Posted by: glenswatman | December 20, 2007

200712 -1- USA California, MEXICO Baja California



SATURDAY 1 DECEMBER 2007 – Being a weekend
traffic is light so it is easy for Norm to make a brief stop at Hollywood Bowl,
as in The Hollywood Bowl and not the English ten pin bowling version that we
know so well!  The weekday museum is
closed but the stadium open for us to wander inside and even pose on
stage.  The location is fabulous because
from the upper seats you are looking straight out over the Hollywood
Hills.  Patrons are encouraged to bring
picnics in and the box areas even provide a table and wine holder.  Parking in the city is cheaper at weekends,
$6 (£3) day in the theatre district. 
The Disney Hall makes an immediate impression as a stainless steel take
on the Sydney opera house.  The free
docent guided tours take you into it as well as the other 3 nearby theatres
each with its own character. In the main square red balloons are being sent up
after a conference for World Aids awareness day.  The AAA (American Automobile Association) handbook has a circular
guided tour that we pick up on and head to the externally ugly concrete “Our
Lady of the Angels” Catholic Church. 
Internally it’s an unusual modern church with the main entrance either
side of the altar and other nice features. 
In the mausoleum we find Gregory Peck’s tomb.  Outside again we amble through the business area admiring the Art
Deco City Hall and make our lunch stop in the “El Pueblo de Los Angeles”, site
of the city’s original 18c town.  With a
Mexican theme and lots of street stalls there comes a choice of eating places but
again local knowledge (backed up by the Rough Guide recommendation) leads us to
“La Luz de Dia” a café style restaurant with authentic Mexican chow served on
paper plates at reasonable prices. 
Picking up the metro at Union Station we can see why the building is
used in so many movies as many of the original features remain.  $1.25 (60p) buys us a one-way ticket and we
alight near the Central Library.  There
appears to be a traffic jam but once we have taken in the whole scene we
realise they are filming and learn it is a FedEx commercial and the overturned
truck is part of the props.  The library
has a lovely domed area and the Getty Exhibition has photos of how LA used to
look.  Exiting at the back of the
building we take the escalator to avoid the long climb up Bunker Hill Steps
complete with waterfall in the centre. 
The YMCA building is extremely modern with the gym having a view to die
for.  Ultra modern Westin Bonaventure
Hotel confuses us with its 4 circular towers linked by labyrinth style floating
floors, spiralling ramps and balconies. 
Manage to eventually make our way down to the lobby complete with lake
and then take one of the external lifts up to the 34th floor for the
views.  It’s late afternoon so we press
on to complete the tour but find the Angels Flights tram has flown and the
Bradbury Building interior closed for filming. 
There’s just one more main feature we want to see and it involves a
drive to the historically famous area of South Central LA.  Location of the 1965 6 day riots and the gun
battle that killed Pattie Heart’s Symbionese Liberation Army it also has the
Watts Towers.  Within a housing area a
small park contains these striking pieces of folk art constructed from junk and
decorated with bottle fragments and approx 70,000 crushed seashells.  We are immediately reminded of the Gaudi
style work and wish we had arrived at one of the few times when you could enter
the compound to look closer.  It’s after
dark so we are happy to leave the dodgy area and get back on the freeway.  Soon after Norm tells us there is a problem
with the car and he is losing power fast. 
With hazard lights flashing and Steve leaning out of the window making
gestures (polite ones of course) we manage to cut across six lanes and make it
to an exit ramp.  Unfortunately the
upward slope of the ramp is too much for the car and we shudder to a halt half
on and half off the narrow breakdown lane and partway up the ramp.  Not the safest of places as cars exiting the
motorway seem oblivious of us until the last minute and then swerve round –
probably most of the drivers are on their mobiles.  Pat assures me that in America the safest place to be is inside
your vehicle unlike England where the recommendation is to get out and stand
well clear.  They are members of the AAA
and phone for tow service and within half an hour a local truck arrives.  They only have seats in the van for 2 people
so Norm and Pat stay in the car lying down whilst we are towed to a nearby gas
station.  A flat bed truck with more
seating has been ordered and once it arrives the car is loaded on to the back
and we are driven home.  Can’t
understand why the tow truck driver doesn’t offer to take us via the Hollywood
Hills for the tourist view but the direct route is still quite a distance.  I guess this is reflected in the $342 (£170)
that has to be paid immediately and claimed back later. 



SUNDAY 2 DECEMBER – The cold nights have
caught up with us again and with nothing to get up for we linger in bed until
10am.  Norm is quite a good mechanic but
can’t get to the bottom of the problem with the jeep.  He helps Steve do a service on our generator and to put on new
fuel and air filters in the main engine in readiness for Mexico.  Other than that it’s a lazy kind of day.

T.O. 7


MONDAY 3 DECEMBER – Norm still can’t get the
jeep going and their other car is a 2 + 2 sports car with hardly any room in
the back.  I join Pat for a visit to
Costco where I stock up on meat before we head to Mexico, it may be cheaper there
but we know what the quality is like here. 
In the evening I squeeze into the back of the car to go on a Christmas
lights drive with Pat & Norm.  We
head to a neighbourhood where they have nicknamed one street “Candy Cane Lane”
so most of the gardens have illuminated candy canes along with other
lights.  If you’ve ever seen National
Lampoons Christmas Vacation you will have some of the idea of the scale of
things here.  Think America, think big
and think of someone illuminating all the 50’ high palm trees in their garden
and joining them to Blackpool illuminations. 
Someone has even covered their truck completely in bulbs.  Totally amazing and great fun, Steve on the
other hand is happy to check out the photos when I get back, candy canes pah –
he’s more like a humbug!



TUESDAY 4 DECEMBER – Norm comes knocking to
say he it throwing in the towel on the jeep for now and we are off to the beach
in their motorhome.  They have a
luxurious “A” class 29 footer and it feels like you are travelling in a tour bus.  He drives us down through Malibu Canyon
where we see a church that burnt in the recent fires.  Once on the waterfront it’s a lovely drive south on PCH with the
surfers out in force to make the most of the lovely sun coupled with wind.  Arrive at Venice Beach where they double the
$5 (£2.50) to $10 for motorhome parking but it’s directly behind the beach,
shame they won’t let you stay overnight. 
Begin by waking around the canal area where architecturally interesting
homes have canals at the bottom of their gardens.  Steep narrow bridges connect the streets and each canal has a
path on both sides so it makes for interesting meandering.  Back at the beach we walk along by the
seaside shops and past muscle beach. 
The area is instantly recognisable to us because of the many movies shot
here plus it was used in Baywatch. 
Retire to the motorhome for lunch before spending a few hours on the
beach but the water is only warm enough for Steve to take a knee high dip. Hit
the ubiquitous LA freeway jam on the way home with 6 lanes in both directions
chock a block.  Fortunately Norm knows
alternative routes.  



birthday and we all head off to Universal Studios to celebrate.  $10 (£5) parking and with AAA discount
tickets at $49 (£24) each.  Pat &
Norm visit regularly so we follow their recommendation and begin with the
animal show.  The back lot tour is
extensive and includes a trip down Desperate Housewives “Wisteria Lane”.  The lower area of the park is where the
rides are and after a thorough soaking on the Jurassic Park roller coaster we
are happy to go into “Backdraft” special effects to be warmed up by their
fires.  It’s really quite in the park so
we get to stay on the thrilling Mummy ride for 2 goes.  House of Horrors is hilarious as you walk
through various passages and live characters jump out and surprise you.  Grand finale is the Shrek 4D show, a 3D
movie with the 4th effect the moving seats.  By 5pm we are done and although not quite as
impressive as the Florida version it has been enough to give us a full on
enjoyable day.  We’ve taken Harry out
today so Steve not only drive through the LA rush hour but also for the first
time in the dark and does a great job. 
I cook up a curry for us all to round off a super day.

T.O. 10 


THURSDAY 6 DECEMBER – After our longest stop
anywhere on this trip we are ready to move on but couldn’t have enjoyed Los
Angeles as much without the support of Norm and Pat.  The freeways a busy but traffic is flowing, well it ought to do
with up to 9 lanes in each direction. 
It’s almost 100 miles, and nearly 3 hours, before we have circled LA and
finally reached a bit of countryside. 
Break for lunch then hit the build up of the San Diego traffic.  Good directions lead us straight to the home
of our host but street parking is impossible as the gaps between driveways are
only long enough for cars plus the camber is too much for us to get a
level.  Leave him a note and head to
another host who also replied.  This
time there are parking possibilities but he is still not home and hasn’t picked
up our phone message.  We don’t want to
be stuck after dark so decide to head for known free camping on Shelter
Island.  Trapped in a network of narrow
1 way streets we suddenly find ourselves at the top of an incredibly steep, San
Francisco style, street where we would almost certainly ground at the bottom
and that’s if our brakes slowed us up enough to get to that point safely.  Luckily a city council car pulls up beside
us, backs us up and advises an alternative route.  Shelter Island is amazing with dozens of motorhomes parked along
the waterfront where you can stay until 10.30pm.  From then until 6.30am you must vacate the waterfront car parks
but can park overnight on any of the nearby streets.  It’s getting late so we go for the street parking in order to get
the ramps in place to level up the van, many other motorhomes leave it until
after dark to move but they have probably got the fancy levelling jacks.  We get a prime view of a Celebrity Cruise
ship leaving the port are adjacent to the airport and opposite a heliport so
plenty to see.  There are severe storm
warning for the west coast, so bad that our Canadian friends, who left
Vancouver yesterday morning, have had to make a 400 mile detour as the I5 is
flooded just south of Seattle.  Early
snow melting combined with the latest storm has flooded vast areas of
Washington State.  These are our hosts
Kevin & Ruth who hosted us in Ottawa then within 10 weeks of us leaving had
sold their home and bought a motorhome. 
Unfortunately when Kevin imported the motorhome immigration found an un
cleared teenage miss demeanour committed in America and will not permit him
back into USA until it has been investigated and this could take months.  Unable to drive their motorhome down to
Mexico to join us Kevin has flown on ahead whilst Ruth’s brother Colin flew to
Vancouver from Ottawa on a weeks leave to drive the motorhome down to meet us
in San Diego. So with a deadline of Colin’s flight out of San Diego next
Wednesday they must press on.  We feel
some effect of the storm with a windy rainy night.



FRIDAY 7 DECEMBER – It’s still raining when we
get up but a short drive takes us to “The marine corps recruitment depot” where
they have a free museum.  By chance it’s
graduation day and very busy and the gate guard assumes we have come for our
sons passing out.  The museum is quite
interesting especially the film taking you through the marines 13 week training
course.  It’s stopped raining so we see
lots of marines in their smart uniforms walking around the base with their
families.  Return to Shelter Island and
pull up just as a huge naval vessel is slipping out through the San Diego



SATURDAY 8 DECEMBER – Drive back to Northside
area where Daniel lives and secure parking on 24th street, the one
above his.  We join him for a drink and
suggestions as to how to tackle San Diego. 
He’s not far from downtown and in less than 30 minutes we are walking
around exploring that area.  Outside
Horton shopping plaza they are just finishing an ice skating rink.  Inside the centre Horton has some
interesting architecture and the Horton Grand Hotel is rather quaint.  Gaslight district is full of restaurants and
makes a pleasant stroll down to the harbour. 
The new Hard Rock Café Hotel is interesting and very modern; staff is
dressed completely in black and the décor is very trendy.  At Petco Park, home of the Padres baseball
team, an artificial snow machine has been brought in to give the kids a chance
to see what snow is like but it doesn’t look like it is going to last
long.  Catch the free shuttle bus up to
Balboa Park, the centre of the city. 
It’s a massive park area with Spanish style museum buildings amidst
pleasant gardens.  This weekend it is
holding the “December Nights” festival and very busy.  Some of the museums are free all the time but during this weekend
after 5pm they are all free.  Food
stalls abound and we graze as we stroll around.  There’s an International Village with small cabins representing
39 different countries and most selling traditional food.  Unfortunately late afternoon it begins to
rain heavily so we are glad when the museums become free so we can check out
the Science, Natural History, Railroads one and a few galleries.  They are all like pocket sized versions of
other we have seen so do not detain us for long.  Take the free shuttle back to the college then walk home. 



SUNDAY 9 DECEMBER – Pop down for a quick chat
with Daniel and meet his daughter Victoria. 
Drive up to Old Town area and being early on Sunday morning we easily
find a parking spot for Harry.  The Old
Town is encompassed in a State Park where the original adobe buildings have
been restored and now house shops or museums. 
It’s all free and very interesting to wander round; we especially like
the Well Fargo stagecoach museum and film. 
In the tobacco shop his most expensive cigar, from Dominican Republic,
retails at $75 (£37) but does come in it’s own wooden box.  Catch one of the guided walks to learn a bit
more about some of the buildings then walk the nearby main streets but soon
give up, as they are all selling Mexican products.  Back on Shelter Island we park up for the afternoon.  It gets busy late afternoon, as there is to
be a Festival of Lights tonight with decorated boats on the harbour.  We have a ringside seat and really enjoy
watching the illuminated boats go past, many playing music or with a tannoy so
they can shout to the crowd.  Very
different and a superb setting with the lights of San Diego in the

Amazingly a couple of hours later Colin & Ruth arrive in
Sherman, so named because it handles like a tank.  They set out at 3am today to get through a pass before it closed
but then had another detour further south. 
With the end in sight they felt determined to get here to give them a
day of rest tomorrow. 



MONDAY 10 DECEMBER – Wake to a glorious hot
sunny morning.  I take a walk along
Shelter Island to admire many interesting statues.  In the evening we join Colin & Ruth for a BBQ around the
picnic table with a superb view over the bay. 
Such a shame that you have to move at night to the noisy roadside
parking otherwise this would be a first class spot.



TUESDAY 11 DECEMBER – Off to Mexico and on a
cold miserable rainy morning we are happy to be heading south.  Colin is frustrated when without realising
it we find the freeway leads straight in to MEXICO, he intended to hop out
before that to avoid the horrendous queues of people going back into USA.  Yesterday Kevin flew up from the holiday
resort where he was staying and spent the night with a host in Tijuana.  We now see him waving at us and he changes
seat with Colin thus relieving Ruth of the task of driving.  Now we need to complete formalities but have
already bought vehicle insurance over the Internet at a cost of $280 (£140) for
6 months. We need a tourist permit, $22 (£11), for 180-days.  The officer is very witty and pretends I
have ticked single (as opposed to married) on the form causing Steve to look up
in amazement. When we arrived in USA we had a permit stapled into our passport
and this must be surrendered to USA immigration but there is nowhere to do this
other than at the entry point to USA. 
We must walk over a bridge to join the line of people departing
Mexico.  Interestingly going in to
Mexico there are only 3 lanes of traffic and no pedestrians but leaving Mexico
there are 7 lanes of traffic and a line over 1km long of pedestrians.  We walk to the front of the queue and manage
to hail a customs officer who removes our cards leaving us clear to leave.  Following Kevin in our motorhome we must
stop to push a button beneath a light. 
At random it will flash red for a full customs check or green to let you
through and we both drop lucky. 
Fortunately Kevin’s host drove him round Tijuana to show him the Vehicle
Import offices as they are no longer at the border and involve a drive through
narrow crowded streets to reach the compound.  
Once in the parking lot Kevin is unlucky to clip the front of a truck
with his back end, a similar accident to the one we had.  He manages to negotiate with the driver and
gets away with $40 for a new number plate. 
His own buckled rear bumper he will deal with later.  It takes Steve & Kevin well over an hour
to get our import permit at a cost of 541.04 pesos (£25) but it’s for 10
years.  (Exchange rate around 22 pesos =
£1).  It’s now mid day and once we have
battled our way out through the traffic we make for the faster toll
freeway.  There are 3 separate
tollbooths and we pay a total of 154 pesos (£7.50).  The dual carriageway has a reasonable surface and for most of the
way it is a scenic run down the coast. 
A quick beachside lunch stop gets us to the large town of Ensenada by
late afternoon.  Steve spots a gas depot
(LPG) on the opposite side of the carriageway. 
Too late we realise that the central waiting zone is not wide enough for
us, nor Kevin who has swerved over behind. 
For a nerve racking few minutes we must sit there with cars aiming at us
in both direction before finding a gap big enough for us to cross.   We are very happy with the price at 51
pesos (24p) a litre.   Tourist office
assistance leads us to a huge Gigante supermarket with most things cheaper than
USA.  Next stop the gas station with
unleaded petrol at 67 pesos (32p) litre. 
The government regulates the price; the same everywhere and you must pay
cash.  With our locking petrol cap it is
easy for Steve to check that the pump is zeroed before filling commences.  It’s all full service and you are expected
to leave the attendant a small tip. 
South of the town we turn off on the 23 towards Bufadora.  Recent torrential rain has caused landslides
and in many places the road is covered in mud. 
We are losing the light and all quite tired so settle for the first
campground we find, Meneses, 120 pesos (£6) night.  For this we get a safe place to park behind the beach, toilets
and cold showers and a comparatively dry surface to park on.  Not the greatest deal around but good enough
for our first night in Mexico.  Kevin
& Ruth join us for a curry and we catch up Kevin’s news and reflect on the
events of the day and conclude that it has gone pretty well overall.  Blissfully the only noise in the night is
the crashing of the waves. 


120 pesos dry camping ($11)


WEDNESDAY 12 DECEMBER – We have a leisurely
start and make us of the dump station before leaving the site, as we have no
idea how common these are in Mexico. 
Just a few yards through the village and we spot La Jolla Beach Camp,
the one we had hope to make last night but didn’t know how far away it
was.  For $1 more we could have had
electric and hot showers!  At the end of
the peninsula La Bufadora is quite strange. 
The only road becomes a very narrow shopping street with vendors
beckoning to us from both sides.  All
available pieces of land are offered for parking or camping.  At the far end we find a superb spot on the
waterfront and negotiate the price to $5 (£2.50) for an overnight stay, not bad
considering day parking for a car is $2 (£1). 
Some cruise ships call in here but not today so it is incredibly quiet
making us the best targets the shop keepers are going to get.  They are all very friendly and give us
little pressure.  A short walk takes us
to the famous blowhole where waves force the water through a narrow crack where
it burst up in a spout.  Today there is
little swell but it’s still good to see. 
It must have been amazing last week when the storms were hitting this
area.  Spend the afternoon sat out
relaxing and enjoying the moment.  Visit
Kevin & Ruth for cards in the evening.




THURSDAY 13 DECEMBER – We have had a
wonderfully quiet nights sleep and wake refreshed.  Sit out enjoying our breakfast looking out over the bay.  It’s a strange area with neither harbour nor
beach but lots of houses built into the hills surrounding the bay.  Today the main street is heaving with people
bussed in from Ensenada where the cruise ships dock.  Invite Kevin & Ruth to join us for lunch where we sit out in
the sun enjoying a pasta meal followed by fresh fruit salad washed down with
copious amounts of wine, gee life is tough! 
It’s less than 2 weeks until Christmas so I decorate the motorhome using
the beads we had free from the casinos. 
Improvisation is the key as I use Christmas pics from magazines and
silver foil home made shapes.  Steve
brought me a mini Christmas tree a few days ago and this gets the seasonal
treatment as well including cotton wool snow and a real star (fish) on
top.  Cards at our place this evening
where Kevin & Ruth are eager and excellent students at canasta.



FRIDAY 14 DECEMBER – Leave around 8am whilst
the shops in the narrow main street are still closed. It would have been nigh
on impossible to get through the crowds of people yesterday.  Pick up highway 1 heading south and this
takes us over many mountains and through a few villages and small towns.  Even in the towns there are no sealed roads
and we can see how poor the country is. 
We have to stop at a pest control roadblock where the sign indicates
problems with meat.   I’m quite prepared
to give up my $80 (£40) stock of American meat when I see soldiers in tanks
with guns. Surprisingly we are waved through.  
The side roads are all flooded or extremely muddy and this could be a
problem as we want to camp by the beach south of Lazaro Cardenas.  Luckily it’s only the last part of the road
that is muddy and we make it through to Cielito Lindo campground. There are a
few permanents on site but no visitors in the camping area so Kevin heads to
the office intent on some bargaining but doesn’t bother when we are offered
sites at $5.  Walk down to the beach
where the storm has pushed down the dunes and created a lake behind the
beach.  The beach itself has sparkling
golden sand and just beautiful, even if the wind is blowing and it’s
chilly.  Part way along we spot a seal
right by the waters edge, never been so closed to one on land before.  4pm is happy hour in the campground bar and
$1.25 (60p) is the price of most drinks. 
Needless to say it is busy and gives us a chance to pick up some travel
tips.  Canasta at our place rounds of an
interesting day.  Unfortunately it’s not
a quiet spot as many people run generators including the man in the caravan
next to ours who definitely doesn’t have the Honda silent model.  Back to very cold nights necessitating hot
water bottle and occasional blasts of central heating.


$5 (£2.50)


SATURDAY 15 DECEMBER – A rude pre 8am
generator stirs me out of bed.  We’ve
already made the decision to stay on another day otherwise it would be tempting
to press on.  At the moment the heat
from the sun doesn’t warm things up until mid morning and we lose it again mid
afternoon.  Granddaughter Natasha is 8
years old today and with no Internet connection the best we can do is send her
a text greeting.  Funnily enough I leave
the phone on in case of a reply and get a call from Steve’s brother Kevin who
has Lisa and Netty with him for pre Christmas celebrations.  Would love to chat but at £1.50 minute for
our incoming calls and difficulty adding credit we keep it brief. Ruth cooks a
tasty turkey enchilada supper in their motorhome followed by the obligatory cards.





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