The best things in life

Most of this post is me messing around on “The Cape” of Baja – which from what I gather is everything south of La Paz. To get there from Bahia Concepcion on the Sea of Cortez, you actually have to criss-cross your way across Baja – almost to the Pacific Ocean side, then back to La Paz which is back on the Sea of Cortez.

We may have finally found our ‘boring drive’, because his is apparently the only pic I took during the drive to La Paz:

 

 

La Paz


I thought the drive would take longer – but as it turned out I had time to go to the ferry building in La Paz to get my ferry ticket and take care of my vehicle import permit (TIP). I decided to take the longer route through La Paz – which looked like a nice enough town with a waterfront with lots of gringos wandering around. Again I took no pics apparently. So here’s a delicious roadside taco I had earlier and forgot to post. (I have taken pics of approximately 80% of the tacos I’ve eaten so far.)

The Ferry terminal is actually way out of town to the point where I thought google maps must be confused again – as I figured it would be near the other boats. I was wondering how the peope get from town to way out here. Also there are zero signs to alert you that you are headed toward the ferry terminal. But then I saw a grey bus with a bunch of people dressed like ship’s officers. So I figured maybe I am on the right track. Then I saw a bunch of taxi-vans loaded with people. And finally I came up over a hill and saw a ferry the size of a cruise ship.

I’m really glad I figured out that drive, where to pull in, and got my TIP permit and ferry ticket ahead of time. As I had no idea how long any of that stuff was going to take. The TIP permit actually went super smooth as the woman spoke very good English. Buying the ferry ticket however was my first taste of trying to accomplish a complicated transaction with someone who speaks no English and my spotty Spanish (But soon to improve with my weeklong intensive class in Puebla.)

15 minutes minimum transaction time for each purchase. That’s ok – I’m on Mexico time 🙂

Anyway we muddled through it. I got a ticket for next Tuesday – which gives me 6 days to explore the Baja Cape/Los Cabos area. Ideally Sunday or Monday might have been better, as now I only have a few days to make it to Puebla for my 5-day Spanish intensive class. But it was either Saturday or Tuesday as the ferry only runs 3x per week. I also got a cabin because I heard if you don’t get one you have to sleep at the restaurant tables. And that didn’t sound fun. The car itself was about $130 and the cabin was $45.

The biggest sticking point at first was she kept saying Martes – and I completely spaced on the word for Tuesday. Argh. Right now my Spanish teacher Julia is probably reading this and saying to herself – “We went over that 20 times in class!” My memory for foreign word vocabulary sucks. Always has and it certainly isn’t getting any better as I get older.

However I had a funny moment that Julia should appreciate. In class to would teach us possesive pronouns, she would grab our pen and say “Mi pluma?” and we’d say “No! Mi pluma.” Then she’d grab her pencil and say “Tu lapiz?” And we’d say “No mi lapiz. Tu lapiz”. Etc. So at one point I realized I had probably stolen the ticket-girl’s pen, but she was too polite to ask for it back. I remembered back to class and said “Su pluma?” (I even remembered su instead of tu for formal vs. informal). She said “Si” and I had to say “No mi pluma. Su pluma.” She laughed. Julia – please tell the class that as I’m sure they will get a big kick out of it.

Ticket and TIP in hand, I grabbed a cheap hotel in La Paz as I was starting to smell myself from  days of camping out. However that’s not really an excuse, as there was a place with a cheap shower just down the road from where we were camping. So I need to start using those and stop wussing out and getting hotel rooms – or my trip will not be as long as I want. Also I have a bad habit of sleeping in and farting around until check out time – just because I can or something. And in this hotel checkout time was 1pm lol. It did have good internet though, so I finally got caught up on a bunch of stuff.

So having blown half the day in a hotel room, I headed out of La Paz – towards some interesting-looking places. But not before I stopped for some tacos. This place broke my rule of looking for places with a crowd. But I figured if the guy has the balls to put a flaming taco on his cart, I kind of have to try it. Also there was one taxi driver there. And they usually know what’s up.

The first taco was shredded lomo di cerdo (loin of pork) and it was amazing. My mouth is watering again just thinking about it.

I declined to put any salsa as I could tell it was already plenty spicy, although less spicy than the al pastor tacos in TJ – which win the spicy award so far. The second taco – pork in chile morita – was some kind of fatty pork that I didn’t like as much.

I should have tried the Cabeza (pork head I think?) or the chicharron. Next time I will ask them to show each meat and pick what looks tasty.

The cab driver must have used some salsa because his nose was running and eyes watering. I chugged a big bottle of coke, which I didn’t really want but it was the only thing he had to drink and once I opened his cooler to look I felt like I had to buy something (I am bad with this).

 

La Ventana (and surrounds)


Gut bomb secured – I headed out of town towards a point called Bahia de los Sueños – because it looked like an interesting spot the the map. Also the cave explorer in me wanted to start at the northeast end of the roughly round cape, and work my way around clockwise. The first place I got to was a nice little beach with a restaurant and some kind of cabanas. It was pretty windy. I then drove on a fairly nice dirt road to the northern point which comes to the end at a new and old lighthouse, and an almost deserted beach. I got out, took some pics, and walked around a little

At some point while I was out on the beach testing the water temperature – a guy in a loaded down Toyota pickup pulled up next to my car and got out with his dog. I walked toward my car and he waved hello. Enter Crazy Collin. We talked for a bit and he suggested we drive on the beach, since we now had two 4WD vehicles. IE – if one gets stuck the other can pull him out.

The sand was pretty fluffy and I wondered just what it would take to get stuck out there. Also the whole idea about preserving momentum is out the window with that sand. As soon as I let off the gas the car instantly stopped. So it’s pretty much all about tire flailing power. Also if our rope/towing strap isn’t long enough for one car to be on relative solid ground, that’s not going to do much good – as neither car will have traction to pull the other out.

By the way – stuff like this is one of the big reasons I like doing this trip. There are so many new places where you actually have to think for yourself, use common sense, use your wits etc. – from 4x4ing, to deciding what you bring, to staying out of trouble. Most of us don’t get that out of our normal lives – unless we do something like stunt coordinator – or work with our hands and have to improvise. Humans weren’t made to live their lives on auto-pilot imo. I feel more alive when I have to think on my feet. I guess you could google “how to drive in beach sand” and find some youtube video. But really.

So we parked the cars on the beach and hung out for a bit while Collin played with his dog – probably the mellowest pure bred black lab I’ve ever met. We grabbed some shells and coral that were literally just the ones within arms’ reach. I took a pic – just so I could post on FB later and make my friend Kim envious.

Eventually we drove back to the lighthouses to take some sunset shots.

Collin figured out you could actually climb up into the old one. It was a bit sketchy but solid. I took a few pics from the top and went down. Collin tried to Facebook Live from up there. Not sure if it worked. At some point a local on a quad-runner came and checked us out. I think just to make sure we weren’t there to raid his lobster traps.

Collin said he was going to come back and camp on that beach, but he had a hotel for that night in La Paz. He had to fly back to Tijuana the next day because he didn’t get his Mexican Visa (FMM) the first time through. Heh – more like FML am I right? #UPTOP

Anyway once the Visa is sorted out, Collin is planning to move to his boat in Puerto Vallarta. We exchanged info. and he offered to let me stay on the boat for a night or two – which I might take him up on after my ferry lands in Mazatlan.

Once the sun went down I drove up to a town on the other side of the little bay where the lighthouse was – called La Ventana. Apparently La Ventana is some kind of kite-surfer mecca and they had flooded the town. I found this out from a local ex-pat when I stopped to get the only street-food I could find – a very tasty bacon-wrapped hot dog with cheese and pico di gallo – and the most amazingly soft bun I’ve ever had.

He also told me about a free camping beach just north of town. It had been really windy at the lighthouse, and camping in the wind isn’t the most fun. But also I figured the hotels must all be booked with kite-surfers. I asked the local about the wind, as it had died down, and he told me it will stay that way until about 11am the next day. Ok, perfect. How nice of the wind to be that predictable.

I drove through town, found the beach and set up my tent just in time to see a pretty spectacular moonrise.

It was warm enough out that I left the cover off my tent and slept under the moon and stars. I woke up in the morning to a gorgeous sunrise.

I can’t really put into words how amazing it is to wake up to your own little show like that on a mostly deserted beach. There’s no way to convey it in blog form that I know of. The only thing I know for sure is the dozen or so other people camped out there were all experiencing the same unverbalizable joy that I was.

It reminds me of the time my friends and I wandered into a bar in Nice, France – to two Americans putting on an amazingly talented freestyle rap show while a 6′ tall blonde in high heels did cartwheels and other incredibly nimble acrobatics within a very small space in front of them. I immediately realized I could never possibly begin to explain how random, bizarre, and cool this scene was to anyone back home (this was pre-cel phone camera or Facebook days). I think my friends all felt the same thing – but at least each of us knew that the other knew.

I thought about my plan to ‘treat myself’ to a few days at a resort in San Jose del Cabo and realized I don’t even want that. I want more of this. I had a moment of clarity. Wow – the best things in life really are free (or dirt cheap). It’s not just a bland cliché.

I also had a another epiphany about what I want to do with this blog. I’d like to write a Bill Bryson-style travel memoir when I get back and have time to research the shit out of the local history, ecology, culture, etc. I love how he mixes humor in with vast amounts of really interesting informative facts. Maybe mine will be like that but also multi-media. Anyway that should keep my brain busy for a while.

I stopped and got some coffee in La Ventana, then headed out shortly after dawn, with a rough plan to work my way around the eastern edge of the cape.

I’m not sure if I was supposed spray this on myself, in my mouth, or on my food.

There’s no way I can see a road that hugs that much coastline and not check it out. After several whiffs, I found one town on the northeast cape that google maps recognized and plugged it in. As is it’s wont – Google soon had me headed down a dirt road that got sketchier and sketchier. I stopped for a bit to get my bearings then realized I was actually on a road my map had as red – which is one step up from grey. The impassible road by Mike’s Sky Rancho was grey. But I’ve been on some other grey roads that weren’t bad.

I love elephant trees

It quickly became apparent that – um no, this is not a red road. Maybe it was before the last hurricane or something. From what I gather, hurricanes seem to blow far southern Baja  every 5 or 10 years and re-arrange all the beaches and plenty of other stuff. There are arroyos everywhere – which are dry canyons that fan out into dry deltas all the way to the beach. Except for hurricanes – when they become raging torrents flooding down out of the mountains.

Either that or the person who did the Southern Baja portion of the map is a lot more generous about road conditions than the person who did the Northern portion.

I saw a decent turn-around spot, and came very close to turning around. Not because the road was too sketchy, but because I wasn’t sure if I wanted 25 more KM of jostling around – although some of that was out on the coast which shouldn’t be too bad (at least assuming I was on the road on the map I thought I was on – which isn’t always a given). But I could see I was getting close to a ridge where it looked like I should be able to see the Sea of Cortez. So I pushed on and was greated to a nice view of the water, and the road didn’t look too bad headed back down.

Although it was a lot winder than it looked and went into a deep canyon, which semed to be guarded by legions of angry red wasps, before finally emerging to the coast.

And this is the scene I was greeted with:

Maybe it was the work to get there, but at that moment I decided this is the most scenic drive I’ve ever done. And I’ve done way more than my share of scenic drives. I literally just had to get out of the car and gape at it for 5 minuntes – until a wasp flew by and herded me back into my car.

The drive went on like that for about 10km – just incredible.

Sand burrs! No bueno for dogs or flip-flops.

Finally I came down to a couple of actually populated houses, and down all the way to a beach that looked like a great spot to spend the day snorkeling.

Buzzard Beach

I took the coast road for a while past a super luxe housing enclave called Punta Pescadaro, and some other not quite as luxe compounds. Towards the end the clouds got really crazy so I had to take some pics. I’ve never seen clouds like this. It looks like a cat scratched the sky.

 

Santiago


Instead of heading all the way down towards San Jose del Cabo, I decided to head over to Santiago, as I heard you could possibly arrange some guided hikes into the mountains here. From what I heard the trails are a real mess and hard to find and if you go too far in w/o a guide you will probably get lost. Even with GPS only one of the trails is marked at all.

 Very photogenic local iglesia in Santiago

Mural across from the church

I stopped at a place called the Palomar Hotel which I had heard is a good way to get a hold of the local trekking company (Baja Aventuras I think). Before I even went in I met a couple women who live down there. We got to talking about the crazy drive I had just taken. She agreed that no, this is not a ‘red road’. She said she did it once, then marked it “death road” on her map to make sure she’d never do it again. But mind-bogglingly – she did it in a Ford Fiesta. I cannot imagine the road was as bad when she did it as what I just did. But either way I told her she should get her name on a plaque.

She introduced me to a local gentleman who knew the guides and outfitters. I said I really just wanted a hard butt-kicking day hike, or possibly overnight if we could leave today. However nothing really gets arranged that fast in Mexico. I think the guide was out on another hike. I decided just to keep exploring on my own.

At this point not too far out of town I got my first attack of traveler’s runs. It became obvious that I wasn’t going to make it to any form of civilization so I found and out of the way spot and dug a hole in the sandy dirt J I also had a momentary brain fart as I decided to book a hotel in Cabo (but not a resort) for 3 nights. I figured if I was going to get sick at least I’d have a nice room. But it turned out I was fine once business was taken care of. I thought back to what I’d eaten and I bet anything it was the ice in my iced latte that morning. Even at a fancy coffee shop I guess ice is made with local water. No more of those!

At this point I thought I passed the Tropic of Cancer. But it’s actually 23 degrees, 30 minutes. Which is 23.5 degrees. DUH! 

It was still only mid day so I decided to head back out to the coast to check out some kind of eco-park the “death road” woman had mentioned. It’s weird with these eco-[fill in the blank] things out here – you never know if it’s going to be a real park with some kind of signage, or a resort, or nothing. In this case it turned out to be a resort of “eco cabañas” or something. But it had some signs about the local nature and mangrove swamps which were interesting. I trekked a little more down the coast, then found another crooked road to get back to Hwy 1 – since continuing south would just yield fancy resorts and housing compounds. There’s a little town in the middle that I think they don’t get too many gringos passing through, because the local kids playing soccer all stopped and stared at me as I drove by. I waved but they just stared some more then continued their game.

 

San Jose del Cabo


As soon as I got to the hotel (Hyatt Place) I regretted it. The place was fine but just bleh. But it turned out to be a good home base for a few days I guess. After two weeks in Baja – it was weird seeing the staff hustle and fall over themselves trying to check me in as fast as possible. They seemed really stressed out. I’m like guys – I’m on Mexico time – no rush. I felt bad – did the Americans do this to you? Demanding instant service instead of just adapting a tiny bit to another culture? Boo. I took a shower, relaxed a bit, then went out on foot to explore old town San Jose del Cabo – which I’ve heard good things about.

I hadn’t eaten much all day so I decided to look for a food cart amidst all the hotels and fancy restaurants. I saw this food cart a half a block off the hotel strip and hoped it was tacos.

Hmmm – not sure if want

One of my goals goal for this trip is to never be handed a menu. I find it so involved and time consuming. Just let me shove a couple tacos into my face and go back to exploring. I’ve actuality lost a few lbs so far because I pretty much just eat a medium breakfast, then some trail mix or something for lunch, then maybe a few tacos in the late afternoon/early eve. It’s my personal ideal travel meal plan.

Anyway – to my disappointment the food cart did not have tacos. They had a bunch of fried stuff like churros, fried plantains, and corn dogs. I decided to get a corn dog and continue on my walk – as it’s small enough that it’s not going to kill me.

The person in front of me got this crazy looking thing in a Tostitos bag that looked like it was about 2000 calories. I had to ask about it – Tostitos Locos (also called Tosti-locos). Luckily the guy spoke enough English to tell me it was really good and I should just try it.

I almost still got a corn dog, because it looked so huge and I didn’t know what half that stuff is. But at the last minute pulled the trigger. My plan was to have a few bites then pitch the rest if it was too crazy. But It was nothing like I expected – it had cucumbers, jicama and peanuts and other veggies and other stuff I need to look up – in a tomato sauce  (edit: Google translate doesn’t know what most of that stuff is either. I did find out one of them is pork skin. So if you don’t dig on swine ask for it w/o puerco). The only carbs in the whole thing were the Tostitos. I felt light and refreshed and continued on my walk. It was the perfect dinner. 

New rule for this trip: if someone tells me “just try it” or anything similar, I have to do so. I don’t have to eat all of it but I at least have to try it. And even if it sucks you still have a good story.

The other lesson is even in the middle of gringo-land you can find some super cheap interesting tasty local food. Just follow the service workers. They have to eat too. I guarantee what they’re having is usually more tasty and always more interesting than whatever overpriced garlic shrimp thing the gringos are sitting down 2 hours for. Nothing against garlic shrimp or sitting down to a nice meal – it’s just not my thing for this trip. I have to eat cheap if I want to be out here for a year.

Luckily when it comes to local food, the best things are often the cheapest. Look at BBQ in the US. Yes you can get expensive BBQ now. But back in the day when high society only wanted sirloin steaks, local African Americans took the “trash cuts” of meat and turned it into America’s great culinary art form. Pretty much every culture has a similar rags to riches cuisine story.

Belly secured, I kept on to old town San Jose – which I was told was a 45-minute walk. But I wanted the exercise. About halfway there I saw a place that said “San Jose del Cabo’s best fish tacos”. Well that sounds like a bit of a challenge. Apparently belly was not 100% secured by Tosti-locos. So I stopped and had a beer and a couple grilled fish tacos. They were pretty damn tasty. I still haven’t really learned how I like them dressed though. 

I throw different stuff on each time – usually slaw, white or orangish cream sauce, lime, maybe salsa. It’s hit or miss so far. I do invariably load them up so much that eating w/o making a gigantic mess on the table and in my beard is pretty much impossible. My strategy is to sit or stand where no one has to look directly at me while I eat, wolf the tacos down as fast as possible, then begin  the beard and mustache cleanup process. Average cleaning supply tally is about 10 napkins.

After round 2 – I made it old town – which was bustling. Apparently I was still hungry from my walk or something because I saw a huge line for tamales and decided if it’s that good I need to check it out. In line I met these two – Peter and his buddy Jose, the self-described “Anthony Bourdain of Cabo”. Ok then.

The tamale was delicious. I guess this is big eating day. Gotta do it every now and then. I’ve been also doing fasting days to make up for big eating days and lose some weight in general. It seems to be working so far. Keeps my body confused enough that it doesn’t go into full blown conserve fat mode. You’ve heard of muscle confusion, now try gut confusion™.

Turns out there was an art walk that weekend – and tons of galleries were open with amazing art work. Like serious stuff – not cheap. We wandered around talking about food, culture and some of the profoundly boorish behavior Americans put on display in Cabo. I officially apologized on behalf of all Americans, and he accepted. So you’re all off the hook. Just watch it from now on. :p Canadians you’re on your own.

S

A couple of kids were b-boying on the Zocalo (main square).

We also tried to get into La Lupita – which apparently some kind of super fancy taco place – where people were dressed up and talking about reservations. Which just seems wrong. But apparently they are amazing. (I’ve been googling but can’t find the place yet.) But it was too crowded for even Jose’s street cred to get us a table. We all decided to call it a night and I caught a cab back to my hotel.

The next day I went back up towards Santiago to see if I could find any trails and maybe hike on them just a bit. I was trying to hit a canyon on the map that the man at Hotel Palermo had given me. But it’s really tricky to find these things coming out of town – as there are a bunch of dirt roads fanning out in all directions. While google maps knows the roads – it doesn’t seem to know any destinations on the roads I want. I did know something called Fox Canyon. Which seemed to line up with the paper map I had. So I pointed google at that and let it go.

Turns out I was 1 canyon south, which is the place that I was told has a waterfall and an easy hike. Oh well I’m here now I might as well explore. This eco-park (Rancho Ecológico Sol de Mayo) was actually much more like say a state park in the US. It had a $5 entrance fee to see the waterfall – which given the fact that there might be a half-dozen of them in all of Baja, didn’t seem bad. AND – as it turned out there was even a hiking trail that went down the river past the waterfall. Woo hoo.

Not the most common site in Baja

The waterfall was cool. People were swimming in it and cooling down. But because of the mountain looming overhead to the west, the sun disappeared about 3pm. I continued on the hiking trail and came to a totally unexpected deciduous forest.

I guess this is one of those things where instead of leaves falling off in winter, they fall off in the dry season. Really weird to see a deciduous forest with cactus all interspersed.

Also I saw a very fast little snake (not pictured because it was too fast), a couple of toads, a lizard – which you’d think would be all over Baja but I’ve barely seen any. And there are these small quail-like birds that mostly run along the ground, but then decide to take off and scare the crap out of you as you walk down the trail. Nature did not bless the quail with stealth mode in flight.

After the hike, I had a fun little adventure on the way back to my hotel. I decided to wing it w/o google maps, since I could see the hotel and knew my way around by now. (“Don’t be a slave to google maps, mannnn – get out and explore on your own.” Ok random internet dude from the Pan American Traveler’s group on FB.) I turned right and went down the main highway to where I could have thrown a rock and hit the hotel to the left. Welp, turns out you need to take the roundabout a ways back to come in the back way – or you’re headed to Cabo San Lucas. No problem I will just turn around. Hmmm traffic looks a little backed up coming the other way and there’s no way to turn around.

Finally I saw some signs for “retorno” – but I was looking for a place to turn around in the middle of the road – like I had seen in other places. It took me a couple retornos to realize you actually had to go right and up over the highway. By that time I had driven about 10km of completely stopped traffic coming that other way – that went from 3 lanes, to 2 lanes, to 1 lane which also had bus stops and stuff coming in to SJC. I pulled over and checked and there were literally no roads to get around this, short of driving all the way (30km miles or so) to Cabo San Lucas and taking the auto-pista (freeway – usually toll) back. So that’s what I did. Not sure if I was any faster but I wasn’t going to sit in stopped traffic for an hour+. Craziness.

So after that adventure, I got back to my hotel about an hour and a half later than planned and decided to skip going out – as I was tired and my feet were pretty sore. I did however head back out for some more Tosti-Locos, which were just as delicious the second time.

The next day my heel was even more sore. My heel had been sore off and on from all the hiking I was doing to try to get in shape for my April Patagonia trip. I was hoping to at least maintain on this trip so far. But hiking has been hard to come by. So since I couldn’t hike like I wanted, I would just eat a lot less and try to lose some weight – which will help for hiking just as much if not more. And believe it or not I have lost about 15 lbs. I know I post a lot about food – but a lot of days I’m not eating much at all. So far so good on that.

However it’s starting to worry me that even though I’ve barely hiked – apparently a couple hours walking around on pavement (in very good shoes for it) and then a 2 hour hike mostly on dirt the next day – is enough to make my left heel really sore again. I started googling and apparenlty I have something calle “Policeman’s Heel” – which is basically a bruised heel that won’t heal. Great. The only treatment is to stay off of it. Although you can tape your heel which will help compress the soft tissue and give it more cushion. I also got some tape various pads I’m going to try. The video has an example of how to tape up your heel properly.

NAILED IT

It seems like just the pressure of resting on the floor of my car while I drive is bothering it. So I am trying to hang my heel off the back edge of my flip-flop and rest it on a rolled up sock. I always forget though and end up putting pressure on it. Even now as I write this I am laying on a bed, but my heel is down and I can feel it starting to hurt a little. Argh.

So bottom line is no more walking around on pavement for hours for a while. Which sucks because one of my favorite things to do when I get to a new town is walk around on foot and explore everything. Hopefully I can baby it enough until my week in Puebla where I won’t be driving or moving around much. If it wasn’t for the photo trip in April – where it’s hard hikes for like 3 out of every 4 days – I wouldn’t be as worried about it. I really need to be healed by then.

So I decided to spend Saturday indoors – catching up on all my pictures from the iphone as well as the Nikon, catching up on the blog, working out in the hotel gym and oh yeah… what else did I have planned? The Chiefs playoff game! Yay!

Moving on. The next day I headed back out to hopefully hook up with Mike and Kelley one more time. I was excited to get back into my dusty tent and out of the sterile hotel room. The last text I got from them said they were camped at a place called San Pedrito, a little south of Todos Santos.

 

Cabo San Lucas


Oh yeah – first I took a little detour into Cabo San Lucas. Just for giggles I decided to point google maps to Señor Frogs – as it was also the only bar I could remember from when Grace and I went to Cabo a few years ago. After some effort, I found a paid parking lot – parked and bought some tape for my heel at a farmacia for like $7 lol. These farmacias exist only to sell viagra and vicodin to gringos. I think every thing else is priced *not* to move.

I figured I might watch some of the Sunday playoff games there and post on Facebook that I was at the choadiest place on earth – just to make my buddy Hali happy. However Señor Frogs was a) dead and b) didn’t even seem to have TVs. There were a few tourists drinking those 2’ high frozen drinks and that was about it. Also the hawkers all around that area were really aggressive – trying to sell fishing trips and everything else. A few other nearby bars had no TVs either. I wondered how can all these Americans be running around and no football for them to watch? I finally saw one little bar with football on, but decided just to get the hell out of there instead. 20 minutes in CSL was plenty. That part anyway. I’m sure there are better parts somewhere.

 

Todos Santos / Cerritos / San Pedrito


I’d heard a lot of good things about Todos Santos, so I wanted to check it out. The town had a decent # of tourists – but they seemed to be mostly the hippy/arty types. Or maybe those were locals. But the place had such a much more laid back vibe in every way than either of the Cabos. Also you can just park – anywhere! I walked around like one block on my taped up heel, then headed back out. I stopped off on my way out of town at a place I’d seen on the way in – for carnitas tacos – which I had yet to try on this trip.

Turned out to be the spiciest thing yet in Mexico. The salsa anwyay. Which to be fair it basically advertises itself as a bubbling cauldron from hell. But I thought it looked more interesting than the other salsas – with little chunky bits. I only put a little salsa on the tacos thank goodness. But that was enough to set my mouth on fire. And burn its way out the next day. 😀

I pointed google at San Pedrito – and for the 3rd time this trip found Mike and Kelley’s white van with car carrier. Oh yeah – on the way in to camp, I saw a road that seemed to go straight up the hill. It beckoned. I told it I’ll be back.

When I got to their camp site, a neighbor told me they were out surfing. I checked out the beach – which seemed to be fairly hopping with what in a past life I might have called “dirt hippies”. But in this context are basically “grungy surfers”. Not that they were ugly in any way. Of all the beaches we’d been to so far – this one definitely had the hottie surfer dudes and dudettes running around. If male or female tatted-up surf hotties is your thing, this is the place to be.

The camp also had a nice little rustic bar, so I decided to plop down and have a few beers. I met a few local Mexican girls hanging out for the day, and got to practice my Spanish a bit while they laughed at me. I told them about my experience buying the ferry ticket. I explained that at one point when I had to go to my car. I looked up how to say “It’s me again” for when I got back. My translate app told me to say “Vuelve a mi”. The ferry ticket girl laughed so I thought I had done well. Well apparently this means “I am back to myself again” or something non-sensical. So another good laugh was had.

Mike eventually emerged from the water and somehow spotted me under the bar’s palm frond awning. We hung out that night and had a few beers while we watched the surfer bros strut around with the weird chest-out waddle that a lot of them seem to have. It reminds me of a monkey when they walk on two legs.

As it got close to sundown, most of the camp migrated over to the beach and just sat there.

Last surfer of the day – gingerly working his way over the rocks in the dark

Once again all having that communal “holy crap this is the life” moment. Again I can’t really put it to words, but up and down the beach – we were all having it. There’s a thing called “Jimmy Buffet syndrome” – where middle-aged American men dream of escaping to Cabo or somewhere. I can’t imagine the tourist throngs of Cabo would be much of an escape – even if you’re living on a boat. But I feel like this place, and places like it around here, are the real spiritual epicenter of that fantasy. Or at least if I’m back in the states at some point dreaming about chucking it all – it will be for a place like this.

The next day we hung out until the sun got high enough that our cars could no longer provide a shady spot. Then we went over to Cerritos (auto square not found) beach to check it out and swim/surf. The beach is really nice but a little more built up. Also the occasional hawker came by with jewerly or something to sell – but they were very mild. I really wanted a tamale hawker to come by though as I had barely eaten anything.

The only vendors on the whole beach were two ice cream carts that the operators were having a devil of a time pushing around in the sand. There was one “exclusive beach club” at the end, which presumably is where the people of quality who stay at the big hotel on the point go to experience the beach but not have to mingle with riff-raff like us. Another fancy palapa resort in the middle did seem to have an actual open restaurant. But it looked pretty fancy and pretty slow And there were a bunch of people lounging around in nice white linens and lots of jewelry and fancy shades. I determined that if the Kardashians came to Cerritos beach this is where they’d stay.

I decided to give surfing a try for the first time in my life. I went out the first time with one of Mike’s boards – which are 7’ I think. I couldn’t sit on the thing as it would pretty much just sink. Even paddling on it was very tricky to keep my balance. I know some of this is because I’m super-noob. But also I don’t think this board is built for 250 lbs. I caught some waves ok, but when I got to my knees the board was more than a foot under water. It was fun though.

Big guy… with a little board

When I walked down to check out the vendors, I had seen surfboard rental. So I walked in and told them to give me the biggest beginner board they had – which turned out to be a big purple 9’ soft top. Perfect. I headed back out twice with that board and had an absolute blast. I never got fully standing, but I got pretty close. The second time out I figured out where the waves were breaking – about 50 yards offshore. You could walk out the whole way except for occasional sinkholes in the sand. That was where I caught my best waves.

The first time I really caught it, everything went from really frothy to quiet, and I thought the wave had passed me by again. But then I realized “Holy shit I’m actually out in front of this thing and riding it”. Like a boogie-board, but nonetheless I’ve never caught a wave that well with a boogie-board. So once I got my wits about me, I was able to get to my knees. Then by the time I started to stand up, I had ridden the wave half way to shore and it was starting to peter out. I was able to at least get on my feet, and have the board wobble one way, then the other, then the other (as opposed to just shoot out to one direction). So I call that a victory!

I definitely want to try it again as soon as I can – which might be El Salvador. I’m going to look into laid back surf camps where I can maybe get some lessons and they’ll tolerate a beginner. Then we’ll sit around the fire and talk surf-lingo of course.

After surfing I was exhausted and famished – having eaten only some ice cream all day. I see why surfers are in good shape usually. Also maybe why they have that certain walk – as some muscles in my lower back are giving me that “I am sore because I have never been used before” feeling.

I decided to go back to Todos Santos and plop down for some tacos and a ceviche tostada.

Perfect afternoon and we got a bonus singing performance.

I got back to the camp in time for sunset and watched as the last surfers of the day called it, then struggled to get over the rocks. Oh yeah – I came up with a theory that you can tell how alpha a surfer dude is by how much butt-crack they show while doing the surfer strut/waddle around camp. 2” seems to be beachmaster-level.

On the way back from the beach I saw the Mad Max vehicle again (3rd time this trip) camped right next to us. They’re a super friendly couple from San Francisco, just running it down to Baja for its maiden voyage. They call it Thunderdome – lol! I got to see some of the inner workings of that  thing – truly impressive. I asked how long it took to build. “Oh about a month”. Riiiiiight.

The next day I hung around for a while and managed to take an outdoor shower – so I at least I wouldn’t be all stinky for the ferry. I said my goodbyes to Mike and Kelley for the 4th and final time for a bit anyway. But I’m sure I will see them again – in Whistler, LA or maybe out on the road somewhere.

Mike and Kelley are two of the most genuinely nice people I’ve ever met. I am eternally thankful to have met them on the second day of my trip, when I was still feeling pretty overwhelmed by it all. It was nice having them as an anchor to continually meet up with after my own explorations, and to be introduced to multiple slices of Baja surf culture in a way I’d never have gotten on my own. Thank you both from the bottom of my heart, and we will meet again!

Sadly, Mike ate something bad and died on my last day in Baja. Kelley and I buried him in the arroyo – so he could be swept out to sea with the next hurricane – as was his wish.

On the way out of town I looked at that road that went straight up the hill. I remembered the Sylvester the Cat cartoon – “If I doo’d it, I get a whuppin’ … I doo’d it.” The only real tricky part was the first 20 feet or so was super steep and had a big pothole right where the left tire wanted to go. I saw a set of fresh tracks that made it up that far then stopped. So I decided to head far left into the bushes, in order to straddle the pothole.

Unfortunately on the crux portion I lost video a little, as I was occupied with trying to keep my line. After that it was pretty smooth sailing, and the view was quite nice from up there.

You can see how rustic this camp is. In 10 years it may be all built up like Cerritos. Seems to be a common pattern.

I got to La Paz ahead of time and decided to try an obviously popular fish taco place.

Ordering and knowing where to pick up your food was confusing, but the food was very tasty. The fish taco and taco dorado (golden taco = some kind of fried thing) were very good.

But again the ceviche tostadas were the star of the show. I need to eat more ceviche. It’s so much lighter and less acidic down here than what I’m used to in the states.

Ok, time to say goodbye to Baja and get on the ferry for the mainland.

 

I’m going to title my travel memoir “Unnamed Road”.

2 Bahias, 1 Cove

On the road from Catavina


I have completely lost track of the day of the week. Also a perma-grin is beginning to set in. These two things could conceivably be correlated. The only reason I even look at the time is when I’m driving to figure out where I’ll be by dark. Otherwise I am completely at the rhythms of the sun.

(I also haven’t eaten a Tums in over 2 weeks – something I was addicted to for 15 years or more. I’m not drinking very much coffee – is the only main difference I can think of. Maybe it’s the acid. Either that or those mega-spicy al-pastor tacos in TJ ripped me a new gut lining or something.) 

I still have some guilt about leaving my country when there are so many things at home we need to fight against and for. But I’ve also come to realize  that a lot of this stuff is just artfully-designed noise. It’s hard to know which daily outrage is going to turn into something real until it happens. That seems to be the attitude of most people down here I’ve talked to. They aren’t sucked into the daily noise machine like a lot of us are in the US. They have their own problems to deal with. Also I worked hard for years to save for this trip and me getting further into the mega rut I was in while becoming a miserable sod isn’t going to help anyone anyway.

Ok, enough navel-gazing. On with the adventure.

I decided the next day I wanted to go see Bahia (bay) de los Angeles – as it had a lot of icons around it on my map – which means it must be an interesting place. So I drove with Mike and Kelley to the turnoff – then said goodbye for now.

The road out has an incredible boojum tree forest, along with all the other crazy cacti.

Boojum (sirio) trees – crazy

On the way in I saw a few people walking along the highway. I worried at first that maybe their car broke down or something. But it was obvious they were prepared for the walk with plenty of sun shade, and not distressed or anything. Further up I saw a bunch more people walking, and some support vehicles on the side of the road.

I drove past and stopped to take some pics a little ways up. One of the walkers was coming up to me so I asked what they were doing. As luck would have it he spoke very good English and told me they were part of this local hiking group called Senderismo (which I have been trying to google, but no luck because apparently senderismo means trekking).

They hike from the Pacific Ocean to the Sea of Cortez every year – which takes them 3 days. I want to do it with them next year if I am back in LA (assuming I can ever find their website). Later I saw them celebrating in Bahia de los Angeles at dinner.

Gourds growing on the side of the road
The approach to Bahia de los Angeles

 

Bahia de los Angeles


I grabbed the first hotel I could find which said it had wifi – as I wanted to take a nice proper shower and work on the blog for a bit. Sadly the wifi turned out to be almost completely non-functional. So much for working on the blog. I sat there at 9:30am wondering if I should just leave. No that’s silly. I took a nap for a bit, then a nice shower, then drove out to explore some.

I landed back near my hotel at a nice restaurant which had a delicious local fish special and more importantly – reasonably good wifi for the first time in 2 days.

Tasty fish with a view

I wound up talking to multiple other travelers – including some people who were bicycling across the “Baja Divide” in rigs that look like this:

That apparently has a tent, sleeping bag, water,and food somewhere.

Very impressive. I think they may win the Baja toughness award so far. Either them or the sit down bikes, who have all that plus baking in the sun. But they’re not on dirt.

I talked a bit to another couple, Reid and  Logan, who were there with their two young kids. Turns out they did the same drive I did – 4 years ago! They are the first official other “overlanders” I’ve met on the trip. This is their website. Reid told me the worst problems he had on the entire trip was coming back across the US border.  That made me feel pretty good and was exactly what I needed to hear at that moment. I really appreciated him asking me about my trip and taking the time to give me all the big picture wisdom he could think of.

Someone’s crumbling dream home on the bay – I bet there’s an interesting story to go with it
CWIDT?

Eventually I headed out and got some nice shots of the crazy desert foliage at sunset. This album has some shots from various places: 

Holy cow the chollas out there were even more evil than they are in the states. I wore my leather boots and jeans but still had multiple skin-piercing incidents with them. You not only had to avoid the cactii – but little sections of them had fallen off and were lying all over the ground – which is how they reproduce.

Can you spot the little pendejito cholla babies all over the ground here? Look closely.

So as mom and dad cactus sat by as proud parents – I would kick one foot into a baby cholla section laying on the ground – which would then get stuck to the front of my boot. Then on the next stride, it would transfer from the front of my boot to the  back of my opposite pant leg. On a really good stride – the cholla piece would embed into my calf. Then I would have to first yank the cholla out of my leg using my jeans, then very delicately pull it out of my jeans by yanking on the opposite spines. Luckily the microscopically-barbed cholla spines haven’t evolved as well to stick into jeans as they have into mammal flesh.

Several spines even pierced through the thick leather in my boot, into my foot. I finally learned that I can look at stuff for potential photos, or I can walk, but I cannot do both at the same time. When walking, all visual senses must be focused on not stepping into cholla orphans – which I came to call ‘evil little assholes’. I can’t even imagine trying to move around out there at night.

After my prickly photo shoot, I headed back into town to get some food. First I tried my luck  I ordered a few tacos. But as the restaurant I had been too earlier was completely full with the walking group, everyone had gravitated over to the taco stand and backed that up as well. I managed to communicate enough that it was no problem as I was in no hurry. I’m on Mexico time now.

There was one large group of dirt-bikers who were ahead of me waiting for tacos and avidly in the middle of the mandatory “drink beers while we review and summarize the days’ riding” phase. I listened to some of their lingo, thinking back to the surf camp kids. At one point a young European motorcyclist appeared to ask them questions. Weirdly, the kid wouldn’t take off his helmet as he talked to them. Maybe because the part of his face that was showing looked like he was about 16 years old. I dunno.

He spoke almost very tight English, and was eiher oozing with confidence or trying really hard to be perceived as holding his own. I couldn’t tell which but either way I admired his chutzpah. He was basically asking about trails they had just been on – which they were generally adivising him against given the fact that he was on his own and didn’t have quite the right bike (a fully loaded KLR for anyone who’s interested). He was pushing back and trying to prove his readiness “I am self-sufficient. I have a tent and food and water.” At one point he broke out this gem: “Ya, someone said you might not want to go that way it’s really tough. And I am like – ya it’s supposed to be tough, it’s a motorcycle. If I wanted easy I might as well get a VW van.”

So there you have it VW van people – dirt-bikers look down on you. Now you know. Although for the record everyone else at that table had driven their dirt bike down on a trailer and were staying at a nice hotel. Also I’d like to hear the bicycle people chime in “Oh you think that’s tough? Try doing the same thing on foot power.” Again – I think they win toughness award so far. Next to the locals who actually scratch out a living out here of course.

The only thing that slowed the Euro kid down a bit was when they told him a big chunk of the route was “beach sand”. Eventually he thanked them and left, then showed up a few minutes later with a couple Pacifico jugs that they were drinking – offered as thanks for the semi-snide advice. Good job kid – major dude move. At that point a couple of the dirt-bikers went down to inspect his bike and offer more advice.

I finally got my tacos which were again quite tasty. Although as I write this I think I actually forgot to pay – ARGHH!! One thing in Mexico – they aggressively refuse to take your money until you eat everything. Doesn’t matter if it’s a taco stand with random outdoor seating scattered all over the place or what. Even that gourmet tostada place in Ensenada – it’s eat, then come around and then eventually whenever you feel like it – tell us what you ordered and pay. I was afraid I’d forget to pay at some point and now I have. I hope karma will forgive me. I checked the next morning but the taco stand wasn’t open yet.

 

On the road from Bahia de los Angeles


The next day I got back on the road. Not far after rejoining highway one – the boojum trees disappeared. But everything else was still around – including the saguarro cousins, joshua tree cousins, “old man” organ pipe cacti, and elephant trees.

Welcome to South Baja!

The official end of the gas desert is Guererro Negro. I made it with plenty of gas to spare. I decided to take a detour over to the peninsula (off a peninsula = meta-peninsula?) to Bahia de Tortugas. My otherwise very accurate paper map showed a route just past Guererro Negro that skirted around a bay then went out to the peninsula.

The Tortugas peninsula has a rare type of sand dunes called “transverse dunes” – which are caused when the wind only blows in one direction

Not long after leaving Hwy 1 I came to a gate where a very kindly older man took down my car details and my destination. I tried to write down Bahia de Tortugas as the destination, but he pretty much made me write down Oro de Bellenas (which means gold of the whales – IE – amber gris). Hmmm. I drove down through some crazy Martian looking salt-ponds.

Eventually came to another gate where they wanted $5 to do whale watching. I had read the grey whales don’t normally arrive until Jan 1-3 or so. But I figured it’s $5 and hopefully it goes to the whales.

The whole place was pretty empty save one family walking around and another family hanging out in a palapa nearby. I walked out to the end of the platform. I saw no whales but I did see these cool blue jellies all over the place.

I decided not to take the boat ride to see the non-existent whales, and tried to continue on my way down south around the bay. However either that road doesn’t exist anymore, or you can’t go on it anymore. I decided to let Google maps treat me to another adventure and boy did it not disappoint. It sent me down one crazy dirt track after another with salt ponds on each side:

 And then an impassible obstacle appeared.

Hard to see from this shot, but there was no driving over that. Or at least it was clearly meant to say not to do so. 

Luckily this track was still wide enough to do a 20-point turn-around, which I opted for over backing up a half kilometer. Unfortunately my back up beeper doesn’t warn me when I’m about to go into water, so I had to constantly get out and check my distance to the edge.

At some point Google wanted to send me down a tiny track where there would be no chance of turning around if an obstacle showed up (off the the right of this picture). While I was pondering my fate, an even more kindly older gentleman appeared out of the tiny structure off to the left side that I had barely even noticed.

We established that the road Google was trying to send me down was “no bueno”, and thus my attempt to shortcut to Bahia de Tortugas ended with me driving back to the main highway. I wonder if I was his first visitor of the day.

After a stint on the main highway I headed back out towards Bahia de Tortugas – heading west out of Vizcaino. The road was pretty nice except for a few potholes just outside of town. I saw a guy by the side of the road selling a bunch of camping chairs – and ended up trading up mine to a nicer model that seemed to work better with my back. I’m sure I could have bargained a much better deal. But we’re talking a difference of a few bucks and I just can’t bring myself to go into shrewd negotiator mode over that. Oh yeah, also I don’t have a ‘shrewd negotiator’ mode. I only have ‘shitty negotiator’ and ‘no negotiator’ settings.

I decided to head down to Bahia Asuncion instead of Bahia de Tortugas near the end of the peninsula – since Google had me getting to the latter well after dark. The stars of the show on the drive south to Asuncion were the elephant trees.

 

Bahia Asuncion


I got into town a little before sunset. There seemed to be only one hotel, but then I saw a sign for “Sherri and Juan’s Hotel – Sherri and Juan welcome you! – just drive to the end of the point” – or something like that. I always drive to the end of the point anyway – so I figured I would check it out. Bahia Asuncion does not have the dramatic entry like Bahia de los Angeles. But holy cow when you get out the the rocks overlooking the water – it’s incredible. After checking out the scenery for a bit, I came around a curve and saw Sherri and Juan’s hotel – the La Bufadora Inn – situated on a scnic spot overlooking oceans and rocky outcrops that reminded me of Big Sur.

I parked and pretty much knew I was going to stay there tonight.

Some of the guests rousted Sherri, who told me they don’t get too many walk-ins, but she had a room for me for $65. This is definitely more than I want to spend if I need to drag this trip out for a year or more. But I’m just figuring things out now, and the view from the room wasn’t bad:

So I took it and immediately went out to get some sunset shots.

Guard tower which is manned at night to watch for abalone poachers
View from the steps of the guard tower

Little blowhole that apparently is amazing at dawn in the right conditions

I came back and met the rest of the crew who were staying out the hotel. Everyone was really nice and a lot of fun. 

Perrito! I loved this little girl even though she was covered with fleas. I wonder if the locals think I’m a bit slow when I yell Perro! (dog) or Perrito! (puppy) after after every dog an puppy I see. I’m just so excited that I can remember an actual Spanish word. Maybe I should run after the dog laughing wildly and clapping my hands just to seal the deal.

Bill with one of the 20 or so yellowtail he caught

We stayed up eating and drinking for a few hours and I finally called it a night. The next day I hung out and had a wonderful breakfast.

Breakfast in paradise

Sherri and the group kept suggesting I should to stay for New Year’s. I have to admit it was pretty tempting. But I have 14 days to get to Puebla and I felt like a day there – plus a semi-productive hangover day they next day – would have set me back a bit. Most people down here are in vacation mode – decompressing from their lives back in the states. I’m in explorer mode. I don’t need a vacation from my vacation. So I bid my good-byes and got back on the road and headed back to Mex Hwy 1 to continue south (although road zig-zags back and forth across the Baja peninsula several times, so it’s often heading SE or SW).

 

On the road from Bahia Asuncion


The Baja Adventure book described this stretch of road as ‘the most boring on the peninsula’. But I was still enthralled by the endless fields of saguaro-cousins mixed the joshua tree-cousins. Although apparently the saguaro cousins (chardón) exist all up and down the peninsula so no one gets excited about them. Same for the organ pipe – cactus, which look like an upside down octopus. In the US there is a whole National Park dedicated to saguaros and a National Monument dedicated to the one place in Southern Arizona where the organ pipe cactus grows. Out here they’re weeds basically.

YAWN

Well guarded hotel? Maybe I should drive up and ask.

I went through a couple towns, then finally a town with old Spanish architecture and actual tourist type shops called Mulegé. There I was able to secure another Mexican blanket. My 1000 mile scavenger hunt through Baja to find a ubiquitous Mexican tourist item was finally over.

 

Playa los Cocos – in Bahia de Concepion


I made my way a little south of town to where Mike and Kelley texted they were staying, and saw their van at the end of the beach – a really beautiful cove which had a mangrove lagoon, and mostly older snow-birds in RVs from British Columbia and a few from the US. 

I decided to stay a couple nights and take a break from driving for a day. I looked forward to sleeping in my tent again. Beds are overrated. We had a nice little New Years toast and were in bed by 9pm lol. I feel asleep by 11 and wasn’t even awoken by fireworks as I had expected.

For some reason I woke up at dawn the next day – to one of the more spectacular sunrises I’ve ever seen.

Also it was so quiet out you could literally hear the detailed sounds of a couple dolphins expelling then sucking in air through their blow-holes as they traversed the cove. I assumed they were noisy sea lions at first. I’ve never heard dolphins before seeing them. Pretty cool.

Later Kelley offered me some watermelon she bought down here that was like nothing I’ve ever had. I seriously did not know watermelon could taste like this. It was so rich and luscious and packed with flavor. It’s like the stuff we get in the states is the end of a slurpee where there’s mostly ice and a little watered-down flavor. This was pure flavor.

We hiked around a bit but mostly just relaxed. This is a shrine to our Lady of Guadalupe, just up in the hills from our camp.

Oh yeah – I ran up the road to get some cel coverage to make sure my condo renter who was moving in on the 1st was ok. At the gas station I ran into none other than the cocky Euro kid from Bahia de los Angeles. We got to talking. Turns out he’s British – which would explain his perfect English LOL.

He didn’t end up going the beach sand route that the other dirt bikers were mostly trying to talk him out of. He did however take a bunch of backroads and was criss-crossing his way across the peninsula similar to me – although that bike he has can handle much sketchier roads. He found and managed to gamble on a local horse race that looked really cool.

These are the best experiences out here imo. When you just wander down a road and stumble onto something. We exchanged contact info. and I have a feeling will probably bump into each other again – as we’re both ultimately heading the same way down to Panama. He had some great quote about the definition of an adventure: “You may or may not come back. But if you do, you will definitely be a changed person.” Or something like that.

By the afternoon it was an extreme low tide (associated with full moon I think) – which brought out all the shore birds picking at the feast of rarely exposed vittles.

We got to watch a sea-gull picking up clams then dropping them onto the rocks to shock them into opening.

You can’t tell from this video, but the gull was dropping the clams from about 30 feet. Seemed to get them to open up every time. We watched him do it 10 times until I got the camera out. Then he got shy and flew around the bend. One reason I don’t focus on animal photography. It has to be the most frustrating thing the the world – as they never do what you want and they always do what you don’t want. At least mountains don’t run away the moment you pull out your camera.

There were a few white herons and this beautiful blue and purple heron.

Little blue heron

Baja in some ways reminds me of Alaska – a place where modern civilization has gained a foothold, but nature is still winning. Every day I spend here makes me want to come back more.

Moonrise over Bahia de Concepcion

Nice drive around Bahia de Concepcion. I tried one without music. Feels weird. Once you get near Cabo the Pemex guys start cleaning your windshield – which is much better for video.

Tomorrow I plan to say goodbye to Mike and Kelley for the second time, put some miles behind me and get to La Paz. I may see them yet again however in Todos Santos.

Baja 4×4 aventuras and Shipwrecks

The Road from Mike’s Sky Rancho


I had a pretty good night’s sleep at Big Mike’s Sky Rancho . I went outside once and it was bitterly cold. When I got up the next morning to go to breakfast, I bundled up, went outside, and it was already t-shirt weather at 8am. Amazing. I realized how beautiful the resort is.

 

Apparently the Xmas Eve party continued on into the night.

I was afraid they were going to hand me a gigantic plate of eggs, bacon, and potatoes. But  the portions were very reasonable – which was nice – as I was still quite lleno (full) from the night before.

Perfect breakfast

I said my goodbyes and after a false start in the wrong direction – headed down the road to El Coyote.

I have one thing to say about Google Maps offering up this route to unsuspecting motorists:

The route started out quite lovely for the first few hundred meters, then the stream crossings started, then it got hilly, then crazy.

Cows checking out the crazy gringo who thinks he’s gonna drive this in a stock FJ Cruiser.
Good example of why you should always stop and get out to look if not sure. My first instinct was to go to the left. Turned out to be a decent sized hole, and the tracks all went to the right.

I went up and down one hill that was not quite but in the ballpark of the hairiest thing I’ve ever been on with my FJ. And those other times I was either with people (near Glacier NP), or knew people weren’t too far off (in Mohave Preserve) and I had my super-premium triple AAA to bail me out when I could get to a phone. As soon as I got to the bottom of that I saw another hill that looked just as bad. I looked down and I had gone 1km out of about 22km of the solid grey road on my map. There’s even a class below that which is dashed grey road that can’t possibly even be a road.

21km more of this? … hmmm

Anyway I started thinking about what would happen if I punctured my oil pan or bent a torsion bar or something out here. I should have gotten some skid plates before the trip. I wonder if I can get them along the way somewhere?

A lot of jagged rocks that you wouldn’t want to bottom out on in the wrong place

I’d have to walk back to Big Mike’s and who knows what after that. It’s not exactly the kind of place you can tow someone out of. So they’d probably have to try to fix it on the spot. Most serious 4-wheelers have the ability to fix stuff and even weld on the spot. Also a winch.

Also what if I was close to El Coyote when it happened? Should I go there or back to Big Mike’s? The decision would be a little easier if I had any idea what El Coyote is. If it’s a town it’s a tiny one. Would I be knocking on doors with my crappy Spanish? Also what if I somehow roll my car out here and my trip dies before it even began?

So long story short I decided that alone, in Mexico, w/o cel coverage, much tools or a real winch – to just call it and turn around. I ended up taking a different scenic dirt road shortcut (video below), this time a red road on the map, not gray. All told, wussing out on the road to El Coyote added about 3 hours out of the way to skip 22km.

One thing I’m trying to do (because I feel like it would interest me) is give a  feel for what it’s like to drive in Baja with videos. Let me know what you think. As a bonus you get progressive house music – but on the chill side – which is what I seem to like (sometimes you will get my learn to speak Spanish podcasts). This is from the much more sedate gravel road I took when I went the long way round from Mike’s to the Nacional Parque.

These crazy Star Trek-looking agaves were on the way into the park:

Close to the entrance of the park – there is a spot where apparently California condors always congregate – because there is a permanent sing warning you not to molest them (tempting). I had no idea California condors were in Baja. It was pretty amazing to see them from a few feet away. Hopefully Mexico has more sense than the US – and they ban lead ammo so they can try to make a come back.

Apparently feeding them jerky does not count as molesting.

 

Sierra de San Pedro Mártir


I made it into Sierre de San Pedro Mortir about 4pm, got a camping spot. And here I sit listening to coyotes go crazy a few hundred feet from my tent.

Coyotes seemed to be always on the outskirts of camp

I may actually try the road again tomorrow from the other direction. It’s in the direction I want to go – AND I left my blanket I just bought at Big Mike’s – argh! If I can get to within 1km of Big Mike’s I know I can handle the rest.

[Post-edit: when I left the blanket I figured – if anything will be easy enough to replace in Mexico – it’s one of those tourist blankets that you can buy in dozens of shops in Tijuana, or they will literally come up to your car and sell you as you wait in line to get back across the border. (Pro tip: you can also buy them on Alvarado St. in LA and save the long drive.) However something in the back of my mind said that I might have a hard time since they only appear in shops that cater to tourists. Sure enough I tried a half-dozen places along the way south, and not only did they not have them, all of the words I could pull up with my various translate apps just elicited blank stares: manta, frazado, cobija. Nada. I finally pulled up a picture and they said “Oh serape! Uh no, no tenemos eso.” Apparently Mexicans don’t actually use blankets, they just make them and sell them to tourists. I did finally find another, which will appear in a later post.]

[Post-post-edit: turns out a serape is a thin blanket that’s meant to be worn, not used as bedding. The blankets I was looking for are called cobija but I was probably saying it wrong]

[Post-post-post-edit: the town I am in now, San Miguel de Allende, claims to have invented the serape]

 

The last of my US beer. In retrospect I probably should have saved this and drank it in Ushuaia. But that didn’t occur to me until a few days later. So I will have to drink a sugar-free Red Bull that I brought from LA instead.

I got up about 9am because it was cold outside dammit. Sure I could get up at 7, or at 8. But the sleeping bag is warm. A big reason I go on organized photo trips is to have peer pressure force me to take get up at 4am to go take pictures of a sunrise. I can on rare occasions get up all by myself and hike 3 hours in cold darkness to shoot a sunrise somewhere. But it pretty much uses up all my willpower for the rest of the day.

I really felt like biscuits and gravy (REI freeze dried boil-in-bag – which will be known as ‘REI rations’ for the remainder of this blog). But I sure haven’t earned a 2-meal serving. So I ate half with the idea to eat the other half during my hike later. Then I decided to get organized, now that I have the roof top container. I pulled everything out and tried to decide if it’s not something I access often – meaning it should go up top. It took a couple hours and felt like a mini-version of packing for this trip. But when it was all done I felt a lot better.

I went for my hike and managed to get some exercise, but nothing like the training I need.

Finally hiking again!
Proof that there was snow – which seems to get Baja-ians very excited.

It was also a little spooky because there was no one else around – Christmas day the park was packed, the next day it was almost empty. And the forest was pretty, but basically featureless rolling hills with cypress trees.

Beautiful – but no real landmarks to orient yourself by. I was following an old road, but still the thought of getting lost out there spooked me, as I had no bearings and I hadn’t loaded a topo map on my phone. Sometimes the trail or road meets up with another and you don’t notice, then on the way back you have a fork in the road to decide over. So I was relieved that the road never gave me any hard decisions. I made it back to my car and had the cold biscuits and gravy-flavored goo that was left in the bag.

View on the drive out of the mountains

I made it down to the main highway by just a little after dark. I decided to check out the hotel I had seen just up the road. It was open and only $350 pesos ($17). Nice enough and good wifi. They were trying to do some kind of fancy desert southwest vibe with the hotel. It didn’t work at all. But I appreciated the effort.

I got a text from the Canadian couple. They were camped just south of me at a surf spot called Shipwrecks (also called Punta San Jacinto). I decided to go down and see them the next morning.

 

Punta San Jacinto (aka Shipwrecks)


Punta San Jacinto is a fenced in compound of a couple dozen houses in various states of construction, and a place for beach camping for $5/night. I saw Mike and Kelley’s van at the end of the beach. We talked a bit and I decided to camp there that night, then we would caravan down south the next day. 

Mike doing his lawn gnome impersonation

Not too long after Mike got back from surfing a big double cab ford truck pulled up. Enter Crazy Dale. Dale took Mike and I for a ride around the area – checking surf breaks and giving us the low down.

Dale owns some property in Punta San Jacinto and comes down from San Diego “Whenever the bullshit just gets too much to deal with back home.” He informed us that he’s been married 45 years and his wife “doesn’t give a fuck” what he does. I got the impression Dale was already well into a few drinks at 11am. Although he did tell us “I never fucking drink in the states. Just down here then I fucking let it all go.” Good to know.

The eponymous shipwreck.

But Dale did provide a ton of interesting information. The biggest thing I took away was that pretty much all of the crime was just petty crime – mostly perpetrated on people who were too cheap to pay the $5 and camped outside the compound – then made a lot of noise then got their camps raided when they passed out drunk. Oh yeah – and just off the road looks like dry dirt but it’s actually salt mud with a light coating of dirt – that you will quickly sink in to your axle and take a tractor to pull you out. And even after that the salt mud will corrode everything on your car if you don’t wash it off right away. Also good stuff to know. Dale invited us to come by any time after dark if the fire is going.

Later we went for a walk up and down the beach and saw Dale getting the fire going, with a few other people hanging out drinking.

This boat apparently decided to reward its owner for the name by sprouting a huge hole.

Some of the lots just had collections of trailers on them. Some at the very end were built up into two story houses and seemed to be the nice end of town. Also the beach path gets very narrow down there so you’re almost walking through people’s yards. And the first of the country club houses had a very yappy dog. It all seemed designed to convince the riff-raff to turn around, which we did.

After the walk, we had a couple of beers and decided to go down to say hi to Crazy Dale. We stopped by the camp next to us – 3 cars of younger surfers – and talked to them for a bit. Told them to come by Dale’s later if they feel like getting rowdy (just a hunch plus it sounded cool to be able to invite people to a big party). We started to head over to Dale’s – but first we had to backtrack and gather 5 of us to push some French guy in a van out of a very small patch of sand that he had managed to get stuck into. The next day the dude flew a drone to wake us up, then snuck out w/o paying his $5. Lame.

So we show up at Dale’s and it’s a RAGER. And by rager – I mean Dale playing guitar and singing the first 1/3rd of a wide variety of songs, while his son-in-law struggles to retain consciousness. However Dale was pretty good and I was very impressed with his song selection – everything from some obscure folk singers I never heard of to AC/DC to 867-5309.

We lasted about 45 minutes. I kept worrying the surfer kids would actually show up. But luckily that never happened. On the way back the weirdest pea soup fog set in. Some people were shining one of those super-powerful military flashlights. It looked like a Hollywood spotlight in the fog. I need to get one of those. You could literally use it to blind an attacker and get away at night.

I stopped off at the surfer kids’ (for the purpose of this blog, “kid” = probably 20s, definitely younger than 35) camp on the way back to warn them that they probably wouldn’t want to head down to Dale’s off-the-hook fiesta. They made it clear they had no intention of going anyway. I’m probably their Crazy Dale.

I hung out and had a beer until they started talking technical surf jargon and I was completely lost for about 5 minutes. It’s always interesting to realize how much time and thought goes into a hobby like that, when from the outside your first impression is that the thinking doesn’t extend much beyond “find a wave and jump on it dude”. I find that I can consciously know the hobby/sport/whatever must be more complicated, but somehow I still assume it’s not – until I have that eye-opening moment. Must be some strong pull in human nature that we want to believe things are more simple than they really are.

 

On the road from Shipwrecks


The next day we packed up and headed south. I got to do laundry for the first time in Mexico – not w/o a lot of help from the local attendant who realized I was completely clueless and basically did everything for me except load the clothes. We went back to my favorite store – Auto Zone – for some locking washers to (hopefully) keep the binding screws on the slats of my roof rack from coming loose every few days.

Delicious roadside fish taco

We made sure to fill up in El Rosario as we the next stretch of road is known as the “gas desert”. It ends up being about 190 miles with no gas, which even my crappy gas mileage and 15 gallon tank can handle. But you never know when a station is going to be out of gas, and then you have to end up buying dodgy gas from someone selling it out of the back of their pickup truck.

Pretty impressive rig – prepared for Mad Max conditions

We spent the night at a place called Campo Santa Ynes (or Santa Ines depending on which side of the coin flip your map picked) in a tiny blip of a town called Catavina. They have camping, and possibly a room for rent, and a restaurant that was closing early because the cook wanted to go home.

View from the ‘restaurant’ at campo Santa I/Ynes

Seems like a common stopover along the way. I had a burrito that will not be making my culinary world tour video – but it filled my stomach and didn’t make me sick so I can’t complain. The highlight of the drive and camp was the foliage. I had no idea how crazy the central baja desert is. They call the desert around Tucson “the green desert” because it’s so lush and diverse – due to multiple rainy seasons. But this absolutely blows it away. They have every kind of cactus that you see in the American West, or a close cousin thereof, and then some new crazy stuff on top of that – all packed in close proximity – and going on for 100 miles.

There are ocotillos, something called giant cardón (which look just like saguaros – so I call them saguaro cousins), endless variety of chollas (all evil), red barrel cactus, organ pipe cactus, two different species of “elephant trees” which look almost identical but apparently aren’t even that closely related, and the star of the show – the Suessian boojum trees – which look like a carrot that sometimes splits at the top and/or makes crazy curly cues. Driving through these things is surreal:

 

Catavina – Santa Ynes campo


We walked a few 100’ from camp across an arroyo (dry stream bed) into a thicket – that I honestly questioned if the diverse menagerie was intentionally planted. It looked like an arboretum except everything was packed too close together. Nature doesn’t care about room for interpretative signage apparently. I am determined to come back here and do a proper photo trip. For now I just had to sneak some shots at sunset.

Boojum trees, and a bunch of other variety
Ocotillo on the right
The stubby elephant tree

Tomorrow we head south again. Whether going south or north, no one stays at this traveler rest stop in the gas desert for more than a night.

“Unnamed Road” is actually Punta San Jacinto. Google Maps doesn’t know it exists yet.