When I left La Paz on the Baja Peninsula last year under a cloud of melancholy, I set some intentions declaring aloud, “The next time I come to La Paz, it will be on a boat!” As is often the case, though, I needed to be a bit more specific. What I had in mind was a sailboat. What I manifested instead was a ferry.
I’ve been curious about the Baja Ferry ever since I watched it from Contessa’s beachside RV Park in 2014. Since Isla de la Piedra is so close to the shipping channel, it looks like the Baja ferry is just “driving by.” Each night it departs the dock around sunset, making its way across the Sea of Cortez, also known as the Gulf of California, bound for La Paz on the eastern side of the Baja Peninsula. It seems like such a novel concept. Just take a panga across the shipping channel, get on the boat, and end up in Baja. Could it really be that simple?
Simple? Yes. Cheap? No. I spent a hundred bucks to cross the Sea of Cortez. I could have flown for probably not much more. But what am I going to remember 10 years from now? A one hour flight with a smooth landing? Or waking up at 3:00am to loud banging sounds, grabbing my passport, and bolting up the stairs to the top deck to see if lifeboats were being deployed? But I’m getting ahead of myself…
Baja Ferries runs alternating trips to La Paz; the Cabo Star, primarily a vehicle ferry that carries a few passengers, and the Baja Star, a passenger boat that carries a few vehicles. I booked passage on the passenger boat, Baja Star, that leaves Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays.
Departure time varies, depending on who you ask. The woman selling me my ticket tells me to be there at 3:30pm. The information board at the terminal and my ticket agree, departure time will be at 5:30pm. Eye witnesses from the beach say it departs consistently after 6:30pm. But I have missed more buses in Mexico for the reason being they left early rather than my being late, so I decide to err on the side of caution and get there at 3:30pm. Delayed due to waiting on a couple of 18-wheelers to load, we finally leave around 7:30pm. The downside of this is my hopes of sailing into the sunset are dashed. The upside is, I get to watch the sun set while surrounding El Faro, highest lighthouse in North America, in a beautiful crimson cloak.
There are two ways to travel as a passenger on the Baja Ferry. General Admission for 1200 pesos, around $60 US will get you passage, a relatively comfy airline-type seat, dinner included, and overhead movies with English subtitles. But I have read horror stories about having to jockey for position for these seats on a crowded ferry. And nothing says “agoraphobia” like the words “middle seat.” So that leads to the second option, a cabin. But a cabin practically doubles the cost of a ticket if one is single. It’s a single charge for four beds. If you are a group of four traveling, you split this four ways. If you are a solo traveler, you have no other option but to pay for all four beds. As often is the case with hotels, RV Parks, campgrounds, etc., the solo traveler gets screwed. Still, at 860 Pesos (an additional $43) it seems like a worthwhile investment, if for nothing else but a place to safely store my luggage.
Dinner is included in the price of a ferry ticket. They have three options on offer; Beef Picadillo, Chicken Pozole, or Marlin Veracruz. Although it doesn’t look like much on the plate, the food is actually quite good. Beer is extra at $1 a can, so who can complain? Barry Gibb is blaring on the big screen. The disco floor begs for a little Night Fever. But by 9:00pm, the entire ship is sleeping…
The wind has been howling for the past few days in Mazatlan, so I don’t hold out much hope for a smooth crossing. But I’m in bed by 10pm with just enough motion to rock me to sleep like a baby. By midnight, I find myself expressing gratitude for my immunity to sea sickness. By 2:00am, I am questioning whether I am still immune. Lying there in my drowsy, half-dreamlike state, I hear a hull-vibrating, nauseating “CLANG” from below, followed by the sound of the engines slowing. A sense of dread comes over me as I start to strategize.
I get out of bed and fashion myself a “bug out jacket.” I zip my passport, pesos, and phone in one pocket of my fleece jacket, and zip my camera into the other. I head for the top deck to investigate. I’m almost to the stairs when I am stopped by a security guard with rapid fire narrative in Spanish. His face looks calm, but his rapid-fire words are panic-inducing. I can’t understand a single word except for “peligroso,” which I know to mean “danger.” I repeat the word back to him, “Peligroso??” He stands with his hands on his hips blocking the stairs and responds sternly “Si!” I look out the window into the inky black darkness to see if I can spot deployment of lifeboats.
Finally, a woman comes out from behind the reception desk, speaking in perfect English to tell me the security guard is trying to warn me that the top deck is closed because it’s wet, and I am in danger of falling on the slippery steps. She assures me that the clanging sounds I hear are just waves hitting against the hull, and are perfectly normal. I ask if the rough seas are typical, and she tells me they are not uncommon. I should try to relax and get some sleep.
I return to my cabin and get back into my PJ’s. I crawl into bed, and fall sound asleep with my “bug out jacket” still wrapped tightly in my arms. Before I know it, the PA system announces, “Buenos días pasajeros. Buenvenidos La Paz!”
Footnote: If one decides to take this ride, don’t take a taxi into Centro La Paz! It will cost you almost 500 pesos, or $25US. Instead, take a “Colectivo” which is a van similar to Super Shuttle with seven other passengers. You may have to sit for a while until they fill up the van, but it’s only 70 pesos, or about $3.50US.