Category Archives: Travel

Memorial Day Weekend: Do You Have Your Passport?

I can always tell when three-day weekends are coming up like this one for Memorial Day. Like clockwork,  I see a spike in blog traffic as people who are thinking of heading to Mexico by car or foot start worrying about whether they will be stranded at the border if they try to cross back into the United States without a U.S. passport.

As you may recall, it was ok for many years to cross the border at the land ports of entry with a flick of your state driver license. A few years ago, the U.S. government outlined a passport “requirement.” Enforcing this hasn’t exactly been practical, and I continue to hear back from people who say that they are making it back just fine without their passports.

Now I personally think everyone should have a passport, just in case you have an itch to pack your bags and go to…who knows where. However, at the border I don’t use a passport (I have a frequent border crosser SENTRI card),  so I rely on readers to share their own border crossing experiences. Here’s a roundup of some of the latest comments people have left on the blog about crossing without a passport:

Here’s one account from reader Rick, who seems to have an affinity for writing in haiku:

“just cross the mexico us border last wekend for the 2nd time no passport only my nevada dl birth certificate ss card no problem only sugested to get my passport soon.”

Here’s a recent first-person account from JLo (you mean, THE JLo? Ok, probably not…)

Hello people well I just cross the border April walking Tijuana border. Yes they do ask for a passport and ask why I didn’t have it. I told them I didn’t have money and they just let me pass. Now they do have a special line for the ones that don’t have one. The funny thing is that a cross the border in 5min and the ones that did have a passport had to wait 2hours . Remember something I did have my *Birth Certificated and my *California ID….. oh another information i have is that children are not asked to have a passport. My littles sister is 10 and they NEVER ask for one. Remember this is only my experience ! hopes this is helpful.. have a nice trip.

And NRod, who is getting a bit grumpy about those long border line waits, reminds us all to update our passports:

People…the lines at the border would go a lot faster if everyone would have either a passport book/passport card, certified birth certificates for travellers under the age of 16 with their school IDs.

If travelling by land, pay the $55 to get the passport card. It is well worth it! It gets frustrating when we have to sit in line for 3 hours to come back to the U.S. from an outreach work weekend because people don’t have the proper documentation.

Happy travels south of the border this weekend!

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Pets at the border: A Tijuana dog’s cross-border tail, er tale

Tijuana dog

This is my Tijuana dog Lucky. She has a home in Tijuana, and I see her frequently when I spend time south of the border, but recently we decided to take her across the border to visit the promised land of San Diego where pets like her, who are typically kept for practical purposes like guarding a home, are pampered with pedicures and trips to the beach.

I haven’t done this sooner because I was a little nervous about what  might happen to Lucky at the border. The information I had found on the Internet seemed to be more tailored towards U.S. dogs being allowed to cross back into the U.S.  with proper veterinarian documentation, and Lucky is from Mexico.

I found this line, from one U.S. government publication, somewhat alarming: “Pets excluded from entry into the United States must either be exported or destroyed.” I was a little worried that her nationality and lack of U.S. veterinarian papers might land her in quarantine for 30 days. The thought of Lucky locked up like that was enough to keep me from daring to cross with her for quite a while.

Lucky is a Rottweiler mix of some sort, and she is aptly-named. She was rescued several years ago as a puppy in Tecate, Mexico by some onlookers after her owner was seen kicking and dragging her through a muddy road. Turned out she had dysentery, which could have killed her. We got her on some medications and she survived, learning to get along nicely with a poodle (who called the shots) and to put up with a Chihuahua (who yapped, and yapped and yapped). Later, when we had her sterilized at the Tijuana “Perroton” – a weekend mass sterilization of Tijuana dogs – Lucky’s heart stopped midway through her procedure and the volunteer surgeons said they almost lost her.

For Lucky’s first trip into the United States I got her paperwork in order –  the Tijuana veterinarian records in Spanish that show all her vaccinations are current – and hoped for the best. Turns out that all the worry was for naught. When we pulled up to the Tijuana border, the Customs guy asked us what was in the crate.

When I told him it was a dog, he turned to Lucky, barked “Arf, Arf!”  – – – and waved us through.

From my one experience, it seems as if common sense seems to be prevailing at the border in regards to pets:  But, in case you want to know, here is an excerpt from a U.S. Customs and Border Protection publication of what the U.S. government says you should do if you want to bring your pet across the border from areas “not free of rabies” (apparently, that includes Mexico). The 20-page document talk about “importing” a pet though I’m not sure if that also means “taking your pet for a visit.”

  • “A valid rabies vaccination certificate should accompany the animal. This certificate should be in English or be accompanied by a translation. It should identify the animal, the dates of vaccination and expiration, and be signed by a licensed veterinarian. If no expiration date is specified, the certificate is acceptable if the date of vaccination is no more than 12 months before the date of arrival. NOTE: Some certificates say the vaccine is good for three years. Dogs should not get re-vaccinated if they are within the dates of the certificate.”
  • “Dogs not accompanied by proof of rabies vaccination, including those that are too young to be vaccinated (less than 3 months of age), may be admitted if the importer completes a confinement agreement and confines the animal until it is considered adequately vaccinated against rabies (the vaccine is not considered effective until 30 days after the date of vaccination). The confinement agreement (form CDC 75.37) can be found at http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dq/animal.htm.”
  • “If the vaccination was performed less than 30 days before arrival, the animal may be admitted but must be confined at a place of the owner’s choosing until at least 30 days have passed since the vaccination.”
  • “Young puppies must be confined at a place of the owner’s choosing until they are three months old, then they must be vaccinated. They must remain in confinement for 30 days after the vaccination.”

Do you have a pet-at-the-border story? What’s your experience been like?

Surfing along Baja: The Big Wave at Todos Santos

Let me begin by saying that I have not been to Todos Santos,  a pair of islands about 12 miles west of Ensenada, and that I don’t surf.

But surfing is a big part of Baja’s appeal  to sports-minded travelers. So I was glad to come across a recent travelogue posted by Nathan Gibbs on his blog – Nathangibbs.com –  of the  the Todos Santos Big Wave Event. Apparently, surfers wait out the appropriate wave conditions during the month of February until someone makes the call that the contest is on. In this case, the event took place Feb. 28 after forecasters predicted waves would get between 18-20 feet high.

I once interviewed some surfers (when I was a reporter) about what draws them to Baja California. Several told me it was the ruggedness and isolated atmosphere – the sense of what California must have been like before the urban sprawl and the knotted shoelace freeways.  The chance to have a wave all to themselves.

Or, as in this case, to simply ride some pretty impressive waves. To get a sense of the Todos Santos area’s alluring waves,  I’ve embedded a video (above) that Nathan made of his ocean excursion. But to get a more comprehensive sense of the event, do check out Nathangibbs.com to see some amazing shots of the surfers and waves that day.

And feel free in the comments section to suggest links to other videos or photos taken from that day.

YouTube video from NathanGibbs.com

If you happen to be around Hidalgo this weekend…

Ok, this this is a little far from the border. But this poster for “Extreme Adventure Hidalgo 2010”  really makes me want to go to Hidalgo this weekend to check out the sky divers, acrobatic planes – and break dancers. Apparently, Hidalgo (a central Mexican state) has hosted this extreme sports event for the past eight years. The competitive races will include cycling, hiking, kayaking and rope climbing, according to the event’s website. Featured Latin pop artist, Yuri, has been called “The Mexican Madonna.”

Traveling in Mexico: Passports and travel advisories, oh my!

Several travel-related issues along the U.S.-Mexico border are sure to raise some questions on this blog (and they already have started doing so), so I’m going to see if I can address them in this post:

Is is safe to go to Tijuana? Tijuana’s name showed up again in a list of cities linked to drug trafficking violence by the U.S. Department of State under their periodically-updated  travel alerts. This time, the alert seemed to focus more on the Mexican border towns south of Texas, but Tijuana continues to smart from being on this “black list.” Tijuana’s mayor Jorge Ramos has criticized the advisories for being too inflamatory (he would like the wording to change).

A story by ABC News points out that overall violence appears to be in decline in Mexico when compared to a decade ago, and in explaining that much of the impact of violence is influenced by perceptions rather than reality. Tracking and defining border violence is a complicated thing, especially since it tends to surge up and down and shift back and forth between regions. I have found the alerts to have no impact on my own travel decisions, but that’s just me.

Is Mexico requiring that I have a passport to go to Tijuana/Mexical/other border cities? The Mexican government created some confusion over this when they said that visitors to Mexico who travel through the land ports of entry would need to bring their passports starting in March. It became clear that having passports checked at these busy border entry points would be a logistical nightmare. Since then, the Mexican government has clarified that people who travel as far south as Ensenada in Baja California won’t have to worry about bringing their passports after all. Read more in this KPBS report. and The San Diego Union-Tribune.

Of course, the issue of whether or not people need to bring their passports to get back into the United States through the land ports of entry  – despite a U.S. government passport “requirement” announced last year – continues to be hotly debated. For more on that, go to this blog post or start a new conversation thread below.

Sonora/Baja Road Trip. Day Ten: The drive back to Tijuana


This is the final of a series of blog posts about a ten-day trip I recently took south of the border through the Mexican state of Sonora and then back up north (after a ferry trip across the Gulf of California) through the Baja Peninsula.

Actual travel date: Jan 3, 2010. Baja California North.

The border road trip was winding to a close. Over the past nine days we had seen and done a lot: Exploring the state of Sonora, crossing the Gulf of California in a ferry – and visiting islands and cave art sites along the Baja peninsula. It was Sunday, and time to head back to the Tijuana border. This would be an all-day drive along the Transpeninsular highway, but fortunately the Baja peninsula landscape is never boring.

We left Guerrero Negro at 8 a.m., which was actually 7 a.m. Tijuana time (the time zone switches once you cross into or out of Guerrero Negro). It was foggy, but eventually the shroud parted to reveal a flat stretch of desert with cactus bent in odd angles. Our second road-kill episode during the trip (after the previous night’s coyote hit) took place when a small bird impaled itself on the car antenna.

By 9:30, we had reached Catavina. We had foolishly forgotten to fill up on gasoline at Guerrero Negro or other places nearby, so this was our only hope for fuel. There isn’t a PEMEX gas station here, but there are other options like this guy on the side of the road who probably earns a pretty decent living from travelers like us.

Catavina is a good place to stretch your legs. It’s a speck along the road with a smattering of hotels and food place. It would be nicer if there weren’t so much graffiti on the rocks, but if you pull off the main road you can immerse yourself in a more authentic desert experience.

We left Catavinia around 10 a.m. and then pushed on to El Rosario, which is about an hour away. We reached the agricultural community of  San Quintin at noon and kept driving along the main road cuts through town, lost in indecision over where to go for lunch. After eating some unmemorable fish tacos, we continued north.
I lost track of the number of military checkpoints we went through during this one day. I think it must have been around eight.


Three hours later, we arrived in  Ensenada from San Quintin. For some reason, I was seized by a sudden urge for donuts. By the time we left Ensenada the sky was starting to darken.

It had been a long day on the road but we made good time. We reached Tijuana at 5 p.m. –  about nine hours after we left Guerrero Negro – and I was back in the LA area a few hours after that. When I look at this map below, I’m somewhat amazed at the ground that we managed to cover in just ten days. Sure, it would have been great to have just gone to one place or region and get to know it really well. A road trip can be somewhat superficial and cursory, especially when you have a limited time frame. But on the other hand, it is also a chance to get the bigger picture of things and to realize how much more there is to get to know.

Dotted lines on map represent north-bound part of trip.

Sonora/Baja Road Trip. Day Nine: Hiking through Trinidad Canyon, near Mulege


This is part nine of a series of blog posts about a ten-day trip I recently took south of the border through the Mexican state of Sonora and then back up north (after a ferry trip across the Gulf of California) through the Baja Peninsula.

Actual travel date: Jan 2, 2010, Mulege. Baja California (south).

By Saturday, most of the New Year’s revelers in Mulege had shaken off their hangovers and the village  returned to its normal routine. We left our car at an auto shop (a result of  the previous day’s mountain excursion) and then met up with Salvador Castro, a local guide who would take us to the Trinidad Canyon – a rocky outcrop that is decorated with smatterings of pre-Columbian painted art.

Our travel companions included a German family, and a mother and daughter from Mexico City. We first went to a government office where we obtained permits to hike into the protected area. Then we scrambled into Salvador’s white van. It all was very deja vu. I had done this trip three years go with Salvador as a guide but I don’t think he remembered me.

Along the way, Salvador took us to a citrus orchard where we willingly bought some juicy oranges. Back in the van, the Germans got photo-happy about seeing some vultures spreading their wings on the tips of cactus. Salvador made a stop along the way to talk about the medicinal qualities of certain desert plants.:

After more than an hour we arrived at a house that would be our jumping-off point for the hike. I knew that we would be crossing a pool of water on our way to the caves. I remembered it as being about waist- or chest-high, and that I had used a rope to balance myself as I crossed the slippery rocks.

So I was a little surprised to encounter  – not a manageable pool – but a lake.  We would have to swim. 

After much heming and hawing, we all made it across. It took about 12 seconds to get to the other side, but the water was so cold that I felt like I was hyperventilating when I finally forced myself into the water after much delay. Not far from the water, we encountered the first markings of cave art:

We did more hiking, including wading through some more manageable water patches:

Then we reached another section of cave art:

By then the kids of our group were getting hungry so we scrambled back down to the hiking path. This time, I plunged right into the lake water to hurry things up. Salvador had brought a cooler with food and drinks so we had lunch on a rock slab before heading back to the house where the van was parked at.

Back in Mulege, we picked up our own car and grabbed some dinner around 5 p.m. before heading across the peninsula to Guerrero Negro. The drive took us four hours. It was uneventful except for a couple of stops at military checkpoints and an unfortunate  hit-and-run with a coyote that left a scrape on the car’s front.

TRAVEL TIPS: 

To  make arrangements for the hike, we just went to the Hotel Las Casitas in Mulege and asked how to reach a guide. They dialed up Salvador and put him on the line for us. The trip cost about $180 for the four of us. You leave around 9 a.m. and return by 4 p.m. During the rainy season, ask about the height of the water you will be crossing to visit the caves. It’s a good idea to wear swimming clothes underneath your hiking clothes. Salvador provided a waterproof bag to protect clothes and camera equipment. Salvador’s web site: http://www.mulegetours.com/

Trip from Mulege to Guerrero Negro (see the blue dotted lines on the map below) is roughly four hours.

Dotted lines on this map represent north-bound travels: