We woke up Sunday morning in Guerrero Negro feeling better all the way around. The little place with the kickass breakfast burritos on Highway 1 just north of the Baja California state line was closed (Sunday!) but no matter. We were, as they say, cooking with gas.
Here’s the thing about roads in Mexico: Conditions vary wildly. For example, Highway 19 between Cabo and La Paz could easily be in Arizona, minus the phenomenal ocean views. In addition to being four lanes, it’s smooth and constantly maintained with wide lanes and shoulders. Hwy 1 is not like that. You can’t just set the cruise and enjoy the drive because it crisscrosses the peninsula a few times to get around the mountains. It’s a very narrow road without any shoulders (or guardrails) at all in most spots. There are quite a few very steep grades so you’ll be tooling along and then have a semi truck come barreling around a curve halfway in your lane with nowhere to go.
There’s an area just like that a few miles before the junction with Highway 5, the newly completed road running along the Sea of Cortez. The windows were cracked for the dogs to sniff unfamiliar air. We were making good time and I was listening to TheVeryBestofTheCars. We had just cleared a very sharp curve with an extremely steep drop-off and two big ‘ole trucks across the center line and descended into a valley when my Jeep dinged at me. Initially, I thought it was the check engine light that was upset again but no…it was a low tire.
The tire pressure system in my Jeep soothes my OCD because it shows the exact pressure in each tire and chimes at 25 PSI. I looked down and saw the rear passenger tire pressure dropping quickly so I hollered at the bf on the radio but got no response. As I slowed down, I was honking and flashing my brights but he just kept driving. Somehow, this happened at the perfect spot with a wide area for me to pull over away from the road. I knew we were very close to the Hwy 5 turn off and figured he would notice I was no longer behind him by the time he got there.
My phone had zero bars of service but I sent a quick message to my mom, thinking it would send eventually. The tire was toast and my only option was to wait. It seemed like a good time to let the dogs stretch their legs and grab some water. A few minutes later, I saw the Mighty Dodge hauling ass in our direction.
His first words were “I thought you were dead!” He went on to describe the scenario he imagined: My dogs and I were dead at the bottom of a canyon after being forced off the road by one of those trucks. There may have been some bargaining with a higher power. After realizing I was gone, he noticed his radio was turned off. It seems the battery drained because the USB port in the Mighty Dodge failed to charge it. So he really had no idea where he had lost me.
Accessing the spare tire in this particular Jeep model is a giant pain in the ass when it’s loaded. Remember the Cherokees that had the FULL SIZE spare on the driver’s side of the cargo area? Ahhh…the good ‘ole days. After unloading everything I had masterfully fit in the back, he changed the tire and we were back in action. I sent my mom another message to let her know we were on the move.
So there I was rolling through Baja on a donut with the check engine light flashing and beeping at me at random intervals. There was no chance of dealing with the tire in Mexico because it was Sunday and we didn’t want my battery to get stolen. Yep…that’s a thing. We stopped in San Felipe for fuel and food. The gas station attendant actually complimented my Spanish, which was hilarious because my Spanish is virtually nonexistent. Despite the delay, we still felt like we could cross the border that night.
We passed through a final military checkpoint without any issues and made good time the rest of the way to Mexicali.
We arrived in Mexicali before dark and stopped at McDonald’s to double check directions to the border crossings. As I watched the Mighty Dodge make the left turn, I noticed the front driver’s side tire was flat. Are you fucking kidding me right now? Initially, the truck only needed to make it to Baja where it was to be discarded. That it had survived to this point was a fucking miracle. It has needed an alignment for, I dunno, forever so the tires are being directly worn. A failure like this was obviously only a matter of when but it had already been a long day.
We parked across the street from McD’s in a residential area and discussed our next move. It was pretty obvious we wouldn’t be crossing the border until Monday. We saw a sign that looked like it could be a hotel so I stayed with the dogs and vehicles while the bf took a walk to size up our options. He chatted up a couple ladies outside a pizza/barbecue place and one of them called her nephew or whatever who said he could be at our location in a few minutes. He showed up shortly after with his girlfriend and advised he had a guy who could help. He called the guy who said he would be there in 45 minutes.
We grabbed some food and right on time, this 20-something dude rolled up in an S-10 pickup with all kinds of tools and equipment in the back. He took one look at that tire and we knew it was jacked even by Mexican standards. It was clear he would have to remove the tire and take it to his shop to switch it out. He wasn’t sure if he had a tire that would fit and the bf told him it could be a used one and it really only needed to make it across the border. The kid seemed dubious, which is always concerning in Mexico. Usually, it’s the other way around.
About another hour later, he came back with a different tire on the rim. It doesn’t even come close to matching the other (also mismatched) tires and wasn’t even technically the correct size but it worked. Fifty bucks later, we went in search of lodging since the Mexicali East border crossing had closed for the night. It may have made sense to just use the main crossing but those guys were dicks when we crossed southbound so we decided to get a room and use the East crossing in the morning. Mexicali is confusing in the dark but we only drove around for an extra hour or so…it was totally fine.
Click the links below to see how we got to this point.
Returning to the US: Sherman, I Just Really Need You to PoopReturning to the US: Leaving Todos SantosReturning to the US: First the Why
We decided to cross the border in Mexicali to save time and money. After being delayed due to a late Amazon package and a bad wheel bearing (not mine), we left Arizona much later than we expected. As a result, the crossing we intended to use was closed for the weekend so we used the busier one on the west side of town.
Being in two vehicles can be a challenge, especially when the leader gets pulled over for an inspection and is extorted to the tune of 3,000 pesos. We sat for a couple hours while they decided what to do with us and the psychotic hound had a panic attack requiring a dose of trazodone. Great start to a nerve wracking drive.
Highway 5 from Mexicali could have been in the US. There was a ton of traffic in San Felipe and the road quickly deteriorated after we left heading south. Little side detours for construction were unpaved and extremely rocky in spots. Some of them included very steep climbs and descents and I thought I would need 4WD a couple times. A large unpaved section that continued for a few miles was a little sketchy, especially considering we were running out of daylight. Views of the mountains and Sea of Cortez were absolutely breathtaking but it was impossible for me to divert my attention to taking photos while driving due to the road conditions. I learned my dogs are not fans of off-roading. My Jeep was absolutely made for those conditions and it would have been fun, had I not been carrying cargo with feelings. I feel like I should get a cheesy t-shirt that says something like “I survived driving Highway 5” but I’m content to settle for bragging rights.
We made it to Highway 1 right before dusk and had no choice but to continue after dark. There were no shoulders and terrible (mostly nonexistent) road markings in most spots. Mountain curves were terrifying after dark. It was impossible to see. We had been up since 4 am and semi-trucks were driving way too fast for the road conditions. We finally made it to a hotel just outside Guerrero Negro at about 10 pm. Lulu wasn’t even talking to me by then.
The lead vehicle lost its fuel pump as we were leaving the next morning so we sat until after lunch and only made it to San Ignacio where we stopped for the night. The rest of the drive was pretty uneventful aside from being utterly confused by Mexican towns and whatever rules drivers seem to haphazardly follow. We finally made it to Todos Santos at about 8 pm the next night and my dogs and I were toast. They weren’t listening to anything I was trying to tell them and I was beyond exhausted. We got the keys to our house and completely crashed.
The drive was better and worse than I expected. It is my sincere hope that I never have to do that again.