Patience, perserverance, and bean burritos
As part of our plan to continue heading south, it made the most sense time and money wise to take a ferry from La Paz to mainland, Mazatlán in particular. After much research, the general consensus among the overland community is that the TMC ferry service (typically for cargo rather than passengers) is cheaper and much more conveninent when you have a vehicle to stay in and have pets. The only alternative is Baja Ferries which requires pets to be crated for the duration and a cabin to reserve on top of generally higher vehicle fees, especially for larger setups such as ours.
We started by visiting the ticket office in town, and were lucky enough to have a staff member that spoke very good english to help us navigate through this somewhat confusing process. What we unfortunately discovered is that the ferry to Mazatlán was out of service, and the only other line was to Topolobampo, which is about 5 hours north by car. With the ferry to Mazatlán out of commission, this impacted the Topolobampo line, and we were not able to secure a ticket for even a month out, and opted to be placed onto the waiting list, picking 3 consecutive days recommended by staff as less busy.
As mentioned previously, we toured the southern coast leading up to our departure date and come October 19th, showed up at 11am as recommended to the port in Pichilinque to begin the process of waiting in line with semi trucks to get through the initial customs process. Here they check your TIP (Temporary import permit) and registration as well as inspecting your vehicle/cargo areas. Some people opt to get their TIP here, we got it done at the initial Tecate border crossing. Next was doing the weigh station and length measurement (6000+ kgs and 14+ meters) and we received a slip to bring to the TMC office so we could be officially checked in for any possibility of getting on that night's ferry if they had room. After that process, we had to inquire where to park in this chaotic port, found the spot, dealt with the heat, and waited till 5pm, when we were told to return to see if there was room. To help kill time we pre-made bean burritos for that night, not knowing what time we would load or if at all. At 5pm the lady made it clear there was no way to get on, so we figured out the exit and were searched once again by federales before driving about 15 minutes north to Playa El Tecolote to overnight for another try the next day.
Playa El Tecolote was a nice reprise from the day's arduous process of learning, waiting, and the ultimate disappointment of not getting on. A soft sandy beach with gentle waves helped us destress, the views didn't disappoint, and it was fairly peaceful even with many campers along the ocean. After having the entire process down, we saw no advantage to showing up early in the day. The ferry doesn't start loading until 5 or 6, and typically departs around 9pm.
We arrived the second day around 1pm and repeated the whole process, now less mystifying. To hold us over we snacked on our pre-made bean burritos, and did some website work. Despite our plan to show up later, we ended up having a whopper of day, being tantalized by the office starting at 5, telling us to come back at 7, then to come back at 8, then to wait a little bit longer. Completely exhausted by this point after 7 hours, we had one of the TMC employees zoom over at 8:30 exclaiming to get to the office for our boleta (ticket)!! Knowing from Youtube research that you have to back into the cargo ferry, we were stressed out, and had no idea what the loading process was but deferred to letting all the large rigs on, assuming they would fit us on at the end. Finally after getting the loading guys attention, he assured us we would be soon, and sure enough motioned it was our turn. The loading ramp was incredibly steep and backing up onto the upper deck with a trailer required switching mid-way into 4x4 low. Being almost the last to load, we luckily didn't have to navigate too much, and just had to watch people's hand and flashlight signals both front and back. We ended up inches away from the semi trailer behind us. We also read that the upper deck was much more preferable, giving you some airflow and not sucking in fumes in the lower deck so we lucked out. Shortly after parking and having our wheels chocked with the truck resting on the incline of the ramp, we took off with our meal tickets to see what was on offer that night. It was so late that we got refried beans and cheese quesadillas (again), the meat and mashed potatoes had run out.
Hannah somehow slept some that night.
I wasn't sure what the motion of the ocean would be like, but generally it was fairly calm with a few moments of decent swaying.
Motion sickness was not the issue, but the noise was. I didn't sleep much. The pets did much better, staying very calm the whole 12 hour ride over with the help of some great CBD drops procured in San Diego. The temperatures were the main issue, which caused the huge semis next to us to run their engines all night to keep their sleep cabins cool. When those weren't running, the ferry engines were pretty noticeable. Daylight brought some really nice views of the entry into Topolobampo with colorful seaside houses and pods of dolphins frolicking in our wake. Unloading was uneventful and super fast being the second or third vehicle to exit, and no searches or checks to exit the port. Even though the whole process was stressful, we were super appreciative to get on during the second try, the alternative would have been almost double the price, and with another hurricane on the way we are not sure whether they would have run in the coming days. Stay tuned for more...