(There are amazing landscapes in Baja.)
We're nearing the end of the line for this series of posts on placer gold in Baja California, Mexico. I'll be summing things up in this post and the next by sharing some personal tips and providing you with general information about traveling, prospecting, and mining in Baja.
Remember, it's been 25 years since I was in Baja or Mexico proper, for that matter. Undoubtedly things have changed down there, so if you plan a gold expedition to Baja I strongly recommend you do your research and learn all you can about what's what before you head out to get some Baja gold. With the info resources at your fingertips there's no reason not to these days. Enough said on that.
Traveling South of the Border
In the 1970s and 1980s when I was making my trips south into sunny Mexico it was a different world in terms of paperwork and documentation requirements for traveling into Baja or the mainland. A tourist pass and a simple I.D. card like a driver's license would suffice for short-term trips. Now the requirements for crossing the border in both directions are (supposedly) much more stringent. My understanding is that you'll need a U.S. (or country of origin) passport or passport card plus what's known as an enhanced driver's license (EDL). I'm not 100% certain of the latter requirement but you can check with the Baja California Secretario de Turismo website here or any number of other online sites for what you'll need.
I usually carry a weapon on extended prospecting and mining trips here in the U.S. but I never carried one down into Mexico...ever. Nor did I end up in a situation where I needed one. I know most of you like to be strapped and locked and loaded when heading into the wilds, but heading south of the border with firearms these days is NOT A GOOD IDEA. Sure, our own government can ship assault rifles to the Mexican drug cartels...that's OK...but God help you if you haul your own 9mm or shotgun down there with you. That's a word to the wise.
Even in the late 1980s when I made my last prospecting and mining trips into Baja, the local police as well as the Mexican Federal Police (federales) were pretty damn hinky about possible weapons in the hands of gringos. On one trip I made to the El Alamo mining area I was stopped at a roadblock by the federales about halfway between Tijuana and Ensenada. I had my supplies and mining gear, etc., but what caught the eye of the Mexican police was my metal detector which was safely ensconced inside a vinyl carrying case that looked very similar to those that hold your trusty shotgun or rifle. The federales got pretty excited for a while until I unzipped the bag and showed them my detector. Once they realized I was harmless, they waved me on my way.
(Think twice about it...)
The moral of this story is obvious. Don't carry weapons or any sort of "contraband" into Baja with you...especially these days. Apparently it's OK for illegals and drug "mules" to carry themselves and their drugs north of the border, but don't you try doing that south of the border. (See anything wrong with that picture?)
On Getting Stopped
It's not uncommon to get stopped by various authorities and other entities when traveling into Mexico, although I was only stopped once or twice in all the trips I made into Baja as a gold-mining turista. However, when I made a 2,000-mile driving trip down into mainland Mexico long ago it seemed I was getting stopped or hitting checkpoints every 100 miles or so. These stops were sometimes set up by the military, sometimes by the local police or the federales, and sometimes by folks claiming to be part of Mexico's Green Cross (their version of our Red Cross).
In the former instances I paid small bribes to the local authorities and in the latter made "donations" to the Green Cross, and was allowed to go on my merry way. I NEVER tried to give money to the army or the federales though...they tend to be tough customers and not quite as graft-ridden as the others. I recommend you play it straight with the military or the Federals if they stop you or you run into one of their checkpoints.
(The federales are not to be messed with.)
If you do get stopped, have your paperwork handy, be polite and courteous, answer any and all questions, comply with directions, and most of all...don't cop an attitude. Just common sense for the most part unless you're hell bent on getting "detained." Mexican jails are, for the most part, horror movies where you can easily become the leading guy or gal. Again, getting stopped or hitting checkpoints wasn't a common occurrence in Baja in the old days so please don't get all paranoid. Still, this needs to be said.
There's a bit more to come, so hang in there.
(c) Jim Rocha (J.R.) 2014
Questions? E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org