Archive for 2014

Baja: Crossing the Border

November 7th, 2014

This post is part of our trip to baja.

If you’ve spent any time researching travelling in Baja, Mexico, you’ve surely run across these “rules”. According to the Internet, if you want to stay alive in Baja, Mexico, this is what you have to do or not do:

1. Don’t drive after dark.
2. Travel in groups.
3. Don’t cross at Tijuana.
4. No weapons (not even a bullet), drugs or anything illegal.
5. Cross the border at in the morning and drive as far south as you can.
6. Do not exit your vehicle before you get at least 400 miles south of the border.
7. Drive on the toll road. The bandits are on the libre.
8. If you are written a ticket, don’t pay the officer (it’s a bribe) for it. Go to the station instead.
9. Don’t drive after dark!

You’ll notice that one and nine are the same. This is because it is a very important rule!

Our plan
Meet part of our group near the border at 8am (Rule 5). Then, go to the border to meet the rest. Once there, we’d get our tourist card “visas”. Then, we’d drive as far south as we could in the remaining sunlight and find a lovely little place to stay (while following rule 6). We would get off the road before dark (Rule 1 and 9). The next day, we would enjoy a beach sunrise and spend the day driving as far south as we could. Rinse and repeat until we hit Mulege. Fish tacos and cerveza.

What really happened
Our group didn’t get together until about 10am. We all sat outside of a Starbucks programming our walkie-talkies and catching up. It’d had been years since we had seen each there. It was so good to see everyone and talk about the adventure ahead. It was going to be a great trip. We love you Bestest Bri and other guy.

We met up with the second part of our group at about noon at in a parking lot on the US side of the border at Tijuana. The boys walked across the border to get pesos and visit the immigration office. When they returned, they said that the office was closed (or didn’t exist I can’t remember which) so no tourist card at the border. Our friends assured us that it wasn’t a big deal and that we’d pick them up in Ensenada. No worries. OK.

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We all got into our vehicles and went across the border, being careful to stay together. The Mexican border patrol had their own way of doing things. They had each one of us pull into separate parking areas in anticipation of a full vehicle search. They searched everyone differently (that’s a story in itself). By the time our van was done, three of our five car caravan had already been sent on their way. Then it was our turn.

With no where to wait for each other near the border, we were thrust onto a fast moving network of roads that had obviously been designed by someone enjoying a plate of spaghetti. Everyone was heading south on their own. Thankfully, we had all turned our radios (walkie talkies) on.

 

 

Crazy MX roads


I still don’t know which way we went.

 

We were able to get Brightest Bri on the radio. Hurrah! We were not alone. We were also able to locate some of the folks that we had joined at the border. But, where was our other friend?!?! He wasn’t with the rest of our group nor was he answering our calls on the radio. I was soooooo worried about him. He said that never drives anywhere, and it was his first time in MX. He was no where to be seen or heard. OMG OMG I knew we weren’t supposed to cross at Tijuana (Rule 3)! We, and Brian the Wise, scanned the sides of MX 1 for our friend’s white Ford van. An easy find for sure.

After freaking out for about 10km, we spotted our friend just as we were entering the first toll booth on the Carretera Escenica. He had pulled over at what he thought was the immigration office where we were to get our “visas” at. We told Festiva Bri we had seen the other guy. And after a bit of driving/radio magic we were together again. Now, the “other guy” had his radio on. All was good. Then, we saw Jesus. He was standing over a bunch of expensive houses on the beach. I have no idea what he was thinking about.giant jesus ensenda

Baja: Getting Ready

November 6th, 2014

This is part one of our trip to Baja.

After three plus years of wanting to sell the camper (it was way too big for our lifestyle), we finally put our backs into it and got it done. Yeehaw!

The camper's final days.

 

With that (4 hours) behind us, we were free to move about the country again. I knew that our friends were heading down to Baja California, Mexico in just under two weeks, so we decided to crash their caravan. That’s right 10 days to get everything in order and drive from Florida to San Diego. Go!

We had just spent the last few months getting the van expedition ready (huge thanks to Shawn and my folks) so the only vehicle related prep we had to do was get Mexican auto insurance. That part was so easy. We signed up over the internet and printed the paper work out at a truck stop in route. It cost about $500 for 6mo. There are also plans for half that amount. We weren’t going to the mainland, so importation paperwork wasn’t necessary.

Ready to go!

 

It took us about five days to make the trip from across the country. Once there, we proceed to get our ducks in a row for our journey south into Baja.

This being my first time camping in another country (Canada doesn’t count), I wasn’t sure what to expect. Everything the media feeds us about Mexico sure puts the place in a bad light. So in a moment of paranoia, I opened a travel account with my bank. I considered it a disposable account that I could move small amounts of cash into as needed. They gave me an on the spot, temporary debit card. My bank offers these accounts without minimum balances or fees for up to 90 days. There are no fees or penalties to close it.

I got my bills set up on auto pay so that things would churn along without me. I wish that I had thought to put some of my accounts on hold. It would have saved me $100s.There’s no reason to pay for services I’m not using.

We have a lot of things that we didn’t feel needed to come south with us, so we rented storage bay near the border to store it until our stateside return. It’s $45/mo and the first month was free.

To be on the safe side, I got the required health certificate for the dogs. You are supposed to have one dated no earlier than 10 days before your border crossing. In order to get one, all you need is proof of current rabies vaccination and a healthy dog… oh and cash  I got our certs at the animal clinic in El Centro. They charged around $75 for Snowden’s booster shot and health certificates for both dogs. Much better than the $100 per dog the other vets were quoting.

The rest of our stateside time was spent shopping to fill up all of the space we made, by putting things in storage, with food and toiletpaper. I guess I just subconsciously assumed that, since I’d never seen TP in any of the Mexican bathrooms I’d been in, the whole country must be devoid of it. Oh and I bought tortillas… really?!? Haha I’m not quite sure what I was thinking.

 

Camping at Oak Ridge Equestrian Area SWFWMD

May 9th, 2014

This is one of many vehicle accessible, free campgrounds that are maintained by the Southwest Florida Water Management District. While there are no fees to camp here, you must obtain a reservation. The camping area is behind a locked gate. When your reservation is confirmed, you will be granted entry. It’s only a minor inconvenience considering what you are getting, free camping in Florida.

The camping area in on high ground and dappled with scrub pine shade.  There is plenty of room for several groups

 swfwmd oakridge equestrian camping area  swfwmd oakridge equestrian camping area our free campsite

There’s picnic tables, fire rings, a little shelter, portable toilet and water via hand pump

 swfwmd oakridge equestrian camping area road  swfwmd oakridge equestrian camping area

 swfwmd oakridge equestrian camping area bushcraft arrows on the ground florida swfwmd oakridge camping area

It was just us and the tent. We’d see people on horses once in a while. I never saw anyone in the tent, but they had obviously taken over the shelter, and were into bushcraft, as we found items such as this bow made from a windshield wiper all throughout it.. As we were leaving we passed a snake venom guy, presumably out trying to catch some rattlers.

For more reservation info, maps, reviews and pictures of this free Florida campground, please visit freecampsites.net.

In or Out

May 8th, 2014

Using the outdoor kitchen/shower area.

Oh, look! Van pictures.

That’s dinner cooking in the outdoor kitchen/shower. To turn it into an indoor kitchen, just close the door. Indoor showers are not suggested.

The propane fired stove (Coleman PowerPack 1-Burner Stove) is attached to a board which folds down when not in use. We’d been talking about doing this before we even got the van. It is just as cool as we thought it was going to be.

Ninja Shower

The shower (Eccotemp L5 Portable Tankless Water Heater and Outdoor Shower) is also propane fired so the insulated wall behind it is covered in aluminum for fire protection. Between the shower and a 31 gallon water tank sits a water pump (Flojet 03526 144A Triplex Diaphragm 3526 Series Automatic Water System Pump).

Open the door, throw up a tarp, turn on the water pump, get naked and fire up the shower. It’s soooo much nicer than a solar shower.

Texas Beach Bumming

February 26th, 2014

Here’s a little bit of last winter that I just ran across. Sorry about any bitrot. I’m too lazy to look for pictures at the moment. I recommend setting your imagination to 8 or higher.

After Rain and I ran away from home (well, from Jenn and the idea of working for a living), we made our way through Arizona, New Mexico and most of Texas before finally arriving at Corpus Christi and finally got to see something besides desert and high desert for the first time in months.

Padre Island National Seashore
I made it to North Padre Island the last night of February – a couple weeks before Texas spring break started. North Padre Island is part of the national seashore and allows beach camping on 60 miles of unimproved beach. The first few miles are accessible to passenger vehicles, after which things get a bit hairy. My advice to anyone wanting to go far down the beach is to pay attention to the tides and drive in and out during low tide. It’s best to match up low tide and daylight hours so you can drive as fast as possible and watch out for humps and debris in the damp sand. This is a really nice couple of hours driving at the right time. During high tides, you’ll need four wheel drive and be going very slowly.

The rules for length of stay at Padre are really friendly for snowbirding. 14 days in the park, 48 hours out. Rinse and repeat until you’ve stayed 56 days in a year. Expect rust. Expect salt spray to foul up electronics. Expect unicorns to attack (true story).

I drove about 15 miles out upon arrival, cooked up some sausages and made dinner. It was a beautiful clear night; just a mild chill in the air considering it was the end of February. The only lights I could see were a few oil rigs out on the Gulf and a couple of boats. We slept with one wing open to lessen the wind blowing through the rig all night. I do like having a toasty sleeping bag and a little dog with sharp ears.

The next morning, I got up and took my time making breakfast. It was Saturday, so there were a few people driving out past us. The van with the wings open and off in the high sand drew a LOT of stares. It took a while to get used to this, but the Texas beaches are kind of a cruising scene.

The day was gorgeous and the weather report from NOAA (I was picking it up via a handheld radio my buddy Phil gave me this winter) gave me a pretty good idea of when to expect low tide. About an hour prior to low tide, I broke camp and we continued on down the beach on the hardpack. I drove a bit too fast and the occasional hump snuck up on me, but we made it down to Big Shell. In fact, we made it there before anyone else that day.

Rain and I goofed around. It was her first time on the beach and she absolutely loved the soft sand after a season in the rocky desert. The ocean became something that we HAD TO DO at least twice a day. As usual, there was no running into the ocean on her own, it was all about chasing sticks and saving them from being swept out to sea. She did, however, run around like a crazed lunatic in the sand while I was talking with one of the locals that showed up a bit later. Fun to watch.

A few more people showed up and I ended up sharing a camp with a New Englander on his way home (the long way, obviously) from an aborted trip to Panama. It turned out that he uses freecampsites.net. Small world. I was disappointed that he had to take off the following day, but I really couldn’t complain about the sheer serenity of my camp. The only people I could see were the fishermen across the channel at South Padre Island. Come Monday, there was very little of even that until the following weekend.

I fell into a simple rhythm of waking up sometime after the sun was up and having breakfast before taking Rain down to the beach for a swim. The rest of the day was spent reading or just staring out at the pelicans feeding or dolphins swimming up and down the channel. I might have a snack at mid day and supper around dark.

I still don’t have any refrigeration in the van, so I developed the habit of buying a pack of sausages or some other meat and cooking it all right away. It goes from the grill/frying pan directly into a ziplock. I would typically make a meal with one sausage for dinner the night I cooked a pack of five. The next two days I’d have a sausage with breakfast and one with dinner. After that meat was scarce until the next trip to town.

Meals were very simple affairs. I alternated grits and pancakes for breakfast. I’m from the South, so grits actually means grits, eggs, cheese and sausage if there was any. Lunch was usually just a peanut butter and honey sandwich, ramen noodles or a couple of quesadillas. Evenings, I alternated beans and rice with pasta. Boring fare I suppose, but it was all simple to prepare, no refrigeration required and really cheap.

All told, I ended up staying 10 days out at Big Shell before I ran out of fresh water and had to head back to town. About a week into my stay, I got an email from a friend and former coworker. It seems his current employer has an opening in one of those ridiculously high-paying jobs doing some bleeding edge work that I would probably enjoy quite a bit. Try as I might, I couldn’t think of it as anything but a temporary position that would give me a financial cushion so I could continue doing exactly what I was already doing.

The more I examined the situation, the less it seemed that taking a six figure job working for someone else would actually benefit me long term as much as continuing to sit on a beach and stare at the pelicans. Sure, I have to work a bit to get by, but I don’t actually need a hundred grand a year to live, eat and enjoy life. I can live on such a small fraction of that corporate income. Mostly, I work when I actually feel like working and on whatever pleases me.

There I was, sleeping on a beach with the windows open curled up next to an awesome dog and spending my days doing exactly what I wanted to do. Meanwhile, my buddy was up in Colorado slogging to work in the snow and sitting in a cubicle a minimum of 40 hours a week. More likely, he was salaried and pushing 50+ hours. How much money would it take to actually make that change in one’s lifestyle? And what the hell would you do with the money when you had it?

After thinking about it for a couple of days, all I could really come up with was to buy a newer version of the same van and have some customization done. So I could drive to exactly where I was and watch it rust. So here I am. Still poor. Still happy.

57 miles down the beach I ran into the first of many people I’d run into stuck on the beach. This guy was out camping over the weekend with his girlfriend and her kids only to find he had a dead battery Sunday morning. They had two vehicles but no jumper cables. I can’t really say much, I didn’t have any cables either as I’d left them with Jenn. I did have a battery charger and a solar system though, so we sat in the van BS’ing while charging his battery. He offered Rain and I a gallon of water which we accepted happily as we’d run out of water that morning.

The last few miles off the beach I noticed there were a lot more people around than on the way in. Spring break had begun while I was sitting at the end of the world navel gazing. Nothing like a scruffy hippie roaming the beaches in a creepy white van while kids from every school in the state are out partying.

I filled up on water, bought some more meat and headed back to Padre, but I didn’t feel like going terribly far out. I found a spot about 8 miles out where I could just barely get a trickle of internet access. There was a group of guys a little ways down the beach that Rain fell in love with. I think it was the boomerang they were throwing really. I’d look up from a book and notice that she was off visiting the neighbors again. They were nice kids and seemed to like her, so I let her go visit periodically.

After a few days in this spot, we had a relatively calm evening that seemed perfect for a little fire juggling. Before I tossed the first torch in the air I had a couple of Federal agents out there enforcing the county’s fire ban (the county beaches had bonfires left and right). As the torches were freshly lit and there were two park rangers standing watch, the ‘senior’ one tells the trainee to let me do it so he can video tape it with his new sunglasses. (WTF?) The neighbors cheered from the safety of their own camp; the hall monitors had come by to run all their ID’s the day before.

Five minutes later, Federal agents start asking for ID, about weapons, illegal aliens and heroin – I really can’t make this crap up. We established that I am not required to carry ID to juggle, that there are certainly weapons in the van, that I’m not going to talk about them any further. No, I didn’t see any illegals, but I’ll keep extra food and water on hand since you seem so concerned with their welfare. Did you really just accuse me of smuggling heroin as an excuse to search my home? Also, it is illegal to juggle fire during a fire ban even if you are standing in knee deep water.

After determining that they really didn’t want to get a warrant, they left with a large bag of trash I’d picked up from around my camp just in case a ranger stopped by. They seemed a bit upset that I asked them to perform such a menial task. I actually had to argue with these ‘public servants’ to convince them to put a bag of trash in the back of their truck and haul it to the dumpster that they drove past ten times a day.

The next morning, I found my neighbors had gone and left a giant box of ‘groceries’ outside my open window. I think they were living on chips and trail mix all week. Yummy snacks.

I was getting close to my fourteen days, so I decided to explore a bit. I didn’t make it all that far after breaking camp. I went as far as North Beach, which is still part of the park, but doesn’t require a permit to get in. The weather was still amazing and the wind was pretty light, so I spent most of they day just juggling on the beach with the occasional splash in the ocean to cool off.

TL;DR: I won a four month, no-expenses-paid, vacation on the beaches of Texas. Park Rangers hate fire and don’t like to touch icky trash bags.

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