Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Baja, Mexico

     The week of April 23rd through the 29th Jeff and I went to Baja, Mexico. Jeff had been wanting to take his truck down and go camping for a long time. We had a week off between projects so we went geared with food, water, camping equipment, and our kayak. We went into Mexico at the Calexico/Mexicali border crossing. Coming into Mexico is a breeze. A lot of the time there is not even a person there, you just roll through. You have to get tourist cards after entering if you want to go further south than a certain point, which we did. We went to an ATM and got a few hundred out and then headed quickly out of town and out of the border region. From working on the border for 8 months and just watching the news I know this is not an area I want to spend much time in. We drove south to San Felipe were we ate fish tacos at a restaurant on the Sea of Cortez and then, with daylight fading fast, we headed further south along Highway 5 to Puertocitos. By then it was 9:30p.m. and this small town with one store and a Pemex was closed down. We found a "Campo" on the beach with a palapa and camped for the night. We woke up to the Sea of Cortez and a man asking for 200 pesos for the use of the palapa. We gladly paid, ate cereal and milk for breakfast and then headed south on Hwy 5.

     Not much further than this little town the pavement runs out and this highway becomes a rocky, washboarded, dirt road. We knew not many would be traveling this way so we thought it would be a fun way to see the Baja uninhibited by lots of civilization. Not to say there was none, every once in a while a small town would pop up, most were full of ex-pats. After a bit a break from driving was needed so we stopped at a bay and broke out the kayak. We headed out to an island off shore and started going around it. Along the shore of this island were tons, hundreds of these strange bugs crawling on the rocks. The rocks were literally covered in them. At first I thought they were crabs but as Jeff rowed us closer I could see they were strange shelled gray bugs. Part way around the island we got on to shore and portaged the kayak. At first these bugs really grossed me out, but when I saw they didn't like me either I decided to have fun with them. I spent some time chasing the bugs. I guess someone likes to eat them because they ran like mad from me. After the fun was over I strapped on my fins and mask and did some swimming and snorkeling. We finished kayaking around the island and returned to the truck to continue on our way down hwy 5.

     After a couple more hours of driving I saw my very first Cirio or Boojam (English name) tree. This is a very strange looking Dr. Seuss tree with a trunk going straight up then gets wiggly at the top. Sometimes it splits and there are two or more spouts. It's one of the neatest trees I've seen.

 Later we passed through Coco's corner which is the home of Coco a man with no legs who welcomes any and all to stop for a drink. Once you finish your soda or Tecate the can is added to his fence of cans. He even made it on the map in the guide books! We made it back out to the pavement of Hwy 1 after 5 hours of dirt road. We decided to head towards Bahia de Los Angeles but it was getting late so part way we pulled off on a dirt road right in the mix of tons of Cirio trees. We camped at the base of a boulder hill. We made frito pies for dinner, a rare childhood treat. I remember eating them as a kid and thought it would be fun just for one night. During dinner we heard this horrible, strange sound coming from up the hill. A few minutes later we heard it again but it had moved. I decided dinner was over and I climbed in the back of the truck and didn't come out til daylight. We hiked around the hill the next morning but never figured out what it was...

     We continued on to Bahia LA where we went to a small, cute museum with information about the Cochimi Indians, the sea life, and other fun stuff. We went to the beach later and spent a half hour trying to get into the frigid water, but as soon as I was all the way in I decided that was enough torture so I got out and laid on the beach. After our day on the beach (not so much in), we decided to keep driving south, but only made it as far as another camp site on the Pacific side of the peninsula. We made it with enough time to take a couple mile hike down the shore. The shore was mostly large round rocks with sea urchins and shells all over with some craggy rock bluffs so it was slow going in parts but very beautiful. We saw a dolphin skeleton that had washed ashore and found lots of shell middens probably left from the Cochimi Indians. The difference between the Sea of Cortez side and the Pacific was amazing. The Cortez has clear, calm water and blue warm skies, while the Pacific was windy, cold and the water was rough and wavy.

     The next morning we say dolphins swimming close to shore. It was a great way to start the day. On we went going south. We stopped in the town of San Ignacio where we went to a museum about the famous Cochimi cave paintings in the area. We really wanted to go see them ourselves but it was a bit of drive and hike and our time was limited so I guess we will save that for next time. The town itself was on a river lined with palm trees and had a very nice, shady plaza with a beautiful old mission.

But onward we went back to the Cortez side. We stopped for a bit in an old French mining town called San Rosalia just to walk around and check it out. It was a sweet little town with some really neat old buildings. We walked until we felt like we'd seen it all then headed just a touch further south to Mulege. We got our only hotel room of the trip at the Hotel Casitas. It was a cute room with Mexican decor and a shower, which I desperately wanted (and needed), and was the main reason we got a room. And as we usually do in a new town, we set out on foot to get a lay of the land. We worked up an appetite walking so we found a restaurant and ate tacos and enchiladas. The waitress was a bit surly and had a mean glare, but the food was good. We bought a watermelon from a guy on the street after dinner to take to the beach the next day. And we did. After a good night sleep we went in search of the perfect beach to spend the day. We found Playa Escondida.  We set up the kayak and cruised around some of the islands in the bay. The islands were full of frigates, gulls, blue footed boobies, ospreys, oyster catchers and on and on. We saw a turkey buzzard trying to steal eggs or babies and the whole community of birds went into action pulling feathers from him in mid flight and chasing him one against fifty. It was a site.

We also saw some beautiful angel fish, a few rays, and some big orange fish. It was hot and the water was far warmer here than it had been further north so we jumped in a few times. After a few hours we went back to shore for some relaxing and watermelon. YUM! Our plan was to camp that night on the beach but we decided to spend the evening hours going back north. Since it would be night it wouldn't matter if we could see because we had already seen it so we drove all the way back up to our camp site on the Pacific side and were able to start the next day with a lot of driving behind us and more time to spend seeing things.

     The first stop we made was at a rock art site. We hiked up a short hill and under a rock overhang was a panel of beautifully colored sun bursts and shapes.

We explored the area a bit more and found water pockets in the stream bed below the rock art full of tadpoles and frogs. I tried to catch a tadpole and eventually succeeded, they were fast little guys. Later down the road we pulled off and drove to an old mission. There were only portions of two walls still standing and lots of pottery and glass littering the ground. We took a walk down the dirt road to some rock bluffs with more rock art. There was also the remains of a canal from when the mission was in commission that was built up along the bluff. The construction of the canal was amazing and the highlight of the mission.

     Our next campsite was on a picture perfect hill with wildflowers and bunnies everywhere. We slept well then started the rest of the drive north.  We stopped at La Bufadora, the 2nd largest blow hole in the world.  The coast was amazing in this area.  I could have stayed and lived forever just to see that view everyday. 

We drove the rest of the way to Tijuana to wait in the line to get back home, which was an hour and a half long. We sat in the car with vendors walking up and down the lanes trying to sell big ceramic turtles or wash your window. Finally we made it to the booth and were let back in.

     This trip was unlike any other. I had the best time! When I travel I am usually completely reliant on the public transportation provided in the country I'm in. I take a bus, train or plane to get from one place to the next. It was wonderful to be self reliant. To be able to spend more time being outside of towns and cities, camping rather than being dependent on hostels or hotels was a refreshing change. We only ate a handful of meals at restaurants, we stayed in only one hotel, and spent lots of time secluded.. I know lots of people in Arizona and California use the Baja as their camping playground and I can see why. Its a unique place where you can bring all your comforts from home and still eat street tacos when you want to and sleep on the beach. The trip was kind of a whirlwind. We drove just over 2,000 miles and crammed a lot into a week and still left so much to explore. I guess this means we will have to go back.