After hearing from two different people working at the RV park that they would call a guy about fixing the fridge, and being told they would let us know when he could come and take a look at it, and one interaction with a supposed smart guy about fixing things (who said we had already done all the things he would have tried), nothing had happened and we were losing hope we would solve this refrigerator problem quickly. The RVers next door, three couples from the Everett/Marysville/Snohomish area had several ideas about what we might try, and Jim recommended that we try to use his electrical bike tire pump to blow clear any obstructions in the gas line. Bob decided since professional expertise was not imminent, he should try all these options – and he did, to no avail. Jim came over and had one more variation on clearing the line which seemed to show promise, and may have resolved one issue but didn’t result in the fridge firing up. We finally decided the spark for the pilot igniter seemed a little weak so – what the hell – let’s try shoving the little propane lighter used to light the stove and hot water heater into the area where the fridge’s pilot light sits. Guess what? It worked! The refrigerator is now working properly on propane, and we don’t plan to shut it off until we get home. Actually we’ll probably run out of propane before then, but not before we leave Mexico and will have access to RV maintenance services if this fix doesn’t work next time. Anyway, it’s working now, and that means we can go back to the plan in which we’re dry camping on beaches for a few more days before heading into the northern mountains. We took Jan and Jim out to dinner to celebrate and thank Jim for his problem solving skills -- they were a real trip saver!
When we were out for our run this morning Cathryn had a bit of an epiphany on the issue of trash, which we posted a blog about the other day. On second thought, we think the Mexicans do not throw more trash onto the roadside than we do in the U.S. What is clearly different is that there are not crews or volunteers out picking up the trash that gets thrown out like there is in the U.S. We think of what the roadsides are like near our home in Olalla, or in Sammamish, or the freeways and wonder what they would look like if the adopt-a-road program did not exist. Scary. So we think we were too quick to judge.
The town of Mulege is on the river, thus the title. On the way to Requeson yesterday we stopped in Loreto and re-filled our two propane tanks as we were gettng low and expected to do a lot dry camping over next week. Unfortuantly our refrigerator hasn't worked at all on propane since that refill. We limped throught last night on battery power, but it didn't keep the frozen stuff frozen, and worst of all, the beer was no longer adequately cold. Our batteries were down to 11 volts this morning, so we decided we needed get to an RV park where we could plug in. So here we are at Villa Maria Isabel in Mulege. We asked the guy who manages this place if he knew anyone who might be able to fix the fridge, and he said he would call a guy and see if he can come out tommorow - Sunday. No word on this yet. So our plan from here is up in the air. We had a new Plan A, which included lots of dry camping off the main highway and crossing the border on March 8. If we don't get the fridge fixed so it will run on propane, we'll have to stay at RV parks where we can run it on electricity, and there aren't any such parks in the places we were going to stay. So we'll have to develop a new plan which may get us across the border a few days earlier so we can find an RV repair shop. If we do cross over sooner, our great friend Hobie gave us an Arizona Gazzetteer, with many great camp sites highlighted. We will keep you informed - the adventure continues. We remain happy, well and having fun!
N 26*39.189 W 111*49.77
We drove 80 miles north from Juncalito today to Requeson, back on Bahia Concepcion. This beach is at the south end of the Bahia Concepcion and 10 miles south of Playa Santispac where we spent 6 nights in early February. Most of this campground is on a spit with water on both sides. Our site is a bit removed from the main area and is about 200 yards to the nearest camper. We even got a palapa. This beach is probably tied with Juncaltio as the prettiest on which we’ve stayed. Juncalito had the mountains, but this area has a nicer beach, great views in every direction, and something we haven’t had a lot of on Baja beaches – privacy and shade. Our plan is to stay here three nights, but we’re having trouble with our refrigerator, so may need to cut it short. We’re about 20 miles south of Mulege, which is Bob’s favorite town in Baja Sur. We’ll probably run into town on Sunday for internet, beer, and water.
Earlier on the way south down the peninsula, we passed through 5 or 6 military checkpoints. At each one we were waved through with essentially no scrutiny. We were told to expect greater delays on the way back north. The checkpoints are aimed at deterring drug trafficking and the illegal movement of people across the border. We passed through two checkpoints going north today. At the first one, we were waved through without being stopped. At the second one, we were stopped,then asked where we were from – response: the United States, Seattle, Washington -- and if we were here on vacation – response: yes, vacation for 6 weeks – and then we were waved through. The first thing you see at these checkpoints is an automatic weapon or two in a sand-bagged emplacement followed by a small set of buildings manned by 15 or 20 very young men wearing camo clothing, flak jackets and more automatic rifles. They seem geared up for major confrontations. We used the title “Part 1” because we’re told the checks will get more thorough as we head north and get closer to the border with the U.S., so we will report again. Today as we left Juncalito we were asked whether we might consider making the final border approach and crossing with a couple we’d met, as they’d heard the last miles and crossing could be a problem and were concerned about doing it alone. We had never heard this issue raised before and are not worried. We think as long as you do nothing illegal, remain calm and answer questions honestly, there is nothing to be concerned about.
When we returned to Playa Juncalito, Bob asserted that we would not fill every day with activities like sailing, hiking, or kayaking as he wanted “one day to just be at the beach”. Today was that day. Here is what a day at the beach looks like: We started off with our daily visit from Audrey, a neighbor who walks early and stops to chat while we’re drinking coffee outside. We then went for a run and talked to two other neighbors for a while, had our showers and by then it was 10:30. During the rest of the mid-day we took two strolls on the beach, one in the late morning, one in the afternoon, interspersed with lunch and reading our books in our chairs on the beach (Cathryn under her umbrella, Bob in the full sun), and drinking a beer on the beach mid-afternoon, Cathryn took a nap, and we declined the kind offer to borrow kayaks from neighbors. Around 3:30 we went to nearby Puerto Escondido (2 miles away) to buy drinking water (we’re drinking a gallon a day of the stuff!), check email and post to our blog at the local bar that offers free internet to those who spend at least 40 pesos ($3.00), thus we were “required” to have our second beer of the day. We enjoy the fact that every time it snows in Seattle we get emails from people telling us how the winter weather is there, and how lucky we are to be in Baja. And we wandered down to Jan and Jim’s rig for what may be our last night together for cocktail hour. At 7pm we returned for dinner back at the Chalet, then retired to our chairs outside with a glass of wine and looked at stars, including one falling star, and listened to the pounding surf. Bob commented how happy it makes him to sit outside in bare feet and shorts at 9pm, after his day at the beach, with the temperature still 62 degrees, and the stars brighter than we ever see them anywhere else in our life. And all of this on February 26. Life is good!
If you haven’t looked at a map of Baja, you may not realize there is really only one road that transits this 1000-mile long peninsula. It’s Mex 1 that starts at Tijuana and continues south to Cabo San Lucas. There are about five paved roads that go off of Mex 1 to various destinations like Bahia de las Angeles, Todos Santos, and Tecate, most of which we either have, or will take. But mostly it’s Mex 1. As a result, most folks who travel to Baja end up going to pretty much the same destinations, which is one of the reasons that we regularly run into people multiple times. You’ve obviously noticed that we have spent a lot of time with our new-found friends from Penticton B.C., Canada. We talked about it tonight and figured out that coincidentally both of us crossed the border at about the same time and will cross it again, northbound, within a couple of days of each other. Both of us are also first-timers, taking an exploratory tour of Baja, so we tend to go to the same main-line destinations, and therefore perhaps surprisingly end up in many of the same locations. But while this may be a bit of an extreme case, we have discovered that a good number of people down here know each other from previous trips. It’s a relatively small community of Baja travelers, and there is “only one road”.
We mentioned in an earlier post that when you go to the grocery store here, it seems there is a competition to see who can use the most plastic bags to wrap your groceries. Well, there is an unfortunate corollary to that practice: how many plastic bags can you throw out the window of your car? As you’re driving through the countryside here, plastic bags and plastic bottles are absolutely everywhere. It’s tragic. When we were in Catavina early in our trip, our found friend Ralph pointed out a bundle of plastic bags and other trash on the side of the road and asked us if we knew what it was. It turns out that a cow had died in the desert, and after the buzzards got done with it, all that was left of the cow were the contents of its’ stomach. It seems the cow had eaten so many plastic bags that it died. We believe this story is true, but it is also a bit of an allegory about what is happening to our planet. We saw this same behavior, although not quite as pervasive, in Africa. We don’t quite understand what would cause people to do this, as the impacts are not subtle like carbon emissions are. A corollary to this business of plastic bags is that recycling is almost non-existent everywhere we have been so far. A few campgrounds have recycling receptacles for aluminum cans, but only rarely, and never anything more. Oddly, we also found this to be the case at all the campgrounds in California just after we left home. The current market for recycled materials can’t be helping the situation. Sad.
When is the last time you walked down the street in the U.S. and a complete stranger looked you in the eye and said “Good day”? Probably been a while, hasn’t it? Well here in Mexico, it happens all the time. In stores, on the street, and in restaurants, people exchange courtesies and sound completely sincere doing so. It also seems that people make the time not only for these courtesies, but also expect that these exchanges will lead to more extended conversations, often resulting in groups of people sitting in the shade somewhere along the street and chatting. All part of the more relaxed pace of life in Mexico. Maybe that’s where the RVers get their chattiness?
We haven’t written on this topic for a while because we’ve largely sorted out these matters. But we do want to share with you a new solution we found to one of our limitations while dry camping. We have 3 basic constraints when we dry camp: propane supply for the heater, stove and refrigerator; water supply; and electrical power to run lights and the fans on the heater and refrigerator. Our propane tanks are good for at least a couple of weeks, and so far at least, we haven’t had trouble tracking down free water to re-fill our supply tanks, so that has left us feeling only that we need to be very careful about our electric consumption. When we went to Costco in Cabo San Lucas last week, Bob picked up a small set of solar panels for $28, shown in the picture here. They connect to the Chalet’s batteries with alligator clips. We had power hook-ups at Los Barriles and La Paz since purchasing the solar panels, so we hadn’t had a chance to try them out yet. However, last night at Playa Juncalito where we have no hook-ups, we went wild and crazy using our batteries: we used two lights inside the Chalet, the outdoor “porch light” while cooking dinner and later to read by, and we used the inverter to power some iPod stereo speakers. This morning we checked the status of our batteries, and they were down to about 12.4 volts, from roughly 13 volts when they were fully charged as we left Paz yesterday. Bob hooked up the solar panels at 9am today and by 5:30pm when we returned from Agua Verde and the sun was down behind the mountains, the batteries had recharged up to 12.8 volts, almost fully charged! We’re very pleased to be able to eliminate this constraint. Of course this solution may not work quite as well back home where there isn’t the all-day, every-day sunshine that there is Baja, but then we won’t do as much extended camping as we do here either.
Today we took a wonderful drive from our camp at Playa Juncalito to the seaside fishing village of Agua Verde. We back-tracked south on Mex 1 about 25 miles, then turned off on a gravel road and traveled another 25 miles through the Los Gigantus Mountains, dropping about 2000 feet to the Sea of Cortez. This second segment took an hour and a half each way because about 10 miles of the road was very steep, winding and narrow with portions of the road washed out occasionally on a hairpin curve, requiring us to go very slowly. We’re stopping to do our blog post for the day on the way back, so Bob won’t have time to process the photos. We’ll add them tomorrow. We think we have discovered the perfect place for Cathryn’s boon dock by ourselves next year.
Or “Bob didn’t think it was possible!” Today we were on our drive to Agua Verde and Cathryn said “Next year I want to find at least one place where we can camp for a few days all by ourselves, and not have to share our space with other RVers.” Can you believe it? Coming from Bob, this would not have surprised anyone, but Cathryn? One of the things we have discovered is that RVers like to talk, which often provides a great source of information about where to find things and great places to visit. But unfortunately many of them also like to talk about themselves on and on with lengthy, pretty boring monologues which you can’t find a way to shut off. Too often this happens, as it did this morning, when we like to sit outside and watch the sunrise while drinking our coffee, and these talkers go out for their morning walk. Oh well, I guess you take the bad with the good.
This morning we got up, went for a final run on the La Paz Malecon, and about noon pulled out of La Paz. We spent the next 5 hours driving, and re-tracing previous steps through the agricultural plain north of La Paz. We stopped for groceries at Ciudad Constitucion where the temperature was 101 degrees, and continued into the Las Gigantas mountains, then dropped back down to the Sea of Cortez and Playa Juncalito (the place we stayed 10-12 days ago and went sailing with Carl, and hiking into Tripui Canyon) where the temperature was a much more comfortable 78. We were completing our campsite set-up (this one is boon-docking, without any facilities other than a very rustic outhouse), when who should appear at our door than Jan from Penticton B.C., who we’d last had dinner with in La Paz, and thought she and Jim were at Bahia Magdalena. They’re at the opposite end of the beach from where we settled, and we agreed to catch up late tomorrow afternoon if our days’ plans both lend themselves to that schedule. As we head north, each place seems warmer than the last time we were here. Carl, the man who took us sailing last time we were here, also showed up at our door and offered us clams, as he’d acquired too many to eat tonight and wanted them to be enjoyed fresh. We had delicious clams and salad for dinner, then sat on the beach in the dark with our camp chairs and a glass of wine, listening to the roar of the surf and watching the stars appear as the night became darker. We’re camped only 50 feet from the water, and the surf seems to never quiet down, so we’ll go to sleep tonight to the roar of the surf. The wind is quieter than last time we were here. Tomorrow we plan a day-trip to the nearby tiny fishing village of Agua Verde.
Several posts back we had an entry titled “Falling in Love!” referring to how besotted we became when we arrived at Los Barriles. It’s a small town on the coast, 90 minutes south of La Paz, and 90 minutes north of San Jose del Cabo/Cabo San Lucas, in an area referred to as East Cape because it is on the southeast end of the Baja Peninsula, almost to “The Cape” (or Cabo). It’s a small town that began as a fishing village, and now has evolved into a secondary identity as a wind-sport location. Wind-surfing and kite-sailing are very big there during the winter months when the wind is high every afternoon for 5 hours or so, before dying down for the evenings and mornings. It also remains a big fishing place during the months of November and December before the wind arrives, and in the spring after the wind has died down. It has numerous small restaurants that serve excellent, inexpensive food, a school for the local Mexican kids, a medical clinic, dentist, many small grocery stores and one mid-size grocery, a store that is referred to as the Wal-Mart of Los Barriles (really more of a general store, sort of like a tiny Target except it sells appliances too), several real estate offices, an architectural firm and an attorney, banks, a couple of up-scale hotels, several smaller, local inns, a gym, laundromat, post office and police station, among other things. The weather is perfect in the winter months – day time temps in the 70s to low 80s, night time temps, when we were there anyway, around 50 – 60 degrees. The main road through town, an L-shaped affair cutting from the highway into town, then running parallel to the beach, is paved with adjacent sidewalks for 3-4 miles. Most of the remainder of the roads are dirt or hard-packed sand, but generally quite well graded and drive-able with any sort of car. Lots of people in town own or rent 4-wheeler ATVs and get around that way. Two large arroyos (dry, sandy areas that become rivers during the very rare days of heavy rain or during hurricanes) cut through the edge of town and are places where RV-ers are allowed to camp for free (we stayed in a “real” campground instead, with electricity, water, showers, etc.) We intended to spend only 2 nights in Los Barriles, but liked it so much we stayed a week instead. While there, we latched onto the idea of a longer stay there next winter, and our friends Jim and Phebe (who are in Costa Rica for their 12th winter) emailed us a couple of links to houses for rent in Los Barriles. We made appointments to look, and guess what? We’ve rented one of the houses from January 15 – March 31 next year. It’s an almost-new 2-bedroom, 2-bathroom house (each bedroom is a master bedroom with it’s own bath) all on one level, with a Great Room that includes kitchen, living room and dining room. It has about 600 square feet of additional covered patio on the front and back, so has shade at all times of day, as well as a roof-top deck with a palapa that covers 1/3 of the deck and includes a hammock. The view of the Sea of Cortez is quite nice from the main house, and spectacular from the roof-top deck. It’s about a 10-minute walk or 3-minute to the beach. The yard has nice plantings and ample parking space, so we plan to drive down with our RAV4 and Chalet camper as we did this year, and park the Chalet in the yard for the trip home, short trips around Baja Sur, or to use as a third bedroom if people decide to visit in sufficient numbers to need 3 bedrooms. We hope to have visitors! Jim and Phebe have already signed on to spend time with us there, and we hope our kids, Cathryn’s parents, our siblings and others will consider coming as well. Cathryn’s Dad says he expects to hear next the news that we’ve bought a house and applied for Mexican citizenship, but that seems absolutely unlikely to us. But Bob has sworn he won’t spend an entire winter in the Northwest again, so maybe this will become a habit. Who knows?????
If you would like to see more about the house you can follow this link http://weaverrentals.com/ and then click on El Torote Casa
February 23, 2009
Today was one of the more interesting days of our trip. At our friend Nancy Neuerburg’s recommendation when we were gathering intelligence last Fall from friends who have previously traveled in Baja, we signed up for a “sampler” trip with Baja Outdoor Activities to go by boat to Isla Espiritu Santo, an island about 5 miles off shore from La Paz. We started out with an hour’s travel up a dramatic coastline of granite cliffs rising directly out of the sea on the east and windward side of the island. On the way, we had the exciting opportunity of 3 times seeing a single Manta Ray jump out of the water, about 5 feet into the air, do a complete 360-degree flip, and flop back into the water. Wish we’d caught that with the camera! After passing the north end of the island, we anchored at a smaller island, mostly just an rocky outcropping, where we spent a little over an hour snorkeling on a shallow coral reef with a nice range of fish life, a school of several million sardines, and nice sea fans and sponges. In addition to the four of us clients from the boat, plus our amazing Mexican Guide, Tulio, who was in the water with us, we were joined by dozens of sea lions! About 400 of them live year-round on this island. They are quite curious and swam with us, twisting and swirling in the water all around, sometimes swooping at high speed within several feet of our snorkel mask before veering away at the last minute. It was quite a rush! Despite our shorty wetsuits, the water was only 70 degrees so left us feeling chilly. After that restful activity, we motored down the western shore of the island about 20 minutes and pulled into a nice sandy beach where we launched sea kayaks. We kayaked for about an hour and a half down a rocky coast and through a rock arch. Most of the trip was quite easy and incredibly pleasant, however there was one stretch where the wind, surge and swells caused Bob a bit of a problem with feeling unstable. That segment soon passed and we moved on down the coast to another sandy beach where we pulled in for a nice lunch, including a cold tea made from dried hibiscus flowers. After a 45-minute lunch break, we got back in the skiff and went another twenty minutes down the coast where we pulled into yet another sandy bay. Here we took a short hike/rock scramble up to some cave paintings. After our hike we returned to the skiff and headed back toward La Paz. Just south of Isla Espiritu Santo, we saw ahead a significant section of water that looked very “roughed up”. The boat captain headed in that direction, and we inquired what was causing the water spray and localized rough waves. Tulio informed us it was a very large school of Manta Rays swimming and feeding on the surface. We drifted nearby for about 20 minutes, and during that time Tulio estimated the school was 500-1000 Manta Rays, all swimming on or near the surface, with their “wings” flapping above the surface causing the rough water and spray. Tulio said he had only observed this phenomenon once before in the 3 years he’s been guiding trips to the island. The school swam directly under our boat several times, and you could see hundreds of rays at a time, only 1-5 feet under the boat. Incredible! From the time we showed up at BOA’s office at 8 in the morning until we returned, it was 9 ½ hours of high adventure. We were salty, and dried out from the sun, tired but happy with our day. Unfortunately the day’s activities didn’t really lend themselves to photography, so you’ll just have to accept our word for it that it was a spectacular day.
We left Los Barrilos, more than a little reluctantly, for two reasons. The first, because we enjoyed it so much, the second because symbolically (and literally) it meant that we were on our way back north. We expect to visit Los Barrilos again; more on that later. Today we drove the two hours north to La Paz to be in position for our boat trip to Isla Espiritu Santo tomorrow morning (Monday). We are back at the Casa Blanca RV Park where we stayed a week ago, so all is familiar. This evening we met up with Jan and Jim, Connie and Gord, folks we met back at Santispac on Bahia Concepcion 3 weeks or so ago. Connie and Gord have a house here where they live 4 or 5 months of each year. We had a beer and appetizers at their house, then walked about 10 minutes down to the Malecon where the first of three nights of Carnaval was kicking off with a parade. The parade lasted about an hour, seemed to have a Polynesian theme, and was very loud -- it was great fun! The floats tended to be less formal than the ones we see in parades back home, but the people on them, and the people watching, both seemed to be having lots of fun. The predominance of pretty girls was just like home, but unlike home, there were absolutely no clowns! We uploaded the pictures from the parade to Picasa, and the link is provided below. After the parade the six of us went to dinner at a great restaurant, La Fonda. Dinner for 6 was $45. On the way back to Connie and Gord’s we walked along the Malecon where it seemed that half of La Paz’s 250,000 people were participating in carnival rides and games, all at 120 decibels on a warm winter night (70 degrees at 9 PM).
We were last in Mexico 22 years ago, when we went to Cozumel for scuba diving. Cathryn had made 4 prior trips to Mexico and during each of these visits, she became sick, so she was understandably skeptical about coming again. But so far, after 27 days in Baja California, we have dodged that bullet. Many folks say the problem with “bad” water is less severe in Baja, or maybe it’s the acidophilus pills our friend Cathy Morgan recommended we take daily, which we’ve been doing. We also haven’t run into anyone who has mentioned coming down with gastro-intestinal problems. The only illnesses we’ve heard about have been related to over-indulgence in margaritas.
This is our first exposure to a culture in which almost everyone is either retired or semi-retired, as well as to the RV lifestyle/culture, which I suspect is a sub-set of the former, and probably different than the one you would run into in the golf-oriented retirement communities of the sunny Southwest. There appear to be at least 4 distinct kinds of travelers here in Baja: the Caravaners, Big Rig RV-ers, Life Style Travelers, and the Vacationers or Dabblers (the smallest group).
The Caravaners travel in fairly large groups of 13-25 rigs and are designed to be pretty self-contained and create their own communities. There are different levels of Caravan service in terms of what’s included; some even include the meals and all activities along the way. I really don’t know anything about the people who participate in these highly organized groups, because they are largely closed communities. At the other end the caravan spectrum there is the Caravan package that just includes a one way trip down the Baja peninsula in which the leader organizes the border crossing and campgrounds and provides a lead vehicle and a tail vehicle with folks in them to trouble-shoot for you if you have problem. Once to the south end of the road, they turn you loose and you’re on your own. This latter type seems to work well for those who just need a little help overcoming the bad press that Mexico has received. These types of Carvaners then become members of one of the other three catagories of Baja travelers.
We have met a number of the what I term “Big Rig RV-ers” and they are folks who have large motor homes or 5th wheels who spend extended parts of the year, or full-time, in their rigs, and have collected a large number of accessories which might include satellite TV, internet, off-road quads, “toads” (RV lingo for towed vehicles) and tend to spend extended periods, weeks or even months, at each location where they stop. Interestingly, at least to me, is that these folks tend to be from what I’d think of as very Middle America (geographically, economically and politically), not the more well-to-do I had imagined inhabited these big, expensive rigs. Many of the men in the Big Rig RV-er group have had jobs where they worked with their hands, such as loggers, farmers or electricians, ran small businesses or in resource industries. These are not people who are “just like us” but they tend to be outgoing, friendly and happy to invite us into their lives for a few visits while we are their neighbors.
Then there are the Life Style Travelers. We’ve run into a number of folks who seem to have been outside of the mainstream for significant parts of their lives, and for whom RV-ing is only the most current iteration. Sometimes we wonder if they don’t have some secret past that they are hiding from as, after having spent some time with them, you review what you know about them, and it’s clear there are parts of their stories that you don’t know. This category also has a sub-set which Bob describes as “the lonesome and the loners” (Bob would belong to this group if Cathryn ever left him). This subset is made up exclusively, as far as we have seen, of men who are traveling alone and don’t seem to be all that interested in interaction with other people.
The Vacationers/Dabblers: These are the folks like us, out for an extend trip, but not committed to this kind of travel as a life-style. They are not defined by their vehicle: they may drive a Big Rig or be in a tent. They may be fully retired, or they may be semi-retired like Jim and Jan, who still have an active role to play in their businesses, but don’t need to be there for the day-to-day anymore. It may include the folks who are down to wind-surf for a couple of months but will return to their homes when the season is over. Most of these folks, like us, think what we’re doing is great fun, but don’t know that we will do it every year. I suspect many of the Big Rig RV-ers started out like us. It would be interesting to know what percentage of vacationer/dabblers make the transition. We pretty well know that we won’t.
The culture changes and brings sadness
We have been in the very lovely town of Los Barriles for a week now, and are quite charmed by it. I’d be happy to stay another month if we didn’t have commitments that call us to leave. I bought a cookbook of Mexican recipes the other day which is published by the East Cape Guild, a non-profit group which raises funds to provide scholarships to students who want to continue their education beyond 9th grade but cannot afford it (the last level funded for all children by the Mexican government). Students hoping to receive a scholarship must re-apply each year, must keep their grades at a very high level, and must be financially in need. It’s a very competitive process, and many students who apply are turned down. It appears that perhaps 100 or so students receive scholarships each year. The scholarship can cover all of their costs, or some of their costs, like transportation, uniforms and books, but not tuition. Most of the students who receive scholarships go to school in La Paz, and thus are leaving their homes, at least for 5 days per week, and living with relatives there or having to pay for housing in addition to school. Many students report suffering considerable adjustment difficulties having left behind their families, a small-town life, and adjusting to a big city. Nonetheless they persevere because they want to become teachers, nurses, doctors, veterinarians, own their own business, get a job in the city, or otherwise benefit from the additional education. Today we talked with a local resident who said the East Cape Guild has become controversial among some families in Los Barriles. She explained that students and their families are initially very excited about receiving a scholarship. Then, after the student has been gone to La Paz for a year or two, the parents and other family members realize that the student is unlikely to ever return to Los Barriles to live and work in the family business, whether that be a taco stand, a small farm, a fishing boat, or some other small specialized business. At that point, the parents and family become unhappy about the scholarship, while the student has typically adjusted to big city life, living away from home, and developed “big plans” for the future. This story struck as terribly sad, for both the student and the parents/family, as we would always wish that additional education was highly valued by all people, but understanding why the parents and families would feel the great loss of their child to the old way of life, living together and continuing the long traditions. The Guild is run by Gringos, and all the beneficiaries are Mexican, so it reminded us of stories we heard in Africa last Fall about how Americans and others can, at times, be mis-guided in trying to do some good and be helpful, as the thing they are providing that they think is so valuable is not always welcome.
Everyone knows about the Mexican siesta, the closing of stores and businesses between roughly 1-3 or 1-4 PM every day, and then reopening until around 8 or 9 PM. During this time, the Mexicans typically have their large, hot meal of the day and relax with their families. One of the things that wasn’t immediately apparent to us is that this long mid-day break also results in basically one “shift” being able to cover the full business day. Since many Mexican businesses are small and narrowly focused, this one-shift approach also enables one person to cover the full business day and still only work 8 hours. It appears that most grocery stores, from the “mini-supers” (which are ubiquitous; sometimes it seems they make up the majority of the buildings in some small roadside communities) don’t close for siesta, but still use the “all family” staffing plan. Kids as young as 7 or 8 help with the bagging of groceries, or dusting the shelves. The universal dust in this dry climate with lots of dirt roads is just a fact of life. Another difference in the approach to work is the pace that is expected of people working in the shops. It’s clear that people here just don’t have to “appear busy” like they do at home. It’s ok to sit with your co-workers (often family), friends, or customers and just visit. Clearly this reduces “productivity” but it appears that connection and civility is valued more. Not bad, just different. If you want to see a contrast in cultures, it’s easy to do. Just go from a small Mexican shop down the road, and then into a Wal-Mart or Home Depot (in a big city) where the signs at the latter are in Spanish, but the culture is American.
We had been told one of the “must dos” in Los Barriles was lunch at El Viejo on a Monday or Friday, the only two days each week when they offer Chile Rellenos stuffed with Shrimp and Cheese. We were also told if we didn’t arrive by 11:30, they would be all sold out. When we arrived, at 11, about half of the dozen tables were already taken, and people were eating delicious-looking fare. Our Chile Rellenos arrived about 15 minutes later, and it turns out the serving size is actually 2 stuffed chiles, plus rice, beans, and 4 tortillas, all for 80 pesos, or just under $6.00 U.S. We decided to split an order, and it was more food than we needed, though we ate every bite. It was delicious! While we were eating, people continued to show up, and shortly there was standing room only, with people lurking near each table waiting for the inhabitants to leave. The crowd was a mix of Mexican and Gringos, always a good sign!
Bob went back for his daily BP check (good result) and blood draw today, and while there, paid his bill for the care he’s received to date: Seventy nine U.S. dollars. Not making much headway on our annual medical plan deductible this way, are we?
In the last couple of weeks Bob, who has been taking medication to control high blood pressure for several years, had been experiencing some symptoms that we suspected might be the result of low blood pressure. (He’s lost some weight in the last few months and increased his exercise regime, which may have altered his need for the medication.) So on Monday we decided to visit the local clinic in Los Barriles and have his blood pressure checked. It was quite low, and the nurse suggested he come in every day to get it checked, skip a blood pressure pill for one day and see if that made a difference, and perhaps be seen by the doctor if the problem persisted. His pressure has remained low, so this morning he had an appointment with Dr. Cavalos, a Mexican doctor who fortunately speaks impeccable English. Dr. Cavalos gave Bob a thorough exam, asked questions to compile a detailed medical history, and gave us the most thorough explanation we’ve ever heard from any doctor (including Bob’s cardiologist) of how the various risk factors related to high blood pressure and heart risk interact and cancel each other out or contribute to added risk. Dr. Cavalos recommended Bob drop the blood pressure medication altogether for a while, but come in every day to have it checked. When we told him we will be leaving Los Barriles this Sunday, and will not be back home for another month, he amended the recommendation to suggest Bob have a fasting blood test (complete blood work up) tomorrow morning to rule out other contributing causes, then return Saturday for another consultation when the blood results are in. So that’s the plan. We came away with an incredibly positive impression of the care Bob has received as well as the ease of accessing that care. Today was the first time he had an appointment, and all the other blood checks have been done on a walk-in basis, and immediately on our arrival, and without charge. So after dropping in Monday, we will have had 6 visits in 6 days and have completed testing and diagnosis. How long would that have taken in the US and how much would it have cost? We have not been billed yet, but are told by others to expect the cost to be extremely low. The nursing staff are professional and polite, answered our questions, and seem as competent as any we’ve dealt with anywhere in the U.S. The doctor had better listening skills than almost any doctor we’ve ever met and certainly spent more time on the consultation then we get in the U.S. He gave us thorough information in easy lay language. And this is in a small town 2 hours from any large city. Wow!
Today we drove 1hour northwest then 1 hour southwest, to the Pacific Ocean side of the peninsula for a day-trip to Todos Santos. We’d been told it might remind us of Sedona, Taos or Santa Fe, as it has nice Mexican architecture and is a community made up of many artists, both Mexican and Gringo. In fact, it didn’t remind us of those towns as it feels much more Mexican than those cities, which feel predominantly Southwest American. It does, however, have many lovely buildings with old Mexican architectural features, as well as many galleries and shops with good art of all kinds: paintings, sculptures, glass, metal art, jewelry, fabrics and leather – you name it. We wandered the streets, bought some vegetables at a wonderful farmer’s cooperative shop, and Bob took photos. The only RV park there, however, was very disappointing, so we’re glad we decided to make our journey to Todos Santos a day trip, rather than stay there 2 nights as we’d originally planned. We also previously had the impression the town was actually on the coastline, and in fact, it’s about 3 kilometers off the coastline at most points in the city.
We got an email from Ryan recently in which he said he was enjoying our blog but would like to see us spend some time providing observations about our travels, and not just the who, what, when, where, of our days. So we’re going to try occasionally to post some of our observations. For those of you who have traveled in Latin American countries, you may find some of this falls into the “this is news?” category, but hopefully these observations will find someone who finds them of interest.
From Bob: While in San Jose del Cabo today, we had lunch at a sidewalk taco stand. Cathryn and Bob each had a shrimp taco, and Bob also had a carne taco. Total cost, about $4.00. Taco stands are a very common sight everywhere in Baja, either in towns or along the highway. Often you will find an entire family working at the stand, made up of a cart and a couple of plastic tables and chairs on the side of the road; Mom and Dad are doing the cooking, and kids are doing the clean-up. These are family enterprises in every sense of the word and provide the family’s livelihood. Incomes are very low here, and outside of the cities you see few signs of even modest wealth, but all the same, you don’t get a sense of poverty. Even if the houses are very small, and often have the washing machine hooked up out in the yard, they somehow project a comfortable atmosphere, although there must be some sense of disconnect given that you see these same modest homes with satellite dishes for TV – so they’re watching many of the same TV shows that are shown in the U.S. which make everyone look rich.
From Cathryn: I’m struck by the misconceptions I had of this country (despite 4 previous trips to parts of Mexico, not including Baja, though all 20+ years ago) and how it looked and felt. Back in the U.S., we read so much about drug problems, killings, bandits, safety issues, information encouraging people not to come, etc. except for the heavy tourist areas such as Cancun, Cozumel, Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta – though most people we know fly into those places rather than driving from the border. I also pictured the countryside as mostly flat, brown and desolate. Having spent time in Tanzania and South Africa recently, I recall clearly what it feels like to be on vacation and feel unsafe, as I did at several points on our Fall 2008 trip. Here, after 3+ weeks in Mexico, I can honestly say I have yet to have a moment of feeling unsafe. Even when the police in La Paz stopped me, I was angry and intimidated, but I was not actually frightened, and did not feel unsafe. Nothing else in my experience here even approaches that. I have gone running alone, walked to the bathrooms in the middle of the night in campgrounds in the dark with no fear, and approached many, many strangers with questions and requests for help. Every single time, I’ve been offered friendly and helpful assistance, or if it wasn’t helpful, it was my language limitation that caused it to be so. In addition, the landscape is much more beautiful than I imagined. There are more mountains and hills, more green foliage, more rivers and creeks, and more rugged beauty than I imagined. There is also a lot of brown, desolate territory, and perhaps if we were here in summer instead of winter that would be more the case, but I’ve had my breath taken away by the incredible beauty of Baja. The Sea of Cortez really is as aquamarine as all the pictures you’ve seen suggest. The people are more polite than the average U.S. American in dealing with a stranger, the food is nothing like the “everything is the same” Mexican food available in Mexican restaurants in the U.S. It’s quite an eye-opening experience, and I’m so glad we came with plenty of time to experience it.
N 23*42.066 W 109*42.073
We’ve added the coordinates of our camp in Los Barriles, something we have neglected to do so far. Today we drove about 70 miles south to Cabo San Lucas, via San Jose del Cabo. The latter is the historic town on the Cape, while Cabo San Lucas is the new destination for tourists. About half way down, we drove across the Tropic of Cancer. The photo that accompanies this post shows the huge cruise ship in the harbor of Cabo San Lucas. We didn’t really spend much time in either, basically just a quick tour and a plan to spend more time in both next year when we come down. We had another, and we have pledged our last, frustrating day of dealing with Bob’s lost wallet. We went through a number of steps today trying to get a Mexican provisional drivers license, only to end up at an office in San Jose del Cabo and being told, for the first time, that we need an FM3 (a temporary resident card you can get only after living here for 6 months) in order to obtain even a provisional license. Lest you make the mistake of thinking it is the Mexicans who can’t get their act together, let us tell you about the Washington State Dept. of Licensing. They told Bob that if he prints out, completes and signs their form requesting a replacement license, then mails it to them (this takes two weeks from Mexico) they will mail him a new temporary license in 21 to 45 days (by which time we will be back home). He told them he was 2,500 miles from home and at risk of being thrown in Mexican jail if caught driving without a license, and they basically told him “tough luck”. We will only describe the alternate plan we’ve developed for dealing with this problem if it works and we don’t get caught, later.
Well, so much for the plan to spend 2 nights at Los Barriles, 2 nights at Santiago, and 2 nights at Todos Santos! We now plan to spend all 6 nights here at Los Barriles instead. We’ve learned we can make day-trips from here to do the hike at Santiago we’re interested in, as well as a day-trip to Todos Santos (which we’re told will remind us of a very small Sedona, AZ or Taos or Santa Fe, NM). So tomorrow we plan to make a day-trip to Los Cabos (Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo – a 90-minute drive) to try to get Bob a provisional Mexican drivers license, stock up on some provisions at Costco, and buy a headset, and possibly take a boat trip to the famous arch for which Cabos San Lucas is famous.
Bob arranged a Skype account for us today, but we don’t own a headset, so borrowed Jim/Jan’s headset and had a first phone conversation today with Cathryn’s parents, Ryan, Mackenzie and Adrienne since crossing the border 3 weeks ago. We felt so fortunate each of them answered their phones when we called, and it was wonderful to hear their voices and catch up on news! We are missing them.
Last night we got together with Jan and Jim (Penticton, B.C. couple) again for cocktail hour, and it was nice to catch up on what we’d each been up to since we left each other at Playa Juncalito. As always, we had dinner separately in our own RVs. Today we went for a run, showered, made our Skype phone calls, then went into town to walk around and explore a bit, tried to find the police station (unsuccessfully, as we got 3 divergent sets of directions from 3 different people) hoping we might get a provisional drivers license for Bob here rather than Los Cabos, and picked up a few things at the grocery store. Cocktail hour with Jan and Jim again, then back to our Chalet for camarones (shrimp) again for dinner. We are eating much more seafood than we normally do at home. It’s fresh and delicious! Jan and Jim leave tomorrow morning for La Paz, and we don’t expect to see them again in Baja as our travel plans are quite different from this point. But they are wonderful people and we expect to remain good friends, hoping to see each other again in Baja, Olalla or Penticton in the future.
We have fallen in love with Los Barriles. Cathryn thinks Bob could happily live here for the rest of his life, though we’re told summers are hot and humid, so perhaps not. But it is beautiful, sunny and warm without any oppressive weather characteristics, we like the Mexican culture that makes it interesting, the food is different from what we find at home, and there are people coming and going all the time. The town of Los Barriles is an interesting mix of Mexicans and Gringos. The residents are almost all Mexican families, there is a sizeable school for the children, a hospital and medical clinic, dentist, social service agency which hosts, among other things, AA meetings, several good grocery stores, and lots of wonderful small restaurants, a few galleries and gift shops, fishing and wind/kite-surfing businesses, a couple hair salons (I’m really missing Rose, who normally takes care of my hair, so this is a plus), and a veterinarian. The town is pedestrian-friendly, the people are helpful and friendly, and it is very relaxed. Our campsite and campground have everything we think we need to be happy – nice bathrooms, laundry facilities, wi-fi, electricity, water and sewer connections, friendly people, and a spectacular beachfront setting with great weather. The sunrises and sunsets are gorgeous, night-time is quiet (no barking dogs, braying burros, 18-wheelers using engine brakes, and only one crowing rooster), and the stars are spectacular. We feel in touch with nature here. We can imagine returning next winter for an extended stay. We’ll see.
So far today has been as good as yesterday was bad, thankfully. We awoke early, and decided to skip our run and get out of La Paz, despite having much enjoyed the city until yesterday. We made a stop to buy drinking water, wine, veggies and hopefully a new wallet for Bob, but had no luck finding a wallet. The next 2 hours we (that is, Cathryn) drove south through desert country, gaining 1600 feet elevation, then dropping down again, with no views of the water. Only a couple of tiny towns to break up the drive. Coming into Los Barriles, we sighted the Sea of Cortez again, with lovely almost-white beaches and sparkling aquamarine water. We’d had an email earlier from Jan and Jim (the Penticton, B.C. couple we keeping seeing) saying they were happily situated at the Playa Norte RV Haven, so we decided to check whether they were still in residence. We found them almost immediately, and they were taking off for a hike that sounds great, and we think we’ll give it a try tomorrow. This campground seems to be the nicest yet in Baja, though we keep thinking that. It’s right on the beach, though the location is a prime wind-surfing and kite-surfing spot, and is very windy from late morning until late afternoon, so most of the campsites are a bit back from the water. There are many more trees, bushes and flowering plants than in other campsites, so more shade, which is very important to Cathryn, and privacy. We found an empty spot with full hook-ups and a 15-foot by 25-foot palapa (12-foot tall posts made of stripped tree trunks, with a palm frond covering for shade), so we parked the Chalet right next to the palapa and settled in. The beach is actually more attractive than the one where we spent 6 nights at Bahia Concepcion, other than there are few mountains in sight. The campsites are much less crowded, and there are rustic but lovely tiled bathrooms with real flush toilets and hot showers. There is even a rustic laundry room outfitted with modern washing machines and lines set up out back to hang clothes to dry. This will be an easy place to stay. We took a walk on the beach to watch the kite-surfers, took some video which Bob will attempt to post later today, and felt like we had front row center seats at some sort of ESPN filming of the kite surfers! Wow – it looks extremely exciting and fun. We’re told this is not a good place for beginners to try kite-surfing as the winds are too high. We’re enjoying watching and so far are not tempted to try it.
Somewhere along the way, every major trip we’ve ever taken entailed some problems. After 3 weeks in Baja, and no troubles whatsoever, we finally had our difficult day today. It began when Bob tried to get dressed for our morning run and discovered that his favorite running shorts (the only ones that fit him currently, as he’s lost a bit of weight) and running shirt were not in the pile of laundry we got back from the laundromat yesterday. We returned to the laundromat to inquire whether perhaps they’d been left behind in a dryer, dropped on the floor, etc, but no such luck. Oh well, can’t let a little thing like that bother you. Several hours later after our run and showers, Cathryn decided to drive somewhere alone for the first time in Baja, as we’ve become quite comfortable with getting around La Paz. She headed through town to go to the shop to finalize our arrangements for a boat trip to Isla Espiritu Santo about 10 days from now. A couple miles from “home” a policeman (Federale) pulled alongside and motioned her to pull over. She did, and subsequently was told, in Spanish, that she had not stopped sufficiently at a 4-way stop sign and would be ticketed. She’s quite sure this was not true as we’d been warned about such stories and were being extra careful about fully stopping at all signs, and she had just stopped at the last one two blocks back. Nonetheless the policeman, who was soon joined by a second policeman, insisted that she’d failed to stop properly, would be ticketed, and her driver’s license would be confiscated. She shrugged, indicating okay, and the officer seemed unhappy. Next he said that she’d have to go to the police station to pay a $100 ticket and retrieve her driver’s license . . . . or she could settle it up immediately with the officer by paying 400 pesos ($30) instead. Needless to say, she felt angry, helpless and intimidated, but decided to keep her feelings to herself and pay the $30 rather than deal with the police station and $100 ticket. After paying, the police officers waved her along. On arrival at the shop to finalize boat trip plans, she was still feeling upset by the incident, and told the Mexican woman who is a co-owner of the shop, Alejandra, the story of what had happened. Alejandra told Cathryn that the police officers here are very poorly paid, and that’s why they do this sort of thing to supplement their incomes, but made no excuses for their behavior. She said if Cathryn had gotten a ticket, it would not, in fact, have been $100, but much less. She said the better response on Cathryn’s part would have been to insist that they issue the ticket, then tell them to come with her to the police station right away so she could settle her account and get her license back. Alejandra insisted that had Cathryn done that, they likely would have waved her along without further problem, but if not, she still would have paid only a small fine and they would not have gotten any money out of it. So, okay, lesson learned the hard way, and not really expensive. Won’t let this ruin our day, right? Next we decided to make a trip out to Playa Tecolote about 20 miles from La Paz to check out what is reportedly one of the most beautiful beaches in the area. There is also camping there, so we thought we might stay there on our way back through La Paz in a week or 10 days after completing the southern loop. It was, in fact, a beautiful beach, but extremely windy at the time, so a bit chilly (not compared to what most of you are experiencing daily, of course, but still chilly). After a while, we returned to La Paz, planning to explore the “old” area of town, off the waterfront. After parking and getting out of the car, Bob started patting his pockets and wondered aloud where his wallet might be. We searched around the driver’s seat of the car thinking it might have fallen out of his pocket, then he recalled he’d had it sitting on the seat between his legs after stopping at the ATM machine on the way to Playa Tecolote. We searched his pockets and the car inside out, upside down, and every which way. No wallet. We drove back to Tecolote and searched the area up and down the beach where we’d parked our car, figuring it must have fallen out when he got out of the car. Still no wallet. Since we’re certain he had it at the bank, there was nowhere else it could be. We decided it must have fallen out of the car, then been picked up by someone before we returned to search for it. Sad and frustrating! He had “only” about $100 inside, but the big loss was his driver’s license and 4 credit cards. He called on our cell phone to cancel the credit cards, which meant 3 of Cathryn’s cards were also cancelled. We talked to a couple of local Mexican people about the incident because we were concerned that he no longer has a driver’s license. We were told that was a legitimate worry, as if he got stopped by the police while driving without a license, there’s “no telling what they might do”, suggesting he might end up in jail or having the car confiscated. Sheesh, heavy sigh and all that. We were advised to file a report with the local police, then seek a provisional Mexican driver’s license for the remainder of our visit. So Saturday night, Valentine’s night, we spent 2 hours at the local police station, mostly waiting to be waited on, then filing a report (all in Spanish as the officer spoke no English whatsoever) regarding the loss of the wallet. (Note: As we were in the waiting room, we got to watch a lot Mexican TV. While we couldn’t really understand most of the words, the political ads had a familiar tone through the pictures, and the program, like U.S. TV, had a heavy emphasis on bosoms). We were told that filing this police report was a necessary precedent to getting the provisional driver’s license. And since we have thousands of miles yet to drive, it’s not an option for Cathryn to do all the driving (she gets too sleepy in the afternoons while driving). Finally the report was done, only to learn that the place where we get the provisional license is not, of course, open on weekends, so we’d have to wait until Monday morning to take care of that. We plan to leave La Paz tomorrow (Sunday morning) so don’t want to wait around for another day to take care of it. The officer at the police station seemed to think we could probably take care of it as we drive through the Cabos in 4-5 days, or when we’re back in La Paz a week or 10 days from now. None of this would have been possible without Cathryn’s skill in speaking Spanish, which she feels is very inadequate, but in fact got us through a very non-conventional situation. So Cathryn will be doing all the driving for a while until we get that detail settled. (And Hobie, we might have Bob’s replacement Washington driver’s license sent to your house if Washington State Dept of Licensing will do that). So there’s the story of our Valentine’s Day. We hope all of you had a better one! Nonetheless, we remain cheerful, happy to be in Baja, and ready to get on with our next adventures. P.S. if you can read the picture of the police report, you will see that the word for “retired” in Spanish is “jubilado”, which we interpret to be “ jubilant” – isn’t that cool?
We are still in La Paz for Valentine’s Day. We plan to move on to either Los Barriles or Cabo Pulmo tomorrow. Yesterday morning we went for a run on the Malecon. It was our favorite Baja run yet as we were able to do 5 miles round-trip without any curb cuts, hills, need to watch for traffic or dodge 18-wheelers charging down upon us, all in a warm beautiful sea-side location. It reminds us of running on Alki Beach in Seattle on a day when the crowds are low and the temperature is 75 degrees. What more could you ask for? The rest of the morning we spent doing chores, groceries and dropping off our laundry. We didn’t find a self-service laundromat, although we’re sure we could have found one if we had bothered to look a bit more. It ended up costing us about $10 for 3 loads of wash to be done for us, all nicely folded and completely clean when we picked it up 6 hours later. We spent more than that in Mulege doing the laundry ourselves. We spent the afternoon napping and sitting by the pool (Cathryn and Bob respectively). In the evening we went into town for dinner. On our earlier trip to the Malecon we found a place called El Patron that had paella on the menu and we couldn’t resist. We started with a hearts of palm salad, a copy of which I suspect many of you will experience at our house at some point in the future – it was terrific! The paella did not disappoint and was also excellent. It turned out to be an expensive dinner, probably about as much as we’ve spent at restaurants the entire rest of the trip combined, but it was worth it. And we knew La Paz would be more expensive than other cities until we pass through the Cabos later next week.
After dinner we took a stroll on the Malecon in the warm winter air (sorry to rub it in, you folks in the north) to settle our dinner. There was an event going on that we interpreted as some starting ceremony for the Baja 1000 road race. There was a long line of tricked-up trucks/cars that passed through a ceremonial gate where each one paused for a photo opportunity with two scantily clad young women (Bob took a large number of pictures too, but Cathryn wouldn’t let him post them because she said it would make him look like a dirty old man – is anyone fooled?) Some of the cars were also displayed so you could see them; Cathryn said Bob could post these, including the one with a good looking woman in it, although she is fully clad.
Today we ran again, and plan to explore the old downtown area, a bit back from the waterfront. We’re also going to finalize arrangements for a boat trip we plan to take on February 23rd , but we’ll wait to tell you about that when it happens!
N 24*07.822 W 110*20.515
After saying goodbye to Jan, Jim, Jill and Doug, probably for the last time, we left Juncalito just before 9 this morning and made our way to La Paz, about 200 miles south. The first 50 miles went up into the same mountains we had been looking at in the west for the last few days. At the top of the pass, we entered a long flat plain that continued for over 100 miles. About half of this area was agricultural land with two modern, if uninspiring, towns. The rest was high desert with cactus and an occasional burro. We’ve checked into the RV Casa Blanca, a campground in La Paz with full facilities, and grabbed quick showers. We headed into town and walked the malecon (the waterfront pedestrian walkway) for three hours, just orienting ourselves. Our impression of La Paz, a city of about 150,000, is very positive. The city has obviously put a lot of effort into making the malecon a very pleasant place, and it seems well used by both visitors and residents (unlike the one in Loreto, which seemed to be sort of grafted onto the town). The other parts of the city, that we saw driving in and out, looked prosperous compared to much of what we’ve seen in the rest of Baja. We hope to spend some time in the downtown area tomorrow after we take care of a few logistics like laundry and groceries. The malecon is a “runner-friendly zone”. We saw runners there this evening (Mexicans, not tourists – the first we’ve seen in the country – apparently an urban phenomenon), and the books say there are lots of folks there exercising in the mornings. We’re going to try that out tomorrow morning. We came back to the RV Park and cooked the chorizo (sausage) we bought at the Loreto market Sunday and added some white cheese, onions, avocados and hot sauce, trying to recreate those taco/pizza things we ate at the market. Our dinner was excellent, but it wasn’t up to the “real thing”. The photos are from our walk on the malecon.
February 11, 2009
Cocktail Hour last night found us at Doug and Jill’s rig, the friends of Jan and Jim who joined us here yesterday and are parked alongside on Playa Juncalito. On arrival we met Aaron and Erin, who Jill had also invited to join us for cocktail hour. Aaron and Erin are 25 and 23, and camping in a small tent about 50 yards south of us on the beach. They’re traveling by kayak from Mulege south to La Paz, approximately 250 miles! They’ve covered about 100 miles so far. They expect to spend approximately 3 weeks making the trip, and are carrying everything they need – tent, clothes, food, fresh water, sleeping bags, stove – in their kayaks. They have only one more planned water stop between here and La Paz. Cathryn brought along an appetizer tonight and apologized for the fact it was being served on one of our regular dinner plates as we have no room in the Chalet for fancy appetizer type dishes. Erin laughed and said “Well, at least you have dinner plates – we eat our dinner each night out of a single pot in which we’ve cooked our food, and the only utensils we have are one spoon each!” They take their “baths” in the Sea of Cortez, with no warm or fresh water. They both graduated from Lewis & Clark College in Portland, OR recently. She’s from Alaska, and he’s from Telluride, CO. They are friendly, hearty, likeable souls and made Cathryn feel like a weenie for complaining about the bathrooms on our trip. When we returned to the Chalet afterwards, we commented that we wished we’d met them earlier in the day and had offered them the opportunity to take a shower using our fresh, hot water and shower tent. So much for thinking we are the folks in the smallest rig who are roughing it more than anyone else! The pictures are of A and E’s departure this morning, before the sun had even come over the hill.
After a cocktail hour reunion with Jan and Jim from Penticton last night, as well as their friends Doug and Jill from home, we spent the evening reading in the Chalet and retired a bit early. This morning we got up about the usual time (6:30-ish), had coffee, compared notes with all the neighbors on activities for the day, and declined the offer to go sailing with Carl again. At 10:00 we took off in two cars with Jan and Jim, Doug and Jill to hike the Tripui Canyon. The “trailhead” is a mile or two down the road from our beach, however to call it a trailhead is a bit of a misnomer, as there’s really no trail. Instead, we spent the next 2+ hours climbing up the most phenomenal canyon, filled with giant boulders, pools of water, some palm and other scrub trees, and loads of butterflies. The boulders are enormous, the canyon is steep and very high, and it was a bit intimidating to imagine how all those boulders came to rest in their current spot. This is not a place you’d want to be in a heavy rainstorm. Or an earthquake. We were scrambling (hand over hand over feet) almost the entire time. Several times we would not have found the proper path through the boulders and smallish cliffs were it not for someone else happening along who knew the way and could point us in the right direction. At several points we had to climb through “key holes” that required us to remove our backpacks and squirm up through a narrow chimney for 20-30 feet, essentially in the dark. At another point we had to remove our shoes and socks and wade through a shallow pool (knee deep) to get back on the proper path upwards. The water in the pools was clear and cool – too cool to swim in, but it felt nice on hot feet coming down. We stopped for lunch after a while, then turned back down, re-tracing our steps. It was a really lovely hike. If we come back another year, we might start earlier and plan to go further up where we hear there are fabulous waterfalls to be seen. Those of you who are hikers and mountain climbers would absolutely adore this hike. Now we’ll take showers, head into Puerto Escondido to post the blog and check email, come back for happy hour with the neighbors, prepare our chorizo with veggie wraps for dinner, and tomorrow we plan to head (once again) to LaPaz. Playa Juncalito is definitely a place we plan to return to on our way back north. Lovely spot!
Yesterday after arriving at Juncalito we met our immediate neighbors, Carl and Chris from B.C., Canada. They’re also on their first Baja trip, in a 37 foot motor home and staying here for a month or more. Turns out Carl retired last year and bought a 28-foot Lancer sailboat as his retirement gift, which he towed down here on a trailer from L.A. behind the RV. His wife doesn’t like sailing, so he’s always looking for interested crew and invited us to go sailing with him today. We hesitated less than half a second before accepting! So this morning we went for our run and took showers, then hooked up with Carl to walk about ½ mile to a remote cove on the other side of the hill where he keeps his dinghy anchored. The 3 of us got in the dinghy and motored to Puerto Escondido where his sailboat is anchored in the bay. The weather was perfect, sunny and mid-70s with a 5-6 knot wind when we went out. As you can see from the photo, this adventure made Bob very happy! We sailed for 3 hours, including circumnavigating the small island about ½ mile off-shore from Juncalito beach where we’re camping. By the time we returned, the wind had picked up considerably, and we made the trip back in the dinghy with white caps and spray blowing over the bow. It was a lovely day.
On our return walk to the campground, we noted from afar that two RVs had moved in practically right on top of the Chalet and we were feeling a bit grumpy. The closer we got, the grumpier we got. Then we noted one of the RVs looked familiar! It turned out to be our “old” Baja friends Jim and Jan from Penticton, who we first met at Catavina and with whom we spent lots of time at Bahia Concepcion/ Santispac and whose kayaks we’d used there. They had taken off for a trip into town, so we haven’t seen them yet, but the second RV belongs to close Canadian friends of theirs with whom they are now traveling. I expect we’ll have a great happy hour reunion after we go back to Puerto Escondido to post today’s story and check our email.
N 25*49.887 W 111*19.701
We got going early this morning, leaving Loreto at 8 AM to make the 200 mile drive to La Paz. About 18 miles south we drove past the small bay of Juncalito and saw a beach camping area that had been recommended by people we met back at Bahia Concepcion, and we’d also read about it in our Baja books. We had mentally identified it as a place we might stay on the way back north, going up the peninsula later in the month. We drove in to check it out and, well . . . . . let’s just say we really liked it. We’re now set up on the beach and plan to stay at least two nights, maybe longer. We’re about 60 feet back from the water, and the density of other campers is pretty low. We have folks about 50-60 feet away in both directions. To the east we have the Sea of Cortez, and only a mile or two to the west we have the Giganta Mountains (Gigantic Mountains, as you might guess, and aptly named). We’re told there are great hikes into the mountain canyons where we’ll find streams with pools for swimming. We’ll check it out tomorrow. There is not any infrastructure here other than pit toilets, but after Playa Santispac at Bahia Concepcion, we now know how to get along fine without, and our batteries, computer, etc are all charged up after last night’s hook-ups in Loreto. A couple of beach vendors came along right at lunch time, so we bought still-hot chile rellenos and chicken empanadas – yum! We didn’t know we were going to be dry camping, so we need to drive down the road a mile to pick up more water and a couple of supplies. We hope to post this message then. We’ll probably get to internet each day at the “yacht club” in Puerto Escondido (Hidden Port), but if we don’t, it’s because we’re having too much fun to make the trip, so for now hasta luego! We guess La Paz will have to wait.