Ferrying across the Gulf of California & Exploring Central Mexico

All things considered, importing Savannah and taking the ferry across to mainland Mexico did go pretty smoothly… though it was hectic. We did successfully acquire the TIP (temporary import permit) within a single morning, but that morning felt like it lasted forever. Initially, we thought we were set with all of our appropriate paperwork neatly in our folder and showing up right when the banjercito opened. We were third in line and it appeared that the two parties ahead of us were having issues with their permits. When it was our turn, we presented the documents (as well as the copies we made for the banjercito to keep) and asked for the TIP. Our attendant seemed confused with our request, which confused us because we weren’t sure why else someone would go to this banjercito. Eventually, another employee helped her look over the documents, then asked what type of vehicle it was. I pointed to Savannah where upon he then asked for the weight. He wrote on a post-it note that it needed to be under 7700 (without a unit), I assumed he meant kilograms since we’re out of the US. I ran over and checked the inside of the driver’s door for the GVW and was happy to report back that it was 4114 kg. He shook his said and said that the 7700 was in lbs and that 4114 kg (9070 lbs) was over the weight limit for a passenger vehicle and he would have to deny the permit. But… we could take a form over to the aduanas (customs) and see if they would allow it. We got very confused trying to figure out where to drive/park within the complex of gates and buildings of the ferry terminal and one poor guy seemed to be getting pretty fed up with us, but he at least laughed. We finally realized we had to park the van next to the customs terminal and walk through the chain link gate to another office. But only one person could go, so while I mostly waited around and finally got the form stamped within moments of passing it into the room, Andre was convinced I was being interrogated the whole time. We now had the stamp with permission to board an overweight passenger vehicle and headed back to the banjercito to try again. This time all went smooth and she took copies of my passport, driver’s license, FMM (the thing we almost didn’t get stamped at the Tecate border), vehicle registration, and now the fresh new TIP which was good for 175 days to drive Savannah in Mexico.

We still couldn’t actually buy our boarding tickets though. We would have to return tomorrow, the day the ferry was going to sail, to go through customs, get weighed (to determine the cost for the ferry), and finally buy our boarding ticket. We were happy we reserved a place on the ferry a few days earlier in Pichilingue. We realized there was nothing else we could do but hang out until the next morning.

We walked around La Paz that afternoon. Andre got a tattoo at a shop ironically called Black Diamond (it’s not a climbing tattoo though), then we returned to Playa de Tecolote. We stargazed on the roof of Savannah before turning in for the night.

We had most of the morning to ourselves after Andre had a lab meeting, which he did from a bar down the beach with wifi, while I slept in. I swam for a bit, no sea turtles or sting rays this time, then we decided to hike up to one of the caves in the hill beside the beach. It was really hot already despite being before noon. Once we scrambled up to it, we were happy to get a bit of shade. It wasn’t very deep, and I’m not sure how it would have formed, but it gave a really cool framed view of the ocean and beach. Not long after we returned and swam/rinsed off with the sun shower, we decided it wasn’t worth sitting around and stressing about the things we still had to do for the ferry. It didn’t set sail until 5 PM, but we could at least go through customs and finally buy our tickets.

We pulled in to the “nothing to declare” lane at customs, and after opening the back doors, the officer gave a quick peak inside and waved us through. We then sat in line among the semi trucks to get weighed. I thought it was pretty funny how small of a proportion of the scale Savannah took compared to the big cargo trucks. We got our weight slip, then parked and walked to the TMC (maritime transportation of California) ticket office. After waiting in line for about 10 minutes watching a dubbed over version of the alien movie “Paul,” we purchased our tickets and were told to wait until 2:30 PM before lining up for the ferry. We waited in Savannah with all (two) of the fans on for a stifling 2 hours until we could get in line – but we were stress free now that we had the tickets.

We had read that we wouldn’t be able to drive into the line together and that Andre would have to go through customs as a walk on passenger. We were split up just before I got into line. Andre messaged me from inside saying that he would be stuck there until 4:30 pm when everyone starts to board. Eventually, a little after 4 PM, I looked out of the passenger window to find him waiting on a bench just meters away. Still separated by a fence, we just continued on texting each other. Eventually I was waved over to board the boat. As I had been waiting, I watched tens of trucks back onto the ferry, which was up a steep, curving ramp. I hoped I wouldn’t have to do the same, but alas I did. I don’t think Savannah has ever reversed up something that steep for at least 100 feet. Eventually, with some help from the crew guiding me, I paralleled parked between a couple of big trucks in lane one. I was kinda bummed that this part of the lane was under the deck. We had read that the air there stays really hot and stagnant, and sometimes fumy when other trucks start their engines overnight for power. Andre soon after walked up the ramp to join me and we set out to explore the ship.

There wasn’t much we could explore, or were allowed to explore rather. But we were able to hang out on the upper deck and there were some picnic tables and benches. Our ferry tickets included meal vouchers so we headed down into a very busy dining area in the middle deck of the ship. We both got overwhelmed and aborted our mission. We then hung out on a bench overlooking the entrance to the dining area and, once we saw enough people leave, we tried again. The dining area had 2 tables with chairs on one side and a bunch of sofas pointed towards a TV blasting John Wick. We could only find a space on the couches at first, then moved into a couple chairs once they opened up. Dinner was pasta with an alfredo kind of sauce, some chicken bits, and bean paste. It wasn’t that tasty but we were super hungry and devoured it.

We did get to take a much needed “real” shower on board which felt great. Soon after, we decided it was way too hot to be able to sleep in Savannah under the deck. We pulled out our sleeping pads, pillows, and a blanket and headed up to the upper deck to sleep under the stars. It was really cool. Though I did have a lot of dreams about sliding off the deck or the van getting tipped over into the trucks. Being on the upper deck, I think we felt the waves a lot more than if we were below. We woke up from our slumber party just at sunrise, it was stunning.

For breakfast we had what looked similar to dinner from the night before, but upon further inspection it was scrambled eggs, shredded dried beef (maybe?), and bean paste. We returned to the upper deck, hiding in the shade as the sun was already cranking by early morning. Andre was feeling a little green at this point, at the end of it all we would be on the ship for about 20 hours. We did see some dolphins in the morning jump along side the ship! We also noticed some buoys that seemed to make a line towards the ship. Shortly after this observation the front of the ship caught the line connecting the buoys and within seconds snapped the entire line! We thought maybe they were for a fishing net and didn’t realize they set it across a ferry route?

We crept into Mazatlan and were first greeted by huge rocks sticking up out of the bay. Eventually we saw the buildings from the city and more boats in the water. The ship backed into the terminal and we were able to deboard pretty quickly. Right off the boat we were thrust into traffic in Mazatlán that seemed to have no structure whatsoever. Sometimes one lane of the road would be closed which apparently just meant you hop into the other lane with oncoming traffic and share the road. Stop signs were here and there but many intersections were a choose your own adventure. As we were leaving the city, Savannah had an engine misfire fault. The check engine light came on and we turned off the highway with a plume of black smoke behind us. We had brought Andre’s OMDII reader (to check what the code was for the check engine light). No codes were confirmed and when I restarted the van, the light was off. It was 95 degrees and we were both soaked with sweat after peering under the hood (as if we could tell what was wrong). I called my Dad and his best guess was that we got bad gas somewhere. He suggested we get dry gas or sea foam to add to the tank and try to dilute the “bad” gas with better gas once we could. We had just filled the tank before boarding the ferry, so that would be a long ways off. We found an AutoZone, but they had never heard of either additive, so we just got gasoline treatment (double checking that was what it was with google translate) and added it. A few hours after, we had burned through half a tank and added the premium gas to dilute what was in the tank. I think from here on out, we’ll just be getting the premium gas!

That night we camped just outside of the town Tequila. True to its name, the surrounding land was covered in agave plants. We bought a 200 peso ($10) bottle of tequila, because how could we not in that town, and tucked the van behind an agave farm.

The next morning we made the decision to skip Tamul waterfalls since it was pretty far North out of the way and there were various comments in iOverlander about it sometimes being closed or with a steeper cost to go in and look at the falls with the pandemic. We opted to move ahead to our next destination, Bernal. Here there was the third largest monolith in the world, and it had multi-pitch sport routes up the whole thing! We drove about 6 hours to Bernal and parked in the festive, cute town to walk around. We bought some quesadillas for dinner from a small street restaurant. They were deliciously spicy (to me) and deadly spicy (to Andre). We walked the main drag before turning in. A local hotel let us park the van for the night, with the use of a restroom, showers, and wifi, for 250 pesos (~$12). We took a freezing cold shower, then read up on the climb for the next day before crashing.

Andre had another meeting in the morning but we were able to get rolling by ~9:30 AM. It took a bit for us to navigate the tiny cobble stone streets in Bernal to find where we were supposed to park for the approach trail. It very much felt like Savannah was way too big to be navigated along these supposed two lane roads but I would always be surprised and see another large vehicle bumping along.

The trail began as a stone path behind the village houses and we saw some cool pebble art on our walk up. After that, the main hiking trail is a dirt path and very popular for locals and tourists, even on a Monday. There’s also a via ferrata near the top of the trail. We paid the 30 pesos each to visit the pena and sweated our way up to the start of the climb (after looking at a couple false starts). We had quite an audience while Andre led up the first pitch. On mountain project many comments reported the South face being really busy with climbers, but we had the whole place to ourselves (besides the onlookers). I chatted with a few different parties hiking up who had a lot of questions about what we were doing, and why. Andre linked the first two pitches and I was pretty stoked when he had me on belay and I could leave the ground behind.

We climbed a classic route called Bernalina. The rock was really unique from what I’ve climbed on before. It was lots of face climbing with some chicken heads and cracks – all super solid. I wasn’t feeling the best in the morning (probably a lot due to our nonstop movement lately) but once we started climbing, I felt a surge of new energy. I took the next lead up through a bulge, Andre then romped up easier terrain, I took the short, techy face climb, then he finished us off to the summit on a 16 bolt, rope stretching (linked) pitch! At the base of this last pitch, we passed by a tree that was swarming with wasps. (I have a bit of an overdramatic fear of wasps/hornets after riding my pony as a little kid in the woods behind our house and her stepping into a ground hornet nest… we were chased all the way home by the hornets and got stung a lot). As we walked under the tree though, they didn’t seem to care about us. I asked if Andre could check back on me once he reached a ledge and if I was getting stung I’d climb up and belay from there. But the wasps stayed chill so I did too and waited until all 70 meters of the rope passed through my belay device. I soon met him on the summit where two large crosses stood. We took a bit of a break up here but there were still wasps and lots more bugs so our break was cut a bit shorter. It was also hella hot and we were low on water.

We rappelled down, basically right on top of the via ferrata and eventually met the hiking trail. Super tired and sunburned, we wandered back down to Savannah and headed into town for some grub. We found a roof top patio looking up at the monolith and indulged in pizza (yes we got pizza in Mexico, and it was amazing) and sipped on some drinks. It was pretty cool to see the whole route we just did. We checked on the altitude here hoping maybe that was why we were wrecked after the climb today; turns out the town is around 7000 feet in altitude and the summit of the climb was a bit over 8000 feet. So being beach bums at sea level for the past week could be a reason we are feeling extra shot tonight.

We are now camped out by the hotel again. This time the showers were hot and the breeze blowing across town is refreshingly cool. There is a quarry nearby that has been blasting (and still is) all day and we still jump every time we hear it. Tomorrow we head to Iztaccihuatl, a dormant volcanic mountain a ways South from here. In Nahuatl (the Aztec or Mexicano language), Iztaccihuatl means “white woman” reflecting the four individual snow-capped peaks that resemble the head, chest, knees, and feet of a sleeping woman. We’re hoping we can drive up to ~4000 meters (~13,000 feet) to acclimatize overnight before going for the summit (or summits rather of the fours peaks) which are all around 17,000 feet. Neither of us have been this high before and after today it seems like it’ll be quite the adventure. Fingers crossed for good weather up there!

You can find Andre’s post of our latest adventures here!

And an updated map of our campsites here 🙂

One thought on “Ferrying across the Gulf of California & Exploring Central Mexico

  1. So envious of your adventures on the way to Chile! Envious yes, brave enough to do these things? Not a chance! haha It sounds like you kids know what you’re doing and what you need to do at all times, and that is comforting to me. I started Andre’s blog but will get back to it later. love the map showing where you are. Have fun and stay safe! Love you, Aunt Pat


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