Forest Baker's van in Baja. “He at least agreed to use some of our hand sanitizer.”
“Please stay in the U.S. whether they let you cross or not,” Cathy G. pleaded to her fellow-expats on Facebook. “It’s your choice to make, knowing the consequences — you could be a carrier with no symptoms.”
“I have neighbors that didn’t freeze in place,” said Sue M. “They are feeling free to drive back and forth between their house in San Diego and here [Rosarito]. They keep bringing different people over the house, which further risks all us getting contaminated; it is careless and disrespectful. They were in San Diego, they should of stayed there!”
From Vincent Maiorano's video of border crossing. "They are worried we might buy up all the tissue paper."
Sue and Cathy shared what many expats and Mexican nationals thought, as a Nogales, Arizona port of entry shut down last week.
On March 25, the Nogales Police Department in Arizona, which is about 350 miles east of El Centro, tweeted in part: “Southbound traffic into Mexico is closed at the DeConcini Port of Entry.”
Mexican news outlets reported of the Usuarios Unidos por Sonora organization protesting and blocking access on the Mexican side of the border at Nogales. The 30 or so protestors lead by José Luis Hernández, reportedly barricaded the entrance lanes with three vehicles while holding up picket signs for about four hours; they demanded a screening system implemented within their customs stations during the COVID-19 health emergency — because many Americans continue to travel south into Mexico, despite the March 20 binational travel ban that applies to people who cross for recreation or tourism, and other activities considered non-essential.
San Diegans grew concerned that protestors might congregate on the other side of our San Ysidro and Otay Mesa port of entries, and disrupt their essential travel plans.
“This is stupid,” Shannon G. said, “all the people going to protest are probably spreading the virus amongst themselves, another show of mass ignorance in the world.”
“I don’t think there’s a reason for protesting, it’s only temporary,” said Nicole Leon. “Here in Tijuana, I haven’t seen anyone protesting, yet …. [some] do feel the U.S. is blowing the coronavirus bigger than it is, they know there are more infections up there than in Mexico.”
“The only reason the numbers are low[er in Mexico] is due to the fact they are not doing mass testing,” Andre W. from San Diego opined. “The virus is already here in Tijuana.”
After the March 20 travel ban, San Diegans are saying they have crossed into Mexico and back with “no problema” and posting photos and videos.
“Super creepy!” Leon captioned underneath her March 25 photo of the vehicle-less San Ysidro Port Of Entry. “Going into San Diego was empty for me.”
Leon is an American that works for one of the food chains in San Diego and lives in Rosarito; we direct messaged one another about her recent trek.
“The U.S. CBP agents were wearing gloves,” she said, “I crossed about 10 am and there was nothing out of the norm; I was asked if I am a U.S. citizen, so they would have to let me back in. I did have a friend that tried to cross in the regular lane, she has a tourist visa and they were turned around. When returning home, the Mexican officials did have gloves and masks on for the most part. I came across to Mexico around 1 pm, and no one was being stopped, like I’ve heard.”
In February, Forest Baker and his family rented out their house in Truckee (by Reno), and moved into a converted van to travel through Mexico and the U.S. for a “6-month sabbatical.”
“We went through that checkpoint on Thursday last week just south of El Rosarito (about 300 miles south of Ensenada),” Baker explained. “They stopped us and searched our van but they weren’t practicing social distancing and kind of laughed at me when I grew concerned that they were going into our van with our young kids. The guy who searched, touched a bunch of stuff in the car before us, he put his fingers in his mouth several times and then wanted to go through our car without cleaning his hands at all.”
I spoke to Baker, a digital marketing specialist, on March 29; he is documenting their Baja experience on their Instagram account.
“He at least agreed to use some of our hand sanitizer,” Baker continued, “but continued to tell us that the virus is only in the U.S., and not in Mexico. I’m worried that these young guys at the checkpoints are going to be a major vector.”
Baker, his wife Anne, and their two sons Odin and Utah, were staying in a beach resort north of San Felipe; home of the postponed Baja 250 off-road races.
“This morning around 8 am, I went to the main grocery store in San Felipe ….but I didn’t see any dune buggies or other relevant cars.”
“Are they practicing safe social distance procedures?” I asked.
“Over the last two weeks [traveling], from what we saw, it appeared that the locals were not consciously distancing themselves from others,” he said. “Keep in mind this is based only on what we saw from our vehicle while driving through towns and the stores and gas stations we stopped at. In the last week, however, gas station attendants were wearing masks. Two of the military checkpoints we passed through in the last week were not taking any precautions, though, I should point out that the checkpoint just north of Loreto did a good job of keeping distance and their masks on.”
“The customs agents going into TJ were wearing masks and gloves,” Vincent Maiorano said on a phone interview.
Maiorano is an Uber driver that moved from San Diego down to Playas de Tijuana about five months ago.
“The only reason why I got stopped going into Tijuana on March 26,” he said, “was because they saw me filming while entering. The Mexican customs official pulled me over and asked me why I was filming; I said: “I’m taking the video to show the people in San Diego that you are able to still go back and forth” and he was like: “oh ok, go ahead” and that was it.”
Since the March 20 border shut-down, Maiorano’s been staying at his buddy’s house in San Diego. On March 26, he returned to his Tijuana home by the beach and bullring, to pick up some clothes and to water his plants.
“Normally, by my house, there’s people walking down the street and the restaurants and bars are all open — but it was like 1:30 pm and every single place was closed, there was nobody walking on the boardwalk, nobody was motorcycling — it was dead. The only ones that I saw, had gloves, masks, and hand sanitizer. They even got people at the border selling surgical masks that people made, boxes of hand sanitizer and toilet paper — everything we don’t have in the U.S.”
Maiorano added that two bottles of hand sanitizer sell for about $5 USD, and masks for $1.50-$2.
“I think the reasons why they (Mexican protestors) don’t want us there is because, besides spreading the virus down there, they are worried we might buy up all the tissue paper and start hoarding the supplies down there.”
As Maiorano returned to San Diego, he noticed two lanes open for regular traffic, one lane for open medical purposes, and four-to-five accessible Ready and SENTRI lanes, “so there’s a little bit of a longer wait returning. At the U.S. side, they only asked me if I had anything to declare, and that was it.”
As this story goes to print, Baker and his family are still across the border.
“We were planning to return to the U.S. and self-isolate in Joshua Tree,” Baker said, “but they banned rentals and our booking was cancelled. With all of the public spaces and rentals being closed in the U.S., it’s made our return to the U.S. a bit trickier. When we were in La Paz almost two weeks ago, we went to the Walmart and stocked up on food and started self isolating then.”