La Paz to Mazatlan Ferry
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999 Days Around Africa: The Road Chose Me
Duke and I roll into La Paz, eager to get everything sorted and hop the ferry to mainland Mexico. Some gringos told us about an immigration office in town that can sort out the paperwork for the Jeep so that becomes our first stop of the day. I’m not at all surprised when the friendly officer repeatedly tells me I have to go to the ferry terminal at Pichilingue for everything.
It’s a scenic 30 minutes around to Pichilingue where I wait in line for almost an hour while a lady ahead of me fills out the paperwork for literally eight vehicles. My turns comes and it’s soon clear the girl behind the counter speaks about as much English as I do Spanish, but it doesn’t seem to slow us down much. A note to anyone who attempts to temporarily import a vehicle into Mexico – before you get in line, make sure you have one copy of each of your passport, registration, title and your Mexico Tourist Card you got when you entered Baja California South or moved south from the main US/Mexico border. Walking around the corner to get a copy of my Tourist Card is not nearly as bad as it could have been when I am allowed to jump back to the front of the line. I sign a few forms, answer some standard questions, pay $USD 30 and in less than 10 minutes I’m issued a shiny sticker for the windshield of the Jeep, officially allowing it to be driven by me throughout Mexico for the duration of my Tourist Card.
Interestingly, I was never even asked for my Mexican car insurance policy (which is required by law and I do have).
Now the Jeep is actually allowed onto the mainland, we tackle the task of ferry tickets. It seems the ferry companies go bankrupt and change hands every year or two, so all my planning ahead is way off the mark in terms of schedules and prices. Anyone reading the information here should remember it’s very likely to have changed since my trip.
Baja Ferries are a little more expensive and do not have a ferry leaving until the next day so we walk over to The Transportation Maritime of California offices to try our luck. There is a ferry leaving this afternoon at 4pm, and we’re told maybe there is room for us. Returning at 2pm we are given the all clear and purchase our tickets – $2, 950 pesos ($USD 227) for the Jeep and I, and 800 pesos ($USD 62) for Duke.
The customs inspector checks out the Jeep’s nice new sticker, verifies the VIN number and simply asks me if I am me, which I think is kind of obvious.
Rounding a building we see our home for the next 16 or so hours, The San Guillermo – a rusty looking old thing that is just perfect. The loading guys wave me aboard and I drive onto a hydraulic lift behind a small truck, which I think is a great novelty having never seen a lift on a vehicle ferry. The lift brings us to the upper deck which is already about half full of extremely tightly packed 18 wheelers and other massive trucks. When I park the Jeep it’s clearly the smallest vehicle and is quickly sandwiched between the heavily loaded trucks. They are all chained to the open deck, and it occurs to me that a little movement in any direction will not be a good thing at all.
We grab a few things to entertain us and move up to the ‘passenger area’. Purchasing the cheapest possible tickets means we don’t have a fancy cabin or anything like that, we have to roam around the ship and find our own space. One room is provided for us cattle class passengers, and it’s filling fast by the time we find it. The truck drivers are obviously well practiced in this routine and have stripped the seats of cushions and are sound asleep on the floor, in the isles and sprawled across multiple seats. The air in the room is already stale and snoring seems to be a local contest.
It’s great entertainment to sit on the back deck watching the loading process continue, each truck pushed within inches on all sides. When the upper deck is clearly full another 18 wheeler is brought up and I don’t need to speak Spanish to know I’m not the only one that thinks it won’t fit anywhere. The driver reverses off the lift until the rear of the trailer is just where he wants it, leaving the front sticking out sideways about 4 meters (12 feet). The prime mover is disconnected from the trailer, does a fifteen point turn and is reconnected to the trailer at a right angle. The driver is obviously in a crazily low gear as he revs the engine hard and reverses, ever so slowly forcing the fully loaded trailer to slide sideways into the small space. All of us spectators stand to get a better view of the screeching tires and many nods of approval are seen as the trailer comes to a stop in a gap that can’t be more than 3 inches longer than the trailer itself.
A neat trick, for sure.
We sit outside on the deck to watch as we cast off and power out into the calm open ocean. Striking up a conversation with some guys our age draws a small crowd of drivers and we are soon using my pocket dictionary to conjure up all sorts of horribly broken sentences. The drivers befriend us and invite us to eat dinner with them in the galley which we are elated to learn is already paid for by our ticket price. Dinner is simple rice, chicken, re-fried beans and tortillas and hits the spot perfectly. We stay up late talking to the drivers, who are taken aback to say the least to learn of my trip – they find it hard to believe I could save enough money in two years and think I must be rich.
We share soda, cookies & beer until we are kicked out to get some sleep.
The night air is still perfectly warm so we find a place up on deck to roll out our sleeping bags for the night. I lay awake thinking about the enormity of what I am doing for a while, enjoying the slight rocking of the ship across the ocean. I’ve been pretty amped all afternoon at the situation I find myself in; I’m riding the biggest ferry of my life, in a foreign country where I don’t speak the language and I’m enjoying myself immensely.
For the first time it dawns on me what I’m doing is on a pretty big scale and getting bigger by the day.
I’m awakened in the morning by the sunrise and watch a whole pod of dolphins playing along side the ship, birds noisily landing on deck and a couple of turtles that float by. Again we enjoy breakfast with our new trucker friends, who wish us all the best for the road ahead as we pull into Mazatlan at around 8:30am.
The entire loading process is run in reverse, and we find ourselves wide eyed on the streets of Mazatlan at 10:30 on a beautiful sunny day.