Thursday, December 23, 2010

Mex 1 Road tips and observations

A word of caution: Mex 1 is similar to a secondary road in the States. However, it is frequented by large semi-rigs and buses; your speeds should be adjusted accordingly! 

Driving Mex 1 is always a blend of emotions…the novice and often the seasoned traveler is excited by the  adventure, but both can also experience the anxiety of the unexpected as the wheels of their rig touch the first of many speed bumps (topes) and the stoplight flashes red or green signaling whether they continue or pull into secondary.

My last trip which began in early October and stretched out nearly seven weeks is a good example. I had heard of a recently passed Mexican law that restricted how many American dollars could be exchanged for pesos south of the border. The government had recently enacted the change to control the number of dollars entering the country's banking system, hoping to curb drug-related money laundering. The law, however, does not limit credit card, debit card, or ATM withdrawals of pesos. According to the State Secretary of Tourism for Baja California, “Hotels, restaurants, stores and other merchants in Baja California still gladly accept U.S. dollars."

Since my routine has been to stop at the Casa de Cambio at the inspection area in Tijuana and load up on pesos specifically for gasoline, I wasn’t sure what would happen as I approached the window and thrust five one hundred dollar bills into the slot on this trip. The woman behind the glass promptly exchanged the stack. However, I found that at the other end of the peninsula the new law was being strictly enforced with the exception of the Los Cabos Airport where I managed to exchange another $500 at a ridiculously low exchange rate. I found that another option is to use ATM machines that charge more reasonable service fees.
Mex 1, which stretches more than a 1,000+ miles south, will always have areas of road construction and detours. As of early November the most notable began after the second Toll Booth at Rosarito Beach. Road construction there had southbound lanes re-routed to the northbound lane, reducing traffic-flow to one lane in each direction.   

The next heavy construction area is south of Maneadero beyond the La Bufadora turnoff for about five to six miles. Traffic in both directions is routed onto a bad dirt road parallel to the regular road. Proceed with caution; the entire stretch is poorly marked, bumpy and very slippery when wet. There is no way to avoid this section that ends a short distance before the military checkpoint at the top of the hill before dropping down into Santo Thomas Valley.

There are also several bridges under construction with little if any delay as the detours around them are paved and well marked.

The last major road construction project is below La Paz where Hwy 1 turns into Highway 19 to Todos Santos and Cabo. Below Todos Santos a large stretch of road is pure dirt with minimal markings making for very dangerous driving. This area should be approached cautiously.

Military checkpoints  are a mix of both floating and permanent locations. Currently there are checkpoints north of Santo Thomas, north of El Rosario, Millers Landing turnoff, North of San Ignacio, north of Loreto, north of La Paz and Todos Santos Highway 19. I tried something that seemed to expedite my stops this last trip: When stopped, I lowered my window and instead of waiting for the usual ‘do you speak Spanish’ routine, I simply offered to get out so they could inspect the vehicle. By doing so, I shortened the total inspection time significantly. Was it a fluke or was it because it happened to be a Sunday?  Quien sabe (who knows)? But it is definitely worth a shot.

A word of caution: Mex 1 is similar to a secondary road in the States. However, it is frequented by large semi-rigs and buses; your speeds should be adjusted accordingly!

Another huge change is that gasoline stations with convenience stores attached are popping up all along the highway. The only area where stations are still in short supply is between El Rosario and Jesus Maria.

One more note for even the seasoned Baja driver: Always check the dates on your Mexican insurance policy before you cross the line. 

Once again, for a longer period of time than usual, I traveled the length and breadth of Baja and never encountered even one drug-related problem.