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

Heading South One Last Time

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

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

The mission at El Triunfo.

The mission at El Triunfo.

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

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

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

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

Outside the mission at El Triunfo in the afternoon light.

Outside the mission at El Triunfo in the afternoon light.

Todos Santos

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

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

Morning fog moving in to envelop us.

Morning fog moving in to envelop us.

Flags flying over the streets of Todos Santos.

Flags flying over the streets of Todos Santos.

A magnificent bench in a coffee shop.

A magnificent bench in a coffee shop.

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

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

One of the many handicraft stores in the town center.

One of the many handicraft stores in the town center.

Some beautiful street art in Todos Santos.

Some beautiful street art in Todos Santos.

Wanted: Turtles, Dead or Alive

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

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

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

The sea turtle sancutary was a simple affair.

The sea turtle sancutary was a simple affair.

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

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

The greenhouse structure acts as a large, passive incubator.

The greenhouse structure acts as a large, passive incubator.

Volunteers removing eggs from the soft sand.

Volunteers removing eggs from the soft sand.

Chelsea trying to get a good shot.

Chelsea trying to get a good shot.

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

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

Over 100 empty eggs.

Over 100 empty eggs.

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

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

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

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

Some of the handicrafts being made in Todos Santos.

Some of the handicrafts being made in Todos Santos.

Real exquisite stuff. 

Real exquisite stuff. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The critters were quite adorable.

The critters were quite adorable.

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

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

I WANT OUT.

I WANT OUT.

Being a baby sea turtle is super tough.

Being a baby sea turtle is super tough.

Releasing the turtles into the surf.

Releasing the turtles into the surf.

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

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

Getting ready to do battle with the surf.

Getting ready to do battle with the surf.

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

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

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

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

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

John Brown has a thing for cars.

John Brown has a thing for cars.

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

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

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

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

Leading the way to the Storage Shed.

Leading the way to the Storage Shed.

Pinz stuff! Gold!

Pinz stuff! Gold!

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

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

Mexico, Part 10: The Fresh Springs of Sol de Mayo and the Boca de la Sierra

Sol de Mayo

Chelsea and I are suckers for natural springs. In the US, we loved the hot springs of Idaho and Colorado, but in Baja Sur the weather pushed us towards the natural fresh water springs of Sol de Mayo and Boca de la Sierra. These two springs are found on the eastern slope of the Sierra de la Laguna mountain range. They are served by the communities of Santiago and Miraflores respectively. There are some hot springs in the area as well, but the near tropical temperatures of Baja Sur had us sweating too much too seek out a hot soak.

Santiago is a small, beautiful community that boasts impressive agriculture for being in the middle of a desert. It is a true oasis, as you'll see from this blog's first photo. A large freshwater lagoon sits right at the center of the community.

Sol de Mayo, an eco-lodge offering casitas and camping, sits at the entrance to the canyon that is home to the springs. The site is popular with day users driving up from the Cabo area, so expect a crowd that thins out later in the day. The walk from the campground to the springs can't be more than a kilometer, but there is a steep section of stairs hewn from the rocky cliffside. Bring a bottle of water and a towel; you'll probably find you don't need much else.

The view of Santiago from the road to Sol de Mayo. A real oasis!

The view of Santiago from the road to Sol de Mayo. A real oasis!

Commuter traffic on the way to the springs.

Commuter traffic on the way to the springs.

The main pool of the springs from above.

The main pool of the springs from above.

The stairs down to the spring.

The stairs down to the spring.

Two happy swimmers!

Two happy swimmers!

There are a handful of places to jump from, but swim in your landing zone before you launch to make sure it's deep enough!

There are a handful of places to jump from, but swim in your landing zone before you launch to make sure it's deep enough!

Sun bathing on the warm rocks was as appealing as swimming.

Sun bathing on the warm rocks was as appealing as swimming.

Camping at Sol de Mayo was around $15USD a night, and that included spring access. We enjoyed our first day, then headed back to the rig for some reading and dinner. There were a few other campers at the spring, but not many. The facilities included a pit toilet that didn't smell at all and spring fed water spigots scattered around the parking lot. It is a simple, although relatively shadeless, affair.

The next morning we loaded up a backpack with some snacks and snorkeling gear and headed off on a small walk to some pools above the main pool and waterfall. The pools above the falls were more shallow but less crowded and we enjoyed the walk up the canyon. The whole area is rather accessible and a great spot for adventuring. We could have gone much further up the canyon, but decided to go swimming instead. After a few dips in the upper pools, we headed back to the main pool for a little snorkeling. After spotting a large, broad-headed snake swimming in the shallow reeds, we decided we'd had enough of the idyllic springs for one trip.

Loulou was disappointed that we didnt pack a book for her.

Loulou was disappointed that we didnt pack a book for her.

Surveying the pools from above.

Surveying the pools from above.

The cascading upper pools of Sol de Mayo.

The cascading upper pools of Sol de Mayo.

Hiking with flippers through the desert.

Hiking with flippers through the desert.

The whole place felt very "jurassic park".

The whole place felt very "jurassic park".

Chelsea's back was hurting, hence the lack of smile.

Chelsea's back was hurting, hence the lack of smile.

While beautiful, the upper pools were too shallow for much good swimming.

While beautiful, the upper pools were too shallow for much good swimming.

The Oasis and the desert.

The Oasis and the desert.

There wasn't much vertical gradient in the upper pools, so our raft stayed on Little Foot.

There wasn't much vertical gradient in the upper pools, so our raft stayed on Little Foot.

Snorkeling by the Falls.

Snorkeling by the Falls.

The water was remarkably cLear.

The water was remarkably cLear.

I'll Catch You!

I'll Catch You!

The view from the upper falls. I was told, and I agree, that jumping here is probably safe if you do it correctly, but I didn't try.

The view from the upper falls. I was told, and I agree, that jumping here is probably safe if you do it correctly, but I didn't try.

Chelsea kept yelling "NO!" (Chelsea here… I'm all for adventure, but sometimes taking risks that could cut your adventure short if there's an injury just isn't worth it!)

Chelsea kept yelling "NO!" (Chelsea here… I'm all for adventure, but sometimes taking risks that could cut your adventure short if there's an injury just isn't worth it!)

Boca de la Sierra

On our way to Miraflores, the gateway town of Boca de la Sierra, we crossed the Tropic of Cancer, officially putting us in the tropics! Finally, we had a way to rationalize the heat. The 23*26'13.4" was marked by a large globe, which was ripe for picture taking.

We had read that the springs at Boca de la Sierra were less developed, and therefore free. They were also unmarked, and we drove around the sleepy town looking for water while we roasted in the front cab of Little Foot. Sylvester, a fantastically generous local, flagged us down and explained that we could camp on his family's camping property by the springs. After many unsuccessful attempt to explain, and then draw the location of his camp, he offered to ride with us a few kilometers up a dirt road to the spot, and then walk back. We were floored, both by his property's location and by his generosity. We stayed on his land two nights, and he came to check in on us both days. Mexico is full of great people, and Sylvester is certainly one of them.

A last note on Sylvester: he's a successful but modest farmer. He has a family, he has a farm house, and he has fields that produce tomatoes and other crops. When we met him he was dressed in unassuming clothes fit for working on a farm, and when I met his wife the next day she was driving a 15 or 20 year-old SUV with peeling paint and signs of wear; a good vehicle but by no means showy. They are Mexico's middle class I assume, and Sylvester is rightfully proud of the fact that his crops are of export quality - most of his produce is bound for the US. While the success of any farmer is greatly decided by variables outside his control, be it rain or crop markets abroad, Sylvester is looking into the future with a furrowed brow. With imported Mexican goods facing increased tariffs in the US, Sylvester's crop prices may not be able to stay sustainable. It is important to remember that national choices can greatly impact others, and that all Americans are global citizens, whether we want to be or not.

The springs offered excellent swimming, fewer water moccasins, and almost no one else to spoil the spot's tranquility. One evening a group of young people arrived in a truck playing loud music. They walked down to our camp site, introduced themselves, offered us a beverage, offered us help and a tour of Cabo if we were ever in the area, wished us luck and blessings, then walked back to their truck, turned off their music, swam, and left peacefully. We love Mexico and we love Mexicans.

The tropic of Cancer!

The tropic of Cancer!

Chelsea touching a spot on a globe that many other people have also touched.

Chelsea touching a spot on a globe that many other people have also touched.

Sylvester helping us get to his family's camp…and commuter traffic.

Sylvester helping us get to his family's camp…and commuter traffic.

Little Foot parked at Sylvester's Camp.

Little Foot parked at Sylvester's Camp.

Jumping over streams.

Jumping over streams.

A natural water slide that stained my board shorts with worm guts. Eww. (I'm  still  trying to get the stains out… - Chels)

A natural water slide that stained my board shorts with worm guts. Eww. (I'm still trying to get the stains out… - Chels)

The water was shallow, but refreshing at Boca de la Sierra.

The water was shallow, but refreshing at Boca de la Sierra.

A huge black snake? (No, just a water pipe!)

A huge black snake? (No, just a water pipe!)

The spot was so good that we stayed for two nights.

The spot was so good that we stayed for two nights.

Preparing a campfire to cook steak and veggies.

Preparing a campfire to cook steak and veggies.

RESPECT THE STEAK!

RESPECT THE STEAK!