Baja, Summer 2006

Back in June of 2006 we got the bright idea to head down to Baja for some relaxation and adventure.  We loaded up a van with supplies, I built a platform bed in the back, and we were set.  At the Tijuana border we decided to skip the immigration office and get our tourist cards 80 or so miles later in less crowded Ensenada.  Unfortunately the office there had a sign on the window saying we had to go back to the border; the guy behind the counter just pointed to the sign and smirked.  Ouch.  After a frustrating round trip to and back from Tijuana to get ourselves legal we finally made it to our first planned stop: a place on the Pacific called La Bocana.

I did manage to catch a few fish on the trip.  A very few.

I did manage to catch a few fish on this trip. A very few.

We coaxed our van up onto the beach between the ocean and a small freshwater lagoon, set up a shade tarp, and spent a great week doing next to nothing.  When we finally motivated ourselves to move on we spent another couple days at a beach near San Quintin, uneventful except for getting quite stuck this morning when we tried to leave. Eventually we dug and jacked ourselves out, the only casualty a broken fire grate we used for traction.

Next we headed into the desert.  We especially liked the area around Catavina with it’s huge boulders piled up everywhere and the crazy desert plantlife. And cows; one night we were sleeping in the van when we suddenly heard an unbelievably loud moo/roar from what sounded like two or three feet away. As we were asking ourselves what the
hell was that we heard hooves galloping away…

The desert light is so amazing, especially at dusk. We spent some quality time just sitting on the rocks, sharing a ballena (Literally “whale”, but slang for liter bottle) of beer and taking it all in.

We wanted to keep the gas tank topped off, but the Catavina Pemex station looked like it had been closed for years and years.  But that didn’t mean there wasn’t any petrol available:

From there we traversed more desert and cruised through some small towns until we reached San Ignacio, a very nice little desert town completely packed with date palms that were introduced in the missionary era. It’s a very pretty place where we broke down and payed $5 a night to camp along the river under some palm trees where we hung our hammocks, and explored the town on foot.

The "motorhome"

Very nice, but after a few days we were getting anxious to see the Sea of Cortez for the first time.

Oh my god, we found paradise: Bahia Concepcion.  Of course there was a catch.  It was July and it was waaayyy too hot.  We weren’t going to let that stop us though, and we pretty much had every beach to ourselves.  Playa Cocos, where we spent a week:

The snorkeling was incredible with all kinds of fish and things to see, and the fishing was fun although completely unsuccessful. That includes the fishing with the ingeniusly (I thought) improvised spear gun I made out of
bungie cords and tarp poles. I did catch a lot of (very small) fish with a length of line and a small lure that I tied to a bottle and snorkeled around with; it was fun to watch.

It was hot, we spent a lot of time in the water

Home sweet home

Me wishing we'd brought a boat, planning a better-equipped return

We had some insect run-ins: Denae proved once again that she is every bug’s favorite meal by applying lots of repellant and ending up very well covered with no-see-um bites, which are itchy little buggers much worse than mosquitos. I, who put on no spray, searched myself and said, um well I might have a bite here, nope thats a pimple. The only effective measure we found for keeping Denae bite free was socks, pants, longsleeve shirt and headnet, but she couldn’t stand it too long in the 90 degree humid nights.

Out exploring

Had to cool off

We read about Playa Coyote; it sounded great.  We found it from the highway:

But we couldn’t figure out how to get down there.  Was it this rough road?

Nope, the van isn’t making it down that.  Maybe we could make it around the point from the adjacent beach:

Yup, that was the ticket.  Must be high tide, there’s a road of sorts under there.  Later we spent some wonderfully bug-free time (due to some consistent breezes) at Playa Armanta:

Contemplating the nature of beauty...

One day while we were here we noticed some bees buzzing around.  We went snorkeling for a while and came back to find the palapa absolutely swarming with bees!  Thousands of them, drawn to our fresh water supply.  We managed to load up our stuff and escape to a different beach without being stung.

The happy couple

After a while we reluctantly decided that we wanted to see a new place, and we headed to Loreto and a bit south to an area of beaches called Liguii. We found a deserted rock beach and set up camp for a few days of lazy solitude. The swimming wasn’t as good because there was usually chop, but it was fun watching the lightning way offshore every night. One night it kept coming closer; I kept an eye on it until it seemed to stop and I went to sleep. At 3am that night we woke up to very high winds and uncomfortably close lightning; we packed haphazardly and in a hurry in the beginning rain, and drove the network of sand roads that we figured would be impassable soon and found a campspot by the highway. We fell asleep to wind rocking the van, but the storm never really materialized. The next day we drove back to the campspot and found the clothesline we’d left, and some of the clothes.

Then we headed on to La Paz:

Art along the Malecon

And out to Playa Tecalote, where we lived for a couple weeks:

That's our car and camp in the lower left corner

Nearby Playa Balandra, maybe our favorite beach of the trip

Feeding the morning coffee habit

Lunch time

The larger lady in the above photo peed herself right after we took this photo.  It just started gushing down through the chair slats.  Her family was pretty embarrassed, but she wasn’t: ten minutes later she lumbered to the water to wash up.

Oh man, that water was amazing:

We had to spend most of our time submersed to stay cool... poor us

Bliss

We went to Todos Santos looking for some cooler weather, but found that it was much more humid and therefore uncomfortable over there.  After two days of walking around town we found ourselves sitting in a car bitching at each other trying to figure out what to do. The only possible thing to do was to pay for the first hotel of our trip, a big deal on our very meager budget. We stayed two nights where we blasted the air conditioning nonstop and enjoyed watching Hallmark Channel movies; the only English language channel available.  It was rejuvenating but after two days we were itchin for the camping life and set out south. Every beach we went to didn’t look swimmable and all of a sudden we were in Cabo San Lucas. We drove around and looked at the outsides of all the tourist shops without even leaving the car…  not our type of town, so we headed on.

We made our way over the washboard roads to Cabo Pulmo, where we’d heard the snorkeling was stellar.  We found a place to camp outside of town, jumped in with our masks, and saw… nothing more than a foot in front of us.  The chop was up and the water turbid.  Later that night a storm rolled in, and we fell asleep with raindrops hitting the roof of the van.   We woke up at around 2am to find the van parked in about six inches of flowing water.  Uh oh, I guess this is an Arroyo.  And our prized Chaco sandals had been carried away- tragedy!  After I moved the van to higher ground I beachcombed with a flashlight for our sandals, and found that the waves had tossed up one of mine and one of Denae’s.  Not that helpful.  But the next morning a Mexican lady from the family camped nearby came up with the two missing sandals!

The sea of cortez had looked pretty flat the day before

We figured the snorkeling wasn’t going to be good any time soon so we decided to head somewhere else.  The roads were flooded in spots, so I’d check each area out before we drove through.

This one's OK

But we went through so many I got lazy and stopped checking, and a very innocent looking area (to my foolish eye) led to this:

Very stuck

It was quite a thud when our front wheels dropped into the hidden mud ditch and we landed on the frame.  We weren’t going anywhere.  Luckily the Green Angels (I think that’s who these guys were) were cruising around, keeping an eye out for idiot tourists like ourselves.

They tried to tow us out, but their inch thick hemp rope kept breaking.  By now a crowd of locals had formed, and they cheered each time it busted.  Err, should I be offended by this?  No, I deserve it.  I had a strong tow strap, but it was too short for them to get their truck to dry ground and traction.  The guy in the slicker was great; both of us kept glancing nervously at the clouds and hoping we wouldn’t get flooded.  Losing the van was a real possibility.  “Ojala,” (god willing) I heard him mutter, as we realized that we couldn’t pull the van free.  My Spanish is iffy, so I wasn’t sure what he meant when he told me he’d sent for a “maquina” (machine).  Mexicans even call computers “maquinas,” so I had no idea.  When this showed up, believe me it was a sight for sore eyes:

The CAT pulled us right out of there.  We were lucky.

Later while snorkeling off a beach near La Ventana we suddenly found ourselves floating among a bunch of Jellyfish.  Kind of freaked out but fascinated, we carefully watched them for a while and managed not to get touched/stung.  A few minutes after we got out of the water a Mexican family pulled up and prepared to go swimming.  We told them “cuidado, hay medusas” (great word!) and they cleared out of there in a hurry.

Later we followed our maps to Bahia de los Muertos (bay of the dead), only to find a sign declaring it renamed Bahia de los Suenos (bay of dreams).  Developers being their incredibly lame selves.  The snorkeling here was really good, and I almost swallowed my snorkel when I turned around and saw a huge dorado cruise by only a few feet from me.  I was only 100 feet from shore!

We liked La Paz a lot and were ready for a break from camping, so we managed to find a $300/month apartment a couple blocks from the Malecon.  It was great, we spent tons of time cooking and enjoying having a refrigerator.  The street food in town was great, and wandering around town was fun.  We’d take day trips out to the beaches to stay entertained and cool off.  The heat was definitely an issue (this was August), but we managed to deal with it.

Evenings were always incredible.  The above picture is right next to the raspado (like a snow cone) stand, two blocks down from our place.  The apartment came complete with a resident cockroach who we named Gregor and left alone, because he stayed peacefully behind the sink.  But when we were walking along the malecon one evening and a cockroach dropped out of a palm onto my head and neck… eeaachhh.  I get chills just thinking about it.

Crime!

Unfortunately our apartment didn’t have secure parking, so the best I could do was park the van on the street right outside the bedroom window.  That’s why I so clearly heard the window shattering at 7am one morning.  The sound woke me up and found myself screaming “fu….dge!”  I grabbed the baseball bat I kept by the bed and was halfway out the door before I realized I wasn’t wearing any clothes.  By the time I threw on a pair of shorts and ran outside the perp was long gone.  There were witnesses and there was a chance that the teenaged troublemaker would have to pay us for a new window, but it was a convoluted process hampered by the language barrier.  It was the end of August and a hurricane was supposed to roll in during the next day or two, we were about out of money, and it just seemed like the right time to head home to Oregon, so we paid for our own junk yard window and started the long drive back to Oregon.  A great adventure.

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5 responses to “Baja, Summer 2006

  1. It looks so beautiful there and very laidback. So, where’s the picture of Denae with the head net on??

  2. Thankfully Andy didn’t put that one up! The worst was when he made me wear the head net, pants, socks, long sleeve shirt, and socks on my hands. I got so hot that I had to jump in the water, then my skin got so wrinkly (and I was also getting a little claustrophobic) so I had to pull off all the clothes and let the no-see-ums eat me. We did find out that if you add a little pennyroyal oil to your normal bug juice it helps keep the no-see-ums away.

  3. What a cool flashback! Loved the pictures and re-hearing the stories. Thanks for posting.

  4. the trip was well written, felt as if i was there, the photos great too, getting stuck not so much fun, but a life learning experience,,, im planning a trip in may, alone,, with a p./up over cab camper, and will try to see what you saw,, the beaches were pretty, and daring to drive in the ocean shores to get to such a beach, im not sure i would do alone,,,,,,,,, thanks alot for sharing your trip,, do it again, ill read it too!!!!!!!!!

  5. Wow! Great trip log!! I really enjoyed reading it. What a relief that you didn’t lose the van. I have friends that did! Thanks for sharing.

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