Friday, December 28, 2012

Zacualpan Swimming Holes

About a month ago, while in the state of Colima, we ventured off the beaten track to the small town of Zacualpan.  We were hoping to ride our bikes in the mountainous area, while using the town as our base.  We drove into town, and as we normally do, found a parking place in the sun (for the solar panels) near the town plaza.  Pretty quickly, we noticed people staring a little harder than usual.  Even the kids were congregating around the truck in an uncomfortable way.  They didn't seem curious... just scared and confused.  We tried to ignore the stares and greeted everyone with friendly smiles and lots of "buenas tardes".

We rode our bikes around the area on miles of bumpy, brain-rattling cobblestone streets.  Our riding paid off when we discovered a fantastic, secluded camping spot at a nearby spring.  Many rocks had been hauled in to create pools.  Various structures, like picnic tables and a bridge, surrounded the pools.  Normally, a place like this would cost money, but somehow, the area has been secured as public land. For anyone looking, it's called the "Zacualpan Balneario".

We rode back to the truck and waved goodbye to the interesting vibe of Zacaulpan.  You can imagine our delight when we discovered that one of the impossibly crystal-clear pools had a large cement slide built into it.  Apart from discovering a rope swing (which we didn't), this was the best news EVER!  We spent 2 nights here (alone) as the camping and swimming were too excellent to pass up.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Paracho (Guitar Town, Mexico)

by Scott

Kid in a candy store. Me in Paracho. Pretty much the same thing. Paracho, in the state of Michoacan, is known as THE place to buy a guitar in Mexico. I've never seen anything like it. There'a a huge guitar on the road into town. In the central plaza, rather than a statue of the virgin or some revolutionary figure, they have a luthier working on a guitar. There is a guitar museum and dozens of guitar shops. The whole town revolves around guitars.

Our plan was to hit the guitar museum when it opened at 9am. After that, Heather was going to do her own thing while I toured the town. Unfortunately, the museum didn't open at 9am (or 10am or 11am). Fortunately, a passing luthier, who saw us looking confused, insisted that I follow him to his shop. This turned out to be the highlight of the day.

The Escobedo Hernandez family has been making guitars in Paracho for 3 generations. The 3 brothers gave me a tour of their bare-bones workshop and handed me guitar after guitar. Each one I played was excellent and surprisingly in tune considering the frigid morning (Paracho is at 7300 feet). I never asked how much, because I really wasn't in the market. I finally excused myself before I started feeling guilty about wasting their time. Plus, I was running out of material. It's a lot of pressure playing in front of an audience of luthiers, especially when you're playing their creations.

One of the Hernandez brothers at work
With the museum still closed, I walked the main drag. Every other store was a guitar shop, and those in between were guitar related. There was a shop that did nothing but make gig bags. Several stores sold nothing but guitar woods -- thin sheets of cedar, rosewood, ebony, maple, mahogany, palo escrito, cyprus, etc. Other shops sold nothing but hardware -- a huge variety of tuning pegs, pickguards, trim pieces etc.

A huge assortment of trim pieces and 22 different options for tuning pegs

Bubble wrap, nylon, and a sewing machine on the right produces finished gig bags on the left

I checked again, but the museum was still closed, so I walked the main drag on the opposite side of the plaza. It was more of the same. Quality did vary. I found that not all Paracho-made guitars are good, but the good ones are very good. Rodrigo Amezcua let me play a few of his guitars and I was impressed. He only completes about 50 guitars per year, and each of those takes about 6 years from start to finish. If I'm ever in the market for a nylon-string guitar, I will look to him or the Hernandez brothers. Coincidentally, both Rodrigo and the Hernandez brothers claim that their grandfather was the first luthier in Paracho. Who knows. I didn't question. It's a small town, maybe they're cousins. The answer is probably locked inside the museum.

Nice as art, but not as instruments. The wood can't sing with all that bling.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Mazamitla and The Bull On Fire

Twilight and the Mazamitla church
The month of December in Mexico is dominated by a plethora of Catholic celebrations.  December 12th is the official day of the Virgin of Guadalupe, the patron of Mexico, but the festivities start on December 1st, because...FIESTA!

The shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe is the most visited Catholic pilgrimage destination in the world. According to Wikipedia, over the Friday and Saturday of December 11 to 12, 2009, a record number of 6.1 million pilgrims visited the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City to commemorate the anniversary of the apparition  (more here if you're interested).

The festivities begin each evening with a parade through town to the plaza. Everyone comes out for this, either to watch, or to tag along to pay their respects to the Virgin. Indigenous groups from the area walk, dance, and stomp in elaborate costumes. Babies dress like revolutionaries and grow mustaches and goatees. It's great.

Each night, free entertainment is provided on the stage in front of the Virgin.  Quality varies. We've seen really good mariachi bands and really bad dance routines. Last night, mini-skirted girls danced (poorly) to Kool & The Gang's "Celebration", Michael Jackson's "Beat It", and Fergie's "My Humps". We're not sure the Virgin would approve, but the guy lifting up her skirt might.

Over the past week, we've been serenaded by the sounds of exploding fireworks as early as 5am and as late as 12am.  We've been told this will continue throughout December.We also witnessed the common running of El Torito (the little bull) in the town of Mazamitla, Jalisco. We were enjoying the band, lively vibe, plentiful food, and occasional fireworks when people started running for their lives.  For a split second, the only gringos in town considered hitting the ground for cover.  No sooner had we followed the crowd to the edge of the plaza, than a young man carrying an exploding array of fireworks (in the shape of El Torito), came crashing through the crowd.  Sparks were flying and little girls screamed.  Mexicans sure now how to celebrate!  What goes better with a crowded plaza than sparks, fire, and flaming debris? We met a couple of guys from Guadalajara who were visiting for the night who spoke English.  When we asked about El Torito, there response was something like: "oh, yeah, it used to be a lot worse".

The bull, the bull, the bull is on fire!

Monday, December 3, 2012

People Watching and Eating In Tapalpa and Comala

We still haven't broken away from the cooler, higher ground of inland Mexico. After we spent a week in Tapalpa at 7000' elevation, we headed to Comala, another cobblestone town similar to Tapalpa, but not as good.  Comala is only at 2000', so the nights aren't as refreshingly cool.  We were hoping to hit the coast, but the temperatures and humidity are prohibitive, unless we can spend most of the hot hours surfing.  For the past 2 weeks, we've been on a wave-drought, and the forecast doesn't look good.  Sadly, the coastline we are considering skipping is reputed to be the most beautiful and sparsely populated in Mexico.

Saying goodbye to the Tapalpa town square

A beautiful house front near the town square in Tapalpa

Not a bad free camping/parking spot for the week.  A 5 minute walk to the center of town.

Cheese fondue with chorizo ($3) for dinner one night and tortas ahogadas ($2 "drowned" pork sammies) for lunch.  I tried to cool down the spicy sandwich with the cucumber salad, only to realize at the end of the meal that the little orange pieces are not carrots, but flaming hot habaneros!

Tejuino - not good!
Our typical routine in the small towns is to find a quiet/safe place to park for the night, and then head to the town square for people watching and food.  After Tapalpa, we are pretty picking about our food.  We're even getting pretty snobbish about tacos. When we arrived in Comala, it had been a long, hot day of driving.  There was a woman selling Tejuino at the town square.  I saw quite a few locals slurping up the cool, icey drink, and figured it was my turn to be brave and try something new.  We were both really thirsty.  Take a look at this drink (to the right).  What would you imagine it contains?  For me, I figured it was some sort of an iced tea or maybe even something a little chocolatey or coffee-ish.  Silly gringa.  I almost gagged on my first sip.  Tejuino is made from fermented corn, from the same corn dough used for tortillas and tamales. "The dough is mixed with water and brown sugar (piloncillo) and boiled. Then the liquid is allowed to ferment very slightly. The resulting drink is generally served cold, with lime juice, a pinch of salt and a scoop of shaved ice (or lemon sherbet)."

Comala town square with free internet and electric plug-ins for our computers

Just another Sunday evening in the town square of Comala

Pictures from November

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Not Mountain Biking in Tapalpa, Jalisco

by Scott

There is No Mountain Biking in Tapalpa. I just want to get that out of the way as a public service announcement.  Tapalpa is in the mountains, and you can ride your bike in Tapalpa, but that's not the same as mountain biking in Tapalpa. We were fooled because the mountain biking event for the 2011 Pan-Am games was held here. As it turns out, half of that 6.2km course was on the cobblestone streets of town--certainly rough terrain, but not really mountain biking. The mountains outside of town would be ideal, but it's all private property.  We trespassed with permission from someone collecting firewood. I'm sure he was not the owner. There are miles and miles of logging roads, and loads of potential, but no single track. Sigh.

Horses and mules outnumbered us on our back-road adventures around Tapalpa

Despite the lack of mountain biking, we've spent a week here enjoying the lovely weather. While the coast was unbearably hot and humid, the 7000-foot elevation provides comfortable days and downright cool nights. For the past few nights, we've bundled up in our down vests to walk around and have dinner in the town square. Our first meal: chard filled tamales and chile marinated pork tacos, accompanied by Bohemia, my favorite Mexican beer, for about $13 total!  The weekend was the best part, when all of the street food vendors came out of the woodwork.  We gorged ourselves on 10-peso (80-cent) chard-filled tamales, atole (sweet maza-flour drink served hot), and tortas ahogadas (french rolls stuffed with pulled pork).

Chard-filled tamale and char-grilled pork with all the fixins

El Salto del Nogal
North of town, one of the major tourist attractions is Las Piedrotas (The Round Rocks). We biked out there and were thoroughly unimpressed. So unimpressed that we didn't even take a picture. It's just a few large boulders in a pasture--the kind of tourist attraction that would be right at home in those sections of Kansas that try to get you to stop to see the 3-legged steer and the 2-headed snake. Less publicized, but way better, was the nearby Piedra Bola (Rock Ball). The lookout from the top of Piedra Bola over the lake and the valley was great. We should have brought a picnic. South of town, and a little difficult to find, is El Salto. It is an impressive 340-foot waterfall. The surrounding countryside was uninspiring pasture, but abruptly, the earth just fell away into a gorgeous canyon.

We had to return to El Salto the following day to look for a bike lock we'd left behind. We didn't find the lock where we expected, but when we asked a elderly man hanging out in the area about it, he walked off into the forest without a word. Puzzled, we asked his machete-wielding friend if he was going to come back with our lock, and he nodded yes. He didn't speak much -- Spanish or otherwise.

When the old man returned, we discovered that he spoke a lot, and in English. He told us about living near Portland when Mount St. Helen's erupted. He told us about running from US agents in Montana near the Canadian border. He then told us something about anteaters and blue-eyed gorillas that live in the El Salto canyon. When he told us about Martian dogs from Bozeman that communicate by getting close to the TV, we got on our bikes, thanked him again for our lock, and said "adios".

No story here, just a cool picture Heather took of one of Tapalpa's old churches

Pictures from November

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Giving the Coast Another Try

We headed down to the coast again, passing through Autlan de Navarro. It is home to around 60,000 people. Autlan's claim to fame is being the home town of Carlos Santana.  Scott happily took some obligatory photos next to the guitar monument on Carlos Santana Avenue.  We parked for the night at a roadside restaurant, and walked into town.  Scott was hoping to find some musical entertainment in the town square.  No music, just some cool cowboy boots (see below).

Inscribed on the guitar: "Autlan de Navarro de Santana"

As we drove down from 7200 feet, the temperature slowly changed from cool and refreshing to hot and humid. We spent 3 nights at the coast hoping to find some surfing.  The surfing didn't pan out, so we happily started the 6 hour drive back up into the mountains.

Roadside fruit stop

By this time, we had learned our lesson about the toll roads in Mexico.  They are reputed to be the most expensive in the world.  I haven't checked this fact.  After our arrival to Mazatlan, we jumped on the toll road and drove about 130 miles south, only to find the total toll to be $27!  We are not in a hurry.  No matter how bad our gas mileage is, that kind of cost is not justified.  So, we haven't used the toll roads since.  The free roads pass very near the toll roads, but go through the little towns, and sometimes climb up and over the hills rather than passing through them.

We had to pass 6 of these painfully slow trucks.
The price you pay for taking the free roads

Modern lighting at this historical church

Our final destination was Tapalpa.  Tapalpa is a charming little colonial town. There are several well-preserved churches and a lively town square. It's a bit touristy, but the targets are Mexican tourists rather than Gringos. We happened to arrive in the evening of the Dia de la Revolucion. Not aware of that, the booming overnight fireworks (think gunshots) were a bit concerning. The next day, we were treated to the sight of boys dressed up with mustaches and girls with Mexican flag skirts.  Viva la Revolucion!

Dressed up for Dia de la Revolucion

Pictures from November

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Overland Security

Anyone who knows Scott, knows that we wouldn't be embarking on a Pan-American journey without an El Tigre security system.  There are many layers to our security system.  We've been traveling in Mexico for a little over a year now, and for the most part, have felt very secure.  We get nervous when we park in plain view at a trail head with no other cars around, but that's no different than the USA.

In these situations, we chain our camper door with two padlocks (pictured below), enabled by installing stainless steel eyelets with tamper proof screws on each side of the door.  I put together the beware-of-dog poster using the rockin' clip-art from Microsoft Works (we don't really have a dog).

Scott also installed eyelets on the inside of the driver/passenger doors so that we can padlock a cable between them.  The cable is strung through the steering wheel which has a Club attached.  If someone decides to break the windows, they still won't be able to open the doors, and they would have to climb over the broken glass.

When we leave the truck or go to sleep, we put both of our computers and our camera in the back underneath a secret seat-compartment.  Our wallet and extra keys are hidden or locked in the box on the back, which is really just a giant aluminum safe.

The bikes are locked with 2 15-foot cables and 2 padlocks. The ladder, attached under the box, is secured with a cable and padlock. Each wheel has locking lug nuts and the license plate is attached with tamper proof nuts. The spare tire, mounted under the vehicle, is locked with a cable and padlock.  We are definitely packing some padlocks--all of which use the same key!

Ladder and spare tire

When we are nervous about a parking location, like a deserted hiking trail head, we leave the radio on (running off of our auxiliary batteries).  We have a recording of a barking dog that we haven't used yet.

When we go to sleep at night, Scott lays out our big butcher knife and a mace canister.  The latest addition to the nighttime security system is a bear bell attached to the door that will presumably wake us if someone tries to open the door.

The measures we have taken go beyond the "keep-the-honest-people-honest" approach.  We hope that our extra level of padlocks and cables will deter even the lazy, professional thief. Nevertheless, Scott still worries about not having bars across the windows, an ignition kill switch, or a lock for the hood. Most of all, he worries that publishing this post will jinx us.

See Part II to this here: Overland Truck Security Part II

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Matanchen Bay, Then To The Mountains

Crossing over to mainland Mexico felt like a milestone for us. It was like the past year was just a warm-up for the start of the real adventure. We love Baja, but having spent considerable time there even before the past year, it started to feel a little too comfortable--not a problem anymore.

Our first stop was a surf spot called Las Islitas outside of San Blas.  This place is renowned for it's macroscopic mosquitos and it's microscopic biting bugs (called jejenes).  It was beautiful, free camping, but the bugs and humidity made for misereable sleeping.  We lasted a couple of nights before we found a cute town called Aticama only 7 miles away on the same bay (Matanchen Bay). It offered $4 camping, far less bugs, a surf break, and a community center with blazing fast internet.  Our first successful left point break!

Beautiful camping at Las Islitas but the bugs were too much

When the waves died, the heat, humidity, and bugs drove us to the cool interior mountains. For most of Mexico, if you aren't on the coast, you're in the mountains. Driving up to the highlands, we stopped at a roadside stand and bought avocados for $0.35/lb.  That's about 10 cents an avocado. I'm kicking myself for not buying more, since they are $1.25/lb at the supermarkets. Our first stop was at a pretty crater lake (Laguna Santa Maria del Oro).  We biked and paddledboarded around the lake for a couple of days. The cool night air was fantastic.

A paddleboard playground on Laguna Santa Maria del Oro

We drove near the main agave-growing area where the town of Tequila is located.  We decided not to take a tour of a tequila distillery. Instead we stopped on the side of the road and took some pictures with our tequila bottle and a blue agave plant.

Blue Agave plant near Tequila, Jalisco

We pushed even higher to the Quila mountains (Sierra de Aquila) where we mountain biked, hiked, and slept near 7200 foot elevation.  We happily snuggled underneath our down comforter during the cool nights. With morning temperatures below 50F, we even had to bust out the down booties.

Arbol de Lira -
oddly shaped Douglas Fir in Sierra de Aquila 
I don't think many gringos visit this area.  One day while we were riding our bikes, a group of young, hip Mexicans drove by. One of the girls took a picture of us with her cellphone.  I think they were taking a picture of Scott in his tight, funny-looking bike shorts. Jose, a mumbling 72-year old park employee who talked at Scott for an hour, might have said he's only seen 3 other people biking in the Sierra de Quila.

We're leaving the mountains and heading back to the coast today to catch some waves.  A local told us it should start cooling down over the next couple weeks. It will be interesting to see if we can adjust. If not, we may have to stick to the high road.

Pictures from November

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Ferry to the Mainland of Mexico

We headed to the ferry terminal at noon, as instructed by a ferry employee the previous day.  The ferry wasn't supposed to leave until 4pm, so we were skeptical about getting there so early.  As we suspected, the early arrival was definitely not necessary. We waited around for hours.  Via various Pan-Am overlander blogs, we knew to go with the cheaper trucker ferry (TMC) vs. the cruiseship ferry (Baja Ferries).  TMC is ideal for people in our situation -- those who already have their home with them.  Baja Ferries does not allow access to your vehicle during the ferry trip. TMC does (unofficially). On TMC, the price for the 18-hour ferry was $4600 pesos ($354 USD) - a bargain!!!!  It has been reported that Baja Ferries charges people with truck campers (like ours) more than $1000.

Trucker ferry (TMC) and cruiseship ferry (Baja Ferries)  -- they both float!

We had read on other blogs that we should request to be parked on top (for the open air) and away from the stinky and loud ventilation fans.  We were told by two port workers that we would be parked on top and that they would let us know when we should board.  Since we had arrived so early, we started to get antsy around 2 pm when it seemed like we'd been forgotten.  This wasn't true, as there were many more trucks who just hadn't arrived.  Since we were so antsy, we started up the truck to get close to the loading ramp.  As we drove to the top of the ramp, we quickly realized the only alternative to parking by the ventilation fans was amidst a sea of huge semis (no pun intended).  We were soooo bummed, as we had envisioned parking somewhere that allowed a bit of air circulation.  For the next hour we kicked ourselves for being impatient and not waiting until the end of the loading process.

Slot canyon access to El Tigre
It turns out, we were VERY glad we hadn't waited. Our impatience paid off.  As you can see in the picture below, at the end of the loading process, a truck full of baby goats was parked right where we could've and would've been parked.  These goats screamed (literally) all night.  The smell of their excrement made me gag every time I walked by the truck.

The goat truck was a double-decker.  They were cute, but man, they were loud and very stinky.  We felt so sorry for them.

The ferry ride was fantastic.  We left the port around 5pm and arrived the next morning around 10am.  We watched the sunset from the boat while sipping beers and margaritas straight from our fridge.  Our night of sleep was pretty good considering we were within nose-shot of the goat truck with little ventilation.  We woke up early enough to see the sunrise, and before we knew it, we were docking in Mazatlan.

Surprisingly well-rested at sunrise

We were greeted by some serious heat and humidity in Mazatlan.  It's green and beautiful here on the mainland, but we do miss the desert, especially at night.  Hopefully we'll get used to this jungle-living.

Camping near San Blas at Las Islitas - we were eaten alive by bugs.  Welcome to the jungle.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Tecolote Beach, Baja

We often say that we are taking the ferry to mainland Mexico out of La Paz.  The ferry actually leaves from a small port town called Pichilingue, rather than the cosmopolitan, captiol city of La Paz.  We stopped at Pichilingue to make sure we could get on the ferry and to check the cost.  Since there are some beautiful beaches past the port that we'd never seen, we decided to explore before leaving the next day.

Tecolote snorkel

We stopped at Balandra Bay to snorkel, and then we headed to Tecolote beach to spend the night.  The next morning, Scott decided to grab the Hawaiian sling and his snorkel gear.  I decided to follow him with my snorkel gear, all the while thinking it was unlikely that we would see anything, as there didn't appear to be any rocks or reefs.  As Scott was giving up on the possibility of seeing any fish, I noticed a medium-sized Scorpion fish hiding next to a random rock on the shallow, sandy bottom.  I yelled to him to get back in the water, all the while feeling guilty that I had sealed the fate of this poor fish.  I love to eat fresh fish, but it makes me sad to witness the death of it.  I've said before that I think all of us should have to witness the death of the things we eat -- it would surely make us more thankful, if not less glutinous.

The killer

Scorpion fish are delicious.  They are easy prey because they lay on the bottom, pretending to be rocks, while waiting to pounce on smaller fish. They do not move when you get close to them. That can be a problem, because people step on them, and their fins have highly toxic barbs (note how he flaunts them in the pic). Anyway, because of their sedentary lifestyle (kind of like veal, but voluntary), their meat is very tender.  We made a large batch of fresh ceviche for the ferry ride later in the day.  It was gone before we ever left the dock. Thank-you Mr. Scorpion fish.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Pizza Pizza in Los Barriles

After we spent a few days with the Slightams in Cabo, we headed north towards La Paz to catch the ferry to mainland Mexico.  We had to stop in Los Barriles (LB) for our favorite pizza and free camping.  We rolled into LB in the dark, anxious to get some food and some sleep. We couldn't believe our eyes when we saw that the pizza place, Otra Vez, was having 2-for-1 pizza! The stipulation was that you had to get 2 of the same pizza.  Oh damn.

We had discovered this pizza last winter with our friends Kim and Frank. At the time, we ordered 3 pizzas, one of which was called "Springbok" -- feta, prosciutto  avocado, and banana.  The first two pizzas were more traditional, so Scott pushed to try the weird one for the third.  It turned out to be a pizza party in our mouths.  We went back a second time that winter, hoping it wasn't a fluke, and it wasn't!

2 x 1 pizza -- we ate more than 1 pizza for dinner!
This time, after we got our 2-for-1 pizzas, a family came in and sat at the table next to us.  Scott didn't understand why the cute 20-something girl was smiling so hard at him (he swears it used to happen regularly).  After a while, the mother came over to introduce herself. As it turns out, the family is from South Africa, but now lives in LB.  Years ago, her brothers worked at Otra Vez. They invented the "Springbok" pizza to match the colors of the South Africa Springboks rugby team -- green and yellow.  It's funny that such an insanely tasty combination was invented not by the Swiss-Italian owners, but by teenagers, and not for the flavor, but for the colors of their rugby team.

Camping in Los Barriles before the winter crowds

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Slowing Down in San Jose Del Cabo (For 4 Days)

Our good friends Dan and Juliana (both former Vancouver-ites and HP coworkers) flew down to San Jose del Cabo to meet us for a mini-vacation.  They brought their adorable 2-year old, Evelina (aka Lina or The Bean).  Since they've left, I've been calling her our "linatainment", as she provided so much entertainment while we lounged around the pool.

Scott and Lina playing "elephant"

Dan and Juliana also visited us in Australia back in 2008.  Our visits are always easy, fun, laid-back and inspiring.  Since they left, I've been inspired to take more pictures, go out for different food (instead of always cooking ourselves), and perhaps occasionally splurging on fancier tequila, among other things.

Heather and Juliana getting shady.  Dan and Scott with their tequilla smiles.

They stayed in a room at the Posada Real while we slept in the back parking lot in El Tigre.  It worked out surprisingly well, except for the night we got backed into by an employee going home for the night.  When we were jolted awake, it was clear that it was not an earthquake, nor was it a cow.  Scott thought we had been t-boned.  He leaped out of the truck, arms in the air yelling "QUE PASA!??!?!?".  The guy was extremely apologetic, and a little bit scared, as he was a lot smaller than the irate gringo. He had hit our box but only scuffed the paint and broke a stick-on reflector (of which we had an replacement).  He sustained major damage to his tiny $200 car.

The scene of the crime.  I stumbled out of the truck and took a picture of Scott and the small guy investigating his damaged car.

Our last night together ended with a fantastic 2 am swim in the bathtub-warm ocean.  It may have been fueled by some delicious anejo tequila.  Their visit was so short.  I'm hoping next time will be a longer visit somewhere in South America.

The only picture we have of all 4 of us.  Deliciously erotic.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

On The Road Again (South to Cabo)

Things are moving along a lot faster now.  We left Punta San Carlos and drove south to meet our friends near the tip of Baja at the end of October.  Just south of San Carlos, the highway veers inland from the Pacific side to the Sea of Cortez side. It was still insanely hot during our drive, so we were on a mission to quickly get back to the Pacific side.  Typically, the cooler Pacific ocean keeps air temperatures moderate on the west side. Not this year. The water was warmer than we've ever experienced -- 85 degrees!  Swimming isn't exactly refreshing.

Bay of Conception, Sea of Cortez -- trying to smile in the sweltering heat

On our way south, we hit the cute Baja town of San Ignacio where we purchased 5 lbs of dates for the LOW price of $8.  Two hours down the road we found them in the grocery store for $5/lb (which is still insanely cheap). San Ignacio is a desert oasis teeming with date palms as far as the eye can see.  Dates are everywhere!  We camped under date palms and our tires became covered in the sticky dates.

Hanging out under the date palms
One of our next stops was near Pescadero at the San Pedrito surf beach.  Normally, I wouldn't make note of this in our blog, but the drive was a bit interesting.  One week prior to our trip to San Pedrito, Hurricane Paul caused major damage to southern Baja, including this beach.  As we were bumping along through the sand to get out to the beach, we noticed that the track was getting narrow, and the sand was getting deeper.  For some reason--probably because we've driven the road several times before--we decided to just keep going.  Normally, we would have stopped and walked the rest of the road to make sure it was drive-able, but stopping is a big no-no in deep sand. Once you're moving, you have to keep moving.  

As we drove, the sand got deeper and deeper.  Both of us were white-knuckled and wide-eyed.  Scott was driving, and I kept saying stupid things like, "whoa, keep it movin'... slow and steady...we're okay, we're okay, we're okay".  We made it to some hard ground and literally had to catch our breaths.  If we had gotten stuck, we would have had to wait until the next morning to go hiking in search of someone to pull us out. In the future, we both agree that we must avoid situations like that. Past performance is no guarantee of future success.

Even though we made it to the beach, we were worried about getting out. Our initial plan was for one of us to walk out the way we came, and use our walkie-talkies to give the all clear signal. Meeting another vehicle on the deep-sand, single-lane track would have been really bad. Instead,  Scott spent a good part of the next morning finding a 2wd route under some palms over hard-packed ground.

The day after leaving, we learned that all roads heading south from Pescadero were blocked by protesters (if you care, you can learn about why here).  If we hadn't left, we would've had to make a large detour north to get back to our friends the following day!  Whew, I guess if you can roll with it, things usually work out in the end.

Our "boutique" overlook camping spot at Cerritos, south of San Pedrito