Mexico I – Baja California

Welcome to Mexico! A surprisingly organised US – MEX border crossing led us to the slightly less organised town of Tijuana. Dirt and chaos, woop! Entering Mexico goes as follows:

  1. Drive towards the clearly Mexican looking hills. You’ll know what I mean when you see them.
  2. Follow the border signs near Tijuana.
  3. Red light? Your vehicle will be “inspected”. In reality this means a little chat, preferable in Spanish, with the officer. You share a couple of laughs, they tell you Mexico is an awesome country and you’re good to go.
  4. Fill out your tourist card and pay the fee in the Banjercito. All offices are in the same area.
  5. Get your temporary car import form (car ownership docs needed), pay the vehicle import fee and deposit.
  6. Buy liability insurance.
  7. Apply your new, shiny registration sticker to your car’s windshield.
  8. Drive!

And I really mean drive. Tijuana is a loud and dusty place where there is little to see, no more reasons needed to drive straight southwards. Ensenada is an OK-ish town, good for a lazy stroll along the seaside while enjoying the fantastic foodstuffs and music (see above video) during its street festivals. Very good, very good, very goooooodddd!

Most gringos enter Ensenada, enjoy it and return. At first sight, they are right. South of the city there is little to see. More dusty towns and empty desert roads. A stop-over in Bahia de los Ángeles was a disappointment as well. Where are all those beautiful beaches and turquoise coloured waters? Not here, that’s for sure. Enter central Baja California. The same dusty towns (although less of them) and empty roads, but this time lined with a magnificent landscape of smooth boulders and every cactus species you can imagine. Didem’s dreamworld, I guess.

Valle de los Cirios - Baja California
Valle de los Cirios – Baja California

Days of cactus-camping, interspersed with more boring roads, lead us towards the border with Baja California Sur. Here, my dear readers, things get interesting. One advice: follow “The Number One” towards the Sea of Cortez and be amazed.

Mulegé - Baja California
Mulegé – Baja California

Those sandy beaches and magically coloured waters we have been looking for? Right here, and to top it all off: no tourists. Actually, no people at all. Your starting point for all this is the town of Mulegé.

Playa Santispac - Baja California Sur
Playa Santispac – Baja California Sur

Yes, the beach really is pink. And it only gets better between Loreto and La Paz.

And one more - Baja California Sur
And one more – Baja California Sur

Fancy warm, shallow waters with a stingray here and there? Balandra is the place to be. The view from the surrounding mountains isn’t half bad either.

Playa Balandra - Baja California Sur
Playa Balandra – Baja California Sur

To summarize: skip the north, enjoy the south. Oh, and do a day trip to Isla Espiritu Santo for, perhaps, the most beautiful scenery of the whole peninsula. Skip Cabo San Lucas, though. That’s just an overhyped tourist trap.

All aboard - Sea of Cortez
All aboard – Sea of Cortez

An ex-Stena Line (no, they did not remove any of the Flemish/English information signs – I am looking at you, Oostende) ferried us and Suzy safely across the Sea of Cortez. Comfortable beds and complimentary meals included.

See you on the mainland!

The Great Loop Part II – Nevada, Utah & Arizona

Driving Southwards through California reveals just how dry the state really is. No wonder they need so many reservoirs to keep life going. On the border with Nevada, the Sierra Nevada range sucks the remaining moisture out of the air, forming the word famous Death Valley.

Badwater Basin - Death Valley
Badwater Basin – Death Valley

Drought and dead, interspersed with ultra colourful mountains, salt pans and sand flats. What a fantastic, peaceful place!

A little more towards the East lies a little less peaceful place: Las Vegas. A place to gander at the weirdness in our world. Look through the thousands of stag and hen party-goers and you will find local grannies spending precious time falling asleep at their favourite slot machine. What a life! Sin City was explored, but not consumed … except maybe for that one night in the Bellagio. Happy birthday, Didemcim!

Sin City - Nevada
Sin City – Nevada

More national parks up ahead! The state of Utah takes us towards the most eastern point of our loop. After disarming a dead car battery, ignoring an immoveable neck (and thus, head) and dodging an enormous rattlesnake we make it, alive and well, to Zion National Park. The start of the Canyon Route is nothing but spectacular: blossoming cacti among river-fed greeneries set in a red-tinted mountain landscape.

Zion National Park - Utah
Zion National Park – Utah

A new “Made in the USA” car battery brings us, this time without problems, via Zion and Bryce Canyon, to Page, Arizona. I know, it starts to sound like an eventless numbered list of natural sights, but with a National Park or Monument every 150km it is hard to describe things differently.

Bryce Canyon - Utah
Bryce Canyon – Utah

Next on the list? Page. A city built for the construction of the Glen Canyon Dam. For us, a base to explore Horseshoe Bend and the fabulous Antelope Canyon.

Horseshoe Bend - Arizona
Horseshoe Bend – Arizona

Be warned: Upper Antelope Canyon, the famous slot canyon with its surreal curves and laser-like sunbeams is an extremely busy tourist attraction. Special photo-tours that allow a tripod, the only way to actually take a picture inside the Canyon, are a complete and utter rip-off. The alternative? A visit to Lower Antelope Canyon. The major drawback is the lack of light shafts, but this is easily compensated by the more relaxed atmosphere and much lower entrance price. There you have it. Practical information :)

Lower Antelope Canyon - Arizona
Lower Antelope Canyon – Arizona

The Grand Canyon State deserves a visit to its namesake attraction: the Grand Canyon. A tourist trail navigating the South rim, you say? Don’t make me laugh. The North rim is where all the action is packed. Everyone knows this. And besides, the grass is always greener on the other side … except today. Today the grass, or better, the rocks, are white. Covered in snow by the extremely unexpected late-April snow storm and sub-zero temperatures that led to the closure of the North side of the National Park. Bummer. The South rim it is then.

Grand Canyon South Rim - Arizona
Grand Canyon South Rim – Arizona

Geek note: you can watch the documentary “Grand Canyon: The Hidden Secrets” in the IMAX theatre of the Grand Canyon Village. Not that spectacular if it wasn’t for the technicalities of the whole ordeal. The feature was shot and is projected using analog 70mm film. Oh, my … the amount of detail captured is just incomparable to, unfortunately, all too common 2K digital screenings.

Moving on: a quick stop-over in Seligman shows a glimpse of glory long-gone. The bad-ass route 66 changed from a symbol of freedom to a rather dull tourist trap. Ah, well … let’s hope they at least conserve or restore the diners and gas stations of the Golden Fifties.

Route 66 - Seligman, Arizona
Route 66 – Seligman,  Arizona

Back in California, Joshua Tree National Park is worth a visit, even if it is only to enjoy its excellent camping spots. Giant boulders and weird cactus-tree hybrids. All a person can wish for before entering the madness that is Los Angeles.

Joshua Tree National Park - California
Joshua Tree National Park – California

And the madness starts even before entering LA. Wishing for a city in the middle of the desert, promoted as the perfect getaway? Look no further: Palm Springs will fulfill all your dreams. In reality it looks more like an unorganised mess of upscale retirement homes located in the middle of an extremely windy valley. On a positive note, we had a lovely dinner with one of Didem’s Erasmus friends.

The City of Angels is full of contrasts: from its criminality ridden outskirts to celebrity neighbourhoods of Beverly Hills, from buskers in Venice Beach to the tourist-ridden streets of Hollywood. A lot of stuff, but nothing that exciting.

The Hoff - Hollywood
The Hoff – Hollywood

US of A, it is almost time to say goodbye. A friend’s visit in quiet Huntington Beach followed by a drive through San Diego marks the end of a wonderfully busy time in The States.

Sunset over Death Valley - California
Sunset over Death Valley – California

Next up: Baja California!