us stories of how the Coyote (human) use the road just beyond his home to smuggle people and drugs in and out of the country and to be careful because if you get in the way at night, you may find yourself in a precarious position. He also said there are regular coyotes out at night and to keep the dog in the fenced area and to watch her at all times, because the coyotes would attack and drag her away.

The funny thing about Coco is, he’s an 83-year-old man who has no legs yet built the house he lives in by himself. He lost his first leg in 1991 after a work accident where a beam had fallen on his leg and quite literally chopped it off. The second leg was lost in 1995 because he fell off a beam and landed on a nail that was sticking up and penetrated through his foot. He let his foot become infected, and eventually the infection became so bad he had to have his leg amputated. In remembrance of those events and the suffered loss, he’s had both legs cremated and they hang in his home as a reminder to not be stupid.

Even after all of that, he was able to build his house by himself. His home to most of us in the USA would be considered a shack. But to him, it’s his world. It’s his major accomplishment. He has running water for showers along with a water heater, powered by solar which is hooked up to a series of car batteries. These also power the electricity in his house for lighting. He has no heat or air. He has some insulation in the walls and ceiling, but literally, there is no internal wall. It is plywood and exposed 2×4. He has adorned his one internal wall with badges, dollars, under garments and license plates donated by his many passersby.

This man has become such a major fixture along the Baja race route, that the racers have actually donated him a truck. He uses it to drive to Ensenada for doctor appointments and home. He doesn’t go anywhere else. He uses a stick for the gas and break since he has no legs. If you look closely at the picture of the truck, you’ll see a road runner who starts out with 2 legs, then has one leg, until he has no legs.

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Coco takes it all in stride. He’s pleasant, funny and super witty. He speaks pretty good English and is so welcoming. He has a lady who lives on the property who helps him with cooking and checking his water supply. She cooked us dinner the first night and breakfast the next morning prior to us heading out.

He showed us a guest book he keeps, and just from July 2017 to the beginning of February 2019, he has over 500 pages of names of people who have all stopped by or stayed for the evening. Visitors from literally everywhere. Because he is so far off the beaten path, he makes everyone sign his guest book and makes them leave emergency contact info too. He’s helped with a few people who have ended up dying after leaving his place and venturing out to their next destination. He’s been able to contact family members of the deceased and hold the decedent’s property until their families could come and collect the decedents property. He tries to dissuade people who are walking from venturing out in the heat of the day through the desert, but people don’t always want to listen.

If you ever find yourself out near Coco’s corner (you’ll find it on google maps), stop in, say hi and consider helping him out with supplies. You’ll be happy you did.