It’s Wednesday, January 22 and while more detailed posts will follow, in the interest of at least keeping folks up to date and making some sense of our peripatetic wanderings, here is the synopsis of What The Bugs Have Been Up To.
Gallery at the bottom of the post for those who are more visually inclined.
Post the San Diego computer debacle, we made it back into Mexico via Tecate, and once again the border crossing was shockingly easy – a soldier whose young face hadn’t yet seen a razor waved us through the stop, evidencing zero interest in our passports, our tourist cards, or our truck.
From there we wound our way down Highway 3 with the goal of camping on the Pacific coast out on the smallish peninsula just south of Ensenada, based on the recommendation of Patrick and Ashley, a lovely young couple we met at our New Year’s Eve party. We got to know them well as they were the only people who attended our New Year’s Eve party, and in fact, were the only other people in our campground at all.
After a winding drive through Baja wine country we made it to Ensenada, pushed through the town itself after provisioning, and then decamped at Campo 5 on the Punto Banda peninsula which, as promised, offered almost absurdly picturesque views of the Pacific from a towering bluff, though not much else (there was a shower, minus a shower head, that delivered as much cold water as you wanted, in a stall with no curtain).
Three days and nights there were spent watching whales, dolphins, porpoise, and listening to seals bark at each other, but the highlight was the serendipitous arrival of fellow adventure seekers Feral, Stephanie, and Stephanie’s nine year old daughter, Abbie.
The girls became fast friends with Abbie, and further, Sylvie found herself incapable of resisting the gravitational pull radiated by their dog, a half Chihuahua, half wiener mix (the “ChiWiener”) named Picante, so we agreed that we would look to reconvene again further south at the halfway point across the peninsula, Catavina.
Feral had done some desert camping there several years before, and despite the tendency for the desert to offer us nothing but wind, hail, and freezing temperatures thus far on the trip we couldn’t say no.
So, we migrated south a few days later with a loose plan to reconnect with them and who should we pass on the road to San Quintin but Patrick and Ashley.
We had a roadside reunion, and they were on their way to the Guadeloupe hot springs and then home. Incredibly, they offered us their Baja Camping Guide, which we had been coveting since we first saw it in Ensenada.
An extraordinary gift, to be sure, and we gratefully took it.
We left them, and not five minutes later on the same road saw Feral and Stephanie’s camper pulled over next to an ice cream shop.
There was a lot of driving between ourselves and the desert camp outside Catavina, and Feral left us with pretty explicit directions in the event we got there before them, which it turned out, we did.
Keeping a vigilant watch for the campground as we approached Catavina after making the serpentine trek up into the interior mountains, we finally saw a large sign indicating camping and announcing “Abierto” and pulled off the road into what appeared to be yet another post-apocalyptic trailer park.
We’re used to that by now, so unfazed, we threw Red Beauty into 4WD and crawled past a bunch of destitute buildings over some badly rutted roads and established ourselves, as the sun set, in a beautiful site surrounded by boulders, huge cardon cactus, and stands of Seussical Boojum trees which, having never seen before, almost defied description.
We made dinner and, in the dark, readied drinks in anticipation of Feral and Stephanie, who eventually did find us. Feral, noting the dilapidated structures at the gate, noted that the last time he had been here it was open, operating, and all the structures were occupied and in good repair. Time had been unkind to this operation.
No matter. We then spent the next five days, completely alone in a huge, gorgeous, but apparently deserted campground, with our only company being red tailed hawks, coyotes, ravens, a great horned owl and the odd scorpion or two.
Hiking one day to a cave that had intricate paintings covering its ceilings, we made our way through a landscape presided over by huge cardons, boojums, elephant trees, chollas, creosote and sage brush, and barrel cactus with intricate splays of red barbs, we discovered a series of tenajas carved out of granite and several oases that chained together through a wash.
The girls climbed, collected, played, sang, told ghost stories in front of a camp fire (I told my ghost story too, which involved a vegetarian moose invading a home and making a huge racket in the kitchen while looking for hummus, it was a big hit) and had a sleepover in the screen tent, and we adults more or less did the same, with drinks, minus the sleepover.
It was a terrific time, and we discovered that we had formed, in isolation, essentially the same plan as Feral and Stephanie – to head out to Bahia de Los Angeles on the Sea of Cortez to get some sand between our toes, not to mention a shower.
So we caravanned yet again, out of the desert to find ourselves emptying from the mountains into Bahia de Los Angeles, got supplies in town, and then established our base camp right on the beach at Dagget’s Camp Ground for which the allure was magically hot showers and a stunning view.
Leonie was up early one morning, so the two of us crept out of the tent and sat watching the sky warm from blue to lavender to gold and bring the creases of the volcanic islands into relief. I made some coffee, and her a hot chocolate, so we could keep warm while we sat still and watched a pair of dolphins nose in close to shore, playing with each other, and she said “like us”.
We had a great time there, with the girls picking over the rocky tidal pools every day to find sea slugs, anemonies, shrimp, lobsters, sea cucumbers, and all kinds of fish and crabs and sea stars and shellfish. We ate large suppers together, and even had a movie night replete with popcorn.
And we kept making new friends, as we introduced ourselves to R.K. and Cherry who had set up an old white school bus they had converted to a camper across from us with, I couldn’t help but notice with some admiration, Alaska plates.
Our nascent friendship was bonded when R.K., a retried fisherman, managed to land a barracuda in his kayak one morning only to have the barracuda get his revenge and thrash about enough that one of the barb’s from R.K.’s lure sunk into his thumb and I became involved in his rescue, such as it was: cutting the hook, spraying some disinfectant on it, and then handing him and Cherry my knife and pliers while the tough old guy pushed the hook right on through his thumb, Cherry helped, and I turned green given how fickle I am when it comes to matters involving blood.
After getting a broken shock absorber re-welded in town, we said our goodbyes to everybody with a broad agreement to reconvene in Mulege or near to it within the next week to ten days. Val and I wanted to take the unimproved roads further south along the Sea of Cortez to do some real middle of nowhere camping before looping back onto the pavement on Mexico 1, and so we headed out one morning with directions to follow the road “past the mechanic to the cemetery, then turn left.”
I hoped neither of those two geographical markers would in any way prove to be portents for us. The road was a beast, it took us almost four hours to travel 45 miles but in the end we found ourselves camped, completely alone, on a rocky beach sheltered between two cliffs just south of a fishing camp called San Rafael which had exactly one inhabitant, an ornately weathered old pescadero who came out of his house to give us detailed directions to this camp.
The volcanic shelf that served as a shoreline harbored entire constellations of urchins, who waved their deep indigo spines in irritation when we poked them, starfish, and tiny anemones and the shore offered the girls a phenomenal collection of bleached bones (we found half a dozen dolphin skulls one day, and they insisted we lash at least one of them to the front of the truck).
After four days there we moved on further south, settling on the remote village of El Barril as our destination after exploring San Fransiquito and determining, based on the number of desiccated truck carcasses on the road to the beach, that we should move on.
We took an road that was indicated, in our map, as less improved than the one we had just been on, so braced ourselves but actually found it stunning, minus the odd section of soul-jarring washboard. It was like a tunnel through the desert, two ruts through an ocean of towering cardons and ocotillos and grasping chollas, and we kept our fingers crossed hoping we were actually going the right direction, on the right road.
We emerged, somehow, in El Barril, and in a stroke of exceptionally good luck stopped in at a lavish hacienda (we thought it was a hotel) where the caretakers’ son, Daniel, took this collection of dusty, thirsty, haggard gringos under his wing and led us to a camping spot he thought we might enjoy outside the south end of the town.
Daniel placed us, in complete seclusion, on a bluff maybe seventy-five feet over a clear blue bay, with a small walkway down to a white sand beach that was totally inaccessible save for a small wash, guarded on either end by two cliffs, and therefore totally private. We couldn’t thank him enough, and to top everything off he showed up the next day and took us into town where he set up a meeting with a local pescadero and we came away with dinner for four at a cost of roughly $2.50.
Running a little low on water, but primarily on time (we wanted to try to get the girls back together with Abbie and Picante) we sadly struck camp after four glorious days and began the drive out, Valerie gamely navigating us through a web of secondary roads (frankly, they were secondary secondary roads) which featured several exciting sections of completely off camber driving – the kind were you are convinced your truck is going to roll over and your mind races at idea of having to figure out how to right it again.
But we made it, with the asphalt of Mexico 1 showing itself just as the truck began to sputter for lack of gasoline. I pulled the cans off the roof and refilled her, and we drove on the pavement, the glorious, smooth, no cactus or boulders or badgers or confusing ten year old signs pavement, for the balance of the afternoon until we got to Mulege.
Val got us a hotel room, the girls grudgingly consented to showers, and we walked to the town square and sat down beside a taco stand and wolfed down dinner in the cool evening and savored the idea of gathering email, using soap, and getting some laundry done.
Tomorrow, we’ll check out and head south. To somewhere.