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A Camping Experience
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A Camping Experience
  Tecate Travel Tale

by Lorry Patton ...

We crossed into Baja California, Mexico, at the Tijuana border, our destination Tecate KOA. Like the yellow brick road in the Wizard of Oz, color-coded signs pointed us in the right direction (one color headed for the ocean and one color headed east to Tecate). But even so, it was tricky, because our route cut through bustling Tijuana. The simple map that I picked up at the tourist kiosk, while the customs officer checked our rig, really helped.

We had two choices -- a "de cuota" (toll) highway and a "libre" (free) highway. (Sometimes it was hard to tell which was which, the signs look identical.) Since we were in no hurry, we took the slower "libre" route. ( The toll route cost around $5 to go approximately 30-miles).

Once we were out of the city, it was a pleasant drive on a decent road that made a loop into the dry interior before cutting back to Tecate, located at another border crossing about 25 miles east of Tijuana ( as the crow flies). Many people cross into Mexico at this border, about an hour's drive from San Diego, USA.

A security checkpoint barricaded the road just out of Tecate (the KOA is 13 miles east of town). Casual and unintimidating officers waved us on. ( Coming back, one young man stepped inside and did a cursory inspection. ) The purpose of these checks is not entirely clear other than the highway is a major route between Mexicali and Tijuana and truckers haul a lot of goods back and forth.

Tecate KOA is in the early stages of landscaping -- young plants, new pool and hot tub, tidy sites with concrete picnic tables, and squeaky clean tiled public areas. The staff is service oriented and pleasant to boot.

Surrounded by hills, the land once sustained cattle and horses. Today, horses and donkeys still graze in the pastures, pens hold sheep and billy goats, and a wind mill -- while twirling its old-fashioned blades in the breeze -- draws the purest drinking water in Mexico.

Many of Tecate's guests are first timers into Mexico -- they feel comfortable with the KOA logo. It's a reassuring symbol that reservations will be honored and the advertised amenities are accurate. A young European man exploring North America in a pickup and a camper, liked the hot showers and the security. (Access to the gated campground is along a well-packed road a good distance from the highway).

During the summer season families get together to celebrate a birthday, an anniversary or a reunion. They arrive in RV's and park in the sunshine or under a shady oak tree, or they arrive in cars and rent one of those little log cabins, the latest amenities in the KOA chain. Once there, they relax and enjoy each other's company. Some meet at the large covered verandah that overlooks the swimming pool and hot tub and others gather at the freshly varnished picnic tables where family members prepare mouth-watering meals on a row of barbecues.

Activities focus on the lifestyle of a working ranch. Children love petting livestock and the hay rides. Couples find horseback riding in the crisp cool mountain air romantic and exhilarating. When we weren't exploring the region, we hiked the trails and surprised the horses (and donkey) with pockets full of carrots.

One morning we decided to go shopping in Rosarito Beach. I love poking about the town's dusty and overstocked craft and pottery shops. My purchases have to serve a purpose , however, and not just look good. I bought a life-size pink pelican and a blue and white ceramic umbrella stand. Hey, the pelican is going to keep the deer out of my flower garden, right? And it rains a lot on the west coast. There was a porcelain hand-painted sink I liked but I had to draw the line somewhere.

It was easy to get to Rosarito Beach via highway 3, which begins in Tecate, and cuts through the scenic Valley of Gaudelupe, crossing vineyard after vineyard. Of course, we stopped to tour L.A. Cetto, an impressive winery that Don Angelo Cetto, a lone Italian immigrant, began in 1926. He produced excellent wines right from the start, and third generation descendants continue this legacy.

Baha California has been attracting anglers, retirees and motoring adventurers (remember the "I drove the Baja" commercials?) for decades, and no doubt will continue to do so -- the prospering resort city of Cabo San Lucas and the developing retirement complexes up and down the coast are sufficient proof. More recently, however, historians, scholars and people like me, who "dig" ruins, have been added to the list.

Archeologists have discovered that at least 18 missions once glorified northern Baha California. Dating back from 1769 to 1834, preserving, conserving and restoring these treasures is no small feat. A nonprofit organization, established in 1997, insures proper management of the monumental project. If you want to help, contact the Carem Foundation, Avenue Reforma #1333, Col. Nueva, Mexicali, BC CP. 21100.

Eight missions are ready for the public. They are rock solid evidence that a religious foundation laid the way for settlers. They tell the story of three flocks of missionaries -- the Jesuit, the Franciscan and the Dominican. Two missions are close to Tecate: El Descanso (1812) and San Miguel Ancargel de la Frontera (1787). Visitors walk around arches and pillars and sections of walls constructed more than 200 years ago while contemplating the dedication of the inhabitants and original builders.

So far, the missions haven't had an impact on towns like Tecate, but I expect that will change over time. For now, Tecate is an ordinary village where ordinary hardworking people reside. It completely ignores the fact that it skirts an international border -- the bakery is the busiest shop in town. Children line up for haircuts at the barber shop and pedestrians stop at the town's square to socialize and listen to "Los Munecos", a Mariachi trio (minus Sombreros), who like to play tunes by Elton John. Bars and restaurants line the street one down from the main thoroughfare, where, apparently, it gets quite lively at night.

Several industrial parks surround Tecate, keeping many local residents employed. Perhaps that is why the city has a happy mood. Pushy street vendors were nowhere to be seen and we didn't need to pay anyone to guard our parked vehicle when we stocked up on sweet bread and the famous Tecate beer (the brewery sits at the edge of town and each year thousands of people take advantage of the free tours and free beer at the tasting garden). We also replenished our carrot supply, because back at the KOA ranch, the horses and donkey were waiting.

Our biggest cost was Mexican insurance. It is based on the price of the vehicle. (A $100,000 unit costs about $30 per day). Most RV'ers get full coverage for the days they are traveling and off-road insurance for the days they are parked. Remember, the tow vehicle needs to be insured. There are several brokers at US. border towns. Shop around. We found considerable difference in rates and some brokers offer refunds on unused portions.

For reservations with Tecate KOA call 011-52-665-44772 or write KOA, PO Box 280, Tecate, CA 91980

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