29 January - 21 March 2016 Mexico - Baja California

Friday 29th January – Baja California Caravan - Day 1 - Chula Vista to Guadalupe Valley

On the road early to make our way to the Mexican border crossing at Tecate. We travelled south from Chula Vista on highway 94 and soon came out of the suburbs into fertile looking green hill country. Our first stop at the border was at the Mexican immigration office to fill in a form and get a Tourist Card, followed by paying the 390 pesos fee each. The official we saw was very helpful and at one point, like magic, his hand suddenly appeared from under the table holding three bottles of salsa sauce, three for $5. I am sure it would have been excellent but we politely declined. Next to the US immigration office to hand in our leave to stay permit so that they know we have left the country and not overstayed our six months which is up in March. The rest of the group was on the way arriving in convoy - we had got to the border early to see the USIS and complete the exit procedure. We went through the border crossing where two Mexican customs officers took a look inside both vehicles and ask a few questions then we were on our way.

It takes a while to get through the border inspections, therefore we all met up in a large car park just south of Tecate. John and Becky are the ‘wagon masters’ and lead the convoy in their pickup truck, with Lawrie (alias grumpy) and Monica in their pickup and 5th wheel trailer bringing up the rear as ‘tail gunner’. Everyone checked in with the wagon master on our CB radios – our handle is Harvey – before we got back on Highway 3 in convoy and headed through northern Baja wine country. As we entered the Guadalupe Valley the grape vines could be seen for miles.

Our first stop in the valley was the Wine Museum of Northern Baja where the history and beginnings of wine making was explained and then the process of making and flavoring the wine.

From a large balcony on the first floor of the building there was a marvelous view of the vineyards and mountains.

Just down the road from the museum was our camp for the night at Rancho Sordo Mudo.

Across the road from the camp is a home and school for Mexican deaf children. Volunteers from the school operate the RV Park. We all got together in the covered outdoor group meeting area provided in the park where we had nice views of the mountains. There was a briefing about tomorrow’s travel and we had rotisserie chicken, potato, onions and peppers with tortillas cooked by the school, together with plenty of side dishes provided by the group.

Saturday 30th January - Day 2 – Guadalupe Valley to San Quintin

Another lovely sunny morning and we were all ready to get on the road before 8:30. Before we left one of the volunteers from the school for deaf children came to the RV Park and talked about the school and the work it does.

We continued south to the town of Ensenada where we picked up highway 1. The CB radios come in very useful, the wagon master advises from the front of the convoy when large vehicles are approaching, when traffic lights are ahead, bumps in the road and information on points of interest along the way. The tail gunner announces when cars and trucks are overtaking and keeps the convoy together, it all works very well.

Once out of the town we climbed through a mountainous region with wide fertile valleys and winding roads. There will be several military check points on our route and we passed through our first one just outside the town of San Vincente, we were waved through without being stopped.

Fifteen miles south of San Quintin we turned off the highway onto a dirt track to El Rabellon RV Park, our campsite for the night. The camp was right next to a beautiful soft sand beach and as we got out of the RV we could hear the surf pounding. Sandy had a wonderful time running up and down the beach and the sand dunes.

There were several vultures hovering over the beach.

John made margaritas for everyone and we sat sipping our drinks as we listened to the briefing for tomorrows travel.

Tonight was pot luck dinner where everyone brought along a dish to share. After dinner we sat around a roaring camp fire talking.

We had a conversation with Grant and Arabelle, they have lived in the UK. Grant is a Professor of Philosophy and worked at Cambridge for a while, now living in Santé Fe, New Mexico.

Sunday 31st January – Day 3 – San Quintin to Catavina

Cloudy overcast morning. We walked through the sand dunes onto the beach where most people had their dogs out for an early morning run. Sandy was having a great time and got all of the surplus energy out before we got on the road. There was what looked like a long-billed curlew with four young feeding at the edge of the waves.

The sand dunes had some pretty flowering plants

We followed the coast until reaching La Rosario where we stopped to get gas and then headed east onto a plateau in the mountains.

The desert countryside was in fact very green with lots of unusual plants, grasses and cacti.

We went through a military inspection point then headed down steep gradients along winding roads. Much of the country here is protected nature reserve and is pristine desert. By lunchtime the sun had come out as we reached our camp, Rancho Santa Inez in Catavina.

We set up camp amongst the mesquite trees and then spent a while chatting with Keri and David with there lovley little french bulldog, Trip. Later we went for a short hike through the desert to view cave paintings that were several hundred years old. The desert countryside around here is spectacular, large granite boulders with impressive plant life growing between them.

As we walked John told us about the plants we saw, some of which only grow in Baja, such as the cirios which translates as candle.

When it rains this plant sprouts leaves and the colour of the flame like flower at the top intensifies. We also saw the Elephant Tree and cardon cacti. There was also an example of the cardon cacti with arms of the plant inverted which is very rare.

A member of the family from the ranch came with us as our guide.

For dinner we had a bunk-house meal cooked by the family that own the ranch, just 200 pesos each (about $11) We sat with Debbie, Dave (from Vancouver) and Becky. After the meal Lawrie and Monica (also from BC Canada)

Monday 1st February Day 4 – Catavina to San Ignacio

Happy Birthday Tommy!

It was a very stormy night and the weather is still overcast and damp this morning. We headed out of camp just before 8am, we have a longer drive today, 245 miles south. The two lane road was narrow and potholed with no hard shoulder, there wasn’t much room for manoeuvre when a large truck was coming the other way. About an hour in we had a ‘Lenny’ break or toilet break. Some years ago there was a person called Lenny on one of the Caravas and he needed frequent toilet breaks, hence they are now called ‘Lenny’ breaks. We were now travelling through flat arid desert terrain with a strong wind blowing causing sand storms but the condition of the road had improved a lot.

At Guerrero Negro we reached the agricultural check point at the border with Baja California Sur. No fruit or vegetables are allowed past this point and the tyres of both vehicles are sprayed for ‘pests’ – cost 20 pesos. As we were waiting in the queue at the inspection point we saw an Osprey nesting on one of the high platforms provided for them to use.

Continuing on into the middle of the country which at its widest point is only 70 miles wide, we change from Pacific to Mountain Time – plus one hour.

Another military check point and then four kilometers on we reach our stop for the night at San Ignacio and Rice and Beans RV Park. The restaurant and bar here serve giant margaritas and we had a delicious fish dinner.

Tuesday 2nd February – Day 5 – San Ignacio to Mulege

This morning we went to San Ignacio which is an oasis town with an abundance of palm trees, a wide river and picturesque town centre.

The restored Spanish mission overlooks the town square which has huge ficus trees which are over 200 years old.

Inside the church the alter area was very impressive with whole wall covered in gold leaf

and outside there was a pretty side garden. We stopped off at a small ice cream shop in the square run by a nice friendly family whose son spoke English and translated for everyone.

Past the square at the Tortillaria we watched the ladies making tortillas, they smelled delicious.

There were several vultures flying over the town.

One perched on the top of the church and fanned his wings out, looking just like the gargoyles seen on medieval European cathedrals.

After our visit to the town we packed up camp and continued our journey south. On our way we past a large, still active volcano called Las Virgenes. There was a wide larva flow from the volcano with elephant tree growing in the lava soil.

As we continued through the mountains we came to the steepest downhill gradients so far, the Cuesta del Inferno. It was low gear and brakes all the way but the views were spectacular.

We had our first view of the Sea of Cortez on the eastern side of Baja.

Pulled in by the side of the sea for lunch just before the copper mining town of Santa Rosalia. Next we came to the town of Mulege and continued on twelve miles further south, past lovely views of the Sea of Cortez to the beach where we would be camping for three nights.

Santispac beach on the Bahia Concepcion is a beautiful white sand beach, edged by shallow turquoise water. The bay is very sheltered and there were several sail boats moored in the bay.

The dogs were the first in the sea, having a wonderful time.

We set up camp and then got out on the beach. Later we had a game of Bocce (a form of beach bowls) with Debbie and Pat.

The beach bar had happy hour this evening and it was a very lively event with plenty of margaritas being consumed.

We had really sociable couple of hours talking to different people about their travels. Came back to the RV for dinner then Debbie and Dave came around and we watched a dvd.

Wednesday 3rd February – Day 6 – Santispac Beach

Quite a windy night but a lovely sunny morning, still windy but very pleasant in the sun. We were speaking to a lady in the bar last night and she and her partner had been in Baja for a while wind surfing.

At the last campsite we could not fill our fresh water tank because there was no water pressure. Luckily a local person came onto the beach to ask if anyone needed fresh water. John was here to translate and soon a pickup arrived with a large barrel of water and a pump to fix to the hose. We used our new UV filter and the tank was soon full. Other vendors came to the beach selling fruit, vegetables, tamales and fish. We bought some scallops.

Spent the day on the beach and played Bocce again in the afternoon with Debbie and Jerry.

Playing Mexican Trains.

Had dinner at the beach restaurant with Grant, Annabelle, John and Sara.

We all had fish or shell fish, it was all delicious and we had nice evening with some lively conversation. Came back to watch the last episode, season five of Breaking Bad.

Thursday 4th February – Day 7 - Santispac Beach

Another very windy night. Bright sunshine again today but the wind persists. Spent the day on the beach. Played dominoes with Debbie and Shipp. Quite a lot of bird life visits the beach, including pelicans and herons.

Late afternoon John and Becky arrived with margaritas, wine, beer and grilled chicken, everyone else bought a dish of something and we had a beach party. Finished off the evening around a log fire on the beach. A nice relaxing day.

Friday 5th February – Day 8 – Santispac Beach to Loreto

On the road at 7:30 am and off to the gas station to fill up.

Back at the beach we joined the rest of the group on the beach and set off south to Loreto.

We followed the beautiful coastline of Bahia Concepcion and arrived in the town at 1100. The RV Park is small and in the suburbs of the town near a school, it took a while to get us all in and parked. The police turned up to observe the procedure and threatened to ticket anyone who should drive over a pavement.

First was a visit to the laundry across the road from the RV Park where a machine load of laundry cost 70 pesos (just over $4) for washing and drying. We were near to the town centre and decided to bike in with Debbie and Dave. Loreto is a nice, friendly resort town at the base of the Sierra de la Giganta. At a nice cobbled stone square we came to the hotel Posada de las Flores and went in to look around. It is an old Spanish styled building with an open courtyard and fountain which now has a glass bottom pool for a ceiling and it looks just incredible.

The town was preparing for carnival and there was a fair being set up along the seafront. We called in at a couple of nice bars for refreshments on our way around town.

Back at the RV Park in the afternoon. John and Becky arrived with cake and ice cream for everyone at the afternoon briefing.

In the evening we biked back into town to restaurant La Palapa for dinner. Tasty fresh made guacamole and scallops.

Saturday 6th February – Day 9 – Loreto – Rivera Del Mar RV Park

This morning we took the narrow winding road into the mountains to San Javier, a former mission settlement. We travelled with John and Becky in their pick up. The road travels through an arroyo or river gorge and we went through several shallow fords crossing the road. The village consists of one main cobbled street with palapa (thatched) roofed small houses and has a well preserved Spanish mission church, one of the first built in Baja. The mission began in 1699 and the church built from 1744 to 1758. The church has ornate carved stone work around the doors and windows that has been worn and weathered.

Inside is a gilded altarpiece inlaid with portraits of the saints, really beautiful.

Walking along the irrigation system

to the agricultural area we saw several vegetable and fruit crops, peas, guava, papaya, sweet lemon, cumquat, oranges, tamarind, flowering prickly pear with a hummingbird taking the nectar.

Chickens and fighting cocks were either tethered or in cages around the farms.

Back to the centre of the village for lunch at La Palapa restaurant.

Bought some home baked guava pies, delicious.

Lovely mountain scenery and a distant view of the Sea of Cortez on our way back to Loreto.

Crossing the road at one point was a herd of goats accompanied by a dog. John explained that when a kid is born it is taken from the mother and bottle fed. The kid is replaced by a new born puppy which is reared as a goat. The dog stays with the herd of goats and keeps it together, guiding and protecting the herd - neat solution to goat herding Next we came upon two vultures in the middle of the road that were not keen on moving.

This afternoon we all gathered for individual and group photographs.

Walked into town this evening and had dinner at a restaurant in the Plaza with Grant, Annabelle, John, Sara, Dave and Debbie.

As we left the restaurant someone at the bar said “I know that accent”. It was a lady that had lived in Baja for some years but originated from Arley, Worcestershire!

Sunday 7th February – Day 10 - Loreto to Rivera Del Mar RV Park

Departed Loreto this morning and headed south on Highway 1 along the coast road past the National Marine Park and resorts with pristine golf courses. The road turned west up into the mountains and we stopped for a ‘Lenny’ break at Aqua Verde, a small restaurant and rest stop.

Came out of the mountain region onto a very straight and reasonably wide stretch of highway. Stopped to get gas and then continued on south through a very flat crop growing area. We came to the town of Cuidad Constitucion, a smart town where one side of the highway was closed for carnival. There were many stop signs and police along the route. Just south of the town we stopped at Palapa 206 RV Park, our camp for the night. We were now inland and although cloudy it was hot, 31 degrees c and not much wind.

Today is Super bowl Sunday – American footballs final between DenverBroncos and the Carolina Panthers. We all congregated outside Jerry and Kathy’s rig to watch Shipp’s TV set up on the back of the pickup. We had a sweepstake for the winner of each quarter. It was a tense match but Denver won.

Beautiful sunset this evening.

Monday 8th February – Day 11 – Ciudad Constitucion to La Paz

Just got on the road to start our 130 mile journey to La Paz when one of the RV’s got a rock stuck between two of the back tyres. A helpful local produced a long crow bar and with help from some of the guys the rock was levered out and we were on our way.

Travelled through flat farming and ranching country and had to keep a watchful eye out for stray cows on the road.

Had a Lenny break at a place called Las Pocitas. There was a small family business there carving tables and garden furniture from large cactus plants.

After stopping for gas we headed into La Paz with views of the bay to our left. We pulled into Maranatha RV Park which is about two miles from town. The RV park has nice gardens and a swimming pool.

La Paz is the largest city and state capital of Southern Baja. It is set at the southern end of a large and beautiful bay on the Sea of Cortez in the Gulf of California. There is a promenade or malacon around the bay. Here there are lots of opportunities for water sports. About twenty years ago we came here to scuba dive and remember swimming with the playful juvenile sea lions around the islands and the wonderful undersea topography. In the underwater current it felt like we were flying over mountains and deep canyons. The highlight was at the end of one dive when we were on our own doing the five metre stop and we saw a shoal of hammer head sharks coming up out of the depths. An occasion when the word ‘awesome’ really applied.

Tuesday 9th February – Day 12 – La Paz – Fat Tuesday

Beautiful weather. Stayed around camp today. A group of us sat outside Dave and Debbie’s rig this afternoon. Debbie made Clamato cocktails of clam and tomato juice with vodka and tabasco.

Keri and David’s dog, Trip, just chilling out.

The local laundry came around and collected our washing to be done and returned before we depart tomorrow.

Got a taxi to the malacon for the carnival parade.

The fair with rides and stalls was set up along the parade route.

We were walking along the malacon

with Debbie, Dave, Keri and David when a girl came past with a young bower constrictor around her neck.

Found a bar with a first floor balcony from which we had an excellent view of the oncoming parade floats and sunset over the bay.