Not sure of when or why I woke but I could hear the waves and smell the ocean. Surprisingly Jenna, eyes fixed on the ceiling two feet above us, was up before me. This was surely due to my late night around the fire with a couple friendly strangers who appeared from the shadows and offered cold Tecates to our group. One of the two had been coming to this beach for over 25 years and his skin, salt-stiff hair, and rapidly disappearing mason jar of clear liquor, corroborated his elaborate tales of “The Baja.” This isn’t the first of such men we’ve met down here; fellers who recount what Baja used to be, misadventures, their salty view of the world, and a wild past. Today Baja, at least for us, is an overlander’s playground. Remote beaches, fish tacos, cheap cerveza and what feels like an unlimited number of places to explore. Pick a coast, pick a squiggly line, stock up on supplies and go. It’s hard to believe that a place like this exists just a short drive south of Cali (US). On second thought, it’s terrible; you’ll surely get robbed or kidnapped. The beaches are full of trash and the food is crap. Whatever you do, do not try to explore this dangerous place. Fly straight to Cabo and stay in the Hotel Zone 🙂
They say a picture is worth a thousand words and with our Instagram posts, Facebook pictures and blog photos, we must be saying a lot. Even so, these photos fail to describe what’s happening in our lives. Our daily routines and the connections we share with new acquaintances all occur “behind the scenes” until something sparks our attention enough to whip out our memory capturing devices and click away. Once passed, we put down the lenses and return to our conversations, our beers, or whatever minutiae is really occurring at that moment. With that said, we’ve tried to recount some of the “happenings” during these framed slices of time. Lots of Baja to cover before beer-thirty hits so here we go!
After our mud adventures we escaped the storm and landed on Bahia de Los Angeles. Due to some wind we huddled the vehicles together, overlapped awnings, and tested everyone’s limits for personal space. This is a topic that has come up frequently when caravanning; how close do you park to each other’s rigs? Personally, we don’t care, but it’s fun to watch the vehicular musical chairs and questioning that occurs with each new camp, and each new group.
With our shanty town set up we spent our time walking the beach, snorkeling, paddle boarding, harvesting oysters, digging clams and relaxing…all for free.
On the way to Guerrero Negro and the salt flats, we met a guy named Nick. Our friends Totorothevan were checking on their VW Vanagon when the unwritten rule, which requires all van owners to stop and chat with other van owners, brought Nick, also a van owner, into the mix – #vanlife After a quick air-down session, we caravanned across the salt flats taking full advantage of the smooth open “road.” With no lanes, no rules and little idea where we were going, we cruised to the coast following the setting sun. As our group prepared dinners, Nick pulled out his hand-made banjo. Dim lights from each rig cast a glow on their respective roadlife chefs while mellow tunes and soft songs carried through the darkness. Frequently a newly cracked beer would interrupt the melody, and occasionally a “God-Damnit Aaron!!!” would stop it in its tracks. Miles and Aaron from Totorothevan have been friends since child hood and are now living full-time in a van. It’s fair to say these two are in a “relationship” of sorts, and bicker just like the rest of us. We heard “God-Damnit Aaron” so many times it became his new name…jokingly of course.
Even though we could see hundreds of whales breaching from shore, we wanted more. Checking off an item from Jenna’s bucket list, we set out on a tour to see the fatties up close. It was an amazing experience and one we’ll always remember. We also met the little white dog you see in the picture below. Given his color and size we appropriately named him Quesito Blanco which we think means Little-White-Cheese??
We needed to shed some mud and salt so we stopped by a local garage/car wash. In Mexico, things aren’t marked the way we’re used to in The States. Instead of signs, businesses are often labeled with graffiti or paint on the side of a wall. Once you learn what to look for, it works out well. Half way through the hour-long hand-wash, and several pounds of mud lighter, I told the guy “todo bien” as I saw him walking over with glass cleaner and spray wax. I’m not exactly sure what he said in response but with a flex of the bicep, a point at his muscle, and something about “fuerte” he was back at it. After another twenty minutes the truck and camper looked brand-new…for less than 7 bucks!
While crossing from the Pacific Coast back to the Sea of Cortez we stopped into San Ignacio and found a quaint little oasis town, cheap tequila and tasty ice-cream. After circling the wagons we set up the hammocks and a group tequila bar. Some took a dip in the river and others took ice-cold showers. Our quick dinners consist of something plus beans, avocado and tortillas. On nights like these we sarcastically discuss our crappy lives and chat about what’s next. Maybe it’s the realization of how lucky we are or maybe it’s just the tequila, but the smiles come easy.
This is a Margarita…a REAL margarita (until Mainland MX…then it gets weird). It isn’t a bunch of sweetish-sourish mix thrown together with a perfectly measured baby shot of Cuervo. This my friends, is too much tequila with a ton of fresh squeezed limes, ice, salt, and just a hint of contreau/controy or simple syrup. Cameron had been talking about the margaritas in Bahia Concepcion for nearly a week and made sure to tell the server he had put these fine beverages on a pedestal. Each of us had “leaky glasses” and ordered a second before realizing what was coming. That night we turned Cameron and Jacqui’s van into a karaoke bar and took over the dance floor on the following. While camping here we also did some paddleboarding, fishing, and snorkeling…but our memories always return to the margaritas.
Our next stop was a bit further down Bahia Concepcion, a must-visit place in Baja. After discovering a hot-spot for clams we set out to create a feast and Aaron ventured out to find scallops for the meal. In the meantime I threw together unknown amounts of butter, beer, lime, hot sauce and spices to create a broth for the clams…let’s just say we ate well. Aaron was able to find a couple scallops, but did u know that they’re full of a whole bunch of weird crap and not a perfect cylinder of delicious white meat? Well we didn’t…no bueno.
To break up our next drive we headed for a Marina on the camping app we use called iOverlander, which by the way, is an amazing resource. We didn’t expect the marina to be a full-blown, gated establishment full of beautiful sail boats. The place had perfectly clean bathrooms, hot showers, Wi-Fi and a white table cloth restaurant…all for two bucks a night! It’s amazing what a clean toilet and hot shower can do…changes everything. All scrubbed up we were ready for more beach camping 🙂
Just past La Paz, and the port where you catch the ferry to mainland, are a few beach options. Tecolote is popular but can be windy so we set up camp on Belandra; A beautiful crescent with water so shallow you can walk across the mini-bay without swimming. On our first evening an old American van pulled into the lot, saw our rig and parked next to us. Chris, from Australia, was all smiles and great conversation. He’s one of those guys who, quite possibly, would be labeled as a hippy on the East Coast and extra-chill for even the Cali crowd. Personally, I’m drawn to such people. So you’re a super happy, super positive, no drama, nature lovin’, wanna make deep connections kind of person??? Well then get off my lawn and get a job with your pot smokin’ and your “good energy” jibber-jabber. All I can say is when I meet someone happier than myself, I’d be a fool to not be taking notes.
Crossing from the Sea of Cortez to the Pacific again we found ourselves in the artsy town of Todos Santos. On our first day we stuck to our norm of seeking out the best food spots, and after some solid fish tacos and mediocre al pastor we put on our tourist hats to stroll the streets. During our walk we learned that the yearly music festival, founded by Peter Buck of REM, was that weekend and there was a turtle rescue project nearby…score!
The turtle rescue lady was located on the way back to camp so we stopped by what appeared to be someone’s back yard. Our “Hola, Buenas Tardes!” was met with a slow, chill and extended “Heyyyyyyy” After about twenty minutes of long pauses and half-finished sentences we gathered that they would be releasing baby turtles on the beach that night and we should hitchhike from the hill in town to an approximate area on the beach. “It’s passed the one house and a little more.” “yahhhh…they’re all hitching from up there.” “It’s waaaayyyy easy.” With our GPS coordinates fixed it was back to the camper for margaritas. I tried to hit Jenna with a “manana,” but she was set on seeing the turtles. If you’re not familiar with “manana” it’s a very very commonly used answer for just about anything in Mexico. Translated it means “tomorrow” or “morning” but more often than not, and especially among overlanders, it means “not now,” “I don’t know,” “I don’t want to think about it,” “I haven’t had enough beers to decide,” “Something broke but I’ll pretend it didn’t,” or “I’m going to bed.” Anyway, Jenna pushed another margarita on me, cast aside my “manana” and we were off to find the aforementioned “hill.”
Once on the hill we looked at each other, realizing that neither of us knew how to hitchhike, and awkwardly stuck out our thumbs. First car, nada. Second car, smiles without stopping. Third car…”did they just laugh at us???” And so it went; car after car rolled by with several, locals and gringos, laughing at our stupid thumbs in the air. After thirty minutes of feeling like an idiot, we realized nobody was taking our universal sign for “I need a ride” seriously, and started to walk. The walk was far, hilly and hot, and we were closing in on the turtle release deadline when we heard a familiar “Heyyyyyy.” We bumped and bounced the last couple of miles to the beach in a half-hollowed out 90’s minivan, with the Turtle Lady and her daughter, windows down, singing “Angie”. Oh, and we saw some baby turtles get pummeled by waves. (Days like this seem to pile on one another when on the road…none will be forgotten)
A day or two or three later we received a message from HereUntilThere about joining us at the campground in Todos Santos. At the time, we didn’t even know their names but had chatted online and knew they had a Four Wheel Camper like us. Poised to meet another “Internet Friend” we sat under the awning, cracked some beers and listened to the dog symphony. It was in Todos Santos that we had our first taste of how expansive and loud a neighborhood of Mexican dogs can be. It was also the first time I used the pretend-to-pick-up-a-rock-and-throw-it trick to stop a charging dog(s). I should add that it was dark, the dogs were in a group, and it hasn’t happened since….also no rock was actually thrown. Now back to the arrival of our internet friends. We said our hellos, played a quick “how close is too close” musical chairs with the rig, and made plans to go out together for Jenna’s birthday. I would later learn that Pete and Natasha (HereUntilThere) accepted us upon arrival…”You had me at day-drinkin.” Natasha’s birthday was the day after Jenna’s which meant we had 48 hours of good times ahead, and a solid base for what would become a damn good friendship. This means you’ll be hearing more about these two in the future…I know I know, we’re sick of them too 😉
Over the next two days we drank, we ate and made friends with a bartender. Then we ate some more, drank some more, a crazy lady yelled at somebody and maybe somebody cried; and we promised to go to the music festival, bailed on the music festival, repeated the false promise and finally went. I’m suddenly realizing we sound like alcoholics with all the booze in our posts. Seriously though, we don’t drink all day every day…we only drink part of the day on most days and a Michelada has vegetables in it!…it’s not our fault…there’s too much to celebrate and a beach is just weird without cold beer…we’re also unemployed so stop with the judgement already!
After adding two additional couples to the caravan, all with plans to drive to Ushuaia, our four rigs set out for San Pedrito beach. Couple numero uno was Michal and Izabela. Michal, a former attorney and stilt performer from Prague taught us Czech tongue twisters (video below) and showed up to the camp fire with a damn tree. This made more sense once we learned that he also took a job as a lumberjack in Canada to save for the trip down. Izabela, also from Czech, is no lumberjack but makes a mean cocktail, and has been known to chase off would-be thieves in the middle of the night. Couple numero dos was Christian and Jennifer (TheGlobeTrol). We’ve had the pleasure of caravanning with this duo for a while now and feel lucky to have crossed paths…more about our time with these two below.
Over the next few days our group went into full beach mode. Naps, beers, walks, sunset cocktails, fires and great conversations. Conversations without the “what do you do?” or “how was work?” Discussions without a timeline, or direction, or interruption; and talks built on the common ground of living on the road, unknown places and an unknown future. If the sheer hours spent with these new acquaintances doesn’t fast-forward a friendship, the lack of privacy will…there’s no hiding a walk towards nowhere with a shovel in one hand and a roll of TP in the other.
After some good times on San Pedrito we headed towards a remote beach to kill some time before my mom flew in. Miles (I should be using kilometers by now) of dirt road led us to an empty beach surrounded by more empty beautiful beach. Other than the goats that would graze the hills above us, we had the place to ourselves…well except for when a guy from the Nat Geo show “Wicked Tuna” briefly stopped by for some spear fishing and gave us a free grouper…dinner!
It’s middle-of-nowhere camp sites and beaches where we find something we were missing in our previous lives…boredom. The good kind of boredom that doesn’t have an expiration. We aren’t putting off a list of things to do or skipping out on work. We just don’t have anything we need to do; there’s nowhere to be, nobody but us, and nothing but time. It’s daylight or darkness, eat when you’re hungry and sleep when you’re sleepy. For us, this is freedom and we can do what we please. And when we look deep into our uncluttered minds for peace and clarity…we decide to build an elaborate hermit crab race track 🙂 Our friends showed up just in time for the action!
Forgot to mention that we didn’t know there wouldn’t be cell service on the beach and left my mom in the dark for the week leading up to her arrival. Like a trooper she hopped on the plane and hoped someone would be there to pick her up. For a whole week, we had hot showers and flushed our TP. If you didn’t already know, here’s a quick PSA – Most places in Mexico, you do not flush your TP. You throw all non-human waste in a trash can….I can hear the gasps now. Wow, that’s two paragraphs in this post with a poo reference. I should write a book!
We had a great time hangin’ with my mom and went full-on-no-shame Tourist by attending a timeshare presentation for tickets to a booze cruise…boom! We also checked out a local brewery, took a side trip to Todos Santos and met up with friends for the Super Bowl! Thanks Mom!!! We owe ya big time!
After moving back into our home on wheels it was time to head towards the port in La Paz. On the way we planned to stop by La Ventana where Jacqui and Cameron (FollowTheWind) had settled into a kite surfers paradise. Jennifer and Chris (TheGlobeTrol) also met us at camp and we spent a few days doing what overlanding is all about…playing with puppies! We haven’t got into wind sports just yet, but La Ventana was a blast. We learned a bit about kite control from Cameron, we ate the best apple fritters on Earth, and we watched a “Birds of Baja” presentation where the guy used variations of the word “BOOM” after every slide. Good times!
With our last stop in Baja complete the Travel Amateurs and The Globe Trol headed to the port. We spent three days trying to get our ladies on the ferry due to “rough seas” and “manana”. Apparently our child-birthing counterparts were deemed too weak for such a voyage. To battle the blatant sexism, Chris and I showed up with Valentine’s flowers and chocolates for the office ladies 😉 And with that, we were off to Mainland!
There you have it my friends. If you’re in need of a recap after the run-on monologue, the summary is as follows: Baja is a magical place full of sunrises, fish tacos, amazing beaches, sun soaked gringos, friendly Mexicans, “mananas,” cheap beer, fast-friends, vanagons, strong margaritas, whales, “fuerte!” car washes, dog symphonies, Czech lumberjacks, TP trashcans, naps, hermit crab races, sunsets, puppies, apple fritters, and of course a bit of “BOOM!” Seems pretty accurate; I think I’ll go update the Baja Wikipedia page.
So great! We miss you guys though. We had happy hour last night for Colleen and Theo ( now engaged:) so You were there in spirit!
We miss you guys too!! Wow, that’s great! Please tell them CONGRATS from us!!!
Miss you guys. Looks like all is well with yall.
Take care and keep living the life.
We miss you!! <3
I have been reading your blog and looking at all your pictures for the past hour. What an amazing experience!
Thank you, Tanya! ? We’re a little behind but are working to catch up! It’s been a great adventure thus far.
Crazy fun read!
Great follow up 🙂 Wish we had ended up catching up with you guys in Baja but perhaps on the mainland if you’d slow down already! We need a tequila night for sure.
We’re almost out of time here but look forward to seeing you guys in Belize or Guatemala!
Love it, BOOM!
Great writing!!!! Seems like years ago! Miss you guys and Mexico for that matter:/
Thank you! We miss you guys! Come back!!