I was impressed to find my brake line (two of them!) waiting for me the next day at the parts place. In no time I replaced both front brake hoses and we were off to Los Cabos.
First up was Cabo San Lucas. Angela came here years ago, but recognized nothing. I’ve never been here, and pretty much just saw a big resort town. Not much character, but not too ridiculous either.
The highlight for both of us was tacos at Gordo LeLe. He’s a huge Beatles fan and will occasionally serenade the patrons, but we missed out. No worries, as we were busy with killer tacos. He said the record was six and we could eat free if we could match it. We barely finished two each.
The beaches here are nice, of course, but a little crowded. Bode managed to make some buddies and help bury one kid in the sand. We learned that putting boobies on someone buried in the sand is funny in any language.
Not twenty feet from where we plopped down, some guys came out and started excavating turtle eggs from the sand. It was marked with a stick. Fifty or so eggs came out – they broke one. I guess the turtles don’t know there are para-sailers, glass bottom boats, jet skis, banana thingies and all sorts of people screaming up and down the beach during the day. Not exactly the kind of place you want to be hatching little turtles.
Again, we parked the bus near town at an RV park next to some mega land-yachts and more permanent installations. This time, the permanents were over the top. Gourmet outdoor kitchens and outdoor flat screen TVs and such. It’s a different world. As always though, we met some friendly (Canadian) folks parked next to us and spent the evening outside chatting with them.
The next morning we headed out looking for the right sized bolt for our shock and we found it at a place called Tuercas y Tornillos (Nuts and Bolts.) Guess what they sold. I was sure to add lock washers and copious amounts of thread-lock before re-bolting both front shocks on. So far so good.
Then, off to Cabo San Jose for a quick lunch and look around before heading farther East back to the dirt roads and empty beaches.
After sort of making our reservations for the ferry, we had some time to spend wandering around the Cape. For no particular reason, we decided to make a clockwise loop and go to La Ventana since some folks we met earlier recommended it. When we got to the turn-off after La Paz, for we randomly went towards Todos Santos instead and headed West. Sometimes the bus just knows what to do.
We pulled into town and Angela and Bode stopped at the town square with a playground and I went off to find somewhere to camp for the night. There’s a place close to town, but it was pretty sad looking. The owner’s over-eagerness to have me pay immediately (asking multiple times before I even looked around) raised my suspicions a bit too, so I headed back to the square to pick up the crew and make a new plan.
Fortunately for all of us, Bode had already made friends with Maya on the playground and her cool parents (guess what, they’re from B.C.) invited us back to stay at their place.
Nicole and Dave live up near the Alaskan border most of the year, but rent out a beautiful hacienda down here every winter. Nicole has been coming here for the past 12 years and has a keen interest in moving here permanently. We can see why – it’s a really comfortable town with a great vibe and great people. They also inspired us a bit to just settle down and relax in the same spot for a while – a really appealing idea after being on the move continuously for so long.
I’ve been really impressed with Bode’s ability to make fast friends – something I’ve never been the best at – and in choosing really great kids as friends too. We all made dinner together and the kids had a blast playing all evening.
The next day I had some time to take a look at a recurring issue – those damn shocks. Before we left, I splurged and installed all new shocks – the German Boge original equipment – and the most recommended ones out there (granted, everyone has an opinion.) The ride and handling has been fine, but the sturdiness leaves a little to be desired. We’ve just stressed the end connectors beyond what they can handle and the rubber inserts don’t like the Mexican roads. This time, the end bolts and the new giant washers came loose and disappeared. I suppose this is why it’s not supposed to be mounted like that.
Anyway, while I was taking a look I found a bigger problem. I was leaking brake fluid all over the right side – coming from the rubber hose connecting the brake line and wheel. I don’t know if it split from age or if it was hit by a rock or something else (like a flailing shock.) Regardless, we weren’t going anywhere until it was replaced.
I went to the local parts store and the best they could do was order it and it would be available mañana. Mañana doesn’t necessarily mean tomorrow – just not today – so I was not encouraged. All the other parts places had the same story. They are really just tiny shops to buy oil and other miscellaneous fluids and place your order for real parts. It seems everything around here has to come from La Paz. No one would give the price either – wait until mañana. Also, no one had the right bolt, so it is back to driving with no shock.
Anyway, I decided to drive it sparingly and be ready to grab the emergency brake if needed. So far, we’ve done a pretty good job of breaking down in really nice places. We set out to go find a beach and wait for mañana.
Santa Cruz, CA came up in a recent conversation, and ever since Bode has been wanting to ride rides. He had a 3 stage plan to find them. He would look wherever we drove, Jason was to read the signs as he drove and I would get out and ask strangers where the closest amusement park was.
Luckily, we knew Carnaval was just starting in La Paz. We kept that information from him, so as to seem cooler when we stumbled upon it. His plan was pretty cute and all.
La Paz is the biggest city in Southern Baja, but is not a so much a tourist town – they all go to Los Cabos. That’s what’s great about it. We tried to find a recommended campground near town, but it had closed down. The thought of driving the bus from a boondocking beach outside of town (Tecolote) to the malecon at night didn’t seem too appealing, so we set out to see if we could find a motel. Easy enough, the first one we found right on the malecon was $45 – but not in line with our new Mexican fiscal sensibilities. At first we scoffed at the price, but it was getting dark and then we remembered it was Carnaval and we had the closest hotel to all the action. It’s amazing that we could just walk up and get a room, actually. It was pretty stark, but it did have some awesome owl yarn art on every floor.
We walked around town and had the first obvious experiences with strangers touching Bode’s head. I’ve read that it is a good luck thing. You can see it in someone’s eyes when they spot him…and you know it’s going to happen. As he walks by they try their best to do a nonchalant tap. I was sure to hold his hand and be real close, but the kid was a trooper, and actually most of the time didn’t notice. I swear in one 3 block walk he was touched by 18 strangers. I know a lot of kids would be freaking out, so I’m pretty grateful. The next time we went out though, I made him wear a hat.
It was all about the rides that evening. Bode got to ride a scaled down mechanical bull and fulfill his life-long dream of driving a bumper car. No height or age restrictions here. We were in by 9, but it was a Friday night and the party lasted til 4am.
The hotel was booked on the next night, so we set out to the port at Pichilingue to get our vehicle permission and book our upcoming trip on the ferry. The ferry ticket offices were closed, but we did get our vehicle import permit (you don’t need one in Baja, but you do on the mainland.) I had to persuade the security office manager to make copies of all our documents (something we’ve been meaning to do,) but it all ended well.
We made a few beach stops for cervesas and tacos and we thought we’d camp at the beach this time, but Bode had so much fun at Carnaval we drove back to town. We found another motel 3 blocks from the malecon, this time even cheaper. It was a supposed to be some sort of an art gallery, but looked more like a garage sale. It was great though, and there was no noise from the all-night party when we were ready to be done for the evening. It was a bit funny to be coming in for the night with our kid as the others were just leaving – oh, how times change.
The big parades run 3 nights and start on Sunday. It goes south the first night, then they park and go back the other direction the next night. The whole thing lasted maybe an hour, but in true Mexican fashion started 2 hours later than we were told.
Their weren’t many floats, and no Mardi Gras style beads or flashing to get them. The drinking huge amounts of alcohol part of the festivities is universally celebrated, though. Still, the whole thing was family friendly and there were kids everywhere. We weren’t entirely sure what was going on, but I think one of these gals may be the Queen of Cockfighting?
Coming from the Bay Area, we know that it’s just not a parade without drag queens and we were not disappointed. Somehow they were able to make Carnaval even more festive.
We found La Paz to be very pleasant, especially for a big city, and has a really nice malecon.
Contrary to what we’ve been told by plenty of people on the way down, there are two ferries that run from La Paz to the mainland.
Baja Ferries is the normal passenger ferry that everyone seems to use, but they require tickets for each passenger (including children) and is more expensive. You buy a cabin if you’d like to upgrade from seats on the overnight ferry, the cars are in a cargo only area and can’t be accessed. Everyone here speaks English and there are multiple easy to find offices.
There’s a cargo carrier here too, and we actually had to go through customs at the port to find the Maritima de California ticket office. Communication for us was a huge challenge. We were able to learn that the ship was full today, but I was able to explain we wanted tickets for a week from now. She wrote down our names and the date we wanted to go on what looked like scratch paper. Then, she told us to be back at 1pm on that day and that our names on the scratch piece of paper was our reservation. From what we gathered, it would be a 16 hour trip. No ticket in hand, but no money paid yet.
Maritime de Califonia was about 40% less than Baja Ferries, and the vehicle passage includes the driver. Bode doesn’t need a ticket, so we just need 1 additional passenger fare. Aside from not being sure if we really have a reservation, we think she said we could not stay in the bus. I guess we’ll find out in a week. It could be one very long night.
Bahia Concepcion was great, but we needed some internet action so we were forced to leave the next day. We make the tough decisions around here, so on to Loreto. There’s not much in the way of camping or boondocking right near town, so we found an RV site that was set up mostly for long-termers. We were packed into spots right next to each other – some giant rigs the size of tour buses – but everyone was friendly. Some folks were pretty much moved in permanently – their rigs essentially built-in and immobile. Not exactly what we are normally looking for, but it sure was convenient.
The place was quite nice, with a restaurant, internet access and washing machines…and some of the best showers we’ve had in a while. Bode now asks in advance, “Does this place have plumbing? Internet?” Not always in that order.
We were only a few block from the center of town, so it was great to walk around and have a home base right there. Loreto is a pleasant little town, though I don’t think I’ve ever heard of it before now. It has an airport so lots of folks fly straight here.
We headed over to Mc Lulu’s taco stand for dinner. I’m not sure who Jason is more surprised by, me or Bode at our fish taco eating abilities. It’s been really great to have a kid-approved standby meal for about $1.25. I’ve stopped stocking up on lunch supplies. Lulu was great and helped us with our Spanish some more – maybe we won’t need to find a school after all if we can keep meeting such nice folks.
There are several things to get used to in Mexico (we can discuss toilet paper later.) One is the perpetual drive-by’s of vehicles with speakers on top of their car announcing something !muy importante! We still haven’t figured it out – maybe an election coming? A big sale at the supermercado?
Every single town, no matter the size, has one. Sometimes several. It is pretty interesting to see all the variations and what kind of car get’s pimped out with a PA system. We all joked about getting something like this for the bus and handing Bode the mic when we roll into a new place. It just looks so cool – maybe we’ll get one and just crank out the tunes whenever we’re in the mood.
Also, we just got an e-mail from Jad at GoWesty – we’re supposed to be featured on the Daily Driver section on their site today. Thanks Jad!
Santa Rosalia is an interesting place. It was a French-owned mining town and they sent their copper to the Pacific Northwest. There, instead of returning with empty ships, they filled them up with lumber to send back to Baja. As a result, the town is mostly wooden buildings with large wrap around balconies. Quite different than the usual stucco and cement we see everywhere else.
The big attraction here is the Eiffel-designed church. It is a prefab metal building that is actually rather plain on the outside. Inside, it looks like a regular Catholic church. The church was revealed at a 1889 Paris World Exposition, where Eiffel also unveiled the famous tower in Paris. He won an award for the church. It was later bought by the Frenchies in Mexico for this town.
The other attraction is the French bakery. Bode had fallen asleep in the car, so I ran in. They had several French/Mexican goodies without egg and butter, so I bought a couple. He was awake when I came out, immediately ate 2 of them, and I went back in for more.
Also, if you’re missing your firetruck in Fresno, it’s here.
We continued on to Mulege, which had been recommended by several people. It was a really nice town, and everyone is pretty accustomed to seeing norte-americanos. It was getting late, so we found a cheap motel next to a very clean laundromat and headed out for pizza. Yes, it’s that easy here.
From what I’ve gathered, usually this time of year Baja is packed with snowbirds from the US and Canada, but not so this year. Most places are empty, and I’d say 90% of the gringos we do meet are Canadian (and 90% of those are from British Columbia.) I think the bad publicity and economy have kept out the Americans.
So far, we’ve felt very safe here – everywhere in Baja. Most of Baja is set up for travelers, but not over-built like so many destinations on the mainland. For the most part, the Mexicans speak English (or at least enough to do their business.) They are also very accommodating when I’m trying to practice my Spanish. It’s sort of a mixed blessing when I try really hard to ask questions in Spanish and they respond in English.
The next day we headed a few miles south to Bahia Concepcion. We were all hungry, so we pulled into the first beach/campground that we thought had a restaurant. The restaurant was closed, but we ran into Kassandra and Justin, whom we met at the Bay of L.A., and pulled up near them for the night.
They were cool enough to entertain Bode and play cars and trucks in the sand. They hosted the bonfire later that night and more folks (more Canadians!) from down the beach came over to swap stories.
The Bay of Conception was beautiful, and the water was safe for a 4 year old. There were nice sailboats lazily moored off the beach – something we haven’t seen yet in Baja.
There are lots of great looking beaches around here and we’re starting to see more and more campers lining the miles and miles of clear blue water. And, it’s getting noticeably warmer.
Bode felt better the next morning, so we decided the best thing for a kid with a weak stomach is a 3 hour dirt road and then a boat ride. All this to see the California Grey Whales at San Ignacio Bay.
They said it would take 1.5-2 hours to get there. They didn’t mention the road conditions, so we headed out. We passed 2 guys that seemed broken down on the road, but both insisted ‘no problema.’ So we continued on.
About 5 miles to our destination, the right front shock came off. Jason bolted it back on backwards to hold until we got to Ecotourismo Kuyima. We walked out to the boat with a French couple and the captain.
We were happy to find that there are some pretty strict rules about tour boats here. Only a limited number of specially licensed boats are permitted here each season. We only saw 2 other boats the whole time and both of them headed back a few minutes after we got there.
Within 20 minutes we were seeing whales. Our captain (no English) navigated us onward and we found more and more whales. Ultimately, a few mother and babies came right up to our boat to check us out.
It was pretty amazing, and one of the highlights of the trip so far for both Jason and I. Bode seemed to think this was an everyday occurrence. That is one damn lucky 4 year old.
We took hundreds of photos, and a few movies. I’m not sure that whale photos are that interesting to others, but hopefully you can see how close they got to us, and how many there were.
The ride home was the least fun part of the day. Within minutes, both front shocks came off and there wasn’t much we could do this time. Jason removed them and we rode 3 hours back without shocks on the front of the car. This has cured us of wanting to do any off-roading for the near future.
We rewarded ourselves with some mighty fine street tacos when we got back to San Ignacio.
Jason was able to McGyver the shocks with a knife and some giant washers the next day, so Red Beard is riding semi-smooth again.
San Ignacio is known as the date palm oasis, out in the middle of miles and miles of desert. There wasn’t much scenery on the way here, but the Transpeninsular Highway was smooth and easy. The town is beautiful, with palms and water and fruits. Dates are the big deal here, and we walked by a small store where a woman was making date cookies, pies and bread. It smelled wonderful. She even made us a batch of cookies without milk or eggs so Bode could have some too.
We ran around the town square, there were a few little girls giggling at Bode trying to speak Spanish. There were some teenage girls who just had to touch his curly blond hair. We tried explaining to him that not many people in Mexico have blond hair, but he got confused and later asked why people here didn’t have curly hair.
After many nights in the bus, we decided to splurge on a little more space and stretch out a bit. We read about a cottage that rents rooms that look over a beautiful garden (Casa Leree), so we nabbed the last room. It’s tranquil and serene – an oasis in the oasis.
About half way through the date cookies, Bode told us that it was making him sick. I ate the other half, and we headed to the room to do some reading and vegging out. It was Super Bowl Sunday, so Jason went out to a local restaurant to watch the game.
Still wondering if it was possible to be allergic to dates, I was a little surprised when I was reading a book to him and he threw up all over me. Then the bed. Then the floor. So, that was my Super Bowl Sunday… probably still better than Peyton Manning’s.
Anyway, from the sound of it Jason had a great time. The game was all in Spanish, no super bowl ads, and with a lot of Mexicans who didn’t speak English. Everyone asked him who his team was and he was going with El Santos from the start.
The best part was probably that he had no idea what was going on at the hotel.