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Baja California RV Travel Uncategorized

To La Paz for El Carnaval!

For me, the term “El Carnaval” conjures up scenes of a huge street party – hips swaying to latin beats, beads flying, shirts lifting, drinks flowing. But I’ve never been to Rio or to Mardi Gras or any Fat Tuesday celebration. So, although Mitch and I usually avoid crowds like the Plague because Mitch believes if he doesn’t, he will catch the Plague, I was excited to see that our caravan itinerary included a stop in La Paz specifically to attend El Carnaval.

La Maranatha RV Park in La Paz was our meet-up location for the caravan after our 15 days of freedom. It was fun to catch up with the others. A few of them had spent time in Cabo San Lucas, one couple had gone on a 7-day kayak tour out of Loreto, one couple had stayed in La Paz the entire time using it as a base camp for exploring. All reports were fantastic except for Cabo – no one really cared for Cabo.

Our wagonmasters, John and Becky, had reserved taxis for the group for the final night of El Carnaval. Since we arrived on Sunday, we had time to do some exploring. We’d heard the beaches around La Paz were beautiful so we decided to check those out.

I’m adding this as a word of advice to future travelers – if at all possible, don’t go to the beaches of La Paz on Sundays. All of La Paz goes to the beach on Sunday! For the beach that we had heard the most about, Playa Balandra, we couldn’t even get close. Cars overflowed the lot and parked along the access road all the way out to the highway. It was the same for El Tesoro. El Tecolote was huge enough that there was plenty of space for parking. And quite a number of RVers were dry camping there. We watched the scene for a few minutes – loud trucks driven by men holding beer cans in their left hands, the steering wheel in their right using beach volleyball games as weaving cones, unleashed Rottweilers and pit bulls frolicking in the waves – before deciding that maybe we should use the rest of the afternoon to stock up on groceries and do laundry.

On Monday we drove about 45 minutes south to the town of La Ventana (the window) to look for some mountain biking trails listed on our Trailforks app. It is another big kiteboarding area and so it has a lot of restaurants and campgrounds and Americans and Canadians. As usual, the trailhead was not marked but, once we found it, the main trail was easy to follow and was really, really cool! It was flat but it wound back and forth around and through stands of cardones and other crazy desert flora. Someone had even taken the time to label some of the plants. Of course, as fast as I was running, they were all a blur (completely kidding – the problem I have with stopping while running is that there’s a darn good chance that I might not be able to start again!).

Finally, Tuesday and El Carnaval – parrrtayyy! We were dropped off a couple of blocks from the parade route which was along the La Paz Malecòn (boardwalk). It looked like a fair midway with carnival games, food booths, kiddie rides, and stages. But the backdrop was pretty spectacular – a sunset over the beautiful Bahia de La Paz. It wasn’t very crowded at all. Some people from our group had gone the first night of the festival and had said that it was so packed that you could barely move.

We strolled along the malecòn, taking in the sites, until we came to an area of restaurants that had tables set out right beside the parade route. We asked a server how to go about getting a table and he said that as long as we agreed to spend at least 500 pesos ($20 dollars) we could have a spot on the balcony overlooking the parade. Perfecto!

So we sat at our table, the server brought us drinks, we met a fun bunch of people living on yachts in the bay, a nice young, local mother with her two kids, shared nachos and pizza with all of them, and had the perfect view of the “crazy” parade.

beauty-queenThe thing is, it wasn’t a crazy, drunken, free-for-all at all. It was very much like a Midwestern county fair with great Latin music and dancing. The floats had young beauty queens in formal costume gowns smiling and waving (wrist-wrist-elbow-elbow), or bands with irresistible horn sections (the semi driver pulling one band joined in by letting off his air brakes in rhythm with their music), or school-aged dance teams. Being Mexico, there were some revealing costumes and one float had women doing pole dancing routines (to which the guy from the yacht said, “You’re not gonna see that in the Macy’s Day Parade!”) The risque-est of them all was a float with costumed adult “women” dancing – and only because we were informed by the young mother, in a whispered giggle, that they were really “hombres” (men).

ferris wheelAfter the parade the streets became a little more crowded but not bad. Kids zig-zagged around us, fathers carried toddlers on shoulders while mothers held tightly to small hands which gripped stuffed animals, glowing sticks, and lollipops. One of the most entertaining events of the whole evening was watching the kiddie Ferris wheel. It was only about twenty feet tall but it looked like it predated the Mexican Revolution. The operator manually advanced the wheel while loading. It appeared that the rule was “Under three years old had to be tied into the seat with a sisal rope knotted under the kid’s armpits. Over three – kid’s choice.” It took awhile to get all the seats filled – some kids started crying, some stared forlornly out at the crowd, others smiled and waved at their parents the entire time. Finally, it was loaded. The guy gave it a few good whirls as if he were spinning the wheel at the Price is Right until finally the motor caught and took over. I watched with my eyes partially covered, waiting for one of the none-tied in kids to get launched or slide out the bottom. But, other than the few that had been crying from the start, when the ride ended, all customers seemed pleased and alive.

It really was a perfect evening – good food, great entertainment, fun happy people, and we were back in at our camper by 9:30 pm.

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Why We Bought a Truck Camper

Last year we had a 25 foot, triple-slide, Sunseeker Class-C motorhome – roomy, plenty of storage, an actual door to the bedroom so that Mitch didn’t wake up on my early schedule and I could go to sleep while he was doing whatever he does after 9:30 pm. We sold it and bought a 19 foot truck camper with no slides, no privacy, and virtually no storage. And we love it!!!

la-pastora-panorama-background

Why do we love it? Because of places like the campsite that we stayed at for three nights after we left Los Barriles. It actually wasn’t a ‘campsite’ and that was the beauty of it. It was a beach, with no facilities and no crowds – just a couple of other campers, a few tenters, and a handful of day-use surfers.

sunset la pastora
Sunset our first night at La Pastora

When you start shopping for your first RV, you are drawn into the photos on the brochures – the happy family camping in a beautiful, lakefront site steps from the water, forest-covered mountains in the background, sparks from the campfire drifting lazily up into a starry sky, not another soul around. The reality is that, once you get that 30 foot travel trailer, the only place you can take it is a campground where you pay an arm and a leg for that waterfront site and you are packed in so tightly with your fellow campers that you know what they are watching on TV, what they are cooking for dinner, and the exact moment they light their cigarette. And that’s if you’re lucky enough to get a site. The state and county parks in popular locations are booked a year in advance.

With the truck camper, since we have it on a 4WD truck with high clearance, we can get to some pretty cool places. Baja was our first trip with it. But up until this point, we’d still been in regular campgrounds. This beach was our first taste of what we’ll be able to do. We’re pretty excited about the possibilities!

La-Pastora_beach2
Looking south from La Pastora

The beach is known as “La Pastora” and it is a few miles north of the town of Todos Santos (on a terrible road, of course!). I’d read a lot about Todos Santos and had been pretty excited to check it out. It was supposed to be an funky, little artist’s/surfer town. The town itself is set slightly off the coast. But the beaches to the north and south are known for great surf.

bad road2
Another bad road…

We didn’t spend a lot of time in the town so this review is probably not completely fair. But I was a little, no – a lot, disappointed, in Todos Santos. It has become a day trip destination from Cabo San Lucas. So that means trinket shops filled with traditional Mexican crafts adorned with NFL team names, harried servers who’ve seen it all before, and prices that rival US beach towns.

hotel california
From inside Hotel California. That’s a chandelier, not a mirror, on the ceiling. And I had a margarita, not pink champagne.

Todos Santos is also home to the Hotel California. Urban legend has it that it is THE Hotel California of Eagles fame. The Canadian couple who bought it in 2001 and restored it list the many coincidences between their hotel and the song, but admit that it is impossible to know for sure because the Eagles ain’t talkin’. However the owners smartly took full advantage of the myth and included a large, bustling souvenir shop in their restoration.

The “coincidence” on their website that sold me on the myth was that the Mexican slang term for marijuana joints is ‘colitas’. I had always thought the verse said, “warm smell of cleat dust rising up from the air.” My entire life I’d wondered, what the heck is cleat dust??

Another interesting tidbit about the hotel is that it was originally built by a Chinese immigrant in 1950. Wanting the locals to believe he was Mexican, he changed his name to Don Antonio Tabasco (what a great choice!) But, sadly, the locals still only called him El Chino.

La-Hacienda-Serritos_crop
Hacienda Cerritos over-looking the surfing beach.

Most of the beaches to the south of Todos Santos have big resorts and gated communities. Playa Los Cerritos is one of the more famous surf breaks and, luckily, it still has a couple of public access areas. But, from what we’ve heard, you used to be able to camp right on the beach there. Now it has a beautiful, swanky hotel perched on a cliff overlooking it, beach clubs, and condos, condos, condos. No more beach camping.

OK – enough of the depressing, “you-should-have-seen-this-place-10-years-ago” stuff. We came to the west coast of Baja because Mitch wanted to surf. At Los Cerritos he got a great ride that almost killed him. And at La Pastora, he finally got out the last day we were there. I know he didn’t get as much surfing in as he’d hoped. But the waves were a little too big and powerful for what he’d wanted on his paddleboard. We’ll just have to skip work and return in the summer when the swells are friendlier. Bummer!

#truckcamper #todossantos #surfingcerritos #haciendacerritos

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East Cape of Baja, Hot Springs, and another Beautiful Waterfall

“Every beautiful spot in Baja is at the end of a terrible road.” I’d read this in a blog post that now I can’t find to give credit. However, from our many experiments while there, we found this statement to be absolutely true.

Our goal for the day was to see El Cañon de los Zorros (Fox Canyon) and the aguas calientes (hot springs). They were more or less in the same area according to other blog posts, near the town of Santiago which was about twenty minutes south of Los Barriles. For once I had good directions, or so I thought, so we weren’t too worried about the fact that we’d gotten off to our normal late start.

We soon found out that the directions made absolutely no sense. We went down a dirt, washboard road for a few miles and then turned around thinking it couldn’t be right. After we’d turned around, we passed a minivan. They slowed and asked if we’d come from the Canyon. We explained that we were looking for it, too.

“We’ve been driving around for two hours,” said the driver. “We’ve tried every other road in town. This has to be the one.”

We weren’t convinced so we took the one good piece of advice from the directions. “If you can’t find it, ask someone in town.” Yep, it was back out that terrible road.

Jeep_bridge
A very dicey cattle guard

To be completely honest, I didn’t think the road was that bad. It was solid washboards, long, dusty, and narrow (almost impossible for two cars to pass). But, other than the narrowness, it wasn’t too different from the gravel roads in Nebraska. We only had to use the 4WD once and that was because we’d missed a turn. It seemed never-ending, though, probably because we were never sure we were heading in the right direction.

This is my piece of advice for anyone going to Cañon de los Zorros: It is in El Rancho Ecologico Sol de Mayo. There were plenty of signs for El Rancho Ecologico Sol de Mayo. But we assumed two things: #1 – surely the directions would have mentioned the fact that the canyon/waterfall was inside of El Rancho; and #2, surely the signs for El Rancho would mention something about the canyon/waterfall if they owned it. Well, you know what they say about assuming (and don’t call me Shirley).

Finally, we arrived. We got there right behind the minivan we’d seen earlier. We put Brandi on her leash and went to the little hut to pay our entrance fee where the man told us, “Sorry, no dogs.” Ugh. It was too hot to leave her in the car so we took turns hiking to the waterfall.

It was only about a 10 minute hike. And the second I saw it I knew immediately that the long, dusty drive, the no dogs rule, the entrance fee (I can’t remember what it was but I think it was higher than I thought it would be), was all totally worth it. A 30 foot waterfall, sheer rock walls, a palm-tree lined pool – in the middle of the desert. Indescribable. I hope Mitch’s video conveys what words can’t.

I traded with Mitch. One of the Ranch’s dogs followed him all the way to the waterfall. I guess it didn’t understand the no dogs rule. Hmmm…

Fox_Cayon_webBy the time we left it was too late to make it to the hot springs. We’d get an earlier start the next day.

I really wanted to check out the Parque Nacional Cabo Pulmo on the East Cape area. It is an underwater park known for incredible snorkeling and diving. Also, I had read some blog posts that talked about the great, free camping opportunities on the beach there. We were leaving Los Barriles in two days but didn’t have another campground lined up. And there were supposed to be a couple of surf breaks that Mitch wanted to check out.

We turned off the main highway and drove through the town of La Ribera all on great roads. We continued going south. The road was newly paved, very smooth, easy driving. But we knew it was going to change. And about 5 miles beyond La Ribera, it changed with a vengeance. Dirt, washboards, sharp rocks, dips, potholes (can you call them potholes if there wasn’t any pavement to begin with?). I think it was less than 20 miles on this road but it took us over an hour to get to Cabo Pulmo.

Maybe it was because the sky clouded over, maybe it was because it was very windy, maybe it was because, every 50 yards or so, menacing, red lettered “Private Property” signs hung on barbed-wire fences – but, I have to admit, it wasn’t our favorite area in Baja. Don’t get me wrong, the water views were still amazingly beautiful. But we just didn’t get the fun welcoming vibe that we’d gotten everywhere else.

private property

 

We came across the first camping area that we’d read about. I don’t know the official name of it but we christened it “Basura Beach” (basura means trash). We drove through the entrance gate thinking we’d find someone in the campground to ask about the policies since there were so many private property signs. But it was eerily quiet. We drove past abandoned 5th wheels and truck campers, past a camper that had made its home in the ruins of house, past a camper that was part bread truck part lean-to cardboard shanty. Any open site had piles of trash in it. And the beach was completely covered in rocks. We weren’t feeling the love.

This campground was only about a mile from the tourist town of Cabo Pulmo. There must be a time of year when this place is wall-to-wall people because it had as many snorkel shops as Key West. It was way too windy for any hope of snorkeling, though, so we kept going.

There was supposed to be another campground, called Playa Arbolitos, about 5 km beyond Cabo Pulmo. At about that distance we saw a sign on the turn off to a side road advertising a beach for kayaking, paddleboarding, and snorkeling with the hours of operation. But just beyond the sign was a gate with the name of a development and the private property signs again. The gate was open but we figured it was, as the sign said, private. So we kept going.

We drove for about another 5 km and found another camping area. It matched the description of the southernmost camping area we’d read about – in a wash, fishing shanties on one side of it, a well. It, too, was surrounded by barbed wire with the private property signs. But, unlike the stangely quiet Basura Beach, there was plenty of activity here. We pulled in and, thinking there might be someone you were supposed to register with since there were fifty million private property signs, asked a guy outside his Winnebago how you went about camping here.

He looked at us like we were aliens and then, with much effort, said, “Find a spot. Camp” and with that he turned and walked away.

Okey dokey.

Cabo_Puma
The camping area at beautiful Bahia Los Frailes

It was a really beautiful spot. A headland, a cove, sapphire-blue water. Had we driven our camper, we would have camped there. But it wasn’t spectacular enough to make us want to haul our camper over 25 miles of that god-forsaken road.

On our way back, we decided to take a chance and pull into the beach at the private property gate. The road curved around and down, past a small farm, and ended in at a trailer surrounded by stacks of kayaks and paddleboards. In the wash, just a little further, we saw a VW camper backed up against the hillside. The attendant confirmed that camping was allowed and let us check it out without paying. Our truck camper would have fit, but just barely. The beach was pretty and, had it been calm, it would have probably been a great snorkeling/kayaking/paddleboarding spot. But the camping area was claustrophobic and again, we’d have to return on that road. So we headed back north without finding camping or surfing.

Because of that god-forsaken road, it’d taken us much longer than we’d planned. But we decided we’d try to get to the hot springs too, if only for a couple of minutes. We drove through Santiago and headed south, as we’d been told. “Once you get out of town, just follow the power lines,” were the directions. By now, you know how the story goes.

We got there, finally. Terrible roads, multiple power lines, pausing at turns – “Which way do you think?”, stopping for directions. We only had about 15 minutes before we needed to start heading back. We parked over looking the hot springs area. We saw that a small stream had been dammed with a low cement wall which formed a pool above and below. We quickly changed into our suits and headed down the trail where we saw a woman shaving her legs in the lowest pool. Mitch, the germophobe, paused, said he needed to repark the Jeep, and turned back.

I continued on around the dam to the pool above. It was cool, no, cold. But there were about four people resting against the rocky cliff on the far side of the stream where someone had stacked up rocks forming a separate pool. It turned out that the hot water (and it was really, really hot) came right out of two little holes in the cliff face. They made room for me and as soon as I sat down, hundreds of tiny little fish surrounded me and started nibbling my skin. Weeiird. I’m told a lot of people absolutely love the feel of it. I guess I’m just not crazy about being eaten alive though. Mitch did finally make it back and sat with his swim trunks legs held tightly around his thighs, trying very hard to relax.

This, sadly, was our last adventure in Los Barriles. It was time to move on, with or without exactly knowing our next destination. There are some places on this earth that might not be instant, all-encompassing love at first site, but where, in a short time, you feel so comfortable that you know that you’ll be back.

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Going out for Pizza

The word around town was that we had to try the pizza in El Triunfo. We’d passed through El Truinfo on the way from La Paz to Los Barrilles and it looked like many of the other towns along the highway – a cute church, many hollowed-out buildings, a couple of topes (speed bumps). But Becky, our ever up-beat wagonmaster, had assured us that it warranted a return trip.

We prefer to calorically justify our eating excursions so I started to look for blog posts or web guides for an activity to do in El Triunfo other than the heavy lifting required to get pizza slice to mouth. We’d seen a tiny square sign when passing through Triunfo with a bicycle and a directional arrow. Did I dare dream of a biking trail in this tiny town in Baja??

We didn’t find any trails listed on Trailforks (this great app that a mountain bike guide in Los Barriles had told us about). And many of the listings on the on-line search were for mountain bike tours covering all of Baja. But I did find a couple of posts, in Spanish, about a mountain bike race in El Triunfo – Ciclismo Baja Sur. It sounded promising enough and, although the maps I’d found were vague, we figured someone in Triunfo would be able to point us in the right direction.

El Triunfo was once a mining boom town. At its height in the 1890s it had about 4,000 – 10,000 residents. But when the gold and silver ran out, so did the mining companies. Now it looks like there might be a couple hundred people living in the ruins. But they are really cool ruins and a few businesses are moving in to restore the old brick buildings and breath life back into the town. One of two remaining chimneys used in the calcination process (whatever that is) was designed by Gustov Eiffel of the Eiffel Tower and they are trying to complete some much needed restoration work on it.

When we got to El Triunfo (it is about 45 minutes north of Los Barriles) we turned at the arrow/bike sign on the main highway looking for the trailhead. No luck. It is a very small town though so it didn’t take us too long to drive all the way through it, on both sides of the highway, searching for any other possible clues to this bike trail. Still no luck. We parked and I asked a bartender in a cute little restaurant if he knew anything about it. He said that he thought it was behind the chimney. We walked to the chimney but the area was closed due to the restoration work. As we were walking back to the car wondering what to do next, I noticed what looked like a goat trail at the end of a street leading down into a wash. On a piece of paper smaller than a business card stapled to a fencepost (not the closest fencepost to the street), was a black arrow pointing towards the wash. I followed it and found another arrow pointing north. We’d found the trail!

brandi runHave I mentioned that we’d only brought one bike? So I ran the trail with Brandi (that’s actually not a punishment – I really love trail running!) and Mitch took the bike. It was marked well at first, although the paper arrows would be destroyed after one major rain. But then, as we got further, the arrows were turned the other way. So we’d missed something, somewhere, but we continued on, going against the arrows. After a little over three miles, going through an arroyo, over some hills, and behind the chimney, we ended up back in town. I decided that I’d call it a day but Mitch wanted to go back through.

About an hour later, Mitch rode into town, relieved that he’d found his way back but with a big grin on his face. “You missed the really cool part,” he said. There’d been a turn that we’d wondered about when we’d passed it. He took it the second time and it ended up being some really fun single-track with great views. Too late though – my brain had moved on to pizza.

The pizza was in a restaurant called Cafe El Triunfo, in an old brick building that the owner has beautifully restored. It was a unique space with one relic-filled room leading to the next, patios, awnings, balconies, and an open air bar and brick oven overlooking the Eiffel chimney. We sat at the bar and watched the staff make our pizza and slide it in the oven while the resident Great Dane buried chunks of bread in the dirt around the patios to dig up later (the server told us that he always remembers every hiding spot).

I am not a pizza connoisseur – almost any dough with cheese makes me happy. But this was goooood!! Nice thin, crispy crust, fresh, fragrant basil, lots of mozzarella. Before we knew it, our large had disappeared.

Calorically speaking – I know I didn’t come close to breaking even. But Becky was right – El Triunfo was worth the return trip.

tree wall
I loved that they built the wall around the tree!
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Exploring Baja Sur – Los Barriles, Buenos Aires Waterfall, Punta Pescadora

I’d read about this arroyo in a couple of blog posts and 4-wheeler websites. It’d been recommended to us as a nice day trip by a few people. I knew what was supposed to be at the end of it. But, looking at the bone-dry, wide-open mouth of Buenos Aires Arroyo just north of the town of Los Barilles where big dump trucks drive in and out with loads of gravel, I just couldn’t believe there would be a waterfall somewhere back there.

The word arroyo in Spanish means creek. But in Baja, where the roads cross the arroyos, they are remembrances of creeks. You can tell that at some point water flowed through it, but it is impossible to imagine. And in almost every arroyo anywhere near Los Barriles, well-worn 4-wheeler trails stretch off into the distance.

“Just pick a trail and follow it,” were the instructions we were given to find the waterfall that I was sure was going to be dried-up. A 4-wheeler is the perfect vehicle for exploring all of Baja and every gringo in Los Barriles uses them for everything from beach cruising to grocery shopping but since we’d towed our Jeep nearly 3000 miles from Delaware, we couldn’t justify the expense of renting one.

No one seemed to know the distance to the “waterfall”. ‘Take plenty of water’ was the only advice. We’d been driving through soft, deep gravel/sand for about 20 minutes and hadn’t seen another soul. As close as this was to town, I’d figured there would be a steady stream of explorers, but the only people we’d seen were two horseback riders way back at the mouth.

The rock walls on either side of the arroyo were getting taller and steeper. The canyon was narrowing. We started to see some green vegetation along the edges. Then the sand looked wet. We kept going, very slowly, worried that we might get stuck in one of those jello-y wet sand situations. And then we crossed a little stream of water that snaked back and forth from wall to wall. Where in the world did this come from? The stream got bigger, we had to drive around and over big rocks now. Finally we stopped, deciding it’d be better to explore by foot.

It was so quiet. The wind back at the beach was whipping the kite boarders into a frenzy but here, not even a blade of grass moved. A little further there was a deep, saffire-blue pool filled with cattails. We splashed on. There were no tracks here to follow, no footprints. The landscape was beautiful but eerily empty. The canyon made a sharp turn. We rounded the corner and there it was – a beautiful little stream tumbling down a wall of boulders from a palm tree-lined pool above surrounded by a handful of people in beach chairs gripping beers. “Welcome to Canada,” they said with a wave and a smile.

The pool at the base wasn’t big enough for swimming as some reports had said. And the cascade was much smaller than in the reports as well. But it was incredibly amazing to me. That this little paradise could exist where just a couple of miles down the wash looked like the Sahara, was shocking. The Canadians, who’d been coming to Los Barriles for years, said that the arroyos change all of the time and that the waterfall used to be much higher. “See that hole,” they said pointing to a ground level divot in the canyon wall. “Last year that was about 12 feet up.” Hikers scrambling down the side of the waterfall told me that you can follow the stream for a long distance back to a slot canyon with a bigger waterfall. That is on my list for the next trip to Los Barriles.

We’d also been told about a beautiful beach a ways north of town (again, very vague distances) that was great for snorkeling. Some had called it Snorkel Beach and some had called it Punta Pescadora. The road out to it was a dirt, rock-strewn track along cliffs with incredible but scary views better suited to 4-wheelers but passable with the Jeep.

It is hard to know when you arrive at a ‘beautiful’ beach in Baja because they are all beautiful. You come around a headland and see a scallop of sand with the desert mountain back drop and you say, “That is amazing.” Another headland, another stretch of sand. “That is incredible,” you say. On and on it goes. But we knew when we arrived at Snorkel Beach.

Coastal_cacti
Not quite at Snorkel Beach yet but getting close!

For me the water was too cold for snorkeling and besides, we hadn’t brought any gear. But we paddleboarded around the rocks and could look down into the clear water and watch all the fish – so it was like dry snorkeling. A gleaming white hotel/restaurant peeked down on us from the cliffs above the beach and once we’d gotten sufficiently baked we decided we needed to test their fish tacos. Sitting on the patio of the aptly named Punta Pescadero Paradise Hotel in the warm Baja sun with a 180 degree view of beaches and mountains and the Sea of Cortez, a cold beer in one hand and a taco in the other, was definitely one of my versions of paradise.

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Traffic jam – Los Barriles style!

The town of Los Barriles is a comfortable, friendly, gringo-ized spot that would make the most nervous traveler relax. It has a German restaurant, an Irish restaurant, a pizza place, a bowling alley, pickle ball leagues, convenience stores, a decent grocery store, and plenty of happy hours and burgers and fries. The town even hosts a huge dog show at the end of February to benefit the local humane society. And the nice thing is that it doesn’t feel like a resort town – yet.

 

We stayed at a campground called Playa Norte. It was about a mile north of town directly on the beach and was one of the cleanest campgrounds we’ve ever experienced on either side of the border. The owner, William, and his staff were constantly working on projects. One of the employees, Emilio, walked the beach and campground every morning starting around 7:30 picking up trash and greeting the guests. Having a such a comfortable, beautiful home base made it very easy to explore the waterfalls, hot springs, mining towns, surf spots, and beaches of Baja Sur – when we were able to tear ourselves away!

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Freedom!

The reason we chose the Baja Winters caravan over all the others was because, once they led us into the very southern portion of southern Baja, they cut us loose giving us 14 days of ‘on your own’ time . This was the perfect compromise for Mitch and me – help us get acclimated to a different system and then let us make our own discoveries and mistakes.

baja hat
Mitch sporting his Baja hat which cost us a whopping 70 pesos ($3.50)!

Because the drive from Santispac to Los Barriles (our freedom time jumping off point) would have been too long, we stopped overnight at Ciudad Constitucion. Situated on a flat stretch of the Transpeninsular Highway surrounded by lots of agriculture, the town appeared tidy and organized. The most memorable things from Ciudad Constitucion were it’s main street with its strange traffic pattern (there was a regular two lane road in the middle and then an extra lane on either side. You weren’t supposed to make left turns from the road in the middle. To make a left turn, you went into the right lane and then, at the next four way stop sign, you would turn left across all lanes of traffic – a little scary. I guess it was kind of like New Jersey’s jug handles without the handles.), Mitch finding his Baja hat, and my humbling experience at the big supermercado (super market).

After looking all over the store for fresh guacamole I finally went up to the customer service desk and asked, “Tiene guacamole?” (Do you have guacamole?”) As I’d mentioned in an earlier post, I used to have a decent grasp, both speaking and understanding, of the Spanish language, most of which I’ve forgotten. But I still thought that my pronunciation and accent of the vocabulary I remembered was tolerable. However, after my question, the young guy looked at me like I had two heads. So I tried to explain, thinking that, even though every restaurant we’d been in sold it, maybe guacamole was not a thing grocery stores here carry pre-made. “Con aguacates?” I added. (With avocados?)

“Oh, si, aguacates,” he smiled, led me to the huge bin of avocados in the produce section, and began choosing avocados for me.

“No, gracias,” I said. “Guacamole.” Still no recognition on his face. Maybe they call it something else here in Ciudad Constitucion. So I started listing ingredients and making hand gestures. “Con aguacates picados (chopped avocados) y ajo (garlic) y cebolla (onion).” All the time making the motions of chopping, mixing, and scooping a chip through dip.

Finally his face opened up. “Ahhh,” he said. “Guacamole?”

The next day, due to road construction, we had the worst day of driving yet. When they are repaving the roads here, they don’t shut down one lane and then the other, they close off the entire road and reroute all the traffic (18-wheelers, double tankers, 44 foot RVs) onto horrible, steep, sandy, washboard and boulder riddled unpaved side roads. We had to put our truck into 4WD to get up one hill. The other RVs had to go one at a time, letting the driver in front get up the hill so they could get enough speed to make it all the way up.

But finally, we made it through the construction, through the city of La Paz, over a few more ruggedly beautiful mountains and down across a few washes to the windsurfing, four-wheeling town of Los Barriles on the Sea of Cortez where our 14 days of freedom started. No more group pot lucks, no more 8:00 am line-ups, no more scheduled bathroom breaks – a vacation in our vacation. Much more to follow…

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In Los Barriles it seems to be either super-windy or flat calm. When it is windy, the view from our camper was all kites!

 

(Spoiler alert – we are no longer in Baja. For awhile there it seemed like either we had internet with no electricity to turn on the computer, or vice versa, or we were too busy exploring to sit down and get a post out! So we’ve got a little catching up to do!)

 

 

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Baja California Photography RV Travel Uncategorized

Santa’s Pack

The word is actually Santispac. It seems too harsh to be a Spanish word but it is the name of a beach/campground/gorgeous slice of the Bahia de Concepcion about 12 miles south of the town of Mulege (pronounced moo-ley-hey – which I love to say. Mooleyhey, mooleyhey, mooleyhey) where we dry camped for three days. It can be terribly windy but when it is calm, the kayaking and paddleboarding can’t be beat. The water is so clear that you can watch sting rays and fish carry on below as you paddle between the rocky, cactus-covered islands. Stings rays and some little fish – that’s all that I saw when I went kayaking for a couple of hours one morning. Mitch went out after me (stupidly, we only brought one kayak, one paddleboard, and one bike so we can’t do anything together. Hmmm….) and he saw sting rays, fish, AND sea lions, AND a pod of about 100 dolphins feeding and jumping and going crazy! Not fair!

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Friendly people on Santispac beach. I was chatting with a kayaker from Alaska.
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The sea lion that Mitch saw from his kayak.
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One of the islands dotting the bay

 

santispac_bassBecause we have a truck camper we were able to get to the best spot on the beach. We were tucked into a cove right next to a little mangrove estuary where you could hear the fish jumping all night long. Mitch walked 10 feet from our camper, made one cast, and caught a decent-sized bass! Snowy egrets, oyster catchers, reddish egrets, tri-colored herons, and one bird we couldn’t identify feasted at the mouth of the tide run at low tide. And we had friendly neighbors (two from Canada and one from California) who stay in this same spot every winter and filled us in on the area telling us that this past November there were 28 whalesharks right here, off Santispac. The Californian, Eric, even took Mitch for a boat ride and showed him a few of the different beaches spread down the bay.

If you are looking for your very own secluded, quiet beachfront campsite – this is not it. At least not in the wintertime. Every inch of waterfront had wheels parked on it. A steady stream of uber-tanned retired folks paddled past us in ancient Ocean Kayaks without seat backs from their swanky development the next cove up. There were two restaurants/bars on the beach and on Friday night we went to sleep with “She’s a Brick House” echoing through the cove punctuated with the air brakes of the 18-wheelers slowing for the hairpin curves on Highway One just above us.

After three days of 30-second showers and a dog and a cat frolicking on the beach, we needed to upend our camper to get all the sand out. But even with the close neighbors, engine brakes, and “Brick House”, we had a hard time leaving. Luckily, we’ll be coming back here on our way north for a couple more nights.

santispac_pano

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Baja California RV Travel Uncategorized

Yipeeee!! We’re South of the Border

Wow – I’ve got a lot of catching up to do! Don’t worry. I won’t be detailing our travels over the last seven years since my last blog post (seven years – how is that possible??). But this was the year I was going to blog about our trip again and we’ve been on the road a month now with no posts to show for it!

Why blog this year when I’ve skipped the previous seven? Well, we are finally doing something really, really different – for us anyway. We are driving through Baja California from top to bottom and back to top. Because Mitch doesn’t trust my navigating skills we are with an RV caravan group call Baja Winters. And being smack in the middle of a line of 18 RVs with roads too narrow to U-turn is the only way I knew we’d make it south of the border!

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Our first campsite, El Rancho Surdo Mudo, from Mitch’s drone, tucked in between vineyards and wineries.

The first day on the road was short – about 65 miles from the border crossing at Tecate (yes – it’s a real town, not just a beer) to the wine country of the Guadalupe Valley where we stayed in a small RV park run by the deaf school.

My favorite thing about our first day was reading, hearing, and trying to speak Spanish again. I’d forgotten how much I loved the language (I majored in Spanish and lived in Costa Rica for a year) but hadn’t used it in cough-ehemm-twenty-cough-cough-two years. Out of the cobwebs of my brain vocabulary words began to pop into my mouth. Verb conjugations, on the other hand, are extremely stubborn. I’m afraid they’ve been eaten by the spider.

The next day we drove through the busy, sprawling city of Ensenada with its thousands

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Is this campsite amazing or what?? This is south of Ensenada in a town called San Quintin. Mitch took this photo in the morning just before the cloud cover came in again. The campground is called El Pabellon. The showers were very clean and hot but definitely don’t drink the water here – it is salt water!

and thousands of stop signs and spent a chilly night on a beautiful, empty beach on the Pacific side. My favorite thing about the second day was my reintroduction to tamales. As a picky teen I’d labeled them “disgusting”. But thankfully, my eyes have been opened!

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Cirio in Spanish means tapered candle. John (our wagon master) is giving us the run down on this crazy tree. Unfortunately the photo doesn’t show it but it has yellow flowers on the very top of it that look like flames. They can grow up to 30-40 feet tall.

Day three our truck got a work-out dodging potholes and traveling up and up through the beautiful, desolate mountains of the protected Valle de los Cirios. We camped at the Santa Ynez Ranch in Catavina where they served us a delicious bunkhouse meal. I have no idea what it was but we asked for seconds! A cirio is a tree, but one of the craziest trees you will ever see. It is a bizarre-Dr. Suess-looking creation that only grows in this one little spot in the world.

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Another cirio next to a cardon (looks very similar to a saguaro but it’s not!).
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MItch went on a great mountain bike ride at the ranch – sandy but beautiful views.
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Isn’t this hilarious?? A cutout of a soldier holding a machine gun to signify an upcoming military checkpoint. Nothing to be concerned about here!

About half way through day four we crossed into Baja Sur!

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Welcome to Baja Sur!

Yay! Away went the coats and shoes, out came the shorts and sandals! I guess it could have been a cooler weather system that went through, but really, it was as if going across that line brought the sun out and temp up. We covered a lot of desert again but camped in a true oasis, San Ignacio. It is really amazing to come across a tiny valley stuffed with an uncountable number of palm trees after miles and miles and miles of sand, rock, and cacti. The next morning we explored the beautiful mission church built in the 1700s before heading out on the road again.

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Our sparkling personalities cleared the room at the Rice N Beans restaurant in San Ignacio!
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The Mexican dogs are very interested in Taz. Hopefully not as a main course!
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Water in the desert is such a surprise!
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Sunrise over the Bahia de Concepcion out our front door.

And then, day five. After a short drive of about 100 miles we dropped (almost literally!) out of the mountains to the blue-green waters of the Sea of Cortez. We followed the coastline past a huge garbage dump (yes – in a spot with a multi-million dollar view sat a nasty dump) and a copper mine (ditto) up headlands through washes and small towns until we reached the Bahia de Concepcion to Santispac Beach where we dry camped (RV talk for no power, water, or sewer) for three days on an enchanting cove dotted with islands and packed with gringos.

OK – enough catching up for now. Enjoy Mitch’s photos while I pull up my piece of sand and have a little one on one time with the warm Mexican sun!

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Uncategorized

Roots

“…the one thing that can never be taken from us, even by death, is the love we give away before we go.”  Rev. Dr. Forrest Church

My sister would have been 41 on March 20th.  We spent the day with family and friends.  I wanted to give her some sort of present but I couldn’t think of a gift that could possibly represent everything she meant and continues to mean to me.  So we bought a maple tree that is supposed to have spectacular, long-lasting fall color and will grow to about 40 feet tall and we planted it north of the farmhouse.  Knowing my sister, she would have been thrilled to receive a tree as a birthday present.  May it grow big and tall so that her grandkids will, one day, swing from its branches.

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What We Do Once We Get “THERE”

This past December my college roommates and I had our inaugural “girl’s weekend”.  It was fantastic!  We hadn’t been together, in one room, for sixteen years.  And although we all have very different lives, it was so easy to reconnect.  My travels intrigued them and after talking a bit about past and future journeys, I noticed a confused look on the face of my driven, most ‘plugged-in’ friend.

“So…” she asked, tentatively, “What exactly do you do once you get there?”

It made me realize that not everyone gets this whole travel thing.  So with this blog, I hope to keep friends and family and any other politely curious spectators up-to-date with where we are, where we’re heading, and most importantly, what in the world we’re doing!

We left our base camp in northern Florida in mid-January and arrived in San Diego a few days ago, our third crossing of the continent towing our travel trailer.  One of the goals of our travels, along with seeing as much of our beautiful and diverse country as possible, is to find the ideal place to live.  Our perfect place would have the following:  be close to the coast so that Mitch can have his surf; close to trails for running, hiking, and biking; be a bike friendly community with paved trails and/or designated bike lanes; a population of 10,000 – 50,000 active, friendly, open-minded, forward-thinking, peaceful people; opportunities to see live theater and music; a couple of good micro-breweries; an artsy little shopping area; an interesting and well-preserved history; be comfortable enough in the wintertime to remain active outdoors; low cost of living; no strip malls or sprawling development; no pollution.  Does a place like this exist?  Probably not, but it is fun to search for it!

San Diego would have been very close to our ideal if we could have frozen it at the turn of the previous century.  But, as usual, we missed it!  I can’t help but wish that I was alive back then to see this incredible landscape without the homes and roads and unnaturally brown haze.  However, it is still a lot of fun to visit!

Paddling off of La Jolla has been the highlight so far. There are caves and cliffs and seals sunning themselves on rocks and a kelp forest gracefully waving in the swells.
Mitch checks out a La Jolla cave.
A Balboa Park street performer playing the didjeridu. He said that, although the didjeridu is an Australian Aboriginal wind instrument, he is not an Australian Aboriginal. He is from the Aboriginal tribe of "New Yorkers".
A person could spend a month or more wandering around Balboa Park and never get bored - every type of museum is represented, beautiful fountains, landscapes and gardens to explore, street performers, restaurants, shopping, and lots and lots of people watching. This photo is of an artisan's area of the park. We watched a glass blowing lesson and a Spanish guitar lesson here. These little shops are both studios and retail outlets for the artists.
Cabrillo National Monument was a great place to take in the view of the spellbinding California coast as well as the skyline of San Diego. The park sits on top Point Loma, a rocky peninsula forming the west entrance of San Diego Bay. It is famous for its tidal pools where, at low tide, visitors can spy on marine critters that survive in this specialized environment.