We´re up early in the morning and as there´s not much going on in Ensenada that appeals, we decide that today is the day to hit the border with the US of A, especially as the only place between us and the border is Tijuana (the border town) which has a bad reputation due to the occasional gun battle between rival drug gangs and the security forces – US State department advises extreme caution here especially at night.
We grab brekkie, coffee and Wi-Fi at Café Kaffa, but decide not to book anything by way of accommodation in case we have issues at the border, as we are not really sure how US Immigration are going to feel about a couple of Limey backpackers who have no onward ticket :-/
We find another nice taxi driver to take us back to the bus station (the height of backpacker decadence!!) it is a good 4 miles away with no obvious bus option, and within 10 minutes of getting there we are safely on the bus to the border. The coastline on the journey north looks like it was once lovely, cliffs, beaches and surf in abundance … so it’s a shame that it´s been spoiled by all the endless development all the way up. That said, it looks as if the global recession has put a stop to a lot of the work which means there is now lots of half-finished developments looking like skeletons along the highway, (note that as we get closer to the US our language is changing …highway – this is a dual-carriageway and/or motorway to all of you who speak the Queen´s 😉 more translations coming soon!) even more of an eye-sore, than finished blocks.
Our extensive [sic – see later] research suggests that whilst the border crossing going north can result in very long queues, this is only a problem for cars and that anyone crossing on foot should be fine. So, you can imagine our disappointment at finding a very long queue snaking around the pavements when we get off the bus. To add insult to injury we are also met by a barrage of touts selling spaces in cars for between $5 and $20 … it has scam written all over it so we decline their kind offers and join the queue. Miraculously once in the queue they leave us alone.
We feel a little bit out of place, we are certainly the only people silly enough to be carrying 20kgs of luggage on our backs and the vast majority of the queue appears to be made up of Mexicans – “sore thumbs” springs to mind 🙂 But, on the up side everyone is friendly (as always) and the queue moves pretty quickly, unlike the one we pass for “permits this way”, those poor sods look like they´ve been there forever. So it is only an hour before we reach the front, which would have been less tiring if we hadn’t been carrying our bags all that time … the queue was moving too quickly to bother taking them off!! Yes, really! We passed the time chatting to an American guy who ended up behind us after some others gave up and ditched out of the queue. He only came over the border for the morning to see his dentist(!) and he said that the queue was unusually long. Just our luck, that and the fact that we were asking for it, trying to cross on the 13th!!
Whilst we are waiting for our turn at the desk, a man a couple of people in front who has made to the desk is suddenly handcuffed and quietly led away, our new American friend says this happens pretty regularly – eek! Anyway, we get to the desk and the nice man in uniform has a look at our passports, asks us when we were last in the US (Dec last year for our overnight in Miami) and then tells us that we need an I94-W?? (we later find out this is an old version of the visa waiver form), which means going to the other queue, you know the slow moving one for permits that we passed earlier!! But, what about the ESTA visa waiver thing that we have had to fill-in / pay for already, we say?? Ah, well that’s only applicable for entry via air and sea, it doesn’t apply for land crossings (??!!) …bugger we think to ourselves 🙁 The only silver lining is that the guy gives us a piece of paper that means we can come straight to the front of this queue once we get our permits.
We trudge back to the end of the permits queue, it is really slow moving, and there´s very little shade so it´s very hot, at least we get to take our bags off. There we spend the next 3.5 hours stood in the sun waiting our turn, quietly. Huw is left wondering why he rushed to get Crime & Punishment finished the day before as he could do with something to read now. At 1730, we reach the front of the queue explaining our circumstances to another nice man from Immigration. He wants to know where we´ve been, what jobs we have, what we are doing for money, how are we getting back to the UK, why is Huw´s hair so long, where are we going to stay etc…
Just when we are starting to get nervous, the guy decides that we are probably not economic migrants, and reasonably safe to let it .. he can obviously detect our complete lack of interest in going back to work just yet 😉 We have to fill in a form but we are a bit puzzled when he asks us what version of English we want the forms in (not sure what other versions of English he had but we weren´t brave enough to ask)!!?? Eventually they stamp our visa waivers and let us go back to the initial queue we were in (thankfully the pass the 1st guy gave us works, and we go straight to the front and we don’t need to queue again). So by 1800 a good 5.5 hours in total we get allowed to enter the US of A, we feel so privileged 🙂
Oh Dan, Ang, we gave them you’re address 🙂
A trolley car later (that’s a local train to you and I) and we’re in the centre of the Gaslamps district in downtown San Diego. A guy we got talking to in the border queue recommended we come here. Trouble is we have no idea what accommodation options there are here and wander about aimlessly for a bit, tired, and grumpy. Eventually reason comes back and we resort to going into a Starbucks for Wi-Fi to find out exactly what hostel options, if any, are in the area.
Luckily there just so happens to be a HI-hostel nearby so we get ourselves round there hoping for walk-in space. They´ve got spaces in female only dorms ;-/ but they are kind enough to tell us about a couple of other hostel options a stones throw away. We go to the one they reckon is preferable – Hostel USA – where we´re meet by Dale, an English guy, on reception. Officially there are no rooms here either but then he finds us a private room and not wanting to trudge round anymore, it´s getting late, we accept. It´s expensive – we thought $50 in Ensenada was a lot, it´s double here and this is a hostel, not a hotel!!! It is only for one night though as they really are full tomorrow. Once we drop our bags into our room we hi-tail it back to HI to book a room for tomorrow, they did have space for tomorrow…
Dale was a mindful of information, and a good talker, and he suggested a good value pasta place for dinner which we go for as it makes it a stress free evening. It doesn´t seem that good value, the prices are a bit steep, but then we see the portions!! We only order a salad and a pasta between us, but we can´t even manage half!!! We have the rest wrapped (they take your plates away and put what you haven´t eaten in a box for you to take home and have another meal from!!!)
At least breakfast is included in the room rate – as much as you can eat pancakes with fresh fruit and coffee 🙂 like we´re going to have any real room for that in the morning…but free food is free food so we´ll have to USA-up and make room!!!
Oh and we discover that the reason town is so full is because there´s loads going on, there´s a baseball game on over the next 5 days with the San Francisco Giants, there´s a huge conference of over 15,000 delegates on all week, gay pride parade is on at the weekend and then the town is getting geared up for something called “Comic con”… so accommodation is not only scarce it´s also on the pricey side…
We are going to have to get creative if we are to afford to stay in the States for any length of time if this is indicative pricing of what´s ahead…