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This was Mexico’s BIG Baja — Ensenada, Mexico

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13th March 2013

N31° 51.590′ W116° 37.073’

It was a long haul out of La Paz northwards on MEX1 more or less up the centre of the long peninsula that is the Baja California Sur or South, the whole peninsula being divided into two states
– just plain Baja California and Baja California Sur

thumbnail.xlarge.1.1363194714.40001 kms and counting This was Mexicos BIG Baja — Ensenada, Mexico

40001 kms and counting

. The border between the two halves is on the 28th parallel of latitude. What is odd though is that it is this east-west line that is the border between two time zones. Weird.

The road very soon had us passing through semi scrub desert once La Paz was out of sight behind us, there was little traffic and it was a nice sunny if windy day. At this time of year the wind invariably blows from the north which tends to drop the air temperature coming as it does from the much cooler north of Mexico and the southern states of the USA all of which have been experiencing unprecedentedly cold and fierce late winter weather.

Shortly after leaving La Paz behind us the GPS logged our 40,000th km since arriving in Buenos Aires almost a year ago. Interestingly too, it recently indicated that our moving average speed for all 12 months of the trip had just clicked past 50 kms/hr! Wow, that’s getting excessive, have to cool it
a bit!

Some 150 kms out of La Paz the MEX1 ceased taking us around the occasional gentle curve and we saw it stretched out dead straight in front of us which it continued to do for the next 80 or so kms, through the town of Ciudad Constitucion and onto the frontier like town of Ciudad Insurgentes where we stopped for diesel. Oddly, not all Pemex filling stations by a long way have diesel so we had to search the town for one that did. Perhaps this serves to illustrate the seemingly unconcerned stance that Mexicans have about saving money so far as their own transport is concerned. They invariably drive big pick ups, some older than others, but almost always with a burbling great V8
(petrol powered) under the bonnet (read hood you guys in the US and Canada)

thumbnail.xlarge.1.1363194714.lonely baja california sur scenery This was Mexicos BIG Baja — Ensenada, Mexico

Lonely Baja California Sur scenery

. Why they think they need these monsters is beyond me when the likes of Toyota, Isuzu and Ford, all represented here, have some excellent diesel powered and smaller pick ups on the market. Maybe when the steadily increasing price of a litre of petrol gets a bit close to the comfort zone in respect of average incomes there may be a change in this trend. Or is it that the Mexicans follow the lead of the gringos up north who wouldn’t be seen dead in anything as humble as a 4 cylinder diesel powered vehicle….

We turned off the MEX1 and headed westwards to the small town of Puerto Adolfo Lopez Mateos     hoping to see some of the grey whales that come into the coastal waters of the Baja at this time of year to calve, much as the humpbacks do back home. We drove through the town, saw the place where boats embark passengers to take them out to see these leviathans, but had hoped from info we had picked up earlier from an ex pat American living just up the coast to be able to spot the whales from the coast. But we couldn’t find anything that looked remotedly like a lookout so drove out of town and took a sand track up the coast for a while to find somewhere to bush camp. We found it eventually on the edge of a part of the huge lagoon that lies just behind the coast in these parts (N25 15.503 W112 04.598). We loved it there, watching the pelicans gracefully gliding up and down millimetres off the water, and waiting for the wind to die which it did as we ate our supper

thumbnail.xlarge.1.1363194714.baja wild flowers This was Mexicos BIG Baja — Ensenada, Mexico

Baja spring wild flowers

. The
only drawback to bush camping in these parts of the Baja are the horrible little multi pronged thorns that one finds in clumps on every shoot of what passes for grass. They are similar to but even sharper and clingier than the ones we have back home called dorings. They pierce rubber soled shoes with ease and even the hefty off road tyres on Jambo were plastered with them whenever we
took to the bush tracks around the coast.

From the Pacific coast at Puerto Adolfo Lopez Mateos we headed back north easterly on the MEX1 crossing the Baja peninsula again. The road for the first 50 kms or so was flat, pretty featureless and boring to drive on, but from there on it entered the hills and mountains that back the east coast of the Sea of Cortes and which make for much more appealing and spectacular scenery. We stopped briefly at a high point on the road to look down on the blue waters along the coast and take some pics of the mountains marching away into the haze perhaps 100 kms away. A good watch for rattlers is needed in these locations too! Stunning view though.

From there it was downhill again to sea level as the road ran north along the coastline passing the first of the several big holiday property developments that are springing up over much of the coast on this side of the Baja

thumbnail.xlarge.1.1363194714.bush camp no 25 This was Mexicos BIG Baja — Ensenada, Mexico

Bush camp no. 25

. The first one we encountered is apparently the biggest undertaken by a
foreign company and was certainly on quite an ambitious scale. However, with the present economic slowdown affecting much of the world, and particularly the US which no doubt was the target market for this type of development in Mexico, we heard that ownership of the parent company responsible for this substantial investment in holiday villas and condos was in the process of changing. It reminded us of what we had seen in Egypt on the Red Sea coast around Ras Mahommed where half completed holiday houses and apartment blocks stood forlornly gaunt
and empty, their intended occupants having been scared off by terrorism attacks on tourists. Different causes but the same outcome.

Not far from the town of Loreto we started looking at the tracks that ran off the main road down to the beaches along the coast. Sure enough we found one promising one but our first attempt to get to the beach was halted by several massive tree stumps on the sandy track which even Jambo could not clamber over. But on the second attempt we were successful and found ourselves a grand spot right on the beach where we tucked Jambo’s nose into the bush to ward off some of the wind. In minutes we had the table and chairs set up, the braai (barbeque) well alight using the plentiful driftwood to be found on the beach, and most importantly the rum and coke frosting my glass whilst Diana enjoyed her glass of red or white wine

thumbnail.xlarge.1.1363194714.dry dry baja california sur This was Mexicos BIG Baja — Ensenada, Mexico

Dry, dry Baja California Sur

. Yep, we even have a choice of four types of alcohol on board from which to choose – cold local beers in cans, red or white wine in a 1 litre box, or local or Caribbean rum. The latter I drink with coke (now of the “Light” or “Zero” variety) as our traditional G&T back home is just too costly to buy here and anyway difficult to find in the shops in this land of tequila. Our 26th bush camp (N25 57.942 W111 21.453) just south of Loreto was only briefly disturbed by some local lads who came past in their ancient Toyota 4×4 pickup to collect firewood in the nearby bush as the twilight set in. Bearing in mind the treacherously soft sand thereabouts (much like that to be found in much of the Chobe National Park in Botswana for those
that know it) I had to admire the skill with which they piloted their ancient and battered pickup over some serious obstacles (which I would have thought twice about before tackling in Jambo with better axle articulation and probably better ground clearance). They came back and again displayed their off road prowess on the return journey with a full load of hefty firewood in the back plus 3 strapping helpers! The odd small aeroplane also flew in not far away to Loreto’s airport just up the coast from our spot. Otherwise it was us, the sea and the gulls hoping for a titbit.

Before continuing on northwards we had planned on making a small detour inland from the main road to visit the mission village and church at the little mountain oasis and hamlet named St

thumbnail.xlarge.1.1363194714.sea of cortes coast baja This was Mexicos BIG Baja — Ensenada, Mexico

Sea of Cortes coast, Baja

. Javier. It’s a scenic 35 kms drive up into the mountains that border the coastline, all of it nowadays tar, but in many places in poor shape where on some of the more tortuous and precipitous curves the road had been undermined by flash flooding and landslides and had partially collapsed into the valley below. This made for caution and slow speeds and it is without doubt one road I would NOT attempt in the dark! Before getting to St. Javier we crossed several  vados or fords where even at this dry time of year there was some water in a few of them. One particularly grabbed our attention as a possible place to stop on the return leg and give Jambo a much needed wash. In fact we didn’t do so feeling that the locals might not approve, especially if they likely relied on that same water for drinking and washing. Piped water as we know it just doesn’t exist in the rural areas here and most families either rely on tapping a rain water source above them in the hills and piping it downhill or maybe on a nearby well. Even so they still often have to pump it to a header tank on or near their house to gain some delivery pressure. That assumes they have either electricity (which most do not) to power a pump, or they pump it up from below ground by hand. And we just take water, hot and cold on demand, as the norm. How spoilt we are! And we are fortunate in most of our so called 1st world countries in that we seldom suffer water shortages due to climate or seasonal changes. We have little idea or sense of how vital it is to use water sparingly as most central Americans do

thumbnail.xlarge.1.1363194714.bush camp 26 This was Mexicos BIG Baja — Ensenada, Mexico

Bush camp 26, Baja California Sur

. In some areas it is a matter of survival.

St. Javier (N25 51.686 W111 32.629)is a quiet and relaxed little haven set at the end of the road from the coast, surrounded by dry mountains and shaded by palms and other old trees. One such tree behind the old mission church, an old olive, is reputedly over 300 years old. The church, standing proudly at the end of a wide, cobbled avenue, was built in the early 1700s and is constructed from volcanic rock. It features some good looking gold leafed altar pieces – three of them in fact – which were bought here by boat and then pack mules in the days when tar roads and trucks didn’t exist. Whilst standing in the warm sunshine outside the church we said hello to a German couple driving a Landcruiser camper who were heading south. It looked a well thought
vehicle or “rig” as the north Americans would say. We had a beer sitting by ourselves in the sun outside a little bar just up the avenue from the church run by a local senora who didn’t seem overjoyed to see us, and then climbed into Jambo to head back down that twisty and potentially dangerous road to the coast.

Some 75 kms further north on the Mex1 we came round a bend to see the big Bahia Concepcion laid out in front of us with white horses being raised on its deep blue waters by the usual fresh northerly wind

thumbnail.xlarge.1.1363194714.the road to st javier mission This was Mexicos BIG Baja — Ensenada, Mexico

The road to St. Javier Mission

. We knew there were plenty of popular RV sites just a bit further along the coast from there. But that was the problem; we knew that meant wall to wall RVs on the beach sites which didn’t really appeal to us. However, as we looked down on the southern end of the Bahia Concepcion shoreline some 500 metres from the road we spied some odd looking white objects spread around the back of the beach in some form of pattern. The binoculars told us this was the site of an old government run RV site, long since closed down according to Church & Church. From the road we could see no RVs, no sign of life at all, yet here was this big, flat area right next to the beach and sporting lots of thick and quite high bushes to take shelter behind from that ‘orrible wind.
So down we went, out over the flats to find ourselves a spot just metres back from the water’s edge (N26 32.300 W111 44.163). Meanwhile, around us were the somewhat sad remains of the old RV site – the still white painted plinths carrying what would have been electrical and water connections, sewer pipe connections poking up from the ground, and what was probably once the entrance
office now filled with empty clam shells of all things. Sad because this would have been where others, some with their families, would have come in past years to enjoy the sunshine, the beach and the grand surroundings of mountains and blue sea

thumbnail.xlarge.1.1363194714.st javier mission church This was Mexicos BIG Baja — Ensenada, Mexico

St. Javier Mission church

. Maybe due to increasing competition from privately run RV sites that set up later it found it was perhaps not in quite the best spot or couldn’t
match the facilities of the other places so slowly went belly up until the government guys said that’s it, shut the doors. We wonder who the last group were to stay there as paying customers and when that was. By the looks of the sad remains it must have been some 8-10 years back.

We did our usual bush shower thing with hot water from the kettle over a wood fire there being loads of driftwood on that lee shore. We cooked up a storm in the potjie (dutch over) and wandered the beach in both directions, our only neighbours being the occasional sea bird or local black vulture. Being tucked in behind a huge chunk of bush kept us out of the wind and the only minor disturbance during the night was the occasional truck way off on the MEX1 using his engine brake on the descents.  Hell, those things are noisy! And 18 wheeler trucks in Mexico are big and powerful. We were frequently overtaken by them doing 100 kms/hr and sometimes more.

There are many possible beach campsites on the eastern shore of the Baja California Sur that are listed in guidebooks like Church & Church

thumbnail.xlarge.1.1363194714.the 300 year old yew tree at st javier This was Mexicos BIG Baja — Ensenada, Mexico

The 300 year old Yew tree at St. Javier

. Facing out onto the Sea of Cortes most of these offer sandy beaches, beautiful blue/green water and great backdrops of semi desert mountain scenery. The waters of the Sea of Cortes are also a well known sport fishing haven. This makes this section of the Baja very popular with Americans and Canadians who drive their huge RVs, fifth wheels and what they term trailers (read caravans for South Africans and English people) down here in the northern winter months to escape the chilly weather at home. As a result the local tourism industry is heavily geared to meeting the needs of those living in these RVs providing RV parks with hook-ups for water, electricity and sewer water. However, those sites on this little bit of the Baja coast mainly just offer space with little if any other “facilities”. This does not prevent the big rigs from the north from using them but not being able to dump their waste water or “get connected” for fresh water etc does stop them from staying on any one such “primitive” site (as they call them) for longer than a day or two. This in turn makes them attractive to us as we have no need of “hook ups” and prefer being entirely self sufficient. Having a capable 4×4 vehicle too lets us sometimes drive onto
one of these coastal “primitive” sites, go right past all the RVs parked there on the hard sand, and continue on often through soft beach sand to find a little secluded spot behind the dunes or a clump of bush to give us some privacy and wind protection.

Just 16 kms further up the MEX1 we found our next bush camp – no. 28 (N26 38.255 W111 49.904) a lovely spot consisting of a wide spit of sand with beach on both sides, an island at the end of the spit to which one could walk wading through the high tide along the spit, and some basic palapas or shelters into which to tuck oneself from the usual north and chilly wind

thumbnail.xlarge.1.1363194714.beautiful bush camp no 28 This was Mexicos BIG Baja — Ensenada, Mexico

Beautiful bush camp no. 28

. Apart from a couple of “Leaning Tower of Pisa” long drops that was it. No water, so one had to bring in one’s own supply as we do. We carry drinking water in our 35l tank under the car and shower and wash up water comes from the jerry can on the roof. The latter is a plastic Addis jerry from South Africa and has not survived the effects of the sun well becoming brittle to the extent that it has lost bits of plastic on its upper corners requiring repairs with the likes of Pratley’s putty. We plan on chucking it out along with its diesel carrying companion on the other side of the roof rack when we hit the US. There we plan on either buying steel jerries or better still getting a couple of stainless steel tanks
made up that will fit into our carriers on the roof.

There were a handful of other campers on the beach with us, some in proper camper vehicles, some locals in tents and one really nice woman who was really doing it the basic way sleeping in a Aussie style swag bag under the stars, cooking with just the minimum of utensils and making a little fire from driftwood. Diametrically the opposite to the couple from Switzerland who later pulled onto the beach driving a monster MAN powered motor home that even made some of the US ones from the north look somewhat inadequate. The owner came over for a chat and told us this was their latest RV and that they would be shipping it back to Europe after their present short tour of northern Mexico to iron out some shortcomings in the design

thumbnail.xlarge.1.1363194714.as usual stirring it This was Mexicos BIG Baja — Ensenada, Mexico

As usual – stirring it!

. After that they would return it by sea to north America to continue their travels. They had thought of shipping it across the Darien Gap from Panama to Colombia and that little hop would cost them a mere 20,000 USD…. Oh well, we can’t all be millionaires. They did hack us off though by allowing their Alsatian which accompanied them in this monster vehicle to pee all over our palapa and to also attack the friendly dog owned by
the grizzled old Mexican lady who lived on the beach and collected her 80 Pesos per vehicle per day from the campers. No wonder gringos are none too popular with some of the locals.

I caught a couple of fish whilst at that lovely site, standing on the point of the island and casting out into the deeper water there. The first was a little sea perch which I released, the second what is known here as a Sierra and good to eat. They fight like hell and this one managed to throw the hook after I had landed it on the rocks near my feet. But before I could grab it it managed to flap its way back into the water. Soon afterwards to make up for the loss when Diana joined me we spotted
an intriguing dark shape cruising slowly into the bay and mainly on the surface. When one of the other campers on the beach came out past us in his inflatable boat we yelled at him to go have a look

thumbnail.xlarge.1.1363194714.baja dawn at bush camp 28 This was Mexicos BIG Baja — Ensenada, Mexico

Baja dawn at Bush Camp 28

. After an initial “no ways, I’m scared of whatever that is – it’s big” he took his boat closer and later informed us it was a small whale shark about 5 metres long. They can grow to 12 metres and more, some even thought to go up to 15 metres and over 30 tonnes in weight. But they are filter feeders, and although being the largest fish species known and appear shark like, they are harmless to humans eating very small plankton and occasionally small fish as most whales do. This one appeared possibly lost as to see one in the Sea of Cortes is considered very unusual and it soon headed back out into deeper water. Could have been fun if it had become interested in my lure….

Next, we spent the following night camped on the beach at Punta Chivato (N27 04.241 W111 56.787), quite a drive on a poor gravel road from MEX1, not as nice as the previous site, and overlooked by holiday homes apparently used by Americans for just 3 months of the northern winter. The owners are known as “snowbirds”…. We were duly “inspected” by the wife of the owner of one of these properties who walked her dogs along the beach to fairly obviously check us out. Satisfied I guess that we weren’t setting up to come over at midnight and rob them or worse she left us to our own devices seeming to shake her head as to why people would want to camp alone, in a car, on a beach with no “facilities”

thumbnail.xlarge.1.1363194714.huge oyster shells This was Mexicos BIG Baja — Ensenada, Mexico

Huge oyster shells, Baja

. Yeh, well.

During the night, a small boat with three fishermen landed just down the beach from us and spent a half or so doing something with their boat or its contents, what exactly we were not about to get out of bed for to investigate. Perhaps comfortingly, the Mexican navy did come past next morning in a couple of mean and fast looking patrol boats cruising the coast for drug smugglers presumably. Was there a connection? Who knows.

We were to remain on the eastern shore of the Baja California Sur or BCS as it is known locally for just a little longer as we headed north past Isla San Marcos to the old town of Santa Rosalia (N27 20.284 W112 15.949). It’s quite different to any other Baja town. It was established in the 1880s by a French consortium to mine the copper found there. The mining ceased over 60 years ago as the ore ran out but much of the old mining infrastructure remains, quietly rusting away in the salty air. There is apparently an effort now in place to restart a smaller mining operation to sift the remains of what is left for any worthwhile quantities of copper. The locals are treating this as bit of a joke apparently. The town’s old, largely wooden houses built from Pacific north west timber from Canada are attractive. Of especial interest is the steel church standing in the centre of town originally thought to have been designed by A.G

thumbnail.xlarge.1.1363194714.yankee holiday homes baja This was Mexicos BIG Baja — Ensenada, Mexico

Yankee Holiday Homes, Baja

. Eiffel – he of the better known Parisian tower – and which was shipped out around Cape Horn to Mexico from France in bits and reassembled here. Some
academics now think this may not be entirely true but it’s a unique building for all that with its latticed steel interior beams and sheet steel outer covering. We didn’t stay in Santa Rosalia and after shopping for a couple of items and getting a slow puncture fixed (our 3rd of the trip) caused by a small bolt right through the tread of one of our Cooper offroad tyres we headed up the road which soon climbed away from the coast and the Sea of Cortes, more often called the Gulf of California.

The road inland from there was bleak indeed traversing a largely featureless semi desert landscape which no doubt in high summer would be an oven of a place. When we drove it the temperature stayed around a reasonable 25 Celsius.  Some 70 kms west on the MEX1 we came to the little oasis town of San Ignacio which has grown up around a river that flows out of the ground in a hollow and which the residents have dammed to create a small lagoon. As a result palm trees and others abound and a few campsites have been established around the lagoon. San Ignacio is also the jumping off point on the MEX1 from which one can head to the Laguna of the same name and where at the right time of year one can watch grey whales which come here from the Arctic to bear their young

thumbnail.xlarge.1.1363194714.cactus mexican size This was Mexicos BIG Baja — Ensenada, Mexico

Cactus Mexican size

. We were lucky enough to be here at just that time so planned on getting up close and personal with these huge creatures later. So we spent one night camped next to the little lagoon in San Ignacio itself at Los Petates (N27 17.801 W112 53.876), a simple camping spot with palapas and basic and slightly temperamental hot showers. The owner came round later in the afternoon to collect the 120 Peso fee which was about right. Apart from one other couple in a small van and a flock of moorhens we had the place to ourselves. We checked out the old mission church on the peaceful plaza with its 4 foot thick rock lava walls before heading out of town to the southwest to find our way to Laguna San Ignacio from where we planned to take a whale watching trip on a boat.

The road from the town to the laguna starts off as lovely, recently built smooth tar almost devoid of traffic or any sign of life. But about 30 kms along the tar abruptly ends and one finds oneself on firstly roughish gravel as the route edges around colossal salt flats. Later it deteriorates to nicely
corrugated sand and hardpacked mud which should it rain would be entertaining to drive on. From San Ignacio town to the whale watching camps strung along the shore of the laguna altogether it’s around 60 kms of which half is tar, the rest rubbish, so it’s over an hour’s drive

thumbnail.xlarge.1.1363194714.eiffel s steel church santa rosalia This was Mexicos BIG Baja — Ensenada, Mexico

Eiffel’s steel church, Santa Rosalia

. And there’s little to see except salt and mud pans, lots of arid sand and the occasional local tearing past in a clapped out truck helping to make the corrugations even worse!

We ended up staying at Kuyima (N26 49.522 W113 10.231), a campsite run by some Mexican guys who also run a very professional as it turned out boat based, whale watching operation for the three months the grey whales are around. Their camp is located right on the shore of the laguna and apart from being wind blown and offering little protection from the wind for campers is a nice set up. There is no mains electricity out there so lights are run on mains generated from invertors and batteries charged by solar panels. The water for the showers is also solar heated, but because all fresh water is either trucked in from San Ignacio or expensively produced from an onsite reverse osmosis desalination plant the “showers” are just a tap from which one fills hot water into a bucket thereby controlling consumption quite effectively. The camp has a restaurant and gift shop neither of which we patronised (we keep costs down by mostly cooking our own food and gifts and Jambo don’t work, there’s no space).

After we had rushed down our lunch the camp kindly arranged an extra boat to take us and another three visitors out to see the whales. 102 US dollars poorer (45 each for the whale watching trip and 12 per night for camping) and after a brief and well done intro by Carlos, one of the staff, we
waded out to our 22 ft outboard powered boat. We found out that our skipper had 19 years of experience taking visitors out to the whales which was comforting as 22ft is not much when being approached by a 45 or 50 ft grey whale Mum with calf in tow

thumbnail.xlarge.1.1363194714.fixing 3rd puncture of the trip This was Mexicos BIG Baja — Ensenada, Mexico

Fixing 3rd puncture of the trip


We had a great time with the whales, getting up next to and often right above the whales, even getting clobbered accidentally by a young and inexperienced grey whale calf (even so, heavier than our boat) on several occasions. Our skipper was indeed very skilled in finding and staying with them
as they swam, blew, dived and surfaced obviously enjoying the warm waters of the Laguna. Unlike South Africa where boats watching the southern right whales may not approach (I think) within 300 metres, here in the Lagunas of the Baja California the boats whilst regulated can in fact get close enough to allow one to touch the whales! There is a lot to tell about these fascinating and apparently friendly creatures. I can highly recommend the website I found at www.greywhale.com/interest.htm  This offers a wealth of info on grey whales and no, the author is no relation!

We rumbled and rattled our way back towards San Ignacio breathing a big sigh of relief on regaining the tar (Defenders love sand, mud, rivers, rocks, even snow and ice – they do not excel on washboard or corrugated gravel where their truck like, and yes, very tough suspension transmits every bump back to the cabin and the driver’s hands)

thumbnail.xlarge.1.1363194714.beautiful baja blooms This was Mexicos BIG Baja — Ensenada, Mexico

Beautiful Baja Blooms

. We filled up with diesel at the Pemex in town and soon were on our way to our next stop, Guerrero Negro further up the Baja west coast. A bit earlier we had been in touch by e-mail with Dieter and Veronika, a lovely German couple we had originally met in Turkey on our Cape to Cape trip 3 years ago. We had spent New Year’s Eve celebrating together along with a party of other Germans holidaying away from the cold European winter and over the years since had kept in touch. They had recently let us know that they were bringing their camper van over to the US and Canada and planned on driving down into Mexico on their way south, and they hoped to meet up with us and to do some whale watching as well. They did their whale watching from Laguna Ojo de Liebra not far from Guerrero Negro and e-mailed us to tell us they would wait for us in Guerrero Negro.

So we checked in to the Malarrimo RV site (N27 58.062 W114 01.792) behind the Hotel and restaurant of the same name in Guerrero Negro to wait for them there. The site is more suited to big RVs than little camper setups like ours but they had hot showers and wifi and the attraction which we could not resist  – perhaps the best restaurant in much of the Baja California! Whilst at the RV park behind the restaurant waiting for the others to arrive next day a monster orange coloured  “sleeper” bus run by Rotel Tours in Germany pulled in and disgorged about 20 mainly elderly passengers

thumbnail.xlarge.1.1363194714.san ignacio corner This was Mexicos BIG Baja — Ensenada, Mexico

San Ignacio corner

. In minutes the rear section had its side opened up to reveal a weather protected entrance to its sleeping quarters, a staircase with a handrail, and even a night light. The sleeping “quarters” are similar to those coffin like hotels much loved by the Japanese who with so high a premium on space have devised “bedrooms” which are just a long horizontal slot in a wall just big enough to accommodate a sleeping human. In fact very much like a morgue without the refrigeration! This is how the Rotel busses provide sleeping quarters for their passengers who during the day on the road sit in normal bus seats. The bus also featured a very fancy roll out, all stainless steel gas stove unit and along with a fridge/freezer, tables and chairs and all the other stuff needed can provide independent meals too. Quite a smart set up and even bigger than the largest American RVs we had seen so far.

Whilst busy doing e-mails and this blog the next morning there is a yell from the hotel entrance and in rush Dieter and Veronika. It was indeed great to see them again. Without further ado and after they had done a quick shop for some supplies we agreed to follow them back to the campsite from where they had just done their whale watching trip on the shores of Laguna Ojo de Liebre or Scammon’s Lagoon as some know it.

Unlike the cruddy dirt road down to Laguna San Ignacio earlier the approach road to Scammon’s Lagoon after the short tar section was mainly on hard packed sand which traversed a part of the mammoth salt pans that spread out in all directions

thumbnail.xlarge.1.1363194714.pink panther This was Mexicos BIG Baja — Ensenada, Mexico

Pink Panther? San Ignacio, Baja

. It is from here that huge quantities of the white stuff are scraped off by the company that holds the production rights in Guerrero Negro and on which the town depends for its revenue and stability. So we bombed along at a good lick behind the others for some 33 kms from the town to the remote campsite they had already spent a night at where we could sit with them a while and catch up on our respective trips etc.

We parked the two cars side by side, their backs tucked into one of the palapas spread out in a long line looking out over the lagoon in the distance. It was a pretty bleak spot with just a scattering of mean little scrub bushes sprouting out of the sand and stones. The only inhabitant we spotted apart from a few sea birds was a large and obviously cold tarantula spider making its way from one hole in the ground to another. Hence the reason for being warned to shake one’s shoes out carefully
in the morning if camping and leaving them outside. Veronika produced an excellent veggie soup which we soon downed whilst sitting inside their cosy Ford Transit van based camper. Dieter had done the inside out himself and it sure looked good and very practical and comfortable. Hot and cold water, interior heating, a decent sized fridge and standing room. And of course being a recent Transit it shared the same 4 cylinder diesel as our Landie which when it was built back in 2008 was part of the Ford family (Land Rover now belongs to Tata, the Indian based vehicle manufacturing giant). We drank some wine, some whisky and sat around the welcome fire we lit in the firepit by our palapa and talked of travels and families and whales and Mexico.

All too soon morning arrived, it was time for us to pack up and move on so sad goodbyes were exchanged and attempts by us to get them to promise a visit soon to Cape Town

thumbnail.xlarge.1.1363194714.en route to san ignacio lagoon This was Mexicos BIG Baja — Ensenada, Mexico

En route to San Ignacio lagoon, Baja

. And then it was a last wave and we headed back along the sand road to MEX1. Thanks Dieter and Veronika, it was great to see you both again, still so young in heart and mind, sharing some laughs, and especially for YOUR hospitality. Apart from a bottle of wine I think you two provided all the food and remaining drinks. Our turn next time!

We tanked up in Guerrero before the 350 kms long haul known as the “gas gap” between there and El Rosario, there being no filling stations anywhere on this bleak and lonely stretch of road. It is also in the summer months a hot place to be and apart from the infrequent traffic on the MEX1 there are very few people around and virtually no centres of population. So help in the form of assistance with spare fuel, or worse still in case of a breakdown or accident, is far away. It’s a bit of road to be properly prepared for. But about half way along the MEX1 between Guerrero Negro and El Rosario there is a turn off down to the Sea of Cortes and the remote town of Bahia de los Angeles. It’s about 66 kms from the MEX1 along an excellent if trafficless tar road and along that stretch there is nothing except rocks, cactus, mountains and big, dry washes where should some rain sometime fall it will take all before it (NOT a place to camp!). The view down onto the Bahia de los Angeles and its little town (population maybe 750) of the same name is stunning as it comes into sight

thumbnail.xlarge.1.1363194714.gentle grey whale mum This was Mexicos BIG Baja — Ensenada, Mexico

Gentle grey whale Mum

. Blue waters in the bay, big rusty coloured mountains around it and a string of offshore islands which are probably totally uninhabited. Surprise, surprise, on entering the town we find not one but two Pemex stations so we could have bought more diesel if needs be (we didn’t as we have a fuel range of well in excess of 1000 kms). But that was about it. The few possible organized places to camp did little to appeal to us and even bush camping near the beach was out as the wind could not be kept at bay. So after a drive of all of 5 mins along the town’s empty main drag we headed back up the hill to look for a place off the road to bush camp. This we found at our 31st bush camp (N28 58.155 W113
39.683) about 100 metres off the road and sheltered by a bank and some bushes from the persistent wind which luckily died down later as we went to bed. We lit our braai up with wood and charcoal and cooked the remainder of our steak (excellent it was too and called locally a New York steak, why we don’t yet know, but it was close to a rump by our standards), a couple of onions and spuds in foil cooked on the coals and a good dollop of the red stuff to wash it down.

And then next morning it was back to the MEX1 where we found the first of the Baja’s spring wild flowers making a mass appearance much like ours back home in Namaqualand

thumbnail.xlarge.1.1363194714.typical whale watching boat This was Mexicos BIG Baja — Ensenada, Mexico

Typical whale watching boat

. From there we continued along the remainder of the long “gas gap” stopping only for our picnic lunch near the little desert settlement of Catavina which boasts some of the most impressive desert scenery in the Baja. Huge cacti, massive broken rock fields, rock art and even a couple of RV sites apparently (we didn’t stop off at them). We finally pulled into the frontier like town of El Rosario where once again diesel was available and we topped up with a few litres. We had read that one could take the gravel road from the town down to a headland overlooking the Pacific named Punta Baja and bush camp
on the beach there. After a couple of false starts trying to find the right gravel road we got to the clifftop at the end of the Punta’s headland but there was no sign of an accessible beach and that wind was doing its thing as usual. We needed some bushes or a hill to provide a windbreak for our campsite. In spite of driving up and down river beds, washed out gravel tracks needing much of
Jambo’s traction and off road ability we found nothing that felt right. So it was back to town and a complete change of environment for us – a motel of all things! The first we tried which also had a thoroughly unappealing and muddy RV park behind it was not nice. The second at Motel La Cabana (N30 03.546 W115 43.506) was great. We had a nice room, plenty of hot water in the shower, wifi, and best of all the famous Mama Espinoza’s restaurant right on the premises

thumbnail.xlarge.1.1363194714.fill up time This was Mexicos BIG Baja — Ensenada, Mexico

Fill up time

. It is known to all Baja 1000 desert racers as one of the principal pit stops on this north American equivalent of the famous Dakar desert race as a popular watering and eating hole which has been running since long before the inauguration of the Baja races. It offers great food, particularly lobster and crab burritos. So after settling in to the motel we had supper there. No lobster sadly but the crab burritos were pretty special (or were they, as my stomach next day felt decidedly queasy – Diana had excellent fish soup and had no reaction).  We ended up spending two nights there giving Jambo a good wash making a muddy mess of the motel’s driveway, fitting an overdue new air filter, and getting some much needed laundry done. We also greatly enjoyed  having fun meeting and chatting with others staying there.

At 360 Pesos a night for a room with bath, TV (all of 3 channels!), an inviting looking old iron heating stove, fair wifi and a laundry the motel was a bargain. Why was the stove inviting looking? Very simple, it was becoming pretty chilly at night up here in the northern part of the Baja California (BC to the locals, and BCS for the Baja California Sur inhabitants). We were starting to see temperatures after dark getting horribly close to zero Celsius.

El Rosario is always noisy with big V8s, due to locals wanting their trucks and cars to sound like the roaring competing vehicles in the famous annual Baja off road races that pass through once a year

thumbnail.xlarge.1.1363194714.rotel tours bus guerrero negro This was Mexicos BIG Baja — Ensenada, Mexico

Rotel Tours bus, Guerrero Negro

. Mama Espinoza’s, apart from its great food is plastered inside with the decals and photos, many signed by participants, from the racing teams that compete in the races in pipe cars, buggies and serious one off desert racing vehicles. Whilst at the motel we started looking at the USA and planning a route and things to see and do. Also we needed to supplement the Garmin mapping on Diana’s GPS (which one pays for) with some free OSM mapping of the USA to run on my little GPS Map 62S unit. To download this big chunk of data took over 5 hours so we needed the extra day to
get this done too.

We had a good laugh about the fact that not only do we frequently not know (or particularly care) what day of the week it is: we discovered that for maybe as much as a fortnight we had our watches not just one hour out, but two. It was compounded by the fact that for reasons I cannot fathom when one crosses the 28th parallel (or line of latitude) and which is the boundary between Baja California and Baja California Sur one must adjust one’s clocks by one hour. Forward if going north as we are, back if going south. Just goes to show – we MUST be having fun and explained the hitherto and oft raised question, “why is it dark so early round here?”

Getting back to the subject of GPS, some of you may wonder why we insist on using GPS at all, never mind two units

thumbnail.xlarge.1.1363194714.our overland friends dieter veronika This was Mexicos BIG Baja — Ensenada, Mexico

Our overland friends Dieter & Veronika

. The answer is simple and for two main reasons. In the bigger towns and cities it helps hugely finding one’s way around and through them especially when one remembers that Mexico, like much else of Latin America, seems to think direction or route signage is totally
unnecessary, and let the gringos work it all out for themselves. Perhaps it’s a devious way of making driving tourists spend more on fuel whilst getting repeatedly lost, or maybe more on booze to soften the rising tempers of drivers and navigators….. Another reason is that when we hunt down possible places to stay or camp, either from other overlanders or from guide books and the like,
the only way to accurately place them is by their latitude and longitude coordinates. In this manner we look up hostels for instance on www.hostelworld.com , work out their location on the site’s Google Maps and transpose the data to either Mapsource or Basecamp running on the laptop. From there we load the coordinates as waypoints into the two GPS units. Hey presto, easy to find –

After saying goodbye to new found Canadian and Mexican biker friends Richard and Alfonso (we hoped to drop in and visit Richard at his home near Victoria BC later) we hit the MEX1 again and pointed Jambo northwards once more for the long and essentially boring run to where we are now in the town of Ensenada, about 80 kms in a straight line from the US border

thumbnail.xlarge.1.1363194714.road to laguna ojo de liebre This was Mexicos BIG Baja — Ensenada, Mexico

Road to Laguna Ojo de Liebre

. Boring because much of the route from El Rosario after a short, high desert section is flat as it traverses what must be “greenhouseland”, with hundreds of acres of plastic covered veggies. Much of this stretch is also
very built up, dusty and not in the least attractive to the eye. But it IS noticeably greener than further south and dare I say it feeling a mite warmer too.

Ensenada is a good base for us to start sorting out mundane things like arranging US liability (3rd Party) insurance for the car. Our existing international cover oddly does not provide this yet the company underwriting the policy is US based. How weird is that? But in spite of dredging the web and contacting a couple of places recommended by others we have had no luck. We just hope like other countries we can get it at the border.

And where are we staying in Ensenada? Well, we tried the only hostel we know of here and it was quite pricey, had only dorm rooms and pretty pokey they were too, and it had no off street parking. Being a biggish city this becomes a more important requirement for us to be able to sleep well at night knowing the car is safe. So we have the motel bug well entrenched it seems. Yes, we’re in
another one, Motel America (N31 51.590 W116 37.073), even better than the one in El Rosario as our room has its own kitchen plus all the usual facilities and we beat the manager down to a very reasonable 400 Pesos a night (about R280)

thumbnail.xlarge.1.1363194714.state border 28th parallel This was Mexicos BIG Baja — Ensenada, Mexico

State border, 28th Parallel

. Jambo is right outside the door and once this blog is finished and uploaded we shall go walk the town’s malecon or waterfront and go laugh at the cruise ship passengers being ripped off!

The Baja, both north and south bits of it, is one massive chunk of country and for us at least was perhaps the best part of Mexico. Mexico in total is of course even bigger. It seems like a long time indeed since we drove into Mexico from little Belize six weeks ago. Since then we have covered just
over 7000 kms in this interesting country. It’s been quite a ride and we’ve loved it.

Next stop – the big ol’ US of A. Can’t really believe we have got this far.


About Panamericalandy

Starting with the original London-Sydney Marathon in 1968 driving 10,000 miles in 10 days the bug for overland travel (at a much slower pace!) bit hard. We've driven throughout much of southern and east Africa in a tD5 Defender, then changed to the recent Puma version and first drove Cape Agulhas in South Africa to North Cape, Norway in 2009/10. Now engaged on another long one from Ushuaia, Patagonia to Deadhorse, Alaska over 18 months. The two of us travel alone for much of the time but inevitably meet other overlanders along the way and much enjoy swopping stories, info, fun times and others.We live in Cape Town, South Africa. Is there a nicer city to call home?

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