Mexico, Part 7: Loreto, Cockfights and Respecting the Chicken at Rattlesnake Beach

Loreto

We left the Bahía de Concepción and drove to Loreto, the next big town down the east coast of the peninsula. For some reason, we were fatigued, and the prospect of a night in a hotel was intoxicating. Sabrina and Henning (of Trail Gypsies fame) directed us towards a cheap-ish hotel in Loreto, citing its price, WiFi, hot showers, complimentary breakfast, secure parking, and pet friendliness as a list of luxuries. While they were not wrong, our stay was decidedly uncomfortable, but by no fault of the hotel's! We learned that night that we didn't want hotels anymore; Little Foot is our home, certainly our bedroom at least, and we have built him up to our idea of comfort, and anything else on the road is alien. We love hot showers and WiFi, but we don't need hotels anymore, especially in temperate-to-tropical Baja. It was a good lesson to learn, especially at the $35 USD price tag - we could have paid A LOT more to learn the same lesson in the states!

Parking in the hotel's secure lot did allow us to freely wander Loreto's downtown. The community is cute, and it has just enough gringo influence to create an interesting mix of cultures, but not enough to overpower. The town square is beautiful, and boasts a small tourist district, as well as an old church and, surprisingly, a very American microbrewery.

Mexico 1 is a great road. Just look at those mountains!

Mexico 1 is a great road. Just look at those mountains!

The hotel room that taught us we don't need hotel rooms.

The hotel room that taught us we don't need hotel rooms.

Pet friendly, but Loulou wanted back in Little Foot.

Pet friendly, but Loulou wanted back in Little Foot.

Cockfights!

While wandering around town we spotted none other but Pablo and Anna (of Viajeros4x4x4 fame) in their beloved van, La Cucuracha! Chelsea had just been wondering aloud about when we might see them again, and then, speak of the devil, they appeared. We exchanged pleasantries, and Pablo mentioned that he wanted to attend a cock fight in town that night. He had, by chance, spied a billboard advertising that tonight was the monthly cock fight, but Anna didn't want to go. He offered to one or both of us to join him - perhaps if Chelsea wasn't interested she could walk back to downtown with Anna? I was tentatively interested, the ladies less so, but all four of us walked to the event, hemming and hawing about the situation. Upon arriving at the town's purpose built cock fighting arena, and upon paying the small entrance fee ($150 MEX for each couple), we decided to give the event a chance. The night turned out to be excellent, and it was probably the best cultural experience we've had in Baja yet!

The cock fighting arena in Loreto is not a multi-purpose venue. It is bespoke and purpose-built for the sport, and I hope that helps to impress upon you the importance of this pastime to the locals. It's like seeing rodeo grounds in the western US - when you see one, you know the community has a rich background in herding and managing cattle. Loreto has a deep agricultural background, and the cock fighting arena is a testament to that.

The compound is a walled structure, maybe 50 meters square, complete with stalls for food vendors, two sets of gendered bathrooms, and a large holding area for competing birds. The arena itself is open air, but set in an excavated pit, lined with red and white concrete stadium seating, and covered by a concrete roof to protect from sun and heat. The ring is dirt, with a series of starting lines delineating different starting points for different rounds of the fight. An MC directed traffic from a worn, wooden ringside table, and toddlers climbed around the stadiums stairs while their mothers sat together and gossiped. This was very much a family affair, and we felt at home, welcomed, and safe.

The fights themselves were fast affairs, usually less than a few minutes, and were mostly a flurry of feathers, although here and there a minute amount of blood was visible. Make no mistake, these were fights to the death, and each fight caused at least one, but usually two, rooster deaths, as the winner was often killed out of mercy. This part of the event caused hesitation in Chelsea and I (and perhaps Anna). We didn't love the idea of the birds dying, but I realized a few things. First, there was an appreciable amount of beauty surrounding the fights, from the dances of the birds to accouterments carried by the bird's handlers. Second, this night was a good chance for the handlers to win some big money, with the victor receiving $70,000 MEX ($3500 USD). And third, there is almost nothing cute about roosters, and when watching them fight you realize they are essentially feathered dinosaurs, and that nature, with no help of the farmers or ranchers, has designed the creature kill other roosters. In the end, I really don't mind watching dinosaurs kill other dinosaurs, especially while eating hotdogs and crushing cold drinks.

Pablo and Anna at the enterance to the cock fight arena - Pablo is smiling because he knows we are all going in, and we are all going to love it.

Pablo and Anna at the enterance to the cock fight arena - Pablo is smiling because he knows we are all going in, and we are all going to love it.

The arena, like the event and practice itself, is cemented in the community.

The arena, like the event and practice itself, is cemented in the community.

A family affair in Loreto! There were folks of all ages.

A family affair in Loreto! There were folks of all ages.

Rattlesnake Beach

We directed Pablo and Anna to Rattlesnake beach, the hideout of Mr. Rod Davis, a senior boatman at our summer employment, Timberline Tours in Eagle, Colorado. Rod has it all figured out - he spends his summers in Colorado boating on the rivers, and then escapes to sunny Baja for the winters, where he continues boating, but on the waves instead. We pushed the Viajeros towards him, and stayed an extra day in Loreto doing laundry and running errands.

Rattlesnake beach is like an ad hoc RV park, full of part time and full time snow birds from the US and Canada. The beach is lined with secluded camp spots full of truck campers, fifth wheels, tow behinds, Airstreams - you name it and it is there. The residents pay a little to the federal government to stay there, and everyone is happy. There are no hookups, no dumps, no power, no water - each camper figures that out. They have a nice little community going, a camp ground without a camp ground. It was a nice place to stop for a night or a season. There is a spring a few kilometers away from the beach at the mouth of a canyon where water tanks can be filled, a town is about 7 kilometers away for most of everyone's daily needs, and Loreto is just up the road for anything a city can offer.

The next day we headed south to Rattlesnake beach ourselves, and found Pablo and Anna pulling into a nice camp spot on the beach. Anna beckoned for us to park next to them at the spot as Pablo beckoned for us to continue down the beach to another spot. As per usual, I deferred to the advice of the lady, and we camped next to them. That night, however, I was all ears and a willing student as Pablo taught me how to grill in his Argentinian style. Pablo is both a Spaniard and an Argentinian, and it is easy to see both sides of the man if you spend any time with him, especially if there is a fire and some meat nearby. I, in true American form, had moved the meat on the grill around too much and too soon, earning a dose of Argentinian scorn.

Pablo told me, "You cannot just just move the chicken around where you want to. You cannot just move it and do what you want... You must, respect the chicken!" He went on to explain that you must respect the chicken and LOVE the chicken and it will love you back. That quickly became the phrase of the night, and then of the next few adventures as well. I'm very grateful to Pablo for infinitely helping my grilling skills!

Look! Birds not dying! Birds living! At Rod's camp spot at Rattlesnake beach.

Look! Birds not dying! Birds living! At Rod's camp spot at Rattlesnake beach.

Preparing the chicken to be respected.

Preparing the chicken to be respected.

Preparing a respectful fire.

Preparing a respectful fire.

Camped on Rattlesnake beach!

Camped on Rattlesnake beach!

Rattlesnake beach views.

Rattlesnake beach views.

Pablo tending and respecting the fire.

Pablo tending and respecting the fire.

Temperature is taken by placing your hand near the fire - great respect.

Temperature is taken by placing your hand near the fire - great respect.

The view from the top of Heart Attack Hill.

The view from the top of Heart Attack Hill.

Chelsea had been battling with back pains for months, and it had gotten a little more serious in the past weeks, so we set about finding a cure. Some campers at Rattlesnake assured us that Antonio, a local "witch doctor" in Loreto, could help her out. The next day some folks were going into town, so I loaded Chelsea into their truck, and headed out for a hike with the Viajeros up to a view point (complete with a cross) and then up the Tabor canyon in search of a fresh water spring.

The hike was outstanding, the spring cool and clear. Pablo, Anna, and myself scrambled up and over enormous rocks, and the whole setting seemed like something out of a Jurassic park movie. We enjoyed the views of the sea and the dips in the spring water as Chelsea got adjusted by Antonio, who is very much not a which doctor, but a self-taught physical therapist. She found great relief there, and not wanting to be left out of the fresh-water fun, insisted that we take showers in the spring water the next day before leaving for the next adventure.

I got to ride in  THE  La Cucuracha!

I got to ride in THE La Cucuracha!

Pablo arranged for the electrical station's gaurd to watch the van, to protect from the bandits, which had been reportedly breaking into cars at the trailhead.

Pablo arranged for the electrical station's gaurd to watch the van, to protect from the bandits, which had been reportedly breaking into cars at the trailhead.

The road to the canyon, across from Rattlesnake beach.

The road to the canyon, across from Rattlesnake beach.

Climbing up the canyon.

Climbing up the canyon.

I'm not a great photographer, but hopefully this captures some of the excellence of the area.

I'm not a great photographer, but hopefully this captures some of the excellence of the area.

The views up and down Tabor canyon were outstanding.

The views up and down Tabor canyon were outstanding.

A clear cool spring is just what every traveler needs!

A clear cool spring is just what every traveler needs!

Chelsea did get to bathe in some fresh spring water! Don't worry, she wasn't left out.

Chelsea did get to bathe in some fresh spring water! Don't worry, she wasn't left out.

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 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 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.