Baja 1989-90

Wednesday, December 20th.

Can't wait to get on the road.

Can't wait to get on the road. And yet...

The carburetor is acting shitty....fixed it. Only an adjustment problem. Right front wheel cylinder leaking... Replaced both upper and lower cylinders. Discovered outer wheel bearing rough... Replaced it. Load up. Pack the bus. Load the kayaks on the roof in the dark. Arrive at Lolli's around 8:30 PM. Lolli is teaching school. Will be done at 10:00 PM. Says she should be home around 11:00

12:00...1:00...1:30, finally she arrives. Still has packing to do. We get to bed around 2:30 in the morning. So much for the early start. Oh well, I try to remember that vacation has already started, just enjoy and take it as it comes.

Up at 9:00. Stuff to load, wood to split for Lolli's cabin. Dishes to wash. 10:30...we're on the road. But...

We have to deliver Lolli's car to Doug and Jan in Ukiah. They are borrowing it while we are gone. All this and we still want to make it to a Basque Restaurant in Bakersfield before closing time. We drop Lolli's car off in Ukiah. Lolli checks out the Goodwill. She can't pass them by. Buys a black skirt! Meanwhile, I'm chomping at the bit, waiting to get on the road. Stop at McDonalds for fast food and eat it on the run. Finally we are really on the road.

We take Highway 20 out through Clearlake, over to Williams. When we reach I-5, Lolli takes over the driving, I crawl in back and lay down for a nap. Wake up around Stockton and resume driving. Lolli takes a nap. I drive to Bakersfield, arrive at the Wool Growers Restaurant three minutes before closing time... 9:30 PM. Fortunately they seat us, wonderful dinner. Worth it all. Refreshed, we head up over Tehachapi Pass toward Mojave. Take a left on the final grade down into Mojave and find a side road into the desert to park and spend the night, wind generators squeaking off in the distance. The desert lights of Mojave off in the distance. One million stars.


I buy my son Jeff a Christmas gift at the Mojave Airport, a clock that looks like an altimeter. Perfect for the budding sky diver. Mail it. Drive, drive, drive. Buy ice and supplies at Yucca Valley and head up to our favorite spot out past Pioneertown. Camp for the night.

The oil leak seems to be one quart every other fill up.

 Friday morning.

The bed has collapsed again. Backaches, both of us. I can't take it anymore and get up at first light. 5:45 AM. Turn on the dome light...nothing. I check the bedside reading light...nothing. Dead battery. I had left the ignition on all night and the points must have been closed.

I fry up some coffee and start a warming campfire. Think about the dead battery.

We are parked by a short downhill, but it will take some jockeying between the brush to get to it. 6:30 AM. Getting light out, readable but no sunlight yet. Damn bed is a strange problem. The fold down portion slips past the "stop". I haven't figured out a way to fix it yet. It's a hard area to get to. Lolli gets up, I fry up some more coffee, then fix the bed. I add a small extension bracket to the "stop". I hope it works.

We clear the brush from in front of the bus and after some hard pushing get the bus rolling down the small sandy hill, pop the clutch, not enough speed. We then push the bus on out to the blacktop road, then down the road about a block to where the road starts to descend. We get rolling. I pop the clutch in second gear. Ah! That good old sound of running engine! Back on the road again.

Down to Desert Springs. Lolli checks out a thrift shop, we then go on to Inyo.
Turn South to the Salton Sea

and stop for lunch in Salton City. Off to Anza Borrego. Not worth the drive from what we see of it. On to Calente Springs for a hot tub. Arrive...NO DOGS!! They won't even let us drive in and keep the dog in the bus.

We drive back out into the desert and I get out with my lawn chair, a can of beer, a book and MY dog, then Lolli drives back into camp for a tub. I and my dog sit amongst the cactus and watch the sunset. A hour later Lolli returns, I hop back in and we're off to find our spot for the night.

We find a campsite on top of a hill by Bow Willow. We sit inside the bus and read until 8:00 PM. The bed doesn't collapse but is still uneven. I get up before daybreak and make coffee. Lolli gets up at sunrise. Off for Baja.

We have shifted to vacation time with some difficulty. Lolli normally likes to get up around eleven in the morning and go to bed around two in the morning. Being on vacation, it gets dark around four thirty and doesn't get light till around six thirty. We find that sitting around in the cold and dark at eight in the evening doesn't cut it and so end up in bed. I wake up at first light and want to get on the road. Slowly, we are adjusting to a new time schedule.


We drive to El Centro, then down to Calexico. Stop and go traffic through Calexico. Big line up for the border. We stop and get Mexican car insurance, $55.00 for two weeks. We buy $100.00 worth of pesos (2670 to the dollar). Buy ice, milk, beer, top off the water and the fuel. Finally we are off for Mexicalli.

It is a real zoo through Mexicalli. We finally find the road to Tijuana, Highway 2. We arrive at the 28 Kilometer marker and the turn off for Canyon Guadeloupe, our first destination.

We drive along a serious washboard road, rocks and sand alongside a huge dry lake. I try driving at different speeds. 35 miles per hour seems to be about the best but still a teeth rattling experience. Stop now and then to pick up random pieces of firewood and inspect road fill.

We finally arrive at the hot springs. An old Mexican man comes over and charges us $6.00 for the night. The place seems funky at first but soon we settle into the swing of things. Some folks camping at one of the spots come over and show us around; where the various tubs are and how to divert the water into them to control the temperature. We find a nice secluded pond and park the bus close by. Off with the clothes and into the pond. We take a short hike and hop back into the pond. Drink some wine and read some books, into the pond. Fix dinner and the campfire and into the pond. Etc. Etc. Etc.

 Christmas Eve?

 Christmas Day?

 Get up and back into the pond. The folks in the next camp think they are going to leave later in the day. They have the "best" spot. Their pool is right out on the edge of the canyon overlooking everything.

A couple of days ago, while driving about 35 mph through some deep sand, the clutch started slipping in fourth gear. I shifted to third and continued on but I don't like it. I may have to revise my plans about driving some of the back-roads of Baja.

 Three days later... We have ended up staying four days and three nights at Canyon Guadeloupe. We hiked up the canyon to various waterfalls, I swam in the last one for a quick second so Lolli could take a photo. Mostly we sat in the hot pool and read and relaxed. We had originally planned on staying only one night. The old man, Jose, turns out to be 93 years old. He looks to be about sixty. He has been here thirty-five years!

Some folks told us about driving back to the highway on the lake bed. Much easier, smoother and faster than the washboard road.

Finally, we decide to leave "Club Med" and go see what the rest of Baja looks like. We pack up, leave camp and find the access to the lake bed. They were right. We cruise along at 45 and 50 miles per hour, a long plume of dust streaming out behind us. Ah, this is living.

We arrive at highway 2 and turn west towards Tecate. Long up grade into the mountains. Almost every switchback in the road reveals smashed cars down in the canyons. At one turn out we stop and take a break and look around. We count seventeen cars and trucks in the canyon. We arrive in Tecate and look for the road to Ensenada. We think we find it and continue on until we realize we are arriving at the outskirts of Tijuana! We turn around and head back to Tecate. On the third try, after asking directions twice, we find the proper road and head off once again.

Half way to Ensenada and the sun going down we take a Microdontias road (Microwave tower service road) to find a place for the night. Up a steep grade and out onto a plateau is good enough. Some firewood around. We make camp.

Up and off to Ensenada.

Lolli goes shopping. She finds some Christmas presents for Ross and Sarah. We package same and try to mail them. No dice. Customs inspection required. The Customs house is closed. We head on for San Felipe.

Clouds and more clouds. We find a stream side camp spot at the 59 kilometer sign. Firewood, a corral, coyotes yapping off in the distance. Drizzle during the night. We wake up to dampness and black clouds. I make a fire and we have coffee. We enjoy a miniature rodeo by throwing the dog ball out into the arena from the hill side and watch the dog race down, jump over the railings and race around hunting for the ball, over and over again.

On to San Felipe.

We emerge back into the sun as we come down out of the mountains and near the Sea of Cortez. We arrive at San Felipe. Tourist trap. Gobs of gringos on three wheelers, dune buggies, walking around shopping. Venice, California!!! We look around, eat a taco and get out of there. On to Puertocitos. 43 kilometers south we find a side road to the beach. Not too many campers. The whole shoreline south and north of San Felipe is developed with vacation homes, trailers and shacks. Still in all, our spot is fairly quiet. Some dune buggies roar by now and then. I put my kayak in and go play in a small shore break. Lolli starts her shell collection. Gob's of pelicans to keep the dog busy, she trying to keep them all in the air at the same time. Some folks who walk by tell us there is a storm coming. The tide goes way out during the night.

The morning breaks sunny but clouds develop as the day wears on. On to Puertocitos.

The blacktop road ends as we arrive in town. It is a funny little town consisting of mostly retired Americans. Funny signs and a little Post Office only as big as an out house. Nice thatch covered bar. We stop and have a beer as the rain arrives and decide what to do next. We could camp here or we could try to continue on south a ways and see what the road is like. The "Terrible Threes" start six miles out. That is suppose to be the start of three grades; the first 18 %, the next 28% and the last at 32%. With a potential slipping clutch and the rain starting to fall we decided, why not, and rattle off to take a look.

We make the first grade with no difficulty and continue slowly on. The road rises higher above the Sea of Cortez and winds around and around. Still we continue. Vast vistas looking out under the strange black storm colored sky. Onward.

Surprisingly, we can continue on. We should be at the end of the terrible threes in eleven miles. We are half way. We bump along in first gear, up and more up. On what turns out to be the last grade we notice a horrible one lane rut carved into the canyon mountain side off to our left. It is the old road. We are on the new road and it is "do-able" in my poor old VW bus. I am happy and sad at the same time. The "Terrible Threes" have been reduced to a tourist road. Oh well. Onward.

Intermittent rain. Beautiful mountainous drive above the shoreline. Vast horizons. Islands off in the distance.

Finally, we find a huge, crescent shaped, black sand beach. Nobody here. We park and take a short hike in the failing light. The rain starts in earnest. We wind up cooking and reading all evening inside the bus, rain pounding on the roof. We wake to clearing and sun rise. We walk the beach and collect sea shells. I come across an old sedan, possibly a 1938 Chevy. It had to have been driven into this area back when the road was simply abominable. Most amazing. What an adventure that must have been.

We pack up and press on. The road turns out to have been recently reworked but has all turned into washboard. Second gear at fifteen miles per hour seems about right. Now and then there is the original sand road that we take when we can. It is a much smoother ride.

I find the washboard roads are bouncing the kayaks so much that the kayak rack is flexing the roof. I'm afraid it will tear out of the roof. I prop some wood shims in to spread out the load. We stop at a small cluster of buildings and have breakfast. Lolli pays for a hot shower. That turns out to be five gallons of heated water suspended in a can in the men's restroom! We buy ice, beer, milk and tortillas. Lots of wind. Onward.

We see the last beach before Punta Final but it is too windy to generate much interest. The road turns inland and starts to head up into the hills. More washboard road. We meet some other Volkswagens, traveling along. We stop and talk a while and then they go their way, we go ours. We decide to stop at 2:15 PM. I want enough daylight to heat the solar shower. We find a nice spot, off the road amongst Joshua Tree type rocks. Flowers, interesting cactus and firewood.

 Morning of New Year eve. We think.

A lazy, sun filled wake up. Coffee, short walks, throw the stick for the dog. I check the valves. Number three intake valve is a touch loose. I check the timing, tire pressure, fix the loose kayak rack, put on a new rotor and distributor cap. Add a quart of oil. We should arrive back on the Transpenisular Highway soon.

We arrive on Mex-1 at Rancho Chapala. Two days and 84 miles of washboard road behind us. We decide to zip down to Bahia de Los Angeles. At first it is hard to drive over 40 mph after two days of second gear driving on rough roads. The blacktop seems like heaven.

We arrive at Bahia de Los Angeles in the early afternoon and look for a camp spot. We check south of town and find some possibilities. We drive back into town and then check the north end. We decide on the south end but first...

Lobster dinner at the restaurant. It is New year's Eve.

A fair to middling dinner, then back to the beach for the night. We wake up to 1990 with pelicans and dolphins just off shore. Wonderful. We can hear every breath of the dolphins.

Back on the road to the Transpenisular Highway and down to Guerro Negro and my old spot by the lagoon. We arrive at the lagoon in time for a beautiful evening. We wake up to the wind and chill. We go into town for breakfast and mail some letters at the post office.
Now for the long run back up to Santo Tomas.

We drive all day and into the night. Rain coming down and at night, busses and trucks keep things exciting. We arrive at Santo Tomas in time for a nice dinner. We camp across the highway in the camp ground. $7.00. It is against my principals but too dark and rainy to go looking for "our" spot.

Up and on to Ensenada in the morning. We arrive at Ensenada and go shopping, buy gas, ice and beer. We get directions to the VW dealership and buy a new clutch plate, $28.00. I plan to replace the clutch before going back into the States. It slips when going up hill over forty miles per hour. We want to go back to Canyon Guadalupe and I will do it there.

Out of town and off to Tecate, then on towards Mexicalli. We want to be in the hot tub before dark. Incredibly, there is snow in the mountains!

We reach the Canyon Guadalupe turn-off at 4:00 PM. Yippee! Only 34 more miles to go. We decide to take the road, straight out from the ranch house, down onto the lake to speed things up. At first there is some soft sand but I get a run at it and we blast through. Then, down on the lake bed following previous tracks. We see a soft looking spot up ahead and I decide to go around it on the right. As soon as I leave the track the going gets softer. I shift down into second and try harder. Oh-oh. A quick shift into first and that's it. Stuck! Really stuck!! We made it about a half mile out onto the lake. I shut down the engine and we get out and take a look. There is a dry crust on the surface but we notice we can rock back and forth in our shoes and make them sink. Oh-oh! Sort of like standing on Jello!!

I go around and let the air out of the tires. Lolli pushes and I try to back up. We sink deeper! Oh-oh! I get some firewood pieces out of the kayak and drive them down into the ground with the axe. I hook up the come-a-long with a rope and try to ratchet the bus back out of the goo. The wood just pulls out of the ground. The bus doesn't move an inch. We stuff some pieces of tin, wood, and brush, we find lying around under the wheels and I try again with the come-a-long. Nothing.

We go looking for more material. We notice a truck turn in towards the ranch house back by the edge of the Playa. Lolli intercepts it and talks to the driver. He says he will inquire at the house. Later we see three guys standing around talking. We walk over to them and they turn their backs on us and ignore us. We are on our own! I get my wire cutters and go snip three fence posts loose from a fence. We take them back out to the bus and I drive them deep into the ground. Again I try the come-a-long. Nothing. They just pull sideways through the goo. By now it is getting dark and a cold wind has come up. We build a campfire alongside the bus and cook dinner. Oh boy. Now what? We decide that in the morning we will walk to the highway and get a ride for Lolli into Mexicalli. Since she speaks Spanish, she will try to find a tow truck and I will stay with the bus and do whatever I can. We wonder if sleeping in the bus will only make it sink deeper into the muck but since it is getting colder we decide to chance it. We are already stuck.

All night, through the endless night, I toss and turn trying to not think about it and yet, that's all I do.

 What if we are really sinking deeper?

 What if Lolli gets "disappeared" in Mexicalli?

 What if we can't get help?

 What are we going to do?

Round and round my thoughts go. I try and concentrate on my breath. I try to meditate. Still, I end up thinking the worse.

Finally it starts to get light out. I get up. I just can't lay there any longer. I go for a walk in the dim morning light and notice other places where folks have been stuck in the lake bed. I walk over to one spot and find a piece of plywood. Over at another place I find another piece of plywood. At another there are some busted pieces of 2X4. At another I find a 4X6 about eight feet long.

Hey maybe!

I haul my findings back to the bus. Lolli wakes up and asks "What's going on?". I tell her I'm building our house; "it looks like we are going to spend the rest of our life here"! Lolli gets up and we have coffee and cereal, then we go to work.

Using the plywood for a base we stack up the 2X4's and use the 4X6 as a lever to start lifting one side of the bus. We finally get the bus high enough to finally get a jack under the frame. Then we repeat the process to lift it higher. Finally, we dig the mud out from around the tires. The mud is so sticky that Lolli has to scrape off each one of my shovel fulls. Then we jamb some plywood under the wheels. We then move around to the other side of the bus and repeat the whole operation again. Finally, the bus is standing up on plywood. We then pack boards and rugs and tin into the tire tracks behind the bus. For extra measure we unload everything from the bus to make it as light as we can. Food, water, extra gas, tools, presents, kayaks, bedding, spare tire and even the front seat!!

Finally, we are ready. I start the engine and let it warm up. Lolli gets into position to push. I shift into reverse and give it the gas. We start to move and then almost stop but keep going and then we are actually rolling back and up out of our previous ruts and across the surface over to a drier spot.

We did it!!

It is hard to believe but we are actually out of it. We did it and we did it ourselves. I discover that, in the excitement of it all, I had left the emergency brake on! Oh well. We made it. Now to carry everything over to the bus and repack. Finally we are reloaded and head back to the ranch house and the other road to Canyon Guadalupe we should have used in the first place. We stop and pump up the tires, taking turns, fifty strokes each with my bicycle tire pump. Finally we are on our way.

In no time we are back at the hot springs, soaking in the tub. Whew!

Now to pull the engine out of the bus and replace the clutch. By dark I have the engine out, the clutch replaced and the engine bolted back into place. It took three hours of wrestling with the engine alignment to get the transmission pilot shaft stuck back into the engine! It just didn't want to go. I would stop wrestling with it every now and then and hop back in the hot tub to get settled back down and mellowed out. I put the final bolts back in using a flashlight! Then back into the tub. Lolli fixes a wonderful dinner.

In the morning I finish the job installing the carburetor, generator, fan shroud, sheet metal and bumper. We pack up around ten in the morning and head out.

Into Mexicalli and around and around till we finally find the border. We zip through customs, no problems and head for home.

Drive, drive, drive. We get as far as Kettleton on I-5, north of Bakersfield, and spend the night east of the highway. Next morning we have a crappy breakfast at Farmers Brothers Restaurant and get back on the road. We have a great lunch at Granzella's in Williams and then into the rain past Clearlake to Doug and Jan's and Lolli's car. We arrive in time for Chinese dinner, wine and story telling. We spend the night and then drive home through the rain, rain, rain.

We have survived another Baja adventure.

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