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Sonora/Baja Road Trip. Day five: Taking the ferry across the Gulf of California

This is part 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: Dec. 29, 2009-Dec. 30, 2009

I have never been on a Carnival cruise, but I have traveled by reed boat along Peru’s Lake Titicaca, jetted in a motor panga through rivers in Nicaragua and once took a very long trip to the Corn Islands sitting on the the boat’s deck, squished between other people, animals and sacks of grains.

Boat trips, to me, are about exploring new places and setting off on adventures – not so much about lounge chairs and martinis. The idea of crossing the Gulf of California by boat was alluring to me, in part because I didn’t know anyone else who had taken the 8-10 hour ferry trip between Guaymas, Sonora and the Baja peninsula.

Taking the ferry, it turned out,  also requires a zen state of mind. Technically, it leaves at 8 p.m. on four designated days a week from Guaymas. But  nature is what actually  dictates  the boat’s schedule. We had arrived here Sunday and by Tuesday morning we still weren’t exactly sure when it would leave – or if it would leave before the end of 2009.  

As we were lounging at the Guaymas hotel pool in travel limbo, we got a call from the ferry office asking us to hurry over and pay for our tickets because the ferry would be leaving…at 4 p.m.

There were still a few things I wanted to check out in Guaymas.  I had learned there was a some sort of a dolphin facility in Guaymas/San Carlos, and I had also seen signs for a pearl farm. Instead, we ended up stocking up a cooler with food and drinks for the trip and making a few other travel-related purchases before rushing to line up our car for  pre-boarding inspection by soldiers and a drug-sniffing dog. 

We joined about 80 other people waiting to board the ferry, including a platoon of gun-toting soldiers heading for an assignment in Baja. Other ferry travelers included some French guys, members of  a band traveling to Baja to perform over New Year’s and a chatty Chinese student called “Arnold” who had a visa problem and was waiting out his U.S. appointment in Mexico.

We left as the sun was setting over the horizon, so I was able to enjoy the view as we pulled away from Guaymas. The sunset stroked violet and orange colors on the horizon as we headed west out of the bay.

Soon the sorbet canvas above us was replaced by the sparkle of stars and the inky smudge of sky and sea.

Most of the people on board – except for the soldiers in first-class – had bought the ferry’s basic ticket. This got you a seat in a room that was set up like a very wide plane. Two large television sets provided nominal entertainment and a snack bar immediately in front of the passengers sold overpriced popcorn and other foods. It was hot here, and didn’t look very comfortable. As the evening wore on, the people in the front seats ended up curled on the ground.

I was glad we had gotten a cabin. This had cost an extra $75 for the four of us, but it gave us our own space with four bunk beds, a small sink and shelf –  and our own porthole. We kept the porthole slightly open to provide air circulation. We had  left most of our luggage in the car, but brought with us the cooler with drinks and snacks from Guaymas. 

There were a lot of doors inside the ferry and lots of curious – or lost  – people. At one point duirng the trip, all four of us  were sitting in the cabin when the door swung open and a disoriented soldier stared at us. “Ay, perdon…me equivoque.” (Oh, Sorry! I made a mistake).  This scenario kept on repeating itself in bad comedic style. We finally just  locked the cabin door.

I spent much of my time clambering up and down the ferry’s three levels or standing outside, chatting with the other ferry travelers and watching the waves churn below us. At one point, the ferry captain and his assistant let us visit the navigation room.

The sea was calm and the ride was smooth. I asked about the “worst ever” ferry trip and was told that there had been one particularly-rough trip that took 24 hours and that practically inspired mutiny except that the sick passengers were too busy heaving into bags. 

Around midnight I went into the cabin to doze a bit. At 3:30 a.m. I went outside where about a dozen passengers were hanging out in the darkness.  We could see the lights of Santa Rosalia sparkling off the Baja peninsula. It was almost 10 hours since we had left. The lights grew brighter and soon I could make out the forms of buildings and the dock.

We arrived around 4 a.m. and had to check in with Mexican authorities to give our names, show our identifications, and to have our photos taken. The car got another sniff-over by the crime-fighting dog and soldiers, and then we were back on the road.

4 a.m. was too early for breakfast, and too late to go to sleep. We ended up driving about an hour south to Mulege, but it was still too early to do anything and so we checked into a hotel just outside of Mulege to rest for a few hours before continuing our journey.


As of this blog post, the ferry leaves from Guaymas to Santa Rosalia on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Its scheduled departure time is 8 p.m., but that may  not always be the case. Reservations are recommended, or check in person a day or two ahead of when you want to actually leave. One-way tickets for an adult cost between $55 and $65. Most cars cost about $250 for a one-way trip. A ship cabin cost us an additional $75, with sleeping space for four. For more information, visit here or here (for more detailed prices)


On Vacation

Just a quick note to wish visitors and readers of this blog a wonderful holiday season and a happy New Year!

I am leaving Christmas Day on a nine-day road trip south of the border to to explore some new places and revisit a few favorites (picture above is from previous trip along the Baja peninsula). The plan is to drive south along the Sonora coast, take the ferry across the Gulf of California to the Baja peninsula – and make our way back north to Tijuana. I will be traveling with my partner in crime, two kids – and quite possibly a sock puppet.

It should be fun, and I plan on documenting it with my video camera and come back with some travel entries for this blog, which will resume publishing in January. Until then…cheers!

p.s. If you are feeling inspired to hit the road in Baja, you can check out the travelogue I put together from my 2006-2007 Baja trip.

Could the pitaya be the next pomegranate?

The fruit, the Red Pitaya, at a market place
Image via Wikipedia

The Chilean poet Pablo Neruda is the author a memorable poem about an artichoke, in which the vegetable is infused with military meaning but eventually emasculated by a shopper called Maria.

If I were a poet, I would probably write an ode of my own to the pitaya – the fruit of a cactus plant that is also known by the name “dragonfruit.” I first learned about the pitaya when I lived in Nicaragua in 1996. It was a scary-looking fruit on the outside with a spiny armor. But once you got past that tough exterior, the insides were dripping with a sweet magenta pulp that was loaded with tiny black seeds. Nicaraguans typically made the pitaya into a fruit juice, but sometimes slices of it ended up on salads and other food items.

Apparently there are a range of pitayas that grow around the Southern hemisphere, including Mexico, and this site reports that there are “several” that are from Nicaragua. Some other varieties have a white flesh and yellow exterior. It can also also be found in Vietnam and Malaysia.

I got to thinking about the pitaya recently because in one of my graduate classes we are looking at the company that produces POM Wonderful pomegranate juice. POM has funded a lot of research into the health benefits of the pomegranate and I would love to see the same thing happen with the pitaya  (this study seems to suggest that the pitaya also has high antioxidant potential). Like the pitaya, I found Nicaragua to be a country with a rough, complicated exterior. Once you got past that, though, the country – and the pitaya –  was full of surprises and wonders, which made it well worth the challenge.


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Painted donkey-zebras not just in Tijuana


Tijuana’s painted donkey-zebras have some distant counsins – in a Gaza Strip zoo.

Here in Tijuana, visiting the famous donkey-zebras is a time-honored tradition for tourists to Tijuana’s Avenida Revolucion. You get the family and friends together around the painted donkey, don some sombreros and ponchos, and SNAP – a photo is taken. The city’s unofficial mascots  were apparently painted with black strips as far back as the 1940s so that they could show up more clearly in the black-and-white photos.

Across the world, donkey-zebras are now appearing in the Marah Land Zoo, though in this case the painted stripes for educational purposes. The idea is to teach  Palestinian kids about zebras. According to this Reuters story, the donkeys were painted with women’s hair dye  using a paintbrush after it became clear that importing a real zebra would cost $40,000 or so.

Tijuana’s Tepoznieves a tasty ice-cream spot


Have you ever craved some prune ice cream?

What about a dollop of coconut with gin, celery – or pineapple with chile pepper?

These are the kinds of funky flavors you can find at a Tepoznieves ice cream store. It’s a Mexican “gourmet ice cream” chain with two branches just across the U.S. border in Tijuana. The ice cream originated from a Mexican village called Tepoztlan where it was dedicated to the son of the God of Wind sometime before the Spanish conquest of Mexico, according to the Tepoznieves website.

When it gets hot like it has been in Los Angeles lately, I find myself thinking about Tepoznieves ice cream. The stores boast more than 100 ice cream and sorbet flavors. Sure, you can get your traditional ones like chocolate, vanilla and bubble gum. But why not try something more adventurous, like fig, cheese, rice – or tequila!

 The stores are cheerily decorated in a way that emphasizes the confetti-like colors of the ice cream itself. I spent a good hour tasting eight different flavors during a recent visit. The offerings include ice creams that are outlandish mixes of various flavors. “Xilone’s ice cream,” for example, includes the following flavors: corn cake, mango, peach, cherry, pine nuts and chocolate. And for those who find ice cream a little – bland – there are several specials that use chile pepper flavor to add a kick to the flavor.


If you go: There are two Tepozneives in Tijuana. One is at the MacroPlaza anchored by the WalMart at Plaza los Antojos, near the Morelos Park. The one closest to the border is in the Zona Rio along Blvd. Sanchez Taboada. It’s near a Sam’s Club. You can find them on this Google map:



ancient times.

Homeland Security starts a blog

Picture 4

I recently finished reading a book about blogging that mentions the Department of Homeland Security as one of several types of groups that probably should not blog. The reason: Certain agencies and businesses that deal with sensitive and confidential information have a culture that contradicts the openness that successful blogging requires.

DHS (the umbrella agency that includes Customs and Border Protection) is giving it a try anyways. They started The Blog@Homeland Security about three months ago and  recently announced the creation of “Our Blog,” a Ning-based online community that is being called  a “civic network that connects users and encourages a new kind of dialogue about issues unique to the southwest border.” 

The blog is explained as: “An inside-out view of what we do every day at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The Blog lets us talk about how we secure our nation, strengthen our programs, and unite the Department behind our common mission and principles.” So far, however, the blog is relying more on links to news stories, photos of DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano meeting important people, and lists of speaking engagements of DHS representatives.

Being that I’m getting my master’s degree in online communities, I am intrigued by DHS’s foray into blogging. The book I just finished reading, “Naked Conversations,” is about blogging for businesses and organizations. Authors Robert Scobble and Shel Israel take the view that a good blog is one that is based around authenticity and openness – not bureaucratic speak. The challenge with DHS is their very reason for existence can elicit such strong political opinions (immigration comes to mind), that fear over controversy may suck the blogging life out of an otherwise interesting agency. 

Then again, they might still be figuring out their voice.

There’s some hope. In their book, Robert Scobble and Shel Israel note that the question may not be so much as whether or not to have a blog, as to how to determine what can be blogged about – and what can’t. I would like to see videos and commentary that illustrate the border’s vastness and complexity.  Give me a sense of what it’s like to be a Border Patrol agent. Take us on a virtual ride-along by sea, air and land. It may be just one side of this complex cross-border story, but it has a place in our increasingly fragmented world of Internet information

Los Tigres del Norte hold a cross-border concert – on a plane!

Picture 1The Mexican airline Volaris recently innaugurated its new route between Toluca and Los Angeles with a concert in the air by the famous Mexican Norten0  group, Los Tigres del Norte.

According to this article by La Vanguardia, the group played in a section of the plane where 21 seats had been removed from the Airbus 320 to make room for the in-air concert. But after two hours, when the plane crossed into the United States, the group had to pipe down to conform to flight regulations north of the border.

 Group member Jorge Hernandez told La Vanguardia that they instead played accoustic versions of their songs and promoted their new disc, “La Granja.”  

Here is a news report by Mexican network Televisa (note: it has since been removed by YouTube) that shows snippets of the in-flight show (and the plane’s specially-painted exterior in honor of the Tigres), but I’m not finding any other independent videos posted on YouTube.

The Tigres are a Grammy and Latin Grammy winning group from Sinaloa, Mexico that started recording in California in the late 1960s,  according to Wikipedia. While they have a repertoire of  traditional songs and love ballads, they are also well-known for their recordings about the drug trade (narcocorridos) and illegal immigration.

Screenshot of Volaris logo.

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