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 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 12: Meeting up with Pablo and Anna in La Ventana

For a couple of weeks we had known that our friends Pablo and Anna (of Viajeros4x4x4 fame) were scheduled to give a presentation at a kiteboarding camp in La Ventana, a town 150 kilometers north of the San Jose del Cabo/East Cape area. We were a little torn about the option of tracking down the traveling Spaniards. On one hand, we really enjoy Pablo and Anna's company, we love hearing their stories, and time spent with them usually produces valuable lessons. On the other hand, we had already been to La Ventana, it wasn't on our planned route back, and we wanted to head to Todos Santos, which was on the opposite side of the peninsula. After some hemming and hawing, we decided to track down our favorite heroes and go support them at their talk.

We spent a night at a campground while en route to the presentation, and made time for a little Sunday morning Bible study before continuing on to our destination. Arriving in La Ventana, we still didn't know how we would find our heroes in the town, as it was mostly made of winding back roads and beach encampments that resembled refugee camps for surfers. We were parked, using some free wifi, when out of nowhere the bedraggled purr of a Japanese turbo diesel alerted us to their presence. We didn't need to find them, they found us! There are many benefits to owning a highly recognizable vehicle.

We followed Pablo and Anna to Baja Joe's, a multi-service, multi-purpose beach resort in downtown La Ventana. Baja Joe's is part hotel, part cafe, part bar, part kite school, and most importantly, part community meeting place. Pablo and Anna had met and subsequently been adopted by Kevin, a Canadian who blurs the lines of gringo and local, and he set up the lecture with the folks at Baja Joe's. Kevin's connection with Pablo and Anna? He's a Mitsubishi Delica owner as well. Remember what I said about highly recognizable rigs?

Pablo and Anna packed the open air cafe and bar with their lecture/talk/slideshow. They presented 17 years of excellent pictures, and talked the audience through the successes, failures, and adventures of their life on the road. Folks were engaged, and many questions were asked and they were all answered. We felt like the event was part lecture and part stage show, as Pablo and Anna have an amazing rapport, especially considering the talk was given in their second language. We assumed they had given talks very similar to this in the past, as a some of their dialogue was so quick it felt practiced, but they told us later that it was the first of this kind that they had delivered. I suppose their stage presence is a byproduct of travel, produced in the white-hot cruicble of the cockpit of La Cucuracha.

Studying the Bible while Loulou considers her escape.

Studying the Bible while Loulou considers her escape.

Did they see us yet? Maybe they didn't see us. Maybe we can still escape.

Did they see us yet? Maybe they didn't see us. Maybe we can still escape.

Pablo and Anna preparing for their talk, and mostly waiting for the sun to go down so the projector could be useful.

Pablo and Anna preparing for their talk, and mostly waiting for the sun to go down so the projector could be useful.

Pablo and Anna packed the house at Baja Joe's!

Pablo and Anna packed the house at Baja Joe's!

The next day we spent the morning looking for a mechanic's garage to perform an oil change on Little Foot. We had the filter, and we had the oil, and we had the wrenches, but we needed the bucket! We don't carry an oil pan with us because oil pans are dirty and oily, so we had to search one out, as well as some uninhabited dirt upon which to do the work. My timing on the oil change was a little early, but I had been unable to find an SAE30 oil in Baja, and Little Foot likes to burn and leak a little oil, so we were running low. Most stores carry 20w50, and Little Foot is happy with that, so a preemptive oil change let me relax knowing that surplus oil is available at nearly every corner store.

After the oil change we went for a walk on a short trail that boasted interpretive and educational signs describing the local desert flora. Rumor has it that the very American upgrades to the town, including this nature walk and the local maze of mountain biking trails, were products of generosity from Alice Walton, Sam Walton's daughter. Possible!

The nature/interpretive trail was fantastic. Usually the desert brush surrounding the large cacti is so dense and unforgiving that folks don't get a chance to walk through the dry forests. In La Ventana, the trail winds through a stark, beautiful grove of cacti, some over 20 feet tall. Small signs gave us a little information about the local plants, their flowering and fruiting seasons, and common uses.

Changing the oil at a closed tire shop.

Changing the oil at a closed tire shop.

Petting the cactus!

Petting the cactus!

Checking out some of the interpretive signs on the nature trail.

Checking out some of the interpretive signs on the nature trail.

A close up of a cactus.

A close up of a cactus.

Some of the cacti were just huge, with many limbs.

Some of the cacti were just huge, with many limbs.

Kevin, the Canadian local/gringo that was hosting Pablo and Anna, extended his hospitality to us as well, and we spent a couple nights camped out in his driveway. He's an avid kite surfer, and loves to instruct and talk shop about the sport, although he'll tell you he doesn't know how to teach someone to ride. We had a chance to head out to a local beach while the wind was up to learn how to fly a trainer kite, the first step to kite surfing.

We watched some folks launch from the beach, and got a general idea of the basic maneuvers of the sport. The kites, which vary in size from 6 meters to 13 meters, are super powerful - there is a lot of air being caught by the kite structure, and a 10 meter wing can easily pull a human through the water. Kevin taught us how to lay our lines for a kite, go through a pre-flight check, and prepare the inflatable structures of the kite's wing. It was a real day of learning! Eventually he launched for a ride, and we got to play around with the tiny-by-comparison trainer kite. 

Generally it took two people to launch the trainer kite, and one to fly. Once up, the rainbow wing required constant attention, needing to be powered and de-powered to maintain a stable rhythm of arcs through the air. Too much turn one way, or too little power at the wrong moment sent the nylon wing plummeting to the sand, and the helpers sprinting out to the beach to relaunch.

The whole experience was fantastic - just flying a kite is great fun, and Kevin's friend had developed a two part control bar that made flying a small kite more difficult. You'll see it in some photos - the bar furthest from the harness is the standard bar, and bar closest to the harness was added later as an auxiliary bar, and interacts with the main control bar through two rubber bands. Essentially, the auxiliary control bar adds a degree of lag to flying the trainer kite. Its like driving a car with lots of play in the steering wheel.

In addition to flying the kite, Chelsea and I got to ride in La Cucuracha on the way to the beach! And we got use the van's best party piece - the stand-through expedition-worthy sun roof! It was excellent.

Riding in La Cucuracha.

Riding in La Cucuracha.

Expedition worthy sun roof!

Expedition worthy sun roof!

Sun roof beach action!

Sun roof beach action!

Watching a kite surfer body drag before standing up on his board.

Watching a kite surfer body drag before standing up on his board.

Kevin, describing the basics of flying a kite.

Kevin, describing the basics of flying a kite.

Laying out the lines on the trainer kite is as important as laying out the lines on a big kite.

Laying out the lines on the trainer kite is as important as laying out the lines on a big kite.

Attaching the harness to Pablo.

Attaching the harness to Pablo.

PRETTY RAINBOW KITE!!!

PRETTY RAINBOW KITE!!!

Anna and I preparing to launch the kite for Pablo.

Anna and I preparing to launch the kite for Pablo.

Difficulty launching. At this point, the little wing is alive with power.

Difficulty launching. At this point, the little wing is alive with power.

Kevin teaching me about the basics of preparing an inflated kite.

Kevin teaching me about the basics of preparing an inflated kite.

Fixing... something.

Fixing... something.

Pablo with his hands on the auxillary control bar, which slows down the control of the kite.

Pablo with his hands on the auxillary control bar, which slows down the control of the kite.

Pablo, launching the kite for me all by himself.

Pablo, launching the kite for me all by himself.

Pablo and Anna launching the trainer kite for me.

Pablo and Anna launching the trainer kite for me.

Chelsea flying the trainer using the main bar.

Chelsea flying the trainer using the main bar.

Chelsea flying one-handed on the auxillary bar! Look at the girl go!

Chelsea flying one-handed on the auxillary bar! Look at the girl go!

Still flying one-handed on the lower bar. The is an advanced beginner move, made easier if you bite your tongue.

Still flying one-handed on the lower bar. The is an advanced beginner move, made easier if you bite your tongue.

We celebrated our successful day of beach flying with some fish frying! There was one shop in town with fresh-ish fish, and Kevin bought a bunch of sea bass to batter and pan fry for the whole family. His hospitality was absolutely incredible, and he just wouldn't let us leave the next day without putting us on his paddle boards for a morning ride. The wind had kicked up by the time we launched and we barely had to paddle as we were pushed downwind to our destination.

By the end of the few days in La Ventana, we were quite happy that we had chosen to track down Pablo and Anna once again. The town, while gringo-heavy, is a fantastic destination in Baja, and definetly worth the attention of anyone remotely insterested in wind sports.

A rare dual-Delica shot.

A rare dual-Delica shot.

Paddling on our last morning in town.

Paddling on our last morning in town.

We couldn't stand as the wind was too high! We were being blown way too fast while standing, so kneeling it was for our downwind paddle.

We couldn't stand as the wind was too high! We were being blown way too fast while standing, so kneeling it was for our downwind paddle.

Mexico, Part 11: Surfin' Safari on the East Cape

Camping on the East Cape

After leaving Santiago and Miraflores, we were a short drive from San Jose del Cabo. The greater Cabo area is where the Baja Peninsula ends - from here it's east to the East Cape or west to Cabo San Lucas and Todo Santos and then back up north. We had planned on some more beach camping, and the East Cape looked to be prime with public access arroyos and sand beaches.

We resupplied in San Jose del Cabo at the fantastic Mega supermarket…home of everything any American could ever want while in Mexico. While there we dined on some legit Chinese food. Chelsea and I were starved, and for $7USD we ate a lot of rice, egg rolls, fried pork, etc. (I lived in China for two years, and the food there is beyond amazing. Chinese food in the states isn't the same, primarily because OSHA won't let the cooks get their woks hot enough. Down in Mexico, however, folks are allowed to turn the propane way up, and darn near real Chinese food is the result.)

After the resupply we hit the road for the East Cape. The pavement soon ran out, and we slowly motored our way to an empty arroyo. Whales were swimming and breaching in the near distance, the view was fantastic, and the price was right. After setting up camp we began to diagnose what seemed to be a failing water pump in our camper - our water pressure was unusually weak and the pump was making far too much noise while in operation. Everything had to come out from under the bed to access the pump, and I had to get inverted in the small crawl space. We lowered the pump to help it access water, but to no avail. Stumped, we piled our gear back into the rig, assuming we'd be purchasing a new water pump in the near future.

We were joined that evening by Riley and his dogs Stinker and Stevie, three individuals that make quite a rag tag team of beach-dwelling travelers. Riley is a surfer and has about a million stories that all needed to be written down and published. Stevie the German shepherd is a dropout from police dog school - she's smart and she knows it and she doesn't care what you think. Stinker the Boston terrier is an intrepid adventurer who is unaware she lives with cerebral palsy. She goes anywhere Stevie goes, but a little slower, and at slightly more of a diagonal angle, because walking forward is tough. 

That night Chelsea and I made bread, a large chunk of which we delivered to Riley. His appreciation was palpable, and we spent the next day snorkeling for lobsters, of which we found one. Riley added some steaks and we added some veggies for a proper beachside meal. Over drinks and meats we discussed the coming swell, and Riley convinced us to meet him at 9 Palms, a local beach down the road, to learn how to surf. He had a longboard that he had left in San Jose del Cabo, and he was willing to pick it up if I was willing learn to surf. This sounded like a great plan, so we headed back to the city to re-resupply and then back to the beach to settle in for a few days of surf and sun.

Chinese Food tastes better in Mexico.

Chinese Food tastes better in Mexico.

The beaches of the East Cape.

The beaches of the East Cape.

Attempting to diagnose a problem with our water pump. Working in the storage space is possible, but cramped.

Attempting to diagnose a problem with our water pump. Working in the storage space is possible, but cramped.

Cooking with free fuel.

Cooking with free fuel.

Our first beach camp spot On the East Cape

Our first beach camp spot On the East Cape

Bread baking in the dutch oven, and water boiling in the old MSR pot.

Bread baking in the dutch oven, and water boiling in the old MSR pot.

Discussing Lobster and surf opportunites with RIley.

Discussing Lobster and surf opportunites with RIley.

Heading out to find some Lobster.

Heading out to find some Lobster.

We only got one but it sure was pretty! Stevie was very interested.

We only got one but it sure was pretty! Stevie was very interested.

Loulou was not interested in much

Loulou was not interested in much

Stinker the Boston terrier with cerebral palsy. Everywhere she went she kicked sand. Everywhere.

Stinker the Boston terrier with cerebral palsy. Everywhere she went she kicked sand. Everywhere.

Riley, waiting for me to follow him out of the surf. I know it looks calm, but i just got beat down over a reef filled with sea urchins. 

Riley, waiting for me to follow him out of the surf. I know it looks calm, but i just got beat down over a reef filled with sea urchins. 

The mobus rays were jumping! they were pretty far out, but chels managed to get a shot of one that was semi decent.

The mobus rays were jumping! they were pretty far out, but chels managed to get a shot of one that was semi decent.

Meat and Lobster, cooking away.

Meat and Lobster, cooking away.

Surf and turf excellence.

Surf and turf excellence.

Contemplating the next few days of surf-ability.

Contemplating the next few days of surf-ability.

Teach a Man to Surf...

After the re-resupply we moved to 9 Palms, a known surf spot on the northern edge of a string of surf spots that dot the East Cape. We pulled into our spot near Riley, and set up camp. We put up a shade tarp, moved some unnecessary items to the front seats, and partially unpacked our storage compartments, freeing up access to the wetsuits and snorkels. In the process, I wanted to check the feed tubes for the water pump - I had a suspicion that one of the tubes was sealing around a wall of our water tank, creating a vacuum and placing undue strain on the pump. I wasn't too far from correct; while the tube was free and clear of the wall, it was the inline filter that was degrading and being sucked up into the tubes when the pump was pulling water. We flipped it around, reversing the flow of water through the filter, and got our pressure back! Thankfully, it meant we didn't need to order a new pump.

When we arrived, it was just Riley, Chris the full-time hermit/local, and ourselves, but that would change. The swell was one of the first of the season, and the greater Baja surfing community was well aware of its imminent arrival, so the beach blew up. First, Riley's close friend Mac showed up and camped with us, and then eventually the beach was lined with a few dozen trucks, vans, and rigs, many of which were jumping back and forth between the Pacific and the Sea of Cortez to chase the waves.

Riley graciously ran into town to fetch his longboard, an accessory of his trip that he'd chosen to ditch because he wasn't using it, as he mostly road his short board. He started with some lessons on the sand, specifically teaching me that the paddling position on the board was a key to standing up in the right spot, and that standing up didn't mean standing up - a crouched position to keep mass low was preferable.

As a trade, I taught Riley how to make and bake simple white bread. My ingredients are flour, sugar, salt, water, and instant yeast, and I do not measure anything, other than the yeast which is in a single use packet. While kneading, flour is added by feel until the right texture is achieved, then the dough is left to rise, then shaped and placed in a deep steel pan we use as a dutch oven. To bake, we pile coals between some rocks, then set the steel pan on the rocks, and cover the lid with coals. Coals are added as needed, and when the bread smells ready, looks ready, and feels ready, we eat it. We rarely have any left over, because bread should be eaten fresh.

Just two rigs on the beach for the first few days.

Just two rigs on the beach for the first few days.

Riley ran back to town get his Longboard just for me! What a guy. Also, in this picture you can see what happens when you run your camper into a low roof.

Riley ran back to town get his Longboard just for me! What a guy. Also, in this picture you can see what happens when you run your camper into a low roof.

Surfing 101.

Surfing 101.

Surfing was much drier than i thought it would be.

Surfing was much drier than i thought it would be.

I'm killing it! Surfing is not that hard.

I'm killing it! Surfing is not that hard.

Describing the basics of bread.

Describing the basics of bread.

Hands on practice.

Hands on practice.

The bread after the second rise. I tend to let my breads rise twice.

The bread after the second rise. I tend to let my breads rise twice.

Piling coals on top of the dutch oven pan.

Piling coals on top of the dutch oven pan.

ooooooh its getting there!

ooooooh its getting there!

More excellent steaks on an excellent Baja beach.

More excellent steaks on an excellent Baja beach.

Surfing Safari

The surf picked up over the next few days, although to me it seemed inconsistent. Sometimes the swell would arrive a little more from the south, causing predictable waves to break over the reef. In these instances, a deep paddle channel existed that allowed surfers to paddle back into position. I would try to catch waves right on the shoulder of the deep water channel, mostly because I was afraid of eating a face full of rocks and sea urchins in the case of a fall. My plan worked great, until the swell decided to come in a little bit more from the east, and then the deep paddle channel turned into wave-break city, and my poor tired body would get tossed and buried in 5 foot waves. It was great. I temporarily quit after 3 days of trying.

All the while Chels was reading and lounging, Loulou was sleeping, Riley was coaching, and Stevie and Stinker were running around the beach like captains of their own paradise. I didn't feel bad for Stinker, she's got a great life and an owner that loves her and a big sister dog to watch out for her, but I couldn't help but feel something for the poor thing as she'd cut diagonally across the beach, looking forward but walking sideways, sand flying everywhere as her legs kicked with every step. She'd suffer through 7 or 8 seizures a day while we were on the beach, each one more heartbreaking than the last. She'd fall over, seize, then wrestle to get back up and limp out of sight trying as hard as she could to keep up with the other dogs, all the while our hearts breaking for her - then she'd come back, a big slice of white bread clutched in her mouth, a smile ear to ear after just raiding some neighbor's beach camp kitchen. Stinker, aptly named, needed no one to feel bad for her. I'll bet she's happier than you, and probably nearly as happy as Coco.

The swell came and the crowds came, and despite my initial worries that I would get in someone's way or spoil someone's wave, everyone was real nice and mostly left me alone. I was very thankful for the use of Riley's board, because a similar experience at a surf camp would have cost us a lot of money. In the end, it was great to get out on the water and try surfing once more. I had caught a baby wave or two while in Bali, but that barely counted as I had someone lining me up and pushing the board forward for me. In the end, I was beat, but I was happy I was beat and satisfied at my attempt. Surfing another day? Probably, but probably not on this trip, specifically.

Stevie looking adorable in her bow. It was a leash until she decided it was better as a scarf.

Stevie looking adorable in her bow. It was a leash until she decided it was better as a scarf.

Stinker the dog who doesn't know she has a disability.

Stinker the dog who doesn't know she has a disability.

Stink resting after a big day. The Hammock is a 150 thread brazillian style sling woven by inmates in MerIda.

Stink resting after a big day. The Hammock is a 150 thread brazillian style sling woven by inmates in MerIda.

MAC'S RIG JOINING THE BEACH - ONLY THREE AT THIS POINT.

MAC'S RIG JOINING THE BEACH - ONLY THREE AT THIS POINT.

OSPREYS ARE ONE REASON WE DON'T LET LOULOU WANDER AROUND WITHOUT HUMAN SUPERVISION.

OSPREYS ARE ONE REASON WE DON'T LET LOULOU WANDER AROUND WITHOUT HUMAN SUPERVISION.

CONTEMPLATING WAVES.

CONTEMPLATING WAVES.

I CAUGHT ONE!!!!!!

I CAUGHT ONE!!!!!!

I CAUGHT ANOTHER!

I CAUGHT ANOTHER!

Trying my best to pose like a magazine model.

Trying my best to pose like a magazine model.

Watching other people catch waves I can't catch.

Watching other people catch waves I can't catch.

Trying to catch waves.

Trying to catch waves.

The beach eventually got PACKED.

The beach eventually got PACKED.

Tents and umbrellas took over and we eventually lost our view of the waves. You can see Little Foot tucked back in behind the crowds. (At least we had privacy in our spot.)

Tents and umbrellas took over and we eventually lost our view of the waves. You can see Little Foot tucked back in behind the crowds. (At least we had privacy in our spot.)

It was quite a pretty places to camp for a few days.

It was quite a pretty places to camp for a few days.

Most of the time, Loulou couldn't be bothered.

Most of the time, Loulou couldn't be bothered.

WE EVENTUALLY LEFT THE EAST CAPE BEHIND, AND... BEGAN HEADING NORTH??!?!?

WE EVENTUALLY LEFT THE EAST CAPE BEHIND, AND... BEGAN HEADING NORTH??!?!?

RAIN CHASED US AWAY.

RAIN CHASED US AWAY.

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.