To Caravan or Not to Caravan?
Was it worth it to do the RV caravan to Baja?
We get this question a lot. For me, most definitely. That was the only way I could get my husband to go. I could have researched and planned everything down to the smallest detail but without signing a contract and plunking down cash, I never would have gotten Mitch across that border.
And, although I was trying to act nonchalant about traveling in Mexico, I’ll admit that I was a little nervous about going on our own. I knew better than to believe all the stories on the internet sensationalizing the crime in Mexico. But it’s hard to keep all those little doubting tentacles from infiltrating your brain.
However, one of my biggest fears is being stuck for days on end with a bunch of annoying people. So we chose the Baja Winter’s Freedom Tour caravan because, as the name implies, they included about two weeks of “free time” in the caravan schedule. It was going to be about 10 days traveling to Baja Sur with the group, then 15 days on our own, and then another 10 days together to get us back to the border. A total of 20 days with the same people – possibly nightmarish, but I decided I could handle it.
The group dynamics were about what we expected. The majority of caravaners were very nice and it was fun to talk with them and hear their stories and compare experiences. But, of course, there were some annoying people. It turned out, though, they were easily avoided. And, as with any group, there were a couple of nutcases and you wondered how in the world they’d made it to their ripe age. We were the youngest (although not by much). And we were the only ones, out of 36 people, who were not retired.
That’s right – I said 36 people, which brings me to the first “con”.
Con: Huge Group
18 rigs rolling down narrow, pot-holed roads. Because the caravan was so big, John and Becky (the owners) employed a second couple to help with the traveling. Most days we divided into two groups of nine separated by about 20 minutes. John and Becky lead us down the highway and we kept in contact by CB. But we were slow moving. We traveled at about 45 miles per hour. Can you imagine driving your own car through hilly, mountainous terrain and trying to get past this long line of RVs?? Try something like that in the US and half of the caravan would have been wiped out by road rage.
Gas breaks and Lenny (bathroom) breaks took forever. Most of the campgrounds were very small and not set up for the huge, modern RVs. So we had to carefully pack ourselves in like sardines. There were some 40+ foot class A RVs which had to have specific spots. Ours was one of the smallest so we got the left-overs.
Pro: Traveling with a Group
However, when traveling with this huge group we always felt safe. I really don’t think we would have had any problems with highway safety on our own, but it was one issue that didn’t even cross our minds. (Except at the military check points when the young guys carrying machine guns were rifling through our cabinets. It’s hard to feel completely at ease in that case).
Becky was constantly calling out road conditions. “Big pothole at kilometer 86.” “Chunky shoulder at kilometer 110.” Rocks in the road, oncoming 18 wheelers, wandering livestock – we always knew what to expect. She also explained the rules of the road to us – over and over. “Stop sign at the next corner. Locals won’t stop. You MUST stop.” “Left turn into the gas station. Wait until the coast is clear and then take control of the left lane. DO NOT use your blinker.” To this day, whenever I come to a stop sign, I hear Becky’s voice: “You MUST stop.”
Also, with a group that large, someone is going to know how to fix anything that breaks or have that one tool that you need or be able to give you a roll of toilet paper or bring an incredibly delicious dish to the potluck. A super-nice guy from North Dakota helped Mitch rebuild our auxiliary braking system – twice. (It still didn’t work but, for a good portion of two days, he was devoted to that worthless piece of metal.)
Pro: Extremely Easy
Until we got to the freedom part, we had no decisions to make – not where to eat or get gas or stay for the night.
Con: Too Easy
For me, part of the process of going on vacation is doing the hours of research, reading about areas to explore, finding possible campgrounds. Sometimes the places are better than expected and sometimes they’re worse. But it is part of what makes traveling exciting. When I feel like I’m discovering a place, a connection forms and the whole experience is much more personal.
Con: No Control
While we were with the group, there was never wasted time figuring where we’d head next. But that meant we couldn’t stay longer at our favorite beach or shorten the stay in the dumpy campground. Traveling on someone else’s schedule is frustratingly limiting.
Pro: John and Becky
John and Becky had been traveling to Baja for decades before they started escorting caravans and they knew every inch of it. They knew something about every restaurant, campground, beach, and activity. They knew the local gossip, written and unwritten laws, and trends. John was a little salty and abrupt. Becky was always upbeat and could smooth over John’s comments. They truly loved the land, the country, and it’s people and that was always extremely evident.
Pro/Con: No Caravan Rules
We were all adults so we shouldn’t have needed any group rules. However, it did create one annoying problem. And this probably goes back to the group being too big. The majority of us stayed together while traveling to the different stops. But there was one couple (eventually it turned into about four couples) who would stay with the caravan up until the last Lenny or gas break. Then, when everyone else pulled over, they would blow past and get to the campground first to claim the best campsite. By the time the rest of us arrived, they’d be unhooked, set-up, on their third margarita, and we’d have to work around them. It was inconsiderate to the rest of the group and could have easily been stopped.
The cost of the caravan was about $1800. For over a month of traveling, it really didn’t sound too bad. It covered our tourist card which I think was about $20, the campgrounds while we were traveling with the group, some excursions guided by John and Becky, a taxi at La Carnaval, and they provided the main course and margaritas for a couple of the potluck dinners. Of course, we were basically paying for their expertise.
What we were responsible for: Mexican auto insurance which ended up being about $1000; gas (I know I should have, but I didn’t want to keep track of what that was costing!), water filtration system about $300 (not mandatory, but…), whale watching tour $60 per person, wine tasting tour $10 per person, campgrounds and activities while not with the caravan.
As I figure now, we basically paid them $90 per day for guiding us through Baja. It sounds expensive but I don’t think anyone on the caravan, us included, had a problem with what they charged. Knowing what the majority of the campgrounds cost though, I have to list it as a con because we could have saved a lot if we’d been on our own!
Would I do another caravan to Baja? No way, José. It was a positive experience and I’m glad we did it but we wouldn’t need to pay for it again. We’d love to return to Baja, but now I feel confident we can handle it by ourselves.
As John and Becky said, “If you come back to Baja on your own, that means we’ve done our job.”