Right from the start, I have been warned about travelling in Mexico, particularly because I am travelling alone. It isn’t my desire to be foolhardy and bull-headed, but it is my experience that anywhere in the world is as dangerous if you don’t take certain precautions. The same terrible things that happen in Mexico happen in Toronto, Canada or London, England. You can get mugged, drugged, raped and killed anywhere in the world. Imagine if we only discussed the negative news that is reported in the United States! I would be terrified out of my wits to be in the neighbourhood of music festivals, movie theatres or schools. And what about that unfortunate Brazilian who was walking in downtown Calgary with his girlfriend a few years back? He was caught in the crossfire of a shooting and lost his sight. I am careful and respectful and have so far had no trouble. I’m not saying I never will have trouble, unexpected events happen every day, but I won’t allow that kind of fear to prevent me from travelling.
There is extreme poverty here, no doubt about it, but poor isn’t synonymous with criminal.
I should have realized that I was once again being misdirected by my friend, GPS, (fondly known as Gypsy) when the road went from tarmac to cobblestones. But, as I had been gazing out towards the hillside for the past few weeks, wondering what that part of the city looked like, I decided to continue on. The road became narrower and narrower as it climbed the hill, turning into just dirt with one side becoming a drop off. The local folks were staring at me as if I had just come from Mars! What the heck was this gringa doing up here? It was a fair question. After all, this area resembled the infamous favelas of Brazil. The stark poverty was shocking. There were shacks crumbling all around in between what must have been homes for those I encountered. I kept driving upward until the road literally ended. There was no place to go. I couldn’t turn the RV around without risking falling off the cliff. But I had to, so I began the attempt. No sooner had I started than an elderly man and his wife rushed to my rescue. Between the three of us, and the language barrier, we managed to get me turned around. I was so incredibly grateful. They were clapping, waving and laughing as I left them. (And, yes, I gave them something for their trouble, though they didn’t expect it and never asked.) These people are so amazingly kind. Everyone, and I mean everyone, I have met has tried to be helpful, even if I couldn’t make myself understood.
I strongly recommend anyone travelling to Mexico to pick up a few words before they leave. Learn your numbers so you know how much you are being asked to pay, and learn hundreds and thousands, because that is what you will be paying when paying in pesos. It’s also good to know how to ask for a fill up of whichever kind of fuel you need. And carry cash for gas stations and RV parks. Many don’t accept credit cards, but will take either pesos or U.S. dollars.
Whale watching is a favourite tourist attraction along the coast of Baja California. The gray whales migrate here every winter from the Arctic to breed. I went on a tour last week and we were not disappointed. I missed a lot of great shots because there was such a clamour of us all trying to get photos. I’m not sure how many whales we actually saw. They kept popping up in all directions. It was a lot of fun, all of us peering into the dark of the vast ocean, hoping for a burst of spray to indicate where the whales were. (I have to say, I was the best spotter. I was pointing them out to the captain, thought I might be able to get a job doing that, if all else fails!)
I had just one moment of apprehension on my way from Ensenada to San Felipe yesterday. Around a bend a man stepped into the middle of the road in an attempt to flag me down. I didn’t stop, just as I wouldn’t have stopped if that had happened in Canada. But it sure makes me sad that I can’t just pick up a stranger who was perhaps just in need of a ride. I had no difficulty crossing the border at San Ysidro/Tijuana. And also when I returned to the border because I realized I didn’t have all the right documentation to travel beyond the border towns in Mexico. I went through two military checkpoints yesterday, and both were just fine. At the first checkpoint the guard just waved me through. At the second one, the soldier came into the RV, looked around, laughed when we finally found Nerah hiding under a blanket, asked me about the photos of my granddaughter, and let me continue on. Respect goes a long way. There were others at the same stop who were getting a much bigger shakedown. It also helps that I have Canadian flag stickers on my RV! Everybody loves Canadians ?
I love this place of sunshine and warmth, both in the culture and the weather. My son, Matthew, is coming to visit next week. I’m looking forward to that. I’m hoping we can go a little farther south and discover more of what Mexico is all about.