Mexico, Part 18: Projects in Ensenada

We have to apologize for not having a post last Monday. In our mad dash back to Colorado, we were off the grid and pounding pavement for several days. Time for some catch up!

Chelsea was ordered to stay in bed for the first two weeks of her recovery, and only partook in the most limited amount of movement. I, on the other hand, was bored and restless. Luckily, Mauricio, our host, let me help him remodel his new rental property. The house, which was situated next to his existing rental, would eventually be used as an AirBnB product, but first needed a new kitchen, some furniture, and a lot of paint. Lucky for us, they agreed to let Chels recover in the back room while the remodeling happened. The location was amazing, and with some hard work, the house would soon be able to host couples and families, and start generating income for Mauricio and Abby.

We had done some furniture shopping before Chelsea's surgery so there's a few photos of us walking around Los Globos, an enormous flea market that stretches over city blocks. Chels and I are huge fans of second hand stores here in the US, so visiting Los Globos was a real treat. In addition to the great shopping, we had a chance to sample many local dishes, including shaved ice, fried pork rinds (chicharones), tacos, and some sort of fermented corn sugar beverage.

The walkway to Mauricio's second AirBnB rental after we got it all cleaned up.

The walkway to Mauricio's second AirBnB rental after we got it all cleaned up.

Much of the kitchen renovation happened on that shaded patio. What a view!

Much of the kitchen renovation happened on that shaded patio. What a view!

The old kitchen, coming apart. SOme other travelers had already painted the walls.

The old kitchen, coming apart. SOme other travelers had already painted the walls.

Demo complete and a new kitchen counter being built.

Demo complete and a new kitchen counter being built.

All finished! Chels' photography really makes it shine.

All finished! Chels' photography really makes it shine.

The living room, complete with a couch from Los Globos.

The living room, complete with a couch from Los Globos.

Starting the shopping excursion with some sort of fermented corn sugar beverage.

Starting the shopping excursion with some sort of fermented corn sugar beverage.

City blocks upon city blocks of this: the best used good available.

City blocks upon city blocks of this: the best used good available.

So many things we wanted. We need to move into a home with a garage next.

So many things we wanted. We need to move into a home with a garage next.

Chels found a camera!

Chels found a camera!

Shaved Ice!

Shaved Ice!

Loulou couldn't come with us to Los Globos, so she stayed at home...

Loulou couldn't come with us to Los Globos, so she stayed at home...

... and made a friend!

... and made a friend!

In addition to helping Mauricio and Abby with their mini renovation, and helping Pablo and Anna with their Airstream restoration, Chelsea and I had a little wish-list of projects for Little Foot. First things first, we wanted a roof rack over the cab, partially to add storage space and take weight off the top of the roof, and partially to add security. Without a roof rack, anyone could take a knife to the cab's soft top and gain entry. While a burglary would be heartbreaking, the cost of replacing the soft top is crazy! $2000 for a new one! So, to dissuade the unjust, we added a roof rack.

Mauricio and Pablo got in contact with a Lupe and Mario, two very talented fabricators who used to work with Baja Rack, a performance roof rack company that outfits a lot of adventure ready vehicles. Lupe took one look at the project, deemed it to be very simple, and told me to meet him the next Monday to fit the rack to the truck. Awesome!

Scoping out the project.

Scoping out the project.

Lupe and Mario getting after it in the workshop.

Lupe and Mario getting after it in the workshop.

Me, wishing I could help. Or weld. Or be cool like Lupe.

Me, wishing I could help. Or weld. Or be cool like Lupe.

Test fitting.

Test fitting.

More test fitting. (We used the old machine gun foundation on top of the cab to bolt the rack to for support. It worked really well.

More test fitting. (We used the old machine gun foundation on top of the cab to bolt the rack to for support. It worked really well.

Welding in place!

Welding in place!

Finished welding, and ready for powdercoat.

Finished welding, and ready for powdercoat.

Installing Little Foot's new hat. It attaches in three places…on the machine gun mount, and on the hood where there were already bolts for the windshield to fold down.

Installing Little Foot's new hat. It attaches in three places…on the machine gun mount, and on the hood where there were already bolts for the windshield to fold down.

Isn't he handsome?

Isn't he handsome?

Aren't I handsome?

Aren't I handsome?

In addition to the roof rack, Lupe was willing to fabricate a larger fuel tank for us. The original held roughly 19 gallons, which just wasn't enough. After 5 days of work, Lupe, Mario, and myself and created a tank that would hold over 32 gallons, and greatly increase Little Foot's range. I slept on a street corner (in Little Foot!) for 3 nights, abandoning Chelsea at Mauricio's, just to get the project finished. It was a big undertaking, but I made great friends. By the end of the project, Lupe's family was feeding me, and I was well acquainted with most of the drug addicts in the area, all of whom were very nice to me, and most of which returned my salutations of "God bless you," something that doesn't happen often in the states.

I can't thank Lupe and Mario enough. They worked crazy hard, and they are very talented, and we made a beautiful tank. I don't know when I will see them again, but I hope it is soon, because they're my friends now. God bless you guys!

Little Foot's Original tank.

Little Foot's Original tank.

Unbloting and draining.

Unbloting and draining.

Draining the rest.

Draining the rest.

Trying my hand (and my mouth) at siphoning.

Trying my hand (and my mouth) at siphoning.

TACO BREAK!!!!! I love Mexico.

TACO BREAK!!!!! I love Mexico.

Finishing fabircation.

Finishing fabircation.

Dryfitting the tank.

Dryfitting the tank.

Looking good in steel. Ready for paint..

Looking good in steel. Ready for paint..

Painted!

Painted!

And mounted. (We chose white because fuel doesn't like being hot, so black was out of the question…and, as you can see, our paint job isn't quite holding up that well, so we might try to repaint LF White in the future.

And mounted. (We chose white because fuel doesn't like being hot, so black was out of the question…and, as you can see, our paint job isn't quite holding up that well, so we might try to repaint LF White in the future.

Loulou freaking out because we locked her in Chels bedroom. She just couldn't be pleased. First she missed Chels and wanted to hang out, but then when the door was shut she could only focus on trying to escape.

Loulou freaking out because we locked her in Chels bedroom. She just couldn't be pleased. First she missed Chels and wanted to hang out, but then when the door was shut she could only focus on trying to escape.

Mexico, Part 17: Back surgery in Ensenada

Happily back in Ensenada, we looked forward to hitting the ground running with some projects. We were wanting to build a roof rack over the cab and have a new gas tank fabricated, but we were also eager to help our friends Mauricio, Abigail, Pablo and Anna with some projects of their own. Since we'd been gone, Mauricio and Abby had secured the rental house next door to their own and were feverishly rehabbing it to turn it into a rockin' Airbnb rental. Alongside that, they'd also purchased an old Airstream with P&A and were ALSO rehabbing that to turn it into an Airbnb! Lots of projects to be and worked on!

Shortly after we'd arrived, the recurring issue of my back pain came up. We'd decided that receiving an MRI to diagnose the cause was my best bet to start working towards a solution. Knowing it'd be a while before we returned to the stability of a job and able to buy health insurance, I wanted to try to get an MRI while still in Mexico, where we were certain it'd be much more affordable. As luck would have it, Mauricio knew a wonderful neurosurgeon in town and was willing to set up an appointment for me to get a referral for an MRI.

From here on out, I'm going to do this post in a timeline form. Our experience with me having surgery in Mexico was really wonderful and eye-opening…from the quickness of the process to the cost of care, we were just blown away. Not only would we not have been able to afford any of this in the US, it would probably have taken months of appointments, referrals and the like to achieve the same outcome.

Monday, March 13th

Mauricio calls Dr. Fong to see if he can set up an appointment for me. The appointment was scheduled for the very next day.

Tuesday, March 14th

I have my first appointment with Dr. Fong. He gives me a small examination and tests my movement after having me describe my symptoms. Appointment ends with him writing me a referral for an MRI and some X-rays. I ask if I need to set up an appointment to get them, he says, "No, just show up in the morning and they'll set something up."

Total cost for appt: $35 USD

Wednesday, March 15th

I show up to Burboa Radiológos with my referral and no appointment. After listening to me stumble through a poorly spoken Spanish explanation that I didn't have an appointment, they tell me that they're so sorry, they can't fit me in until 10:30am (it was 9:45am at the time). I paid my bill up front, and after a short and pleasant wait, I was brought in for my MRI promptly at 10:30am. Following the MRI, I had a set of three X-rays taken and was then told I could wait for my films out front (which only took an additional 15 minutes after I'd finished being scanned).

Total cost for MRI/XRAY: $238 USD

Friday, March 17th

Another appointment with Dr. Fong for a follow-up to have him read the films and diagnose. Burboa had sent him the scans online, so he'd been able to review them before our meeting. His first comment when I walk in the door is, "I don't know how you're still walking!" He identified two herniated discs…one between L4/L5 and another, the culprit behind my pain, between L5/S1. He recommends surgery (a microdisectomy with nucleotomy in L5/S1). We decide to think on it, and he gives me his cell phone number to call or text him when we've made a decision. He also says I will have to get labs and blood work done beforehand, but that can be done without an appointment at his clinic.

Total cost for appt: $35 USD

You can see where the disc is severely herniated in the lowest disc above my tailbones. (Between L5/S1 for those that know…) That large black protrusion should not be there. I also have a partially herniated disc above it in the L4/L5, but that one was left alone during surgery.

You can see where the disc is severely herniated in the lowest disc above my tailbones. (Between L5/S1 for those that know…) That large black protrusion should not be there. I also have a partially herniated disc above it in the L4/L5, but that one was left alone during surgery.

Saturday, March 18th

We text Dr. Fong to let him know we'd like to do the surgery. Even though it's a Saturday, the clinic is open, so I go and get my labs and blood work done.

Total cost of labs/blood work: $45 USD

Tuesday, March 21st

I have another appointment with Dr. Fong to go over the details of my surgery and review my labs.

Thursday, March 23rd (surgery day)

I have my last meal and last liquids before 8 am. I check into the hospital at 2 pm and my surgery is scheduled for 5 pm. When checking in, we pay part of our hospital bill up front and they explain that additional costs incurred will be charged upon my discharge the next day. My room is private with its own bathroom and also has a couch/futon for Christian to stay the night if he wants. The nurses prep me, giving me an IV and compression socks. I'm rolled out at 5 pm on the dot. Dr. Fong greets me in the operating room and introduces me to the anesthesiologist, who asks me some questions and then explains what will happen. We go over the details of the surgery once more and I learn that I will be receiving a catheter (thankfully, after I'm put under). I was also intubated, so my meds to keep me asleep were administered through the IV.

The surgery took a few hours, and Dr. Fong even called Christian down to show him the nucleus that he'd removed and explain that everything went well. My incision was closed up and I was carted back up to the room where I was transferred back to my bed and left to rest and recover overnight.

Total cost for surgery and hospital stay: $4,886 USD

Checking into the hospital. Everyone was super helpful and friendly despite us not speaking much Spanish.

Checking into the hospital. Everyone was super helpful and friendly despite us not speaking much Spanish.

Don't worry, my name was only spelled wrong on this sign. In their defence, phonetically, according to how we pronounce our last name, this is how it would be spelled for Spanish. If we pronounced it correctly according to the Spanish alphabet, we'd have to say, "Tootle"

Don't worry, my name was only spelled wrong on this sign. In their defence, phonetically, according to how we pronounce our last name, this is how it would be spelled for Spanish. If we pronounced it correctly according to the Spanish alphabet, we'd have to say, "Tootle"

Hospital gowns are so flattering, aren't they?

Hospital gowns are so flattering, aren't they?

One of several of the fantastic nurses that tended to me putting my IV in.

One of several of the fantastic nurses that tended to me putting my IV in.

Waiting for them to come get me.

Waiting for them to come get me.

Wheeling me down to the operating room…

Wheeling me down to the operating room…

Friday, March 24th

The next morning, Dr. Fong came to see me and answer any questions we might have about my recovery. I received a prescription for an antibiotic and an anti-inflammatory (no painkillers!). He let us know that the surgery was a very good decision on our part, as the nucleus of my disc had ruptured out in such a way that it was jammed between my nerves and pretty severely cutting off my sciatic nerve. The nerve was very red and inflamed and had we left it alone, I might've caused permanent damage. Thank God we were led down this path!

The nurses then fed me breakfast, my first and very highly anticipated meal in 24 hours, and sent Christian down to the front desk to pay the remainder of the bill and got me up and walking to prepare for my exit. It was painful and slow, but amazingly, I felt better than I had in months. My pain relief from my nerve was immediate, and though the surgical site would need time to heal, I was in high spirits.

TOTAL COST OF EVERYTHING: $5240

Dr. Fong, my hero!

Dr. Fong, my hero!

Walking out of the hospital! (Don't worry, they made me take a wheelchair after Christian took a photo of me shuffling triumphantly out of my hospital room.)

Walking out of the hospital! (Don't worry, they made me take a wheelchair after Christian took a photo of me shuffling triumphantly out of my hospital room.)

I then spent the next two solid weeks in a bed graciously loaned to us by Mauricio and Abi. Christian had worked it out that he would help with all their projects while I recovered in the back room of their beach house Airbnb, both of us equiped with Walkie-Talkies to communicate with. By the third or fourth day, I was starting to become more independent and able to do the simpler things such as get myself in and out of bed and on and off of the toilet by myself. For a 32-year-old who has always thrived on self-sufficiency, relying so heavily on Christian to help with even the smallest tasks was difficult for me, but I was so thankful for his support.

Christian building a bed frame for the mattress for the recovery room. He actually built it specifically for a height that would be more comfortable for me to get in and out of. What a guy!

Christian building a bed frame for the mattress for the recovery room. He actually built it specifically for a height that would be more comfortable for me to get in and out of. What a guy!

Finished!

Finished!

Out for my first real walk, the very next day! My steps were slow and tiny, but it was good to move around!

Out for my first real walk, the very next day! My steps were slow and tiny, but it was good to move around!

Loulou, who was still living in the rig while I recovered inside the house, was a highly motivating factor behind my frequent walks.

Loulou, who was still living in the rig while I recovered inside the house, was a highly motivating factor behind my frequent walks.

One more note about this post and my surgery:

I wrote this post in such detail because I am hoping that my transparency about the process and the cost will help someone else out at some point. For those that are in a position where seeking out proper medical care because it's unaffordable, finding out that there are healthy and safe alternatives to the normal procedures can be very important knowledge. For those not in this situation, it might be a helpful glimpse into a world they're unfamiliar with. Our experience as a whole while in Mexico has been nothing but positive, but once we dove into the medical care side, we were floored by the efficiency of the system. We didn't go into the decision lightly, but we trusted our friend who recommended the surgeon (he had had extensive reconstructive spinal surgery from the same dr.) and trusted the surgeon to not recommend an unnecessary procedure.

That being said, we're so happy I went through with it. I'm a month out from surgery and I'm still blown away by how much better I feel now that I'm pain free. Though the pain only became extremely severe around Christmas, I've been living with moderate to slightly severe back pain for years, so it has been a truly life-changing experience. 

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 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 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.