In December of 2004, the road was in good condition down to La Paz, with the exception of a few areas which have not been fully repaired following damage from the two hurricanes which passed through the sourthern state in September of 2003.
Where the highway passes through Vizcaino and San Ignacio there are a number of potholes. Unannounced topes in both places will hold your speed down, so the potholes should not require any unusual level of caution.
Click photo for
a larger image
Click photo for
a larger image
One construction project which is becoming more evident is the "Land Bridge" destined to provide a truck route for boats between Santa Rosalillita (Pacific side) and Pta. La Gringa (Gulf side above Bahia de Los Angeles). Work has been half completed on the section from Route 1 out to Santa Rosalillita (report from Tom Wimberly - September 2001). I've added a photo of the promotional sign posted in early 2002 near the intersection of Highway 1 and the road to Santa Rosalillita. (December 2004: the sign is now a blank piece of plywood.) The photo of the road shows the completed section at Route 1, facing west towards Santa Rosalillita. For those traveling south on Highway 1, you'll find an amazing number of road signs announcing the distance to "Escalera Nautica" - and when you finally arrive, there is only the promotional sign sign to indicate any activity. For those who don't have the time to drive down Highway 1, you can check up on the Escalera Nautica at a website:
www.escaleranautica.com (Note: as of 2005, all indications are that this project has been abandoned.)
Topes - Reductores (Speed Bumps): In 2004 many of the topes in Baja California were relabeled as reductores - the typcial sign being "Reductor de Velocidad." In some cases new signs were up which did not seem as strong a statement that a speed bump was coming up.
Here's my count of topes on Highway 1 as of May 2004:
- Santo Tomás (2 "gentle")
- Santo Tomás - San Quintin (several new topes in the towns)
- El Rosario (2 "gentle")
- Vizcaino (2 unmarked)
- San Ignacio (2 at east end -- poorly marked)
- Santa Rosalia (7 -- 4 "gentle" and 3 "sharp" -- some unmarked)
- Mulegé (4 -- most unmarked)
- Loreto (2 -- "gentle" - exercise caution while northbound!)
- Constitución (4 -- 2 to the north and 2 to the south -- "gentle")
- N. Entrance to La Paz (just before the airport turnoff) (4 "gentle")
- S. Entrance to La Paz (more than 1 -- "gentle")
- San Pedro (south of La Paz) (at least 6 -- "gentle")
Note that some of these speed bumps have no warning markings! There may be a sign announcing an area of topes, but nothing marking the individual bumps, except some faded paint on the street or the bump. The count of topes given reflects only those topes found on the main highway - there are often more in the towns.Aside: As an illustration of the Universal Law of Topes, the disappearance of some topes in Southern Baja has been accompanied by the appearance of new topes in another part of the world - my neighborhood in Riverside, California! Two topes recently popped up a block from where I live, as well as about 20 that have been installed around the UCR campus. Seems like these things are just destined to be a part of our modern life.
Tourist Cards: For several years now there has been an immigration officer checking for Tourist Cards at the Agricultural Inspection Station just north of Guerrero Negro. While it may be possible to obtain a Tourist Card from the official there, I'd not count on it. Heading south in December 2004 there were two immigration officer present around noon. Our tourist cards were due to expire a few days later, so we arranged to secure the forms in the immigration trailer on the west side of the checkpoint, and had them stamped - with only the fee to be paid when we arrived in La Paz.
According to the laws of Mexico, you are required to have a valid Tourist Card in hand before heading south of Ensenada. In the event of an accident, or any other interaction with the police, you'll likely be asked to produce a document showing legal entry into the country.
While in La Paz in December of 2004, we heard a rumor that distribution of tourist cards at the Ag Inspection station near Guerrero Negro may soon be discontinued. Also, a visitor in the RV park had waited until he arrived at the Ag Inspection station to get his tourist card, but found no immigration officers present. After reaching La Paz he went to the local immigration office to secure his tourist card, and was promptly fined $200 pesos for being in La Paz without a card.
Construction Delays: When you encounter road work going on, you can expect some delays. Two types of "detours" are found: single-lane traffic through the construction (either a flagman or a guiding vehicle is used); or dual-lane traffic around the construction, using a dirt road at the side (these can be very soft and dusty).
Note: New paving may lack any center striping - such areas should not be driven at night.
In December 2004 there were only two construction areas of note. Both involved bridge reconstruction between Constitucion and La Paz. The bridges at Santa Rita and Las Pocitas are both having the vertical supports replaced, as well as being extended horizontally. This is a result of damage caused during Hurricane Marty in September of 2003. The construction requires a bumpy detour around the bridge areas - not too long, but RVs should take it slow.
For several years, there has been someone in the Mulege Pemex station (south of town) soliciting contributions for a drug rehab center. This has now become a much more popular endeavor - probably reflecting some success in these solicitations. I've started avoiding this station, so I don't know if the solicitations are continuing.
Think ahead as to whether or not you want to contribute. I can't offer any information on the genuineness of these solicitations.
The Pemex station in Jesus Maria has been completely renovated, and is open for business as of December 2004.
Fuel: In December of 2004 I encountered no fuel shortages.
In June of '98, I did encounter one fuel shortage on the trip south. The station at Vizcaino was out of diesel fuel. This forced me into continuing on to the station at Santa Rosalia, a station I usually try to avoid because of their reputation as "thieves." I could have made it to Mulegé, but wanted to play it safe.
I pulled into the Santa Rosalia station with two ideas in mind: either get a small amount of fuel so I could reach Mulegé with a good reserve, or fill up and watch the attendant like a hawk. I elected for the second course of action (a mistake in retrospect).
I made certain the pump was zeroed before pumping began and then watched the operation closely
. . .until a kid washing the windows distracted me. When I returned to the pumping process the attendant was moving the hose from the front tank to the rear tank (my truck has dual tanks), and seemed to have zeroed the pump again, except it read 80 pesos. I made him stop until we agreed he'd pumped 80 pesos worth of fuel into the front tank.
He then filled the rear tank and went to "top off" the front tank (not zeroing the pump in this case). The bill for the fueling was 306 pesos, very close to what I had paid at my previous stop in El Rosario (300 pesos) with about the same amount of remaining fuel. I felt like it had all worked well, and that I'd not been cheated.
After leaving the station and getting back on the highway I switched the tank selection from the rear (now quite full) to the front. I'd been nailed again!!! The front tank showed less than three-quarters full. Since the price of fuel was the same, the needed amount of fuel about the same, and the total cost about the same, my only conclusion is that they've set the pump(s) at Santa Rosalia to read about 15% high.
November 3, 1998. Dave Stogner has provided an explanation of the particular scam I was subjected to. The matter was not an inaccuracy of the pumps, but a clever use of the "emergency stop" button.
Here is Dave's explanation:
The "emergency stop" button is pushed while you're not looking. This resets the register to some even amount ($90, $80, etc.), and then the attendent explains that you owe that amount and it will be added to the amount from the remaining fillup. He must then reset the pump by holding the button down, and at this point you will see the register counting down by 10's to zero. This is probably most frequently used when there are two tanks being filled.
Message: I'll continue to strongly recommend that you (and, especially, I) avoid the Santa Rosalia Pemex station.
U.S. Vehicle Inspection: In May '99 I traveled to La Paz from the Tijuana airport. While walking across the border I noted that the inspection on the U.S. side had cars backed up about 1/4 mile. This inspection for stolen vehicles has been an occasional one in the past, but appears to have been institutionalized (there are concrete barriers separating the lanes).
In August, '99 we experienced about a ten minute wait at this inspection. Since then the area has not been manned at the times of my crossing.
Spraying: Beginning in 1998 there is a new program of spraying the undersides of vehicles at the Guerrero Negro Agricultural Inspection Station. This is sponsored by the government of the Municipio de Mulegé in the southern state, so affects those vehicles headed south. There is a charge for this: 10 pesos for an automobile and 20 pesos for an "RV". In June, my two-axle pickup with a camper was judged to be an RV. However, in August I queried "¿10 pesos?," and was given a yes.
In January of 2002, a friend who works in La Paz argued with the collector of the fee about paying for something he thought was already paid for by his tax pesos. After some minutes of discussion, they brought out the Immigration officer to "nail" this difficult gringo. My friend had a relatively recent FM-2 visa, and that ended the whole matter - he was waved through, although the spray person still went around and did all the tires.
Cataviña: In December 2004 the pump at the La Pinta Hotel was shut down. Fuel was being sold out of barrels in the back of a pickup truck.
L.A. Bay: The Pemex station at the junction with the L.A. Bay road was closed permanently in January '96. There is often gasoline being dispensed from barrels in a pickup truck - I'm told the price is about 50% above the going Pemex price. This source should not be counted on. When we drove by at about 3 PM in May of 2004, there was no gas being sold.
The checkpoints which appeared along the highway during 1996 seem to have become institutionalized. These checkpoints are a result of the U.S. "War on Drugs" which was started in the 1980's and (in my opinion) quickly showed itself to be a failure. However, for reasons political the "war" goes on - largely in some else's back yard!
The checkpoints have been established to "certify" Mexico as a "good participant" on the side of the U.S. in this war. If Mexico were not so certified they would lose a preferred status for U.S. loans.
Mexico has been pushed into a position I'm sure they'd rather not be in. However, they are in a difficult financial situation and need assistance from the U.S. - and the price they have to pay is that of attempting to halt the flow of illegal drugs passing through their country.
Almost all of the checkpoints ("Puestos de Control") at which a search for arms and drugs ("armas y drogas") may take place are manned by Army personnel. The PGR maintains only one checkpoint - the permanent one at Maneadero.
Be aware that checkpoints manned by soldiers may appear frightening. The soldiers are mostly young men carrying automatic weapons, and speaking very little English. However, my own experiences have been generally good. The only real problem has been my own aggravation at having my private space searched by someone else, or having to clean boot marks off the floor of my camper.
The Army has established a very permanent encampment surrounding the Eagle Monument at the state border. There may also be soldiers stationed at the Agricultural Inspection Stations.
Caution: A warning has been passed on by several travelers who experienced instances of soldiers going through purses and wallets while the driver and/or passenger appeared not to be watching. It is suggested that you either lock your vehicle if you go with a soldier to the back of the vehicle, or make certain a passenger is watching any valuables left inside the vehicle.
Checkpoints - Traveling South
Location Personnel Action Maneadero Army Waved through (thirty or so vehicles lined up on the northbound side) North of El Rosario Army Waved through Km. 69 S. of LA Bay Jct. Army Questioned San Ignacio Army Questioned Km. 24 N. of Loreto Army Waved through La Paz Agricultural
Army Waved through
Checkpoints - Traveling North
Location Personnel Action La Paz Agricultural
Army Waved through Km. 24 N. of Loreto Army Throughly searched San Ignacio Army Questioned (long line of vehicles) Km. 69 S. of LA Bay Jct. Army Throughly searched El Rosario Army Searched Maneadero Army Questioned
May 2004 - Two-soldier inspections at the La Paz checkpoint:
There was a camera theft recently reported at this checkpoint during a two-soldier inspection of a vehicle having a driver, but no passengers (southbound). The person involved later complained without any satisfaction, however, on his way north out of La Paz he again complained to the Teniente in charge and a collection was taken amongst the soldiers - they came up with 2000 pesos to help cover the cost of the camera ($220US)! (The suspicion one is left with is that they probably sold the camera for 2000 pesos.)
Be aware of what is going on at this checkpoint if you are alone! If you have a door lock "clicker," use it to control access to the vehicle, and let only one soldier inspect at a time.
As we were being questioned by the soldier checking the southbound lanes, a young woman, shrink-wrapped in denim, walked up to my window, put a cardboard box up to me with the words "Thanks/Gracias" scrawled on it, and said "Cooperation." In a bit of disbelief, I looked at the soldier - he smiled and nodded. I looked at the girl - she again spoke the word "Cooperation." Figuring I was facing the choice of either a thorough inspection or giving something to these rip-off artists, I dropped a one-peso coin into her colleciton box.
- From the above tables it would seem that a new procedure is in effect: put more emphasis on checking northbound traffic.
- Secondly, the northbound stop north of El Rosario was instructive. There was a US plated vehicle several places ahead of us in a line behind two large propane tankers. The driver of this car had exhibited great impatience at two other places along the highway (riding my bumper north of the LA Bay junction, and hanging out in the other lane while waiting at a construction stop). Having this background allowed me to easily predict what was going to happen at the El Rosario inspection. The driver continued to display an impatient style while waiting in line (starting to follow one of the propane trucks off to the side hoping to get around the inspection). This was like waving a red flag in front of a bull. The soldiers got that SUV up there and started removing everything! It was clearly going to take quite awhile, so we were waved through.
The lesson: never display impatience at the inspection points.
Review (1998): After two years of these checkpoints, the process is becoming better implemented. Some of the checkpoints have become permanent installations, and the regular traveler of the highway can anticipate these stops. The "floating" checkpoints can be a surprise, but the soldiers seem to have learned their job fairly well, and I've had no real problems with them.
It's clear that the Mexican Army has found itself a purpose in life. Lacking invading armies from its larger neighbor to the north, and not being in the mood to invade its smaller neighbor to the south, the Army seems to have seized upon this opportunity to create a reason for being. I think these checkpoints will not go away for a long time.
As to the effectiveness of the program, David Eidell reports a discussion with the commander (teniente) of the San Lucas battalion regarding how the checkpoints have helped the problems of drug flow and crime in general. Here is the response as reported by David:
In a one month period, two checkpoints siezed an (undisclosed) amount of marijuana and cocaine. Five federal fugitives were taken into custody, and thirteen state fugitives were apprehended. "Twenty or so" drunk drivers were yanked out of their vehicles, including two cargo truck drivers(!). A dozen or so illegal handguns were siezed, along with a quantity of ammunition. Three stolen cars were recovered (all Mexican). (Mexican criminals love to circumnavigate the peninsula by crossing from Mazatlan to La Paz, then cause mischief all the way to Tijuana, where they either cross the border into the USA, or head eastward into Sonora.)
(Editorial Comment: While I have historically found this matter of checkpoints to be especially irritating and senseless, the information passed on by David Eidell above helps to put the program in a better light. However, I can't help but remark on a recent statement made in Mexico City by a representative of the U.S. Department of State.
As quoted in a local newspaper in Riverside, CA, it was stated that Mexico was "not doing its job in the fight against drugs because 70% of the cocaine sold in the U.S. passes through Mexico." Now, if that representative had the sense to think logically, then he/she would have realized that the country least doing its job is the United States, since fully 100% of the cocaine sold in the U.S. passes through that country!
Where are the checkpoints for drugs on U.S. highways? Why aren't the FBI and the U.S. Army manning checkpoints on major highways leading into large U.S. cities? Much easier to have checkpoints on Mexican highways - most of the folks affected don't vote in the U.S.!
In the matter of checking, one also has to wonder why travelers are not searched for large sums of money when leaving the US. Great amounts of money must flow south to pay for the drugs and their transportation.Fred Metcalf (email@example.com) )
Note (added November 28, 2000). Here is the first paragraph from a news article on Yahoo:
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday declared unconstitutional police roadblocks set up to catch drug offenders, ruling they violate privacy rights of innocent motorists.