Our neighbor, Dan, wanted to go with us to see the La Bufadora, The Snorter, a blowhole on the Punta Banda Peninsula in Baja California, Mexico. I love traveling and have been looking for someone willing to go south with me, so I was more than thrilled at the opportunity. We were concerned that Caleb wasn’t allowed to go to Tijuana, but figured there should be no issue going further, but going through a place is considered going to it.
Caleb took the day off from work and we waited for our neighbor who was waiting on his sister-in-law to watch the grand baby so we could go. We packed a cooler with water and carrots and brought a bag of pretzels, our passports, cameras, and we were Ensenada bound. We stopped at Baja-Mex Insurance Services in San Ysidro to purchase high deductible coverage for the day at a cost of $25.20.
While we were there we also got some cash exchanged at a rate of $1.00 to 12.6 pesos in case we wanted to spend some money 88 miles away from the border to make purchases easier, but everywhere we went was willing to accept either. We spent $14.70 on Hwy 1 (the toll road) with three tolls one way, $2.45 or 30 pesos each. Driving into Mexico is just as easy as walking into the country – accessible to all – and perhaps too easy for those that don’t know the requirements for re-entry into the States.
There is a large sign over the highway letting us know we are entering Mexico and then the road splits – Hwy 1 through downtown Tijuana, scenic Hwy 1 south along the coast, or Hwy 2 that goes east towards Tecate, and a lane for buses and cars with something to declare. Our translator, Dan, is kind enough to interpret the signs for us. Luckily I know how to follow numbers and the tiny amount of research that I did beforehand let me know that the road to La Bufadora is clearly marked.
It’s neat to finally drive on the road that I have walked past many times. I get to see the city from a different angle, yet with a quickly passing view. We are soon behind a large vehicle that we believe to be the reason we are driving slowly in what appears to be three motorcycle lanes. I want more time to look around, but soon the truck goes around the van that is holding up traffic and I drive around too.
There are brightly colored murals and advertisements on the buildings and available surfaces are covered in graffiti initials. It’s easy to see Tijuana’s homes terraced on the one hill seen from stateside, but to realize that northern Mexico has a beach front, a mountainous range, and pineapple trees growing inland is beautiful. There are a few billboards, but even more popular along the road are aqua barrels for radiator water to help keep cars from overheating.
I remained, for the most part, the quiet driver admiring the architecture and landscape. I would let Dan do most of the talking as he is known to do and only interrupt to point something out to Caleb. Dan was afraid that I would drive too fast, but he’s not interested in the place where his wife’s family is from, but in showing us something new and spending the day with us. This is our first time, perhaps ever, that we’ve had someone else with us in the car while exploring somewhere new. It adds to the experience.
Half an hour into Mexico and we drive by a large Jesus that appears to be standing on a baseball cap sharing his word with the few extravagant homes that have an ocean view. On his head is a red light so that he is not beheaded by low-flying aircraft, but we can’t help but joke that it looks like a blinking bead that would be on a hat with helicopter blades. I want to stop and take detailed pictures of all this scenery, but just as it’s hard to find a place to pull over, it’s difficult to know what’s private property and whether these people want me taking pictures of them or their things – I drive on.
Dan is a smoker and has asked that we stop every hour to please his habit. I am more than glad to park the car for our first break. I start to slow down and continue doing so on the shoulder as Dan is screaming in the back that I’m going to flip the car. When a safe speed is reached I drive over the small drop off and into the sand towards the parking spaces. Dan thought I was going to let my high-clearance four-wheel-drive vehicle drop three inches into sand while still going over 30 miles an hour.
I made fun of his reaction once we were stopped. I know how it is to be a scared passenger, but that usually consists of being in a sports car speeding and weaving between vehicles and slamming on the brakes before hitting another car – not the case here. I get out to take pictures of the palm frond umbrellas on the beach and notice a sign that warns us not to swim on the dangerous beach with a picture of a man being swallowed on both sides by high waves. There are also no cars or dogs allowed on the beach, but fruit to eat and horses to ride are being sold. I get the romantic gesture, but I feel bad that the equine have to stand tied to a wall while they wait.
Smoke break is over and it’s time to get back on the road. Out in the water are boats and their large net traps to supply restaurants and food carts with local seafood. As we leave Ensenada, and the toll road, the quality of the street decreases. I run over the first speed bump of the day and it’s no joke. I was distracted by a dog riding a horse on the left and no warning sign on the right. Luckily the next two are painted, easier to see, and have a sign to accompany them – which to me looks like a symbol for road boobs.
We get to have a laugh about that before driving on the dirt road under construction – where there are still signs leading us to La Bufadora. The road goes out on the peninsula and almost doubles back before coming to a parking lot. We are directed to park outside of it for $2.00. I thought the vendors would be selling from carts, but the street to the blowhole is lined with shops offering pina coladas, bags, dresses, hammocks, and toys. There are restaurants and a spot offering to take my picture while I hold a lion cub.
Past the bathrooms and men selling finger-painted scenes on plates to the viewing platform with two levels. We head down the steps after admiring the view, rocks, birds, waves, and taking some pictures of ourselves. The water comes into a tight point in the rocks where the pressure build up has nowhere else to go but up. Sometimes it’s just a cough of mist, but other times the water comes gushing up over the rocks and covering the viewers in a large cloud of mist while cascading back down with a hundred little white waterfalls. The amount of moisture and sun is a perfect environment for the moss growing which adds to the life and beauty of this blowhole.
There is a lot of energy and excitement as people wait for the picture-perfect moment as the water sprays almost like a manmade fountain dancing to the music of the Earth. Climbing is prohibited on the rocks, but there are supposed to be kayak tours that allow visitors another view. There will be no water-sport activities for us today, so we make our way up the stairs for a different elevated look at the water, rocks, sky, and people – who are smoking, drinking, dancing, texting, and taking pictures.
We would love to stay longer and explore more, but we still have a return drive of two hours with a planned smoke stop or two along the way. Caleb had pesos burning a hole in his pocket and bought me a pina colada in a pineapple. I shared the fruit with the guys and the drink with Dan because Caleb doesn’t like coconut. I let Caleb drive us to the outskirts of Rodolfo Sánchez Taboada where we stop for tamales so that I can keep both hands on my beverage.
At this food stand are jars of honey and spiced olives, peppers, carrots, and cauliflower. Tamale flavors are pepper and cheese (what Dan got – delicious), corn (what we got – too sweet), and chicken, etc. I let Caleb eat most of the tamale while I filled up on carrots. The tamales are cooked on a long stone stove in big pots on separate burners – metal grate over rock (resembling cinder blocks) between fires burning wood below. After we are back on the road I think about the tamales I should’ve bought to eat later.
Then we are at a military checkpoint. I roll down the windows on the driver’s side so the guy can look in. He says something and when I fail to do anything he sighs and says, “Go!” I’m glad that’s the only thing he said. It’s more difficult to visit another country or region with a different official language. I’m grateful that English is so world-wide and most symbols are so easy to understand.
We are halfway to the border when I decide to stop at Alisitos K-58, not for the restaurant or campground, but for another opportunity to visit the beach. From the cliff-side is a concrete ramp that takes us past green bushes and handful-sized rocks to soft sand. There is plenty of reflection from the tide on shore – washing up kelp and shells, some of which Caleb will collect to remember our time here. This beach is just as beautiful and barren as other beaches in California and Oregon – just the way I like ’em – us and nature.
That will be our last stop until we see brake lights at the border. We get into the second lane – and wait. Dan will smoke twice while walking beside us as we wait our turn to re-enter the United States. By avoiding eye contact we are able to keep most vendors peddling their wares elsewhere, but some prefer to tap on my window or shout their sales. The sun sets and I start to think about the veggie burrito I’m going to have when we get to Rubio’s Fresh Mexican Grill – a fast-food place on H Street.
About 50 minutes later and we are at the cameras, lights, and officers. I hand over three passports and the border agent asks about the owner of the vehicle, where we went, and if Caleb was active duty – which apparently need a permission slip to be in Mexico because they could’ve left their command without their officer-in-charge knowing. Weird then, that we can enter freely and stay as long as we want, but only when we want to return would their be trouble; which there would’ve been had he been caught. He told work he was taking me to a doctor’s appointment.
Caleb told the guy that he left his leave chit at home thinking he only needed it to visit Tijuana. We were going to be made to go to secondary inspection where an officer would call Shore Patrol that would verify Caleb’s story and then perhaps attempt to contact his command that is currently ship-less. And when that didn’t work out is what I was worried about – that and my hunger. The agent decides to let us go this time and I can be nothing but thankful. Caleb says he could’ve texted his friend to save his ass, but I’m glad we didn’t have to go through with all that nonsense. That will not happen again.
Dinner is at Rubio’s. Dan is able to call his wife on the way to let her know we made it back and he will be home after we get something to eat. I get a veggie burrito with chips, two sauces to dip them in (a green sauce that tastes like red salsa and a smoky chipotle), and some onions with cilantro. The guys got three fish tacos each. We had a great day. We got to try new things and tried our luck. We got home after 9:00 pm and after some notes about the events of the day it was time for bed.