Ferry: La Paz to Mazatlan

Early Monday morning we drove back south, passed the Pichilingue ferry terminal yet again, into La Paz. We got to the Sematur ticket office early because we had heard stories of long lines, but when we arrived we were the first of three people in line. Hmmm. Finally, the office opened and we could buy our tickets and get out of there! But we were told "solo cargo". WHAT?! Yes, this was a cargo ferry. Why didn't they tell us earlier!? Oh well! We bought our tickets, resigned to the fact that we would be sitting in airplane seats for 18 hours, but at least we finally had tickets. We were to learn what solo cargo really meant. This was not the cruise ship. No restaurants, bars, disco, and movie screens. It truly was a cargo ship. And we had purchased seats to sit in the compartment we called the "human cargo area".

We were told that we should be at the Pichilingue ferry terminal by 1 PM for our 3 PM ferry. When we arrived it wasn't at all obvious where we should go. We asked around, but this wasn't like our US ferry experiences with signs, lines, and ticket takers. Finally some military guys waved us over to a line of "Pacifico" beer semi trailers waiting to be loaded. That is when we first saw our boat, the "Cimarron". It was still being unloaded. We parked and waited, not really sure where to go or what to do. They continued unloading for hours, so weren't too concerned. We made lunch, and tried to chat with a couple of gringos who were waiting with their motorcycles, but they were as clueless as us. Coincidentally they, too, were from Seattle.

Ferry Pichilingue - Waiting for Loading - SportsmobileFerry Pichilingue - Cimarron

Some time after 3 PM, we noticed that some of the waiting cars had moved elsewhere. Geoff asked an official-looking guy walking around with a clipboard if it was time, and he said sure, drive on in. He took our tickets, but didn't bother check in our vehicle to see Laura, or who knows how many other people she could be smuggling hidden under the seats.

So we drove on. Now what? Our new motorcycle friends came on behind us, and we sat, waiting to see where we should park. Finally, a man came by and we asked where to go. "Up!" he said. "Up?" I asked? There was no ramp. It then became clear, as the truck in front of us pulled onto a semi-truck sized cargo elevator. We were headed up to the next floor.

Ferry - ElevatorFerry - Truck on ElevatorFerry Pichilingue - Sportsmobile

On the second floor of the ship, they had us squeeze our vehicles in as close as possible — within inches of each other. Going to be a full ferry? No, it was almost empty!

We packed up our things, pulled our pillows and some food, and prepared to leave our camper van. We were not allowed to go back in our vehicle once underway. This was the one rule we had been told, and there were lots of signs saying so. We breezed by a little room that was packed with seats and wandered around looking for the passenger area. It turned out that the little room with seats was it. We named it the "human cargo hold". Except for outside on deck, this stuffy little metal room was supposed to be our home for the next 18 hours, us and the 60 or so other passengers. No outside windows, but instead a small TV in the corner that would play mostly bad Jim Carrey films. Packed solid with seats, plenty of crying kids, and two overflowing bathrooms. We realized we were going to have to break the rules, and formulated a plan to sneak back into our van to sleep.

Ferry - Human Cargo Hold - Inside the Second Floor Parking AreaFerry - Human Cargo Hold - Snack Bar

We went upstairs and sat, watching the ferry being loaded with truck after truck, wondering how long it would take to fill the upper floor using the single elevator. At this point it was 5 PM — the ferry about to 2 hours late. Geoff had a beer in hand, ready to crack it open to celebrate our leaving, but had to wait. Even after the last truck was strapped into place (the ferry wasn't at all full), we still sat and sat. And sat. At this point, we pulled out our laptop computers and were amazed that we were able to check our email with a Wi-Fi signal from a nearby hotel. Over an hour later, we finally took off at 6:15 PM. This was going to be a very long night!

Ferry - Laura Geoff - Checking Email Wireless

We quickly noticed that we were not the only ones who realized sleeping in the human cargo hold would be miserable — we noticed others sleeping in their cars. Once the sun went down and we had left the harbor, we too snuck in our van. Relieved to be finally on our way, we slept very well that night.

The next morning we woke to loud music coming from the truck in front of us. Seemed like no one cared at all, actually, about who was in their vehicle. As the sun was up, we wandered around the boat to check out the view. Brown footed boobies flew in front of the boat, riding the ferry's air-wake, occasionally going off to dive for fish and then rushing back into position again. One young booby decided to take a break, and hitch a ride on the boat deck, but was quickly thrown back off by the ship's staff. Dolphins were spotted played in our wake. We could handle this! It was a gorgeous morning.

(According to Wikipedia, the name 'Booby' "is based on the Spanish slang term bubi, meaning 'dunce'. The name was given by Spanish sailors as these tame birds had a habit of landing onboard sailing ships where they were easily captured and eaten.")

Ferry - Boobies Using Ferry's Wake to GlideFerry - BoobyFerry - Booby (Photo by Laura)Ferry - Young Booby Lands on Deck, and Is Quickly Removed

Eventually we made it, arriving in Mazatlán by mid-morning.

Ferry - Arriving in MazatlánMazatlán - Open Top Volkswagen Taxi

[Looking for some information on the confusing Baja to Mazatlan ferry? bodeswell.org has some good recent information.]

(Our story continues on the mainland with Mexico Road Trip 2005, Part 2: Michoacan...)