Having crossed the Baja Peninsula we reached La Paz, which is where we’ll catch the ferry to mainland Mexico today. We had two chores, which we needed to negotiate in Spanish – getting our temporary import permits for our bikes and tickets for the ferry. Although we’ve come a long way with respect to speaking Spanish, it was evident that we do not speak Spanish well enough to get those two chores done with ease…
The ferry terminal is about a 20km ride out of town. Paul and I weren’t sure about where to get the import permits, but agreed to go out to the ferry terminal first, at least for a look-see. We had heard that’s where the ‘banjercito’ (customs office) is for the import permit and that we could also get our ferry tickets there. On arrival we tried to ask for information about the banjercito and tickets and were ushered to join the queue of vehicles at the entrance. Thankfully Paul realised that the queue was for vehicles boarding the ferry, because we would have been right royally stumped had we found ourselves riding onto the ferry without our paperwork and our personal belongings still at the hotel!
So back to town we went to one of the banjercitos there, only to be told that we had been at the right place at the ferry terminal, in the first instance. Had it not been so incredibly hot, we may have been more cheerful about the news, but we shrugged and realised that it’s all just part of the journey. So we went back to the ferry terminal, this time determined to park up and walk around, trying to find the banjercito with our limited Spanish. The day ended successfully with Gerardo becoming a new friend at the customs office and he kindly offered his contact details, should we need any further help on our journey through Mexico. We have been blessed by so many people going out of their way to be friendly and to help us in so many significant ways. Unfortunately we weren’t able to secure a cabin for our 16-hour ferry crossing, so we anticipate an exhausting trip across to Mazatlan.
La Paz is the capital city of the Baja State of Mexico and home to one of the 3 leading marine biology institutes in Latin America. We visited the whale museum and our experience is one which we can only describe as exceptional, because of our tour guide. Omar is a Mexican school boy in his final year of high school and has been volunteering at the museum during his school breaks for a number of years. His passion for marine life was palpable and his knowledge of the oceans of the world was astounding. Knowing we’re from Australia he gave us such an in-depth account of both countries’ ocean life and wove in personal anecdotes of his experience growing up on the beaches of Baja. We have made another friend, one whom we hold high hopes for as a future renowned marine biologist!
La Paz is pretty deserted during the day time, due to the extreme heat. One lady described the summers here as ‘terrible’, saying “people sleep all day, and party all night.” That has been our experience, as the place certainly comes alive at night! Malecon Road is a 5km strip of bars, restaurants, piers, tourist attractions, a wide sidewalk and cyclist lane. Vendors selling all manner of street food and trinkets appear at sunset and people skateboard, cycle and roller blade amongst the melee of walkers and gawkers. It’s been fascinating to people watch and ‘traffic watch’ as all manner of vehicle makes its way up and down the strip – seemingly just to be seen or to be seen and heard! Cars are lit up, their boots open with music blaring, people dancing through sun roofs, generally partying in the traffic, riding up and down the strip all night. One evening we watched what looked like a 12-year old boy, driving a Baja buggy up and down the strip, his left arm leaning on the window sill, right hand on the steering wheel and a wide grin on his face. Initially he had 2 other very young children in the vehicle with him, but later that evening he was driving around with a young girl beside him. We wondered if he had dropped his siblings at home and now had a girlfriend in tow?
Every now and again military vehicles make their way along the strip, in twos. The occupants have bandanas pulled over their faces as they stand on the back of the vehicles, behind guns mounted on the roof. No-one appears in the least bothered by this. Paul and I got chatting about how uncomfortable we felt and he commented that he would hate being in a situation where there was gunfire. Being caught in gun fire is something foreign to Paul, whereas in South Africa I had experienced a few situations. I remember being woken one night by gun fire in our garden, having to secure my then 12-year old daughter and hide with her in a closet. On another occasion our family and a group of friends travelling in convoy were attacked by 4 men brandishing AK47s, shooting at our convey as part of their hijacking. I shared with Paul how traumatised I was after the hijacking event. Traumatised not so much by the shooting but by the realisation that such a life was being accepted as “normal” by many in South Africa at that time. I have spoken with locals, wanting to understand the reason for the military presence and have been told that they are there to police the movement of drug cartels, which is a huge problem within Mexico. All our dealings at military check points have been very pleasant, even the occasion we were asked to open up our bike panniers for a search.
Leaving early one morning to beat the heat of the day, we did a day trip to Cabo San Lucas. Although it is cited as one of Mexico’s top 5 tourist attractions, it does not feature high on our list of places we enjoyed. After the magnificent beauty and serenity of Conception and Mulege, we simply were spoiled and could not bear the traffic and congested tourist trap we experienced at ‘Cabo.’ We took a water taxi out to view El Arco de Cabo San Lucas, which is a stunning rock formation out in the ocean. That is where the Pacific meets the Sea of Cortez or Gulf of California as the locals prefer to call it, because Cortez is thought of with derision. That too was a congested ‘traffic jam’ of boats and people in the ocean, but I enjoyed being able to see the arches up close and being out on the ocean. Needless to say we grabbed a quick bite to eat and headed back to La Paz, where we knew we could escape the crowds and sleep off the heat.
My experience with learning Spanish has been that it’s a snowball effect. Each new word I’ve learned has helped me to understand the next and I’m at the point of adding words into sentences, fast expanding what I’m able to understand or communicate! Paul is still streets ahead of me though, which I find frustrating at times, but I have learned to enjoy our evening ‘lessons’ which we do together, and which is now a lot of fun. Being so immersed in learning a new language is something we looked forward to and something we needed to do because next week we start working with the Muskoka Foundation in mainland Mexico.
Yesterday we took a boat trip out to Isla Espiritu Santo and oh man! Heaven on earth! The oceans around the island were so magically clear and pristine. We snorkelled with seals and saw quite a bit of sea life, including a dolphin jumping playfully right out of the ocean like you see at dolphin shows! The history of the pearl trade was fascinating and we were shown how to identify the pearl bearing oysters on the sea bed. Thankfully it is now a Unesco World Heritage site, ensuring the pristine conditions and end to the pillaging. Mexican pearls were the main pearl source in the world at one stage and we visited the location of the world’s first commercial pearl oyster farm, established by Dr Gaston Vives. We could see why Ensenada Grande was voted one of the 12 most beautiful beaches in the world and named Mexico’s most beautiful by Travel Magazine. As a beach baby I’m sad to be saying goodbye to Baja…it is simply one of the most magical places ever.