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.
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.
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.
I wound up talking to multiple other travelers – including some people who were bicycling across the “Baja Divide” in rigs that look like this:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
There were a few white herons and this beautiful blue and purple 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.
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.