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Saturday, July 16, 2011

7/16/2011 - Loreto to San Diego

Note: Some of the details in this entry is specifically for fellow travelers who may follow in our wake.

After our 3-day (mas o menos) stay in Loreto, we boarded the bus for Tijuana. The one we chose was scheduled to leave at 1535 and was only an hour late. It was freakin' hot when we left and the A/C on the bus felt really good. There was a movie playing when we got aboard. Eddie Murphy and Bruce Willis in some comedic shoot-em-up. It was actually in English with subtitles in espaƱol. During the long bus ride they showed at least 3 other movies but all were dubbed in Spanish with no subtitles and very hard to hear even if we could have understood what we were hearing.

The seats on the buses are pretty comfortable, at least initially. They're nicely padded and have lots of legroom, which is good because the person in front of you is almost certainly going to lower his seat back as far as it will go. Things are so much more casual than on USA buses, what with the driver and his relief man yakking non-stop and actually allowing passengers to speak to them.

We stopped at our first military checkpoint not too long into the trip. Everyone had to get off the bus with their carry-ons. The cargo hold was unloaded and the bags arranged on a long table. Then the soldiers opened and searched every bag and carry-on, some more thoroughly than others. They thought they struck paydirt when they found these newspaper-and-plastic-wrap shrouded pellets in my bag. I think they were a little disappointed to find they were only shot glasses wrapped to protect them from the hazards of travel. We were probably at the checkpoint for 30-45 minutes and then were on our way again.

We passed through at least 6 more checkpoints before reaching our destination of Tijuana but they got laxer and laxer the further we went (or maybe the later at night it got). At the second checkpoint, they searched all the carry-ons but seemed to lose interest after searching only half of the bags in the cargo hold. At the third checkpoint, 3 soldiers came aboard and walked the length of the bus looking us over, at the fourth, one soldier came aboard and looked us over, at the fifth, one soldier came aboard and looked us over from the front of the bus, at the sixth, he exchanged a few words with the driver and waved us on. At the seventh, he just waved us through without stopping

There were no specific meal stops. The bus stopped at various places along the way to allow passengers to board or disembark. Passengers were always free to get off to use the bathroom or get a bite to eat if something was available. However, you had to keep an eye out as it never looked to me like the driver paid any particular attention to whether or not everybody was back aboard or not when he took off. It was also always very vague as to how long the stop was going to be. And, as far as getting something to eat goes, don't count on anything. The Loreto bus station has some sandwiches, chips, etc. available but after that, pickings are slim. Most of the stops had little more than a few Bimbo cookies or tiny bags of Doritos. I thought I was finally going to get something good when we hit Rosario late at night. There was a hot dog stand that was doing a great business. I was going to get us each one, but it was obvious that they weren't going to be done before the bus took off (remember, the bacon wrapping has to get completely cooked). So, I abandoned my place in line. What a dummy. If I'd waited a couple more minutes, I'd have seen the bus driver get in line and then I'd know I had plenty of time as he wasn't leaving without a hot dog and the bus wasn't leaving without him. Oh well, guess we weren't really that hungry anyway.

By this time, we both looked forward to finally falling asleep. Hadn't been able to yet. The seats, which were quite comfortable to start, were beginning to wreak havoc on our tailbones and sleep would have been a welcome respite. The A/C was also beginning to get a bit onerous. It had felt really good at the beginning but as we climbed up into the mountains to cross the peninsula, the temperature dropped. We stopped one place (might have been Rosalia) where there was even fog-like dampness in the air. Of course, Lulu and I were the only passengers in shorts. Everyone else had long pants and had brought sweatshirts or jackets or, in several cases, blankets. Lulu, fortunately had her flannel shirt with her which kept her from going hypothermic at least. We'll be smarter next time.

Sometime around midnight, they turned off the movies and the air conditioning which helped a lot in the sleep department. We both slept, sort of, but probably never for more than, at the most, a half hour at a time. Something about sleeping sitting up on your sore tailbone that just precludes a solid rest.

Sooner than expected, we found ourselves on the outskirts of Ensenada. Shortly after that we were in Tijuana and getting off this bus for the last time. The ticket agent in Loreto said the trip would take 18 hours. It actually took only about 1/2 hour longer than that, military checkpoints and all.

Once in Tijuana, we went to the Greyhound/Cruceros ticket office and got 2 tickets to San Diego via San Ysidro ($12 USD ea.). The bus was leaving at 1130 so we didn't have long to wait. I needed something savory to eat so I bought 3 carne asada tacos from the food place at the bus station. Lulu opted to not eat.

At about 1145, we boarded our bus and headed to the border. We passed really long lines of cars and equally long lines of pedestrians. At 1300, we took our place behind the other buses. While we were sitting in line, before the driver cut the engine, I tapped in to the bus' free wifi and checked e-mail. After awhile we moved a little ways ahead and then the driver cut the engine. Ultimately, we sat on the bus about an hour and a half before it was our turn.

We all disembarked, grabbed our bags and proceeded in to US Customs. It didn't take very long to get through Customs. The inspector who checked my passport made a crack about maybe having seen me on the Discovery Channel which, I think, was a slam about my terrible (and I mean really terrible) passport photo.

And then we were outside, on US soil. But not before before being admonished several times to "keep moving" by the Customs agents. Welcome home. So now we're outside with our San Ysidro to San Diego bus tickets and absolutely NO idea where the freakin' bus is. I asked a cop (I guess that's what he was - there are an awful lot of uniforms at the border) and he brusquely directed me "over there". Well, "over there" was kind of vague but, by going in that direction, I did finally see a very small Greyhound sign. We went there and asked the ticket agent where we were supposed to catch the bus to San Diego. He didn't seem to speak any English and was a lot less interested in trying to reach some common language ground than the people in Mexico had been. However, we eventually again got sort of a vague idea that we should walk in a certain direction. We walked up the street and, at the corner, there was a guy with an orange vest who motioned us towards himself and then pointed us to an open-sided tent with benches underneath. We recognized some of our fellow passengers so we figured we must be in the right place. In a few minutes, the same bus we'd come up from Tijuana on came by and started boarding. The same driver we'd had before, who either spoke no English or feigned that he spoke no English, informed us that this bus was going to "LA, no San Diego!". Chagrined, we resumed our seats and waited for another bus to come along. Within a few minutes, one did. But, instead of parking up by the tent, he backed into a spot a little ways away. The driver got out and started walking past us towards the ticket office (I assume). Lulu approached him to find out if his was the San Diego bus but he made a point of not speaking English (remember that we're in the U.S. now) and being much to busy to answer her question. Well, one thing and another, we finally did get on his bus and headed in to San Diego.

We planned to find a hotel downtown where we could stash our bags and then go outside and play for awhile. On the way to town we passed places like Motel 6, Days Inn, etc, advertising prices as low as $39.99 for one person. Seemed like this would be a good place to stop but, it was quite a ways from town. More on this later.

The San Diego bus terminal is right downtown. On the way in, Lulu thought she saw a sign for a Motel 6 a few blocks away. So, once we were off the bus, we shouldered our packs and set off to find it. We walked for blocks and blocks and blocks, carrying 40 lb. packs and never did find a Motel 6. Finally, we spotted a Day's Inn and figured their prices would be similar so we decided to stop there. Walked up to the front desk all confident that we were finally going to shed our packs and asked,

"How much would a room for tonight run us?"

"Well, our rooms are $179.00 a night to start and..."

(gasp) "Uh well, that's a bit steep for our budget. Thanks anyway."

"Yeah, there's a convention in town and most of the rooms downtown are completely sold out. But here's a number you can call, give them your budget, and they'll see what they can find."

"OK, thanks."

Once back outside, we decided to go find something to eat before we did anything else. It was now about 3:00, maybe 3:30 and Lulu hadn't eaten anything except a couple of cookies since a ceviche tostada we had in Loreto yesterday early afternoon. Without going into too much detail, suffice it to say that we proceeded to walk all over downtown San Diego, carting our packs, and never found what we wanted. Either they didn't serve beer with their food, or they were WAY too proud of their food. Finally we found ourselves walking west on Broadway again in search of Hoover's Famous Burgers which we had seen sometime during our walk. Well, it must have been the other way because, before we knew it, we were back at the bus terminal and hadn't seen it yet. Now what?

At this point, the food and the lodging downtown was determined to be out of our budget. So, I had the bright idea to ride the shuttle out towards the airport. The cheap hotels and chain restaurants are always out there, right? So, we got our tickets, got on the shuttle and headed to the airport. But guess what? On the way there, we didn't pass the typical restaurant/motel row that I associate with airports. No worries though. We figured that, once at the airport, we could call up Super 8 or somesuch and they'd have a shuttle, like they do in Portland. But guess what again? Huh-uh!

We stopped at the Info desk and asked for help. These guys were great. Being working stiffs, they understood what a budget was. They started looking on the internet for an affordable place to stay. Most of the close-in ones they knew of were no longer in business. They said that the cheaper places would be in Chula Vista but, since we were on foot, that might not work. I said that, if the trolley goes by there (it does), that Chula Vista would be just fine. They then found us a reasonably priced motel right at one of the trolly stops. We thanked them, got back on the shuttle, transferred to the trolley at America Plaza and rode a few miles south to Chula Vista. The motel we had reservations at was right across the freeway but all around us were Motel 6, Day's Inn, etc. All the places that we had seen from the bus on our way in to San Diego the first time, some 3+ hours ago. Good Grief. And nearby were Black Angus, MacDonald's, Denny's, Wendy's, etc.

So, for fellow travellers, here are the details and my suggestions:

Loreto to Tijuana: Bus, takes about 18-19 hours. Cost: just under 1500 pesos per person. Take along some snacks. Wear long pants. Have a sweater or similar with you. Have a light blanket and a pillow if you have the room.

Tijuana to San Ysidro: Take the Greyhound/Crucero bus. Cost: under $12 USD
each (not sure since we got tickets all the way to San Diego - won't do that again. Note: The bus trip from Tijuana to San Diego was supposed to take 1 hr and 35 minutes but actually took closer to 2 hrs and 30 minutes.).

San Ysidro to Chula Vista: Once you're through the gate at the border, you'll see a bunch of vending machines,a money changer and an ATM. A bunch of the vending machines are selling tickets on the San Diego trolley (MTS). Get a ticket ($2.25 each or an all-day pass for $5.00). The trolley (the Blue Line) will pick you up within about 30 minutes or less. Disembark at the Bayfront/E Street stop. This is where you'll find lots of affordable motels and restaurants as well as a grocery store, pawn shops and thrift stores. If you don't need a motel, skip the stop and proceed to the next part:

Chula Vista to San Diego downtown:
Either get back on the Blue Line trolley or stay on it. Ride it to the America Plaza stop. Disembark.

San Diego downtown to SD Airport: After getting off the trolley at the America Plaza, walk south less than a block to the first cross street. You'll be at the corner of Broadway and Ketteredge (sp?). Right on the corner is a bus stop where you can catch the #992 Airport Shuttle.

That's it.

Now, back to our story...

Once we got to the airport, we checked in at the ticket kiosk and got our boarding passes. Then, on to the security gauntlet.

I had my laptop all separate like I was supposed to. Emptied my pockets, took off my belt, and loaded everything on the conveyor. My stuff went through and then I went through the x-ray machine. The TSA person asked if I had any money or a wallet in my pockets and I said, no, my pockets are empty. They then motioned me further and then told me to stop on this little mat. Meanwhile, Lulu went right on through and was waiting for me on the other side. While I was standing on the mat, another TSA guy kept staring at me as if he was trying to read guilt in my face or something. My bag went through and they asked if this was my bag. I told them yes. They said they had to check it again and I said "go ahead". They motioned me over to side and told me to sit in this chair. An agent then dug through my bag and finally came out with this stainless steel club-looking thing. "What's this?" This was a question that I had been dreading having to answer in Spanish so I was quite relieved to be able to answer it in English now.

"That's a removable pot handle. We live on a small boat and have a set of nesting cookware. In order for the pots to be able to nest, the handles have to be removable. That one is broken and I'm taking it home to send it in for a warranty replacement." See why I didn't want to have to answer the question in Spanish? Anyway, he accepted the answer and I figured that was that.

But, that wasn't that. They then had me follow them to this little examination room. The inspector gave me a long explanation about how he was going to pat me down. Seems that something on my x-ray was unidentifiable by the screener. Wonder what the heck that could be? After some more explanations, he finally said something about a belt. Oh crap! Way back at the beginning, I had started to take my belt off but, things were moving so quickly that, for some reason, although I unhooked it, I never actually removed it! And, since my shirt was untucked, I hadn't noticed it and neither had they. So, I had a metal buckle hanging in front of my left groin and the metal end (it's a web belt) hanging over the other side. I imagine it looked pretty weird on the x-ray. But really, couldn't they have avoided all this by just asking me to lift my shirt?

Anyway, that little setback over, we're now sitting at a bar/restaurant in the boarding area, killing time until our 6:45PM flight, a mere 4 hours from now. We're both missing Mexico already. Lulu is especially missing the heat as she sits here in the San Diego airport with her sweatshirt on and she's still cold. We're both missing the friendly people and easy-going attitude. We've been gone one day.


Anonymous said...

Hi you guys.... my god... your read reminds me of the kids and i in Thailand.... we road a 3rd class train from BKK and a couple of towns away from where we were going, they stopped the train and in Thai .. said "that's it" in sign langu ..ie.. sweeping us off the train. Ha. We learned that when in doubt.... go find a bank... air conditioned and usually someone speaks good english. And as per that bus ride... in Thailand you sit down... and notice 3 numbers on the back of the seat in front of you while the attendant points and there is a Thai that is supposed to sit with you.... you being Kyle and Myself... ha... not going to happen..! enjoyed your post...FI

Anonymous said...

Lulu and Steve,
I just read this out loud to Neil who is immobilized on the settee after installing our new 5,000 BTU AC unit aboard Gypsy in 100 degree heat in good ole La Paz. We can't stop laughing. We're going to be doing the same trip in a week and dreading it. Thank you soooo much for your border expose. I thought we could avoid the bus by renting a car but they want $500 for a drop-off fee. So looks like we're bussing it unless someone answers my Club Cruceros posting 'cruising couple seeks to share ride to border'. Enjoy n don't worry bout Siempre Sabado-she'll be there bobbing. Have another cerveza and sing "La cucaracha, la cucaracha, ya no puede caminar, porque le falta, porque le falta, la comid de Lulu para probar" ;)

Neil and Lisa
S/V Gypsy
(Marina Costa Baja, La Paz, BCS)