Mexico, Part 18: Projects in Ensenada

We have to apologize for not having a post last Monday. In our mad dash back to Colorado, we were off the grid and pounding pavement for several days. Time for some catch up!

Chelsea was ordered to stay in bed for the first two weeks of her recovery, and only partook in the most limited amount of movement. I, on the other hand, was bored and restless. Luckily, Mauricio, our host, let me help him remodel his new rental property. The house, which was situated next to his existing rental, would eventually be used as an AirBnB product, but first needed a new kitchen, some furniture, and a lot of paint. Lucky for us, they agreed to let Chels recover in the back room while the remodeling happened. The location was amazing, and with some hard work, the house would soon be able to host couples and families, and start generating income for Mauricio and Abby.

We had done some furniture shopping before Chelsea's surgery so there's a few photos of us walking around Los Globos, an enormous flea market that stretches over city blocks. Chels and I are huge fans of second hand stores here in the US, so visiting Los Globos was a real treat. In addition to the great shopping, we had a chance to sample many local dishes, including shaved ice, fried pork rinds (chicharones), tacos, and some sort of fermented corn sugar beverage.

 The walkway to Mauricio's second AirBnB rental after we got it all cleaned up.

The walkway to Mauricio's second AirBnB rental after we got it all cleaned up.

 Much of the kitchen renovation happened on that shaded patio. What a view!

Much of the kitchen renovation happened on that shaded patio. What a view!

 The old kitchen, coming apart. SOme other travelers had already painted the walls.

The old kitchen, coming apart. SOme other travelers had already painted the walls.

 Demo complete and a new kitchen counter being built.

Demo complete and a new kitchen counter being built.

 All finished! Chels' photography really makes it shine.

All finished! Chels' photography really makes it shine.

 The living room, complete with a couch from Los Globos.

The living room, complete with a couch from Los Globos.

 Starting the shopping excursion with some sort of fermented corn sugar beverage.

Starting the shopping excursion with some sort of fermented corn sugar beverage.

 City blocks upon city blocks of this: the best used good available.

City blocks upon city blocks of this: the best used good available.

 So many things we wanted. We need to move into a home with a garage next.

So many things we wanted. We need to move into a home with a garage next.

 Chels found a camera!

Chels found a camera!

 Shaved Ice!

Shaved Ice!

 Loulou couldn't come with us to Los Globos, so she stayed at home...

Loulou couldn't come with us to Los Globos, so she stayed at home...

 ... and made a friend!

... and made a friend!

In addition to helping Mauricio and Abby with their mini renovation, and helping Pablo and Anna with their Airstream restoration, Chelsea and I had a little wish-list of projects for Little Foot. First things first, we wanted a roof rack over the cab, partially to add storage space and take weight off the top of the roof, and partially to add security. Without a roof rack, anyone could take a knife to the cab's soft top and gain entry. While a burglary would be heartbreaking, the cost of replacing the soft top is crazy! $2000 for a new one! So, to dissuade the unjust, we added a roof rack.

Mauricio and Pablo got in contact with a Lupe and Mario, two very talented fabricators who used to work with Baja Rack, a performance roof rack company that outfits a lot of adventure ready vehicles. Lupe took one look at the project, deemed it to be very simple, and told me to meet him the next Monday to fit the rack to the truck. Awesome!

 Scoping out the project.

Scoping out the project.

 Lupe and Mario getting after it in the workshop.

Lupe and Mario getting after it in the workshop.

 Me, wishing I could help. Or weld. Or be cool like Lupe.

Me, wishing I could help. Or weld. Or be cool like Lupe.

 Test fitting.

Test fitting.

 More test fitting. (We used the old machine gun foundation on top of the cab to bolt the rack to for support. It worked really well.

More test fitting. (We used the old machine gun foundation on top of the cab to bolt the rack to for support. It worked really well.

 Welding in place!

Welding in place!

 Finished welding, and ready for powdercoat.

Finished welding, and ready for powdercoat.

 Installing Little Foot's new hat. It attaches in three places…on the machine gun mount, and on the hood where there were already bolts for the windshield to fold down.

Installing Little Foot's new hat. It attaches in three places…on the machine gun mount, and on the hood where there were already bolts for the windshield to fold down.

 Isn't he handsome?

Isn't he handsome?

 Aren't I handsome?

Aren't I handsome?

In addition to the roof rack, Lupe was willing to fabricate a larger fuel tank for us. The original held roughly 19 gallons, which just wasn't enough. After 5 days of work, Lupe, Mario, and myself and created a tank that would hold over 32 gallons, and greatly increase Little Foot's range. I slept on a street corner (in Little Foot!) for 3 nights, abandoning Chelsea at Mauricio's, just to get the project finished. It was a big undertaking, but I made great friends. By the end of the project, Lupe's family was feeding me, and I was well acquainted with most of the drug addicts in the area, all of whom were very nice to me, and most of which returned my salutations of "God bless you," something that doesn't happen often in the states.

I can't thank Lupe and Mario enough. They worked crazy hard, and they are very talented, and we made a beautiful tank. I don't know when I will see them again, but I hope it is soon, because they're my friends now. God bless you guys!

 Little Foot's Original tank.

Little Foot's Original tank.

 Unbloting and draining.

Unbloting and draining.

 Draining the rest.

Draining the rest.

 Trying my hand (and my mouth) at siphoning.

Trying my hand (and my mouth) at siphoning.

 TACO BREAK!!!!! I love Mexico.

TACO BREAK!!!!! I love Mexico.

 Finishing fabircation.

Finishing fabircation.

 Dryfitting the tank.

Dryfitting the tank.

 Looking good in steel. Ready for paint..

Looking good in steel. Ready for paint..

 Painted!

Painted!

 And mounted. (We chose white because fuel doesn't like being hot, so black was out of the question…and, as you can see, our paint job isn't quite holding up that well, so we might try to repaint LF White in the future.

And mounted. (We chose white because fuel doesn't like being hot, so black was out of the question…and, as you can see, our paint job isn't quite holding up that well, so we might try to repaint LF White in the future.

 Loulou freaking out because we locked her in Chels bedroom. She just couldn't be pleased. First she missed Chels and wanted to hang out, but then when the door was shut she could only focus on trying to escape.

Loulou freaking out because we locked her in Chels bedroom. She just couldn't be pleased. First she missed Chels and wanted to hang out, but then when the door was shut she could only focus on trying to escape.

Mexico, Part 16: Fuel Problems, Baja in Bloom & Heading North

Fuel Problems

Rules to live by: if your filters (fuel, oil, air, and otherwise) are cheap, or even if they are not, carry many spares. And, if you see a tanker delivering fuel to a gas station, don't buy gas from that station for at least a few hours, and be wary of all the other gas stations in town, because it is likely the truck stopped at the other spots as well.

We fueled up in Santa Rosalia, passing by one Pemex station that had a tanker delivering fuel parked by the pumps. New fuel being dropped into the underground reservoirs stirs up all the particulate and lacquered fuel that lies on the bottom of the tank. Eventually all this dirt and grime settles again, but if you're at the pump while the fuel is agitated, your fuel filter is going to get a workout. We pulled into a station that was probably just visited by the tanker we had passed, and filled our tanks, preparing for another long day of driving.

A few hours on, Little Foot developed a worrisome hiccup, a very gentle misfire. We performed some on-road tests, like increasing and decreasing rpm, switching gears, and revving the engine in neutral, but we couldn't recreate the hiccup with any amount of reliability. There just happened to be a beautiful dirt track paralleling the highway, so we pulled over, and drove in low gear for a while, just listening to the engine. We started to rule out engine problems and carburetor problems, and eventually we figured that the problem must lie somewhere in the world of fuel delivery. We slowed and parked amidst the wildflowers, took the engine cover off, and had a look at everything.

The fuel filter had a streak of dirt along its bottom, and while it didn't look like enough to cause our misfire, we spun it 180 degrees. The improvement was immediate, and with that figured out, we continued. Just south of Guerrero Negro we pulled off the road and found a hill to shelter us from the view and sound of the highway for the night, and in the morning we drove into town and swapped out the fuel filter for our spare.

 The beautiful sand track that we used to diagnose our misfire

The beautiful sand track that we used to diagnose our misfire

 The wildflowers in bloom after a wet winter in the desert

The wildflowers in bloom after a wet winter in the desert

 A horny toad saying hello!

A horny toad saying hello!

 Generally checking things out under the hood.

Generally checking things out under the hood.

 Not as clean as I would have liked, but an easy fix.

Not as clean as I would have liked, but an easy fix.

 Beautiful Succulents full of water.

Beautiful Succulents full of water.

 Our campsite reminded us of parking on BLM land in Wester Colorado And easterN Utah.

Our campsite reminded us of parking on BLM land in Wester Colorado And easterN Utah.

 Replacing the fuel filter in Guerror negro the next day.

Replacing the fuel filter in Guerror negro the next day.

 A rare passing opportunity for Little Foot! We were cheering the whole time.

A rare passing opportunity for Little Foot! We were cheering the whole time.

The Blooming.

Guerrero Negro is the gateway to Baja Sur, and we were sad to leave the great state behind, but time wasn't on our side and we wanted to put some miles behind us, so we continued north. The Baja desert had received a significant amount of moisture over the winter and the hills were covered in blooming desert flora. Deserts, in the US, Mexico, or wherever,  are diverse and beautiful ecosystems, and if you have never visited one, I highly recommend it, especially after an unusually wet season. Everything that is normally brown was green, and everything that was normally green had erupted in color. God's hand had recently been holding a paintbrush, and his work was evident.

We needed a leg stretch at one point, and stopped at what looked like an abandoned rest stop only to find a small nature trail and interpretive center. We followed the signs and eventually ended up in a cave viewing some cave paintings. What a suprise! We had stopped for a stretch and instead were given a beautiful display of desert culture.

 Leaving the south, entering the north.

Leaving the south, entering the north.

 Ensenada finally started showing up on highway signs!

Ensenada finally started showing up on highway signs!

 Green was everywhere.

Green was everywhere.

 The desert was enthusastically alive after the wet winter.

The desert was enthusastically alive after the wet winter.

 Super Bloom!

Super Bloom!

 Signs and cactus at our rest stop walking trail.

Signs and cactus at our rest stop walking trail.

 The interpretive trail was deserted but well signed and obviously planned.

The interpretive trail was deserted but well signed and obviously planned.

 The trail led us down into a valley, across and arroyo, and up a hill.

The trail led us down into a valley, across and arroyo, and up a hill.

 Little lizards were watching us everywhere.

Little lizards were watching us everywhere.

 At the top of the hill we found a cave with cave paintings!

At the top of the hill we found a cave with cave paintings!

 We hadn't seen a cave painting yet, but they are all over Baja.

We hadn't seen a cave painting yet, but they are all over Baja.

 Just chilling in the art cave.

Just chilling in the art cave.

 Some of the cacti were crazy!

Some of the cacti were crazy!

 Everything was green and gold.

Everything was green and gold.

 The "trees" in the center, the Dr. Seuss style ones, had burst into bloom. We had seen them on the way down and the looked like tall, silver cones, but by the time we returned they had grown mini branches.

The "trees" in the center, the Dr. Seuss style ones, had burst into bloom. We had seen them on the way down and the looked like tall, silver cones, but by the time we returned they had grown mini branches.

Heading North

We continued driving and eventually caught sight of the Pacific ocean. We had zigzagged our way across Baja and now we could finally see the ocean instead of the sea. From here, we would follow the coastline back to the border, so finding the ocean here was a lot like opening the last chapter of our book.

We drove through many small communities that we hadn't seen on the drive south, because we had driven on Mexico 3 to San Filipe and down along the Sea of Cortez. We eventually grew tired of the tarmac and found a coastal dirt road that looked relatively abandoned. We camped on a bluff overlooking the ocean and let the crashing waves lull us to sleep. The next day we found that a lot of our dirt road had been washed out during the winter, making for some fun detours and arroyo crossings. We arrived that night to our friend Mauricio's property in Ensenada just in time to catch a spectacular sunset over the Pacific. The next few weeks would be filled with projects, catching up with our friends and even a surprise back surgery (more on that soon)!

 The road to the north.

The road to the north.

 Fields of orange flowers along the coastal dirt road.

Fields of orange flowers along the coastal dirt road.

 Every campsite looked good.

Every campsite looked good.

 It was like a dirt road from an adventurers fairy tale.

It was like a dirt road from an adventurers fairy tale.

 Camped! in the wide open!

Camped! in the wide open!

 A sunset and a book.

A sunset and a book.

 Arroyo climbing the next day.

Arroyo climbing the next day.

 Little foot loves the hills and the mud.

Little foot loves the hills and the mud.

 As always, pictures just don't really do it justice… this hill was much steeper than it looks.

As always, pictures just don't really do it justice… this hill was much steeper than it looks.

 Our first sunset back in Ensenada!

Our first sunset back in Ensenada!

Mexico, Part 15: Awaiting our part in Loreto

Waiting for Parts

After limping our way back to Loreto, stopping only for red lights and refusing to pull over to let traffic pass (sorry!), we strategically approached the RV park that would provide our safe haven for nearly a week as we awaited our part. Christian slipped Little Foot into low gear and  rolled slowly through a u-turn on a dead-end street as I hopped out and ran to the entrance, hastily explaining our situation before Christian arrived. Luckily, we knew the owner from our previous time spent there and she let us have the first spot available, which meant Christian could literally pull straight in.

We heaved a huge sigh of relief once we arrived, knowing we were settled until morning, when we rallied enough man-power to push Little Foot to the back where we’d be out of the way as a caravan of big-rigs arrived to take over the rest of the lot.

One of our favorite things about the Loreto RV park is that there is a beautiful common area, complete with a grill. During our time there we grilled out often, feeding not only ourselves but an array of fellow travelers, usually bicyclists and motorcyclists who would gather around to hang out as the food cooked. It was always a pleasure to entertain and it gave a sort of wonderful purpose to our nights there.

 Our front and center spot when we first arrived. We quickly moved to the back of the lot, only to be parked in by a caravan of 19  big  rigs.

Our front and center spot when we first arrived. We quickly moved to the back of the lot, only to be parked in by a caravan of 19 big rigs.

 Sitting in the common area at the RV park, enjoying the wait while our laundry hangs to dry.

Sitting in the common area at the RV park, enjoying the wait while our laundry hangs to dry.

 Enjoying one of many beautiful sunsets while tucked away in the back.

Enjoying one of many beautiful sunsets while tucked away in the back.

 Can't be upset about being stuck somewhere when there's a hotdog stand nearby!

Can't be upset about being stuck somewhere when there's a hotdog stand nearby!

 One of many communal dinners at the RV park.

One of many communal dinners at the RV park.

 Loreto's beautiful downtown church.

Loreto's beautiful downtown church.

 Christian kept his mustache for a while.

Christian kept his mustache for a while.

 Enjoying some very non-exceptional sushi in an exceptional location.

Enjoying some very non-exceptional sushi in an exceptional location.

Killing time in Loreto

About every other day, I would walk to the house of Antonio, the local “healer” that had provided me with relief from my back pain. It was on the other side of town in the local area, where gringos aren’t usually seen walking around. I was taken by surprise one day by a gentleman yelling “Hola!! HOLA!!!” at me and running towards me as I walked. Preparing to apologize profusely for not being able to speak very good Spanish, the man quickly interrupted me saying, “Don’t worry! I speak English!” Relieved, I asked him if everything was ok. He then looked at me and said, “I came over here to ask YOU if everything was ok!” (I guess the sight of a limping American girl wandering the local side of town got him worried. After I explained that I was headed to my friend’s house and was in fact totally fine and not lost, he begged me to let him buy me a soda. If I hadn’t just split one with Christian shortly before the walk, I would’ve taken him up on the offer.

I wanted to share that story because so many people have expressed concern for our safety while in Mexico. In my lifetime, I’ve had two attempted muggings, had my car broken into and my iPod stolen, and found my car on cinderblocks with all four tires gone…ALL WHILE LIVING IN THE USA.

Here’s the thing: there are bad people everywhere. There is not a higher concentration of bad people in Mexico. However, there is a higher concentration of bad press about Mexico. No one is going to write a news article that gets circulated around Facebook about a random Mexican offering help and a soda to an American girl walking around his neighborhood. I am in fact more comfortable here than I have been in several cities we’ve traveled through in the US, and for good reason. The majority of the folks down here are grateful for the tourism industry and the revenue that brings to their towns. We’ve had countless people ask us if we’re enjoying ourselves and if we feel safe and how they can help. The locals are more helpful than most people we’ve encountered in the US because they’re genuinely happy we’re here.

Ok, rant over.

 At Antonio's place, getting ready to get healed.

At Antonio's place, getting ready to get healed.

 Antonio is a very gifted and self taught therapist, but at this point he was just treating pain, not the cause of the pain.

Antonio is a very gifted and self taught therapist, but at this point he was just treating pain, not the cause of the pain.

We spent our hours and days finding ways to fill the time, reading books from the RV park book exchange, visiting Antonio for pain treatment, making trips back and forth to the grocery store, etc. Even though Loreto is a highly walkable town, we had to limit our time wandering because of my ever persisting pain. It was becoming apparent that treating the pain was a very temporary solution and that we would soon need to address the bigger problem (though we still didn't know exactly what that was.)

In our time spent waiting for the part, we met a bunch of fellow travelers with cool rigs and stories. One was an ambulance, which is close to our heart since the Campbulance was our first conversion. Since Little Foot is often the most unique rig in a group, we're used to giving tours to everyone that wanders our direction with a curious look on their face. This means that we get to ask for tours in return and see how everyone's setups function differently and get ideas for how we want to change and adapt our own setup for the future. Nothing helps you brainstorm quite like seeing someone else's camper and picking their brain about their likes and dislikes.

 Admiring a homemade sun shelter awning on a fellow traveler's rig.

Admiring a homemade sun shelter awning on a fellow traveler's rig.

 We're  always  interested in an ambulance!

We're always interested in an ambulance!

 There were all sorts of rigs, and we gave many tours of Little Foot, so in turn we were given many tours of other rigs! It was fantastic.

There were all sorts of rigs, and we gave many tours of Little Foot, so in turn we were given many tours of other rigs! It was fantastic.

Installing the part and hitting the road!

We had our part shipped down Baja using a service called Baja Pack. It's a delivery service that utilizes the bus system, saving both time and money because of its efficiency. Waiting on the part was only slightly frustrating, as it was scheduled to arrive either Saturday night or Sunday morning. The buses run seven days a week, but the office closed on Sundays. As our luck would have it, the part didn't arrive Saturday, so we spent another day sitting around waiting, knowing the part was behind the closed doors of the office.

Christian walked over first thing Monday morning to retrieve the package, determined to get the part installed and hit the road by the end of the day. Lucky us, it was there and as expected, the install was straight-forward and fairly quick. By the afternoon, we were hugging our new friends goodbye and crossing our fingers as we started Little Foot for the first time in a week.

 Waiting for the part at Baja Pack. This parcel office was clear across town, but the walk was enjoyable everyday.

Waiting for the part at Baja Pack. This parcel office was clear across town, but the walk was enjoyable everyday.

 So... where is my part?

So... where is my part?

 It arrived!

It arrived!

 Clutch Master cylinder in hand!

Clutch Master cylinder in hand!

 The install of our new part was super fast.

The install of our new part was super fast.

 Old parts out, new parts in.

Old parts out, new parts in.

Little Foot fired on the first try and as Christian depressed the clutch for the first time, he shouted with glee when we didn't hear brake fluid immediately rushing back into the master cylinder. The part had fixed the problem and we were clear to hit the road! We started driving north, skipping all the places we would've loved to stop and enjoy one last time. Our timeline was starting to get a little tight with the delay from our breakdown and we didn't want to risk not having plenty of time to spend in Ensenada before crossing the border. So, with a sigh, we kept driving, only stopping to camp and gas up, knowing we'll be back to enjoy Baja again someday.

  So  excited to be driving again.

So excited to be driving again.

 Every bend in the road taunted and teased us. Every ebach deserved a week or two of camping.

Every bend in the road taunted and teased us. Every ebach deserved a week or two of camping.

 We stopped at beaches we had been to before, knowing that we could camp easily and freely.

We stopped at beaches we had been to before, knowing that we could camp easily and freely.

 Putting the Sea of Cortez behind us.

Putting the Sea of Cortez behind us.

 Onwards, to Baja Norte.

Onwards, to Baja Norte.

Mexico, Part 14: La Paz, Carnaval, Whale Sharks and a failing Clutch Master Cylinder

Making it to La Paz

Our last post ended with us driving some sand track just north of Todos Santos with a failing clutch master cylinder. The signs and symptoms were as follows: the clutch pedal would depress and hold the clutch for about 1.5 seconds, and then the clutch would drop and violently reengage the flywheel, leaving the clutch pedal depressed, but with no feedback. We had rebuilt the clutch master cylinder in August in Montana just after purchasing Little Foot, and at the time I had noticed some pitting in the cylinder's wall. I knew that the pitting was bad, but because I was most of the way through the rebuild, I figured I would complete the job and see if the new rubber seals would hold. The seals held and continued to hold for 12,000kms, until the pitting caused enough damage to allow the brake fluid to bypass the rubber bits.

So there we were, on a sand track, trying desperately not to stop because starting from a standstill was violent, as I didn't have enough time to engage 1st (a locked, non-synchronized gear) and instead had to drop the clutch onto 2nd gear, which wasn't a pleasant affair. NEVER had I been happier about Little Foot's shift-on-the-fly low range gearbox, and his engage-on-the-fly locking differentials and 6 wheel drive. With four levers slamming back and forth we made it out of the sand that desperately wanted to drag us down.

We limped Little Foot to La Paz, stopping only a handful of times and taking every stop sign and traffic light at a rolling pace. We made it to La Paz, found an RV park that offered dry camping, and parked with a great deal of relief. We were in a paid parking spot, with water, wifi, and bathrooms, and that freed us up to diagnose. I was fairly certain our problem was the clutch master cylinder, but I called two experts in California just to get their input as well, and they agreed. My parts supplier (check them out, they are AWESOME for UniMog, Pinz, and GWagen sales, supplies, and support: expeditionimports.com) had a new master cylinder in stock, which was excellent, but it was all the way in California, and between me and it lay a national border. Shipping, even just to Baja, was going to be a pain (because of customs), so we spent many hours calling in many favors, especially from our friend Mauricio and his business partner Scotty. I recognize that the write up of all this seems pretty straight forward, but trust me, it was a maelstrom of international calls and multi-lingual texts.

All the while, we had begun to develop neighbors in our secluded dry-camping area. The rest of the RV park was fairly well packed with cookie-cutter big-rigs, but soon the dry camping area filled out with the coolest rigs around. Strange birds of a feather follow the same rules as the rest of the flock! First, a newer Land Cruiser pulled up with a mostly stock body, save for its pop-top roof. Its inhabitants turned out to be German and Austrian, with one of them being from the Pinzgauer region of Austria! What luck! I asked her if she had any spare Pinzgauer parts, but alas, she did not. Next, Christa and Johan, whom we had met in Todos Santos, arrived in their older Land Cruiser outfitted with an AlphaCab camper box. They are Swiss, which means Johan is a veteran of mandatory military service and trained in Pinzgauers back in the day. Lastly, another Swiss gentleman showed up in his Hyundai 4WD van, who also trained in Pinzgauers! We were surrounded by people who knew that choosing to travel, or even drive, in a Pinzgauer was a crazy and borderline bad idea. (As evidence, when we first met Johan and Christa on the streets of Todos Santos we introduced ourselves as the drivers of the Pinzgauer they had seen rolling around, to which Johan replied, "AH! So you're the masochists!")

 Surrounded by Europeans who knew better than to buy a Pinz!

Surrounded by Europeans who knew better than to buy a Pinz!

 Down time at the rv park meant it was a good time to catch up on our blog posts.

Down time at the rv park meant it was a good time to catch up on our blog posts.

 Our plea!

Our plea!

 I took the time to check the valves while parked - i like to do it at every oil change - and while I was at it I taught some other travelers how to use a feeler gauge.

I took the time to check the valves while parked - i like to do it at every oil change - and while I was at it I taught some other travelers how to use a feeler gauge.

 Chelsea went swimming with whale sharks as I rotated tires! Division of labor!

Chelsea went swimming with whale sharks as I rotated tires! Division of labor!

Whale Sharks

(Chelsea here…I'm writing this section since Christian wasn't there!)

While Christian stayed back at the truck trying to get the ball rolling on getting our part and rotating the tires, I got to tag along with the Swiss/German bunch to go swim with whale sharks. It was the one big thing I'd had my heart set on doing while we were down in Baja, and when our clutch started going between Todos Santos and La Paz, Christian broke the news to me that it likely wouldn't happen. Lucky us, the amazing folks parked around us had arranged a group trip together and I was able to tag along to fulfill my dream.

The boat they'd booked was small and intimate, perfect for our group of six. As we motored out to the bay, breaking down only once, we changed into our wet suits and got our snorkel gear and GoPros ready. It's a very laid-back process, with several boats communicating by radio to let the captains know where the whale sharks are located. The boats then circle around, trawling slowly to keep up with the ever-moving creatures. Each load of people takes a turn, jumping into the water with fanfare when the captain says "go." The water fills with splashing and fumbling snorkelers, all vying for an up close and personal glimpse of the massive creature, all the while, the whale shark continues swimming, unfazed by the clamor around it. When the crowd tires and the whale shark disappears into the murky turquoise, the swimmers return to their boat and the next boat gets in place to drop its eager visitors into the water.

Being with such a small group was a huge bonus, as it meant we weren't fighting each other to get close to the whale shark. The water was just murky enough to make it difficult to discern which direction to go once in the water. I had a very difficult time managing the waves that were splashing into my snorkel and choking me with saltwater. After a few minutes of this, I became a bit jumbled and turned around, so I had to stop, reach up and empty my snorkel to continue. With the situation under control, I dunked back under the water, only to reel back in surprise that I was directly above the whale shark we'd been pursuing. In my struggle, I hadn't noticed the giant creature heading my way right before I'd gone above water. They'd warned us not to touch the whale sharks, which I respected, as I'm of the opinion that we're messing with their environment enough just swimming around them. I was so close, I actually had to make a concerted effort to not disturb the beast or graze its flesh. I floated there, holding my breath, as the form moved swiftly and gracefully below me, very barely missing me with its giant tail fin as it continued into the depths.

The GoPro I was haphazardly swinging around in my right hand caught the shadow of the head before it swung with me above water, then, after capturing my choking escapade, it picked up the moment I dunked back in. Full disclosure…I'm not very good with a GoPro. I'm a photographer by career, but I tend to get shaky, blurry and poorly framed content whenever I use a GoPro. Luckily, I was videoing, so at least I got something, but the quality is lacking. Apologies ahead of time for the crooked photos!

I tired out fairly quickly, as kicking and swimming were pure torture on my back. We had jumped into the water a total of four times and in addition to being above the whale shark once, a second time had enabled me to swim right beside it for quite a while, getting a wonderful glimpse of the giant creature. As the rest of the group continued their pursuit, I climbed back into the boat, satisfied with my experience.

 Underwater selfie!

Underwater selfie!

 The image my GoPro saw that I didn't, right before I pulled it up to adjust my snorkel.

The image my GoPro saw that I didn't, right before I pulled it up to adjust my snorkel.

 The moment I put my head and GoPro back underwater, I was greeted with a close encounter!

The moment I put my head and GoPro back underwater, I was greeted with a close encounter!

 As you can see, I was inches from the whale shark. I this shot, you can see the scarred fin, likely caused from rubbing on the bottom of a boat.

As you can see, I was inches from the whale shark. I this shot, you can see the scarred fin, likely caused from rubbing on the bottom of a boat.

 A good shot for size reference.

A good shot for size reference.

 This time I swam beside the whale shark, not above.

This time I swam beside the whale shark, not above.

 Climbing back in with fins and a bum back was difficult!

Climbing back in with fins and a bum back was difficult!

 Getting towed back to the dock!

Getting towed back to the dock!

Carnaval

We arrived in La Paz on a Friday afternoon, after my specialty parts shop in US was already closed, so we had to wait the entire weekend before even confirming that they had the part in stock. Saturday was spent diagnosing, Sunday doing our Bible study and twiddling our thumbs, Monday calling frantically... the days extended longer than I wanted, but it gave us yet another chance to slow down. We've been perfecting the art of slow travel since 2014, and God keeps giving us chances to slow down even more. Carnaval extended all weekend, and we visited the malacon to see the parade on Monday, the night it was closing down. The food was out of this world, with many stalls offering many unhealthy foods. Available were churros, tacos, hot cakes, hot dogs, breads and candies of every sort - think state fair food, but dirt cheap and way better.

The parade was great. Many, many floats, some amateur and some professional blared traditional Mexican, pop, and Mexican pop. Many floats were produced and staffed by local dance schools, meaning that the every float had every kind of person, and every kind of body dancing away to the music. None of the standard beauty-pageant-only attitude - everyone was welcome. One float, our favorite, was created by a local school for disabled children, which made us love the inclusion and think of our amazing nephew Paxton. 

Speaking of the little dude Paxton, Wednesday of that week was World Rare Disease Day! So, in honor of my inspirational nephew Paxton, I shaved an inspirational mustache into my face. The next day we left La Paz, under our own power but not happy about it. The clutch master cylinder was working well enough to drive, but it wasn't a sustainable action. We set our eyes on Loreto (a favorite Baja city of ours…and the location of the one person who'd been able to give Chels pain relief for her back), and at the encouragement of Johan and Christa, and at the discouragement of Little Foot, we drove on, north into Baja, intent on making it to Loreto to await our part.

 The scene at the  malacon  for the parade.

The scene at the malacon for the parade.

 Considering hot dogs. Hot dogs considered.

Considering hot dogs. Hot dogs considered.

 The parade route was also the party route. But the party was really, really family friendly.

The parade route was also the party route. But the party was really, really family friendly.

 Oh yes. Yes please.

Oh yes. Yes please.

 Fried bananas.

Fried bananas.

 Fried  bananas . (Techincally, they're plantains…but they're awesome and very similar to bananas. - Chels)

Fried bananas. (Techincally, they're plantains…but they're awesome and very similar to bananas. - Chels)

 Sun setting on a parade.

Sun setting on a parade.

 The float of kiddos with disabilites!

The float of kiddos with disabilites!

 Street art in La Paz.

Street art in La Paz.

 World Rare Disease Day mustache!

World Rare Disease Day mustache!

 Johan and Christa cheering us on.

Johan and Christa cheering us on.

 On the road and shifting as little as possible, and  definitely  not stopping.

On the road and shifting as little as possible, and definitely not stopping.

Mexico, Part 13: Todos Santos, Sea Turtles and a Fellow Pinzgauer Nut!

Heading South One Last Time

After Pablo and Anna's presentation at La Ventanna we headed south one last time. We hadn't seen Todos Santos, and many people told us it was a cool, artsy town with a lot to offer. I'd had experiences in both the US, China, and Indonesia that led me to believe that "artsy" was a clever cover for tourist trap, but there was a turtle sanctuary nearby that Chelsea desperately wanted to visit, so we went. Who can say no to baby sea turtles? Surely, not us.

On our way we drove right past a beautiful mission in El Triunfo, and had to stop. There are many neglected missions off the beaten path in Baja, old Spanish missions well on their way to becoming earth again, but there also roadside churches that have been given new paint and longer lives, and while perhaps they lack some of the "authenticity" of a ruined structure that has been untouched for centuries, the maintained beauty is no less striking.

 The mission at El Triunfo.

The mission at El Triunfo.

 Inside the mission at El Triunfo, holes in the roof let speckled sunlight in.

Inside the mission at El Triunfo, holes in the roof let speckled sunlight in.

 Many of the living missions we have been to on this trip exhibit breathtaking wooden ceilings. 

Many of the living missions we have been to on this trip exhibit breathtaking wooden ceilings. 

 Outside the mission at El Triunfo in the afternoon light.

Outside the mission at El Triunfo in the afternoon light.

Todos Santos

We made it to Todos Santos later than we wanted to, but had a pretty good line on some free camping. We found a deserted beach a few miles out of town, crawled out onto the sand, and parked for the evening. In the morning we were greeted by gently crashing surf and limited visibility. We were back on the Pacific!

The turtle sanctuary releases baby turtles on a nightly basis during their hatching season, but all the releases happen at sunset, so we had a full day to play around in Todos Santos. The town is touristy - after all it is only a short drive from Cabo San Lucas - but not terribly so. There are very few overt tourist traps. Instead, the town offers a handful of legitimate art galleries, and some very nice handicraft stores. Foreign style bakeries and coffee shops are everywhere, but if you leave the main drag you'll find little taco stands offering killer carnitas and chicharrones and that's where the locals are. All in all it's a nice blend of tourist, gringo, and local. A cute, artsy town that has sold out a little to the white folks, but hasn't lost it's own flavor and identity.

 Morning fog moving in to envelop us.

Morning fog moving in to envelop us.

 Flags flying over the streets of Todos Santos.

Flags flying over the streets of Todos Santos.

 A magnificent bench in a coffee shop.

A magnificent bench in a coffee shop.

 Peering into one of the many open workshop galleries in Todos Santos.

Peering into one of the many open workshop galleries in Todos Santos.

 One of the many handicraft stores in the town center.

One of the many handicraft stores in the town center.

 Some beautiful street art in Todos Santos.

Some beautiful street art in Todos Santos.

Wanted: Turtles, Dead or Alive

After spending the day waiting for sunset, we headed out to the turtle sanctuary, which turned out to be a simple greenhouse structure surrounded by a chain link fence. Inside the green house are piles of sand, decorated with little signs bearing some vital statistics, and surrounded by their own little chain link fences. And under those piles of sand lay many, many hundreds of sea turtle eggs.

Turtle sanctuary volunteers collect the shells from sea turtle nests during the laying season, and re-bury them in the protected green house. Months later, when the eggs are hatching, the volunteers dig them up and release them into the sea. This practice keeps the eggs safe from a big threat: humans with trucks. A truck or possibly even a motorcycle bombing down the beach runs a big risk of crushing whole nests.

We were very excited to see the turtles, but, alas, the turtles were not excited to see us. The volunteers dug up about 100 empty turtle shells, the equivalent of 100 still-born turtles. According to the nice volunteers, this could have been because the mother's age (immature or too mature) or perhaps bad health. But, they told us there might be more eggs tomorrow. Most of the crowd was dejected, but we had the freedom of the road on our side, and decided to camp in the parking lot and wait for another day. We camped, spent another day wandering Todos Santos, found more cool arts and crafts, and ate more killer chicharones and waited for more sea turtles.

 The sea turtle sancutary was a simple affair.

The sea turtle sancutary was a simple affair.

 "See this here? It is a blue line. And this? This is another line, but it is red," said Christian, as he explained the graph.

"See this here? It is a blue line. And this? This is another line, but it is red," said Christian, as he explained the graph.

 The greenhouse structure acts as a large, passive incubator.

The greenhouse structure acts as a large, passive incubator.

 Volunteers removing eggs from the soft sand.

Volunteers removing eggs from the soft sand.

 Chelsea trying to get a good shot.

Chelsea trying to get a good shot.

 All of the infertile eggs were removed, incase some turtles were trapped at the bottom.

All of the infertile eggs were removed, incase some turtles were trapped at the bottom.

 Over 100 empty eggs.

Over 100 empty eggs.

 Our parking spot became a magnificent camping spot. The photo below is what I was capturing.

Our parking spot became a magnificent camping spot. The photo below is what I was capturing.

 A pano of Chelsea taking a photo of me, taking a pano of her! Magic!

A pano of Chelsea taking a photo of me, taking a pano of her! Magic!

 Some of the handicrafts being made in Todos Santos.

Some of the handicrafts being made in Todos Santos.

 Real exquisite stuff. 

Real exquisite stuff. 

 It was difficult to not take one home with us, but our home is so small!

It was difficult to not take one home with us, but our home is so small!

The next evening was a busy evening at the turtle sanctuary. Perhaps it was just the rhythm of the tourists, or maybe everyone who was let down the night before came back with more friends to check out the event, but either way there were many more people at the sanctuary. The volunteers do a great job of taking care of the baby turtles, and they told us a little about what was going on, but it was very apparent that public education was not their purpose.

A large bowl of maybe a dozen sea turtles was laid out on the sand, having been dug up earlier in the day. Small, white, American children immediately surrounded the bowl, and stayed there for over an hour, initially interested in the little aquatic dinosaurs that time forgot, but eventually losing interest and fighting over the use of their parent's iPhones. Out of a crowd of over 50 people, eight or so children dominated any viewing space of the turtles. Older children (as in, older than nine years of age), teenagers, honeymooners, parents, and the elderly were all kept away, and kept silent, by the very powerful hesitation to criticize both someone else's child and someone else's parenting.

Chelsea and I both really love seeing kids get out into nature and learn about the beauty of this world. As a raft guide and an educator, I understand the value of hands-on, experiential learning. Young children should have the first and best chance to see stuff like baby sea turtles, but not the only chance. Everyone wanted to be a part of the moment with the critters, and the moment stretched for over an hour, but because some of the parents (we're not talking about you, Danny and Kassie) refused to see the world past their children, a lot of folks were left out. Parents: your kids are the center of your world, but they are not the center of mine. Please be considerate.

Eventually we peeled away a few of the children from the bucket, and Chelsea got to take a few photos of the turtles, but we were already bitter and the magic of the experience was fairly well ruined. We watched the volunteers release the turtles into the sea, and it was actually kind of funny to see the little sea turtles get battered by the large surf, and struggle to get into the ocean. Actually, it wasn't funny to see that, it was scary and heartbreaking, but it was funny to see the cookie-cutter tourists realize that the world isn't perfect.

 Chels, getting pushed even further back by the crowd of mothers edging in to make sure their child gets a front-row seat.

Chels, getting pushed even further back by the crowd of mothers edging in to make sure their child gets a front-row seat.

 Sea turtles surrounded by an impenetrable wall of six year olds. The wall didn't move for over an hour.

Sea turtles surrounded by an impenetrable wall of six year olds. The wall didn't move for over an hour.

 I'm sure parents would have started glaring had Chels stayed too long in the "circle of children."

I'm sure parents would have started glaring had Chels stayed too long in the "circle of children."

 The critters were quite adorable.

The critters were quite adorable.

 Many people didn't have a chance to observe the beautiful creatures because a few parents wouldn't move their kids.

Many people didn't have a chance to observe the beautiful creatures because a few parents wouldn't move their kids.

 I WANT OUT.

I WANT OUT.

 Being a baby sea turtle is super tough.

Being a baby sea turtle is super tough.

 Releasing the turtles into the surf.

Releasing the turtles into the surf.

 Their journey was just begining. The dots are baby sea turtles.

Their journey was just begining. The dots are baby sea turtles.

 Getting ready to do battle with the surf.

Getting ready to do battle with the surf.

 Nothing beats watching baby turtles crawl into the sunset with 50+ other tourists!

Nothing beats watching baby turtles crawl into the sunset with 50+ other tourists!

During the two days that we spent killing time in Todos Santos and waiting for sunsets, we were parked on the side of a busy street, using the shade of a tree as a sort of "day camp" as we wandered the town. We spent a lot of time looking at art, window shopping, and writing blogs, but we also spent a lot of time sitting in or near Little Foot, and we had many, many visitors. One such visitor was Mr. John Brown, the owner and operator of Shut Up Frank's, a popular local restaurant and watering hole. He was very much unlike all the other gringos on the street that stopped and gawked at our rig. He knew all about Pinzgauers - he was once a Pinzgauer owner, just like us!

John Brown is one of those guys that found paradise at the right moment. Now he is a Todos Santos local with an amazing spot right on the beach at a secluded surf break. He made the right move at the right time, and he's got a thing for cars as well. At one point, there were 14 vehicles on the property, including a Pinzgauer 710M, the 4x4 soft top model. He showed us around his property, which is mostly mangrove and a few small houses. We "helped" him clear a few items out of his storage container, including a few Pinzgauer manuals and two aluminum water tanks that we're planning on bringing back to our friend Mauricio in Ensenada. Meeting John Brown was great, and I kept asking him, "Please, stop living my dream."

We left John Brown to keep living his dream on the beaches of Todos Santos, and chose a dirt road that looked like it would take us through a ghost town and out to the highway, instead of returning through town. It was all fun and games being back on a dirt road in nowhere, until our clutch started acting funky! More on that, next time.

 John Brown has a thing for cars.

John Brown has a thing for cars.

 Walking through the Mangroves to his house for a property tour.

Walking through the Mangroves to his house for a property tour.

 John is a successful guy with a simple beach house. No need for extravagance.

John is a successful guy with a simple beach house. No need for extravagance.

 Leading the way to the Storage Shed.

Leading the way to the Storage Shed.

 Pinz stuff! Gold!

Pinz stuff! Gold!

 Driving on a beautiful sandy road without much of a clutch! 

Driving on a beautiful sandy road without much of a clutch!