The true Baja 1000 is an off-road race usually occurring in November in Mexico’s Baja Peninsula. Although the mileage isn’t accurate as it depends on which race in which year, it is essentially 1000 miles of racing through the washes and burro-laden sandy off-roads of Baja at the fastest speeds one can manage on two or four wheels.
Two weeks ago, Dave and I involuntarily created the ‘on-road’ Baja 1000, brought to you by Fiat 500, our rental car. We basically had a full sponsorship with this car company as the rental was almost free—$22 for four days with unlimited kilometres. And that included an extra driver.
So your question: why did we rent a car when we have motorcycles? Well we screwed up. We were all the way down to La Paz, some 1000-plus miles south of the U.S./Mexico border when we discovered we needed a certain document to travel across to the mainland on the ferry. The fantastic part was we could only get that document at point-of-entry, which meant going all the way back north to the border.
When Dave and I entered into Mexico via the Tecate crossing from California, we scarcely knew we had even crossed over the border. We were waved through by immigration officials. Something like, “Move along nothing to see here, folks.” But there was something to see there and it was the office that would give us our immigration card, the Forma Migratoria Multiple (FMM), that would allow us to obtain the permit we needed to temporarily import our motorcycles into Mexico, another document mandatory for bringing your own vehicle(s) into Mexico. The vehicle permit is not needed in Baja.
We had been told by a few people we could get the vehicle permit in La Paz, however, we mistakenly thought that meant all documents.
Fast forward two weeks and over 1000 miles later to La Paz in Baja Sur, where we found a room for the night at the funky Hotel Yeneke and learned from the owner, Issac, we were one of several travellers who’d made this mistake. We reasoned that surely we could get that card at the immigration office in La Paz. Issac said no. Plus it was closed until Jan. 6. He informed us of the worst-case scenario, which would be having to go back to the U.S./Mexico border. Dave and I were disgruntled but were sure it wasn’t going to come to that.
We tried going to the La Paz airport where we found an immigration officer who spoke English well enough to confirm that indeed, no we could not get the FMM card here at the airport or anywhere in La Paz. We asked if there was anything at all we could do. ‘Anything’ meaning bribe him to let us through the security gates as though we’d been on a flight and could pass through immigration. He wasn’t having any of it but he did call ‘a friend’ at the Cabo San Lucas airport, who said he’d be happy to help us. For $100 each.
We decided against that tactic worried he might give us fake documents. We then looked at flights to Tijuana but they cost $600 U.S. Riding the bikes to Tecate and back would be over 3500km (2175 m) and we didn’t want the wear-and-tear. Thus we came up with the idea to rent a car. This way we could drive more comfortably for longer and at night, bringing all our camping gear to make the mistake as cheap as possible.
Finding a car was another problem in itself. Issac helped us reserve one but when we went to go pick it up, the car wasn’t returned yet. It having been New Year’s Eve the night before, we figured the car was never coming back. Our third time back to see if the car was retuned, they told us, yes it in fact has but no we can’t rent it now because it was damaged. There was a lot of back and forthing that I’ll spare you from but in the end, we got the Fiat instead and left La Paz the minute the keys were in our hands; around 6:30 pm on Friday Jan. 1.
We drove into the night and stopped to camp around 12:30 a.m. on Saturday morning south of Santa Rosalia at a beach we’d seen a week earlier. The next day we started driving at 7:30 a.m. and drove our marathon race to the Tecate border, arriving at 8:00 p.m. We parked the car on a quiet street and walked a few feet to the border where a nice immigration officer greeted us and started the paperwork. In less than 10 minutes we had the FMM cards in our hands and were back in the car to start the drive south. Two full days of driving for a 10 minute stop at immigration and then an immediate turn around for two more days in the car heading back to La Paz.
The drive back was tedious but uneventful and we got to again see some of the gorgeous scenery we’d already seen and knew all the right places to stop for tacos and water along the way. The distance we covered in less than four days was akin to driving from Vancouver to Thunder Bay, ON or Seattle to Kansas City, MO.
The Long Way Round was the series that in part helped to inspire the trip Dave and I have planned around the world. If they made a TV series out of our trip, perhaps it could be called The Hard Way Round.
Dave and I returned to Hotel Yeneke in La Paz where Issac had kindly kept our motorcycles and gear in his courtyard for the four days we were gone.
We boarded the ferry around 6:30 p.m. on a hot Tuesday evening and ‘secured’ our bikes to the upper deck with one ratchet strap each. We hoped for smooth sailing as those straps wouldn’t hold our bikes up with any tossing and turning. We jammed wheel stoppers under the bikes for added balance and hoped for the best.
Once on the ferry we were pleasantly surprised by the seats; reclining, cushioned and 3-4 seats long. As we’d bought our tickets the morning of there were no cabins available for the 12-14 hour journey, (which turned out to be 24). Plenty of room to stretch out. We both enjoyed a fairly descent sleep in our own seats in the main seating area along with several other folks travelling over to the mainland. Our tickets, $2200 pesos per person or about $150 U.S. each, included two very mediocre meals but meals none the less, and non-stop movies playing on a large screen along with pretty decent toilets (for the women; men not so much). Both Dave and I were happy we didn’t pay the extra $60 U.S. for a cabin.
The crossing was very long at 24 hours to go the 200-some miles across water. At times we’d look out the window and ask if we were even moving at all. The ferry seemed to lumber along in some kind of fluctuating current rather than propel itself forward as one would hope for. We later found out one of the engines was down so we were literally only going 12 km/hr. But we were comfortable and they sold beer in the cafeteria so overall, the ferry crossing was much more pleasant than we anticipated.
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