My husband and I both love gritty travel. In fact, our “third date” was a long-weekend road trip in his van. So, when we started thinking about what to do for our honeymoon, driving all the way down to Baja from our home in Northern California only made sense.
I had read somewhere that the concept of a honeymoon stemmed from a medieval custom. The community would supply newlyweds with enough mead (honey wine) to last a moon cycle (about a month).
Now, I’m far from traditional, but after learning this fun fact I quickly became obsessed with planning my honeymoon around… the moon.
I figured we’d just drink tequila instead of mead.
We should’ve called it a cactusmoon!
Getting to the border
With such a long trip, I thought it’d be easier to write a series of shorter posts. This first section takes you from NorCal to just south of the Mexican border.
- Car trouble
- Glorious sunsets
- One very (!!!) important thing we forgot to do at the border
What we packed and what we missed
We left Dunsmuir right after the new moon in November. We’d done quite a bit of research on Baja road trips and thought we had some idea of what to expect.
My parents hooked us up with their timeshare at a resort in San Jose del Cabo and we planned to camp in the Sprinter most other nights.
We stocked up on what we thought were the essentials:
- About 10 gallons of water (which lasted from the border until we got to the resort)
- Camp chairs with little umbrellas (we never used the umbrellas)
- Snorkel gear (which broke in the water – don’t buy snorkel gear at Walmart)
- A Baja camping guide book borrowed from a friend, which turned out to be very helpful
What I wish we had brought was:
- A month’s supply of Northbound coffee from Mount Shasta
- Approximately an equal amount of IPA
- More than one spare tire to fit the Sprinter
- A tourist visa
- The dogs (we missed our pups so much, we came back with a Mexican one!)
Our trip started out on a funny foot. As we drove south, we saw the very beginnings of the Camp fire, which turned out to be the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history!
I remember trying to drive beneath the dark cloud of smoke. I was so anxious, I had to ask Jason to take over!
(He would end up driving for at least 90% of the entire trip. Bless him.)
Our first bout of car trouble
Shortly after clearing the Camp fire, we stopped for diesel in Stockton.
It was almost dark by that time, so we talked about how much farther we might want to go before finding a place to sleep. As it happens, the van wanted to sleep right there.
She wouldn’t turn on.
Dead as a doornail.
Jason either jiggled some wires or got a jump to get the engine going again, but we clearly had a problem.
It was too late to do anything about it then, so we spent the night at a truck stop in Stockton. Then, we spent the entire next morning in the Autozone parking lot, where Jason figured out how to replace the alternator by watching Russian Youtube videos.
Since we lost half a day to the Sprinter repair, we only made it as far as Bakersfield for our next stop. This truck stop was much nicer and warmer.
We did kettlebell workouts in the parking lot and then shared a truck stop shower.
Before you judge, I just want to say that truck stop showers are 100% worth the $12 or whatever they charge. I’ve yet to use one that isn’t spotlessly clean and pleasant!
Crossing the border
After Bakersfield, we swung by Whole Paycheck to stock up on American food before making the final push for the border.
I’m proud to report that I drove through LA during rush hour traffic without having a complete meltdown!
However, I was nervous about driving an enormous van through the traffic at the San Ysidro-Tijuana border. We weren’t sure what to expect, but agreed we weren’t expecting it to be that easy.
We forgot something very important
Crossing from the United States into Mexico is a breeze. The “officials” (or whoever we talked to) basically waved us through and told us to enjoy our trip.
No one told us we needed to get tourist visas at the immigration center.
(To be fair, the blogs and books we read did include this information, but they also said no one ever bothered to check visas there.)
So, we ended up crossing illegally without the proper documents.
Later, we paid for it with a hefty fine.
When I say fine, I mean the standard fine + a 100% bonus for the officers themselves.
I’ll explain more about our near-detainment when we get to that point in the story!
Bottom line is: make sure you get your tourist visa just in case there’s an immigrant caravan or some other situation that creates heightened drama at the border. You never know!
First stop- Rosarito
We didn’t know we were illegal until our way back north, a few weeks later. Our first mission after crossing the border was the get as far from the city of Tijuana as possible before dark.
We stopped at km58 campground in Rosarito right as the sun was disappearing over the horizon.
Though we were dreaming of fish tacos, the nearby restaurant we walked to only served (Mexican) Thai food and pizza!
It was okay, there would be many fish and shrimp tacos in our future.
And a couple lobsters, too!
We fell asleep with the van doors open, listening to the waves crash on the beach below.
That’s where I’m going to leave you for now.
More to come!
Freelance writer. Trail runner. Relentless savage.