Baja California, Mexico. Part 1. Arrival
My second trip to Mexico started in January 2020 from the peninsula Baja California.
It is the northernmost state of Mexico, 1,300 km long, south of the border with California, located in the north of the Baja California Peninsula. Its official name is the Free and Sovereign State of Lower California, and before the state was formed the territory was known as Lower, or Northern California.
Although I have been to Mexico before, this was the first time I was heading to Baja California, looking forward to it, excited and, to be honest, a bit cautious. Well, a big part of the peninsula is desert, and I’m not really good at riding in sand. But I did not want to aggravate the situation beforehand, let’s solve the problems at the moment they show up.
Departure from California and crossing the border between the United States and Mexico was scheduled for January 6. For a couple of days I stayed with friends in Irvine, near Los Angeles, and right from there I was going to the border near the town Tecate. You can enter Baja California from the USA through several border crossing points, and the most popular of them is Tijuana. Probably because there is a straight road leading to Tijuana along the California coast, so it is easy and fast to get there. But its downside is that crossing the border here can take a while because of many people, and I’ve been warned about it many times. Fortunately, there are other options. A little bit aside there is another border at the town Tecate. To get there you would need to make a little detour, which I didn’t mind at all, but there are much less people here and all customs and immigration procedures are faster and easier. So I didn’t think much over which border to go to, the decision was made immediately. Moreover, the back road to Tecate goes through the hills, so the trip itself would be much more pleasant and interesting than by the straight and boring highway. Well, after crossing the border I planned to get to Ensenada on the west coast of Baja California, and spend the night there. The planned mileage for the first day was just about 300 km, even with the border crossing and customs procedures it was quite a manageable distance, so I was not in a hurry to leave too early.
However, after saying goodbye to my friends, I rode the first 100 km on the highway to save some time. Then in the town of Escondido (despite the name, it’s still the USA) I turned off the main road, filled up my bike and took the back road to the border, which was still another 100 km away.
As it was expected, this road was much more scenic and quiet, only occasionally there were some vehicles passing by. But the wind which started to pick up in the hills, made me feel a bit of discomfort. So when I spotted Tecate from afar, I sighed with relief, I would not mind to stop and take a break.
Although this border is easier, but there are some nuances, which I was also warned about and which I soon experienced myself. Luckily, some Facebook friends gave me detailed instructions what to do, and it made my life a lot easier. Although, there was still a bit of confusion. First of all, it took me some time to find an immigration office on the USA side. In my understanding, as is usually the case, you have to put a stamp in your passport on leaving one country, and then entering another one. How surprised I was when it turned out that I wouldn’t get any stamps in my passport in the USA, and the proof of my exit from the USA would be the entry stamp in Mexico. Well, it couldn’t have been easier, but in order to get this information I had to run in circles and spend at least half an hour.
Well, the next step was to do the paperwork on the Mexican side, and I was already anticipating not the easiest course of events. Since there was no parking on the Mexican side, I had to leave my bike on the USA side. Fortunately, although what I had to do and where to go was not obvious at the first glance either, at least I could ask anyone here and get a clear answer. First, I had to get my visa. Yes, I need a visa to enter Mexico, but they stamp it in your passport right here at the border. It costs 30 USD, and you can stay in the country for 180 days. To be honest, I was surprised; last time as far as I remember I had only three months stay, and now it was six. Of course, I wasn’t going to stay in Mexico that long. But future turn of events showed how wrong I was, and how lucky I was to have those six months of legal stay in the country. So, I paid the visa fee at the bank which was right there in a small kiosk.
After that I had to do the temporary import document for my motorcycle. It turned out that I could do it at the same bank kiosk. I have to say that all the officials whom I spoke to were very well-mannered and patient answering all my questions. Though what I’m surprised about… Mexico, and Latin America in general, is famous for its hospitality and cordiality.
Nevertheless, their hospitality and patience could hardly sweeten a bitter pill of all their official fees I had to pay. After adding up everything I had to pay on this side, I realized with horror that it was almost my monthly travel budget. Of course, I’m exaggerating a little bit So, the road fee paid by everyone, regardless of the type of vehicle they enter the country, is about 50 USD. This amount is paid only once and is not refundable. Then you have to make a deposit in the bank, which guarantees that you will leave the country with your vehicle within the assigned period of time, same six months. In this case, the deposit will be refunded to you. The deposit amount depends on the year of your vehicle production – the newer it is, the more money you would have to deposit. My motorcycle of 2013 was in the most expensive category. I had to deposit 400 USD for it. Of course, I asked a girl at the counter several times, whether my deposit will be refunded when I leave the country. It seems like it will, and as far as I remember from other travelers’ comments, they had no problem with their deposit refund. Well, I really wished it to be true…
Very good advice I was given by the same Facebook friends, was to make copies of my documents in advance – copies of my passport and motorcycle papers. I followed that advice and was very happy about it. But the thing is apart from those copies I already had, in order to make the import documents for my bike I needed another copy of my visa in the passport, which, of course, was impossible to make in advance. But supposedly there was a photocopy machine in a pharmacy near the Mexican border, and copies could be made there. And why wasn’t I surprised when I found this pharmacy and it was closed? : ) Then another chain of searches and failures followed, which ended happily, and a copy of my visa was kindly made as a favor at the same office where the visa itself was issued. And the last border anecdote that day… I had to go back to the USA side to pick up my motorcycle, and I went back the same way as I came from. It turned out that the only way back was through another gate which I didn’t know about. Fortunately, I was forgiven, they took into consideration my first time here and not knowing all the rules.
So, after I finalized all the official procedures, I entered the city itself and stopped for a photo near the big letters Tecate in the city center. I felt very tired, but also very happy to be back to Mexico. Although I had not been to this part of Mexico before, the very fact that I was again in Mexico filled me with a sense of joy.
Looking at the clock, I realized that there was only one hour left until the sunset. At the border I spent more time than I expected, and I was more tired too. I did not want to add to this adventure a night ride on the Mexican roads the very first day. Besides, the wind didn’t stop, and I knew that it would feel even stronger outside the city. Something told me that Tecate was the place to sleep. I try to listen to such unexpected thoughts and feelings, they are usually very timely and correct. So I took them almost immediately as a sign and a guidance to follow. Now all I had to do was to find a cheap hotel, to eat something and go to bed early.
Looking for a hotel, I was riding around the city until it got dark. Somehow I thought that there should be more hotels in the border town, but everywhere I went according to what Google Maps, Maps.me and other resources told me, I couldn’t find any hotels there.
Eventually I went back to my starting point, and surprisingly I found a hotel right there, behind the big letters where I had been taking photos before. The hotel Tecate seemed very plain and even invisible at the first sight, maybe that’s why I missed it. Or maybe I just didn’t think I could find a cheap hotel at the center of the city. But the rooms were tidy and clean, the price quite reasonable, and I even could park my motorcycle inside.
Now I could say for sure that I was in Mexico, this transit day to a new country was coming to its end, and I was very curious and looking forward to a new adventure and journey through Mexico, and Baja California in particular.
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