Northern Southern Baja

This road trip is going to involve many border crossings. More than I am able to count at this point since our route will be evolving as we head south. For the time being though, all of our borders will be Mexican state borders. Much like crossing into California, there is an agricultural inspection station at the entrance to Baja California Sur (BCS) we needed to pass through that was supposedly going to liberate us from the weight of our produce on board. To prepare for this we ate all of the fresh fruits and vegetables we had accumulated. One big delicious medley meal did the trick. When we rolled into the border we were able to answer honestly that we didn’t have any fruits, vegetables or animal bits with us. Then we had to pay them 20 pesos to have our undercarriage treated with insecticide. The whole process seemed pretty hinky to us. There was a groove in the pavement with a mister going that we had to drive over. The guy operating it wasn’t wearing any protective gear and he seemed to be turning it off and on again for entertainment. We’re hoping it was just water but in case it wasn’t we put the air on recirculate and turned off the blower. Scott drove over the mister as fast as he could without peeling out and scaring the border guard. Having accomplished that little mini-hurdle we were all set to explore the remainder of Baja. Our first stop in BCS was at the hub of Guerrero Negro. We filled up on groceries and water and most importantly I sampled the best fish taco I had eaten thus far. It was at a taco truck that was painted to look like a grey whale called Tacos Muelle or informally, Tony’s Tacos. There is supposedly some contention over the birthplace of the Baja fish taco. Maybe it was Ensenada or maybe it was San Felipe. I don’t have the time nor drive to get to the bottom of that but I can attest that the Baja fish taco has been perfected in Guerrero Negro. A generous helping of fish with a crispy seasoned batter was handed to me on a corn tortilla (I could have chosen flour, but why?) then I had no less than 10 delicious fresh condiments to choose from to complete the taco of my dreams. All for 23 pesos. Maybe a buck and a quarter. If I lived in Guerrero Negro I would never tire of those tacos. Enough said. Moving on.

Here it is… the best fish taco in all of Baja!

We dilly-dallied the day away ensuring that we were heading into camp at dusk…again. Our destination for that night was a salt flat about 3km off of the highway about an hour outside of town. We were headed through some desolate wide-open sandy desert. There were dunes taking over the road as we sought our home for the night. Once we turned off the highway it was obvious that we were on a rarely traveled road. There were tracks to follow but they were faint. As we neared the salt flat we saw that we weren’t the only campers out there. We felt a mix of relief and disappointment. It feels more secure not to be the only gringos posting up in the desert but it is really nice to be alone as far as the eye can see. We decided to drive up to their camp and say hello then find another spot a respectful distance away so as not to infringe on their solitude. As we got closer, we were yet again reminded that we should give ourselves more daylight to find a camp for the night. We were on our way to introduce ourselves to a cluster of bushes. Feeling sheepish, we abandoned our course toward the bushes and found some stable ground upon which to camp. We sat on the tailgate eating fresh tortillas with salsa watching the full moon rise behind the salt flat. Alone.

Our salt flat campsite was starkly beautiful.

Our next destination was Bahia Tortugas at the end of the Vizcaíno Peninsula on the Pacific side of Baja. The road across the peninsula was cut deeply into the mountainous red rock desert. We opted not to head north to Malarrimo beach, a cornucopia of flotsam, jetsam and whatever the ocean was tired of carrying around. It is apparently a beachcomber/hoarder’s dream. It was also the scene of what could arguably be called my father’s greatest automotive debacle of my lifetime. I won’t go into the details but to say that if anyone is out there and finds a pop-up shade canopy (brand name Enviroshade) on the beach, probably covered in barnacles by now, let me know – my mom has been missing it. Anyhow, back to the here and now. We rolled into Bahia Tortuga and checked out the town. That is where we met a fellow named Pedro who was pretty insistent that we go check out his friend’s restaurant. We were not hungry and told him that we would come by later. He wanted to pin us down on a time. He was missing the lower portion of his forearm and kept pointing to the place in space where his wristwatch would be and asking us when we were going to eat. We were unsure of our plans and therefore pretty cagey, eventually we confused him enough with our broken Spanish that he was happy to be rid of us. We headed out of town to check out our beach camping opportunities. There were many. We ended up at a place called Clambey beach. It was lovely. It was obvious that we were camping in an area that was sometimes inundated by seawater but we were betting on that inundation only happening during big storms. It turned out to be a safe bet. The only downfall of that beach was the flies. They didn’t bite but they landed on us with much enthusiasm. Not just a few flies either, there were hordes of flies. Aerodynamic flies. Probably adapted for life on windy beaches. If one landed on my arm I could not simply blow on it to encourage it to leave. It just hunkered down and weathered the storm that was my breath. There were times when no less than 50 flies were chilling on my person. More than once a fly flew into my mouth. They taste salty. I wish I didn’t know that. In the three days that we spent there only one vehicle passed by our camp. We were feeling pretty confident in our solitude so we decided to use our solar shower attached to the side of our truck. It was only then that we noticed how many fishing boats were checking their nets in front of our camp. Were they there before? Maybe… When they showed up again at the same time the next day we decided to think that they always check their nets around that time and there was no connection between shower time and fishing time. Right?

The fishermen pulling in their catch near Bahía Tortugas.
We found a piece of plywood in the shape of a crescent moon on the beach and couldn’t help but get artsy-fartsy with it.

When it was time for us to leave that beach, we closed the camper shell door on about 200 of our favorite flies and headed back into town to visit Pedro at his friend’s restaurant. He remembered us. Scott had bean tacos, I had fish tacos. They were delightful. Not Tony’s Tacos delightful, but really good and the restaurant overlooked the harbor where sailing boats were starting to accumulate in anticipation of an annual regatta called the Baja Ha Ha the following week. We met a couple from the San Francisco Bay Area of California who was traveling with their toddler on a sailboat. They were ultimately destined for Ireland! They asked us about our gas budget… wind is free.

The outskirts of Bahía Tortugas.

From Bahia Tortuga, we set our sights for the oasis town of San Ignacio. We were cruising along watching the cacti fly by without a care in the world when we came upon a military checkpoint. I was a bit nervous about this particular checkpoint (although I had forgotten about it until we were right upon it) because of reports I had read about a particular guard with a full set of gold teeth who had a propensity to steal your stuff. We didn’t see anyone with a gold grill and the whole check lasted about two minutes. I usually sit in the car and keep to myself during the checkpoints. I leave Scott to flail about butchering the language alone. It is better that way. We think it makes our checkpoint times shorter. Scott is on board with this tactic and I attribute their acceptance of my silence to the machismo culture. Who knows how long we would be there if we actually answered their questions with something other than a series of possibly related nouns in Spanish. Shortly after passing the checkpoint with flying colors we dipped off the highway into San Ignacio.  We pulled into a quiet little RV park with sites nestled among a grove of date palms along a river. There was nobody manning the office and only one other camper staying there and they seemed to be out and about somewhere. It was just us, a white horse tied to a palm tree, one ugly duck, 357 coots, and a disgruntled hawk to keep each other company in the shade. The hawk was feasting on what I can only assume amounts to one less pigeon in the world in our campsite when we arrived. It took off with its catch minus a length of intestine that I swept into the river (making some riverine creature’s day). We just made ourselves comfortable among the drifting pigeon feathers, figuring that eventually somebody would show up and ask for some money. The next morning, we paid our 100 pesos, swam in the river, annoyed a crawdad and headed out to our next oasis destination.

This guy wasn’t too excited to see us roll in on his turf.
The view from our camp quenched our visual thirst for lush vegetation.
Scott serenading the coots.
Greeting the morning in the usual fashion.

Ah, Mulegé. This is a place we could really spend some time. We found a campground, Huerta Don Chano, close to town that had everything we could hope for. Hot showers, Wi-Fi, flush toilets, and tropical fruits growing everywhere. Our spirits were so buoyed by all of the greenery we were surrounded with. It was truly a balm for our senses. We had been really enjoying the desert and hadn’t realized how much we were missing moisture in the air until we dipped into oasis country. It didn’t take long for us to start doing the math on how much it would cost to dig in at that RV park and stay for the winter. It was that nice and it would not cost much. It was a fun thought for a moment but we are on a mission to continue south.

Our lush jungle campsite at Huerta Don Chano.
The banana flowers were a hit with all of our winged friends.

It was in Mulegé that we weathered the greatest threat to our trip thus far. For just a few hours I was worried that my charmed life was failing me. I hope you are sitting down as you read this as I am about to share a very harrowing tale. The day started out like any other. Birds were chirping, the sun rose, as my eyes flickered open the word, “coffee” escaped my lips. I crawled out of the tent and visited the graciously appointed facilities. Upon my return, I found Scott staring at the ground with an ashen complexion. He took me by the hands, looked me in the eyes, and related a tale of good intention being thwarted by gravity. Scott was trying to get a jump start on setting up our kitchen to make coffee when the stove slid from his very capable hands, bounced off of his well-muscled calf and landed on the ground. The impact was too much for the regulator and the metal tore open where it connects to the stove. We sat in silence for the time it took for our uncaffeinated minds to grasp the implications of not having a stove. Eventually, Jesus, our proprietor dropped by to collect rent and we took that opportunity to pick his brain on a solution. He told us which ferreteria (hardware store) would most likely have the part. We pretended that we were not completely reliant upon that nectar of the gods that is coffee in order to execute normal daily functionality and promptly walked into town to fix our problem. The ferreteria was not the solution we were looking for. They recommended a second-hand store a block away. That place did not have what we needed either. We bought a jar of instant coffee and headed back to camp pretending that everything was going to be okay. I looked online to see if there was anywhere we could buy a part for our stove in a nearby town. Or, potentially, a whole new stove. It was a maybe in La Paz. A maybe in Cabo San Lucas. We were looking at either racing through the rest of Baja or going without warm food and taking our time. Plus, it was not a sure thing that these stores would have what we needed. I was googling how to make cold brew coffee contemplating what it would be like to embrace a raw food diet on the road when Jesus dropped by to see how we had fared in town. When we told him that we were unsuccessful he offered to sell us the regulator off of his stove. We were concerned that he would then not be able to cook for himself. He did not seem too concerned about this so we offered him double the cost of the part we had found online.  This made him feel even less concerned about cooking for himself and our problem was solved. We promptly set ourselves to making coffee and all was right in the world. Thank you, Jesus.

We did eventually tear ourselves away from Mulegé. Not far away though! We went about 20 minutes down the road to a highly recommended beach on Bahia Concepcion, Playa de Escondido. On our way, we stopped at a gas station that looked very popular. It looked that popular because there was no power and patrons were starting to stack up. Apparently, they had been estimating about 10 more minutes for the last half hour. We opted to go the 5 minutes back to Mulegé to get gas there. Nope. They weren’t operating either. So, we headed back to the big gas station on the highway hoping they opened up again while we were gone. Nope. The cool thing that came out of the lack of gas issue was that we met Steve and Mike, our newest road friends from Arizona. We had the obligatory getting-to-know-you conversations and decided to camp together. Scott and I gave up on the gas station and just headed to the beach knowing that it was pretty close and we had enough gas to get there and make it back to the gas station when it was time to leave. Steve and Mike opted to wait it out. Good choice. Apparently, the gas station opened back up about 2 minutes after we left. When we arrived at the beach we were warmly greeted by some folks we have been following on Instagram who happened to be camping next to some other folks we had seen arrive at Playa La Gringa just when we were leaving. Small world.  We were all standing around chatting when a couple minivans full of locals showed up. In costume! We were completely unprepared for Trick-or-Treaters. I felt so bad! The kids were totally cute in their costumes going from palapa to palapa and RV to RV. Note to self. Always have candy on Halloween. We had a goal to be in Mexico for Día de Los Muertos to witness the celebration. Unfortunately, for us, we did not move through Baja fast enough to be in a city that really does it up big. Next time. Anyhow, we lucked into a really great palapa where I promptly hung my hammock and cracked open my book. There was a lonely, windblown book exchange out in the middle of the parking lot that I was determined to take advantage of while we were there.

The view from our palapa at Playa la Escondida.
The Virgin of Guadalupe looked over us from the top of the hill. At night she was illuminated with solar twinkle lights.
Looking down on the beach from the virgin of Guadalupe

We lounged, swam, snorkeled, and napped our days away. On the day that our new road friends, Steve and Mike, were heading out Scott came down with a terrible case of digestive malaise and was unable to muster the energy to say goodbye in a meaningful way. He ended up spending the next two days tucked away up in the tent trying to keep water in his ravaged belly. Lucky for Scott, we were parked next to Dee, a retired nurse from Canada. She had recently overcome her own struggle with digestive malaise and was very keen on helping Scott. She brought white rice, bananas, fruit-based kefir, and grapeseed extract. The only thing we declined was her offer of unsalted Canadian butter for the rice. The combination of all of these wonderful inputs had Scott on his feet the next day. Not just on his feet but on a Stand-Up Paddleboard! Dee and her husband loaned us their SUPs to paddle around the nearby islands and snorkel among the rocks.

SUP on the Bahía Concepcion.
An especially charismatic sea star.
Sergeant majors are my favorite fish of the moment.
I have a weakness for angel fish.
Does this mask make me look cross-eyed?

Once Scott was feeling more chipper we packed up and resumed our snail’s pace to our next stop on our exploration of Baja.

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