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Estado Libre y Soberano de Baja California

(Free and Sovereign State of Baja California - decided freely to join the Mexican federation)

Buenos Dias Amigas y Amigos (y non genres)! We've been in Mexico since October 9, so this is our third week. Some might say that we're not really in Mexico, because the Baja peninsula is a country within a country. Let's talk about Baja today, and we'll come back to Mexico when we're on the "mainland" in Mazatlán on November 3, after a 13-hour ferry ride between La Paz and Mazatlán (which will be fun, as there were no cabins left, so we'll be sleeping on deck somewhere...).

What is Baja? In Spanish: Península de Baja California and is located in northwestern Mexico. It separates the Gulf of California (or Sea of Cortés) from the Pacific Ocean. The Baja region is a sizeable one, nearly 1,250 km (775 miles) long, and is divided into two states (provinces), Baja California and Baja California Sur. We've just entered the second province.

So how are things going for us in Baja? Pretty good actually. You don't have to be stressed by the very slow pace (you think it's long at the Canadian Tire checkout, I've got news for you!), the wide-open spaces (with endless landscapes of surreal cacti) and the absence of crowds (not a cat to be seen but plenty of stray dogs)! To get to Baja, we did our research and crossed the border at Tecate, which was much more relaxed than Tijuana (which has a reputation for its illegal immigration situation). The border crossing at Tecate was a smooth but long as it took us three long steps to complete. In case you are wondering, Trump's metal wall is clearly visible and oppressive, especially when you're on the Mexican side.

As a first step, we parked far enough away from the border in the U.S., then walked across the Mexican border to apply for our visitor visas. The Mexican customs officers were welcoming and friendly. Second step, we had to return to the U.S. to make photocopies of key documents and walk back to Mexico to apply for a temporary import document for the motorhome. The process was quite bureaucratic and time-consuming, but the big problem was 100% Québécois, because of the darn SAAQ motorhome registration certificate, which we now have to print out ourselves. Although it is great to be a distinct society, thank you “SAAQ Clic”, the Mexican customs officer was not impressed by the home-made certificate cut out à la arts and craft.

The customs officer may have been bureaucratic, but he wanted to help. To prove that our vehicle was our RC, we had to show him photos of the RV, show proof of residence, etc. I am still puzzled by the fact that the owner's address does not appear on the Quebec registration certificate. Also, why is the type of vehicle written in microscopic characters on the back of the registration in font so tiny that it takes a microscope to read it? In any case, we survived the SAAQ debacle and got our documents from customs, but that's promising for other Central American countries. As a final step, we had to cross the border with the vehicle. The military customs officers did a cursory inspection of the motorhome, thanks to our boys speaking to them in Spanish. After five minutes of chit-chatting with our boys, the soldiers exited the RV smiling and laughing, and Stéphanie and I no longer existed! Our boys were sublime!

Here we were in Tecate on October 9th (see map), entering the urban jungle of Tecate streets - quite a shock! We had to drive assertively, otherwise we'd still be there! First stop, the Mexican Walmart, as we had to replace quite a bit of our food. You can't cross the Mexican border with fresh food or food that's been opened and bought in the United States. To our surprise, when Stephanie was alone with the RV, a Guardia Nacional Mexicana armored car arrived and surrounded the motorhome. I arrived with the children, and military personnel were posted around our vehicle. There did not seem to be any problem; they were smiling, but I have no idea what they were doing there. Young people armed to the teeth right next to the RV...they were either protecting us or using the motorhome as a "shield". Who knows? They left as quickly as they arrived. We made sure to get out of there!

We headed for the "Valle de la Guadalupe" (near Ensenada on the map), a superb wine-growing region with vines and vineyards as far as the eye can see. Our stop was at the El Valle RV Park, two hours from Tecate. The two-lane road to get there was in very good condition, if somewhat narrow. You meet semi-trailers and there's not much room to maneuver, especially as there's no shoulder...What an incredible site we had at El Valle RV Park. We were the only ones there when we arrived, but owners Luis and Pherla made us feel like family. We stayed for a week to "adapt" to our new country and what a smart decision that was.

Luis and Pherla directed us to some great restaurants in the area (La Cocina de Doña Esthela and Tre-Galline) and they were our guests for an evening at Tre-Galline! What great, affordable food for this level of gastronomy! It was a surprise to realize that none other than Gordon Ramsay had visited La Cocina de Doña Esthela in February 2022 and said it deserved a Michelin star and was the best breakfast in the world...To be honest, the breakfast was very good but a Michelin star, really! Then our lunch the next day was just sublime for 75 Canadian dollars for the four of us. Okay, Gordon was right - the lunch was amazing!

Tre-Galline also wowed our taste buds. An Italian living in exile in Baja, who cooks great food, topped off with fine wines from Magoni. But even if these restaurants are in a class of their own, to get there you have to take roads worthy of the Paris-Dakar rally, in other words, they are "trails". Apart from the main roads, the rest of the roads and streets are sand or dirt roads in Baja. You can drive on them but some parts are on the limit of being drivable (enough to crash solidly on a bike!).

Then there are the stray many as Christophe would like us to adopt. The vast majority are harmless, but many are hungry and you have to be careful when you're out walking. We had a not-so-great experience with an unhappy pit bull who followed us menacingly during one of our walks and I almost pepper-sprayed him..

On Luis and Pherla's recommendation, we headed to the city of San Felipe via Ensenada, a beautiful 4-hour ride on a road that's narrow but almost new. We stopped at "Pete's Camp" campground in San Felipe, with an incredible site just a few feet from the Sea of Cortés. Wow! Another magical experience, with temperatures of 30-35 degrees Celsius and the most welcoming salty sea. The water was over 80 degrees Fahrenheit and even warmer when the tide went out. Many American and Canadian retirees have their second homes here. The boys took the opportunity to have lunch for two (without the parents!) at the local café, while Stéphanie and I took a moment alone to relax at the bar.

Traffic is light on Baja's roads, but vehicles move quickly, and there are the multiple checkpoints of the Guardia Nacional Mexicana. The military are on the lookout for traffickers and illegal goods, but passing through these well-guarded checkpoints is always a stressful experience. But you know what? No worries so far. As soon as we mention that our two boys speak Spanish, a discussion ensues between our 11 and 12 year-old sons and the military officers, and we're quickly told to move on as the military are impressed to see two Canadian boys speaking their language (Thanks, Trivium Academy!).

Our next stop was Bahia de Los Angeles at Campo Archelon, a former sea turtle research center. This was a big disappointment. The site not well maintained and it was hit by a hurricane last August. It was difficult to get there, with roads in poor condition, only to find a majestic bay (with psychedelic cacti worthy of Dr. Seuss) but decrepit infrastructure. To make matters worse, the Pemex station had run out of diesel when we rode into town... the next station was 165 km away... (with the reserve can, we had about 180km of range...).

Life is funny sometimes. While we were at Campo Archelon, I spotted a motorhome like ours (Mercedes Sprinter 3500) Quebec plates! I hastened to find out if the driver knew where to get diesel, but Mario had just arrived and had no idea there was a shortage in town. Well, nice Mario came back the next day to tell us that the station had received diesel. He went out of his way to come all the way back to our spot to tell us this news. Thank you, Mario from Trois-Rivières!

After 5 hours on the road, we're now in San Ignacio, a small village of just over 500 people (not far from Santa Rosalia on the map). It is a village frozen in time, with its Misión San Ignacio Kadakaamán, a church built in 1728 and still in use. We lunched on the public square in front of this historic building and imagined what it was like to live there almost 300 years ago.

We are camping at Paraíso Misional, a lovely campsite run by a very kind elderly lady. San Ignacio is considered an "oasis" with its thousands of palm trees, and the dates literally fall on your head! The area is irrigated by a vast pond and a network of rivers, so for a moment you leave the desert for a lush setting. Horses gallop freely along the main street and the locals are super friendly.

We set off again tomorrow for Mulegé (2 hours' drive), where the Sea of Cortés is at its most beautiful, crystalline and warm, and the seafood is excellent. We'll stay there for two days and then head for La Paz, which was hit by Hurricane Norma last week. From the port of Pinchilinque in La Paz, we'll take the ferry to Mazatlán.

It's often said and written that Baja is one of the last "wild" destinations outside the typical Mexican and Caribbean circuits. This is indeed the case, and we're getting used to the slow pace and generous sunshine (temperatures are now between 25 and 29 degrees Celsius). It's very easy to be forgotten here and to forget the notion of time, and it's easy to see why so many expatriates settle in these picturesque little villages.

At times, we question our itinerary. For example, with the recent violence attributed to the cartels in some of the Mexican states we're thinking of crossing (Guerrero and Michoacan in particular), we're rethinking our itinerary to avoid these places. But one thing's for sure: we'll be back in Baja!

N.B. So what's the cost of living in Baja? We're not in California anymore, and prices have come down considerably, but Baja is one of the most expensive regions in Mexico because of the presence of expatriates. This means that diesel costs $1.70 CAD a liter. Essential food is very inexpensive and a good bottle of Magoni costs $12-15 CAD.

P.S. Our family is growing, a stray dog is following us around San Ignacio and Malika, a 5-year-old girl, is also shadowing us (well, she is shadowing Christophe, actually).

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