On the road from La Bufadora
Christmas Eve day started at La Jolla campground. I met the couple I had seen the night before in a white van that was obviously decked out for car camping. Super nice people from British Columbia – Mike and Kelley. They work summers in construction and give themselves 4 months each winter to travel. That’s a good life plan imo. We got contact info. and I may met up with them later on the way down Baja. [Note: I am posting this on the 28th, and I am now traveling with Mike and Kelley for a few days.]
I knew I wanted to head to Parque Nacional Sierra de San Pedro Mártir. But I had to decide to take the normally traveled southern route, or the northern way – which goes back through Ensenada and across Highway 3 towads San Felipe, then has a spur that heads south. Here’s what google maps shows as options:
Note the lack of any distinction between either route – Google is all “up to you dude, but this one’s a 27 minutes faster, whatever bro, just sayin’”. I did find it a little weird that none of my guide books mentioned taking this route all the way to the National Park. We will talk about this more in the next post.
I also needed to go back north anyway to hit Wal-mart in Ensenda up for some things (note to self: do not buy the cheapest, lightest camping chair if you weigh 250 lbs.) and see if they had some kind of locking carrier for the top of my car. However, the nice Canadian couple had recommeded AutoZone instead, which seemed a lot more user-friendly than trying to get help choosing and installing a locking car carrier at Wal-Mart on Christmas Eve.
I went to AutoZone first – and they actually had a carrier that worked pretty well with my existing gas can set up. It was only $300 – and super bonus – the guy who helped me install it spoke near perfect English. I can’t say enough good things about AutoZone. Half the people in the parking lot were in the process of fixing their cars, and many were getting help from the AutoZone employees. Apparently they can call in traveling mechanics as well if you need one.
Wal-mart unfortunately did not have a camping chair, neither did the other Wal-mart across town. But I did manage to get some kind of folding kitchen stool thing that will work until I can find a proper camping chair. I know a chair doesn’t seem like the biggest deal – but my back is hurting and sitting on my cooler for hours just won’t work. Also when it gets dark at 5pm – I kind of want to sit and read for a few hours. Last night I ate, read for a while, then checked my phone – expecting to be about 9. It was 6:30. Camping in winter is weird. And then my chair back decided to become a recliner.
Folding kitchen stool thing in tow, I decided to YOLO it on the northern route and headed east on Mexico Highway 3. Since it was about 1:30 I knew there was no way I could make it to the National Park. I decided to head for something called Big Mike’s Sky Rancho which has the distinction of being one of only 3 items getting a big yellow highlighter treatment on the upper ¼ or so of my super-detailed Baja map.
My decade-old Baja book said something about this being a haven for off-roaders (which hey – I’m a bit of an off-roader). The iOverlander app (cool app that shows crowd-sourced camping info.) said they had rooms for $70 with meals and tent camping with showers for $10. This is more than I usually want to spend if I’m going to be out for 6 months. But given the lack of other options it was good enough, and looked like just the right distance to get there about dark. Actually the whole drive was like 90 miles. But google maps insisted it would take me 3+ hours. Hmmmm.
Almost immediately the city melted away into wide open spaces. The look is similar to the American Southwest – but just different enough that I knew I was somewhere else. A few areas have really cool sandstone rocks like they have at Joshua Tree. I passed up a chance to visit something called Cueva de Quesos (Cave of Cheeses). Google Maps still had me getting to my destination just about dark, so no time for side trips. I really want to know what is going on in the Cave of Cheeses though.
I made it to my turn-off, which as expected was a dirt road – which Google maps had me spending an hour for 20 miles (having already saved the map helped – as there was no cel coverage for most of this drive) The first part was very flat and I was like pshawww – Google maps doesn’t know I am in an F. J. Cruiser. But then the road got a lot worse, nothing really bad – but I wouldn’t have wanted to be in an RV. Oh yeah – the iOverlander app said the road to Big Mike’s was fine – but it’s the road after that was “true hardcore off-roading”. At the beginning of the dirt road I thought well ok – whoever wrote that is in an RV and they just couldn’t handle some bumpiness. But then as the road got pretty bumpy I thought – how bad is the second part (which I need to take to get to the National Park)? I am pretty impressed at anyone driving that in an RV. I hope their toilets didn’t slosh around too much.
Big Mike’s Sky Rancho
I finally pulled up at 5pm almost on the nose, right as the sun was going down. My fear on the whole drive was that it would be closed. But I figured worst case I would sleep in my car, or try another place that was about 10 miles back on the dirt road. My fantasy the whole drive down was that the place would have a bunch of 4x4ers still flushed from their day of off-roading. We’d hang out over a few beers and I’d get to join them the next day on some fun off-road trails that my FJ could handle.
But as I pulled up the place looked fairly deserted. So scratch that. I saw movement though so I knew someone saw me. A very nice man who spoke no English came up and we established that they did have rooms and did not have wifi (he looked at me like I was a little crazy on that). But mostly we failed to coversate for a few minutes. I knew I would be mad at myself at this point in the trip for not studying Spanish harder the last 6 months. And I am.
Finally he took me to another guy who spoke pretty good English. I got the feeling both of them thought it a little off that a solo male traveler showed unnanounced up at 5pm on Christmas Eve – when the only way to get there is a long bad dirt road or a much much worse dirt road. I guess I could have called ahead, but where’s the fun in that? Also it’s rare someone answers the phone at these kinds of places anyway.
I said I could stay in a tent or room – as I was just trying to be easy. But I figured I just wanted a room to recharge and relax. Also it was getting very cold. $70 as posted on iOverlander. But $35 if I didn’t want dinner or breakfast. $35 seemed kinda high for food, and I was fine with eating my REI freeze-dried rations another night. Although I know the point where I don’t want to look at those things again will come. So I figured I should probably save them for when I have no other options. Again I was just trying to be easy on them as I had a feeling I was the only guest in this sprawling resort that was clearly off-season. But I said yes to the food – sometimes my instincts treat me right.
I hung out in my room for a while. Oh yeah – all the rooms have racing stickers all over the windows. I finally figured out that the “4×4 off-roading” I thought I read about, was actually Baja racers. Duh. Apparently the Baja 500 comes right though here. I’m sure the place is jumping then.
At about 6:30, Jose, the guy who spoke pretty good English, showed up. He said his family was eating posole for Christmas Eve. I could have that or a rib-eye steak. First it took me a while to figure out he was saying rib-eye, then I thought he was telling me that both were on the menu and I said – sure that’s great. Then I realized I was to choose, and I said Christmas posole of course. He seemed to smile a bit at that.
I sat back on the bed and realized I just got invited to Christmas Eve dinner. It hadn’t really hit me yet that I was in the middle of nowhere on Christmas Eve. I had planned to call my Mom and family at our traditional Christmas Eve family gathering, but no cel phone + no wifi = not happening. I got more than a little emotional that this family invited me to partake in Christmas posole with them, when for all they know I’m some weird gringo psychopath on the run from something. I also remembered at the last minute to at least wear my jeans and try to look presentable (thanks Gramps).
The family was wonderful to me and the posole was amazing. The meat is pork, but reminds me of very succulent roast beef. At the end of the bowl when all the juices mixed together was the best. I was trying to be polite and eat slow. But at some point I saw the madre looking at my bowl, so I wolfed the rest down and got a second bowl. Even though I was profusely complimenting her cooking, I know seconds is always the best compliment. I think hominy expands in your stomach though – because I am still somewhat painfully full as I write this.
Then after dinner we went outside for the traditional Christmas fireworks – whirly gig things for the little girls – and legit cherry bombs for the adults. For days I kept wondering why there are so many explosions at night in Mexico. Now I know. I threw one but didn’t want to press my luck any more than that. I remember getting those fast fuses as a kid – where you have about a quarter-second to get rid of the firecracker. Losing a few fingers would be a suboptimal way to start my trip. I have some videos of the firecrackers as well, but as I am on the world’s slowest wifi at the moment, those will have to wait.
Tomorrow I get to find out just how gnarly the road to El Coyote is.