On your way to San Felipe, Baja, Mexico
you'll see a group of uniformed men standing under a canopy
near the Ensenada turnoff. Don't be alarmed. These are
the Federalistas whose job is to prevent the dissemination
of drugs, arms and ammunition. These soldiers are very
young, but they are well-trained, polite and know their
jobs. Your vehicle is required to stop at this checkpoint
and you will be questioned. They'll want to know where
you are from and where you are going. You may be asked
to open the trunk, glovebox, suitcases, etc. The search
is usually perfunctory and painless.
north of San Felipe
The troops at these search stations are
disciplined and tolerant. They have to be. They're stuck
in the desert forty miles from the nearest town, with
no refrigeration or air conditioning. They usually sleep
in tents and have no social interaction except among themselves.
Their posting is for a three month duration and then they
are moved to another checkpoint for three months. Then
Because of the heat, the routine and the
unchanging society, the soldiers are quite open to outside
communication, especially if it presents a face of humor.
Feel free to practice your Spanish on them. Be personable.
They won't bite. Just don't joke about guns, ammo or drugs.
The checkpoints on either side of San Felipe
aren't going to win any design awards. They are simple,
functional roadblocks with shade canopies, tents, perhaps
a shack or two, an observation tower and banks of sandbags
that look like they might marginally impede the death
threat of a runaway Honda Civic, but not much more. At
night you may see a lane bordered by flickering flames.
This is the low-budget lighting designed to help you navigate
the checkstop and keep cars away from their kneecaps.
truck search in progress.
For anyone who entertains the idea of running
a military checkpoint, there is a board of nails hidden
behind a shrub or sandbag that unfurls a length of cord
across the highway where a guard is at the ready, presumably
with countless hours of rope-pulling training under his
belt. The spike-bristling board, sans recumbent fakir,
will skate out onto the highway at a moment's notice and
introduce its sharp arguments to the underside of your
fleeing wheels. So don't try it. It's a low-tech but effective
contingency. And of course if the vehicle still manages
to fobble away from this deterrent, there are machine
guns that'll convincingly finalize the debate.
If you find yourself at a checkpoint at
midday or during the afternoon and the outside temperature
makes the road look like you're inside an aquarium looking
out, it would be a nice gesture if you offered a chilled
soda to the soldier attending your vehicle. These guys
are a long way from a maltshop.
Traveling south from San Felipe will bring
you to another checkpoint just past the turnoff from the
airport road. Again, be polite and good-humored.
Military checkpoints serve the added purpose
of letting would-be highwaymen know there is law-enforcement
in the area. Roadside banditry is very rare around San
Felipe, probably due to that very reason.