When we were in La Paz last week we met a couple who told us about a hike they’d taken that sounded interesting. There are two small towns right on Mex 1 about 40 km north of here, San Antonio and El Triunfo. You’ve read about the latter in a previous post, where we toured the Music Museum that was full of ancient pianos and other instruments. It’s been one of our favorite places. San Antonio has up to now just been one of those places we drove through. As of today, it’s now one of our favorite places, at least as interesting as El Triunfo, maybe more!
There’s an old road built long before the Mex 1 highway, back during the 1800’s when the gold and silver mines were active, that connects these two towns. It runs sort of parallel to Mex 1, but a mile or two up into the hills. The distance between the towns is only 8 kilometers via the old road which is built of cobblestones for the first four kilometers, and of dirt the second half. We set out today to check it out.
We had to inquire of a local resident to find the entrance to the road, and when we found it we continued up into the hills. The cobblestone road was narrow, bumpy, and set in gorgeous terrain with occasional ranchos on the side and lots of cattle. It’s clear the road is still maintained because the edges are occasionally marked by freshly painted white rocks, and the dirt portion of the road is relatively well graded. We came across a group of 4 hikers on our way up who said they’d done the hike both ways many times but didn’t see another car or truck the entire distance. About half an hour after leaving San Antonio, we arrived in El Triunfo.
After parking the car we headed on foot slightly higher into the hills to explore the ruins of the former gold and silver mines. See the photos to get a glimpse of these mines. We met a middle-aged Mexican man accompanied by his elderly mother who took the time to tell us a lot of the history of the mines, including pointing out the walled cemetery where the English miners and their families were buried. These mines were active from the mid-1700s until the late 1800s.
We wandered back into town for lunch at El Café Triunfo, a place we stopped for coffee once, but Russett, Jim and Phebe had all recommended as a great lunch spot. Bob ordered salami pizza, and Cathryn a pulled pork sandwich. Both were absolutely outstanding, and the setting is gorgeous!
We’d planned to head home on Mex 1 from El Triunfo but because we enjoyed the trip up the rustic road so much we decided to take it back through the hills to San Antonio. While stopped to take a few pictures a local resident approached and asked if we had any questions or needed help finding anything. This chance encounter led to an interesting couple of hours. Xochitl Diaz Lecona, who tells gringos just to call her “Gypsy” (because it’s easier and is her artist name) and her sister are working hard to establish a local cultural center for the arts and history of San Antonio. While the center is closed on Sundays, she offered to open it for us and show us around. In the center there is a small clay studio as well as a gift shop that contains photos of local scenery. The town’s children make clay objects and woven baskets which are for sale. Xochitl spent more than an hour telling us about her life and the history of the town. Her family has owned a rancho in the hills for more than a hundred years, and while she has lived in Ensenada (near the Mexico-U.S. border) and several places in the U.S. much of her life, she now spends half the year in San Antonio and plans to start building a house for herself on the family ranch this spring so she can move back full-time.
She has a laptop computer that contains wonderful photos of the area taken by a photographer who died last year. She had some work done on her computer recently and all of her files ended up on several USB drives instead of her hard drive, and she doesn’t know how to transfer them back. She also owes several people emails with photos attached and hasn’t learned how to do that. We offered to meet her again tomorrow morning so Bob could show her how to do those things, or do them for her. We also suggested that the photos were so fabulous they should download them on CDs or DVDs and sell them! She doesn’t know how to do that either, but has some blank CDs and DVDs, so Bob will make a bunch and show her how to do that too. Xochitl had a 19-year-old son who was murdered in Chicago 15 years ago, but no other children. She also was an elementary school teacher in San Diego for some time and is now retired at the age of 53. She’s quite passionate about San Antonio, its’ culture and history, and her family’s life on the ranch.
Xochitl directed us to the surprisingly large local cemetery which we visited after leaving her. During its’ mining heyday, San Antonio had 10,000 residents, so the cemetery is much more populated than you’d expect given the tiny size of the current town. Inscriptions on the tombstones indicate the first people were buried there in the mid 1700s, and others as recently as the last year or two; it’s pretty lovely. Mexicans do not feel their cemeteries are at all creepy or scary, but rather wonderful places to visit and reconnect with the spirits of their loved ones.
We hope to do this trip again while Lynn and David are here, perhaps hiking the length of the old road in one direction if we can find someone to join us who will leave another car at the opposite end, or if we can figure out the local bus schedule for buses running up and down the Mex 1. What started out as a day in which we planned merely to take a short hike turned into one of our most interesting days of the trip this year.
Today while grocery shopping we stumbled across a new (to us) newspaper written in English, by and for gringos. While the quality of writing is no better than the Gringo Gazette, about which we’ve written recently, the upbeat embracing of Mexico, its’ people and culture was a refreshing and welcome counter. This newspaper, “The Baja Citizen”, comes out of La Paz, a vastly different city than Cabo San Lucas. One article made us chuckle, so we’ll share a bit of it:
“Going Native in La Paz”
Have you gone native yet? Use this checklist to help you determine this. You just might be going native if you:
1. Wear sandals or walk barefoot more often than not and regular shoes feel strange
2. Use salsa instead of A-1 sauce on your steak
3. Never stop at a stop sign unless you really, really must
4. Look strangers in the eye, smile and say “good day” without feeling like you might be mugged or asked out on a date
5. Stay calm and enjoy it when children play soccer in the supermarket aisle
6. Find it completely normal to see men carrying their children and showing affection toward them in public
7. Think 55 degrees Fahrenheit is downright cold
8. Write dates with the day first and the month second
9. Take siestas without guilt and whenever you want
10. Know that when people say they’re “going to Mexico” they mean Mexico City
11. Find rain thrilling
12. Hug everyone to greet them even if the flu is going around
13. Give a small change tip to the bag boys and girls at the supermarket
14. Have gotten used to the fact that unmarried women wear bikinis at the beach and married women wear t-shirts
15. Use a clothesline and the sun to dry your clothes instead of an indoor electric dryer
16. Almost take the glorious sunsets for granted
17. Trust that when your 82-year-old mother shops alone, she’ll get back the correct change
We recognize these characteristics of life in Mexico, and it’s part of why we’re here!!! The list was actually longer, but some of the items on it would not make sense to people who haven’t spent time here, and beside it might get tedious!
We found the San Bartolo Waterfall today. We had put off this expedition because, based on an earlier review which indicated there was a lot of trash there, we had low expectations. Once we got there however, we decided a “cleaning crew” must have come through as it was almost completely pristine. Cathryn subsequently ranked it as #1 on our list of local waterfalls. She ranks the Buenos Aires waterfall as #2 and Santiago #3. Bob would accept a #2 two ranking for San Bartolo, but ranks Santiago #1. This may remain one of the great unresolved issues of our time in Baja. So we enjoyed our journey, and obviously we can’t find much to argue about these days other than ranking waterfalls.
San Bartolo is 14 kilometers up the arroyo that our house overlooks. The “road” up the arroyo is a sandy track that follows the dry riverbed, a bit bumpy but easy enough if taken slowly. We also went up to the Buenos Aires waterfall today, a site we first visited in November, just to make sure we can find it. We intend to take Lynn and David there when they come to visit next week. Maybe we’ll make them vote in the great waterfall debate.
Every morning while we’re drinking coffee we observe a weird little bird who alternatively sits in front of our truck’s mirror pecking at it or else bashing into it, as if attempting to fly through it. The bird does this for about half an hour, then apparently is satisfied with its level of self-flagellation and leaves for other places. Anyone care to offer a bird ID?
Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be a detailed account of bodily malfunctions. Tuesday morning we developed a problem with our internet connection, and after a couple hours of fussing with it, and contact back and forth with the equipment providers customer support folk it stopped working completley and we lost wireless service. We hooked up via a wired connection which put us back on the bathroom counter, as that’s where the antennae comes through a window, and we only have a short cord for the device that interfaces between the antennae and laptop.
The rest of Tuesday we did exciting things like get an oil change on the truck and a second key made for our gas cap. We know these are mundane activities, but when conducted in a culture like Baja’s and in Spanish, interesting experiences nonetheless, at least to us.
Wednesday we kicked around the house, exercising, cleaning house and reading while waiting for Doug. He arrived at 1:30 and proceeded to struggle with our system for 6 hours! In the end, he conducted a short ceremony and pronounced our hardware “toast”. His view was that the customized router was being asked to do too much.
So Thursday morning we drove to La Paz in search of new hardware. Doug gave us directions to a place that carried what he recommended, but unfortunately they were sold out, so they directed us to an Office Depot nearby. The folks there didn’t even recognize what we were asking for, an “Access Point”, and couldn’t offer any suggestions. We returned to the first store for advice, and after further thought they pointed us to a third store a couple miles away, “Microsistemas”, for those who recognize that name even in Spanish. The process of giving and receiving directions in Mexico is always a challenge. It appears to us most Mexicans are driven by a stronger desire to help than by a great sense of direction. Add to that our imperfect skills in understanding Spanish and, well, you get the idea. We found the third store, and they had one Access Point! Unfortunately we needed two. So we bought one, and a longer ethernet cord, which would at least get us out of the bathroom, and they said they’d order a second Access Point we could pick up next week when we’ll be back in la Paz anyway.
Disappointed that our 4-hour round trip drive was not going to be fully successful, we headed across town to shop for a few things. Several miles down the road Cathryn called out “Bob! There’s another Exacto, the same name as the first store Doug sent us to!” We turned in, and lo and behold, they had a shelf full of Access Points! We gave each other a high 5 and declared the day a success.
So we’re back in Los Barriles today, and Ponytail Doug says he’ll come tomorrow to help us hook this stuff up. Today we hope to find another waterfall we’ve been told is nearby and leave internet issues behind.
We’ve previously touched on the subject of the interaction and sometimes friction between residents of Baja and the sometimes overwhelming number of North American visitors. (See November 1, 2009 entry). We’ve recently revisited the issue.
There’s a weekly “newspaper” called the Gringo Gazette out of Cabo San Lucas, and the publisher and editor is a gringa. She writes a publisher’s column in each issue. We’ve only read the GG half a dozen times over the past 12 months, but each time we’re struck by the hostile tone she conveys in her column toward Mexico’s people and culture. She’s lived for 15-20 years, as best we can tell, full-time in Cabo San Lucas. We picked up last week’s GG at the grocery store in Los Barriles and were struck more powerfully than usual by the very nasty tone of her column, describing all Mexicans as corrupt and manipulative, condemning their culture that allows bribes to continue in official places, and generally describing everything about Mexico as bad. Beyond wondering why on earth she lives here if she feels that way, we also were embarrassed. Surely Mexican people read the GG, at least occasionally, out of curiosity about what we think and say, and how horrid to think that those Mexicans might think all gringos think and feel that way! Yes, we dislike the corruption here, just as we dislike corruption in the American government or business world – or anywhere else in the world -- but we know it is particularly common in poor countries with less well-developed government and judicial systems. People living in poverty will do things that people with plenty of resources would not, if just to ensure they have food, clothing and shelter.
We spoke about the column several times and discussed how disturbed we were by its’ contents. This week the next GG came out, and with misgivings, we again picked it up. In the Letters to the Editor section was one from a Canadian gringo excoriating the GG publisher for her racist and bigoted comments and stating that not all gringos agree with her. He provided his name and email address, so that night Cathryn sent him an email thanking him for taking the time and having the courage to write his letter. She received a response from him the following day saying he’d heard from 3 gringos including her – one other who agreed with our opinions, and one telling him they too were Canadian and his letter had embarrassed them (!) and that he was now the laughing-stock of the gringo community for his naiveté.
We theorize that many gringo residents of Cabo San Lucas (differentiated from shorter-term visitors to Cabo San Lucas) may think somewhat differently from gringos who live or travel in other parts of Baja, because Cabo San Lucas is so different from the rest of Baja. Cabo San Lucas is essentially two distinct and very separate cities: a gringo city that happens to be in Mexico where everything is in English, and people pay for things using U.S. dollars; and a Mexican city populated by people who provide support services for the gringo city. At least a segment of the gringos who live there, perhaps a big segment, seem to want the lower cost of Mexico, and the fabulous weather, but not its’ culture, or even its’ people, except to clean their houses and yards, and serve them in restaurants and shops. We’ve not run across that same attitude among gringos in other parts of Baja. And except for the one cop in La Paz winter a year ago who extorted $28 from Cathryn in a false traffic charge, we’ve not once felt we were being taken advantage of by Mexicans. We do, occasionally, run into people working in the service sector, mostly at cash registers, who are unfriendly toward us – just as we sometime do at home at Safeway or Target. But the vast majority of Mexicans with whom we interact are friendly, happy to help Cathryn with Spanish words, and helpful in whatever regard we need at the moment. If they feel resentment toward us, we don’t discern it. Mostly they seem to appreciate the financial improvement the presence of gringos brings to their lives. They openly lament the fact there are fewer gringos here than there were two years ago.
So we continue our struggle with our love of Baja and our fear that we somehow contribute, or are tarnished by, the “ugly (north) American” attitude this newspaper contributes to. We hope that on balance we do more to mitigate it then to perpetrate it.
We drove south about 50 kilometers this morning to the oasis town of Miraflores, another small village like Santiago where we visited the waterfalls last week. Miraflores is just a couple of kilometers off of Mex 1. According to the internet site we found, it is famous for its’ leather works and beautiful women. We found one shop featuring the former, and Bob found several of the latter to check out as we drove through town. We also found it to be an extraordinarily neat and tidy little town with many roads lined with formal sidewalks much like at home, plus roadway medians filled with blooming plants and tall trees along the side.
The leather works was a small operation in a fairly large building. We saw some cuero crudo (raw leather) being dried in the shop area, one fairly reclusive fellow sitting at a sewing machine off in a side room, and an additional small room that constituted their “gift shop”. You can see the sum total of their wares in the photo: one table with maybe a dozen items on it, plus, not pictured, perhaps 10 belts. We weren’t temped by the items in the store but did buy 26 meters of the cuero crudo. This is a thin continuous leather strip that is used to lash together timbers in the construction of the thatched roof palapas so common down here. Our idea is that it may be incorporated, as an aesthetic element, in our “someday” carport at Olalla. Or maybe it will just be hung somewhere outside as a conversation piece. Total cost 6 pesos per meter, or about $13.
Our second stop, other than our general walking around this lovely town, was at a small shop which specializes in meat and cheese. We bought a kilo of machaca, the dried meat we had in our lunch with the women at Horconcitas last Friday, and a small round of cheese of the same kind that was being made on the ranch. The cost of the machaca was 210 pesos, or about $18 and 40 pesos, or about $3.25, for about a pound of cheese.
Milaflores is definitely worth the side trip off Mex 1 if you’re passing that way and have an hour or two to spare.
We continued our local explorations today taking a loop trip to the village of El Cardonal north of Los Barriles. Each leg, north and south, was about 25 kilometers. The story we’ve heard is that Governor’s Highway got its name as a result of being constructed for the then-State Governor who planned to build a house at El Cardonal. The result: a twenty five mile paved road that winds up the coast to this small village. The road winds north sometimes within sight of the coast and sometimes a couple of miles inland. As with many Mexican roads, the level of ambition is high, with lots of cuts and fills, but the level of engineering is low. Stabilizing the slopes doesn’t happen, and the drainage systems are nonexistent. You can see the results in the photos! We gather the Governor who had the road built is no longer in office and the road will probably revert to a dirt track over time.
We returned from El Cardonal on the coast road. This is a dirt track that hugs the coast the whole way, providing beautiful vistas of white sand, then rocky, then cliff-side beaches for the full 25 kilometers. We stopped for a beach walk in El Cardonal where we saw large mansions of 4,000-10,000 square feet along the beach, while across the street were Mexican homes with cattle, goats and horses. We continued down the road until we got to Punta Pescadero where there’s a paved runway and more huge houses for people who fly in. Further down the road we stopped for a picnic lunch, a short snooze and some reading on the beach near where we went fishing with Jim last November.
The weather has been in the mid 70s for the last two days, but the wind has been strong, at least 20-25 MPH, so we had to bundle up a little when we were at the beach.
What an amazing day! Our friend, next-door neighbor and landlady, Russett, is friends with a Mexican woman named Olivia who lives near Todos Santos, a town on the Pacific coast of the peninsula you read about two weeks ago if you’ve been following this blog. Years ago Olivia lived for several months in the U.S., so she speaks pretty good English. She’s been active in her community here in Baja, involved in work, politics and community development, and she’s now retired. Olivia has been friends for two decades with some women living on ranchos in the community of Horconcitas 17 miles up a rough dirt road into the mountains of the Sierras de Lagunas east of Todos Santos. Olivia arranges a small trip a few times a year for people like us to go to Horconcitas and meet these women, share a meal in their home, buy some of their wares, and experience, very briefly, what life is like even today in very rural Mexico. Today we took this trip!
At 7:15 a.m. seven of us left Los Barriles in Russett’s car and our truck to make the trip to Todos Santos. We were a group of 5 women and 2 men, all Canadian or U.S. gringos except Sylvia, a Costa Rican woman who lives here in Los Barriles. We stopped at the bakery in El Triunfo for coffee, then continued on to Todos Santos, a 2-hour drive away. We picked up Olivia, our “guide” for the day, then went to a local grocery store to purchase about $70 worth of food and basic household goods (soap, toilet paper, etc) to contribute to the women in whose homes we were to visit. We spent the next hour driving up a rough dirt road to the community of Horconcitas.
At 11:30 we arrived at the home of Amelia and Kayla. Their home is ringed by gorgeous vistas of the surrounding mountains, is lush with plants, trees and flowers, and is extremely basic by modern standards. Amelia and Kayla are a mother and daughter, ages 73 and mid-50s. One of Kayla’s sons lives just down the hill, a daughter lives near Todos Santos and works in the construction industry, and a 9-year-old grandson works as a fisherman(boy) in the town of El Pescadero near Todos Santos. Amelia and Kayla have lived alone in their home since Amelia’s husband died 6 years ago. Amelia was born and raised in this home, as was Kayla. Amelia’s grandfather first established the home 133 years ago and lived there all his life, dying 23 years ago at the age of 110. There are 2 stand-alone bedrooms with full-size walls built of concrete block, palapa-style roofs, and windows with shutters but no glass. The rest of the house is open with posts, palapa-style roofs and half-height or no walls. The only power source is a solar panel, slightly smaller than the one we have on our RV. It powers a couple of lights and a mixer/blender. We were told the government supplied them with the solar panel and that it has the capacity to power a TV, but they don’t own one. The photos will tell the rest of the story about the house and yard.
On arrival we were all introduced, then taken to the “studio” to examine the pottery Amelia and Kayla have made. While “rough” by some measures, the pottery is lovely, functional, and everyone purchased several pieces (Cathryn bought 4 for a total of 250 pesos, or about $22). Next we were shepherded into the kitchen and dining area where several among the group began chopping chiles, garlic and onions. Amelia built a fire in the open “oven”, and the cooking began. Smoke wafted around the room, someone set the table, and most of the group began cooking tortillas over another section of the fire. Amelia was the only one who managed to make her tortillas properly thin and round – the rest of us turned out oblong or odd-shaped tortillas that were too thick or too thin. But we laughed a lot and had fun! After the chiles, garlic and onion were sufficiently cooked, we added Machaca we had purchased at the store in Todos Santos. Machaca is beef that has been cooked with spices, dried, pounded, and shredded, then packaged in plastic bags sold typically by the half kilo in its’ dried form. It is commonly used in northern Mexico, and apparently Baja, but not in most other parts of the country. It’s re-hydrated during the cooking process by adding it to the vegetables that have been sautéed in oil. We also cooked re-fried beans on the fire.
Shortly all 10 of us sat down to lunch with freshly made tortillas, the machaca and veggie mix, beans, and coffee or damiana tea. It was delicious!!! Well, actually Bob thought the coffee was awful. It was made by heating water over the fire with lots and lots of sugar added, then poured through a cotton sleeve over the coffee. Way too sweet! Throughout our meal, we asked questions, they told stories, and Olivia translated as needed. What a delightful time! Kayla wouldn’t let us do the dishes, so we retired to the living room to plow through bags of clothes several of the women in our group purchased at a garage sale in Los Barriles last weekend. Amelia and Kayla selected the items they thought they could use, and the remainder were re-bagged for distribution to 2 other households on our drive back down out of the mountains.
We were struck by the friendliness, open and sharing attitude, self-sufficiency and strength of these two women. They live an extraordinarily simple life by modern standards. They have a cistern fed by a stream for their water. They cook over open fire. They have an outhouse and modern, if simple, beds with sheets and blankets, furnishings and dishes, pots and pans. They have goats and cows. They make cheese once each year and roast their own coffee beans.
The day provided an extraordinary glimpse into the life of women who are not “just like us” in terms of how they live, but somehow managed to seem “just like us” in a remarkable number of ways. We joked around (including risqué references to fabric coffee cones that look like large condoms), laughed and hugged. Altogether it felt like a day of “connection” that is hard to come by when you’re just a tourist.
Seven of us are driving over to Todos Santos on the Pacific Ocean side of the peninsula,then up into the Sierra de Laguna Mountains. We’ll pick up a “guide” then visit a rancho in a village up in the mountains where the women make pottery and provide other food items for sale. Our payment for this “tour” is to deliver some clothes purchased in Los Barriles at a garage sale last Sunday, food for the families and candy for the kids. It should be interesting. We’ll post details and photos Saturday. Look for SPOT messages on the sidebar if you’re interested; we’ll try to send them from each location in the mountains.
Security in Mexico
For those of you who worry about security in Mexico, we should tell you about something we see on a daily basis. The house we’re renting is the next-to-last house on a dead end road about ½ mile up the hill from the “main road”. The local policia drive by here at least twice each day, go to the end of the road, and turn around. Each time they pass they honk their horn and wave to let us know they’re there. Once, early on in our visit, they stopped by to give us the police phone numbers for emergencies. We’re told that at some point they’ll stop to ask for a donation to the local police “benevolent fund”, which we’ll probably make to ensure continued good service.
Thursday when we were in San Jose del Cabo, we stopped at Sorianos, sort of the local equivalent of Fred Meyers or Target, for a few items. The photo above shows their parking lot security. Probably something that shopping centers at home would consider if the wage rates were similar to those in Mexico.
Our experience yesterday reminded us of this regular Blog Heading from last year’s trip. Those of you who followed us during last winter’s Baja journey in our 12-foot Chalet A-frame trailer got regular blog updates regarding how we managed the day-to-day details of RV-ing in Baja. You haven’t been subjected to that this year for a couple of reasons: one, because we suspect you really don’t care much, and two, because figuring out those details is so much easier this year so we don’t find it as interesting or consuming. The change is partially a result of our becoming more experienced RVers, though Bob won’t feel he is an old hand until he can back the 5th wheel into a tight spot without multiple attempts. Contributing equally to our reduced emphasis on the mechanics of life is that our Arctic Fox 5th wheel just plain makes it easier. We have a bathroom and shower whenever we need it. The refrigerator and freezer are large enough to hold a week’s worth of food – even our beer. The bed is queen-size and comfortable, and our dining/living area is large enough to be comfortable during evenings we “stay in”. The Chalet was fun and a great way to try RVing in a low cost/low risk way, but for us, the Fox is like Mama Bear’s porridge – just right!
Cathryn is always looking for opportunities to practice Spanish and learn new vocabulary, but the events of today are not what she has in mind. Automotive lingo is not high on her list of interests, but today she learned words such as “brakes”, “clutch”, “flat tire” and “spare tire”.
Bob, as usual, went on a run after coffee hour. On his return, he sat outside with a cold glass of water looking around the campground and enjoying the view . . . . until he noticed the truck had a very flat tire! The road to Cabo Pulmo yesterday was rough, and we’ve heard stories of people who suffer flat tires, but up to this point, we’ve been lucky. Our first thought was how fortunate we were this happened in a campground where there’s lots of room to change the tire, instead of on the narrow Mex 1 highway with no shoulders and only occasional spots to pull off the road.
As often happens when someone starts working on anything in an RV campground, a small crowd appeared with offers of help, advice and lots of kibitzing. This was Bob’s first tire change on the truck so there were lots of firsts to accomplish: find the jack, figure out how to lower the spare from under the truck, identify the jack lift points, etc. But with the assistance of fellow campers, we soon had the spare installed. Next up: get the flat fixed.
In Mexico it seems most every product or service has its own small shop. Gas stations don’t fix tires, or in some cases even have air. So we drove around La Ribera asking for directions from 3 different people to a Llantera, a tire repair shop. In most places, they’re ubiquitous. The one we found, like many, was an annex to someone’s home with a basic set-up for changing tires, and PILES of old repaired tires ready to be reused. Yep, that’s right, no new tires – that’s yet another store. This great guy, Santo, took our tire and told us to come back in half an hour. Bad news: the tire had a hole in the sidewall, which according to Santo, is not a repair we should make because of the danger of it failing and causing a blow-out. He recommended we buy a new tire, which of course is not available in La Ribera. He told us we’d have to go to San Jose del Cabo and recommended a specific shop right on the Mex 1, “Frenos y Embragues” – thus adding a new word to Cathryn’s vocabulary: embragues means clutches – she’d already learned “frenos” when our brakes failed driving down a mountain in Costa Rica 3 years ago.
So, back to the campground we went to replenish our cash supply from a vast hidden stash of pesos, eat a quick lunch and head to San Jose del Cabo, an hour away. We found the shop easily and explained what we needed to the fellow behind the counter, Antonio. He told us the brands we had to choose from in the size we needed, and we made our selection. Then he announced that because it was 12:57 and they were about to close for their lunch break, we’d have to come back at 3pm. As this put us in some danger of completing our business too late to get back to the campground before dark, Cathryn put on a sad face, told him we’d come from La Ribera, and explained we weren’t just buying a new tire for the heck of it, but because our tire had a hole in it. Bob doesn’t think this would have worked for him, but for Cathryn, this guy said “Hold on a minute”, came back two minutes later and asked us to pull the truck into the shop. Four guys, all scowling a bit except for Antonio who came from behind the counter to pitch in and help, scurried around and removed the old tire from the wheel, installed the new tire and balanced it. Twelve, yes TWELVE minutes later, we pulled out with a new tire installed and paid for. Now that’s service!
So we made it back to camp at 2:30, hitched up and headed home to Los Barriles. By 5:30 we were on the roof top deck debriefing over a margarita, a recipe we’ve modified slightly from Jim’s recipe, so it doesn’t taste quite as good as his, but is less potent. Despite the hassle, we experienced three examples of kindness today – so not at all a bad day in Mexico!
It was a perfect day for snorkeling. The temp topped out at 77, and there was no wind, which is fairly rare this time of year. It’s a 40-minute drive from our campground to Cabo Pulmo, so we arrived about 11 o’clock. We stopped at a dive store and rented wetsuits for the day for $5. The woman working in the shop asked where we planned to snorkel and said that would be a good place, but there was a better place two miles further down the road at Los Arbolitos. So off we went down the wash-board road and came to a beautiful beach with a series of rock outcroppings just off shore. A couple of guys up from Cabo for the day had already been in the water, and having explored the area, gave us a detailed orientation to find the best coral and fish.
We geared up and hit the water which was about 74 degrees, so we were glad for the wetsuits by the time we got out an hour later. We were never in more than about 15 feet of water even when several hundred feet off shore. Perfect for snorkeling. We’d rate the reef as “Best of the Pacific” at least in our experience. We’ve snorkeled and scuba dived in Hawaii and Costa Rica, and this was better. There are lots of scuba diving shops here, but unless you just have a major urge to blow bubbles, there’s no need for the additional gear or expense of renting tanks and weight belts.
After snorkeling we spent a couple hours sitting on the beach reading, having a picnic, and yes, drinking a cerveza before heading home around 4. It was a great day at the beach.
Things often don’t go the way we expect in Mexico. For that matter, anytime we travel anywhere. That’s part of the fun of it – staying flexible and going where matters take us.
We arrived in Cabo Pulmo mid-day yesterday after an easy drive until the last 6 miles which were a gravel wash-board road – never fun, but particularly not when pulling a trailer! The “campground on the beach” described in our book turned out to be a gorgeous stretch of white sand beach completely surrounded by a barbed-wire fence and locked gate with only one camper inside. We parked the rig on the road, wandered into the campground on foot, and approached the loan camper to ask a few questions. He was cold and surly, and shrugged his shoulders when asked about any security or safety concerns camping here. He clearly didn’t want us to join him in the campground. Since the situation also violated our Three-Plus-One Rule (we won’t camp alone; only in places where there are at least three other campers, and we make four) we decided to head to a different spot back in La Ribera on the paved portion of the road. This campground isn’t on the beach – it’s about a 10-minute walk away – but has the usual modern amenities of bathrooms, full hook-ups and Wi-fi (sorta). There are 5 other campers here. We walked the beach in the afternoon for an hour and a half and will drive back to Cabo Pulmo today sans trailer for some snorkeling in the turquoise water above the only coral reef on the west coast of the Americas.
(We scheduled this post to appear on our blog before we left in case you wonder how it got here while we were supposed to be without internet; now you know)
You’ve all seen the crosses along some U.S. highway marking the spot where someone has died in a traffic accident. Well here in Baja they have a tradition that goes quite a bit beyond that. Families of the victims build shrines in their honor at the location of the traffic accident. Many of these shrines are tended to regularly, cleaned, painted, and with fresh flowers. They range, as you will see in the photos, from quite modest to very elaborate, presumably based on the relative wealth of the families that place them. Many include photos and statements about the people they’re remembering, although most folks just drive by them and never see these details. It appears that they are held in fairly high regard. If you look closely at the pictures, you’ll see one that was left isolated on a pile of dirt as a result of the excavation that had taken place during a highway improvement project. It reminds me of those old pictures of houses on the top of the remnants of Denny Hill, north of downtown, as the regarding was underway.
We've got a bit of a case of hitch itch - the RV'ers term for the travel bug, so: We’re leaving Los Barriles to go about 30 miles down the Sea of Cortez coastline for a couple of days. We’ll take the 5th wheel and camp on the beach, so we probably won’t have email or be able to update our blog until Wednesday night when we get back. If you’re curious where we’ll be, you can check our SPOT location by using the tool in the sidebar to the right. Our destination is Cabo Pulmo, a national park noted for containing one of the few coral reefs on the Pacific coast. The water is shallow, no more than 35 feet, so the plan is to use our snorkel gear and perhaps rent kayaks. We’ll report on what we see when we get back.
We continued yesterday’s local tour this morning, but on foot. Our house is about 50 feet above sea level, but behind us is a series of hills that rise to over 1000’. Our stroll took just over two hours and we returned to the house in time for lunch and to avoid the heat of the day. The weather has warmed up since Friday; today it reached about 80. We decided to follow some dirt roads up into the hills to see what we could see. Here are some of the views of Los Barriles and the Sea of Cortez from the top of the hill. We also took a couple of shots of our neighborhood. Can you see our 5th wheel parked behind the house?
Curious about the area around Los Barriles, but not wanting to log lots of kilometers, we decided to drive north and south of our house and take a look at what’s along the shoreline. First we headed south and discovered lots of little enclaves scattered along the Sea of Cortez shore. One appeared to be a Mexican neighborhood, but mostly they looked largely occupied by gringos, many with small-ish fishing boats or RVs parked in the yards and driveways. They also appeared to be largely uninhabited, many with storm shutters still installed, as is usual when owners leave their homes unoccupied 6 or more months each year.
One place astonished us. We entered the gates of the Rancho Buena Vista Hotel (Google if you’re interested, but add “Baja” in your search, otherwise you’ll end up in California) and walked into the office to find a Mexican man at the desk, alone. The grounds, dotted with a number of duplex bungalows and lush vegetation, looked lovely. We asked if we might walk around and take a look. He encouraged us to, and told us to let him know if we wanted a drink at the bar. Turns out he was the ONLY person in the entire place – no other staff, no guests! He said the next scheduled guests would arrive in a week. The rooms were spacious and well furnished, the bathrooms modern, and the beach absolutely superb white sand and sparkling turquoise water. Even a pool and hot tub. And he said for $110/night we could have any room in the place – and this includes 3 meals daily for 2 people!!! We’re thinking we should book a family vacation QUICK! What do you think kids and Mom and Dad?
After stopping at the grocery store in town, we headed north. We’d stumbled across a woman who makes jalapeno mango jelly as well as mango chutney, and Cathryn bought a couple of jars at her house. Turns out she and her husband (gringos who live in Colorado in the summer, here the rest of the year) hold major leadership roles in terms of involvement with the local Mexican community. Ivan is president of the Rotary Club, which anyone can join – no need to be affiliated with any sort of business or organization. The club’s sole function other than social contacts is to do good deeds in the community. They work largely with the local schools, as well as provide scholarships to college-bound high achieving students, and fund construction and furniture costs for dorms at the Internado schools, which are boarding schools many rural kids attend 5 days per week because there are no schools where they live. They travel home each weekend. The Club finds and installs computers, raises money to buy books, you name it. Annette encouraged us to get involved, which we’d love to do if we were staying longer, and will if we return here next winter. Annette described a number of activities she’s involved in, many of which focus on the needs of women and children. Very intriguing! They tell us Los Barriles’ population is almost entirely Mexican in the summer months, approaches 50% gringo in the peak winter months of January through March, and in between that during spring and fall. Amazing!
We drove south about 60 miles to San Jose Del Cabo, historic urban center for the south cape of Baja. San Jose, as it’s referred to locally, is where the “Cabo” airport is, about 40 miles north of the other Cabo, Cabo San Lucas where most of the fly-in visitors end up, as well as those arriving on cruise ships. It’s this second Cabo that includes the famous rock arch you see in all the travel photo ads.
We’d heard the historic center of San Jose is worth seeing and that there are a number of interesting art shops just north of the center, so we thought we’d check it out. This also allowed us to go to the only RV supply store in Baja for some supplies. We went to the RV place first, did our business, then asked the proprietor for a local lunch recommendation. We ended up at “Milo’s” just down the block, an outdoor palapa-covered restaurant with about 15 white plastic tables and colorful table cloths. We were the only gringos there during our whole meal, which suggested we’d found a true Mexican restaurant. Cathryn had shrimp ball soup, with shrimps wrapped in rice balls in a spicy red sauce base, and Bob had chicken fajitas. Some of the best food of the trip so far. As you can see from the photo, the place had a Seattle connection. The proprietor’s sister lives in Kent, Washington where he has visited several times.
After lunch we headed downtown and wandered around for an hour or so, but didn’t really see much to capture our interest. To the south of the main square the stores sold standard tourist stuff, and the art stores to the north seemed mostly uninspired and overpriced. We soon tired of the tour and headed back home to Los Barriles.
We ended the day with a beer on the roof-top deck, although we have to admit we were a bit bundled up. After all it never got above 72 today and was very windy.
We spent the day puttering around the house:, catching up with the news on the internet, reading books on the roof-top deck and generally goofing off. We did do one project -- you know us -- if we get around a house, we’ll find something we think needs doing. This place came with one of those bar-height tables and 6 chairs. Unfortunately there was only 2 ½ inches between the seat of the chair and the bottom of the table, so you couldn’t scoot under it while eating. At least for Bob, that resulted in lots of food in his lap instead of on his plate or the table. So we got Russett’s permission and her sawz-all, and “cut their legs off” so to speak, on the bar stools, that is. We now have a properly functioning dinner table. Ah, the simple things in life!
We might have hung around the house and goofed off all day anyway, but we had an excuse: we were hoping “Ponytail Doug” would come by to see if he could sort out our software/hardware problems that kept us in the “office” (see previous post on this topic) while using the internet. He finally showed up about 5:30 just as Cathryn was fixing us margaritas for cocktail hour. Once we said hello, and explained the problem, and Ponytail Doug got started, we proceeded with the margaritas. We can’t let technical difficulties interfere with life’s priorities. Doug did all those mysterious things techies do by rapidly opening and closing all sorts of black screens with white letters for almost two hours, all the while mumbling about hardware suppliers, hackware and how they didn’t need to make things that complex. But ultimately he got it all fixed. Total charge: 300 pesos, or about $27.
While Ponytail Doug (his ponytail is about 24” long, by the way) was pounding away on our computers, I asked if I could take his photo for use on the blog. He hemmed and hawed and ultimately said he’d rather I didn’t. So what do you want to read into that? I’ll leave it to you. We have run into a number of characters down here, usually middle-aged or older guys, with funny nicknames such as Rattlesnake Bill and Fossil Mike. It could be that almost everyone down here is of a certain age, and therefore named Bob, Dave, Jim, Mike, Doug etc, and the nicknames help distinguish between multiple people with the same name. Or maybe at least in some case it’s because they either are, or like to project, that they are “hiding out”.
Jim and Phebe left around 9 this morning on their drive north. We then began “moving into the house”. This involved bringing in things like bathroom gear, clothes, a few select kitchen items and all our food. We also took advantage of the luxury of a washing machine and did our week’s worth of laundry, including all our bedding from the Arctic Fox. While we change the sheets in the 5th wheel weekly, lots of dust and other elements find their way in, so it’s best to give everything a good cleaning once in a while. Bob intends to wash the exterior of the 5th wheel sometime while we’re here. After 4 months on the road and something like 3000 miles it badly needs a bath! And the house is equipped with a “solar dryer”, so we haul our wet laundry to the rooftop deck and peg it out on the line. Even jeans are dry in less than 2 hours because of the warm sun and stiff breeze in the afternoons. Gotta love it!
We did take some time to read our books and enjoy a cool drink on the roof top deck, so it wasn’t all work and no play. While up on the roof, we heard bells in the distance. We looked out over the dry wash (arroyo) adjacent to the house and saw a group of free-range cattle passing by. We’ve occasionally seen groups of cattle wander up the road immediately outside our house, which is one of the reasons it’s important to keep the gate closed, as any landscaping would soon be gone if these cattle, which are accustomed to foraging in the dry desert, got in.
Working in the Office
Bob also spent time adjusting our internet to work here in the house. While not entirely successful, we do have something that works for now. This interim solution has resulted in our creating a “home office” at the location where the antennae cable enters the house and the wi-fi repeater resides. This repeater is not working as intended, so we connect the laptop to it via an ethernet cord, which unfortunately is only 3 feet long. We have a tech guy coming by in the next day or two who we’re told will be able to fix us up. If not, we’ll just buy a couple of longer ethernet cords so we can move laptops out of the BATHROOM. Actually it’s the spare bath, so it’s not quite as hilarious as you might think.
We arrived in Los Barriles yesterday around 4 and found Jim and Phebe working on packing, so we spent some time backing the 5th wheel into the yard and got it all set up. We then joined them for a cerveza on the roof-top deck followed by a delicious tenderloin steak dinner.
Tuesday morning found Jim and Phebe busy getting ready to pack head north to the U.S., so we packed a lunch and some drinks in a cooler and drove south about 30 minutes to the palm oasis town of Santiago, about 5 miles off of Mex 1. From there we drove 20 minutes west up one of the nicest dirt roads we’ve encountered into the biosphere preserve. Once at a small parking lot, we paid our $6/person entrance fee and proceeded on a short walk to the waterfall and pools. It was about 3/10 of a mile and a drop of about 150 feet from the parking lot to the base of the waterfall. The pictures tell the story best, so we’ll let them speak for themselves. We sat at the pools for about an hour and a half, eating our lunch, talking to some other visitors and grabbing a short nap, warming ourselves in the sun while lying on the large granite boulders. Next time we’ll bring our books and stay longer!
After we left the waterfall we returned to the truck and drove 20 minutes back to Santiago. We’ve included a link to some pictures if you’d like to see more of the falls and the town. Santiago is probably the least influenced by gringos of any we’ve seen in Baja, and well worth a visit, very lush and beautiful as it’s set adjacent to a lagoon filled with date palm trees. We plan to spend some time in a local restaurant next time we come this way.
We returned to Los Barriles around 4PM and found Jim and Phebe were finished with everything except last minute items that could only be attended to just before leaving tomorrow morning. So we spent the evening having cocktail hour and another delicious dinner, which included Russett, our next door neighbor and local landlady and friend. In bed shortly after 10, a little past what’s referred to as “Baja Midnight”.
We had a leisurely morning on the beach at Los Cerritos, then hitched up the RV to head back to Los Barriles to see Jim and Phebe once more before they returned north, and to move into the house. We left about noon, headed north for the first hour until we got to the junction with Mex 1, then turned south for an hour to get to Los Barriles. Todos Santos and Los Barriles are almost exactly opposite one another on the peninsula but are separated by the Sierras de Lagunas mountains which rise to almost 8,000 feet, so it’s a long way around with no direct connection by road.
About 30 miles north of Los Barriles is the old mining town of El Triunfo. The silver mines opened here in the mid 18th century, and by the mid 19th it was the largest town in Baja, with a population of over 10,000 folks. It was also, briefly, the capital of the state of Baja Sur. While only a relatively small number of historic buildings remain, there are enough old roads and other infrastructure to get a sense of its former size. We walked around and enjoyed a quiet hour or two exploring and absorbing the history. The town is noted for three things: its baskets made by local women, a restaurant (which was closed on Monday when we were there, so we have an excuse to go back) and a museum. Cathryn purchased a nice bread basket made by Ramona, a local resident, for 200 pesos, or about $18.
We looked around for the museum and finally had to ask someone where to find it. A fellow took us around the corner and introduced us to another man who took keys out of his pocket and ushered us through a door into a dark room and closed the door behind us. We paused and looked at each other with raised eyebrows. As our eyes adjusted to the dark room, we found it contained a grand piano, and about 30 white plastic chairs.
Our guide lead us through this room and then into a series of other rooms turning on the lights ahead of us as we went. It turns out this was the Museo Musica (Music Museum), and we were the only people there. The museum must have contained nearly 100 pianos and a scattering of other instruments including organs, horns, harps and other unfamiliar old instruments. There was limited documentation explaining what each instrument was, sometimes hand-written on small cards much too small to read. But at least one piano was a 1757 Steinway grand made in Boston. Many others were from the early 19th century. There was no explanation of why all the instruments ended up in the small town of El Triunfo in Baja Sur, and unfortunately the care they’ve receive does not bode well for their long-term preservation, though the warm, dry climate may help. We found it fascinating, and can only imagine how someone with more knowledge of pianos would find it even more interesting.
El Triunfo now has somewhere between 500 and 800 residents, depending on who you talk to. Current gold and silver prices are causing some companies to think about reopening some of the old mines on the Cape, El Triunfo among them. This is setting up a classic conflict between the poor underemployed local citizens and some of the gringo ex-pats who want to preserve the current environment from many of the chemicals that are used to extract the silver from the ore. Tough trade-offs.
Late yesterday afternoon we sat on the top of the dunes and watched a dozen sting rays leap 4 or 5 feet into the air and do a barrel roll before falling back into the sea. This went on for about an hour. We have no idea why they do this but it was both amazing and amusing. In addition, as we’ve observed each day, throughout today as we looked offshore we saw spouts from grey whales and an occasional breach. They’re far enough offshore that only with our binoculars can we see them clearly – fun.
We’ve decided to stay here one more night. The original plan was to move on for one night in Cabo San Lucas, but since it’s only 40 miles south of here, we decided to make it a day trip instead. We had planned on doing both tourist stuff and a shopping trip at Costco, then return to the beach as quickly as possible. At some point there are a couple of things we’d like to see and do in Cabo, but they can wait. For now we’re more interested in the laid-back Baja experience.
Hope all is well with everyone. Send an email when you get a chance to say hello. We’ll have daily internet again by Monday night.
Today we went exploring. We started up near Todos Santos, 15 kilometers north, and went out a dirt road about a mile to Punta Lobos. We’d heard two versions of what we’d see: lots of sea lions, or lots of fishermen and their pangas (small open fishing boats). Version 2 was correct, at least today. The beach was backed up by an estuary and stretched to the north about 2 miles. A sign indicated because it was a turtle nesting area, no driving on the beach was allowed. This prohibition seems to be largely honored except right at the estuary at the south end of the beach where the fishermen use their trucks to move their pangas back and forth from the shore.
Our second beach, down another mile-long road was called San Pedrito. Our camping books said there used to be a full hook-up RV park there, but it was washed away 4 years ago by a couple of hurricanes. According to the story we were told, the land was subsequently sold for redevelopment, but because the sellers didn’t own the land, the development never proceeded. We can’t tell you how many times we’ve heard some version of this story up and down the Baja. The former campground is once again a campground, although with no amenities. We talked to several folks who said someone does come by to charge for the camping, but they weren’t absolutely sure they had any authority to do so. But since the fees were only $50 a month, and they did haul away the garbage when they came, everybody pays up. This place had quite a different personality from the beach where we’re staying at Los Cerritos. Most of the folks here seem to be surfers, in small vans or tents. A number of them we talked to were a bit longer in the tooth than your mental image of surfers might be. We were there about 12:30 in the afternoon and several of them were already quite drunk – but at least in a friendly way. Two different groups invited us in to chat and share their shade, but did not offer us a cold one.
We’re now back home and chilling at the beach. We’ll go over to a neighbor’s this evening for happy hour, which consists of taking our chairs to the top of the sand dunes, along with a couple of beers. We don’t have a plan for tomorrow but think we’ve decided to stay here one more night before going back to Los Barriles.
We drove into the town of Todos Santos around 11:00 after a leisurely morning with Cathryn studying her Spanish and Bob reading the manual to his new camera while sitting outside in the sun drinking coffee. On the way into town we stopped at an RV park in El Pescadero we’d checked out last year as well. Unlike last year, the park was nearly deserted. Todos Santos was unchanged from last year: well preserved buildings full of quality art galleries and many restaurants. Unlike like last year, however, the town had an empty feel to it. While we were told last winter that tourism was down, it’s beginning to feel that it is even more so this year. It must be quite challenging to the Mexican people, as tourism is the second largest component of their economy. The funny thing is that the prices seem a little higher than last year, so the economic theory of supply and demand doesn’t seem to be working the way one would expect.
We had a great lunch in town, did a little window shopping, stopped at the wonderful market we found last winter to buy some vegetables and fruit, then headed back to our campsite. Just as we were leaving town we ran into Jim and Phebe, Dick and Jo who had decided to make a day trip over from Los Barriles! We chatted a few minutes and then went our separate ways. Altogether a nice outing. Shortly before bedtime we sat outside observing the very brilliant stars – something we don’t see at home as the lights from SeaTac airport across Puget Sound make it impossible to see many stars anytime of year.
We left Los Barriles this morning to drive to Todos Santos about two hours away, then another 15 kilometers south past Pescadero to the beach at Los Cerritos on the Pacific side of the peninsula . Los Cerritos is apparently a famous Baja surfing beach, although at least this afternoon it was a fairly small break, close to shore, so not much surfing activity. We’re camped at a free beach, meaning nobody quite knows who owns the land, but whoever it is, they don’t seem to mind folks camping here. There are about 20 rigs camped nearby and each of us has between a quarter and half acre to ourselves. As you can see in the pictures, it’s wide open, so not particularly private. There are no facilities, and no water or power, but we’re self-contained this year so it’s a great spot to spend a few days. We’re about 100 yards back from the shoreline and have a nice view of the beach beyond the dunes. The sunset tonight was spectacular.
We had a minor adventure getting into our campsite today. On the approach from the highway we could already see where the RVs were parked, but the road, such as it is, is dirt and not well-defined. There are a series of tracks wandering across the half-mile of desert between the highway and the beach. Bob followed what he thought was the right road (we’ve since been told it was – last year) but about two thirds of the way there we came to a 10-foot deep gully that the truck might have made it through with 4 wheel drive, but the trailer simply wasn’t going to navigate. The road in this far had been fairly straight, but was only about a foot wider than the trailer between a barbed wire fence and a series of small trees and bushes. We spent about a half hour slowly backing out, and after having made it about halfway back to the track where we should have taken a right turn, were a bit frazzled. About this time Mo, a fellow who was camped at the beach and had been watching us struggle, drove out to where we were and showed Bob a place he could drive forward into, and once there, could turn around. Ten minutes later we were in our campsite, and 10 minutes more were sitting next to the 5th wheel having what Bob thought was a well-deserved beer. Later in the afternoon we had Mo over for a thank you beer as well. Typical of RV-ing in Baja, everybody helps out where they can.
We spent the afternoon taking a siesta, walking on the beach and cooking fish tacos for dinner made with some Dorado bought from a local fisherman for about $2.75 or 30 pesos. We plan to spend three days on the beach and visiting Todos Santos, a designated “Magic Pueblo” and a major art center for Baja. We’ll tell you more about Los Cerritos in future posts.
By the way, for those of you up north, the daytime temps have been in the high 70s, the night-time lows in the high 50s. The sun comes up about 6:15 and it gets dark just before 7pm. No other editorial comments or comparisons will be made.