Driving the Baja Peninsula


After six weeks of planning to cross the border into Baja Mexico, from the United States, we finally did it.  Eager to get to Mexico to our boat, we left South Florida on Monday and arrived in San Diego, California on Friday.  The drive wasn’t bad, watching the landscape change all the way to the west coast.  I was delighted by the change in the weather.  San Diego was cool in the low 70’s during the day and 60’s at night.




By early Sunday morning, we were ready to head south down the Baja Peninsula.  Concerned that we might have some problems crossing the border, due to an overload of information, driving across at Tecate Mexico was no big deal.  It was easier than going through a U.S. toll road.  The border patrol just waved us thru. We stopped and asked for the immigration office as the guards pointed to the building behind them.  As we walked in the door, we were greeted by an immigration officer,  a man about 40 years of age, with a stern look on his face, wearing a dark green uniform.  My only experience with Mexico has only been what friends have shared with me and the movies, this man fit the part.  He seemed to be extremely bored at 7:30 AM.  He handed each of us a form to fill out and when we let on that we didn’t know Spanish, he pointed to a table with forms taped on the surface giving the instructions in English.  While we completed our forms, the man turned on the television behind his desk.  On the television was a man dressed like a clown, smashing boxes and suit cases to pieces with a large fat hammer. The man’s face changed from a stern look to a large grin and began a high pitch giggle.  Then turned to look at us and changed his look back to a look of authority.  He took a look at each of our passports, did a small amount of writing, shuffled some papers, stamped the passports and then sent us off on our way.  Being that is was Sunday morning, we were instructed to stop at a Mexican bank and pay our tax within the next three days. 

Tecate is a small peaceful town with rows of concrete buildings containing homes and businesses.  Some of the roads are old brick and cobblestone. Buildings sides are painted with high contrast colors of reds, yellows and greens. Stray dogs roamed the streets. Sunday morning church bells rang and echoed thru the town.     The town square park area contains a statue that would have been nice to walk around and take pictures of. The stress really didn’t begin until we began driving out of Tecate.

  Michael at the wheel, we began heading toward Tijuana, we were instructed to stay out of by a friend that had made the trip many times.  Michael discovered the GPS wasn’t real helpful because the road signs didn’t always line up with what the GPS was calling them.  Finally using common sense, he followed the signs to Mexico 1 South.    Tijuana was a culture shock to say the LEAST. 

It was a big city with rough bumpy roads. Brownish red dirt blew about, maintaining a layer of dirt all over cars, windows and buildings.  Trash everywhere left the impression of an uncaring society.  The area had the appearance of cold stark madness.

My fight or flight response was overloaded “Get me out of here, please don’t stop the car for anything!” was all I could think of.  I was overwhelmed with a rush of feelings. I was mostly ashamed of my response to the simplistic lifestyle of others. A lifestyle of simplicity was our ultimate goal. I was unsure just how far I willing to go to get the re.  .  That was just the beginning of it.

Eventually we made it to Mexico 1 South, followed it the entire way to La Paz. 

The Pacific Coast was a desolate rocky coastline with miles of unpopulated beaches.


The lifestyle of many of the Mexican people are simple and their homes demonstrate that.  After living in Tennessee the last five years, we had seen some modest lifestyles.  On the Baja Peninsula, the only paved road might be the main road, while all other roads were of dirt.  The dry dirt just blew around and was on everything.  No way could you live in that environment and not inhale large amounts of dirt daily. 

Many of the homes were of walls with no ceiling or roof, maybe just a tarp covering a small corner of the building.  Some of them were tents. My mind wondered why people or societies could be aware of others needs and do nothing to try to help and improve their way of life. Although I did just drive thru town, what did I do to help? Learning about the Mexican culture was something I needed to learn.  No matter what, people still have their pride. They always deserve the utmost respect. Even if I had the ability to make a difference, I would have to be careful in how I did it. As I talk with others about it, I learn that these conditions are what a society can expect after a government has taken total control.

The first big town we came to after Tijuana was Ensenada.  It was similar to an American town with its American businesses, high rise hotels on the beach, convience stores and many paved roads. This was our first stop at a restroom, thanks to me.  No one else had to go, so I walked inside the convience store and not being able to read the signs, I followed this one lady who was walking briskly toward the back corner of the store with her purse on her shoulder.  Sure enough she was headed for the Banjo/Bathroom.  This was the first time I could relate to the Hispanic people that had come into the U.S., not being able to speak the language.  I now have that very same look of confusion on my face.  


As we continued south, a great expanse of the Pacific Ocean and rock cliffs revealed itself.  There were old homes desperate for attention high up on the ridges with million dollar views.  Then a long stretch of beach would come into view with a line of tiki huts in a long line for visitors to rest in the shade. This was the first time I saw vendors, people set up in the back of pick- up trucks, and plastic tables and chairs, selling food and drink all along the beach.  What a great Idea I thought, out in the middle of nowhere. 

Then Mexico 1 South took a turn toward the east and the landscape changed. For miles the skinny road went on around rocky mountains with sharp curves and tall cliffs.  Will load more pics as our wifi improves.

  If you looked over at the ridge you just came from, you might see where a tractor trailer had gone over the edge and much of his cargo and trailer were still scattered along the mountains side.  Occasionally you might pass a shrine built up on the side of the road where families loved ones were killed in accidents.  The desert consumed much of the land mass.  In places there were forests of tall cactus in the Sonora Desert covering the hills.  Our provisions were running out so we kept looking for a place to stop and buy some food. 

After driving some 100 miles or so in the desert, we spot a small community with one little store and a couple rv’s.    Michael stops the van and he and Mike get out to go inside.  I stayed behind with the van running and the air conditioning on, so the dogs wouldn’t suffocate in the heat.  An old looking man with grey hair and a straw sombrero and what looked like a five day beard, approached Michael and asked if he can spare any pesos.  Michael reaches into his pocket and gives him a coin.  I notice the man’s thumb as he reaches for the coin.  His skin is darkened by the sun and his nail was rough with brittle long lines from the cuticle to the top.  An indication of this man’s lifestyle and hardship he has been living.  As his thumb runs along the smooth side of the coin he mentions to Michael “that coin is cold”.  Michael nods his head and says “it’s been in the air conditioning all day”. I have no doubt the outside temperature that day was close to 100 degrees. That coin must have felt good to that man.

 When the guys get back in the car, they have a loaf of bread, a bottle of mustard, a pack of bologna and a bag of munchies.     I pull off a piece of paper towel and lay it across my lap and proceed to make everyone sandwiches. We were so hungry that anything would have been good right then.  They were so good that we had the rest of them for breakfast the next day. Eager to make good time and short on money, we aimed to make this drive in two days instead of three.

Along the way down Mexico 1 South, we were stopped at four separate inspection stations.  Luckily, we were never inspected.  Each time they stopped us the guard would lean into the window and asked Michael where we were headed and then wave us on thru.  Only at one check point did the guard actually look at me in the back seat and ask me where we were coming from.  I was so fried from ridding in the car so long, I couldn’t think of the place where we spent the night before.  Stumbling on my words the guard turns to Michael and say’s “she doesn’t know!”  We all laughed and the guard motioned us to move on.

Our one night stay at a motel was at the half way mark in Guerrero Negro, Baja California Sur. Literally this motel was right next door to the military station with no check point.  The name of the motel was the Desert Inn.  We were tired and ready to stop.  The large sign out front looked something like “exclusive” giving me the idea that it wasn’t for walk in traffic.  Luckily Michael went in and got us a room, two large dogs in tow.  It was a gorgeous place, clean and under $60.  This motel sat all by itself in the desert. 

The interesting thing about Guerrero Negro is that it is a breeding and wintering site for the California Grey Whales and home to four different species of endangered sea turtles.  It is said that 1,500 whales migrate south each year some 6,000miles from where they live in the Bearing Sea off of Alaska. If we weren’t in so much of a hurry, I would have liked to at least take a look at the area.

The second half of the drive, day two, was my favorite.  Mexico 1 South takes you across the width of the peninsula to the east coast.  As the road takes a wide turn towards the right, the crystal blue color of the Sea of Cortez comes into sight.  At the first opportunity we stop to take a look and smell the air and put our toes in the water.  It wasn’t until after a few minutes that we discovered that this long mile stretch of beach was being used as a trash dumping site.

Totally disgusted at this we got back in the car and continued driving.  As the road continued south, more trash was burning on the beach.

After going thru a couple small towns, the road continued along the coast.  Some of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen were along these areas.  It looked like pictures I had seen of the tropics in the south west Pacific.  There were rock cliffs right up against the blue/green water and white beaches with Tiki Huts in a row, an occasional boat at anchor and no one on the beach.  There were so many undiscovered paradises.  To think of all the sea life in the Sea of Cortez, such as whales, seals, turtles, large squid, sword fish just to name a few.  This place was so very different than eastern North America, where I was familiar with.

By the end of the day we arrived in La Paz, BCS Mexico.  It had the feel of “big city”, with the number of people on the road and the pace of things.  It seemed strange to see civilization after two days in the desert.  The temperature was over 105 degrees as we headed to the marina to see our newly purchased sailboat for the first time.


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6 Responses to “Driving the Baja Peninsula”

  1. quietpaths Says:

    This is a wonderful essay, Shannon. All the descriptions and photos are wonderful. It’s funny, Matt has been reading up on this area the last week. Hope you are well and getting stuff done on the boat!

    • wenchhandle Says:

      Thanks QP 🙂 I feel that my writing abilities have deminished since I’ve been traveling. Being “road tired” has had an affect on me. Before we took Mexico I-1 South, I did a bit of web surfing to find anything on the subject. Being that information was real limited I felt the need to share our experience.

  2. Anonymous Says:

    Love your pictures! A picture is worth a thousand words and yours were excellent! Thankyou for posting your travel tale.

  3. KT Says:

    Yes, the Baja is absolutely stunning.
    Have been driving it for many years and there have been great improvements on the roads. It’s nice to take 4-5 days to get from La Paz to San Diego, via Tecate border crossing…KT Notch

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