During our previous Winter Break trip to Baja, just south of Mulege, we had noticed a wee road that headed off into the mountains. When we went past that road we looked at each other and said in unison, "I wonder where that road goes?"
This year our goal is to find out.
Looking at our map we figured that it would be possible to take that "wee road" west to the Pacific side of Baja and then turn north and eventually come back out onto the highway at San Ignacio. It could be an adventure!
We leave Mendocino, December 20th, and after three days of hard driving finally arrive at the "wee road", about 40 kilometers south of Mulege, turned onto it and since the setting sun is silhouetting the mountains before us, soon find a place to camp amongst the cactus, cook dinner and listen to some burros off in the distance. Our adventure is about to begin. Having recently put a second gas tank in ROADCOW, confidence is high!
In the morning we pack up and "hit the road". Rattling along the washboard road we soon reach the base of the mountains and start up. Twisting and turning, higher and higher. Every now and then the road cut, hanging on the side of the mountain, consists of nothing but rocks and boulders requiring first gear and careful driving but the scenery just gets better and better. Small valleys covered in palm trees appear. Craggy rust colored mountains rise above and a road side shrine carved into the rock, every now and then, remind us to pay attention to the road. We finally arrive at a pass and start down the other side, a vista of interior Baja before us, smoke rising from a village off in the distance.
Down and around and down some more and then we enter the Palm tree lined street of San Isidro. We stop to look around and find a small market with vegetables for sale. From the looks we are getting it seems that not a lot of tourists pass this way, especially ones driving a black and white, cow colored, bus! We leave San Isidro and soon enter the town of La Purisima. Many date palms and a hand made stone aqueduct running right alongside the road, obviously very old and still working.
Heading west out of La Purisima we are surprised to find that the road is blacktop! Evidently we had come in "the back way"! The main traffic to these two towns comes from Ciudad Insurgentes 50 kilometers to the southwest.
Soon we reach a "Y" in the road where the smooth black-topped road turns south. We pull off the road and look at the sandy rut that heads north across a river basin. We look at our map. "Yup! This must be it." Our real adventure is about to begin.
I drop the bus into gear and we rattle down and across the cement vado of the river and up the bluff on the other side. According to our map we should arrive at San Juanico in about 40 kilometers, whatever San Juanico is.
The road is a fairly straight shot across a flat plateau of sagebrush, lots of washboard sand but not too bad; pieces of broken tires and small stone shrines along the way. Now and then we get a glimpse of the Pacific ocean. It is a warm sunny day. About an hour later we are driving alongside a beautiful sandy beach and can see the fishing village of San Juanico off in the distance. We arrive in town and discover that it consists of a few houses, a store or two, a church that has its bell suspended above the ground by using the rusty skeleton of a car frame, a large dump, just north of town, and a very ornate cemetery. Everything is closed because it is Christmas eve!
We drive back towards the beach and find a road that goes down onto it. There are some pangas on the beach and a few fishermen. We find that we can drive on the beach with no problem and head south a couple of miles and then find a place to drive up above what we think will be the high tide line and call it a day. According to the map this is Bahia San Juanico. A very shallow sloping white sand beach with small breakers coming in off of the Pacific. Soon we are wading and swimming and throwing the dog ball. The beach is 10 miles long and we are the only ones here! Perfect! Pelicans cruise by.
We are happy campers and soon I have my Christmas lights strung up. I set up pieces of wood every five paces between the bus and the surf wondering just how high the high tide will be. Will it reach us during the night? Always something to worry about!
In the morning I find that the tide did come up within ten paces of the bus. We will not be able to leave when the tide is in. We hike and swim and hunt for sea shells and in the afternoon, when the tide is out, decide to leave and head on north.
Back in San Juanico we stop at the cemetery and look at the very elaborate markers. Lots of flowers, mostly plastic. It takes a bit of hunting but we finally find the road north. It is confusing at first because it goes to, and then on through, the town dump!
The road leaves the Pacific coast and heads inland a ways and then splits into two roads. We stop and look at our map. No help there. We decide to take the road most traveled! Soon it splits into two roads. Again we stay with the one that looks most used. It becomes apparent that the roads that stay to the right are on higher ground and the ones to the left are more on salt flats. Evidently during dry weather the salt flats are smoother and faster. During the wet season the higher road winding up and down the ravines at the foot of the mountains are used. Soon we are zooming over and along the salt flats but really keeping an eye out for soft spots.
We finally arrive at a very small fish camp called La Fridera on the south side of Laguna San Ignacio. Very flat land with salt marsh everywhere. Evidently the wind can really blow because the houses are cabled down! We try to find a place to camp next to the water but all the shore is lined with salt brush. Oh well. A rather dismal looking place but the skies have clouded over and maybe that is setting the tone.
Up in the morning and off for San Ignatio, about 50 kilometers inland, to the northeast. The road is pretty much a bermed up dike heading in a straight shot across salt flats for miles. Then up into the hills and palm tree valleys. We eventually come into San Ignatio the back way through the dump! A couple of miles before we reach town we discover preparations for a stock car race in a flat valley beside the road. We head on into town and park at the town square. Various souped up cars are there with guys adjusting their carburetors and revving the engines; no mufflers!
We buy some groceries and ice, top off the water tank and then follow the crowd back out of town to the race track; a pick-up with loud speakers blaring music leading the way. We pull in and park close to the end of the 1/4 mile, kilometer?, track. There is a line of car tires, painted white and buried halfway into the ground defining the center of the track. Two vehicles line up, either side of the tires, and when the flag man drops the flag a large cloud of dust rises and then, out of the dust, here they come, charging and revving and spewing large clouds of dust. At the end of the track they hit the brakes real hard to keep from going off into the boulders and cactus at the end of the track! The clouds of dust envelope them and us but soon drifts away as the next two cars line up. I notice that the litter of paper cups, bits of squeezed lime and beer bottles kept increasing on the ground amongst the spectators. What a party!
The favorite seems to be a guy in a fairly new Ford F-250 pick-up. The truck is totally stock and even has an empty water barrel inside the pick-up bed! The driver trying to beat him is some slick looking guy in a lime green polyester suit who has a black Ford T-bird with a white racing stripe down the middle. For some reason the T-bird just can't do it - much to the amusement of the crowd.
There is a jazzed up Pontiac Firebird racing some kind of Dodge two door sedan. The Dodge beat the Pontiac and so the Pontiac parks beside the crowd, the driver hops out, lifts the hood and removes the air cleaner! Evidently he thinks the engine is starving for air. He slams the hood and rumbles back down to the starting line for another go.
Soon, here they come again, side by side, spewing dirt and all of a sudden the hood rises up on the Pontiac and slams over the windshield. The driver hangs his head out the window to see where he is going! He gets the car stopped and then hops out and tries to pull the hood back down. It won't go so he climbs onto the roof of the car and starts kicking it and jumping on it to try and get it to shut! The hood is so out of shape that there is no way it will shut. Members of the crowd walk over and a big discussion ensues. Finally someone shows up with some wrenches and they remove the hood and toss it off to the side. The driver mounts up again and continues to spend the afternoon racing, sans air filter and hood!
Evening arrives, the light begins to fail, and folks start drifting away. Soon we have the place to ourselves and set up camp amongst the beer bottles, limes, paper cups and car hood. A light rain starts coming down. What a day!
In the morning we rattle back into San Ignacio, gas up and drive north up the highway, Mex. 1, about 10 kilometers to the turn-off for our next adventure. Yes, we have decided to see if we can make another loop over to the Pacific and then up the coast to eventually come out at Guerrero Negro.
We turn off the safety of the blacktop and after about 50 kilometers of washboard road we arrive back at the Pacific in the small fishing village of Punta Arreojos, then drive 36 kilometers up the coast to San Hipolito, a small village with a very beautiful cemetery. We set up camp on a hill overlooking the town and the Pacific ocean . In the morning we are back on the road. On to Punta Prieta and eventually Bahia Asuncion. Along the way we see lots of mounds of recently dumped sea shells. In one place there are four golden Eagles fighting over bits of shell meat. There are roads going all over the place, nothing appears to be the main road, but it doesn't seem to matter. They all eventually head north and that is where we are going! Yes, we are driving through the heart of the vast, dreaded, Vizcaino Desert but we finally decide to just ignore the map, which doesn't match anything, and trust our compass and our instincts.
From Bahia Asuncion the road leaves the coast and heads inland and up into the mountains. The sky clouds over and soon it starts to rain. The road begins turning to mud. We press on hoping to make it to the main road between Guerrero Negro and Bahia Tortugas. At what turned out to be the last gully before the main road we come upon a large truck that is stuck crosswise in the road. There are some Mexicans in a Jeep just ahead of us and they make the attempt to go down in the gully and around the stuck truck. We watch them go and when they get to the other side they stop and then wave at us to come on. Knowing that help is at hand if we get stuck I shift into gear and make a run for it. We slip and slid but manage to get around the truck and up the other side. We stop and I get out some beer to share with the guys who were kind enough to wait for us. Soon, we pull up onto the better dirt road that heads towards Bahia Tortugas. Now the rain really starts to fall.
Pretty soon the vados are running and at one particularly wide vado I stop, trying to figure out just how deep it really is. An old pick-up pulls up behind me and then passes us and heads off into the vado, with grandma and a child in the back, under a plastic sheet! We watch real close to see how high the water comes up on that truck. Only to the bumper! Well, hey! We can do that! Off we go. Soon water is coming in along the bottom of my doors and the defrosters are giving off steam but we make it and slip and slide on towards Bahia Tortugas. Whew!
We arrive just after night fall and the town is pitch black, the rain hammering down. We see a policeman with a flashlight and Lolli talks to him and discovers that the town generator has gone out! We drive around in the gloom and mud and finally see a restaurant that has some candles in the window. We pull in and check to see if they are open. They are! We kick the mud off our boots the best we can and go on in. We are shown to a table and order some beer and chips. There are four Americans sitting at another table and that's it, we are the only ones there. Soon we are talking to them about the weather and discover that they had been on a 45 foot sailboat that went aground the night before in a storm! Yes, there had been a freak storm that blew in from the south and it threw three sailboats up on the beach! We order dinner and have a subdued evening. When we are ready to leave we ask the restaurant owner where we can find a place to camp for the night. He says, "Why not just stay in the parking lot!". Perfect!
We slog back out to the bus, popped the top, and fall into bed. What a day!
In the morning we wake to clearing skies and the sounds of roosters crowing. I discover that the mud is packed into my wheel-wells to such a degree that I can hardly turn the steering wheel! We get ourselves sorted out and cleaned up a bit and then drive down to the marina to look at the beached sailboats. Already there are people on them tearing off the railings, the teak, the windows, engine, etc. Salvage rights! The owners of the 45 foot boat said that all they managed to save is what they could carry in their arms. But, they said, they were insured and that they had had enough of sailboats. They were now going to buy a motor home!
After viewing that sad scene we decide to drive on out to tip of the peninsula, Punta Eugenia. It is a beautiful drive, the roads are drying out and the vados almost empty. The shoreline is very rocky and spectacular.
We reach the end of land and look out over the vast bay to the north. The wind is howling, out in the open, and the sea gulls and pelicans are doing wild gyrations. Time to head for Guerreo Negro.
We backtrack to Bahia Tortugas and then head east. Again we find the road to be a long straight bermed up road across the salt flats. Straight as a string for miles. After about 100 kilometers we arrive at Mex. 1, about 30 kilometers south of Guerreo Negro. We have completed our second loop to the Pacific! Now to beat feet for home.
During our final run from Los Angeles back to Mendocino the engine develops an oil leak that has me stopping and adding a quart of oil every one hundred miles! I finally buy a case of oil in Bakersfield to get us home. The leaking oil is being blown everywhere in the engine compartment and the Weber carburetors are picking it up, sucking it in, and fouling the plugs. We finally arrived at Lolli's house, running on two cylinders!
Yes, I'm in shock. Shock from this totally consuming vacation where something was going on all the time, either the overwhelming beauty of the fresh watered desert, the seemingly impossible mud holes, the gradually deteriorating engine. Constantly something. Probably the most intense vacation I have ever been on.
Lolli sure enjoyed it. While I was going nuts over all the possible things that could go wrong, and did go wrong, she serenely read four books and collected probably fifty pounds worth of sea shells. She had a great time.
I am ready to settle down, plant a garden and raise a few chickens. I have had enough traveling to last me a lifetime or at least until next summer!