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.
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.
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 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.
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.