This is the only phrase I can remember from a few months of Rosetta Stone…the Spanish version. I know that I retained a few more phrases, but hearing the words come out of a real Spanish speaking mouth sounds nothing like the slow-poke voice on Rosetta Stone. There was another attempt with a sweet lady who worked with my sister. She was from Columbia and eager to teach someone, anyone, who was willing to learn. For every hour she spent at our house, we spent about 10 minutes actually studying Spanish. The rest of the time we talked about traveling, all the places she loved in Columbia, and all the food she loved to cook. We really liked her, enjoyed our Saturday meetings and to this day we use her witty lines…in English of course. Colin, on the other hand, should not even be in my Spanish class. I’m over here working on me llamo Carrie and he’s jumping into conversations – broken but making some sense. All of this is going through my mind as I sit at the KOA camp in San Diego the night before crossing into Mexico. I’m quietly cursing myself for not learning Spanish and wondering how far I’m going to get on beans that are jumping.
Crossing into the Unknown
We have to admit that we were a little scared to cross into Mexico. Have you peeked across the fence into Tijuana lately? Warm and fuzzy is not the feeling you get. Cinder block houses covered with graffiti. Long pieces of rebar protruding from the top of almost every building as if awaiting another level. Brown dust kicking up from the street wears on everything it can touch. Broken signs, broken streets, broken windows, broken. As soon as we enter, we leave. With a successful border crossing (well actually, it was a few minutes of confussion, turning around, a little reverse action, a few questions; “What does that sign say?” “Should we follow that guy? But then we found the correct building, the correct bank, and the correct line into customs where an angry looking officer gave our water cans a sniff and then we were off). So, with a fairly successful border crossing we saw Tijuana, noticed the state of things and kept our eyes focused ahead.
We were on our way to San Quintin and hoping to find Don Eddies to camp and find our new overland friends who we met a few days before at the KOA – Janice and Gregor from Alberta, Canada are taking 18 months and heading to Argentina. (Live.Travel.Play) I received an email the day before we crossed the border from Janice, who gave us step-by-step instructions on how things went for them and where they were staying. It was nice (very nice) to follow in their footsteps. Don Eddies was easy to find – a huge billboard on the side of the road read, DON EDDIES (with an arrow) which was a relief because even though I had the Google directions and the name of the street, the street sign was no where to be seen. It didn’t help that the GPS was showing the car (on the screen) going off the road a few miles back and recalculating before I turned it off. We found camp and had dinner at the restaurant near by with Janice & Gregor. It felt like a good successful first day in a land that felt very unfamiliar.
Even Sprite found some new friends. One larger dog who warmed right up to her, but the little brown Chihuahua was not having it – sneaking over to our camp to get Sprite excited and then running away. The morning we left, she left us a small gift on our mat.
Finding Our Way
When anyone asks us, we have no plan. We are heading south. We rarely know what destinations are connecting us from this point to that one. We are rolling slow and taking this as it comes. Which has been a wonderful plan in some instances and in others we end up on a terrible road looking to blame someone, and find that Sprite is at the end of our pointing finger. It’s alright she owes us.
We packed up and left San Quintin heading towards the Gulf of California. The road was paved, but dotted with pot holes and drivers seemed to take the speed limits and passing rules as suggestions only. One driver passed us on the right side, narrow shoulder, going about 50 mph. Stop signs might as well said, “Feel free to roll through or not slow down at all, it’s up to you!”
The easiest route heading in the direction of Bahia de Los Angeles we took. Towns were spreading apart and the landscape was changing fast. Huge saguaro cacti with their fork-like arms were everywhere. The flat land started to rise and change to mountains. Just as we turned east onto Mex 12 the colors really started to pop. Purple ground cover, bright yellow buds on the tips of green plans, and a variety of cactus. Just as we rose up over a hill the water was in sight with several islands that seemed to be floating. We found a few camping options, but they were packed with motorhomes blocking the view. Further down the road and we got lucky to find Archeords – an Eco camp right on the water and that’s where we stopped.
Gray whales take off from the icy waters of Alaska and head south to the warmer lagoons near the Baja. They make this great journey to have their babies and hang around until the little ones are strong enough to swim back. There was a time that the gray whales were feared by fisherman. They would swim towards the fisherman’s boats and in returned get a very unwelcome response. The fisherman would yell and bang whatever they could find to scare them off. But there was one fisherman, Pachico, who was more curious than the rest. He took his boat out into the sea and sat, waiting quietly and patiently, and soon the pull of the boat rocked from something swimming up close. It was a gray whale who perched its head above the surface. Pachico reached out and for the first time connected with a “friendly whale”. Since that time Pachico and his family wanted others to experience these friendly giants, which led to the creation of their eco camp with guided tours that go out into the lagoon to do as he discovered – sit and wait and the whales will come.
I learned this story from Sabrina, who is married to Pachico’s son, Rana. Rana and Sabrina now run the tours and camp. They like to wait until the mothers have time to come into the lagoon and be with their babies before the tours start. Even though we are there too early, we like their approach and since they were the first to find the friendly whales we listen.
During our time discovering the Baja with so many lagoons full of whales we got to see them putting on quite a show (just from the shore). Leaping up into the air and slamming down on their sides while the water explodes around them. The fins came out, the tails rolled up and over, the misty shots of water from their blow holes were a constant sight. All day they were playing. Hundreds of friendly whales excited to show off and teach their new babies how to dance.
El Camino es Malo
The day before we left Pachico’s, Sabrina draws me a map (the collection of our map drawings is getting quiet large!) And tells me in a dreamy tone her favorite places in all of Baja. San Juanico is towards the top of that list and we must go. Especially if we like to surf, it is one of the top surfing spots and known for the longest rides. She is so excited while describing this place that I’m paying close attention and must have missed her telling me about the road conditions. The day we leave, we talk to a local to confirm we are on the right route. “Tres horas, el camino is muy malo!” We don’t realize when we thank her and wave that when a local says the roads are bad that means they are BAD. We go over deep sand and salt flats that buried a box truck up to its axles. We go over river rocks at a crawl and washboard that still makes our teeth hurt. We drive 65 miles and it takes us 5 1/2 hours. By the time we pull up to San Juanico and see the first slice of pavement since the morning, we want to just stop and sit on the pavement – something flat that will not shake our bones right out of their joints. Did you say Baja 1000? Take the road going south from San Ignacio! Sometimes the wheels need to stop turning for a few days. We stay parked for a week.
Learning to Ride
San Juanico softens us after the jolt-a-thon. We relax on a bluff right above the Pacific, which curls around two rocky points into an inlet on a long beautiful sandy beach. We meet surfers and learn about this serious surf spot. When the swell comes in this place has been known to attract some of the top surfers in the world. But before we can really appreciate the long smooth waves, we need to find a surfboard. Nico has a shop in town and sells us a used board. He tells Colin to come back the next afternoon to pick up some lobster since that’s what he does during the day. We try to surf and instead get in everyone’s way. We meet Larry who gives us the scoop, a surfboard to borrow and some tips. We take the tips and the surfboard and find our first waves. They are small, but fun and I stand up to take my first ride. We spend our Anniversary (8 years!) catching baby waves that the better surfers don’t want…we are on the bunny hill around black diamond slopes and loving every minute.
The water is not just busy with surfers, but pangas making their way to the shrimp boats anchored off shore and back to the beach. We find the fish camp and Colin jumps out of the truck saying, “Lets see how this goes.” I see him talking with a guy and they are waving hands and pointing and nodding their heads in agreement and understanding. The guy starts drawing pictures in the sand and it seems, from where I sit, they have something worked out. Colin gets in the truck and says, “I have no idea what that guy was saying.” He must have communicated something right because just then a truck pulls around with the goods in a cooler. $100 pesos for 1 kilo of shrimp. We don’t have change and they take that to mean we want more. A small white trash bag is filled to capacity. Colin stands there holding this bag that will not even fit into our fridge. We peel and cook shrimp that night, and the next night and the next night.
It was bound to happen. Our initial surprise that we didn’t bust anything on the road that rattled us to San Juanico was now going to prove us wrong. We were almost to Cabo Pulma following the soft waves to our east, the mountains to our west, and bumping along another washboard stretch, when we heard a new noise coming from the back. Pulling over to inspect, we discovered one of the attachment point hooks is laying in the bed of the truck. Then it gets worse, the bolt from the camper frame had completely snapped. This meant one thing; we were absolutely stuck if this could not be fixed. The next mile we barely rolled at 5 mph. Only three attachment points to this load was not a good thing. But we couldn’t completely assess how bad this was until deciding how the attachment point was bolted into the frame. We had a very bad feeling that the trip was getting ready to take a turn for the worst.
At low speed we made it to Cabo Pulmo and found an abandoned RV park. The small town is a haven for anyone looking to explore the reef and underwater life. Scuba diving, snorkeling, kayaking or just swimming off the shore. We gave ourselves a minute to appreciate this tiny beach town over fish tacos and margaritas, but our minds were on the camper. Side note on Sprite: She has been allowed to go almost everywhere we have gone. She has been allowed into restaurants and coffee shops and even a few galleries. This time was no different, but we weren’t really in the mood to play the song and dance of introducing Sprite to yet another dog. So Colin held her in the back corner under our table. She was invisible to everyone in the restaurant except the older dog that came around the corner. Sprite went into a 4 alarm fit. There was a huge group sitting at 3 tables at the center of the restaurant and all looked over wondering where that screeching-bark-hiss fit just came from. They were puzzled and asking each other in Spanish, “Where? Where?” and even looked under the table to investigate but couldn’t see her. Colin grabbed her harness and lifted her up to show what was lurking below. Everyone started to laugh, while Sprite hung by her harness as if to say, “Hola amigos, it was me.”
The next morning brought another incredible sunrise while we got our heads together. Colin pulled out all his tools and collection of spare parts. We started dismantling the roll over couch to see if we could get to the bolt. The piece that was snapped off was also stuck in the connection point so that took some work to get loose (part one). Getting into the guts of the camper, Colin comes up with a carriage bolt and then has a thought. Digging through his spare parts he pulls out another bolt from an extra battery connector and takes a stab to see if it will fit. It slides right in and we can hardly believe our luck…we are back in the game!!!! “What are you gonna say now about all these spare parts?” Colin says to me not looking for an answer. In my defense, space is limited and I now know more important for parts than other creature comforts.
Moving Towards the Mainland
Our first month in Mexico unfolds by the people we meet, both locals and other travelers, who are looking for nothing more in return than conversation, which is a small glance into the window of each other’s journey. We always walk away with more than when we started: Hand-drawn maps of roads with no names that lead to spots that we would never have discovered on our own. Actual maps with fresh arrows and circles marked in inked. Personal contact information. Invitations to dinner. Lending tools and hands. A reminder of the human soul, crossing cultures, we are more alike than we are different.
Stretching 1,000 miles, the Baja has more beaches than we have time to explore. Each with a personality as different as the people laying on its shore. We find crashing waves so loud it is hard to sleep. We find water as clear and blue as a swimming pool that deepens to sapphire. We find isolated white sandy beaches with waves softly brushing the shore. We find curling waves dotted with surfers and rocky coastlines. We find beaches on the Pacific side and the Gulf of California side, quiet lagoons, to vast and wide open water. We drive to the tip of the peninsula and make our way back around to La Paz…
I am typing this from the confines of the truck. Which we have been sitting in for about 24 hours at this point. We are carefully placed on top of a freight ferry heading from La Paz to Mazatlan on the mainland. It’s a long story, but by the time we figured out how to get a ticket (language barrier in full effect) and get in line to wait for the ferry, which then takes 2 hours to load, we still have an 18 hour ride ahead of us. We witnessed semi trucks parallel parking around other cargo containers. I looked out my window and two huge truck grills are within arms reach. They have managed to use every bit of space, including the loading ramp that has a semi (with a full load) chained at an incline. Since this ferry doesn’t offer separate cabins, we sit in the truck looking at each other and Colin says, “The three amigos!” We feel the push of the ferry and the motion of taking off. We see land in the horizon and wonder what the next leg of this journey holds.