Mexico 05': 9 month South of the Border Jeep Adventures 2005
This is the start of a nine month leave of absence from my job. I’ve been at the same company for over twelve years and I’m good at what I do so I just filled out the application. Unreal, you just never know what is possible until you try. My wife Heidi and I can’t believe it, 9 months, here we go!
Heidi always joked when I asked her what she wanted for her birthday, the stabdard reply was always “a red Jeep” So with our 1990’ Jeep Wrangler, a now rusted, abused, jacked-up and highly modified fun machine we pack up point south. The general plan is cross into Mexico somewhere in California and explore the Mexico Baja peninsula all the way down to the tip, then ferry the jeep and ourselves across the Sea of Cortez to mainland Mexico, then south and beyond for 9-months touring Mexico, Guatemala and Belize. The goal and mission is to find a long-term rental on or near a beach somewhere with surfing and a gym near by, we will call this our base-camp. From base-camp we will explore places undiscovered.
Hayward Wisconsin Tuesday Dec 28, 2004’ the ride begins.
Free drinks: We are shooting for Santa Fe New Mexico. The goal is not to do any driving after dark and enjoy being on the road as much as possible. The first night was Iowa Falls, Iowa, nothing to report. The second night is Wichita Kansas. After getting settled into a cheap motel we wander across the street to a fancy hotel in search of a bar. At the bar I order a couple of cocktails. The bartender wouldn’t take my money and tells me I need to get drink tickets at the front desk. I grew up working at a luxury ski resort in northern Wisconsin and I know the business. I tell Heidi “ Just go with the flow and act like we belong here” It is not that I’m too cheap to pay but hey, the bartender wouldn’t take my money, and this is fun! While in the lounge drinking we met a couple from Austin Texas, Heidi & Dale. Fun people, we have a lively conversation and they invite us for a New Years eve party and a place to stay in Austin, how cool! The four of us walk to a restaurant next-door, before we know it we have a group of eleven people. Four of them I met while making small talk at the hotel bar ordering more drinks, the other people own the restaurant. Man we lit that place up! It is like we are all best friends that haven’t seen each other for a long time. One guy has some far-out stories that I could fill pages with, super fun. What a way to start the trip, a social adventure.
New Years: Austin is too far out of our way so we declined the party offer. We have other places to visit from people I met at the horizonsunlimited.com motorcycle event in Creel Mexico last year. We can’t get over how warm and friendly people we have met on the road have been.
While driving through New Mexico we have a great view of the snow-covered mountains to the North. I turn to Heidi and say “do we really want to go up into the snow again?” Instantly the plans change to look for a new destination for New Years further south, where it’s warmer. Two nights in Alamogordo New Mexico at a nice inexpensive motel. It is time to take care of some business and enjoy the scene at this new state, just the way we like to traveling. Alright, the Jeep gets new Mud-tires, battery and fresh oil. My laptop monitor went dead and I need a computer, it’s my business. I pick up a 15” flat screen monitor for under $200. Not ideal, but I’m back up and running with all my software. With the AC power converter for the jeep I can still compute even when camping on the beach. I know, sic man, but that makes me happy.
The plan is to cross the border at Mexicali Mexico, so Yuma Arizona looks liked a good place to stage and take care of a few last minute things. In our motel in Yuma, I plug the laptop into the phone jack and click on NetZero.com. Sweet, it fires up even though I don’t have an account any more. Thanks NetZero. We have a fun that evening emailing friends with a link to our new website, http://www.JustAdventureTravel.net
Mexico: From Yuma we make the border in no time. This is the fourth time I have driven into Mexico, so I know the procedure. Everything goes smooth, the Baja! It is only a little over a hundred miles to San Felipe, the first Mexico destination. In route there are a few dune buggies cruising next to us in the dirt. Of course I have to jump in behind them just for the fun factor. When in the ‘Baja’…
San Felipe is great, it’s the first American tourist destination in Mexico I’ve been to. I don’t like it that most people we run into speak English to us, but I guess that’s the way it is in the Baja. I have conditioned myself over the years to only speak Spanish when talking with Mexicans in Mexico, it feels weird when they reply in English.
Heidi & I rent a little cabin with a fireplace, stove and fridge and private parking right outside the door, $35 a night. Of course, we have to do at least two nights. The cabin is only a short walk to the Sea of Cortez, we love walking new places in Mexico. I’ve read about the fish tacos here, said to be the best. It is true, unreal.
We have a great time playing tourist, walking, eating, drinking and looking. I buy a Baja off road racing decal that includes a free shot of tequila, what a deal!
2nd Degree Burns:
Ok, when we travel in Mexico on a budget, there are often surprises. When we get back to our cabin, the temperatures had dropped significantly and we are freezing. Being south of the border, we didn’t expect it to be cold, but a front is upon us and there is no heat in the cabin. We have a gas stove so great, a heat source, but NO, no gas. I go to plan B, blast on the showers hot water to steam up the room. This usually does the trick to take the chill out of a cheap room but not this time. We have lukewarm water for a minute, then nothing. It is late and no one is around to ask about firewood. So go to plan C, get out the long johns and sleeping bags. We are cozy warm in the bed but it has to be close to 40 deg. F. Heidi does not even whine, what a girl!
We have another night so I need to do something. It is not comfortable anywhere but under the covers. First thing in the morning, I go search out the source of gas for the stove. I find a shut off valve crammed behind the hot water heater just outside the cabin. “Yes”, I say to myself, now we have four burners on the stove going and the bite is taken out of the room before Heidi is out of bed, I’m the hero! OK, I’m liken this so I go out to tackle the hot water heater. Instantly I see why we have some warm water, the pilot light is burning but that is it. I fiddle around with the controls and kill the pilot flame, crap. I have a lighter, stick my hand inside the bottom of the heater where I saw the flame, then flick the lighter. BAM! Flames are shooting out. The pilot shut off mechanism is obviously not working, probably because the thing is sitting outside in the rain and salt sea air. I burn myself and my long-johns, cut my wrist top and bottom while yanking my hand out. Anyway, the burn is not too bad and I do get the water heater running full blast. Next, a discovery of firewood close by in a vacant lot, we are cooking warm now and ready for a warm second day in Mexico.
After San Felipe, we have only two choices for going south into Baja. We can go back 150 miles north on a good road and catch the paved highway-1 south, or we could continue south on the Baja 1000 race course for 150 miles, then connect to highway-1. The word "Baja" has been in my vocabulary every since I can remember and it meant to me ‘off-road racing and tough off-road terrain’. I love going off-road in Northern Wisconsin. When I hit the rough stuff, the word “Baja!” always comes out of my mouth. My guidebook says we will see a part of the Baja that can’t be seen any other way except by doing the dirt road south. Heidi doesn’t like the idea of going 300 extra miles just to get to a paved road, again what a girl! We have the Jeep, we just installed jacked-up heavy-duty springs and shocks and new Mud Terrain tires. Baja 1000 racecourse, here we come!
We're hammer along getting our teeth rattled out of their sockets but great scenery. A new friend, Art who I met at the horizons unlimited motorcycle event in Creel Mexico suggested taking some air out of the tires. It helps but the stiff suspension is a killer. All of a sudden, we see a dune buggy racing toward us going super fast. It had what looks like 50” tires sticking way out and springs on each tire at least 5 feet tall. When it passed, we could see the driver and passenger wearing big 1970’ style head phones. I imagine them jamming loud rock and roll and having a blast. Heidi & I looked at each other for a nanosecond, we grab our case of cassettes and pop in “Dance Extreme” and cranked it! WOW, in an instant I’m living the dream. We’re racing along Mexico’s Baja jamming tunes and seeing scenery I’ve only dreamed of. I’m having a difficult time keeping my eyes dry.
After San Felipe, we stay at Alfonsina’s resort on the Sea of Cortez with a room over looking a beautiful bay. A little expensive, $50 US and Antonio, the guy running the place acted like a jerk to us after we asked if we could camp, but the food is great and the location is isolated, idyllic and enjoyable. We wake up in the morning with the most unreal orange sunrise filling the bay. I parked myself on the deck with a book and the next thing I see are a half of dozen dolphins playing in front of me and a fisherman reeling in a giant fish net. I feel like I am in a dream.
More Mexico Baja fun! The Baja 1000 racecourse is full of unusual sights.
This is Coco at his place in literally the middle of nowhere. Coco lost a leg in an accident years ago and now lives here right on the Baja 1000 racecourse. Coco serves cold beer and has lots of funny stories and information. We mentioned meeting Memo the day before at the Cowpatty bar. Memo is a big bicycler, every year when it’s too hot he shuts down his bar and rides his bicycle south. Last year he made it all the way to San Salvador. Memo stays with Coco on his way south and often helps him out with repairs. Coco talks with a grin about how much Tequila he drinks having 3 liters strapped on his bike when he rides with a tube running into his mouth. Funny, I could go on and on but I’m sure you get the idea. True or false, I’m not sure? For sure, Memo is a real hard-core biker.
This is Memo at the Cowpatty bar, an open-air bar in the middle of nowhere on the Baja 1000 racecourse.
Later that day we continue south through constantly changing scenery, every mile getting more dramatic and exotic, seeing elephant trees and giant cacti. Finely we hit paved highway 1 heading south to Guerrero Negro, a nice little seaside city on the Pacific Ocean, 10,000 population. This is a popular whale watching spot where the whales come every year to bare their young. The whales come into the big bays outside of town and chase out all other fish and guard the bay entrances from any fish coming inside so the young newborn calf’s can be safe, wow. Fun little town, we stay two nights and have a ball.
The guidebook says, south of Guerrero Negro on the sea of Cortez are several campo’s along beautiful beaches. A campo is an area where people can park an RV or pitch a tent for a small fee, around $6 a night and there’s usually a restaurant or store on the beach. The first campo we pull into is said to be the most popular for windsurfers. I imagine tons of tents and cars with windsurfers on top. When we get there are no RV’s and no surfboards. It’s low tide and the beach doesn’t look good, so we continued down the coast. The next beach / campo is said to be the most beautiful and popular.
The sand is perfect and the bay is dreamy but the prime spots are all taken by RV’s, many looking like they are permanent. We drove to the end of the beach on one side, turn around and go to the other end of the beach. I thought the road dead-ended but I spotted a small rough looking path leading further over a hill. We have the Jeep, we're jacked up with gnarly tires so here we go. We climb up and over the hill when instantly the view in front of us explodes with the sight of a deserted desert beach on a bay surrounded by colorful rocky hills. The beach is at least a mile long on a bay 5 miles long by 5 miles wide, this was the windsurfing bay. We could barely see the first campo we came to on the other side, besides that, nothing. I feel now like I just woke up and found myself in paradise. Heidi & I look at each other with a “O my gosh, can you believe this?” look. We are loosing sunlight fast so I get out the tent while Heidi prepares cocktails.
The beach is littered with millions and millions of beautiful seashells. I am feeling super large and thought this is the time to break out one of the Dominican Republic cigars my brother Pat gave me for Christmas. My next mission is to find the perfect cigar ashtray (seashells). It takes only seconds to find one. Thanks Bro!
Heidi has never been one to rough it much so I am determined to show her how good camping and independent adventure travel can be. I bought a new 8 person tent with a 6 foot screened ceiling, enough room for two extra large cots, two lawn chairs with foot rests, a cooler and still enough room to cook. We’re liken it!
The moon is down before it was dark. We always talk about all stars at our cabin in northern Wisconsin but here it seems there are 100 times more, it is unreal, we feel like we are on another planet. I purposely pitch the tent less then ten yards from the high tide mark on the sand. All night we listen to the gentle wave break coming closer and closer as the tide rises. Life is good…
After a little research in out guidebook we discover the entire bay is a national marine preserve and is reportedly one of the cleanest bays in the world! We feel like we are watching a National Geographic TV special. All around us are sea gulls, frigates, pelicans, hawks and blue-footed boobies just feet from our tent. The gulls are picking up clams, take off flying straight up 50 feet high or more then dropping the clam onto rocks below. It usually takes 3 or 4 tries before the gulls can start feasting on the clam. We cannot look out into the bay without seeing frigates or hawks dive-bombing into the water. They start at 100 feet then go straight into the sea causing a 4-foot splash. The hawks come right back up out of the water but the frigates coil back their wings just before hitting the water and stay under water sometimes for a long time. Hawks are constantly circling low around the cactus and shrubs near us, often we can see one carrying a rodent or sitting on the tip of a cactus eating a fish or whatever. I’m not kidding, this is going on constantly. We cannot look up or out without seeing one or several of these events all at once.
The main beach is where all the RV’s and some permanent looking structures are located. There is one for sale for $8,000 US. All you need to pay after that is the $6 per night fee, about $2,000 a year and it’s yours for life, as long as you pay the fee. I want to contact my main windsurfing friends Tim and Connie to see if they want to go in half on the place. Two out of the three days we were there the winds were cranking in the windsurf part of the bay.
We pushed further south.
We got an email tip from Warren, another great guy I meet at the Mexico HoriznsUnlimited event, Warren just completed the Baja 1000 race on a motorcycle. He gave us several recommended places to check out and knowing Warren, I thought it would be foolish to pass them up. The first place on our route was Loreto and a gringo happy hour bar on the malecon (seaside street). What a tip! We met so many people. We’re invited to a goat roast party tonight and met two sailing couples, each on a boat parked just across the street from our motel. One couple, Deanna and Roy sailed across the Sea of Cortez in a huge storm a week ago surfing down 20 foot waves. They were up for 46 hours straight, at one point for two hours they made zero headway due to the heavy seas. Now that’s all one thing but the kicker is they were doing it in a 26 foot MaccGreggor flat bottom swing keel water ballast boat, wow! The other sailing couple, Tammy and Larry just bought a 39 foot something and had their injector pump go out so Deanna and Roy towed them over eighty miles with their 26 footer to where we met them in Loreto. The six of us connected and are all going to the party tonight tonight.
Loreto is a quaint little town with nice street cafés, cobble stone streets and a university with a gym. We are charged $1.30 to use the gym for the day and I never felt so welcomed in my life to a new gym. Thanks Antonio from Loreto university, your welcoming almost made me choke up.
Sunrise from our hotel in Loreto.
Hang On! Much more to come…
Continued at -> Mex05'-2 <->
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