Sunday, June 5, 2011

Travelling North to Canada - ehh?

Greetings from the Great Greyish North! 

Yes, I made it safe and sound back to Calgary this week, the drive was thankfully uneventful and I made it here (almost 4,000 km) in four long days.

I left Loreto last Sunday morning and drove to San Quintin, about 850 km, in about 10 hours the first day, staying again at La Villa de la San Qunitin, which I have described in previous travelblogs.  The only unusual event on that day was just north of San Ignacio, where there was a Federal Police vehicle pulled off to the right and an Officer standing in the middle of the road flagging me down.  When I stopped, wondering if this was some sort of different inspection, I was greeted by a very cheerful smiling Cop who spoke excellent English.  He proceeded to ask me where I was going, and when I said Tecate he asked if I would be willing to drive the other Police Officer, who I hadn’t noticed standing over by their car, to Guerrero Negro about 150 km down the road.

It took me a minute to process this unusual request, travelling on Mexico #1 one has to be prepared for just about anything but transporting Police had not been on my list, previously.  I asked if the other Officer (who was quite young, probably in his 20’s) spoke English, to which he replied, yes, “Charlie” spoke a little.  I decided on the spot that these two guys in uniform (and armed, of course) represented more protection than a threat, and I was probably safer travelling with him than saying no, and the young passenger-to-be looked like a nice guy, so I said sure, I’d take him.

While he was putting a small duffle bag in the back of the car and getting settled in the passenger seat, I half jokingly asked the other Officer if taking this passenger meant that I would have to abide by the speed limit – to which he laughed, and said No!, with a Cop in the car I could go as fast as I wanted and no one would bother me!  And so we were off.  I quickly became aware that “Charlie” (whose real name was Carlos) spoke about as much English as I did Spanish so communication was quite limited, albeit very earnest and well meaning.  He noticed the small English/Spanish dictionary I keep on the console and I was amused by the fact that he was using it the opposite way that I did – with about the same results.

As we both recognized the limits of our conversational skills and had driven some distance in relative silence, I decided to try listening to the Sirius satellite radio, but realized that my usual preference for Talk Radio was not appropriate, so I handed him the list of 150+ channels so he could choose something.  Not surprisingly, this didn’t have much effect on him – I don’t think he understood what I was suggesting, or could understand what was on the list anyway – so I decided to try the all Elvis station, thinking (it turned out, correctly) that the King of Rock & Roll was universal!  And so we carried on, for the next hour and a half or so, rocking our way across the Baja Peninsula – a twenty-something Police rookie, and yours truly, a barely sixty survivor of the sixties – sharing the music the The King who died more than 10 years before my passenger was born!

I dropped Carlos off at the Police Station in GN, but before I could leave he had to show me his patrol car, inside and under the hood, which he was obviously proud of, and after taking his picture I gave him my card with this Blog address, and perhaps he is reading these words with you now, with the assistance of Google Translate – if so “Hola, Carlos, Bienvenidos!”

Leaving Guerrero Negro about 2:30 pm, and refuelling after travelling 440 km from Loreto, I began the second leg of the first day’s travel.  The rest of the afternoon passed uneventfully, with two more inspection stops, one about 60 km north of GN and the other just north of El Rosario, before I arrived in San Quintin about 7:00 pm – 6:00 local time, as I was now in Baja Norte and the Pacific time zone.  I stopped again at Villa San Quintin, 450 pesos for a comfortable single room and had an adequate shrimp dinner at the adjoining restaurant before calling it an early night.

The next morning, I had a quick breakfast in the room, although their restaurant was open, and was on the road refuelling before I left town at 8:30 (Loreto time).  As I was reaching the north end of town, I noticed a brand new Hotel on the east side of the road called La Mission, which I had heard about recently, and, from the fleeting glimpse I had driving past, it looked very nice – I will probably try staying there if I stop here again on my return trip.

About 100 km north of San Quintin and 100 km south of Ensenada, I went through the fifth Inspection stop, a very temporary looking one at the side of the highway that was new since my last trip south.  This was explained a few kilometres further north, when I passed a new multi-lane roofed structure built on the southbound lane of the highway that appeared to be an almost completed permanent “new design” Inspection station that looked similar to a toll booth plaza.  Perhaps this is the state-of-the-art-to-be for future Federal Inspection facilities, I will watch out for this on my return trip.

After a quick pit-stop at Costco in Ensenada (the nicest public washrooms on the Highway), I continued through to the turn-off for Highway 3 to Tecate, a road that has been under construction for the past several years.  However, it is now in good condition, with long stretches of new wide pavement and only a few construction zones, none of which caused any delays on this trip.  I have expressed the opinion in previous Blogs, that I think the plan is to develop this route to relieve some of the tremendous traffic pressure, particularly northbound, from the Tijuana crossing, the busiest border crossing in the World! 

Since I was travelling on the Monday of the Memorial Day weekend, I expected heavier than usual traffic volume at the US Border, and I was right – I stopped just about a kilometre from the Border on the access road in two lanes of bumper-to-bumper vehicles and it took me just over an hour to make my way to the Border Guard station.  Previously, not on Holiday long weekends, the longest I have had to wait here is 20 minutes, with 5 to 10 minutes being more normal – however, I consoled myself that if it was an hour’s wait at Tecate it could have been six or eight at TJ!

After crossing the Border, I made my way west to the Interstate corridor and joined I-15 north of San Diego and continued north past San Bernardino to Barstow, 640 km from San Quintin and 330 from Tecate, where I stopped for the night.  The luxury of a new American Hotel, with a great bed, nice linens, a granite bathroom, flat panel TV and a chain-style restaurant across the parking lot where I got a meal of ribs, fries and a salad was a wonderful way to celebrate my return to North America!  The next morning, as I packed up again, I also appreciated the fact that day I would not be subject to random inspections of my vehicle by well armed soldiers at the side of the road.

The final two days were long, 1,200 km each, stopping in Pocatello Idaho the next night and arriving in Calgary Wednesday about 6:00 pm.  But divided Interstate highways are designed for fast travel, although what they gain in efficiency they lose somewhat in interesting stories.  I did video record bits and pieces of the drive on this trip with my small handy-cam mounted on a mono-pod attached to the dash and, as one of my projects this summer, I will edit these recordings into some sort of a travelogue of highlights from the drive (God save us from Vacation Movies).  I also plan to re-start my Spanish lessons from the Rosetta Stone program with the goal of increasing my facility in the language on my return to Loreto in the Fall.

This year I expect to head back to Loreto earlier than in previous years, probably mid to late September, and I will plan to re-launch Living Loreto again early in October for my fourth year of Blogging, so please check back at that time!  In closing I would like to express my sincere appreciation for the loyal and growing readership that your visits here represent.  As I conclude this year’s Blog season I am more than gratified to have reached a total of almost 55,000 of your visits over the past three years of my writing these posts – almost 25,000 of them in the past year alone!        

Having said that, I will admit some relief to take a hiatus from writing over the summer - much as I enjoy the process, finding subjects for each week’s topics becomes a daunting exercise.  For that reason, I would like to take this opportunity to invite you, my loyal readers, to email me with suggestions or ideas for future Blogs – what would you be interested in reading about Living Loreto in future instalments?  Just look at the top right of the Blog where you will find my email address and drop me a note with your suggestions – I promise I will reply to every one of your emails and compile a file of your ideas for future reference, however I cannot guarantee that I will necessarily be willing or able to write a post on any and all of your ideas. 

Thank you again for your continued interest in these offerings, I trust you have a safe and happy Summer and we will meet again here in the Fall – because saying good-bye for the Summer and looking forward to getting together again in the Fall is also part of ``Living Loreto``!