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We hoped the beginning of this mini expedition was not an omen for the entire journey. Between the last minute (very expensive) car fix, accidentally giving a McDonalds cup full of Sprite instead of water to Winston, pouring rain in San Diego, frantic run to the bank and other errands in said rain, and a bit of apprehension about crossing our first border in our own vehicle, we were already feeling a little defeated by this adventure. Turns out we would leave the bad luck in the states.
We (read: Jesse) had done an enormous amount of research on the Baja; border crossings, gas gaps, road conditions, camping options, paperwork for Winston, etc., but this mode of travel (overloading) is new to us, so there were still unknowns. We approached the boarder at Tijuana and didn’t have to wait even one minute. We’d heard horror stories about having to wait in lines for hours and how stressful border crossings can be (though I think most of these stories are from countries farther south). We did have to stop at a specific building to get our travel visas approved. I was reminded that things are still a little serious when I walked near a dog crate (I think it was a police dog) and he went APE. The whole crate was thrashing around like something straight out of a cartoon. Noted.
We booked it to Ensenada because Tijuana is…well you know what Tijuana is. We weaved our way through town and made our first fish taco run at the infamous Fenix. Every overlander makes a stop at Fenix. We found the Walmart and I braved the shopping trip i was dreading. We loaded up for the next 2 weeks (side note: our custom cabinetry food storage was right on point, exactly what we needed) and headed south.
The scenery was beautiful, the roads not too horrible, and the temperatures getting warmer by the minute. There were more cacti than the stars. Word is there are like 300 types of cacti along the Baja, many of which are only found in this region. Oh, and they were 30 foot tall, too.
We made it to our first camp spot, a beautiful little spot along the west coast. The campground was owned by a rancher(?). Clean and modern. Right on the beach. I definitely would have appreciated the flush toilets and warm showers more if I new what was to come! There was only one other camper there, what looked like snowbirds. More on that later. Winston ran along the beach and we settled into the tranquil life!
Whale watching was on our minds, so we set off early for San Ignacio. It was a long day of driving through endless desert and hours of no gas stations, the “Baja Gas Gap.” We finally arrived in San Ignacio just as the sun was setting. A darling town we promised to explore on our way out. We decided to push on for the lagoon. We knew a portion of the road was unpaved, but those 20km of washboard quickly turned into the lowlight of the trip. It didn’t help that we did that stretch of road at night (breaking our rule of never driving at night). However, it was so worth it. We pulled up to a fantastic campsite right next to the lagoon. Oskar (from Spain) upgraded our spot and we fell silent in hopes of hearing the whales. It didn’t take long for us to hear the not so distant sounds of the whales breathing.
We woke up to ridiculous winds. We were sure the whale watching would be off. I wasn’t to keen on being in a tiny motorized row boat out in the open waters in those conditions anyways. But Oskar arranged for a guy to drive us to a different spot to launch from. From January to March, the moms are teaching their babes how to whale, so they hang out in this one spot in the lagoon. To say this was a highlight was an understatement. We lost count of how many California Gray Whales we saw and (almost) touched. They literally surrounded the boat, teasing us with a fin or tail just out of reach. We saw them stick their noses out of water, jump and land with a huge splash, and roll around. It was SO incredible.
The ride back to the campsite was a bumpy one, but it was so worth it. We packed up and headed back up that ridiculous washboard road towards the town. San Ignacio was a little sleepy, but so very charming. It’s called a little “oasis,” which is right on. We stayed in a campsite just outside of the center of town, Don Chon, which went right along with the oasis feeling. The giant cockroach I spotted on the wall by the toilet killed the bliss of it all a little, but that’s the Baja life for ya!