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Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Am I going to get sick because of the water?
A: As a general rule of thumb, it's best to be in the habit of being tight-lipped while showering; brushing your teeth with, and drinking, only bottled water on your journeys south of the border. In reality though, the water in Baja is rarely a problem. Restaurants are legally obligated to use ice made from purified water. Hotels will generally make you aware of the safety of the local water. A bottle of water in the room is a decent indication to not count of the water from the tap being the safest.
Most of the people who become sick after their arrival, do so by over-indulging themselves with food and drink upon their arrival. Take it easy on the spicy foods and booze when you first arrive, and allow your body a chance to acclimate itself. Some folks feel that taking some Pepto-Bismol before they first arrive, and the first day they're there, is a good preventative measure.
Note: Watch the handling of mayonnaise or cream sauce at taco stands, if it hasn't been "refrigerated" properly, it could easily be the culprit to bring an end to an otherwise enjoyable vacation.
Q: Is it safe down there? I've heard about "bandits"?
A: The safety issue is all relative. It's difficult to go anywhere in the world where it's entirely safe and crime-free. Most of the people that I meet that travel to Baja (including myself) feel it to be much more safe there than where we live here in the United States.
Common sense rules out here also: Don't drive at night, don't wear expensive jewelry, don't carry too much money on your person, etc. My general rule for what to bring is this: Don't take it unless you can afford to lose it.
Although I've never had a problem, nor met (or know anyone who met) someone who experienced a roadway "bandit," the feeling is that they would only operate at night (which is a good reason to not drive the highway at night), and would create a diversion that gets you to stop, and possibly get out of your vehicle (such as an object blocking the road that you can physically move). If for some reason you actually encounter a situation such as this, turn your vehicle around, and drive back the other way without getting out of the vehicle.
Cities that attract a larger proportion of tourists with cash-on-hand have seen an increase in police corruption lately (according to the accounts I've read recently). Places like Tijuana and Los Cabos are the most suspect. Best advice: blend in and don't stand out from the crowd. It'll diminish the odds that you would be just that, singled out.
Q: Do I need to be able to speak Spanish?
A: In the major tourist destinations like Los Cabos, La Paz, Ensenada, Rosarito, Tijuana, etc., many of the locals are bi-lingual, and speak English. Thus it's not a large concern.
For the areas that are more rural, it's advised to know some real basic Spanish. This along with hand-gestures will generally suffice for communication. Any efforts of North Americans to speak Spanish usually result in very favorable treatment by the locals..... try to do so, and it'll go a long way.
Q: Do I need to take Peso's with me before I leave?
A: If you're flying to a particular destination, wait until you arrive. Once there, the best advice is to exchange your money at a local bank in the morning hours. If you have a debit card that is accepted by the local ATM's, you'll receive the preferred rate as well. The next best option is a "casa de cambio" (money exchange booth), such as those all over the town of Cabo San Lucas.
For those driving south, there are numerous "casas de cambio" along San Ysidro Boulevard near the border in San Diego. I recommend a couple on the east side of Interstate 805, both on the south side of the street: BajaMex Casa de Cambio, and the Express [something] on the other side of the Baskin-Robbins 31 flavors ice-cream shop. Both are open 24 hours a day and have the best net rates I've found. Neither charges a commision. The other casas usually charge a commission, and the net rate you receive is sometimes so bad that it ends up being worse than if you simply kept and used your US$. Look for signs that state "no comis�on" (or just ask about it).
La Moneda (a "casa de cambio") has two locations in Ensenada (4th & Espinoza; Ju�rez & Reforma) and their rates are quite good. Remember to take enough to use at the Pemex stations for your drive, as most do not accept credit cards (exceptions that I'm aware of: a few in Tijuana and one in Ensenada at 9th & 20 de Noviembre that adds a 10% surcharge). The Pemex stations generally have terrible coversion rates to the US$.
Q: What about the "mordida", or bribes for traffic offenses?
A: Sometimes tourists *will* get singled out for traffic offenses. This occurrence is usually in the larger tourist areas like Tijuana, La Paz, or Cabo San Lucas (although Tijuana isn't as bad as it used to be). Driving around in the brightly colored rental jeeps in Cabo San Lucas doesn't make matters any better either.
The local law enforcement officials are not highly-paid, and this "mordida" is sometimes considered a normal way to supplement their regular salary. This is actually done with both locals and tourists alike (although the $ amount may vary). Basically, if you're pulled over you have two choices: #1, paying the man, and getting on with your day; or, #2, disputing the claim, telling them that you don't understand their Spanish, delaying them enough so that it isn't worth it to bother with you anymore, and hoping that your offense wasn't bad enough for them to have you follow them down to the Police Station to pay your fine (which is how you should properly do it, and not directly pay the officer). Making a point of paying your fine at the station also acts as a deterrent for them to do the same thing in the future. When paying at the station, be sure to get a receipt. Sometimes, if you've committed a traffic or parking offense, they will just take your license plates off the vehicle, which necessitates your having to go down to the station to pay for your infraction before they'll return the plates to you.
Q: Where can I rent a car in Southern California to take across the border?
A: Based upon information I've received, your options are: Avis, Enterprise, or Baja Rent-a-Car in San Diego. All three will require you to purchase Mexican insurance from them.
--Mexican Insurance agencies will write policies on any rent-a-car that does not specifically state in the contract that the vehicle is not to go to M�xico. Most, but not all, of the agencies in San Diego have this stipulation. Most, but not all, of the agencies in Los Angeles do not. Something for you to think about.
Q: Can I drive to Cabo San Lucas in a day?
A: In a car, or pickup, the drive time from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas is 23-27 hours, and that covers 1050 miles. That means that at BEST, you'll average less than 50mph, even if you're a lead-foot. If you think you're going to do it, I suggest it's time for a reality check.
Reality: The road is narrow, sometimes with no shoulder, is frequented by livestock & pedestrians, has many dangerous curves that may not be properly marked and would be difficult to judge at nighttime. It has been estimated that 90%+ of the accidents that occur, happen between dusk and dawn. So, if you plan to drive to Cabo, start thinking about where you're going to stop at night. If you insist on driving non-stop, the best advice I've seen, used, and agree with, is to follow one of the buses plying the route at night. ..besides, driving at night will cause you to miss the best part of Baja California: everything in-between!!!
Q: Can I take my dog/cat across the border with me?
A: Technically your dog or cat must have paperwork that certifies vaccination or treatment for rabies, hepatitis, pip, and leptospirosis, as well as a health certificate signed by a registered veterinarian no more than 72 hours before you enter Mexico. The vaccination paperwork is to show the U.S. Customs officials upon return. The health certificate is for the Mexican authorities. A visa on the health certificate is no longer required.
It is the feedback I receive that neither the U.S. Customs, nor the Mexican officials are checking for this documentation in any strict regard (if at all). If you go without it, you just invite greater risk of a problem however.
� Copyright 1996-2002 Q87 International, San Diego, CA. All rights reserved. User Agreement.
Last revised: June 21, 2002
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