Mexico, Part 8: Agua Verde and Life Off the Grid in the Secret Cove.

Agua Verde

After leaving Rattlesnake Beach, we bought provisions, filled our water and fuel tanks, and headed toward the fabled paradise of Agua Verde, an often-photographed beach/cove/fish camp that lies at the end of a dirt road. The dirt road has a reputation that changes with every traveler’s telling of their own story. Descriptions range from “totally doable,” to “tight and washed out hairpins,” to “a hellacious decent,” but all we really knew was that it was ~42 km of twists to the waypoint on our GPS marked “paraíso.”

The first 10km of the road off Mex1 is superb asphalt, sort of a trap for folks with big rigs and travel trailers. From there, the road degrades steadily, first to mediocre washboard, then to exposed single lane hairpins turns, then to rutted sand, and finally into a 50m long, 35° pitch of alternating gravel stair-step drops that leads you smack dab into the prettiest sand isthmus you’ve ever seen, complete with palm trees, a lone fishing shack, and turquoise water lapping at the beaches in front and behind a secluded camp spot.

At the transition from tar to dirt, Chels and I stopped to aired down the tires. While we were mussing about in the dirt, dropping the tires from 75psi to 35psi, what should pull up behind us but a white Toyota Tacoma closely followed by a gun metal grey Land Rover Defender; it was Sabrina and Henning of Trail Gypsies fame and Jan and Diana of Steffens.live fame! We were all going to the same place, so we switched on the walkie-talkies and caravanned down the road.

About 2/3rds of the way to our beach destination we spotted a small note, black indelible marker on white paper, taped to a kilometer marker that read,

“RESPECT THE CHICKEN”

Pablo and Anna, of Viajeros4x4x4 fame, had left Rattlesnake Beach a day before us, and we had planned to meet up at Agua Verde. They had left us a note referencing Pablo’s gentle criticism of my too-American method of grilling, a clue wrapped in an inside joke (see last week's post for a more detailed explanation). We were pretty sure our GPS waypoint was the same as theirs, as our mutual friend Mauricio (of @Ensenada fame) had given us the same set of highlights on our mapping app. We photographed the note, very excited that our friends were nearby, and continued onwards, one eye on the GPS, one on the bushes and signs and fence posts, looking for more clues.

The top of the road into Agua Verde. There is over 1200 feet oF descent between Mex1 and the beach.

The top of the road into Agua Verde. There is over 1200 feet oF descent between Mex1 and the beach.

Exposed Hairpins begin!

Exposed Hairpins begin!

The views from the road were stunning.

The views from the road were stunning.

That's the Trail Gypsies and Jan and Diana in the distance.

That's the Trail Gypsies and Jan and Diana in the distance.

Little Foot posing with the others down below on the road to Agua Verde.

Little Foot posing with the others down below on the road to Agua Verde.

Catching up to the convoy after a photo opportunity.

Catching up to the convoy after a photo opportunity.

The first of three signs telling us to "Respect the Chicken."

The first of three signs telling us to "Respect the Chicken."

The second clue! Alas, we missed the third…at first.

The second clue! Alas, we missed the third…at first.

Another photo opportunity as we waited for a car coming the other direction to pass us.

Another photo opportunity as we waited for a car coming the other direction to pass us.

A pano of the Agua Verde region.

A pano of the Agua Verde region.

Agua Verde proper is a sandy isthmus strung between a rocky cliff and a rocky island, but a kilometer further down the road is a small fish camp and village, Puerto Agua Verde. Furthermore, the beaches lining the road in the 20 kilometers leading up to the isthmus all boast stupendous campsites adorned with waves of emerald and turquoise, so the entire region is kind of known as Agua Verde, at least to ignorant travelers.  We knew the Viajeros could be camped anywhere, but we were half betting on them being camped on the isthmus. During our drive in, Chels and I spotted one more sign ordering us to “RESPECT THE CHICKEN”, but we also missed one and drove right past the Viajeros’ camp on our way to our intended destination.

As we descended onto the beach, still looking in vain for La Cucuracha and her inhabitants, we were faced with one last steep pitch. Chels jumped out to film as I engaged both the rear differential locks and the front axle, essentially making Little Foot a 6-wheel-drive beast. We dropped into our campsite without a problem, leveled out the rigs, and made dinner in near paradise.

We were still vexed by the lack of the Viajeros when we awoke the next day. Despite hikes to multiple viewpoints, as well as a tandem SUP mission to the village of Agua Verde on the advice from a morning hiker that there were two Spaniards in a van camped there (alas, it was the wrong set of Spaniards in a van!), the Viajeros remained hidden, the end of their trail of signs still a mystery.

The steep, gravel hill into the camp spot.

The steep, gravel hill into the camp spot.

The rigs, posing.

The rigs, posing.

Loulou also likes to hang out by the fires.

Loulou also likes to hang out by the fires.

A full view of the Agua Verde isthmus. It's a popular place for yachts, as well.

A full view of the Agua Verde isthmus. It's a popular place for yachts, as well.

Exploring the beaches and looking for the Viajeros.

Exploring the beaches and looking for the Viajeros.

No end to the beauty in this area.

No end to the beauty in this area.

We found a beautiful fully empty beach with no road in that was also too shallow for boats. We did consider making a road...

We found a beautiful fully empty beach with no road in that was also too shallow for boats. We did consider making a road...

The weather turned on the last morning and we headed out to Loreto.

The weather turned on the last morning and we headed out to Loreto.

Our time on the isthmus was limited – Chelsea had an appointment with Antonio back in Loreto for more back relief. We climbed out of our camp spot, again engaging Little Foot’s 5-wheel-drive, and started back on the road to civilization, with our eyes firmly glued to our rearview mirrors, searching for a clue we may have missed on the earlier drive. Low-and-behold, just a few kilometers up the road we found a brown paper note, half folded over, that read “Respect the LEFT Chicken.”

In our rush we had assumed the Viajeros would be on the isthmus, but they had turned early and headed down a dirt track to the beach. We followed the winding track and found Pablo and Anna camped on an idyllic beach (henceforth referred to as “the cove”) with the other set of Spaniards in a Ford Windstar, true shoestring overlanders. We exchanged pleasantries, and offered to resupply the Viajeros, which turned into resupplying three sets of couples (the Germans showed up right as we were pulling out) and forfeiting most of our clear water. We hustled off the beach, now late for our appointment, and headed back to Loreto for a night at an RV park and a large shopping trip.

6 wheel drive, engage!

6 wheel drive, engage!

It was an easy climb out, but we were prepared.

It was an easy climb out, but we were prepared.

Another view of the isthmus, taken on the drive out.

Another view of the isthmus, taken on the drive out.

Spotting the Viajeros! We found them!

Spotting the Viajeros! We found them!

The third, and originally missed, clue.

The third, and originally missed, clue.

The Viajeros found an excellent beach, but honestly, they are all excellent.

The Viajeros found an excellent beach, but honestly, they are all excellent.

Weather moving in and out over the mountains.

Weather moving in and out over the mountains.

Driving through Loreto, supplying up for a few more days on the beach.

Driving through Loreto, supplying up for a few more days on the beach.

The Secret Cove

We returned to the cove the next day, which also happened to be Anna’s birthday. Under secret orders from Pablo we brought back a birthday cake and a candle shaped like a question mark for the night’s festivities. The Windstar Spaniards had driven to the little fishing village of Agua Verde to secure a goat for the barbecue, which cost the group a grand total of $12.50 USD, cleaned, butchered, and ready to grill (yet another reason to love Mexico). A few of us searched for firewood as Jan and Diana setup their fancy hanging grill, and the birthday party was underway.

Pablo, ever the Argentinian, tended the fire and the grill, treating the recently deceased goat with great respect. Dinner and dessert was absolutely fantastic, and Anna was sung to by the world’s worst multi-lingual chorus, as God put on a show by lighting up the waves with neon blue iridescence. He gifted Anna with a tide of phosphorescent plankton, and we played around in the shallows, kicking and stomping and setting off miniature lightening storms that dissipated into a momentary parody of the night sky above our dancing heads, and then vanished into the nothingness of the gentle surf.

The cove.

The cove.

The bioluminsence on display at the cove on the evening of Anna's birthday.

The bioluminsence on display at the cove on the evening of Anna's birthday.

Spectacular bioluminsence.

Spectacular bioluminsence.

Chel's feet and her Chacos, bathed in light from the sea. (Hey Chaco…sponsor us!!!)

Chel's feet and her Chacos, bathed in light from the sea. (Hey Chaco…sponsor us!!!)

The stars and the sea playing.

The stars and the sea playing.

Beauty and light pollution, reminding us we're not alone.

Beauty and light pollution, reminding us we're not alone.

Pablo letting his Argentinian side come out!

Pablo letting his Argentinian side come out!

Respecting the goat, insetad of the chicken.

Respecting the goat, insetad of the chicken.

Jan and Diana provided a really cool, packable hanging grill. 

Jan and Diana provided a really cool, packable hanging grill. 

The fire continued all night.

The fire continued all night.

The next day our friend Rod and his two dogs arrived in his power boat, having motored all the way from Rattlesnake Beach to visit us. Northerly winds, "nortes" locally, can thrash the coast of the Sea of Cortez, so Rod planned his trip carefully and had to leave a little early to avoid rough seas on the voyage back to his winter camp. Between the winds, though, we got a calm day and he took Pablo and I out fishing, which was beautiful but fruitless.

In an attempt to provide dinner for everyone, Pablo, Jan, and myself went kayaking and snorkeling around a rocky point in search for what we thought were oysters, but may have actually been scallops. We tried to eat the beautiful things like oysters, but we kind of failed at that, and have since learned that (perhaps) we were supposed to clean and cook these specific shellfish. Whoops! No one got sick, but they were tough eating. Pablo also caught a fish in his homemade fishing net, and so that was served up for dinner over the fire.

At the end of a beautiful few days on the nearly deserted beach we packed up, and hit the road. Travel is fantastic, especially when you find a place that tempts you to quit traveling.

Rod showed up and we went boating!

Rod showed up and we went boating!

Kayaking for seafood.

Kayaking for seafood.

Pablo teaching Diana how to clean a fish.

Pablo teaching Diana how to clean a fish.

Removing the scales.

Removing the scales.

Opening shellfish.

Opening shellfish.

Cleaning them a bit, including removing a pair of tiny lobsters.

Cleaning them a bit, including removing a pair of tiny lobsters.

A tiny lobster!

A tiny lobster!

Fresh dinner.

Fresh dinner.

Rod and his boat, parked for the night.

Rod and his boat, parked for the night.

All the views were great.

All the views were great.

RoD brought his two dogs, Smoky and Rio, affectionately nicknamed  Los Dos Criminales.

RoD brought his two dogs, Smoky and Rio, affectionately nicknamed Los Dos Criminales.

The view from our bedroom.

The view from our bedroom.

I had to help Rod launch his boat the next morning as a northerly wind blew in.

I had to help Rod launch his boat the next morning as a northerly wind blew in.

Chels, usually the photographer, cleaning dishes in the sea (or maybe making mud pies?)

Chels, usually the photographer, cleaning dishes in the sea (or maybe making mud pies?)

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.