February 10, Friday
Let’s see. Clothes duffle, shower bag, three gallons of water, sleeping bag…
I’m up for sunrise this morning, and what a pretty one it is. Most of my packing was finished last night, so this morning it’s just a matter of getting it all out the door and into Katina’s truck – one of the solo RVers I’ve been camping with here in Winterhaven, CA.
Today Katina and I are driving to Puerto Peñasco (also known as Rocky Point) in Sonora, Mexico along the northern end of the Gulf of California.
Katina is a member of an RV singles club called the Wandering Individuals Network (WIN), and one of their travel circuits is currently at Concha del Mar Campground, right on the beach. She decided to join them down there for a weekend in a tent, and asked if I’d be interested in coming with.
A chance to camp along the beach in Mexico with someone I know? Heck yeah.
We’re on the road by 7 am and cross the border at Los Algodones, where I’ve been getting dental work done. I’ll be writing more about that experience after my last appointment is complete on Tuesday (the 14th).
Getting into Mexico is a breeze, there is no inspection, we aren’t asked any questions. Before long we’re on highway 2. While there isn’t much of a shoulder, the road is in good enough condition. Speed limits are posted in kilometers/hour and are in general slower than speed limits in the US, the fasted posted speed you’ll find here is about 55 mph. There are other road signs that are harder to decipher for two people without much Spanish, but we use the internet to look up translations and learn as we go.
Rocky Point is a popular tourist destination, and most people from the US cross at Lukeville near Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument as it minimizes the amount of driving in Mexico and is currently considered the safest route. We decided to cross at Los Algodones because where we were camping in Winterhaven it’s the fastest way. At San Luis Rio Colorado we get on 3 heading due south which is a toll road costing 105 pesos.
I can’t speak for everywhere in Mexico, but at the places we visited, US dollars were welcome. But, if you’re paying in US dollars, expect a poor exchange rate. In this instance, the toll booth uses a rate of about 17 pesos/US dollar and we pay $6.20. As we’re only staying in Mexico two nights, it doesn’t seem worth it to visit a bank and do a money exchange, but for those staying longer it probably would.
3 ends at 40 which follows the gulf to the east. As this area is depicted on maps as a Reserve and is green in color, we were expecting pretty scenery, but much of it is flat desert with creosote bushes and little else. There is one stretch of eroded badlands along the route which is kind of cool and closer to Rocky Point the water becomes visible off in the distance. This road has a wider shoulder and occasional potholes.
Not all the roads in Rocky Point have street signs, but with GPS, navigation is easy enough.
We arrive at Concha del Mar without incident and set up Katina’s two tents next to the rig of the person she’s been in contact with. The campground is a packed sand lot without hookups, there is a dump station on premises and a shower house with laundry machines – all clean and in good repair. The cost as of this posting is $US10 a night. We’re the only tents there and probably would not have been allowed in if we weren’t with the WINs. Sites are not defined, and RVs are packed in pretty close together to make optimal use of the space. The row right on the beach fills first, naturally. After setting up camp we walk down to the beach.
Oh yeah, this is nice. The water is too cool to swim in this time of year, and right now you wouldn’t want to anyway as there’s an algal bloom in progress that could be a health hazard (also eating mollusks is not advised), but it’s clear and pretty.
This stretch of shore is a busy place. Shrimp boats are out working, ultralight aircraft zip overhead, and jet skis and kayaks play in the water. A lady from the campground comes down to the shore with her aging dog. She informs me that he has hip problems and can’t play fetch on land anymore, but can still fetch in the water.
In the afternoon, the WINs take a driving tour of Cholla Bay (Bahia la Choya). Katina and I hop into the car with two other members. There are some pretty neat beach houses out here.
There are a lot of half-finished and abandoned looking houses too. I find out from a WIN member that a person doesn’t have to pay property tax on a building that isn’t finished, so sometimes people will leave rebar sticking up as a way of avoiding them. Also getting loans for housing doesn’t seem to happen down here. People start building, and if they run out of money they stop, and will abandon the project.
After the tour we all stop at JJ’s Cantina for a drink. I’m not much of a drinker, so I get a Coke.
Out back on the beach, a group of Pelicans hang around waiting for cast-offs from the fishing boats coming in. They’re quite use to people.
Supper is had later at Rosy’s Restaurant back in Rocky Point. This heaping plate of Chimichangas with beans and rice costs 98 pesos, I pay about $6 US.
When we get back to camp the tide is going out, exposing rocks encrusted with shells and leaving behind shallow pools full of little crabs, tiny fish, and other marine life.
Katina and I explore these tiny ecosystems until the setting sun makes visibility difficult. Then we enjoy the sunset.
What a fun day!
February 11, Saturday
In the morning we go down to the beach to read. The tide is out and gulls swoop in for a landing to see if we have anything tasty. Around noon Katina leaves for a group kayaking trip with the WINs (she has a kayak and hauled it down here), I stay behind and watch the tide slowly come in.
Around 2 pm she comes back and we drive downtown to walk the shops and eat.
The open-market shops are quite the experience. Salesman will actively hound tourists walking past to try to get them to buy things, it’s a very different approach than in the US. Get use to saying “no” repeatedly, or you’ll end up buying a lot more than you wanted to. A lot of shops also engage in bargaining, the first price given can often be bargained down to something lower if you have a mind for it.
Neither of us find anything we can’t live without. We enjoy the waterfront walk, before going to The Point to eat. I order the fish and chips for $6.50 US. The fish comes in thin strips and I’m not sure what kind it is, but it’s tasty, especially when dipped in ketchup mixed with a Mexican hot sauce mixed in. None of the meals I’ve had so far count as traditional Mexican food, I’ll have to try better next time.
Most evenings the WINs have a campfire in a central meeting area sandwiched between rigs, and Katina and I attend both nights. The weather is changing with rain expected overnight and tomorrow morning.
The rain comes as predicted but it doesn’t bother me. In fact it helps cover up the loud music that plays beyond the campground – it’s not unusual here on weekends for bands to start up at the military installation next door at around 9 pm and play until 4 am. It happens both nights of our stay and the WINs say it’s a regular occurrence on weekends. If you’re looking for a quiet place to camp, this isn’t the best option.
February 12, Sunday
The rain lets up by 9 am, but is predicted to start again by 1 pm. Katina and I walk down the beach and I get photos of the various hotels and condos.
There are fewer people on the beach today, probably due to the forecast. Not that it’s been particularly busy at any point during my stay. The busy season here is in the summer.
Dark clouds roll in on the way back to camp and a single peal of thunder lets us know that it’s time to hurry back and pack up the tents. Fortunately the real rain holds off until everything is put away.
We stop at Asadero Guss for authentic tacos on the way out of town, I order mine with chicken and forget to get a picture until they’re all finished. The only picture I have here is of Katina pointing to a Sandshrew I catch at our table on Pokemon Go while borrowing her internet.
Katina needs gas on the way out, which we are briefly worried about. How will we know which kind to get, and why do none of the gas stations here have prices listed?
The reason prices aren’t listed is because Mexico’s petroleum industry is wholly government owned. PEMEX (Petroleos Mexicanos) manufactures, distributes, and sells gasoline in a state-owned monopoly. Luckily it’s easy to tell which type of gasoline is what due to posted octane ratings at the pump. Magna (green pump) is 87 octane unleaded, Premium (red pump) is 92 octane unleaded. The pump for Diesel is black. Gas in Mexico is sold in liters, while we were there the cost of a gallon came to about $3 – quite a bit higher than in Arizona.
For a change in scenery, we decide to drive the long way home up highway 8 to Ajo. There’s some sort of bike race going on, and several times police cars pass in front of clumps of bikers.
Farther north 8 passes into a beautiful area of the Sonoran desert, and I see multiple Senita cacti, a cousin of the Organ Pipe cactus that is almost non-existent in the US.
The border crossing back into the US at Lukeville goes fine. We show our passports and the agent asks us where we were, and if we own property there (haha, funny). He asks us if we’re bringing any goods back into the US to which we truthfully answer no. He then smiles and waves us through after taking a peek in the back of the truck. The rest of the drive up to Gila Bend on 85 and then back to Winterhaven on I8 is long, but uneventful.
So, a few further answers and notes about this trip:
- Yes, I felt safe. The shop salespeople were a hassle at times, but I never felt threatened or endangered. The locals I encountered were all kind and made me feel welcome. It makes sense, really, as this was a tourist area and their livelihoods depend on the money we bring in, so they have good incentive to keep us feeling safe and happy. Not everywhere in Mexico is safe. But really, not everywhere in the US is safe either. Just be smart and research where you want to go ahead of time, go with a group (especially the first time at a new destination), and travel during daylight hours. As with traveling in the US, the biggest part of staying safe comes down to common sense. Visit travel.state.gov for the latest official travel advisory.
- Everyone says don’t drink the water. That’s why we brought down our own, you can also buy bottled. That being said, a couple times I had drinks with ice melt and I didn’t get sick. None of the food made me sick, either.
- Katina bought vehicle insurance for our trip down ahead of time, and it wasn’t cheap. People at the WINs camp say any US citizen who gets into an auto accident is automatically at fault if the other driver is Mexican and a lot of them talk down on the driving insurance. I’m not sure if this is true or not, we were very careful to drive the speed limit and drive defensively at any rate.
- I did not buy any travel health insurance. If I was going for a longer period of time, I would.
- A couple times we saw trucks where a person was standing up in the bed in fatigues holding a large gun while the truck was driving down the road. Don’t panic if you see this, it’s the military and normal and they won’t mess with you if you don’t give them a reason to.
- Did we get price-gouged for being tourists with little knowledge of the region? Probably. And this being a tourist area prices were naturally higher they they probably are in other parts of the country.
- If you want to spend more than 180 days in Mexico, you’ll need a visa. Trips shorter than that don’t require one. You do need a Passport though. Mexico doesn’t care, but you’ll have a hard time getting back into the US without one!
- And yes, I definitely enjoyed myself and could see myself going back with the RV someday, although the higher cost of living compared to boondocking in the western US means I couldn’t afford to spend a whole season down there. I’m glad I didn’t bring Cas along for this trip as it would have been a lot of work (and expense) for just two nights.
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Up next: Getting dental work done in Los Algodones
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