Southern California had been in the grips of a drought for a long time; back at the start of the trip when the hype over El Niño was at it’s height, it was all the US media seemed to be able to talk about. The day however that we decided to cross the border into the States seemed to be the day that the drought ended. The rain was falling heavy and as we left Ensenada and headed north the coastline looked decidedly cold and unappealing, this was made worse by the half finished high-rise developments being built as close to the coastline as possible. We knew there were surf spot gems in there somewhere but the prospect of finding somewhere to stay and accessing the spots wasn't so appealing so we carried on north, keen to get out of the rain and across that border.
We had met a woman a few months ago who told us the best thing about Tijuana was San Diego, now I don’t believe that for a second but our experience of the infamous border city was less than ideal. When first arriving into Mexico at the southern border we had been made to pay a bond on the bikes as a guarantee that when leaving Mexico we would take them with us. The bond was $400US per bike and would be returned to us when we left the country with the bikes. This was the only country that required anything like this and at $400US per bike, it was a constant source of worry for us. Especially because we had no idea what the USA would say when we tried to take the bikes in over the border; we had no proof that they would be leaving the country and we were terrified they would deny us entry or force us to pay a huge import fee.
As we navigated our way through the drizzly streets of Tijuana we hit a red traffic light just as a group of police officers were arresting a group of men by the side of the road; to say that area of the city felt sketchy was an understatement. We flew through it and hoped to get to the Mexican side of the border to claim the money back and then head onwards to the USA. Joining the line of traffic we realised quickly that there was no Mexican side, it was just a line of booths taking us straight towards USA immigration. Still worried about whether we would be allowed in with the bikes, we had no choice but to stay in the queue to get it, then once we had crossed over, return back to Mexico to claim the money back. Twelve countries, twelve months, twenty three thousand kilometres and we had still never been subject to a proper search. This would surely be the one time. Sunburnt hands, unwashed hair bleached from the sun, unruly beard, faded, stained and torn clothes- we were finally reaching ‘the developed world’ and it felt weird. It immediately felt as though we could never explain ourselves to anyone, nobody will ever understand the adventure we had just had. As soon as we could see California all feelings of being on a huge trip began to fade into a strange abstract memory, really present in our minds but at the same time, distinctly in our past somehow.
As we got closer to the front of the queue the pressure of the situation built. We were freaking about about the money, the chances of getting into the USA and what was going to happen with our pathetic amount of money left in the bank being back in such an expensive country. When we pulled up at the barrier, the guy took one look at our passports and told us (in his thick American accent) that he was Scottish and he loved that we were English and waved us through just like that. No search, no questions, no ESTA Visa waiver check, no fingerprints, retina scans, nothing. The easiest border crossing of the whole trip was into the USA.
We merged onto the freeway and took the first exit and went straight back to Mexico. Again, no questions asked, no search, nothing. Except this time the guy never even looked at our passports. We pulled over into an official looking office and went in with our bond receipts to try to get our money back, the woman in the cubicle told us that they couldn’t do it because they didn't have enough money in the till at the bank and we would need to find the other border and try there. We headed back into Tijuana and then East to the next border crossing following the tiny Garmin map on my handlebars in the rain. We were led to a tiny backstreet with a tyre shop, a car body shop and a couple of other run down businesses on an industrial estate. There was a tiny little shed and a little Banjercito above it. We parked up and went in and started the process of claiming the money back. A couple of hours of waiting in the rain later and we finally had our cash so we headed to the border hoping for another easy crossing.
At the border this time we immediately knew we had hit the wrong booth. A particularly military looking guy came out and took one look at us and we took one look at him and knew it wouldn’t be so easy. He started to look through our documents and ask about our visa waiver. We were talking to each other as he was looking through our papers and he turned to us and asked where we were “actually from”. We told him we were from England and he said “Why were you speaking in a different language to each other, where are you from?”.
Ten minutes later we are sat in a waiting room full of border police who were deeply involved in a cocaine bust on the border and not very interested in taking our six dollar fee for the required stamp. Two hours later we are on the freeway, holding on for dear life in the slow lane in the rain as four lanes of cars flew past us going twice as fast. Suddenly 150cc motorbikes seemed like a bit of a stupid idea. Luckily through the blog and social media, an amazing couple in Encinitas had contacted us and offered us a place to stay for a couple of days before they headed off on a round the world surf trip on their own. When we pulled up into Tara’s housing complex and stepped off the bikes, soaked through, we felt pretty shellshocked. She let us in and made us feel super welcome and within minutes (and a hot shower) we were feeling pretty normal.
To come from such a long way to then reach a nice suburban home where a lovely person is offering you beer, wine, food and hot showers for free was a very strange feeling. We suddenly felt very self-conscious that all our clothes were filthy and faded and torn and our ideas of normality were slightly skewed. Eric and Tara made us feel super welcome and we had an awesome few days hanging out, surfing and cruising around Encinitas and Laucadia. One evening we paddled out at a spot with Eric and our favourite surfer, Ryan Burch, was one of the only other people in the line-up which was pretty cool.
After a few days in North County San Diego we rode up to see an old friend of Sally’’s in Orange County. The second we walked into the door at Mike and Ashley’s we felt at home. Mike took us surfing one morning to a spot right next to Lowers and we couldn’t believe it, it was crazy. Literally the busiest I have ever seen the ocean. There were loads of great waves coming through and the vibe was good so we had a great time and really got to experience surfing in Southern California.
Our budget was pretty much coming to an end and we definitely felt like the date we flew home was looming. We planned to get to San Francisco and then work our way back down and try to sell the bikes somewhere so we took it easy in Laguna Niguel for a few days planning and catching up on some work to prepare for home.
To be continued.