Road trip home March 2
After leaving Agua Verde we stopped briefly back at rattle snake beach and Puerto Escondito for showers, water and internet. We stopped in Loretto for a bit more food and headed north to the turnoff to San Juanico. I had stopped there in my kayak, and it is so nice I wanted to stay there again. The road in is long and rough, and we took a wrong turn once and ended up at a fish camp way a bit away from the bay we wanted. At juanico all the good camping places on the beach were taken so we had to camp back in the bushes away from the beach. That was okay though. That night it started raining and rained hard all night and all the next day and all the next night. We set up a dining fly to protect us from the rain and it blew down during the night . we met a family camping out in the bushes, James, Mai, and their son Michael and his family. ,they had drove in with a big white school bus camper . i was shocked they got that huge thing in there on that road. they were really cool. They were from mainland Mexico , yankees living in Mexico for the last 16 years and had never been to Baja. they were fun to talk to. the lady, Mai, was a midwife and told us of some really cool births. She told us about 1 that was a water birth attended to by dolphins to actually help the the mother in her labor as she was in the water.
we packed up early the next morning and headed out. The road out seemed easier than coming in.
We had read about some ancient cave paintings in a canyon way off in the mountains North of Mulege. The guidebook we have described a nasty hard road in, but it is almost 25 years old and much has changed all over Baja since then. A local guy said it was now a good gravel road in, with a village of 1000 people in there. If we had known how wrong he was we would not have started in. It turned out to be a very bad track in and out of an arroyo, over and around big boulders, and loose sand, much worse than the road into San Juanico or Agua Verde and longer. 22 miles. It ended at a rancho that was very nice but no one was there. Many dogs greeted us loudly, so we know someone would come along eventually. The guide book says that we need to hire a local guide to go in to the caves, but it also said that there were 2 locked gates that we needed to get keys for after paying a fee, and every gate was just tied with rope, so like I said, everything has changed since 1993. We camped up the way from there and would expect to find someone there in the morning.
In camp as the sun was setting we heard some birds in the bushes singing a really complex call. It was so cool, I have never heard anything like it. It went on and on, changing style and tempo in a pattern that ran for several minutes and then repeated itself. I tried to record it but they fley away when I got up to get my phone. Dang.
Wednesday. This morning we walked up the arroyo following the directions from the book the best we could. It was all pretty vague but we kept seeing what we thought were recognizable landmarks and walked a few miles more along the arroyo, looking for the cave. . It was only supposed to be one mile. We finally gave up and headed back to the truck. We drove back to the ranch house and there was a lady there today. She said she was a guide and would take us there for 200 pesos. Cool!. We made room for her in our car, not an easy feat, since the back was loaded full. We had to pile a stack of gear on her patio to make room to fold down the back seat. She got in and directed us back down the road we had come up yesterday! Today we had been looking in the totally wrong direction. We headed up a different arroyo on a very bad track, worse than yesterday. After a few miles we came to the end. It was funny, we are in the middle of friggin nowhere and there was a modern new bright blue road sign for the "pintura" cave right out there in the arroyo, erected by Mulege city.
We then walked for another mile on a trail that went in and out of the arroyo just like the road did. Finally we came up to the cave, a very large alcove in the cliff, very deep back in, about 50 or 60 feet, with a ceiling about 15 ft high. The ceiling was covered with paintings of very large full size people, in red and black, many with the color split down the middle. Many of the characters had spears or arrows run thru them. There were also pictures of big yellow fish, yellow fin tuna?, a giant frog, a stag with huge antlers, and something that looked for all the world like an upright dinosaur like a T Rex or something. Our guide Senya was not an expert on the figures, she just knew where they were and had a key to the gate. These panels are said to be 7500 years old, the oldest known in north america.
On our drive back to drop Senya off we encountered another truck with a guide bringing a visitor in from Mulege. Senya told us she gets about 200 visitors a year, and her guest registry listed another one that same morning.
On the way out, a burro fell in with us running, right there behind us. He followed us quite a while, only leaving us when we passed a ranchero and he seemed to be chasing a dog. Barb was feeling bad for him, sure he was starving or lonely. A little bit later along Barb had her window down and there was another one again, running right along side us with his face right in the window and he took a snap at her! Dang that was scary. Attacked by a rogue donkey.
The last few days have been exhausting, what with the bad road drive out from Agua verde , then out to San juanico and back, and now this trip out to the cave paintings, all on nasty bad tracks out across wild country. We decided that we have had enough off road 4x4ing for this trip. We will stick to the pavement from now on. Of course that resolve didn't stick long...
We drove out and it was about 4:30 when we finally made it out to the highway. We looked around for a place to camp near there and settled in in an old gravel pit. Nice place but the ground is thick with dried cactus thorns everywhere. They are almost invisible the way they hide in whatever other plant stuff is lying around and are super brutal. I had one go right thru my sandal sole and stab my toe. I had to dig out several from under my tent. I hope I got them all!.
Thursday. OK, no cactus punctures! Hurray!
We drove to Santa Rosalia and went to a bank to exchange $ for pesos, then on to Guerrero negro, about 100 miles along to the north. This town is near one of the big famous grey whale calving lagoons Ojo le Liebre , the eye of the rabbit. Don't ask me, I don't get it either. Anyway, the whales travel here every winter after summering in the far north arctic. They have their calves in the shallow warm protected bay in November and December, and by now the calves are a few month s old and pretty playful.
We camped out in the sand dunes for the night. The wind was pretty strong and kept shifting around, we moved to truck to block the wind from our kitchen, and had to move it again when it shifted.
Friday. We went on out to the lagoon where there is a visitors center and boats that take us out to cavort with the whales. Private boats are not allowed, to prevent people from harassing the whales, and also I am sure to ensure work for the Mexican panga captains. We were on a boat only partially full, there were six of us, including some very fun German folks. When we got out into the middle where the whales hang out there were 2 pangas already there, with a mom and baby playing with them. We were feeling pretty cheated but then the other boats left and we were out there alone with the pair. They would come right up to us and let us pet their noses. The mom is huge, over 70 feet long, and the baby is about 25 feet long, weighing several tons. 2 months old. The baby would bump its nose up against the side of the boat, for no reason we could tell except to get our attention, (as if we could ignore it! ). They both would spout right by us and spray us. I have smelled whale spray before , it usually smells like rotten fish, (even tho they don't eat fish, they sieve krill thru their balleen plates) but this didn't have any smell. I think the mothers don't eat during this period of their life, and the calves are nursing, so no nasty smells. This went on for about 20 to 30 minutes then we left as another panga came in. I was told there are about 1400 mothers with calves in the lagoon, but only this one was getting any attention from the boats we could see. The lagoon is huge, with several tour groups launching pangas from all over, so I maybe the love is spread about.
The whales are black, with mottled patches of gray scattered across them. Small fins and bumps along their backs , huge wide tails. Their mouths are gigantic, to sieve the krill thru, but they never opened their mouths while we were there. The skin was smooth and rubbery feeling, and sort of soft, on the head where we were touching. They had barnacles stuck to their skin, even the baby already. The blow hole on the top of their head was interesting, it consisted of 3 slits side by side, separating out in sort of a fan shape, about 6 inches long. I had thought they had one hole and it was round. Perhaps other species do, but not these.
There are 3 of these types of lagoons in Baja, and they have a tragic history that thankfully is getting better. Back in the big whale hunting days the hunters found these lagoons and slaughtered the trapped whales very quickly. I am glad to hear that one of the boats sank, it was so over loaded!. In the last several years there have been treatys signed limiting whale hunting all over the world and in these lagoons especially. Whales live up to 70 years so there are whales alive today that could remember the horrible old days and survived to tell tqhe babies about it. They are very smart so i am sure they understand what was going on and who was responsible for all the carnage. It is amazing the mothers would allow their babies anywhere near us now. If I was them I would teach the kid to smash us with their tails and keep away. I guess they are more forgiving than I am.
Saturday march 7. We drove up across the Great Central Desert of Baja, the road taking us from the Sea of Cortez over to the pacific ocean. . We saw a sign that said next gasoline 230 kilometers, and we had a quarter of a tank. Yikes! The last pump behind us was a good hour drive back. As we drove along we saw a mechanic shop and thought, surely he has some to spare. As we pulled into the yard we asked a man walking along and he pointed to his truck out across the road. He had 3 big barrels of gas in the back, ready to sell to stupid people like me. We bought about 45 liters for 900 pesos, about 20 per liter. The gas station price is about 14. That is the premium we had to pay for being stupid. Dang.
Out along the road were looking for some cave paintings that were described in the 25 year old book. We looked for some landmarks like "the 2nd dirt track after an arroyo 2 miles after a roadside hotel (that didn't exist anymore...)". We didn't see any of that, but there was a roadside archeological display with a nice parking lot, palapa, outhouses, and trails with interpretive signs , all in Spanish. After a while we decided this wasn't it and were looking around some more but from a higher vantage point I could see that the trail led up a hill to a cave with a sign. Yep. That was it. When in doubt, trust the signs. Even if you can't read them very well.
As we came out of the desert towards the Pacific ocean. The map showed a sea lion colony so we took a dirt track out across some very steep eroded mud hills. We were intrigued by a modern looking power line that followed the road. It looked out of place with such a bad road. Even if the sea colony turned out to be lame, we became interested in what was out there that needed such a big power supply!. Eventually we came out to the sea shore, a big rocky cliff above the water, and perched on the cliff, fed by the power line was a giant old restaurant now turned into an oceanic research facility. An old man came out to collect a dollar from us, and pointed to a trail that led to a giant hole in the ground that dropped down overhanging cliffs to expose an underground cavern with a beach and a bunch of sea lions. An underground passageway let ocean swells directly into the cave and onto the beach. It was so cool. Like a lost world sort of thing. The sea lions were pretty comatose, not moving much or barking. I can imagine another day in another season they would be packed in there and making a racket.
We had lunch on the rocks in front of the building. It must have pretty cool back in its day, with a huge patio now covered with old boats plumbed for pumping water in and out for sea life experiments. There was a swimming pool and hot tub, now dry. The inside of the building was full of giant tanks and plumbing to manage the water flows. There was nobody else there doing the science stuff , We couldnt really tell what they were doing, and the old man was just a watchman and couldn't tell us, but it looked important and fascinating. He did have ice cold Cokes to sell us though.
We drove on north along the coast road, which is not really very close to the coast. We couldn't see the ocean for many miles. We took a dirt road out west and ended up camping at the same dunes that I camped on my first night down here in baja 2 months ago. Life is just a big circle, eh?
Yesterday we drove across the border of Baja Sur (south) and Baja Norte (north) 2 Mexican states . Sur is in the mountain time zone and Norte is Pacific, so we changed our clocks one hour, even though we really aren't moving east to west like you would normally be doing when you go from Mountain to Pacific. The result is that sun is now rising at about 5 AM and going down at about 5 PM. No problem, life is the same, we still get up and go bed with the sun but it seems strange to crawl into the tent in the dark at 5:30. And tomorrow is daylight saving time so we will have to change them back anyway!
As the evening came on I wandered around the dunes and saw a horny toad. That was cool, i havent seen one of those since i was a tiny kid out in south central Oregon. Then there were 2 really beautiful coyotes that slowly eased into the brush as I approached. They didnt sprint off like coyotes usually seem to do, but seemed to be watching me as they oozed away. There were 3 rabbits that sprinted away at the same time and I am sure I spoiled the coyotes supper. Dang. Sorry guys!.
I hadn't seen any cactus out here on the dunes at all, but when I wasn't looking I kicked into one with the back of my heel and I was wearing sandals. I was really lucky, the spines mostly dug into the trim of the heel strap, with only 1 spine getting a good dig into me. That was close to being a nasty one!. After 2 months with no injury, and on the next to my last day in baja, i almost got really badly hurt. Can't let down my guard for even one moment!.
For the last few days I have been missing my old sun hat that I have worn every day for the last six years and have repaired it more times than I can count. Dang, I love that hat and was afraid I had left it at those cave paintings a few days ago. But it showed up today in the truck, jammed down under one of the storage bins. Yahoo! Celebrate the return of the prodigal hat. We had beans and rice tonight to celebrate.
Sunday, we drove out of the dunes. The road was really wet in a few places and I was spinning and sliding. It was flat ground, with no rocks or trees to hit, and cliffs to fall off of, but for a minute it seemed likely that we might get stuck. I could move but no matter which way I turned the wheel, the car would not turn!. We finally got out of there but the truck was covered with mud. There was a car wash right there when we hit pavement so we pulled in. It wasn't a self wash, nor a drive thru. They had a pressure washer and a few buckets and rags, and with their hard work, we were shiny in no time. This is the best that truck has looked in years.
As we approached Ensenada, we turned off down to El Bufadora, the second largest sea geyser in the world. There is a tight crevice in the rock right at sea level and when big swells come in, it shoots water high into the air. It is a big tourist attraction, with paid parking, and a gauntlet of gift shops and eager vendors we had to walk thru to get to The Buf. The swells were pretty small so not much of a show. We need a good cyclone out in Thailand to send us some good 40 foot swells. The most interesting part was that most of the tourists there were Mexican families out for a Sunday drive, not gringos like we have been used to seeing. The people watching was great fun. Kids at that sort of place are the same all over the world, in any language. Begging for sweets, and tossing a tantrum when they don't get it.
I was wondering about the business of the gift shops there, as well as all the others around the world. Guys walking down the beaches in Costa Rica, people on the sides of the road in Africa, 100 stalls packed in cheek by jowl here at La Bufadora, all the stuff looks the same. The hats, the dresses, the toys, the snacks, the shot glasses and fridge magnets. All the same. I am thinking that they all must be owned and managed by some giant consortium of curio trinket big guys who control it all and hire these hawkers for pennies to schlep it to us tourists. I was wondering, too, about which of the stalls get the most business. We ignore the first couple of stalls, start looking at stuff a few stalls later, then try it on a few stalls later, and then finally buy it from a stall on our way back to the car. I am sure these guys know the buying habits of us better than we do, and position themselves to capitalize on it. I wonder if there is some sort of rotation order to keep it fair, or maybe the best salespeople work their way up to get to sit in the best locations. Hmm. The things that keep me awake at night.
Our drive back to the states is via the Mexico highway 3 to Tecate (instead of the 1 to Tijuana). The 3 goes up to the east thru wine country, and is spectacular. It looks just like Napa valley, or some Italian country side. Huge elegant corporate vineyards with huge processing plants and giant mansions like in Europe, are interspersed with small humble farmsteads. We were looking for a place to camp for the night and the big vineyards did not look very amenable to us camping in the yard of the Big House. We found an ejito which was perfect. An ejito is a plot of land, usually very huge, many thousands of acres, that was once owned by some giant colonial land baron, of course stolen hundreds of years ago from the natives who were forced to be virtual slaves on the big ranch. Several years ago, the government made some massive land reforms and took the land from the egalitarians and gave it back to the peasants. The ejito is a cooperative venture with the local people in charge of dividing it up, allocating home sites, deciding what they do with it, etc. Most of the fish camps and tiny villages I have visited have been administered this way. Some of the ejitos have a school, a store, some sort of infrastructure. Others are just a loose collection of small homes. This one is pretty small. We drove in and found a beautiful little spot on a rise looking out over the valley with higher hills all around, and green fields with happy looking cows grazing, stretching on down the canyon. There is an abandoned building here that looks like it could have been a small school once upon a time.
The coyotes are howling as we had supper and cozied into bed.
We could see a bon fire across the village, and as we were falling asleep some local folks were having a sing a long with an accordion. I was very tempted to grab my guitar and join them, but I was afraid of just walking up in the dark as a stranger.
Monday. It was a beautiful cool morning, very dry, not a drop of condensation this last morning in Baja.
We had read about some hot springs somewhere along in here, and tried to follow the directions in this old guidebook. They mentioned a highly developed compound of 20 campsites with private pools with water from the hot spring piped into each one. Something that big would surely be noticed by the locals and have signs directing folks to it, right? Wrong. No signs anywhere and Again, nothing on the maps nor in the book seemed to match what we were seeing. We had 3 maps, none of which agreed. We asked several people, all knew where it was but all giving us contradictory information (at least from the way we understood them. ) One lady was funny, we asked her if she spoke english and she waggled her finger at us and sternly said "no!". We drove up and down one lane several times, and I am sure the man trimming the giant olive hedge along there thought we were nuts. Finally we found a guy, a beautiful ancient looking man, very tall, with a long gray beard and a gnarly cane He pointed us on up the road we were on and said talk to his wife, Josephine. It was only a 20 minute walk he said. We found the lady, and there was a big sign, Valle de San Jose de Guadalupe Agua caliente, hiking, rappelling, and waterfalls. Success! She took our 50 pesos and opened the gate for us to drive on further. At the end of that road, a few miles, we started walking. On up beside a small stream. 30 minutes. Past a giant cliff that would be a giant waterfall when it rained but was dry today. No hot spring. On up the canyon. Almost an hour. Eventually we found a spot where some rocks had been placed in the stream to form a pool and there was hot water tricking into it. Hurray! We had found it and had such as nice soak. One of the nicer back country undeveloped pools I have ever seen. But nothing like the book described. Hmmm.
PS. We later learned that the book was describing another hot spring oasis almost 100 miles away, with the same name as the one we found! Oh, well liked the one we found
La Mordita. On into the town of Tecate, a US border crossing, and home of my favorite beer. We found the brewery and bought some to take home. Then on to find the big central plaza where we would have lunch. But as we approached, we saw that the entire plaza and street was boarded up, closed for remodeling. The traffic was crazy and we were trying to find a place to park when a motorcycle cop pulled us over. He approached the car , i was driving, and Barb didn’t hear what he said at first and she told him " no thanks, we don't need any help". he laughed and “Said no you don't understand, you ran 2 stop signs and almost ran over 2 people and a child“. None of which was true, but it was his word against ours. He was very nice, pleasant, he apologized for his poor English. He said it was a very serious offence, almost running over 2 people and a child, but since we were on vacation. Yes? he didn't want to spoil our good time and we could take care of it then and there, no ticket, no report to the DMV, just pay $70 and he would then escort us to the border. What? That's outrageous!. We dont have that much. Yes he said he understood, yes he would be inclined to let us go but, he pointed to his radio, his boss already knew that he had pulled us over and expect that we paid the fine and these were very serious offences almost running down 2 people and a child,, ànd he asked how much could we pay. I said I have 20, he said, maybe we should go on down to the station. Then he said “how about $50?” I had more than that but I didn't want him to know that, and I was trying to fish in my wallet and my secret hiding spot without him seeing the wad of hundreds. I didn’t have another 10 for the $50, but finally dug out 3 20s as discretely as I could and handed him that. He said oh no, not like that, show me the papers, I said what papers, the registration? He said yeah whatever. I wrapped the bills in the registration, he palmed the bills and handed the registration back. So he had told me 50, I gave him 60, but I wasn't expecting any change back.... He drove off, we followed, he escorted us to the border with a friendly wave. “Ya all come back now, ya hear?”
At the border we got busted again for having 4 potatoes in the car, " please drive over here for an inspection. ". Dang. Not again. But this one was easy. After a brief wait, a guy came out, we handed him the potatoes, he didn't want the onions we tried to hand him, no problem he said, he gave us a list of "enterables" which included almost everything, it seemed , except potatoes .
so we finally made it across , up the road to Barbs house, where we celebrated with Vons market fried chicken and potato wedges washed down with Tecate beer straight from the factory.
Baja. What a wonderful magical place. I’ll be back.