When we were planning out how to set up our truck we definitely wanted to be able to sleep in the back of the truck if need be. So far on this trip, it had not been needed. But now we are in Cabo San Lucas and there just aren’t too many desolate beaches to be had! I don’t really feel super safe wild camping in urban areas.
There are just too many people and too many bars for me to feel like there isn’t a good chance that someone will be leaving the bar after two too many and think it is a good idea to give the crazy gringos sleeping on top of their truck some trouble. Just a feeling. This is why we wanted to be able to sleep in the back of the truck. So that it is less obvious and eye-catching where our sleeping hearts are beating. After spending a day absorbing the gringo amusement park that is Cabo San Lucas we went to a really nice public beach midway between Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo. When we arrived, we were still unsure about where we were going to sleep. We sat on the busy beach watching tourists come and go while I searched for budget hostel options on my phone. Nothing looked very appealing. Eventually, the night began to fall so we moved The Joan into the most level parking space and prepped for our first night of stealth camping. This involved moving a ton of stuff from the back of the truck to the cab. We were hoping to leave the driver’s seat open in case we needed to make a quick getaway but we just couldn’t fit everything. Fingers crossed that nobody would roll in during the night and shoo us away, we crawled in the back and commenced a long night filled with very short naps. It was a pretty mellow trial run at stealth camping. There were sparkling clean bathrooms at our disposal all night and maybe three or four vehicles rolled through in the night. None of them paid attention to us. In the morning we were perfectly situated to take advantage of one of the nicest public beaches I have ever set foot upon. Acting on a hot tip from my Dad, we waited to snorkel until the tour groups arrived. Normally we avoid tour groups but in this case, the tour providers are chumming the water so there are a ton of fish to be seen. The downside is that your view of the fish is filtered through dozens of highly buoyant pasty-legged tourists. It was entertaining. When we were done snorkeling we took advantage of the free open-air showers at the beach parking lot. We were definitely the only people who busted out the shampoo and lathered up. Our lifestyle requires that we grab onto every free shower we can get!
Our aim for the day was to get out to Cabo Pulmo on the East Cape of Baja. Of course, we didn’t bee-line it. First, we stopped at Baja Brewing Company in San Jose del Cabo to sample some of their offerings. Scott did a better job ordering than I did but we both enjoyed the guacamole. San Jose del Cabo is a very clean, tidy, gringo-friendly town with big city prices. We didn’t linger.
We drove out of town on a road that hugged the shoreline and very shortly turned to dirt. We like dirt. We aired down the tires to 27psi and watched the quality of the road deteriorate as the sun dipped lower on the horizon. This was not looking good for us to make it to Cabo Pulmo by nightfall. It was going to be tight. After about 20 minutes of creeping, bouncing and creaking over the washed-out rutted roadway we came to an adamant looking roadblock. This was definitely not helping us get to where we were going. A quick consult with the satellite view from Google maps led us to try our luck driving up an arroyo for a couple of miles to intersect with another dirt road that may get us around the roadblock. Well, the second dirt road never did materialize but lucky for us a highway did. We were not on pavement long enough to bother re-inflating the tires before we dropped back off the highway and were back to hugging the coast bumping and creaking along at a snail’s pace. All of the gear on The Joan’s back was shifting around from the rigors of traversing bumpy roads and making an inordinate amount of noise. Scott was making a good amount of noise himself about taking some time to rearrange so that it wouldn’t be so loud on the road. I advocated for not spending an afternoon on arranging our load and just turning up the radio. With these roads there was no way we were going to make it to our destination before dark so now we were just looking for an out of the way spot to camp out for the night. We ended up camped in front of an abandoned high-end real estate development. It was perfect for a night but didn’t entreat us to stay. Plus, we were still feeling pretty motivated to get to Cabo Pulmo. It was another hour or so on the bumpy, creaky, squeaky road before we arrived at our destination. Cabo Pulmo has gotten really busy since I was last there twenty odd years ago. The town was crawling with tour operators and the life jacket police were in full effect. It is a requirement that you wear a life preserver to snorkel there. For two reasons. One is to make sure that it is really hard for you to dive down and molest the coral and the other is so that you are more visible to the myriad of tour boar operators buzzing around the waters. We drove a little bit north of town and found a stretch of cape to call home for a couple of days. We were right on the water, surrounded by rocky shoreline. We deployed our awning, set up our trusty camp chairs and commenced staring at the ocean while we discussed our plan of attack for the rest of Baja.
It was during this tranquil time while basking in the fading afternoon light that Scott quite suddenly stood up and walked to the Joan. I’m not sharing his exact words but the general message was that we were in big, big trouble. Our burly steel lumber rack that was holding up our home had cracked in two. Almost three. On one side the steel had completely severed and on the other, there was a crack forming that was more than halfway around the steel tubing. This was a big problem. This changed our plans a tad. Now we had some new words to learn in Spanish. Words like weld, gusset, and steel. We hit the Googles and found that there were welders to be had in the town of Los Barriles which was about an hour to the north of us. Unfortunately, about 45 minutes of that hour was on more rough roads. We tried our best not to let The Joan’s new-found instability taint our enjoyment of Cabo Pulmo. We accomplished our usual regimen of lounging, reading, stacking, swimming, etc. A couple of days later Scott gathered all of our ratcheting tie downs, all of our bungee cords and all of his patience and set to stabilizing the rack for the drive into Los Barriles.
When we arrived in Los Barriles we were disappointed to find that the welding shop we found was not in the location indicated on the internet. Through a series of phone calls and messages complicated by our language barrier, it became clear that this welder was not going to be our welder. I’m pretty sure he said that he and his equipment were in La Paz on a job for another week. Determined not to let this get us down we drove around Los Barriles looking for another welder. We headed away from the main tourist zone toward where we figured the rents would be cheaper and more workshops would be located. On our way, I spied a sign that said Pedro’s Welding Shop had moved across the street from Iguana Market. Cool! Now we needed to find Iguana Market. It was not listed in the Google maps. I ended up just searching Iguana Market in Google and found a real estate listing that mentioned close proximity to Iguana Market and that listing had map attached. So, we headed for the house hoping to see Iguana Market. Success! And right across the street and down another street was Pedro’s Welding Shop. We were hoping that he spoke English since all of his signs were in English but no such luck. When we arrived, he wasn’t there but a young guy was there working on a gate and was able to call Pedro and explain our problem. We left with an appointment for the next morning.
From there we went out in search of a place to camp where we could unload all of our gear from the top of the truck and leave it safely while we were getting the truck worked on. We ended up about a quarter mile away from Pedro’s Welding Shop at a fancy RV Park. When we told the proprietor about our plans for the next day he said, “You know Pedro? He’s fixing one of our gates right now!” We went over to introduce ourselves to Pedro before we settled into camp. It was an awkward interaction. We figured he might want to see what we needed fixing but he just seemed confused as to why we were talking to him about it now instead of waiting for our appointment the following morning. Whatever. Por la mañana. We got a nice ocean-view campsite for $20 US. This is way more than we wanted to spend and I think they should provide toilet paper in the bathrooms for that price. Whatever, it was good to have a secure place to dump our stuff. We took the tent off of the roof and set it up on the ground. It was so bizarre to be sleeping on the ground. I was constantly plagued with fears of neighborhood dogs coming by and peeing on us in the night. The next morning, we left a pile of our very valuable equipment on the ground at the RV Park and headed over to Pedro’s hoping that everything would still be there when we returned.
At Pedro’s, we did our best to communicate what we needed welding and where he should avoid welding so that our stuff could be reattached to the rack appropriately. He seemed to understand, asked us for our keys and told us to come back in three hours. We hadn’t really thought this through. Leaving our truck full of our valuable possessions in Pedro’s care with the keys definitely gave us pause. We looked at each other, took a deep breath, handed over the keys and headed off in search of some breakfast hoping that everything would still be there when we returned. We wandered into town, got some tacos, visited the tortillaria, and watched the kite surfers work their magic on the waves until our allotted three hours had passed.
Upon return, everything was as it should be with the exception of one of The Joan’s cracks not being addressed. Pedro was quick to slap on some reinforcement steel, crash cool it and paint it up while we waited. The whole job cost us about $80 US. We didn’t even think about negotiating the cost. In fact, we tipped him. Pretty sure it is not customary to tip your welder in Mexico, but we were just so happy to have stability back on our rack! Back at the RV park all of our stuff was as we left it. Not even a hint of dog urine. Reloading was not fun. It took forever. In some part, due to a strange phenomenon, we have noticed in Mexican RV parks. Whenever you are trying to do some work is when the snowbirds come out of the woodwork intent on serious chatting. Nobody will even look your way if you are chilling with a cup of coffee but put a power drill in your hands and its suddenly open season for yakking. Anyhow, we did eventually get everything reloaded with the exception of the 2nd spare tire. We decided that we needed to shed some weight off of the rack so the last thing we did before heading out of town was to find a llantaria (tire shop) willing to accept the gift of a spare wheel.
Feeling light and stable we headed inland for some high-ish mountain adventure. We had been living beach life for over a month at this point and it was very refreshing to head to the mountains. We ran out of road at a biosphere reserve called Boca de la Sierra. It was a very narrow dirt track past many quaint farms and ranches that led us to our camp spot. We camped out under a sign that asked us to be quiet so as not to annoy the wildlife. It also advised us not to touch or collect or otherwise look askance at the wildlife. We didn’t see a whole lot of wildlife but we did have many cows to keep us company. In fact, we got to watch some pretty entertaining cattle wrangling from our camp site. Now we know that it takes three grown men about thirty minutes to load a calf into a pickup truck. To load a bull, you will need two more men and an additional half an hour. We spent four days there watching the world go by, swimming in the river, hiking, lounging, etc. We got to see water snakes have sex in the river and more super cute coots than you could possibly shake a stick at. There was plenty of fresh water to filter so we probably could have stayed indefinitely but we were on a road trip and one cannot be on a road trip if one does not hit the road from time to time.
We only made it as far as the
It was either a pit-stop in Los Barriles or driving into the night heading to La Paz. Pit-stop it was. The next day we made an unusually efficient departure from our
The next day we skipped the beach and just hung out around camp organizing ourselves and our truck to be ready for the ferry over to the mainland. Also, I needed to power through a book to be able to take advantage of the book exchange in the campground laundry room. The book selection there leaned heavily toward the Amish drama/romance genre. I nabbed the only mystery novel there.
Finally, the day I had been waiting for had arrived. We were going to swim with the whale sharks!!! We needed to be at the tour office by 8:45am. This meant that we needed to be all packed up and ready to drive super early. Early enough that we set alarms. We were frantically securing the tent for takeoff when our snowbird neighbor moseyed over to chat… per usual. When we finally pulled out of the campground on our way to town, Google maps told us we were going to be about 30 minutes late. I tried not to freak out. Turns out Google was confused and we were only 5 minutes behind schedule. That was manageable. After some struggle finding parking and a further backtrack to make sure we locked the doors we arrived only 10 minutes late. As I frantically burst through the door at the tour office the guy behind the desk told me in a very bored tone that I was on time. Cool. A couple minutes later our tour guide showed up to take us out to our boat. He was a university student studying marine biology and looked a bit like Harry Potter. While we were on the boat waiting our turn to swim with the sharks (it is a highly controlled process) he regaled us with tons of information about sharks. Like that male sharks have two penises (peni?) and if you turn a shark upside down they are paralyzed. Also, the more dominant sharks are usually closer to the surface. This means that they perceive snorkelers to be dominant an are less likely to mess with them. This could also mean that if you are at the surface and encounter a shark it is likely a dominant shark.
That being said it was time to swim with the largest fish in the world! Whale sharks typically get to be about 30 feet long. These sharks were juveniles and therefore only about 15-20 feet long. They were definitely big enough to give us a thrill! They hang out along the shore in La Paz from about October to March slurping up all the tiny critters living in the water. They are pretty ambivalent about tourists. They just don’t want to be cuddled. In fact, it is illegal to cuddle a whale shark ever since they became endangered species. One of the guys in our boat got too close and managed to get brushed by the tail of a shark. This caused the shark to freak out and swim away really fast. Normally they are pretty casual swimmers. We had about 45 minutes total in the shark swimming zone. It was plenty. By the time we had to leave I was ready; the water was cold enough to numb my thumbs and I was looking forward to lunch.
We ate lunch at a vegan restaurant called Capuchino Café. Named after the monkey, not the frothy espresso drink. I had chilaquiles and Scott had a falafel burger. After lunch, we went to the office for Baja Ferries to see about securing our passage to Mazatlán. It took us a while to find the front door but once we did the process was easy as pie. We decided to splurge and go for a cabin. The whole thing ended up costing us $5600 pesos. That is $3500 pesos for a car and driver, $1240 pesos for an extra passenger (me), and $860 pesos for the cabin. Not too bad. We were all set to set sail the following evening. Such a productive day! Whale sharks, boat tickets, lunch and we still had a few hours of daylight left! We decided to go check out Balandra Beach, as recommended to us by the guy at the tour office.
When we arrived at the beach the parking lot was full. There were tons of tourists, guys selling random souvenirs, people renting out snorkel gear, and what looked like two different wedding photo shoots. We decided to keep it simple on our beach walk and just grab the go pro for pictures. We picked our way through the throngs of beach-goers to get in line to take pictures of the balanced rock. It was kind of cute watching people pose with it. My favorite was the little abuela who posed right after the sexy Instagram girl was done. Too cute. We had heard that there were less crowded beaches if we were to persist and go around a couple points of rock.
We went for a while but when we finally got to a more private beach there was just one pair of lovers there and we decided to let them have their peace. It was getting late and we still wanted to fit a trip to the grocery store into our day before nightfall so we headed back. When we got to our truck I was feeling pretty ready to go. It had been a long day. Scott thought our truck was looking a little off-kilter. Thinking that there was maybe something malfunctioning with the rack again he took a closer look. The back of our truck was hanging open. While we were goofing off on the beach someone had forced open the back of our truck. A quick assessment was that Scott’s guitar had been stolen. He was pissed. He took a couple of laps of the parking lot looking for anybody suspicious and asking if anybody had seen anything. I was in shock. The front of the truck was still locked up. That was a good sign. I looked in the back again and noticed that Scott’s clothes bag was also gone. A lady parked next to us said that she saw someone in a striped shirt looking in our windows and talking on his phone a while back. Then we saw that our backpack that we usually store our computers in was hanging open in the back of the truck. But it had been in the cab. That is when we saw that the window between the front and back had been forced open. SH!T. Now we needed to do a complete assessment of what was missing. What about my purse? With our ferry tickets, and our passports, and our credit cards? What about my camera? What about our computers and external hard drives? Our lives are in our truck. We have to take a leap of faith every time we walk away. This time we were bitten. When all was said and done we only lost Scott’s guitar, all of his clothes, and his toiletries. Not to diminish the value of what was lost, but it could have been so much worse. We were emotionally damaged as well. Our sense of security was shattered. We checked our travel insurance policy. It didn’t cover theft. Knowing that, we decided that it wasn’t worth our time and energy to deal with filing a police report. At that point, we just wanted to get out of there and start focusing on our emotions and moving forward. It really sucked. Scott loved that guitar. He bought it specifically for this trip and it will not be easy to replace. Deep breath. We didn’t really have much time to deal with ourselves in this new paradigm in insecurity before we had to get ready to ferry across to the mainland.
Back at camp, we kept thinking of things that were critical to our trip and double-checking that we still had them in our possession. Scott’s wallet. Check. Scott’s checkbook. Check. The title to our truck. Check. My iPad. Check. Between the burglary and knowing that we were boarding a ship the next day, we did not rest well. We were very scattered. Considering our combined mental state, we fared pretty well. I think it was successful compartmentalization. Emotions later. Getting onto this ferry now. But first, undies! Poor Scott was wearing his swimming trunks when we were burgled and we had just finished washing all of our laundry, so every bit of it was fresh, clean, and neatly folded when the thief spirited away with it. A trip to the local Walmart resulted in a couple of multipacks of athletic socks and some brightly colored underwear. With the basics taken care of, we were ready to leave La Paz. The sky had opened up while we were underwear shopping and the streets of La Paz were flooding. The sewers were backing up and nasty stinky water had forced open the manhole covers creating artesian springs of fetid frothy water turning the roads into rivers. It was a good time to leave. We were feeling thankful that we had snorkeled with the whale sharks before all of this gross water washed out to sea saving us a trip to the farmacia for antibiotics. Despite the flooded roads, we actually arrived at the ferry terminal early. It must be the trauma that reset our timeliness. We got the green light entering the terminal so we should have breezed on through, but a siren sounded as well. They said that meant that they get to look through our stuff. Whatever, we have nothing to hide. Next, we got to pay $176.16 pesos to be weighed. This must be just for their records because we did not see them do anything with the information. It didn’t affect our fare. Next, we drove around the terminal feeling lost for a bit and getting in the way of the truckers who were definitely not lost. Finally, we were aimed in the right direction and a guy told us we needed to stop at the ticket counter. We already had tickets but took that opportunity to use the facilities and ask where we were supposed to be. At this point, Scott and I had to split up. I was not allowed to ride with him to park the truck on the ferry. So, I sat in the waiting room reading a murder mystery and keeping one eye on the other people waiting. I couldn’t understand the announcements (even the ones in English) so I figured I would just follow my fellow passengers and hope for the best. It worked. All of a sudden everyone got up. As did I. I followed the throng onto the boat and found the room registration.
I traded my driver’s license for a room key and found Scott sipping a smuggled Tecate in the lounge. We made our way to our cabin, told each other about our big adventures that we had while we were separated. Seriously, we have not been apart (except for potty breaks) since we left Chico on October 1st. We had a lot to talk about! Once we were caught up we headed to the restaurant to see about the included meal. I took a leap of faith and went for the shrimp meatballs. Scott, ever the dietary conservative, had beans. We said a silent prayer and ate the lettuce. Only time would tell if they washed it in tap water or filtered water. At that point, we were pretty wiped out so we retired to our fancy cabin to crash out. If everything went right, morning would find us on the mainland of Mexico…