baja 2008

road trip to baja california sur march 20 to april 16 con lynda, el gregorio y don roberto

we got back wednesday april 16 from bend oregon after exactly 4 weeks on the road to the baja tip and back - travelling with three was a challenge space-wise - somehow we got all the camping equipment, including cooking stuff, tent, camping chairs, sleeping bags, my new 70L 5-day-ice cooler, three musical instruments (including a guitar) inside the car on departure with room left for somebody to sit in the back seat

after 2 nights motel 6'ing in the USA (i get a seniors discount now, whoopie!) at yreka CA and palmdale CA we invaded mexico at tecate on the third day mid-afternoon - we had a gorgeous first camping setup at la bufadora blowhole just south of ensenada and had the first of many superb campfire dinners

next morning we realized we'd never get all the stuff back in the car so improvised a tarp holding most of the camping gear strapped to the roof - a brilliant setup thanks to our master handyman in residence and bungie aficionado el gregorio - we kept that thing on the roof for the rest of the trip - i plan to build a plywood cartop box to simplify things for future trips, the construction of which became prime woodshedding campfire material for don roberto and el gregorio

we had a campfire nearly every night we camped during the three weeks in baja - we only stayed in mexican hotels in san jose del cabo, la paz, loreto and mulejé (moo-leh-HEY as we finally learned to pronounce it) - the next day we headed off south at the crack of noon since we usually cooked a gigantic breakfast every morning as well

able to buy gasolina off the back of a pickup in catavina, we swung east to bahia de los angeles on the mar de cortéz - even the locals prefer sea of cortez over the official rename golfo de california - a stunning setting and the most expensive baja camping by far $24 but also the best palapa, built of huge stones, wood and palm thatch with good early morning shade - most camping was free in baja and our average accomodation cost was $10/day for all of us, including hotels

i began my daily swim regime here - 'water like a warm bath' coaxed el gregorio and linda lynda into the water only to discover my prevarication - managed not to step on the sting ray hazards but saw lots of them in the water - by the way we didn't see one rattlesnake, scorpion or black widow spider on the entire trip - we were told its too cold for them and they are all in hibernation

the desierto central in this part of baja norte is the most stunning - huge boulder fields with the legendary boojum (cirio) trees, saguaro-like 60' cardón cactus, elegant elephant trees, muchas variedades chollas, ocotillo etc - the desert was green! in full bloom as we went down - purple and yellow wildflowers everywhere - apparently it rained last year

next stop laguna ojo de liebre (eye of the jackrabbit lagoon aka scammon's lagoon) for more camping, a reasonable $5 this time, we're on the pacific side again and the only whale-watching we did on the trip - next morning off in a panga at 8:30 to see the grey whales, $40 each or about 10 cents a whale - the damn things stuck their noses in the boat and scratched their backs on the boat bottom - dogs of the sea said el gregorio - lots of babies poking their heads up but staying close to mom ready for the return trip to the bering sea - too magical to explain - el gregorio cooing baby talk to las ballenas - apparently we had a pretty good encounter with just the three of us and raúl in the boat due to our early arrival

next off to san ignacio a true palm tree oasis in the vizcaíno desert - we camped beside the spring-fed laguna near town - i swam in the birdpooped water to the disdain of the other residents - we met phil a carpenter from nelson BC working at the campground for the winter - he came down on his 650cc dirt bike and was a good raconteur with much information on how to fit in as a gringo in mexico

somewhere in baja we discovered nescafe, yes instant coffee and it was delicious and became a morning ritual sweetened with barato el presidente mexicano brandy - nescafe bought in the USA on the way back was crap - must remember, only buy mexican nescafe which is consumed everywhere in mexico

off to bahia de conception on the golfo - supposedly the best beach camping in baja california sur - it wasn't until the trip back that we really appreciated it when we camped at coyote bay - we resolved to stop at mulejé and loreto (the oldest town in baja and original capital) on the way back

off again to la paz for our first motel, a pricey $69 stay with lovely murals and a pool - la paz is an elegant town i could easily live in - malecon, sea, mountains, university, friendly laid back people - it seems quite small despite the quarter million population - ate breakfast in the large local mercado next morning - huevos rancheros y mexicano

lynda and i practicing our spanish for the duration but surprise! it was el gregorio who turned out to be muy fluento with his faux español delivered con acento perfecto - it sounded so good that he would get rapidfire responses to his queries which were of course incomprehensible to us - ask him to say 'el presidente por favor' sometime - could'nt locate the legendary salt-lick of codeine in la paz pharmacies and seconal didn't appear to be available even later in our tijuana driveby (sorry corry)

ready for the beach again so headed down to cabo pulmo on the east cape road - our first questionable road although not the first or the last gravel washboard - camped for free at los frailes just down the road from cabo pulmo supposedly the only coral reef on the pacific coast - met danielle and ?? from the gaspe in their westphalia who'd been camping in baja for months - got a few tips on free beach campsites and indeed camped at two, punta conejo and juncalito, on the return trip - also indulged my map fetish with the news that the american AAA baja map is the 'most' accurate - no two mapas mexicanos agree on anything - i managed to buy it in todos santos later in the trip

the three of us rented a panga for snorkling the next day at cabo pulmo - it started with an exhibition by the mobula ray jump team an unbelievable sight of hundreds of mobula rays (a cousin of the manta ray) jumping clear of the water only feet from the boat, feeding on bugs apparently - perhaps even more impressive than the whales - then our panga driver luis took us over to seal (sea lion?) rock where we snorkled underwater with the graceful beasts - not so graceful reentries to the panga for lynda and myself - then off to isolated exotic-colored-fish beach for more - it took me awhile to get the snorkling thing down - they call it snorkling because you're always snorkling water up your nose - we resolved to bring our own snorkling gear down in future - el gregorio just about got hypothermia despite a rented wetsuit - really though, it was like a warm bath

decided to risk the east cape road to los cabos, an apparently stunning drive over a shitty road which it was - we might have stayed in los frailes for two days i can't remember - we were pleasantly surprised by san jose del cabo an agreeable though touristy mexican town, 1/2 of los cabos which is much like cancun or puerto vallharta, not my idea of spending quality mexican time

somewhere on the trip we discovered cheap vodka $7 a bottle and clamato happy hour became a ritual (as on our san jose del cabo posada patio) - lynda thinks we drank too much but not so don roberto y el gregorio - the truth is lynda forced us to drink endless martinis after loading up with 1.5 litres of $10 gin and a gallon of olives at the olive pit in n. california - el gregorio y yo also consumed muchas cervezas durante el viaje - we bought a foot-cubed block of ice near san jose that lasted til we got back to the USA - i treated everybody to the worst restaurante meal we had in mexico in san jose del cabo

drinking and driving in mexico can be troubling because of the army roadblocks but we devised appropriate contingency tactics to deal with them - besides they only seem interested in drugs and weapons and fulfilling their 2 years of mandatory military service - they were uniformly khaki'd young kids of 18-20 with ungainly rifles and bunkered machine guns

next day we're off to cabo san lucas the other half of los cabos - gave up trying to find a cheap decent campground there and the hotels were way too expensive - we spent the morning on the obligatory glass-bottom boat ride to el arco (lands end) where los océanos pacifico y cortéz meet - the touristy boatride was made entirely bearable by don pancho our fisherman panga conductor who made me pull up the squid he caught with what appeared to be an anchor with hooks - we did the cabo san lucas yacht-side malecon margarita patio thing for an hour or so while lynda searched for wireless internet, as usual

wisely beat it out of los cabos to camp for the night at san pedrito beach just south of todos santos on the pacific side - we found a deluxe abandoned palapa made of stone, wood, concrete with a damaged palm thatch roof - apparently the area was an RV/camping resort destroyed by the 2006 hurricane that blew thru this area - wild pacific surf, huge rocks on the beach, far too dangerous for swimming alas - we might have stayed here 2 nights as well dunna remember because by now we're making big dints in the $7 vodka - daily setup/teardown is wearing on el gregorio who seems to have assumed that task due to his compadres indolence - la próxima vez con la azotea porteador será mucho más fácil

todos santos the next day or the day after that was a pleasant, partially gringoized pueblo - we ate lunch as much as possible at streetside taco stands and todos santos and loreto had two of the best - fish tacos esp. good in baja - i had one or two mild digestion/elimination episodes on the trip - lynda y gregorio fared better probably because of the foul bacterial substances with the middle-eastern names they consumed daily

so its time to head north (actually we did just after los cabos) and worse to backtrack on the same road we took coming down - there is a loop around the cape area of southern baja but for the most part you've got only one road choice - the loop ends just south of la paz - miguel de victoria and a few others know the dire penalities involved in backtracking but we have no choice w/o a 6L hummer to take us over the rough, alternate routes north - el gregorio and i glumly pay the penalty and backtrack towards where?

our destination is el conejo on the pacific but we get sidetracked in la paz and instead detour to playa tecolote on the gulf just north of la paz - why? the gulf air is warm, the water is warm (warm bathish in fact) - we get stuck in the sand there and resolve to bring old carpet strips for traction in future - we camp at a palapa on the beach, paradise as usual, isla espiritu santo in the distance, bluegreen (warm bath) water, cerviche in palapa restaurant, vicious baño-guarding perro takes his frustrations out on me and best of all we meet a lovely young family con tres niños out on an aircraft-controller day off from la paz airport - we all get shitface on the beach and swap bad english with even worse español - we forget to set up the tent

long drive to punta conejo on the pacific next day - the last 15km on bad dirt road thru a great desert with orange cactus - this is the place the gaspe couple we met in los frailes stayed 2 weeks and was the hilight of their trip - turns out to be a remote, desolate area - a tad windy now (gale) but we hunker down in a dune hollow to camp - el gregorio erects a masterful tarping structure to protect us from the sun - we've been hauling flotsam firewood around since los frailes strapped to the roof in anticipation that we'll not find any at the next campsite - but we always do - we have a monster fire at punta conejo to take off the pacific chill - i bugger up my foot on a rock in the sand and suffer indignantly for the remaining trip

off to juncalito just south of loreto on the gulf side the next day - the other site recommended by the quebec couple who by the way had lived an enviable life - they built a metal sailboat and lived on it for 2 years in the bahamas and then in the queen charlottes - their home in bonaventure on the gaspe peninsula, him a welder, took years off thruout their lives to travel and adventure - healthy lean happy looking people our age

juncalito was great - warm bath-water sea of course - shaded palms for camping under - the only problem was the huge wire-mesh dumpster on the beach near us - muchos insectos pero solamente flies - never seemed to have much of a bug problem on the trip except maybe here - few mosquitos even in the mangrove swamps of bahia magdalena which i just remembered we also camped at between san pedrito and playa tecolote - only lynda got bitten at some point by bugs - anyway bahia magdalena, the last grey whale-birthing laguna on the pacific - suffice to say we had a high-tide insurrection attempt after a mostly futile search trying to find the damn thing in the first place

after revisiting bahia conception at bahia coyote for a night we stayed in an old hotel in loreto, el junipero - wide deep 2nd floor balcony with metal rocking chairs and beds of solid concrete - both loreto and mulejé are lovely small mexican towns - we stayed in mulejé just 2 hours north of loreto the next day because we had breakfast at a cool hotel there, las casitas and impulsively decided to stay the night - lunch at el patrón beach palapa a few km away on the sea - oh yeah and we all bought $5 machetes hecho en columbia at ciudad constitucion - i got the modelo tipo rambo

so now the blast home begins - a long drive to catavina in el desierto central to check out the baja desert one last time - turns out to be windy and unseasonably cold on arrival and my travel mates are grumpy for imposing such a long drive - i have a lovely morning walk in the desert - as usual lynda and el gregorio sleep in until the tent gets too hot from the sun - i get up pretty much every morning at first light, about 5:30 or 6 and watch the sunrise - slept out under the stars as much as possible

we were planning to cross the border today but got seduced by the deep dune beach at el pabellón just south of san quintan - what the hell one more night on the pacific - i swim - its like long beach in the summer, deathly cold with scary surf - early morning mexican pismo clam diggers hard at work in wet suits chest-deep in the surf

last day in baja - lynda wants to shop for souvenirs in tijuana - sad donkeys painted like zebras - the incessant hustle is very tiring and i just want to get back to USA and good safe roads with signs saying where you're going - we go thru an ordeal trying to turn in my car import permit from the december trip - if i don't i'd lose a $400 deposit, or maybe not, thats mexico - i need to find a banjercito - mexican signage is bad, confused, non-existent - a lovely country with even lovlier people - you just get used to the garbage, poor infrastructure and hopeless bureaucracy i guess - we manage to cross at san ysidro in 1/2 hour which supposedly has 3 to 4 hour lineups - motel 6 at last in el cajon just east of san diego - the worst motel of the trip by far

we get a second wind in the USA and take 5 days to get back to canada - it took only 2 days to get down - we meander up thru bodega springs, circumnavigate the salton sea and size up slab city for a future camping stop - we end up in joshua tree national park which it turns out is almost full because it's a saturday night a mere 140 miles from LA - expensive camping $30 including NP entrance fee - we get lectured on at the commmunal campfire that night - tortoise good, human bad, raven not sure - take a short hike at cap rock, gram parsons 'funeral' site the next day - by sheer coincidence it turns out to be the very site miguel del banjo and i visited on 200X trip

great drive up to death valley NP next day thru the mojave desert - it becomes very hot, upper 90's as we descend into below sea-level death valley from 4000' to camp at texas spring campground which officially closes for the season in 2 days because of the heat - we manage to avoid the $38 entrance/camping fees - i sleep out under the stars for the last time and see scorpio constellation low in the sky for the first time - i became familiar with orion's belt during the trip and thanks to el gregorio the immovable nature of the north star pointed to by the big dipper - i wake up periodically at night to see the dipper revolving around it

a great barren drive up thru nevada backhighways the next day to mill creek recreation area near winnemucca - it's very very windy but we camp anyway by old cottonwoods in a sheltered arroyo - the weather changes suddenly in the night and we wake up freezing - el gregorio valliantly saves lynda from hypothermia - i burn furiously thru the remaining firewood in the early morning, chilled to the bone

we skip our regular camping breakfast and chow down at the red lion casino in winnemucca on the $3.99 ham and eggs special - more gorgeous barren country thru oregon via burns to bend a surprisingly gentrified kelowna-like enclave in central oregon - this is our second and last motel 6 on the return thru the USA - its the best, microwave, fridge, full bathtub - and we luck out at a $2.25 tuesday night only beer sale at a brew pub with decent cheap food - best tasting beer ever

el gregorio works hard at consuming the excess alcohol we are transporting as we head for the CDN border the next day - he does such a good job that we have to get him another beer in bellingham - lynda happily stocks up on raw cow milk in bellingham - we stop in roslyn tavern of northern exposure fame for lunch - we breezed thru US customs at tijuana and now get the same platinum treatment at CDN customs - its good to be home - sortof