Oct 13, 2014

Viva Baja! Part I

It had been too long.
Baja is one of those places I was introduced to as a kid building Habitat for Humanity homes or working at an orphanage in Tijuana. We'd make the trip down, get a dose of culture shock and come home on a bus humbled, happy and a little more grown up. It's hard to quantify how much those trips changed me, but they were my first realization of how different each persons life experience is.
One of the things that was imprinted on my memory was how kind and giving folks were. Amid the violence and ebb and flow of cartel's over the years that's something that hasn't changed. In college I started visiting Baja to race the SCORE Baja 500 and 1,000 fairly often. This brought my Baja knowledge to a new level. The poverty and sadness that sometimes envelops the border cities is in stark contrast to the hard working, but laid back feel of the deeper part of this Mexican state. The folks may appear to have very little in contrast to Americans, but in my experience most want for nothing. They are content and happy to help anyone traveling through.

I could go into stories of how someone took parts off of their humble Volkswagen bug to help fix our racecar or how we would sit down in someones living room while they cooked for 10 hungry Americanos for a price that is hard to believe in it's modesty. I could go on about how at a "campo" on the beach the owner gave away more free beer and icecream sandwiches to us than I was paying him in "rent" to stay there. Baja doesn't always make sense, but it's like that person who your gut just tells you is a great person. A person you can trust. That's my Baja.

So, it had been too long. In part life gets in the way. In part, the many warnings of Mexico may have had influence on me. I don't like to admit it, but it may have secretly influenced me to choose another Utah or Colorado trip over Baja. Thankfully, with the prodding of some friends who've never been we decided to put our annual Death Valley trip on hold and head south of the border.

We drove straight from work on a Wednesday to the desert just outside Yuma/El Centro. This southern part of the Imperial Sand Dunes (Known to some as Glamis and also known as Algodones) is beautiful and desolate until desert season hits. We woke up to Border Patrol agents jumping a particularly large dune again and again on their quads and dune buggies. Honing their work skills no doubt.
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The next morning we headed for Calexico/Mexicali (See what they did there). After fueling up our trucks and our stomachs we headed south. I'm not generally a fan of most border cities. That goes for any country on the planet. They don't give me the warm and fuzzies. Neither does any city with a port large enough for a cruise ship to dock. It just seems that it's in our nature to treat people differently when we make a living off of them. I like being around and visiting with people who couldn't care less if I am in their town or not. I'm just a traveler from another country.

This section of desert is the delta where the Colorado River once flowed into the Sea of Cortez. I'm sure it was once rich and green, but now it tends to be a dust bowl. I've driven through here when you can only see a couple FEET in front of you. The tip of your hood disappears and you realize that at any speed you'll hit the car in front of you before you can see it. Today we had much clearer views, but you can see that the raised roadway serves to keep it out of the mud (if it rained recently) and as a hazardous slope for anyone not paying attention.

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On to San Felipe we went. There is one large military checkpoint along the way. I've never experienced or directly heard of any corruption with the military Federales in Baja. They are always polite and professional. It just takes a second for Americans to realize that it's perfectly normal to see a 16 year old with an M16 inspecting vehicles. San Felipe, the trashy cousin of Baja. Far enough south to be better than a "border town", but by virtue of the college and desert racing traffic coupled with paved roads to and from, it's still a bit shady. The population makes their living mainly from fishing and turistas.
Still, it's worth a stop.

 photo IMG_4295.jpg  photo IMG_4296.jpg  photo IMG_4299.jpg We grabbed some Ceviche and fish tacos and kept on heading south to Puertecitos. It's known for some hot springs that spill out into the Sea and formerly as the last bit of pavement before heading south! Now, the new highway travels next to town and the old Pemex is closed. (That's okay because you are observing the NEVER pass a gas station without filling up rule, right?) I actually followed the old road into town and a bunch of locals looked at me like I was lost. This used to be the main road which followed the coast as you drove along cliffs and beaches. Now a 4 lane highway as nice as any tollroad in the US follows a boring, but fast route south to Bahia de Gonzaga. It's both sad and nice to see progress in Baja. Sad for the traveler who longs for a trip back in time, but nice for those who struggle to make a living in Baja.

When given a chance to park next to water and slow your pace down and help yourself realize you're on Baja time, always take the opportunity...

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Currently the highway ends a mile SOUTH of Gonzaga Bay. It will continue past (not right next to thankfully, as Coco puts it) Coco's Corner on to Highway 1. Once completed this route will see immense traffic since this new highway is faster and safer than any part of Highway 1. Go now because this section of Baja is about to be jump started into modern day.

A few years ago on another Baja trip I was low on gas ( I passed a gas station I deemed too close to the last one to be worth it..... stupid), it was 110 degrees out, I was traveling with no other vehicles, and I was dying to get into some water and cool off. Just south of Gonzaga bay I saw a sign for 2 Campos. One was called El Sacraficio Campo with a skull and cross bones crudely painted on the backside of an old metal road sign and the other was Beluga Campo. Beluga camp had a crudely drawn Beluga Whale smiling an shooting up a jet of water from it's blowhole. Yes, as tempting as El Sacraficio camp was I chose the happy whale camp instead. We decided to visit Beluga Camp again on this trip. I wanted to show my friends how good it can get for just a couple bucks until we hit the more remote beaches later in the trip.
We swam, speared fish and Brian even caught one fly fishing. We had a nice night drifting off to the first proper night in Baja.

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Well, let's throw today in with yesterday since it was a short day picture wise. :-) Today will be epic. If we're going to spend the day at the same place, I love sleeping in. If not, my heart starts beating faster and the excitement of what we will encounter in the new day get's me up and going. Let's hit the road!!

 photo IMG_4330.jpg One person on this trip wanted to see whale bones. Check that one off the list!!  photo IMG_4329.jpg Up ahead we saw the progress of the highway coming along as evidenced by several large bridges going in. In a year, it will be done. Go now.  photo IMG_4331.jpg After a few more miles of driving we came upon two people sitting under a tree in the shade. As we pulled up they made no move to walk over or signal us. It felt like they saw that we were Americanos and just figured we'd keep driving. I wouldn't recommend picking up strangers carte blanche, but when in the desert additional consideration must be made. I took basic steps like keeping the truck running and in gear until I figured out what was going on. After some chatting it sounded like they had walked about 9 Kilometers so far. (The missing water in their clear jugs fit that description) Their car had broken down and they figured if they could get to Coco's Corner they'd be safe. It was still 5-7 Miles to Coco's and the temps were already breaking 100 degrees. They were up for walking, but now that we were talking I offered a ride. At this point the other trucks had caught up and everyone was sussing out the situation. My gut said all was okay and I learned long ago to trust it. I opened up the truck to show that in the back of my Landcruiser was my bed and that they'd have to sit on the wood platform with their backs against the folded in half bed. They looked skeptical so I jumped in to demonstrate. They piled in and we were off. Between their broken English and our broken Spanish we were able to chat about anything we wanted, given enough time and patience. They worked construction in San Felipe. Their car battery had died so they needed to come back with a charged one to get the car going. They were excited about the new highway helping the economy in the area and getting construction back on track. As we turned around to get a picture of our new friends and guests I saw that they were doing the same thing with their camera phones! They laughed that their wives would never believe the adventure they had so they had to get a picture. Us too! We pulled into Coco's Corner and let our guests free of the cramped back bed/sleeping area. They tried to pay me for the lift and we declined. Pass it on to the next person in need of help. You can never build up enough good will credits in the world. Coco's Corner is an... oasis... sure let's call it that, in the middle of no where. It's simply the only turn in this road for miles. No other distinguishing feature marks this spot except Coco and his decorations.  photo IMG_4333.jpg.  photo IMG_4341.jpg  photo IMG_4343.jpg I met Coco years ago on a trip and at the time he had 1 leg. Since then diabetes had taken his other leg. If you ever see a Coco's Corner sticker you'll know how old it is by whether the Roadrunner on it has 2 legs, 1 leg (like my old stickers have) or no legs. Interesting fact that Coco enlightened me to on this trip. The best way to describe Coco is that he's a personality. As soon as you show up, it's the Coco show. We asked Coco where his cat was for this cage and he said. Right here: Coco's pet Scorpion. He sleeps on the old bench seat from a truck next to the scorpion.  photo IMG_4345.jpg Coco has an odd collection. Sit and think a while.  photo IMG_4346.jpg Enjoy the view at Coco's. That's Ceasar, one of our desert travelers we picked up.  photo IMG_4339.jpg You can spend a lot of time and drink a lot of beer looking through the history at Coco's.  photo IMG_4340.jpg After a bit we said goodbye to our rescued travelers and Coco. Time to head for Highway 1.  photo IMG_4347.jpg One thing that is dangerous and not to be underestimated are the highways. If you are on pavement, be on your toes! You may come around a bend to someone parked at a dead stop in the middle of the road or you may have an out of control semi clip your rear view mirror off. Both of which have happened to me. Back onto dirt! Thank goodness. The desert down here is different than anywhere else on Earth.  photo IMG_4351.jpg These are Boojum tree's, but we preferred to just call them Dr. Seuss trees.  photo IMG_4356.jpg  photo IMG_4363.jpg Also, the Elephant Cactus scale boggles the mind of someone used to the "Giant Sagauro." Also called the Mexican Giant Cardon these cactus dwarfed anything I'd seen so far.  photo IMG_4365.jpg  photo IMG_4368.jpg Group shot.  photo IMG_4374.jpg This whole area is a preserve so at least it should remain fairly close to how it looks right now as time wears on. The desert in this area changed by the mile. At some points it almost looked landscaped.  photo IMG_4376.jpg  photo IMG_4378.jpg Eventually, we made it to the Pacific Ocean.  photo IMG_4382.jpg That's always a great feeling.  photo IMG_4385.jpg Snails.  photo IMG_4387.jpg Snail traffic flow.  photo IMG_4391.jpg  photo IMG_4396.jpg We drove around for a couple hours exploring. As far as we could drive and see in either direction there wasn't a single person or home. The only thing we found was an old abandoned fishing shack complete with rusted out crab traps and a ponga, left to be buried by the changing sands.  photo IMG_4404.jpg  photo IMG_4407.jpg  photo IMG_4400.jpg Play time on the beach.  photo IMG_4410.jpg  photo IMG_4411.jpg We decided on a camp site and settled in. We fished and relaxed, because Baja.  photo IMG_4420.jpg  photo IMG_4418.jpg Jon being stealthy in the small dunes next to shore.  photo IMG_4425.jpg I like to travel fast and "light" (It's a relative term...) My bed is always ready for me.  photo IMG_4426.jpg There ends day 2 in Baja, on to Saturday.

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