Monday, June 22, 2015

Baja Family Road Trip Part 1

How We Decided to Pack Up the SUV and Drive 2,000 Miles with the Kids

A few weeks ago, as the Kip’s busy work season began to slow and his co-workers started talking about taking family vacations to all-inclusive beach resorts, he began suggesting we do the same with our family. Although we have taken the kids on a few extended family trips and at least one work related trip this past year, we have not gone on a vacation-only trip with just the four of us since we went to Hawaii in 2008. The kids are 13 and 16 now, and we are acutely aware that our foursome family days are limited. This time next year our oldest will be a high school graduate and our baby will be getting ready to start his freshman year in high school.

Hawaii in September 2008

They are almost all the same height now. Father's Day, June 21, 2015 in San Ignacio, Baja California Sur, Mexico

But when we broached the topic of vacation with the kids we got a lot of push back

Why are we always planning trips? Why can’t we just stay at home? I’m going to miss my friend’s birthday party. 

The very thought of staying at a beach resort seemed repulsive to them, totally boring to sit on the beach and read books. Our 13-year-old was particularly concerned about being away from friends for a week or two. Kip, on the other hand, dealing with his first year at the most demanding job he has ever held, as well as an hour-long, one-way daily commute to work and an extended season of aggressive international work travel; seemed to be needing a stress-free vacation as an almost medical necessity. He was longing for sun, sand and days of no work calls, no early morning crisis e-mails, no after dinner dishes, no driving to work.

So we had a few family conversations.

I found myself, self-appointed family referee, saying things like “Ok, now don’t tell me what you don’t like. Tell me what you do like.” And I found that while Kip remembered our past anniversary trips to all-inclusive resorts for their blissful moments of sipping margaritas under beachside palapas with nothing to worry about, I also remembered sunburns and the environment created by people gorging on all-inclusive food and alcohol. My favorite vacation moments over the past few years have mostly been from the international work trips that I tagged along on: discovering medieval castles in Germany, riding bikes up mountain roads in Norway, early morning running through the streets of Istanbul, sailing a Hobie Cat with Kip in Cancun, exploring Greek islands on a Vespa. But all of these moments were just Kip and me. This time we wanted to bring the kids.

I asked the kids what they have enjoyed the most on family trips and some of their answers surprised me. My daughter, almost apologetically, said she really enjoyed walking around gift shops and buying little souvenirs with our family in Alaska. My son really enjoyed riding bikes through Central Park on a recent trip to New York City. And of course, although he wanted to do some shopping, he was not interested in “walking aimlessly around.” And I remembered that the biking through Central Park was more stressful than fun for my daughter who may have been overwhelmed by the adventure of navigating crowded streets and figuring out how to maneuver a different bike than the beach cruiser she uses at home.

We were at a vacation planning impasse.

Then Kip suggested we could drive to Cabo San Lucas, all the way, and suddenly that seemed like the perfect adventure. For years Kip has been dreaming about taking a motorcycle there, but I have always been concerned about road conditions, banditos, drug cartels, the fact that we don’t really speak Spanish. But for some reason when we started talking about the adventure of taking the kids on a road trip through the Baja peninsula with the goal of making it to a restful margarita-on-the-beach resort destination, it seemed to be a win-win for both me and Kip.

Family adventure with a bonus margarita in Loreto, Baja California Sur, Mexico

It took the kids a few more days to get on board with the plan. But by the time we bought new vacation bathing suits and downloaded fresh audiobooks and music playlists of their choosing, we were all ready for the family road trip.

Day 1


Characteristically, we started our Baja trip about 8 hours late, but we had been ambitious to think we could head out of town with the first light of day anyhow.

Kip had just returned from a business trip the day before and I was frantically trying to make sure that we had everything essential packed and that the house was clean for friends and guests who would be staying here while we were gone. Kip, of course, spent more time rigging up a new GPS, DVD, Bluetooth, digital device thing and changing the car battery, than picking out his clothes. But despite the delay the GPS was incredibly useful, and as always, Kip packed all the right clothes anyway.

So with kids ready, house ready, SUV ready, we headed out by late afternoon and immediately hit Los Angeles rush hour traffic. 

We tapped into both of the kids’ music playlists, only stopped for ice cream once, and hit the Mexican border at Tijuana just after dark, the one thing I had anxiously not wanted to do.
We crossed the border and began looking for the tourists office to get our required tourist cards, and not only could not find it, but found ourselves circling the poorly marked border crossing buildings and getting stuck into a lane going out of Mexico and back into California. 

It was a stressful, but once back in the US, we stopped, took a deep breath and used our mobile phones to look up maps, motel listings in Ensenada and allusive information on how to get to the supposedly 24-hour tourist office. We also changed money, took one lasts trip to an American potty, and went for a second try in finding the tourism office.

This time when we crossed the border we pulled into a lane for declaration, asked someone for help and after several misguidances, found the office, spent $100 and got our “required” tourists visas that we actually never used during our whole 2,000 mile, 12-day trip. No one asked to see them at the multiple military and police check points, and we did not need them to re-enter the United States.
With all our proper paperwork we headed out into Tijuana, a border town whose notorious reputation intimidated me, around 10 p.m. and realized we were already breaking our resolution to avoid after-dark driving in Mexico. 

But not wanting to go back into San Diego, we loaded up the GPS and headed south to Ensenada and I gradually realized we were going to be just fine. The toll road from Tijuana to Ensenada is well-lit, well-traveled and probably just as safe as driving through Los Angeles in the middle of the night. We arrived in a charming, touristy area of Ensenada around 11 p.m. and found a decent hotel that was perfect for a one-night, family stay. I set my alarm for dawn and the next morning we got up and began our real Baja adventure.


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