Three Days in El Valle: Travel tips part II – “Directions” and night driving

A well-lit room at a winery restaurant that was surrounded by a sea of pitch black

A well-lit room at a winery restaurant that was surrounded by a sea of pitch black

My camera phone isn’t good enough to get great pictures at night, but the one thing that should come through about this photo is that night time in the Valle is, well, dark. I started my travel tips with this post, and now before I turn to the food and drink, let me finish up a few useful tidbits about getting around.

First, here’s a map.

I borrowed this useful map from Encuentro Guadalupe, photos of which I'll share.

I borrowed this useful map from Encuentro Guadalupe, photos of which I’ll share.

Let’s not mistake this map for something helpful for fine detail, however.  My friend Colin wrote this post about getting around the Valle, and we’ll call that description kind of like this map – a very basic overview.  While I can’t drive the roads for you, my hope is that after reading this and my other travel tips posts you’ll be armed with some driving basics that will help you remain calm and take a bit of the guesswork out of getting around.  I discussed the importance of using the kilometer marker system in part I (here).  Now let’s focus in on a top 10 list to success in driving through the Valle (particularly at night).

  1. Do not rely on directions…from ANYONE.  Seriously. You know those movies where the sweet old man tell you to go ‘down yonder a little ways, turn left at the rock, then right past old man Willow’s house, then right again at the second chain link fence?’ Well, now imagine that in a language you don’t speak.  Consult the Google, trust me.  Or get directions for the quaint experience of it all, then Google the KM marker anyway.
  2. Leave earlier than you planned.  Time isn’t the needlessly obsessed over headache it sometimes is this side of the border, but being late or rushed is just annoying.  So if you are told your destination takes 10 minutes, give yourself 35 instead.  We were staying at KM 81.5, our dinner at Laja was at KM 83. Let’s just say it took way, WAY longer than it should have to find the “turn off.”
  3. The.Valle.is.DARK.  One reason to follow my advice in item #2 is that Mexican wine country is super dark.  On top of that, no one provided any reflective paint for the signage.  So you basically have your headlights and your memory from during the day to guide you.  The darkness is great for sleeping.  Great for chilling out by the pool with a glass bottle of wine.  Even great for stargazing when they are out.  Navigating by car? Not so much.
  4. Lots of passing, even at night.  Anyone who has driven in a remote stretch of anywhere is familiar with rural drivers and their eagerness to speed into oncoming traffic.  While the side lane I mentioned in another post can be helpful, it is very important to remain alert.  the first time you see headlights in your lane it takes you a moment to realize it isn’t an optical illusion.  If you are used to it, just keep going.  For the rest of you, just slow it down a bit, slide over into the side lane, and let crazy do what craze does until you are safe again.
  5. Watch the (dirt) road.  I mean the actual road, not just the driving school part about seeing what’s in front of you.  There are big chunks of missing dirt that would be potholes except the road is made of dirt not asphalt.  Watch the ground as you drive so you don’t leave a piece of the suspension in Baja.
  6. Only get directions by time.  I know, I just said not to get directions.  And I mostly stand by that.  But if you must get directions, be sure to get them by time.  What I mean by this is always, ALWAYS ask how long it takes to get somewhere.  This way, if the giver of directions neglects to tell you that you can’t see the sign at night or that the exit is only present when driving east, you won’t drive for 10 minutes too long thinking you just haven’t found it yet.
  7. Maps are good for relative positions of things.  Take the map above.  You can clearly tell that Bibayoff winery is after Corazon de Tierra if you are starting from the 3 (the route on the right running north and south).  But this is best for letting you know that if you started on the 3 and reached Bibayoff while looking for Corazon de Tierra, you’ve gone too far.  Having made the trek to both places I can tell you that however close they actually are to one another, they don’t feel particularly close when you factor in the bumpy road.  So don’t expect the map you get at your hotel to do the whole trick.  See note #4, above, and keep it moving.
  8. I don’t have any more tips.  Honestly, I can’t think of anything else to share.  That might change, but that’s what I’ve got for now.  It’s a solid list, but I’m sure I’m missing some–
  9. Take care on day trip to Ensenada.  Being so close to Ensenada, you will be wooed by the delicious taco stories and interesting cultural nuance Ensenada has to offer.  That’s all good and well, but the road isn’t what I’d call fun.  It is windy and hilly and cliffy.  Okay, technically cliffy is not a thing, but there are plenty of opportunities to plummet to your death, and the locals still drive like it is flat open land.  So just be cool, prepare yourself and be ready to go. (note: you have to listen until 1:48 for that last link to make sense)
  10. Relax.  It’s not as bad as I describe it.  I mean, I am typing this from the safety of my office, so it’s really just a cautionary tale with a bit of hyperbole.  It’s a vacation, so don’t stress too much.  In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m not a huge fan of driving and it all seems to have worked out.
Random street light in Tecate that I put in this post to break up all the text. Be sure to change your dollars to pesos before you leave heading south

Random street light in Tecate that I put in this post to break up all the text. Be sure to change your dollars to pesos before you leave heading south

In addition to the above tips, I should warn you that if you take the Tecate route like we did, be sure to stop in Tecate and change some dollars into pesos.  We didn’t do that and ended up visiting every Oxxo in the Valle and two gas stations looking for a working ATM or someone with change.  Also, I’m writing this a full day after I got home and although we did bring our own bottled water, we drank the stuff they brought at each of our restaurants and Montezuma hasn’t sought any revenge on either of us for it.  That’s it for tips for the time being, I’ve been dying to get to the food – several very, very good experiences – but I thought I ought to write down the various things that would have made my trip easier had I known going in.  Thanks for stopping by.  Return to the index.

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