Mexico, Part 4: Mike's Sky Rancho, Sea of Cortez, Coco's Corner

Mike's Sky Rancho

We left Ensenada reluctantly, saying our temporary goodbyes to Mauricio and Abby (and Vini the dog and the '61 Land Rover). Mauricio repeatedly told us that he didn't want us to leave because once we realized how excellent Baja really is, we'd never return to Ensenada. Don't worry Mauricio, we'll be back, we promise.

Our first destination outside Ensenada was Mike's Sky Rancho, a little backwoods ranch popular for dirt bike and off road trips. It's got a long history that we don't really know much about. The winter seems like the off season, as the pool was not full (or clean) and most of the rooms were unoccupied. One medium sized dirt bike tour was at the ranch when we arrived, but other than them, a few ladies running the kitchen, and the Mike tending the bar, we were alone in the woods. The ranch is 31 kilometers in on a decent road with a handful of small, washed out climbs that could be handled by a stock Ford Ranger, but perhaps not by a Subaru Legacy, if that makes sense. Honestly, a Legacy could probably get to the ranch, but might drag a skid plate here or there. We stayed one night, didn't love the price or the accomodations, and left the next morning.

A sweet Ensenada sunset saying goodbye to us.

A sweet Ensenada sunset saying goodbye to us.

The team, animals included, on the morning of departure.

The team, animals included, on the morning of departure.

We could hardly get out of our seats before being surrounded by the folks from the dirt bike tour checking out our pad.

We could hardly get out of our seats before being surrounded by the folks from the dirt bike tour checking out our pad.

Loulou exploring new heights while we peruse the map for our next destination.

Loulou exploring new heights while we peruse the map for our next destination.

4-wheeling with a cat!

4-wheeling with a cat!

We drove through mountains and over small desert passes until we reached the Sea of Cortez at San Felipe. San Felipe is the northern-most city on the Sea of Cortez on Mexico 5, and marks the point where the highway begins to follow the beaches. The town is small, but set up for tourists, complete with a crowded merchant block, and many small RV parks and hotels. We continued south and camped at a forgotten RV resort that never took off. The whole scene was quite dystopian, and even though the security guard was charging too much ($300M) for nothing (nearly no facilities), we spent a nice night and got to cook over a fire, which is always a plus.

The next day we made it to Puertecitos, a small community split nearly 50/50 between locals and expatriates. Puertecitos not only boasts excellent beachside camping, but also a tidal pool hot spring that is a perfect temperature right as the tide is coming in or out. At high tide the hot pools are blown out and filled by cold sea water, and at low tide the pools are hot enough to boil you alive, so the window of opportunity is fleeting and ever-changing.

There we met some other travelers, including one nice Californian who swapped a Chevy 350 small block into his Land Rover. It makes a GREAT sound, and the roar is totally unexpected when you see the rig. We spent New Year's Eve soaking and dining at the community potluck, and headed out the next day.

Desert mixed with beach in Baja California.

Desert mixed with beach in Baja California.

Our camp spot in the forgotten RV resort.

Our camp spot in the forgotten RV resort.

Super slow service at the poolside bar... let it suffice to say that the bartender didn't get a tip.

Super slow service at the poolside bar... let it suffice to say that the bartender didn't get a tip.

Camping and cooking at the forgotten RV resort.

Camping and cooking at the forgotten RV resort.

Free fuel, collected from the beach. The dish in the foreground is a pie plate heaped with coals, acting as a dutch oven to bake the corn bread within.

Free fuel, collected from the beach. The dish in the foreground is a pie plate heaped with coals, acting as a dutch oven to bake the corn bread within.

Our new friend francisco and his Land Rover with a 350! Sounds so good!

Our new friend francisco and his Land Rover with a 350! Sounds so good!

Seaside hot springs in Puetrecitos.

Seaside hot springs in Puetrecitos.

Testing the tidal hot spring water.

Testing the tidal hot spring water.

If you bring your own hose, a convenient water spigot becomes a shower!

If you bring your own hose, a convenient water spigot becomes a shower!

Puertecitos even had a library and a post office! And a yet-unnamed project building.

Puertecitos even had a library and a post office! And a yet-unnamed project building.

South of Puertecitos we followed a highway project back towards Mexico 1, and we had about five lanes of space to use. We dodged ruts and washboard as best we could, but it was tiring. We had heard of a fabled spot, run by a guy named Coco, Coco's Corner, and folks had said camping was free if you bought a beverage. How could we refuse?

We found Coco hollering "HELLO! HOLA! HELLO! HOLA!" over and over and over again. He's nearly 80 years old and a double below-the-knee-amputee, so when a car arrives he's a little slow to greet them, but calls out greetings in different languages in hopes that whomever entered his compound will stay and chat. He's fantastically giving, even though at first glance it looks like he doesn't have much. He lives in a well built, although mostly uninsulated plywood home. Most Americans would call it a shack, but its a step above that. Everything in his house is fit for him. The kitchen counters are too low for me but at the perfect height for his wheel chair. His workshop is the same, with workbenches built just for him. His compound is mostly powered by a few solar panels, but at night he fires up the generator so he can watch movies and turn on the flood lights of the lot. He offers help to EVERYONE, and even gave us a round of beers for free. If you're in the area, stop and see him. His generosity will warm your heart. He is a gift from God for the traveler. (And his 80th birthday is February 25th, so if you're in the area, give him a big birthday hug from the both of us!)

Using not only the whole road, but all the roads.

Using not only the whole road, but all the roads.

Signing Coco's guest book. HEY PACIFICO! SPONSOR THIS GUY!

Signing Coco's guest book. HEY PACIFICO! SPONSOR THIS GUY!

Had to draw Little Foot, for all the travelers of the future to see. (He makes you sign the book with your given birth name name and birthplace!)

Had to draw Little Foot, for all the travelers of the future to see. (He makes you sign the book with your given birth name name and birthplace!)

Cooking with Coco. He told me that I am NEVER allowed to open my own restraurant, as I'm much too slow for his liking.

Cooking with Coco. He told me that I am NEVER allowed to open my own restraurant, as I'm much too slow for his liking.

Glamour shot with Coco. He gets around in his chair, but he also walks on his knees pretty well, hence the hefty leather "boots".

Glamour shot with Coco. He gets around in his chair, but he also walks on his knees pretty well, hence the hefty leather "boots".

Do not feel bad for Coco. He's happier than you. Figure out what he has figured out and you will be happy forever.

Do not feel bad for Coco. He's happier than you. Figure out what he has figured out and you will be happy forever.

Little Foot posing.

Little Foot posing.

Heading on south! 244 kilometers to go until... somewhere?

Heading on south! 244 kilometers to go until... somewhere?

Mexico, Part 1: We made it and it's AWESOME.

Mexico Border to La Fonda

In a previous post I mentioned that state borders in the US felt like simultaneous start and finish lines. The Mexican border was an enormous departure from this motif - we were wide eyed and wired on the caffeine of a foreign land as we drove the last few miles down the I-5 towards the Mexican border. We were doing it! We were at last and at least making it to one foreign country. We were winning. We won! It was great!

The Mexican border was no problem, even though we got called into secondary for an x-ray search of Little Foot. He's too tall and too unusual not to search. Chels grabbed LouLou in her critter carrier and we piled out as Little Foot was scanned by a massive, moving arch. The scan was quick, and we were on our way. The Mexican border guards were professional but also super congenial. After we passed our x-ray inspection, they stopped lanes of traffic so we could scurry across the freeway to the mass transit immigration office. It saved us a lot of time having to track down another immigration office, and we had our passports and our prepaid tourist cards stamped for the duration of our trip.

PRO TIP: Prepay your tourist card at www.inm.gob.mx for three reasons: its cheaper online, its easier online, and its one less stop on your border crossing. If you purchase it in person after you cross the border, you'll have to obtain the form and fill it out at the immigration office, then go to a bank to pay the fee (small, but annoying to make another stop), and then return to the immigration office with a bank receipt, at which point your tourist card and your passport can be stamped for entry. The only reason not to do this would be if you are traveling by land, exclusively staying in the state of Baja California, and staying for less than 7 days. In that case, the form is free and the imigartion office is a one-stop-shop.

We left the border in the dust and rocketed towards a campsite we had lined up for our first evening. We had decided to keep our dreams simple and find a campsite outside Tijuana, in the hopes that even if the border crossing was long and arduous, or if we got lost or held up somewhere with paperwork, we could still make it to a safe destination. We made it to the K58 campground in the sleepy town of La Fonda with daylight to spare. We parked Little Foot, and headed out to explore the town.

Streets lined with beautiful vegetation.

Streets lined with beautiful vegetation.

We found Poco Cielo, a small restraurant and hotel, right next to our campground. Very cool.

We found Poco Cielo, a small restraurant and hotel, right next to our campground. Very cool.

The view from our site at K58. It s a cool surf spot, apparently. The other two parties camped there for the night were a converted school bus and homegrown diesel Sprinter conversion. Our kind of people!

The view from our site at K58. It s a cool surf spot, apparently. The other two parties camped there for the night were a converted school bus and homegrown diesel Sprinter conversion. Our kind of people!

Loulou and Chels enjoying our first Mexican sunset! The pacific just won't quit when it comes to sunsets.

Loulou and Chels enjoying our first Mexican sunset! The pacific just won't quit when it comes to sunsets.

Our first morning! Just as beautiful.

Our first morning! Just as beautiful.

Our first breakfast at a little place in La Mision, Baja California. We had no language skills, but we managed to order  very  well.

Our first breakfast at a little place in La Mision, Baja California. We had no language skills, but we managed to order very well.

Rancho San Carlos

After our first night on the beach, we headed inland through Ensenada to find somewhere to camp. Chels did some great offline research and pointed us towards a little hot springs. We had no idea what to expect, but some nice Jehovah's Witnesses chatted with us about our travels at a gas station and told us that if we didn't expect much, we would love it. OK! We can do that!

The road in was 10 kilometers of mild dirt road with some shallow water crossings, one or two deeper water crossings, and a lot of harsh granite. Little Foot was up to his axles at some points, but it was no big deal as I had just repaired and replaced three axle boots. Hopefully he's water tight!

The hot springs were fantastic, and nearly entirely deserted. Right when we thought we would be the only folks there for the night, two parties rolled in. One was a gentleman in a two wheel drive Astro van who needed my assistance the next morning due to a tire puncture/leak. The other party was two vehicles, a 1961 Land Rover 2A truck piloted by our new friends Mauricio and Abby, and a Mitsubishi Delica van, all kitted out for travel, driven by our new friends (and unwilling mentors?) Pablo and Anna. Mauricio and Abby are locals of Ensenada, the nearest city to Rancho San Carlos, and Pablo and Anna are their long time friends, and even longer time travelers, having been on the road for over 16 years!

You can find and follow Mauricio and Abby here:
@Ensedada - Instagram

You can find and follow Pablo and Anna here:
Viajeros4x4x4.com
@Viajeros4x4x4 - Instagram

The other water crossings were deeper! I swear!

The other water crossings were deeper! I swear!

The nearly deserted Rancho San Carlos. Come at the wrong time, though, and all the pools will be packed, we were told. 

The nearly deserted Rancho San Carlos. Come at the wrong time, though, and all the pools will be packed, we were told. 

Mauricio's FANTASTIC Land Rover. What a beauty. Birds of feather flock together.

Mauricio's FANTASTIC Land Rover. What a beauty. Birds of feather flock together.

Little Foot had friends. The property was inhabited with geese, cats, dogs, pigs, swans, etc.

Little Foot had friends. The property was inhabited with geese, cats, dogs, pigs, swans, etc.

Testing the new tire inflator as LouLou supervizes.

Testing the new tire inflator as LouLou supervizes.

Enjoying the hot springs pools.

Enjoying the hot springs pools.

Enjoying (maybe?) a mud bath followed by a rinse folowed by more hot springs pools.

Enjoying (maybe?) a mud bath followed by a rinse folowed by more hot springs pools.

A Few Nights in Ensenada

Mauricio and Abby extended an invitation for us to park at their property by the ocean for a few days. A few days turned into a week or so as we waited for Christmas, which we planned to spend in the Valle de Guadalupe. While staying at Mauricio's property we had the chance to learn many, MANY things from Pablo and Anna, the full time adventurers. At their suggestion we added another set of locks to Little Foot, ditched some gear we didn't need, and generally improved our rig.

With Mauricio's assistance we visited Hugo the helpful mechanic and borrowed some tools to readjust Little Foot's breaks. I needed to pull every wheel off our rig to access the break adjustment caps, and to retighten them I needed a bigger torque wrench than the one I packed. In addition to providing tools, Hugo also double checked my adjustments, so as to insure that the job was done right the first time.

All in all, it was a huge blessing to meet these wonderful people. 

Enjoying the beach house's fantastic patio.

Enjoying the beach house's fantastic patio.

A Pacific ocean sunset.

A Pacific ocean sunset.

Wrenching on little Foot with the help of Hugo's tools and expertise.

Wrenching on little Foot with the help of Hugo's tools and expertise.

Hugo didn't charge us, but we did take an oppertunity to buy him ice cream.

Hugo didn't charge us, but we did take an oppertunity to buy him ice cream.

Lou made fast friends with Vini.

Lou made fast friends with Vini.

Pablo helping me rivet our license plate onto its mount.

Pablo helping me rivet our license plate onto its mount.

Tacos at El Flamazo!

Tacos at El Flamazo!

Tacos at Asadero La Chispa!

Tacos at Asadero La Chispa!