Solo Van Life in Baja with the 2 dogs

Glorious. Absolutely fucking incredible. I’m here. I did it. Alone. But not. How can I be when folks are so friendly, open, and eager to share stories and connect. Oh, and the dogs, I have my beloved Harold and Billie with me as ambassadors and they give me a general sense of company and safety. Yeah, Billie took to the beach and meeting all the random dogs.


Tip: Camp near Mexicali if you’re coming from Arizona or New Mexico. 

I ended up at Squaw Lake Recreation area just 30 minutes from Yuma. $15 for showers, bathroom, a small open parking lot style campground on the edge of a reservoir, an oasis, a surprise and so worth it. I slept well, could let the dogs runs off leash in the morning and we were still close enough to the border to make great time. I’d had the goal of crossing around 11 or noon so that we’d get to San Felipe by mid afternoon. 

Tip: I recommend running a few errands in Calexico (the US side). 

Tip: Eat. Bathroom break. And then hydrate. Take care of your physical needs as for some reason we’ve been told it’s stressful to cross into Mexico. 

For me, that meant I filled up with gas, got starbucks, big and creamy and too hot. Then on the same main drag into town from I8, taking Hwy 111 south, I found the Cambio recommended. On the right, south of the Starbucks, Cambio Express, a big red sign, small parking lot. Nice ladies, only Spanish speaking, they needed my drivers license, address, phone number, and job details. We had a bit of problem as I didn’t know how to say self-employed but I did know Escritora and Profesora so I used those instead. 

Approx. $20 MX = $1 US (yes, same symbol.) 

From there, head south on Hwy 111, follow the flow of signs and cars. Mexicali West Border crossing was easy to find although the road construction made it a bit messy across multiple lanes but nothing really. 

Tip: If you have a trailer, I’m told that East is better with wider lanes and parking areas. 

I stopped at the booth for Customs ‘Nothing to Declare’ lane. Red Light. A young officer hidden by his mask motioned me over to be searched. We chatted through my open window, and I put on my own mask. He asked to see the vehicle registration and Mexican auto insurance. I can’t remember if he looked at my passport. He wanted to look inside but the two dogs put him off, so I held their collars and gave him permission to open the side door. With a flashlight, he had a poke around but didn’t touch anything. He was about to wave me on when I asked about migracion. It was as if at the border no one cared about the correct immigration paperwork and after coming in and out of the States for so many years, I felt welcomed not judged. The officer let me park to beside his booth and pointed the way inside. The immigration building is to the left of the Customs with the entrance on the north side. Empty but for a bank teller and declaration area to pay taxes on imports. Again, to my left was an open hallway that lead to a sole immigration officer. We chatted. He stamped my previously printed and paid for FMM (tourist visa). And told me to have a wonderful holiday. 

Tip: He did say that it’s better to do that paperwork in the office rather than beforehand as mine was already outdated, I should’ve crossed the border within a week of my filling it out. 

Leaving Mexicali: 

Signs to San Felipe were everywhere. Yep. A tad confusing but hell, I figured I had options. The adrenalin rush was great, loved it, city driving but the others were polite, letting me change lanes without that road rage of America just a wave and a smile. It took maybe ten or so minutes to get out of the crazy busy traffic but then it was Highway 5 South. 

Peace. 

Desert. Mountains. Sand dunes. Saguara type cacti. Homes and businesses, colorful and run down, a few stalls for tacos and burritos, tallers for llanteras (tire repair shops). I kept going. Glorious. 

Done. I’d done it. Driven into Mexico, alone, safely. Easily. I grinned. Oh yeah, now I remember who I am. 

There’s so much baggage to coming to Baja on my own. Too many negatives in the conversations, mixed with jealousy too but mostly, oh, be careful, you’re going alone? And the ever present, aren’t you scared? 

Not enough to stay home.

Day One in San Felipe

Driving into town, following my google maps prompts kept me on track without a worry. Slow traffic, wide streets, and glimpses of the Sea of Cortez in the distance and I couldn’t help but grin. I noted where the supermarket was, or a big one that is, Cali Max with covered parking to the back of the building. (Off Hwy 5.) Town wasn’t as crazy or big as I’d imagined. Nope. Fine. Doable. Interesting. Open. 

Campo Turistico is on the north side of town, five minutes drive at most. No one there but for a few fishermen unloading a truck. A row of palapas, all next to each other, ten by ten shaded structures attached in a line. Not quite what I’d imagined or dreamt of – my idea had been spacious open camping, no close neighbors and all that stuff. Not here apparently. Since there was only one other camp site taken, I settled in. Leveled the van. Let the dogs out. Walked the beach. High tide. Sun. Shade. Silent. 

Three San Diego folks, two men and a woman, are camped in their vehicles at the end of the row of palapas. A married couple in a new Mercedes Sprinter 3500 2WD and their 4×4 off road jeep driving friend with oversized tires and rooftop tent. Mindy brings over half a melon. We chat. (Why in the present tense? Not sure.) Then the questions we ask and respond to, the where are we from, where are we going, what do we do in our ‘other lives’ and then since I’m a woman alone, aren’t you worried? 

The night before camping near Yuma on a lake, I’d chatted to another straight couple, same sense of fear and safety; Be safe, he tells me. I wonder would he say that to a single younger man? Or is it because I’m in my mid-fifties, alone, in an older Dodge van with two dogs and little else – in their minds that is or so I presume. Poor me. I must be lonely. Do I look it?

Mindy though is friendly and includes me in conversations with the other two men. Her husband dodges the question of work, saying he owns a ‘few businesses’ and when I raise my eyebrows, he doesn’t expand. I think that I might like to be that obtuse but at the same time, I find that both Mindy and Nori, the jeep man, are interested in finding my books online. I found them business cards before they left the next day, after Mindy had brought me pastries to go with my black coffee. She’d come over alone. She told me how she admired me for doing this trip on my own. Her admittance to being scared of being lonely, of working it all out without help, of being robbed or worse. 

I had my usual response of both annoyance and compassion. Why is it so hard for women (especially straight women) to do what they want without a man beside them? It saddens and angers me. Well, not that much but you know what i mean. It’s a shame though.

The next day, another solo nomad came to camp. Ladelle. I’ll tell more in the next post. For now, consider me safe and happier than I have been for a long time.

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