Two Squished Dogs, Some Quick Kennel Assembly, and a Cruise Through the Sea of Cortez on the Baja Ferry from La Paz to Mazatlan

Deck of the Baja Ferry as it approaches Mazatlan – Best Places In The World To Retire – International LivingEven though we thoroughly enjoyed our six-plus weeks in Baja (my wife, Jet Metier, wanted to buy some land there immediately), it was time for us to move on to experience new things.  The desert and relative isolation we enjoyed as newbies in Baja would have to be gently placed into the past as we ventured forward to new experiences, also in places we had never been-- the jungles and more populated areas of mainland Mexico.
If you’re driving, there are two ways to get from Baja California Sur to the mainland of Mexico: turn around and drive north almost all the way back to the border, or take the ferry. Even though we would have enjoyed the trip back, we opted for the ferry.
Several times while at our rental home in La Ventana, we had to drive the 40 minutes to the immigration office in La Paz to work on our visas. From La Paz, it is a short distance to the spectacular beaches of Balandra and Tecolote, which we were very happy and eager to visit.
Route of Baja Ferry from La Paz to Mazatlan
To get to these beaches, we were told to just go to the La Paz malecon (boardwalk along the sea), and turn right, which we did.  Almost immediately, we were on a sparsely populated, curving road that intermittently took us through desert hills to right past several breathtaking beaches (not all of which are famous or even often visited), and back to desert hills again. Then, without warning other than some signs, we were very suddenly confronted in this landscape by the smokestack of a good-sized ship; not as large as a cruise ship you may take in the Caribbean, but to us, shockingly large, given that we hadn’t seen anything like it for more than a month and that it seemed to just appear out of nowhere.  Then, after rounding another hill, the very modern facilities of Baja Ferries would come into view.  As a result of seeing this several times, we knew exactly where we would have to go to catch the ferry.
Mainly because of our two dogs, we had done a lot of planning before taking the ferry.  Given that the English version of the Baja Ferry website is not very good, we were fortunate to have the help of several people, including the vet in La Ventana, Cristian Hold of Baja Ferry showing vehicles – Best Places In The World To Retire – International LivingPozo, who called the ferry management office for us and translated what they said; Alfonso Galindo, who patiently walked me through the Spanish website so I could buy our tickets; and the very nice and knowledgeable woman at the ferry office we talked with who spoke very good English when we visited the ferry facility on one of our beach runs three weeks earlier to confirm everything (again).
The ship would leave La Paz at 8 at night and arrive in Mazatlan around 8 AM the next morning.  Total miles traveled would be around 260.  The charge for my wife and I was the equivalent of around US $60 each.  A vehicle of up to 19’6” (which is exactly what our van is; I measured twice) would be the equivalent of about US $145.  (The reason I measured twice is that, for a vehicle even one inch over 19’6”, the price jumps to about US $480.)  We could either chose a stateroom for about $42, or we could sleep wherever we could find a place. Given that the stateroom came with it’s own private shower, beds, bathroom etc. (and the low price), it wasn’t a close call: we chose the stateroom.  There was no charge for one of our dogs and I forgot how much the other cost us, but it wasn’t much.  So, the total cost for a nice cruise in the Sea of Cortez for two adults, two dogs, a vehicle no Chuck Bolotin with cake on Baja Ferry – Best Places In The World To Retire – International Livinggreater than 19’6”, and a stateroom for a 12-hour journey would be a grand total of around $315.  To my way of thinking, it was a great deal.  They even gave us meal tickets included in the price.
Each of our two dogs would have to spend the entire trip in their own kennel, which we had to buy specifically for this purpose.  (You can’t rent them.  I tried.)  Unfortunately, we had so completely packed the van that the kennels didn’t fit with everything else.  The only solution would be to disassemble the kennels and place the parts next to the dogs on the middle seat, which reduced their sitting space by about half.  Just to make sure nothing unanticipated would happen and to improve my speed, I practiced un-assembling and re-assembling the kennels. I assumed the people at the ferry wouldn’t be too happy with me doing this and in the process holding up their operation, but that they would probably have to allow it, given that there wouldn’t at that point be much of an alternative, so I didn’t ask ahead of time if it were OK.  (I have always found that it is more effective to ask for forgiveness than permission.) Our dogs would be squished in their seat with the disassembled kennels as we drove to the ferry, but the drive wouldn’t be that long.
Stateroom, Baja Ferry – Best Places In The World To Retire – International LivingI bought the ticket for the standard length vehicle at the standard price (once again, following my rule about asking for forgiveness), and examined our van for any signs that it would appear to be larger than 19’6”.  All that I could think of was to remove a side step that was bolted on before we purchased the van in order to help people in.  We had never used the step, so in order to make the van seem less commercial, I took it off.
We arrived at about 6:30 PM on a weekday and found zero waiting.  They weighed our van (quite heavy), and charged us a small surcharge.  I didn’t see anyone with a tape measure, which was a relief.

Then, they waved us through.
I felt $335 richer.
Life was good.
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Next challenge: figuring out what the heck to do, which is confusing in a port area with two people and two dogs in any language.  I’ll spare you the details, but it turns out that after getting all the paperwork straight at the office, my wife (with her rollaway bag that she discovered no longer rolled) had to go to a waiting area to pass inspection and later to board with the passengers who were not driving vehicles.  Later, she would have to take a shuttle to the ship. For my part, I drove our very heavy and fully loaded van with two squished dogs and two dissembled kennels towards the ship.
Dogs in the kennel at Baja Ferries – Best Places In The World To Retire – International LivingIf you’ve never been to the hold of a ship, I can report to you that it’s pretty hot.  And, with dozens of trucks alternatively backing in and driving into position and of course there being no windows, the diesel smell and effects are pretty strong.  All this was all the more so for me personally, being that, after parking the van where they motioned me, I had to jump out, break their protocol, remove the two disassembled kennels, and very quickly re-assemble them while hopefully no one got too annoyed at any delay or break in standard operating procedure.
I got to work, off to the side, working as fast as I could, while a few curious workers tried to figure out what I was doing, with me sweating fairly heavily and trying not to notice that my eyes were stinging.  Happily for me, not only weren’t the workers annoyed, but they evidently took pity on me, as one of them helped me carry the kennel parts to an air-conditioned part of the ship, where, in a more cool and clean air environment, I put them together.  I then went up and down the ramp to put the two kennels in place so they faced one another, got our dogs, and introduced them to where they would be staying for the next 12+ hours.  Our dogs' kennels were on a narrow passageway with five other dogs, each in their own kennel, lined up single file, all of them quiet and seemingly content in an air conditioned part of the ship with food and water for the journey in their snug sleeping quarters.
Everything on the transit performed like clockwork.  The ship looked new and was immaculately clean.  Everything worked.  The shower was great, especially after my sweaty, eye stinging kennel assembling exercise.  The views from the deck as we got underway at sunset were beautiful, as on the right we could view from the sea those beaches we Disembarking the Baja Ferry at Mazatlan – Best Places In The World To Retire – International Livinghad enjoyed so much from the sand. 
Dinner was served in a large dining room, where we stood in line, cafeteria style, to choose our main dish. Dessert and drinks were extra. There was even a duo (who were pretty good) to entertain us. I tried getting Jet a glass of wine but the bottle had a dry cork, so we settled for a beer between us.  Cost for the beer: about a dollar.
There were lots of families, many of which did not have a stateroom and instead brought their own bedding, pillows and comforters to sleep on the deck or in the lounge area. Then, as night fell, with Baja in our wake behind us, we were at sea. 
Jet had taken a Dramamine to quell sea sickness but she could not sleep because the ship rocked too much for her. As for me, I slept fine.  (Maybe I was just tired from all my recent exercise.)
As the dawn approached, from the deck, we could see the outline of the shore north of Mazatlan, framed in a red sky.  Broad, flat areas were interspersed by mountainous outcroppings and buildings so tall and so relatively isolated, that you can make them out even from the distance of the ferry.
To say our dogs were happy to see us would be a very big understatement. Very happily and with great energy Into the van they went, to await my kennel disassembly, and then to be squished again, but in a very welcomed and familiar environment.
Jet had to wait in another line and go down many flights of narrow and steep stairs (Jet recommends not to wear heels) to get to the hold of the ship. Once there, she was helped by ship workers who offered to carry her non-rolling rolling luggage twice: once, after the stairs, through the cargo area, and the other time, from the dock to the exits; help that she very much appreciated.  She spotted me because of our tall van, across the street in another parking lot, and walked to us.
As I drove our van out of the hold and past the guard gate, our tires rolled for the first time on mainland Mexican pavement.  We were in Mazatlan, and ready to drive to our next home. 

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