Mexico, Part 9: Nearly Deserted Road and Nearly Deserted Beaches

Nearly Deserted Roads

After leaving Agua Verde all four sets of couples (Jan and Diana, the Spaniards in the Windstar, Pablo and Anna, and ourselves) went separate ways at separate speeds. At Agua Verde, Mexico 1 cuts across the Baja Peninsula headed west, and very nearly hits the coast before turning southeast and heading back to the Sea of Cortez. Between the coasts we spent a few nights at an RV park to catch up on blog posts and enjoy some hot showers before hitting the road again. Leaving civilization, we had our eyes on a dirt road adventure along the Pacific Coast, but were turned back when the locals told us the road on our map didn’t actually exist.

We poked around unsuccessfully, looking for more adventurous side roads, but as the afternoon shadows grew longer we eventually settled on driving to a Pacific surf spot that was listed as a good area for free camping. 10km into a 20km drive down a sandy track, we gave up and stopped for the night. We weren’t going to surf at the beach, the road was deserted, the view was great, and there was no reason not to stop.

The next morning we enjoyed coffee while gazing out over the forest of cactus that laid like carpet over the rolling hills that lead down to the beach, nature’s hand only interrupted by the continuation of the sandy track that had led us to our impromptu, roadside camp spot. Everything was silent; we were alone, stillness laying ahead of us for miles to the sea, except for one tiny puff of dust that soon became a small cloud, and then a trail of flying dirt and diesel fumes furiously kicked up by nothing other than a green and silver Mitsubishi Delica! Pablo and Anna and their van La Cucaracha (of Viajeros4x4x4 fame) had found us again!

We flagged them down and exchanged pleasantries, and both agreed that the nature of Baja, for the traveler at least, is very much that of a town with a single street. We were separately headed for La Paz, the big port city in Southern Baja, and planned to meet up at a Tecolate beach, a popular free camping spot for long distance travelers, to celebrate Chelsea's birthday. The one-street-town nature of Baja had us accidentally bump into each other two more times before the beach. The Peninsula is small when it wants to be.

A beautiful sandy track surrounded by cactus.

A beautiful sandy track surrounded by cactus.

Our lazy, halfway camping spot on the side of a road.

Our lazy, halfway camping spot on the side of a road.

The forest of cactus that laid like carpet over the hills.

The forest of cactus that laid like carpet over the hills.

Testing the six wheel drive - front axle engaged (green lever), rear lockers engaged (middle yellow lever), and front locker engaged (far right yellow lever). Only test on soft straight roads!

Testing the six wheel drive - front axle engaged (green lever), rear lockers engaged (middle yellow lever), and front locker engaged (far right yellow lever). Only test on soft straight roads!

Tecolate Beach

We didn’t really enjoy Tecolate beach, but we did enjoy the company we found. While we were there a strong norte, the northerly winds that ran Rod out of Agua Verde a day early, kicked up, throwing light silt into every crevasse of our rig, and rendering the shoreline unusable for swimming or relaxing. As we sought shelter from the wind we ran into our friends Dani and Kevin, the nice folks we met in Mulege, traveling in their Iveco Trakker with their dog Mali. Finding them made the windy beach more bearable. Eventually we met up with Pablo and Anna as well, and goofed around for Chelsea’s birthday, taking some funny photos in the operating but nearly deserted beachside restaurants.

Sunset at Tecolate with Mali, Dani and Kevin.

Sunset at Tecolate with Mali, Dani and Kevin.

Tecolate restaurant deck. Half the restaurant was deck, the other half was a beached ship cememented into the ground. No joke.

Tecolate restaurant deck. Half the restaurant was deck, the other half was a beached ship cememented into the ground. No joke.

Tecolate beach restaurants and Chels looking a little discouraged and windblown by the thwarted birthday beach day.

Tecolate beach restaurants and Chels looking a little discouraged and windblown by the thwarted birthday beach day.

Pablo nailed it.

Pablo nailed it.

Nearly Deserted Beaches

The next day we shook off the night’s festivities and headed to a possibly deserted beach. We followed a windy road of immaculate asphalt out to some beaches just south of La Paz. La Cucaracha and Little Foot dove off the pavement and onto the dirt at the first possibility, a decision motivated by the hand of God more than the mind of man. We navigated a washed-out decent that caused some Japanese steel to meet some Mexican rock (the Austrian steel was unscathed) only to find a lonely little Volkswagen sedan and a helpless young man at the bottom of the hill, with the car backed up into a berm, and two wheels off the ground. God had sent us down the hill to perform a rescue!

The gentleman had been driving home from the beach the night before and took a wrong turn. As he nosed up to the hill we had just descended, he realized he had made a mistake. While attempting to make a three point turn, he reversed with too much enthusiasm and got stuck on the berm. He had been there all night! We broke out the shovels and muscles and dug him out, and after a short chat we realized that he knew our friend Mauricio (of @Ensenada fame), and the world of Baja got even smaller.

We spent two nights on the beach with Pablo and Anna. It was our first sighting of mobula rays breaching and splashing in the water, as if they were clapping with their entire body. Dolphins splashed in the distance, and a single lonely sea lion sat on a rock and sang to us for hours. Other highlights included baking bread over the campfire, and trying some of Pablo and Anna’s fantastic salted cod spread. There is a recipe he published in Overland Journal out there somewhere, and I’ll try to find it for you. We also collected and steamed crabs, continuing the theme of Pablo and I killing animals and eating them.

A rescue! I was hoping we would need to pull him out but four extra people pushing while Chels revved the gas was enough.

A rescue! I was hoping we would need to pull him out but four extra people pushing while Chels revved the gas was enough.

La Cucuracha chasing me down!

La Cucuracha chasing me down!

Getting ready to tread some sand.

Getting ready to tread some sand.

Our deserted beach.

Our deserted beach.

Prime crab hunting territory.

Prime crab hunting territory.

Crab hunting with Pablo.

Crab hunting with Pablo.

Crabs!

Crabs!

Tasty crabs.

Tasty crabs.

We were surrounded by 360° of beauty. That forest is huge cacti.

We were surrounded by 360° of beauty. That forest is huge cacti.

Prepping bread. We baked it in coals, not on the burner.

Prepping bread. We baked it in coals, not on the burner.

The beach, with some of the cleanest and clearest water we've seen yet.

The beach, with some of the cleanest and clearest water we've seen yet.

Pablo and Anna brought a kayak from Ensenada and chased down some mobula rays.

Pablo and Anna brought a kayak from Ensenada and chased down some mobula rays.

Consulting maps.

Consulting maps.

A Bad Road and a Rocky Cove

After Leaving La Ventana and the comfort of a few days doing nothing on the beach, we set our eyes on more beach and more nothingness as Pablo and Anna headed inland. Our goal was a specific isolated rocky cove that had earned our friend Mauricio the cover shot of the 2016 Rovers North calendar. Two route options presented themselves: a short drive up and over the mountains that lay between us and our beach, or drive south around the mountains and then turn and drive back north again along the coast and through some small towns to our destination. The second option felt laborious and dull, but more importantly we have three locking differentials and nearly 35” mud terrain tires and we need reasons to use them. We filled our tanks and headed to the hills for what we thought would be a mild dirt road, After all, Google maps said we were only 56 minutes away!

What ensued was a stiff climb up a large hill that featured exposed cliffs, off camber turns, a handful of ledges, and loose granite scree. At times my navigator was crying, and at other times her terror rendered her mute, a silence that was quite unnerving. We parked in places to get out and walk, to scout lines, and to weigh options. We shoveled loose gravel into piles in hopes that some of the ledges would toss us a little less. Two hours of the drive was spent out of the vehicle. At times Loulou was even buckled in.

In the end it was a great drive, if a little jarring at times as Little Foot trundled down washed out slopes. Driving a challenging road with your home on the back of your truck definitely lowers your comfort level, but we made it, and the rocky cove was worth every tear and whimper.

We spent two days at the rocky cove, again doing not much. Highlights were reading books, snorkeling, and baking bread over the fire. Loulou chased hermit crabs on the rocks, which was probably a trip highlight for her. On the second day, Sabrina and Henning (of TrailGypsies fame) and Jan and Diana (of steffens.live fame) found us, driving up to the road we had just come down. They weren’t looking for us or the rocky cove and we hadn’t made plans to meet up, illustrating once again that Baja can be small when it wants to be.

While we were camped at the rocky cove Chelsea and I did a little unpacking of the rig, only to find that some moisture, likely sweat, had been trapped under our fantastic IKEA futon mattress and had started to mildew! Luckily we had the sun on our side, so out came the mattress to bake in the warmth after a thorough bleach-spray session as I fired up the drill and added some breather holes to the plywood that forms the base of our bed.

The problem of mold and mildew makes sense – mattresses need to breathe because we are wet, disgusting animals. While building out Little Foot in Montana we had toyed around with the idea of using a slatted platform to support the bed but had decided on a single sheet of plywood to help with weight, strength, and simplicity. I hadn’t really revisited the problem until now, and I expressed my woes to Henning, who promptly told me that they take their mattress out of their rig at least every few weeks, and drying mattresses is just part of extended car-based travel. I mention this only to show how helpful it can be to talk, at length, with other overlanders, or really anyone in your trade or niche activity. The BS sessions between overlanders aren’t just competitions or mental floss – often both parties gain valuable insights into the shared and unconventional lifestyle.

The start of the drive.

The start of the drive.

Things getting steeper.

Things getting steeper.

Parked in a good spot as we scouted and shoveled.

Parked in a good spot as we scouted and shoveled.

Loulou buckled in, and the rear diffs engaged!

Loulou buckled in, and the rear diffs engaged!

One of a few spots we piled up rocks to limit Little Foots rolling.

One of a few spots we piled up rocks to limit Little Foots rolling.

Just a little light road construction.

Just a little light road construction.

Note from Chelsea: I took this photo after all the scary stuff was over. The technical section was so scary that the idea of taking photos or video just seemed wrong…if something truly bad had happened, I would've been racked with guilt over having been recording instead of helping. Instead, I walked ahead in the line where we had decided the driver's tire would be and used a walkie talkie to communicate any other directions Christian might need. I took this photo as Christian rounded a bend above the scary section to wait for me to run up and jump in. I'm including it to show the angle of Little Foot as it climbs around a slight curve. What scared me the most was being on sections of this road that were so narrow that when Little Foot would pitch like this, it was directly over a steep cliff. So, please take my word for it when I say, it felt much scarier than it looks! 

Note from Chelsea: I took this photo after all the scary stuff was over. The technical section was so scary that the idea of taking photos or video just seemed wrong…if something truly bad had happened, I would've been racked with guilt over having been recording instead of helping. Instead, I walked ahead in the line where we had decided the driver's tire would be and used a walkie talkie to communicate any other directions Christian might need. I took this photo as Christian rounded a bend above the scary section to wait for me to run up and jump in. I'm including it to show the angle of Little Foot as it climbs around a slight curve. What scared me the most was being on sections of this road that were so narrow that when Little Foot would pitch like this, it was directly over a steep cliff. So, please take my word for it when I say, it felt much scarier than it looks! 

The road was as beautiful as it was exciting.

The road was as beautiful as it was exciting.

The rocky cove with dinner on the fire.

The rocky cove with dinner on the fire.

Loulou the hermit crab hunter.

Loulou the hermit crab hunter.

Bread baking.

Bread baking.

The rocky cove at sunrise that earned Mauricio the cover of the Rovers North calendar.

The rocky cove at sunrise that earned Mauricio the cover of the Rovers North calendar.

Little Foot looks good from every angle…at least we think so…but we're a little biased!

Little Foot looks good from every angle…at least we think so…but we're a little biased!

Mold and mildew. More like mild-ewwwwww.

Mold and mildew. More like mild-ewwwwww.

Planning my holes to add at least a little air flow. Don't worry…we thoroughly bleached and scrubbed all of this off.

Planning my holes to add at least a little air flow. Don't worry…we thoroughly bleached and scrubbed all of this off.

Drilling.

Drilling.

Commuter traffic! Even the main paved roads aren't without obstacles!

Commuter traffic! Even the main paved roads aren't without obstacles!

Los Barriles

Los Barriles is a tourist town, end of sentence. Its been taken over by Americans and Canadians and has lost a lot of its Mexican charm. We ran into town only to seek out WiFi, update the blog, and run some errands. Otherwise, we stayed on yet another deserted beach and enjoyed more free camping, more fires, and more nothingness. 

We were so turned off by the rampant Americanization of the town that we chose to avoid viewing the Superbowl. I really wanted to watch the Patriots, they are my team, but I just couldn't put up with the foreigner bars, and therefore I missed what my little brother told me was "The greatest game of football ever." Instead we found solace in our weekly Bible study, because Superbowl Sunday is still a Sunday!

Loulou: "Guys, maybe I can go for a swim?"

Loulou: "Guys, maybe I can go for a swim?"

Snorkel everywhere.

Snorkel everywhere.

Chelsea doing dishes.

Chelsea doing dishes.

Many of our dinner are simply guacamole.

Many of our dinner are simply guacamole.

A beach well above Los Barriles, kitchen of course facing the ocean.

A beach well above Los Barriles, kitchen of course facing the ocean.

Getting a fire going dinner.

Getting a fire going dinner.

Chicken from the fire this evening.

Chicken from the fire this evening.

Our Sundays are always spent with a weekly podcast from Barabbas Road Church (Chels' old church in San Diego) that we follow along with while going verse-by-verse through the Bible.

Our Sundays are always spent with a weekly podcast from Barabbas Road Church (Chels' old church in San Diego) that we follow along with while going verse-by-verse through the Bible.

Mexico, Part 8: Agua Verde and Life Off the Grid in the Secret Cove.

Agua Verde

After leaving Rattlesnake Beach, we bought provisions, filled our water and fuel tanks, and headed toward the fabled paradise of Agua Verde, an often-photographed beach/cove/fish camp that lies at the end of a dirt road. The dirt road has a reputation that changes with every traveler’s telling of their own story. Descriptions range from “totally doable,” to “tight and washed out hairpins,” to “a hellacious decent,” but all we really knew was that it was ~42 km of twists to the waypoint on our GPS marked “paraíso.”

The first 10km of the road off Mex1 is superb asphalt, sort of a trap for folks with big rigs and travel trailers. From there, the road degrades steadily, first to mediocre washboard, then to exposed single lane hairpins turns, then to rutted sand, and finally into a 50m long, 35° pitch of alternating gravel stair-step drops that leads you smack dab into the prettiest sand isthmus you’ve ever seen, complete with palm trees, a lone fishing shack, and turquoise water lapping at the beaches in front and behind a secluded camp spot.

At the transition from tar to dirt, Chels and I stopped to aired down the tires. While we were mussing about in the dirt, dropping the tires from 75psi to 35psi, what should pull up behind us but a white Toyota Tacoma closely followed by a gun metal grey Land Rover Defender; it was Sabrina and Henning of Trail Gypsies fame and Jan and Diana of Steffens.live fame! We were all going to the same place, so we switched on the walkie-talkies and caravanned down the road.

About 2/3rds of the way to our beach destination we spotted a small note, black indelible marker on white paper, taped to a kilometer marker that read,

“RESPECT THE CHICKEN”

Pablo and Anna, of Viajeros4x4x4 fame, had left Rattlesnake Beach a day before us, and we had planned to meet up at Agua Verde. They had left us a note referencing Pablo’s gentle criticism of my too-American method of grilling, a clue wrapped in an inside joke (see last week's post for a more detailed explanation). We were pretty sure our GPS waypoint was the same as theirs, as our mutual friend Mauricio (of @Ensenada fame) had given us the same set of highlights on our mapping app. We photographed the note, very excited that our friends were nearby, and continued onwards, one eye on the GPS, one on the bushes and signs and fence posts, looking for more clues.

The top of the road into Agua Verde. There is over 1200 feet oF descent between Mex1 and the beach.

The top of the road into Agua Verde. There is over 1200 feet oF descent between Mex1 and the beach.

Exposed Hairpins begin!

Exposed Hairpins begin!

The views from the road were stunning.

The views from the road were stunning.

That's the Trail Gypsies and Jan and Diana in the distance.

That's the Trail Gypsies and Jan and Diana in the distance.

Little Foot posing with the others down below on the road to Agua Verde.

Little Foot posing with the others down below on the road to Agua Verde.

Catching up to the convoy after a photo opportunity.

Catching up to the convoy after a photo opportunity.

The first of three signs telling us to "Respect the Chicken."

The first of three signs telling us to "Respect the Chicken."

The second clue! Alas, we missed the third…at first.

The second clue! Alas, we missed the third…at first.

Another photo opportunity as we waited for a car coming the other direction to pass us.

Another photo opportunity as we waited for a car coming the other direction to pass us.

A pano of the Agua Verde region.

A pano of the Agua Verde region.

Agua Verde proper is a sandy isthmus strung between a rocky cliff and a rocky island, but a kilometer further down the road is a small fish camp and village, Puerto Agua Verde. Furthermore, the beaches lining the road in the 20 kilometers leading up to the isthmus all boast stupendous campsites adorned with waves of emerald and turquoise, so the entire region is kind of known as Agua Verde, at least to ignorant travelers.  We knew the Viajeros could be camped anywhere, but we were half betting on them being camped on the isthmus. During our drive in, Chels and I spotted one more sign ordering us to “RESPECT THE CHICKEN”, but we also missed one and drove right past the Viajeros’ camp on our way to our intended destination.

As we descended onto the beach, still looking in vain for La Cucuracha and her inhabitants, we were faced with one last steep pitch. Chels jumped out to film as I engaged both the rear differential locks and the front axle, essentially making Little Foot a 6-wheel-drive beast. We dropped into our campsite without a problem, leveled out the rigs, and made dinner in near paradise.

We were still vexed by the lack of the Viajeros when we awoke the next day. Despite hikes to multiple viewpoints, as well as a tandem SUP mission to the village of Agua Verde on the advice from a morning hiker that there were two Spaniards in a van camped there (alas, it was the wrong set of Spaniards in a van!), the Viajeros remained hidden, the end of their trail of signs still a mystery.

The steep, gravel hill into the camp spot.

The steep, gravel hill into the camp spot.

The rigs, posing.

The rigs, posing.

Loulou also likes to hang out by the fires.

Loulou also likes to hang out by the fires.

A full view of the Agua Verde isthmus. It's a popular place for yachts, as well.

A full view of the Agua Verde isthmus. It's a popular place for yachts, as well.

Exploring the beaches and looking for the Viajeros.

Exploring the beaches and looking for the Viajeros.

No end to the beauty in this area.

No end to the beauty in this area.

We found a beautiful fully empty beach with no road in that was also too shallow for boats. We did consider making a road...

We found a beautiful fully empty beach with no road in that was also too shallow for boats. We did consider making a road...

The weather turned on the last morning and we headed out to Loreto.

The weather turned on the last morning and we headed out to Loreto.

Our time on the isthmus was limited – Chelsea had an appointment with Antonio back in Loreto for more back relief. We climbed out of our camp spot, again engaging Little Foot’s 5-wheel-drive, and started back on the road to civilization, with our eyes firmly glued to our rearview mirrors, searching for a clue we may have missed on the earlier drive. Low-and-behold, just a few kilometers up the road we found a brown paper note, half folded over, that read “Respect the LEFT Chicken.”

In our rush we had assumed the Viajeros would be on the isthmus, but they had turned early and headed down a dirt track to the beach. We followed the winding track and found Pablo and Anna camped on an idyllic beach (henceforth referred to as “the cove”) with the other set of Spaniards in a Ford Windstar, true shoestring overlanders. We exchanged pleasantries, and offered to resupply the Viajeros, which turned into resupplying three sets of couples (the Germans showed up right as we were pulling out) and forfeiting most of our clear water. We hustled off the beach, now late for our appointment, and headed back to Loreto for a night at an RV park and a large shopping trip.

6 wheel drive, engage!

6 wheel drive, engage!

It was an easy climb out, but we were prepared.

It was an easy climb out, but we were prepared.

Another view of the isthmus, taken on the drive out.

Another view of the isthmus, taken on the drive out.

Spotting the Viajeros! We found them!

Spotting the Viajeros! We found them!

The third, and originally missed, clue.

The third, and originally missed, clue.

The Viajeros found an excellent beach, but honestly, they are all excellent.

The Viajeros found an excellent beach, but honestly, they are all excellent.

Weather moving in and out over the mountains.

Weather moving in and out over the mountains.

Driving through Loreto, supplying up for a few more days on the beach.

Driving through Loreto, supplying up for a few more days on the beach.

The Secret Cove

We returned to the cove the next day, which also happened to be Anna’s birthday. Under secret orders from Pablo we brought back a birthday cake and a candle shaped like a question mark for the night’s festivities. The Windstar Spaniards had driven to the little fishing village of Agua Verde to secure a goat for the barbecue, which cost the group a grand total of $12.50 USD, cleaned, butchered, and ready to grill (yet another reason to love Mexico). A few of us searched for firewood as Jan and Diana setup their fancy hanging grill, and the birthday party was underway.

Pablo, ever the Argentinian, tended the fire and the grill, treating the recently deceased goat with great respect. Dinner and dessert was absolutely fantastic, and Anna was sung to by the world’s worst multi-lingual chorus, as God put on a show by lighting up the waves with neon blue iridescence. He gifted Anna with a tide of phosphorescent plankton, and we played around in the shallows, kicking and stomping and setting off miniature lightening storms that dissipated into a momentary parody of the night sky above our dancing heads, and then vanished into the nothingness of the gentle surf.

The cove.

The cove.

The bioluminsence on display at the cove on the evening of Anna's birthday.

The bioluminsence on display at the cove on the evening of Anna's birthday.

Spectacular bioluminsence.

Spectacular bioluminsence.

Chel's feet and her Chacos, bathed in light from the sea. (Hey Chaco…sponsor us!!!)

Chel's feet and her Chacos, bathed in light from the sea. (Hey Chaco…sponsor us!!!)

The stars and the sea playing.

The stars and the sea playing.

Beauty and light pollution, reminding us we're not alone.

Beauty and light pollution, reminding us we're not alone.

Pablo letting his Argentinian side come out!

Pablo letting his Argentinian side come out!

Respecting the goat, insetad of the chicken.

Respecting the goat, insetad of the chicken.

Jan and Diana provided a really cool, packable hanging grill. 

Jan and Diana provided a really cool, packable hanging grill. 

The fire continued all night.

The fire continued all night.

The next day our friend Rod and his two dogs arrived in his power boat, having motored all the way from Rattlesnake Beach to visit us. Northerly winds, "nortes" locally, can thrash the coast of the Sea of Cortez, so Rod planned his trip carefully and had to leave a little early to avoid rough seas on the voyage back to his winter camp. Between the winds, though, we got a calm day and he took Pablo and I out fishing, which was beautiful but fruitless.

In an attempt to provide dinner for everyone, Pablo, Jan, and myself went kayaking and snorkeling around a rocky point in search for what we thought were oysters, but may have actually been scallops. We tried to eat the beautiful things like oysters, but we kind of failed at that, and have since learned that (perhaps) we were supposed to clean and cook these specific shellfish. Whoops! No one got sick, but they were tough eating. Pablo also caught a fish in his homemade fishing net, and so that was served up for dinner over the fire.

At the end of a beautiful few days on the nearly deserted beach we packed up, and hit the road. Travel is fantastic, especially when you find a place that tempts you to quit traveling.

Rod showed up and we went boating!

Rod showed up and we went boating!

Kayaking for seafood.

Kayaking for seafood.

Pablo teaching Diana how to clean a fish.

Pablo teaching Diana how to clean a fish.

Removing the scales.

Removing the scales.

Opening shellfish.

Opening shellfish.

Cleaning them a bit, including removing a pair of tiny lobsters.

Cleaning them a bit, including removing a pair of tiny lobsters.

A tiny lobster!

A tiny lobster!

Fresh dinner.

Fresh dinner.

Rod and his boat, parked for the night.

Rod and his boat, parked for the night.

All the views were great.

All the views were great.

RoD brought his two dogs, Smoky and Rio, affectionately nicknamed  Los Dos Criminales.

RoD brought his two dogs, Smoky and Rio, affectionately nicknamed Los Dos Criminales.

The view from our bedroom.

The view from our bedroom.

I had to help Rod launch his boat the next morning as a northerly wind blew in.

I had to help Rod launch his boat the next morning as a northerly wind blew in.

Chels, usually the photographer, cleaning dishes in the sea (or maybe making mud pies?)

Chels, usually the photographer, cleaning dishes in the sea (or maybe making mud pies?)

Mexico, Part 5: Baja Sur, Whale Watching in Guerrero Negro, and San Ignacio

Baja Sur and Whale Watching in Guerrero Negro

The peninsula that Americans know as Baja is comprised of two states, Baja California and Baja California Sur. Baja means lower, and refers back to Fransican's division of their Californian mission territory into Alta and Baja. The peninsula is still known as Baja, and the lower half of lower California is know referred to as Baja Sur, or southern Baja.

The border between the brother states is marked with limited fanfare: a large flag, some Grey whale bones, and a guy spraying down tires with pesticide. Like a never ending Phish set, Baja Sur is a continuation of the song of the north, with a few more subtle riffs on beautiful beaches and palm trees added for good measure. It's very nearly the same paradise, but "very nearly" isn't identical.

Our first stop was Guerrero Negro, home to the greatest salt mine in the world and a renowned whale-watching spot. Grey whales spend their summers eating and copulating in the rich waters of the northern pacific. When the weather turns and the days get shorter, the lady whales migrate to the warmer waters of Baja to birth their baby whales. The water is warm and the lagoons are protected, providing a perfect spot for teaching their little ones how to swim and breathe and get by.

We camped on the beach by a salt refinery for very, very little money, and caught a whale watching boat the next day. By a blessing from God we found ourselves alone on the boat, just the two of us and the captain and a boat hand. IT WAS AWESOME! No crowd, no one else to talk to, just near silence while we stalked a few pairs of enormous whales. The babies were pretty big and the moms just huge, to put it in bland and blatant terms. I grew up whale watching every summer on Cape Cod, and this is nothing like that. While our captain did keep us a respectful distance from the new mother-child pair, it was much more intimate than my expectations.

The camping spot was exquisite. We weren't actually charged for camping, but for entrance into the park, so technically the camping was free. There weren't a lot of other folks camped, and almost no light pollution, so the photo opportunities were outstanding. Chels broke out her big camera and tripod one night to capture some stunning shots of the sunset and the starry night.

Flag, whale bones, and somewhere down this road there is a lonely gentleman spraying tires with pesticide to protect the desert ecosystem.

Flag, whale bones, and somewhere down this road there is a lonely gentleman spraying tires with pesticide to protect the desert ecosystem.

Loulou, exploring yet another campsite, this time at Guerrero Negro.

Loulou, exploring yet another campsite, this time at Guerrero Negro.

Spectacular sunsets, as per usual, over the west side of the Baja Peninsula.

Spectacular sunsets, as per usual, over the west side of the Baja Peninsula.

She knows how pretty she is.

She knows how pretty she is.

Did I mention sunsets?

Did I mention sunsets?

The campsite was amazing at all times of the day.

The campsite was amazing at all times of the day.

Little Foot looks good in any light, no big deal.

Little Foot looks good in any light, no big deal.

Me, impersonating a whale.

Me, impersonating a whale.

All alone all day! No other tourists with us on the boat ride.

All alone all day! No other tourists with us on the boat ride.

Scared? I don't know.

Scared? I don't know.

Whale saying hi!

Whale saying hi!

There was no part of the trip that wasn't magical.

There was no part of the trip that wasn't magical.

We were super close to the enormous beasts of the sea.

We were super close to the enormous beasts of the sea.

I couldn't stop giggling.

I couldn't stop giggling.

The scars are from barnacles, boats, rope, nets, and other bad things.

The scars are from barnacles, boats, rope, nets, and other bad things.

Half the fun was searching for the whales.

Half the fun was searching for the whales.

Little Foot driving through the salt flats.

Little Foot driving through the salt flats.

San Ignacio

After leaving the Guerrero Negro lagoon and campground, we provisioned in the town and headed out. With tanks full of water and a stocked fridge, we made our way to San Ignacio, by way of some small highway town that gave us a foggy night of camping in a hotel lot.

We arrived in San Ignacio, parked in the town square, and explored the nearby mission. There are missions up and down the peninsula, and the one in San Ignacio is supposed to be the best balance of accessibility, originality (as in terms of structure), and quality (as in terms of upkeep and grounds). We're Christians but we're not Catholic, but that didn't keep us from really appreciating the grandeur structure. We recognize that the history of missions in both Mexico and the US is a history of bloodshed and subjugation, and while we in no way support the methods put forth by the missionaries in the name of God, we can't help but recognize a beautiful structure when we see one.

After pondering the beauty of the town square and its mission, we headed out of town to find a camping spot, only to run (pun intended!) into the Via PanAm team! Via PanAm is a team of four crazy people who are running marathon lengths (26.2 miles) from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska to Ushuaia, Argentina for charity. Weking and Seba are the runners, and Liesbeth and An are their support. "To Walk Again" is their chosen charity, and their goal is to support folks with physical limitations. Maybe that means keeping them active or maybe it means starting the process to get an expensive prosthetic made. To help the charity, the Via PanAm team runs a marathon EVERY DAY. Everyday there is one team member running, one recovering, and two supporting. The supporting team members drive two very cool Toyota Hilux trucks with custom built camping boxes, but the trucks are just there to carry the stuff. Their's isn't a vehicular trip. Their travel is supported by wheel, but driven by feet.

They haven't raised a lot of money, and they deserve your support. Give them the price of a latte or a draft beer, or something. Check out their website www.ViaPanAm.Today and maybe give a little, not because you must, not because you can, not because they are living an amazing story and it inspires you to push your own limits and realize your untapped potential, but because THEY RAN A MARATHON TODAY.  And they will tomorrow. And the next day. And then again. And then again and again and again. All the way to Ushuaia, Argentina. Oh you don't know where Ushuaia is? IT'S WHERE SOUTH AMERICA RUNS OUT OF THINGS YOU CAN RUN ON.

Our camp site that night was awesome. The Lagoon in San Ignacio is fed by a freshwater spring, a real life Oasis on the peninsula of desert. We camped, cooked, swam, and enjoyed the rope swing. Cost? 80 pesos (~4USD) a night. I love this country.

Digging out our water tanks to refill. Agua Purificada shops are plentiful and cheap. Even better…the water they produce is absolutely delicious.

Digging out our water tanks to refill. Agua Purificada shops are plentiful and cheap. Even better…the water they produce is absolutely delicious.

Chels' morning yoga and stretching ritual is often interrupted by head butts with Loulou.

Chels' morning yoga and stretching ritual is often interrupted by head butts with Loulou.

The foggy camp spot. Cool trucks camp together.

The foggy camp spot. Cool trucks camp together.

The mission at San Ignacio.

The mission at San Ignacio.

Chels shooting in the mission.

Chels shooting in the mission.

Mission beauty. 

Mission beauty. 

More mission beauty.

More mission beauty.

Contemplating benches.

Contemplating benches.

If your kid told you he was driving from Alaska to Ushuaia, or maybe riding motorcycles, you'd probably be terrified. These crazies are  running  that trip. On their  feet . Donate now: www.ViaPanAm.today

If your kid told you he was driving from Alaska to Ushuaia, or maybe riding motorcycles, you'd probably be terrified. These crazies are running that trip. On their feet. Donate now: www.ViaPanAm.today

San Ignacio camping. Super Sweet.

San Ignacio camping. Super Sweet.

Rope swinging.

Rope swinging.

Rope swing panicking.

Rope swing panicking.

Chels's jumping photo had an equally if not more terrifying face, but she wouldn't post it since she was in her skivvies. Alas, you'll have to take our word for it and at least see this photo of her soaking wet as proof that she jumped from the rope swing as well.

Chels's jumping photo had an equally if not more terrifying face, but she wouldn't post it since she was in her skivvies. Alas, you'll have to take our word for it and at least see this photo of her soaking wet as proof that she jumped from the rope swing as well.

Just buy a truck, a van, a camper, a rig, ANY RIG, and go exploring. This is what you'll get. (Cat not included.)

Just buy a truck, a van, a camper, a rig, ANY RIG, and go exploring. This is what you'll get. (Cat not included.)

Stretching and coffee with Loulou.

Stretching and coffee with Loulou.

Contemplating the day. Evidence of a fire in the background. San Ignacio.

Contemplating the day. Evidence of a fire in the background. San Ignacio.

Mexico, Part 3: Waiting for Christmas and Christmas

Waiting for Christmas

After spending a few days in the Valle de Guadalupe and Rancho San Carlos, we started playing the waiting game, passing the time in Ensenada until my father arrived. He had asked us months ago, when we were on the Oregon coast, where we would be for Christmas, and we had NO IDEA. It's pretty tough to schedule an overland trip, much less an overland trip in a 30+ year old Swiss Army surplus van. We glanced at the map, figured if we hadn't made it to Mexico by Christmas we'd be enormous failures, and therefore chose what we thought would be a home-run destination, a local wine region just over the border. 

What this meant in reality is that we had loads of time to kill in Ensenada. Luckily, our newly made Mexican friends, Mauricio and Abby, let us camp at their house for over a week, and we got some projects started and finished. We searched for some steel hardware to better secure our doors while we're away from Little Foot, and stumbled upon a small factory building Baja 1000 trophy and race trucks. We found a fantastic Spanish teacher and took some language lessons, and watched American football at a foreigner/expat bar. We even scoured the beach for mussels and made free dinner at Mauricio's seaside abode. By slowing down we got to explore even more of Ensenada and become closer with our new friends. It was great.

The Baja buggies at this factory took me by surprise! We were looking for small pieces of angle steel to make into locks and pulled into the lot of what looked like a scrap metal recycling center. Imagine my surprise when I walked into the workshop and saw this scene!

The Baja buggies at this factory took me by surprise! We were looking for small pieces of angle steel to make into locks and pulled into the lot of what looked like a scrap metal recycling center. Imagine my surprise when I walked into the workshop and saw this scene!

The finished lock project.

The finished lock project.

Scouring the beach with Pablo and Anna for mussels.

Scouring the beach with Pablo and Anna for mussels.

Preparing the mussels! (Hey Leatherman… we think this could be an ad photo for you!) (Is that how sponsorship works? You just write a caption and it happens?)

Preparing the mussels! (Hey Leatherman… we think this could be an ad photo for you!) (Is that how sponsorship works? You just write a caption and it happens?)

The best part: eating the mussels! A free protein from the sea for dinner. Very nice. 

The best part: eating the mussels! A free protein from the sea for dinner. Very nice. 

Overlooking northern Ensenada from a fantastic and mostly hidden cafateria at a local university.

Overlooking northern Ensenada from a fantastic and mostly hidden cafateria at a local university.

From right to left: Mauricio's 1961 Land Rover 2A, Little Foot the Pinzgauer, and the Cucaracha of Viajeros4x4x4 fame.

From right to left: Mauricio's 1961 Land Rover 2A, Little Foot the Pinzgauer, and the Cucaracha of Viajeros4x4x4 fame.

Loulou got used to her oceanside view at Mauricio's.

Loulou got used to her oceanside view at Mauricio's.

Chelsea took me on a date to watch the New England Patriots at a local expat bar.

Chelsea took me on a date to watch the New England Patriots at a local expat bar.

Spanish lessons might have been made more difficult, but far more entertaining by these two charismatic kittens.

Spanish lessons might have been made more difficult, but far more entertaining by these two charismatic kittens.

Helping Mauricio work his way through some designs for his Land Rover overland project.

Helping Mauricio work his way through some designs for his Land Rover overland project.

Christmas

Chuck, my dad, finally arrived in Mexico and the Christmas Festivities got underway. He chose to stay at boutique hotel named Hotel Boutique in the wine region of the Valle de Guadelupe. It rained for the first few days of the stay, but the sun cleared after that, drying out the vineyards and providing great weather for wandering around the agricultural region.

In addition to visiting the wineries of the Valle de Guadelupe, we toured parts of Ensenada, including the docks, the Mercado Negro, and Hussong's bar and restaurant.

The Mercado Negro, which translates to the Black Market, is a sizable warehouse full of fish vendors. Decades ago, captains returning from a day or week of fishing would hide some of their catch from the ship's owners and sell this portion to the people of Ensenada. Hiding the fish allowed the captains to make some side cash, while letting the people of Ensenada access the sea food without paying a middleman.

Hussong's is one of two restaurants that contend the title of "Home of the Margarita". The place is in the tourist district, and is itself a little touristy, but you know what you're getting when you find it. The margaritas were alright, and if there is a famous home for an iconic beverage near you as you're traveling, you've just got to go. It was worth it.

Wine Tasting.

Wine Tasting.

Ensenada's dock region.

Ensenada's dock region.

The Mercado Negro. The catch was SO fresh you couldn't smell fish, no joke.

The Mercado Negro. The catch was SO fresh you couldn't smell fish, no joke.

Hussong's!

Hussong's!

Loulou making friends with a wolf dog that wanted to eat her.

Loulou making friends with a wolf dog that wanted to eat her.

More wine tasting while we opened Christmas presents!

More wine tasting while we opened Christmas presents!

California Part 2: Central Coast and closing in on San Diego!

Getting out of the San Francisco area was no small (or cheap) task. Chelsea routed us through what she thought would be the most direct route, forgetting that the bridges were tolled and we had an extra axel (which more than doubled the tolls). Her route, however, did take us over the famous Golden Gate, and the view was worth it.

After we exited San Francisco we plunged back into fantastic California coast scenery, again taking many chances to stop and wander. We tracked down one of Chelsea's favorite campsites from her trip up the coast years ago, and it was just as magical this time around. Butano State Park, if anyone is interested. 

Surprisingly light California traffic.

Surprisingly light California traffic.

Golden Gates.

Golden Gates.

Butano State Park.

Butano State Park.

More outstanding California surf.

More outstanding California surf.

A few spots were ludicrously beautiful.

A few spots were ludicrously beautiful.

After staying in Butano, and paying the hefty $35 fee (it honestly feels like a fine for enjoying nature) we were very motivated to camp for free for a night. Unfortunately, much of the surrounding National Forest was burnt and the roads were closed to anything but moving thru-traffic. We found a nice parking spot and made dinner, and were even visited by some fantastic travelers who couldn't help but stop and gander at our rig.

We made dinner, walked Loulou, and basked in the waning light of a beautiful sunset, until a county official drove by and told us to move on or risk a fine. Alas, stealth camping doesn't always work! We found a pull-off down the road and gave camping another try, and thankfully weren't bothered through the night.

Getting ready for the sunset show.

Getting ready for the sunset show.

We've been trying to adapt Loulou to a harness. It hasn't worked.

We've been trying to adapt Loulou to a harness. It hasn't worked.

A nice spot to park and make dinner, but we were run off by the officials. Dang!

A nice spot to park and make dinner, but we were run off by the officials. Dang!

I was in awe all evening. The Sunset was truly magical.

I was in awe all evening. The Sunset was truly magical.

Waves, sunset, and the highway.

Waves, sunset, and the highway.

Little Foot posing.

Little Foot posing.

Just the best spot to make dinner.

Just the best spot to make dinner.

More sunset. More Little Foot.

More sunset. More Little Foot.

Just before we were ran off, Chelsea got out her tripod to start shooting some night photos. Quite nice!

Just before we were ran off, Chelsea got out her tripod to start shooting some night photos. Quite nice!

The next day we were running low on oil, and our pre-occupation regarding finding more 20w50 led us to forget about our fuel level! We ran Little Foot dry, and had a rough time getting him started again. Luckily, we were on our way to see a Pinzgauer Mechanic, and he took our calls and talked us through restarting our rig. In doing so, however, I drained our truck batteries, so I had to swap in our house batteries and re-rig all our wiring. I took us over two hours to get Little Foot running, but run he did! The problem lay in priming the carburetors after they ran dry. It required removing the air box, and capping the top of each carb individually to allow the suction to draw fuel. Now we know for next time!

After that we made it to Morrow Bay and rolled into an RV resort. we were beat, and we didn't mind paying for camping because it allowed us to shut our brains off. We cleaned, plugged into the grid to charge our batteries, did some laundry, and watched shows on Netflix/HULU. Sometimes you need some TV, even on the road.

Let the wrenching begin. God gave us a nice place to roll to a stop, though. Safe, secluded, and quiet.

Let the wrenching begin. God gave us a nice place to roll to a stop, though. Safe, secluded, and quiet.

Batteries out, swapped, air box off, diagnostics happening. Finally he roared to life!

Batteries out, swapped, air box off, diagnostics happening. Finally he roared to life!

Morrow Bay, a nice RV resort!

Morrow Bay, a nice RV resort!

Between San Francisco and San Bernardino, we happened to stop at Shepherd of the Mountains Lutheran Church for a bible study and a Sunday morning service, which was excellent. They are a remarkably welcoming congregation, and their church is beautiful. After the service, we found a note on our windshield, asking us to come a visit a gentleman who found Little Foot quite interesting. He too is a collector of the best kinds of vehicles, and was happy to show off his collection of International harvester Scouts, Travelletes, and old army trucks. Very cool!

Me drooling at the IH trucks.

Me drooling at the IH trucks.

Outside San Bernadino we camped and waited on our mechanic, Mr. Jim Laguardia of Goatwerks Garage, to have some free time to inspect Little Foot. The local Walmarts don't allow overnight parking, so we camped up a ragged dirt road, that really and truly stretched the limit of "dirt". There wasn't a speck of dirt, but rather 3 miles of jagged, sharp California granite scree. It was terrible, but at least the views were nice! We arrived in the dark and couldn't appreciate our views until the next morning.

We spent a day waiting in San Bernardino, blogging and updating things, and camping in the driveway of a relative of one of Chelsea's college friends. We are remarkably thankful for the generosity of all the folks on the road who take us in. We couldn't do what we do without you!

Once Jim had a little time for us, we found his garage and he got to work. I specifically wanted him to look at our carburetors, for while I thought they were running fine, he is known as THE Pinzgauer carb guy. And, as it turns out, our carburetors weren't running fine. He told us that not only were they broken and underpowered, but they were essentially ticking time bombs. He fixed us up with a new throttle body, some new parts, a handful of new jets, a carb balance, and a simple tune up. We were out the door with loads more power and more confidence! Time and money well spent! Thanks Jim!!

Camping above San Bernadino because the Walmarts wouldn't have us.

Camping above San Bernadino because the Walmarts wouldn't have us.

At Jim's with the daylight fading and wrenches flying.

At Jim's with the daylight fading and wrenches flying.

Little Foot in the company of his own. Again.

Little Foot in the company of his own. Again.

Jim on the left working, and me on the right figuring out how I can be like Jim when I grow up.

Jim on the left working, and me on the right figuring out how I can be like Jim when I grow up.