The Journey to Baja

Writer's note: After a dusty and technology-deprived two weeks, we’ve made it home. For the sake of chronology and effective storytelling, I’ll pick up where I left off. 

Travel from mainland Mexico to Baja is anything but painless. The outdated and unreliable ferry system departs from two cities on the mainland’s western coast, Mazatlan and Topolobampo, offering a cringe-worthy 16-hour ride from Mazatlan’s harbor or an overnight 7-hour voyage from Topo’s seedy shores to La Paz. Add in travel logistics to your departure city, vehicle and sleeper cabin booking, and smuggling your pet across international waters, and you’ve got yourself one hell of a to-do list. 

Toss in a brutal bout of food poisoning on departure day, and you’ve got yourself some real problems. Real feverish, nauseous, explosive problems. 

We departed San Pancho mid-morning after Hobbs awoke to a clammy fever, chills and uncontrollable nausea - the likely culprit being one of the many food cart snacks we nostalgically enjoyed the previous evening as we celebrated our last night in town. 

With our marital roles as he, driver and me, navigator chiseled into stone and sealed with a blood oath, Hobbs mustered all his queasy strength and drove us five hours north to the village of Teacapan, a sad and dilapidated fishing village on Sinaloa’s western coastline. 

We camped on the wide and empty beach next to a restaurant as Hobbs writhed, wretched and wrestled with his illness through the night, virtually unconscious and immobile for the better part of 12 hours. I fretted over him and our conspicuous camping spot, having read horror stories of Mexico’s drug cartel calling dibs on most of the state of Sinaloa. Luckily, we were only visited by cops at midnight and a carful of loud, drunken Mexicans around 3:00 a.m. (who yelled at each other for a while, popped a few fresh beers, and backed into a palm tree as they departed.) 

Hobbs’s fever broke around 4:00 a.m. and he rose the next morning feeling better, albeit still unsteady and weak. We bounced along the rough road out of Teacapan, passing through the spicy air of garlic fields, acres of drying chiles and miles of tomatoes. 

The highway north was slow going, as both the Federales and the military have a much stronger presence in Sinaloa, and subject road travelers to regular stops and checkpoints. Our destination was Cosala, a colorful village tucked into a valley about an hour inland from the coast. 

Cosala proved colorful both in sight and in sound. Our hotel room was perched three stories above a rowdy group of music lovers who blasted their banda sinaloense, which I will forever refer to as THAT FUCKING MIND-NUMBING, ANXIETY-BREEDING, EAR-RAPING MEXICAN OOMPAH BULLSHIT, into the early hours of the morning at such a volume that no pillow or air conditioner could even begin to muffle. At 2:00 a.m., I’d had enough. I bolted out of bed, stomped down the stairs and demanded in my best Spanglish, blurry eyed and bed-headed, that the nightwatchman give us a new room. 

We got a new room, and a decent night's sleep. 

Day three's scenery made up for our rough start. As we made our way back toward the coast, the hills north of Culiacan began to roll into the ocean, dotting the landscape with purple and yellow shrubs, and spindly cactuses with trunks as thick as trees. It was our longest and most creative day of driving yet: highlights include avoiding a police road block by driving down the bumpy and sewage-lined access road, and driving the wrong way, in reverse, up an exit ramp so we could make our poorly marked turn. Yay for (the complete lack and utter disregard of) Mexican traffic laws! 

We rolled into Topolobampo at sunset on the third day and checked into the ferry terminal about five hours prior to departure. While waiting to board, we cooked dinner, read magazines and blasted vintage Justin Timberlake as payback to all of Mexico for the previous night's inconvenience. Unfortunately, loud music is seen as neither a punishment nor a disservice to this fun-loving and good-natured culture.

At 15 minutes to midnight, we boarded the ferry and found our cabin - a surprisingly tidy and cheery room with comfy beds and a private bath. As the ship's horn announced our departure from the harbor, the motor's hum quietly lulled us to sleep. Sweet, quiet, well-deserved sleep. 

Next stop: Baja, or as it's otherwise known, the MOON.