A Travellerspoint blog

Mexico

Heading into Mexico

written by Birgit, sorry no pictures of that day... we had other worries on our mind!

sunny 35 °C
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Our day started easy and relaxed. Sam and I were up already soon after 6am, such that the heat was still bearable. While Sam unpacked his sling trainer and did some exercise, I used the time to write up a bit more for the blog. Once Max was up and breakfast eaten, Sam and he left to go down to the lake while I was packing up.
And I realized that it would make sense to make sure we have all documents ready for getting easily into Mexico. And even though one should think that in a small van like ours it is straight forward to find everything, I managed to have trouble finding our car documents. Eventually Sam located them just next to the place where we store our important stuff like passports… Still, not finding them would have put quite a damper to our plans. Once we had the documents we headed off towards the border which was just 30 mins away from Patagonia Lake State Park.
You might recall that border and immigration situations tend to make me be rather tense and nervous. This was true also this time. And even though I always hope that everything will go just so smooth such that the nervousness would not have been justified at all, this time it was definitively justified…
At first things looked almost too easy: at the Nogales border no one on the US side even bothered (so let’s hope that no one will ever want to see any stamps in our passports for having left the US) and on the Mexican side we were only asked if we had anything to declare. Upon saying ‘no’ we were waved through and more or less forced our way into getting immigration cards. We were told to just park somewhere behind the border and to walk back into the immigrations building. A bit strange, but fine – why not! A friendly gentleman gave us the paperwork to fill, advised us where to pay the money and upon returning handed us our immigration cards with the stamped passports. Excellent.
So the three of us were now officially in Mexico with all required paperwork. That is us, but not our car. We were told that the customs entry point for temporarily importing cars would be about 20 km further down the road and that this is also where we’d get Mexican insurance. Hmmm, that did not sound too promising. I did not like the thought of not having insurance for these 20 km. As expected the border featured a couple of insurance places, but unfortunately only one which was selling Mexican insurance (all the others sold insurance for the US). And the quote I got there simply did not appeal too much: liability with a coverage of 20,000US$ should have cost 130US$ for a month. Upon my request that this was too little liability, I could have also bought one with 100,000US$ should have cost 200US$.
So I then did what I should have probably done already a while ago: I searched Mexican liability insurance on the web and as I wanted to avoid clicking through too many form sheets, I called a friendly lady on a toll free number. As promised on the web, she was able to give me a quote within a couple of minutes and hooray she offered me coverage of 500,000US$ for 121 US$ for a month… So without much further research, I purchased this insurance on the spot and had my insurance documents in my mailbox 5 mins later – thank you, internet!
So we were all set to head off into Mexico. Except that we did not have any local money yet. Unfortunately, this time it was my VISA which claimed to have not enough funds to give me money, so it was Sam using his newly unlocked Mastercard getting us cash.
We then worked our way south through the town of Nogales. And just from those first meters, it was clear that we were not in the US anymore. Traffic is just different. Wilder in comparison, faster and requiring a good bit of concentration. Sam managed well and felt reminded of his times in Romania.
We soon passed the city limits and were headed south on the highway. There was a stretch on the highway where 70km/h and 40 km/h signs were alternating like every 500m and Sam was a bit unclear on which one was the correct one. Not even a mile after having left Nogales, Sam had the flashing lights of a police car in the rear-view mirror and stopped next to the road.As you can imagine, Sam was shaking a bit – he had not expected to be caught out at all. So the policeman walks up to our car, Sam lowers the window. And it turns out that the policeman had seen Sam talk and had deducted that he was speaking on the phone. Not surprisingly as Sam was in fact speaking, but Max and I were both sitting in the back behind tinted windows… My Spanish was sufficient to clarify the situation and we were let go without any issues. Still, a bit of shock remained.
Still, the real issues were still to come: the next and last step we still had to accomplish was to import our car temporarily into Mexico. We knew that the original registration papers or the original title of the car were required to do so. And we had taken the conscious choice to take only the registration papers and just a copy of the title.
So we were quite positively minded when approaching the customs office. Our first stop was the copy place where copies of passport, immigration card and car registration were taken. We then proceeded with the copies to the banjercitio where everything was checked. And unfortunately the official behind the counter was not happy with the papers I presented him and refused to process them. When Sam asked what the chances were that we’d be able to go on, I was like 50-50. It’s always hard to judge on how these things will go. Officials might be very bureaucratic and insisting in having exactly what it takes and refusing everything else. Or there might be back doors and alternative ways of doing it that are not written down officially…. So we had to see what would be coming next: the official sent me to another counter to talk with the customs representative.
So once again I showed all the documents I have. He thoroughly checked the papers, went back to his colleague at the banjercitio and eventually returned asking for insurance papers. Luckily enough I was able to present the insurance documents – after all I had just gotten Mexican insurance for the car. But I did not have a copy at hand and consequently the customs official was not able to get a copy for himself.
So following the recommendation of the official, we went into the tiny store next door and asked if it was possible to print the insurance papers there. It was. I sent an email from my phone to the store keeper, then after some back and forth which involved him leaving the store twice for a couple of minutes he suddenly came back with a print out.
Before handing the precious print out (yes, it did come for quite a fee!) to the customs official we made sure that we got another two copies of it at the copy place. Then the customs official checked the insurance papers and attached it together with the other paperwork we had at hand to stamp it and write a note onto it saying that the copy of the title and insurance papers were accepted to compensate for the faulty registration papers… After thanking him for what feels a dozen times, we were able to go back to the banjercitio.
After this critical step was successfully achieved, the rest was easy: I had to stand in line a bit, then the stamped pile of documents was again thoroughly checked, I then had to fill additional paperwork about the contents of the camper van. As usual the window for the officials were at a very inconvenient height. To properly see and speak to the agent behind the window, I had to bend down to what is approximately breast height for me… But eventually I was happy to receive in return for paying the respective fee the sticker for the car and all relevant documents.
We did it! Even though a bit more complicated than anticipated, we were now all set to continue our journey as planned. At that stage it was already 3pm in the afternoon – it had taken almost four hours to get all of this done since we had approached the border in Nogales. So time to eat.
And then time to continue towards Hermosillo. Unfortunately, even though Hermosillo is a town with a population of over 800,000, there is no campground of RV park there. So we had to continue onwards towards San Carlos / Guaymas. The sun was going down already when we passed through Hermasillo and it was another 150 km to Guaymas. We knew that it was not recommended to drive in Mexico at night, but did not really know what else to do. So we just continued along the carretera towards the south.
Once we were out of Hermasillo the potholes subsided again, but it still felt a bit intimidating to go on a Mexican highway after having gotten used to the highways in the US. Having to rather narrow lanes and rather steep declines towards both sides without any additional asphalt on either side felt strange again. And considering that nobody seemed to stick to the posted speed limits, but surpassed them significantly did not help either. Just to illustrate: in a construction area where the onwards traffic was using the left lane and we were limited to the right line, a speed limit of 60 km/h was posted. I drove already about 95 km/h and was still overtaken by trucks and busses on stretches with almost no visibility and they were soon out of sight – I guess they were driving far beyond 120 km/h. So driving required a lot of concentration and we were happy to eventually arrive at 9pm in total darkness at the Totonaka RV park in San Carlos.
The security guard let us in and we could not resist to walk to the beach right across the street once we had parked our camper van. Everybody was exhausted and tired. And we were sweating! It was cool in comparison to Southern Arizona, roughly 86 °F (30 °C), but we were not used to temperatures including high humidity anymore!

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 12:46 Archived in Mexico Tagged mexico border insurance heat customs carretera humidity guaymas nogales Comments (0)

Getting to the Baja California

written by Birgit, pictures mostly by Sam

sunny 31 °C
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A first night in Mexico with the sound of the waves in the background… Nice!
Even if this is probably not doing mainland Mexico it’s justice, it is in fact only supposed to be our transit route towards the Baja California. Given that along the 1000 miles (1700 km) peninsula of the Baja California there’s mostly just one highway with asphalt, we simply wanted to avoid going down and up the same roads twice.
Our base plan was to take the ferry at Topolobampo towards the very south of the Baja in La Paz. I had checked ferry schedules and prices already a couple of times. There were regular departures, availability did not seem to be an issue and the only down side were the prices. A regular car was defined to be less than 5,40m long and it would cost 1230 mexican pesos to ferry it over. Unfortunately surfing the net, it seems like our camper van is 5,42m long. And this is without considering the aircon in the back of the camper which adds probably another 8 cm. And cars longer than 5,40m unfortunately do not just cost a bit more, but the prices suddenly raise to 5700 pesos. Still from the way we set up our journey, the ferry was the only plot that made sense, so we were still planning to do that independent of the cost.
Admittedly, after all that initial research I had not checked ferry details again and as I was not sure which length to use for the car I did not want to book tickets online anyhow, but was planning to get them on the spot. So when driving somewhere close to Hermosillo, I realized that the Topolobampo ferry that was announced to be in maintenance for the month of May was only restarting operations much later and that they first availability was only as of June 15. That did put quite a damper to my plans: while there were a couple of interesting things to see on the mainland, there was not enough that sounded interesting to keep us busy for 10 days.
There are two alternatives for ferries: we could also use the ferry to La Paz from Mazatlan. This would entail driving probably another 10 hours south on the mainland on those highways we already found quite strenuous on our first encounter. In addition the ferry would take longer and be a bit more expensive than from Topolobampo. The other option would mean to take the ferry from Guaymas to Santa Rosalía. As Santa Rosalía is just about half way on the Baja, this option would result in driving that stretch south to Cabo San Lucas and to then drive it again in the other direction on the way up.
None of the three options were ideal, but we were clear that our preferred one was the last option. The guidebook warned to be early to book tickets, specifically as the ferry from Guaymas is significantly smaller than the ones from Topolobampo or Mazatlan and as the ferry does not leave daily, but only three times a week. I tried my luck and was fortunate to hear that there would still be availability for the ferry that would be leaving in the evening. This was great news, so I made the reservations on the phone and was told to be there latest at 5:30pm and that the ferry would leave at 8pm.
Excellent – that was great news, as we were anyhow not too keen to stay much longer in hot and humid San Carlos with its loads of mosquitoes. We had another look at the sea to see how it’s like in daylight and concluded that we’d rather jump into the pool to cool off a bit. And that was very enjoyable and very relaxing. That was good since we were in dire need of a bit of relaxation anyhow.

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So we did not do too much else before eventually going to the ferry terminal. As usual the Scout app on our mobile phone helped us easily to navigate our way towards the terminal. Except that close to our destination the ‘ferry’ signs subsided and there was nothing that looked even remotely like a ferry terminal. After a first tour of the harbour area, we decided to ask someone. We had gone too far. Fine, on our way back we asked three more people and eventually ended up at a gate with two small buildings to either side of it. And in fact one of them sold tickets for the ferry. The lady at the counter found the reservation for ‘Bernardo’ that included a Ford Econoline with 2 adults and one child – so I figured that this was us. She then helped me to measure the car and luckily enough she concluded that the car was not longer than the 5,40m for a regular vehicle. So I paid for our tickets and after the marines arrived at 6pm, we were admitted to drive towards the ferry.

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After quite a while of waiting while all baggage was checked by dogs searching for drugs, all cars were searched as well: a dog entered through every door of each car – and every step of the process was thoroughly documented with a camera. Eventually I got to drive onto the boat together with another 6 cars and a small truck (we’re talking a small ferry!). Max and Sam had been waiting on the upper deck of the boat already over an hour.

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It took a bit of investigation to find our cabin and it was quite a disappointment: there were empty food containers and empty cans on the table, the bedding of the four bunk beds looked used and the cockroaches on the floor were not suited to change our first impression. We quickly closed the door again and concluded that travelling in the salon would be a better option. After all the roughly 100 reclining seats there were made of leather. We picked the last row that was a proper bench and looked like a better sleeping option than the recliners and were happily waiting for the ferry to take off.

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Well, the ferry did not take off that evening. As the captain explained to everyone a bit later, the harbour had been closed due to bad weather and the ferry would be able to leave earliest tomorrow after midnight, i.e. 28 hours later than originally planned. As the ferry was ready to take off and it was the harbour leadership taking the decision, they would not pay for hotels, but at least the tickets would still be valid tomorrow. And everyone who did not want to stay on the boat could call around noon the next day to get an update on the ferry departure.
We decided to leave and declined to experience a night on the boat in the harbour. We rather went back to the RV park we had stayed at already the last night. So another 45 min of driving in the night on Mexican roads and watching out for pot holes and unannounced speed bumps…
We did not have a lot of trust into the ferry leaving that evening, so we took it quite easy. After breakfast we took a walk (and Max his little bike) to the local Ley supermarket. And even though we were limited in our shopping as we had to carry everything back to the campervan, it was fabulous shopping. We found many things that US American stores seem not to carry, such as milk in one liter packs that does not need to be refrigerated. Given our small refrigerator we really prefer small sizes and things that will not go back also without refrigeration – so this was an excellent find! And given the low prices specifically for fruit and vegetables it was simply fun to shop again!
The bad news was that when leaving the store, we realized that Max’ little bike had two punctures in the front tire and consequently he had to push it home vs. being able to ride it. Well, if there wouldn’t have been the nice car mechanic 100 ft down the street from the supermarket who noticed us walk by and offered his help to pump up the tire. We explained that pumping it up would not do the job, as there were also punctures to be fixed and he explained that this would be an easy job for him.

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And in fact within less than five minutes he had taken out the inner tube of the tire, had identified the two punctures, roughed them up and vulcanized them such that the tube was better than new. Back into the tire, pumping it up and letting us go… Just like that. He did not even want money for the quick help he had given to us and refused to take the equivalent of 2 US$ I gave to him, as this was too much. He was fine with taking half of that and we were just so pleased to have Max riding his beloved bike again and knowing how easy and fun life can be in a country like Mexico.
Another round of swimming in the pool and eventually Sam reminded me to call the ferry again, as they had advised us at noon that they’d only be able to tell us more at 4:30 in the afternoon. And when they said we should be there latest at 6pm for the ferry to leave at 8pm panic set in – at least on my part – as I had mentally written off the ferry for that evening already. So we quickly took a shower, gathered our stuff together, sorted what we wanted to take onto the ferry (knowing how it looks there helped already big time to decide what we should take) and then left for the ferry terminal. The rush was completely unnecessary, as the marines only arrived an hour late and we had to wait in the meantime. But eventually after the same procedures of checking all cars and baggage, we were admitted to the ferry and looked for a mice spot in the Salon for the night.

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It seemed that about half of the people who were on the boat the evening before had given up the idea of taking the ferry, so there was plenty of space. Good for us. Still, the ferry ride was not really pleasant. There were quite a bit of waves and the boat was rolling heavily. Lying down helped and also the fact that the main salon was located underneath the car deck and that we got a spot fairly in the middle, so close to the gravitational center of the ferry. But going to the toilets or the upper deck included being shaken around a lot. And I don’t even want to imagine how much we’d have been shaken in our cabin two decks further up and located on the side vs. in the middle of the ferry.
Contrary to his parents, Max slept through out the whole journey and it was rather hard to wake him up the next morning when the ferry arrived at 6am local time in Santa Rosalía. So we made it to the Baja California after all – and arrived even much earlier than originally anticipated.

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Posted by dreiumdiewelt 07:15 Archived in Mexico Tagged california santa pool baja bike ferry repair rosalia cancelled mechanic guaymas Comments (1)

Beaches and pools – life is beautiful in BCS

written by Birgit, pictures mostly by Sam

sunny 34 °C
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So we have made it to Baja California Sur. And as we arrived more north than originally planned, for the first and potentially only time on our journey we how had a stretch of road ahead of us that we’d take again on our way back. While this might sound like a bit of boredom, I got to like the idea a lot. It takes away a bit of pressure in the sense of ‘should we stay here longer – is this really the place to be or maybe there’s a nicer place just around the corner’. In case we’d like it somewhere and did not stay as long as the spot would have deserved, we will easily be able to come back to it on our way back. And we will easily be able to pick out nice spots on our way down and stay there later.
It did not take a lot of searching to find a nice first spot to stay: While Sam slept in the car and Max listened to a story with his headphones, I drove through Mulegé and towards the Bahía Conception. Heading down towards Playa Santispak, it just seemed too tempting to go there. And even Max liked it so much that he woke up Sam saying ‘look, such a nice beach!’.

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So we had a look and decided to stay for the day and the night. And to avoid the burning sunshine, we parked next to a ‘palapa’ hut which provided us with enough shade and protection from the light breeze. What a nice spot! And what a bargain – 150 pesos for the night including the palapa, i.e. roughly 8 US$... Life is beautiful in Mexico.

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We spent most of the day hanging out in the shadow of our palapa or in the shallow warm water. Lunch consisted of an enormous portion of fresh fish that we had bought in the morning from one of the rolling stores. In the evening we had a nice fire at the beach and enjoyed some roasted marshmallows with the family that stayed next to us.

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The next morning, we were just ready to have breakfast when Chicho stopped by to pick us up for the boat ride we had arranged with him. As we had not taken into account that the southern part of the Baja is again back on mountain time and not on pacific time, so Chicho had to wait a bit for us to be ready. As we headed out into the bay with his motorboat our first stop was for snorkeling. On the way to our next stop we saw large colonies of pelicans sitting on their already white rocks. We really liked the secluded beach on little Coyote Island. Being very shallow and extremely calm and clear water it was fun for all of us to swim there.

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I really enjoyed being at Playa Santispak. Just sitting there and looking at the water was all I needed. Somehow it felt that roughly eight weeks after the last working day, this is when I arrived on our trip. Life is beautiful. So we were clear that we wanted to stay for another night at this marvelous place.
This evening we were too lazy to cook ourselves and just went to the restaurant a bit further up the beach. Food was good, the view even better, the beers were cold and also the margarita did not disappoint us.
It was hard to go to sleep that night (well, not for Max) and once the raising moon had left the scene, we were treated to a great starry sky featuring the milky way and a couple of shooting stars. And by then temperatures had cooled off enough for a good night’s sleep.
Even though it was hard to leave that nice little spot we had found, we knew that on our way up we could easily stop by again. So it was relatively easy to leave the next morning headed towards Loreto, the former capital of Baja California.
Along the way we were treated to a couple of really nice vistas not only of beaches, cacti and mountains, but also of a Hummer AWD being stuck in a mangrove swamp and obviously not having a winch to get himself out again.

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After almost two hours of driving we arrived in Loreto, where we treated ourselves to lunch at one of the many little restaurants along the road. The fish and shrimp tacos they served were excellent and we continued ordering more and more.

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Loreto surprised us as being a really beautiful town that seems to be laid out for a lot more people and tourists than now in the low season. We had a look at the old mission church and wandered through the pedestrian zone to the sea.

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After having an enormous ice cream each, we eventually headed to our campground for the night, the Loreto Shores. Even though the view of the beach was a bit obstructed by houses, the pool was just great. All of us enjoyed to soak and cool off.

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Max eventually went to bed while Sam and I used the opportunity of having a good internet connection to get the blog and pictures up to date again.
The next morning, we easily took the decision to stay for another night. It was just way too comfortable and pleasant to head off already. So we just took it easy, spent most time either at or in the pool and enjoyed life. Only in the late afternoon we headed for a round into town and quickly found a nice place to eat. Max enjoyed Tacos de Pescado, Sam Camerones con Ajo and I tried the Pescado Empapelado. It was excellent!

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When paying we had a nice conversation with the older lady who had been tending our table, just like one of the many conversations we had with people we met. She commented on Max’ blond hair and his age and added that she had a grandson who was six years old. A bit later she added that he had a brother of 10 years and a sister of 12 years and that actually all three of them were living with her. Their mother had left them due to drug addiction issues and their father lived in the US and did not take care of the kids. So she was all on her own with the three kids trying to make enough money for all of them to get around… What a story and how sad to hear this. She had touched us quite unexpectedly and we realized once more how lucky we can call ourselves to be well situated. By coincidence we saw her in the street when leaving town the next day. We might not have noticed her, but she was waving so nicely at us that we recognized her and waved back to the tough lady.
The next morning, we took an easy start: breakfast at the pool was followed by soaking in the pool until we felt prepared to head off. Between running some errands, shopping and lunch it was almost 2pm when we left for La Paz. The road was initially winding through the mountains with lots of cactus on both sides, then we passed through agricultural land, desert-like dusty plains and eventually got into rolling cactus hills again before seeing the bay of La Paz lying in the early evening light ahead of us – really nice scenery.

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Posted by dreiumdiewelt 22:38 Archived in Mexico Tagged beach road pool loreto palapa motorboat santispak Comments (1)

Exploring La Paz and surroundings

written by Birgit, pictures mostly by Sam

sunny 36 °C
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We could not resist to stop at the beach promenade, the Malecon. We walked along while the sun was setting over the sea and Max enjoyed trying to do some tricks on the bike.

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With all that it got a bit late when we headed off towards north to find the RV park that our Mexico guidebook promised. Unfortunately, we searched in vain and were not able to find it with the sketchy explanation of the book. And given that all the usual search sites of the net were unable to provide us with directions either, we had to go for another RV park that Google Maps and Tripadvisor suggested. So after another 20 min of driving we ended up at half past nine a bit south of the Malecon at the AquaMarina RV Park and picked a nice spot maybe 150ft (50m) from the water. Nice!
La Paz surprised us as being a very pleasant laid-back town, probably because we had not expected much of the largest town in the southern part of the Baja. We spent a full day strolling through town, had lunch at the marina at a local restaurant, once again strolled up on the beach promenade and even made it up the hill to the local cathedral / former mission church.

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Back down at the beach we met Petra and Pascal, our Czech / Swiss neighbors from the RV park and liked the idea to have a sun-downer at the beach. We were joined by Theresa from Austria and Daniel from Mexico who are traveling the peninsula with their bikes. What a nice evening. And surprisingly enough the lady police officer who stopped to tell us that consumption of alcohol on the city beach is not enough was really friendly and calm. Our local friends had the solution at hand: just put your beer can into a small black plastic bag and continue drinking.

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Just before it was getting too late we headed back to our place, enjoying the sunset along the way.

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The next day we wanted to explore the beaches around La Paz. Our first stop was Balandra Beach, a very shallow bay with crystal clear turquoise water. What a nice beach and considering that it is considered one of the top 5 beaches in Mexico, still so few people there. Just enough to observe a bit the local lifestyles. Life is beautiful…

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Eventually it was time to go to our next place to stay. Just another 5 km further we went to Tecolote Beach to find our spot for the night. Sam cooked us nice shrimps for dinner and we enjoyed a nice sunset over the beach.

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The next day was our tour to the island Espirito Santo. After a motorboat ride of almost an hour we arrived at the island and got to see a couple of small passage ways and a little cave. At the rocky 'Islotes' at the northern tip of the islands we got to see the local sea lion colony with about 500 animals. And we were lucky to see lots of new-born babies which are all exactly five days old. It was nice to see how a mother sea lion was helping her baby to get up a rock that it continued sliding down.

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After surveying the colony a bit, we got to go into the water to snorkel with the sea lions. It was quite impressive to be in the water with a 1000 pound / 500 kg male sea lion swimming just underneath us. In a small cave we found a sea star and eventually found ourselves in the middle of a whole school of light blue fish.

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After all of that excitement it was time for lunch. We were treated to excellent Ceviche at the nice and secluded beach of Ensenada Grande and had some time on our own to do some snorkeling in the shallow waters.

On the way back we took a couple of stops along the way, learned about the local flora, fauna and history. Our guide Alan, the marine biologist from Espiritu & Baja was an excellent source of information and kept us informed very well.

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The highlight of the trip back to La Paz was probably the group of manta rays jumping above the water. What a great sight!

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We spent the remainder of the afternoon trying to buy a USB card reader. At the first store we bought some sweets and got a referral to another store. At the second store we got some food and found a nice playground for Max and got referred to once again another store. At the third store they thought they had a card reader in their still unpacked delivery and after they had a look were referred to a fourth store. At the fourth store it was a matter of two minutes to locate and buy the card reader. And eventually it was late enough to take the decision to go back to our good old AquaMarina RV park. There we met Petra and Pascal again and the original plan of having dinner was substituted with having beer and chips at the little ‘bar’ between our campsites. And it was lots of fun to talk about their planned adventure that should take them all the way down to Patagonia vs. our travel plans that will take us north again quite soon.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 12:43 Archived in Mexico Tagged beach island snorkeling sealion promenade lapaz motorboat espiritusanto Comments (4)

Summer solstice at the Tropic of Cancer

written by Birgit, pictures mostly by Sam

sunny 32 °C
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Our next destination was Todos Santos (the Mexican version of ‘Allerheiligen’) and we were all looking forward to see the Pacific. Todos Santos is located directly on the Tropic of Cancer and just an hour north of the southernmost tip of the Baja peninsula. The town itself was very pleasant – small, but already a bit more touristy in comparison to Loreto or La Paz. The main points of interest were quickly seen: the legendary ‘Hotel California’ and the mission church.

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But the key highlight was the ocean itself: we were quite impressed by the power of the waves coming in and how cold and refreshing the water was. We only tested it with our feet, as due to the rip tides and undercurrents swimming is very dangerous on that beach. Still, after having been used to the calm and warm waters of the Sea of Cortez so far, this was quite a change in scenery!

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Another town, another campground – extremely laid-back and surprisingly cheap (full hookup for the camper for 150 pesos the night, i.e. ~9USD). The campground is located in the outskirts of town and consequently treated us to a typical Mexican concert: the sound of the waves in the background was overlaid by the barking of dogs, all kinds of different birds singing their songs, really loud frogs (if they were frogs they must have been extremely large!), typical music coming from various directions and cars making their way through the dusty roads.

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We all were in need for a quiet day again, so our Saturday was dedicated to making phone calls home, playing extensively with Max’s Lego and car collection and just hanging out. Eventually in the late afternoon we made our way into town to get something to eat and we treated ourselves to good food. Days like these are important. It feels a bit like weekend – which in fact it is.

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Even though Sunday would probably also count as weekend, the one day of relaxing was absolutely sufficient and consequently we headed off towards the tip of the peninsula. But we did not have to drive far for our first stop at Cerritos Beach, a pretty empty long stretch of beach that is safe for swimming.

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So we used the opportunity to take a refreshing dip in the waves of the Pacific Ocean. While we just jumped a bit in the waves rather at the edge of the water, a bit later some locals went a bit further into the waves. And one of them got pulled outwards more and more and started crying for help. Only one of his family members seemed brave and well trained enough to go out to get him. But as soon as the women in the family realized that they eventually both got pulled out even further, they raised the attention to more people around to help. Sam raced up to get the surfboard of the family next to us, got the quick advice to just try to get the two to swim sideways such that they get out of the outwards current and to make sure that once he reaches them they don’t grab him, but only the surfboard. And off he went into the waves. By the time he reached the pair, also the surfer who had been waiting for waves all the way back had noticed and come to get them. So each of them took one of the local swimmers and got them back to the beach. A bit later he came over with a big bottle of beer as an official thanks to Sam for going out to get him.
Sam had always wanted to help and rescue someone anyhow, so he was very pleased. And I was very happy that he had not just gone out like that, but with the surfboard – otherwise I’d have feared that he’d get pulled out as well, just like the others did before.
Eventually we got hungry and left the beach in order to get food. We found a nice seafood place back at the town entrance of Todos Santos. We were treated to excellent (and expensive as we realized after the fact) Ceviche de Cameron and Ceviche de Pulpo (i.e. shrimp and octopus seafood cocktails). Max was not too excited when he realized though that his fruit platter was sprinkled with chili powder.
After an hour of driving we reached Cabo San Lucas. It marks the place where the Pacific Ocean meets the Sea of Cortez and used to be probably a really nice and romantic place. Well, now it is a major tourist centre and it’s hard to find a lonely spot anywhere. On our way through town we stopped at the probably busiest beach of all: the beach just next to the entrance to the marina was crowded with locals who were enjoying their Sunday afternoon.

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Sam and I simply enjoyed watching the people on the beach and observing the dozens of boats getting into and out of the marina headed for land’s end just a couple of hundred meters further along the rocks. Some of the boats were party boats with loud music and people dancing on deck, there were themed pirate sailboats, large trimarans, low key small glass bottom boats and luxury yachts – a boat for every taste. Max had other interests: after having observed for a while, he was ready to get right into the middle of the fun at the beach and joined the local kids jumping from the rocks into the sea.

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Our designated destination for the night was the Vagabundos del Mar RV park, which Petra and Pascal had praised highly. To our disappointment it was full. But after talking a bit with the guy at the office, we found a solution to stay in a spot where some construction work was going on. We even got a large discount on the usual price, as we’d not have any electrical hookup, which we did not need anyhow after having been hooked up for a couple of days in a row lately.

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After a dip in the pool, it was time for dinner and given Sam’s rescue action today, we wanted to celebrate. And luckily we did go to the local restaurant just next to the pool: once we were there we found out that the last game of seven of the NBA basketball finals was going on with the Cleveland Cavaliers playing the Golden State Warriors. And wow – the game was exciting till the last minutes. Just three minutes before the end the game was still tied. In a very tight finish the Cavaliers made it and LeBron James had lots of reasons to be proud and celebrate a great season, a great final and some personal records. The many Californian supporters in the restaurant had gone more quiet at the end when their team was falling back, but for us it was enjoyment to see the championship independent of the winner. It just reminded me a lot of my time in Chicago in 1992 when the Bulls won the championships with Michael ‘Air’ Jordan’s lead. I kept stacks of newspaper clippings on the Bulls victory and had decorated my room back in Germany with them upon my return from Chicago.
The next day we realized that in fact the discount for our site was fully justified: as of seven in the morning we had construction noise all around us. Not too bad, but still. As Max noticed right away: there were just people with their tools and no big construction machines at work.
One of the local construction worker stopped by when we had breakfast. He was quite talkative and told us many things. He is from Guerrero Negro (i.e. 14 hours by bus away from Cabo), but he has been working in Cabo for the last 11 months, as here he’s able to earn 300 pesos (about 18 USD) a day vs. only 200 pesos in his home town. He said he’s missing his five kids (15, 13, 8, 5 and less than 1 year old) and kept stroking Max (who was not really amused). In addition, he has two more kids with another woman, so Sam and I were wondering for quite some time afterwards how this is working out financially to support so many people with so little wage. We continue to be puzzled and just hope that he is supporting the rest of his large family vs. spending it all on alcohol drowning his sadness about not being able to be close to his kids.
We left Cabo San Lucas that morning and drove along the coast towards San José del Cabo. The views alternated between great beaches (also for surfing), large resorts and huge construction sites to fill the empty slots in between. We kept wondering how many tourists are needed to fill all those capacities. But knowing that the airport in Cabo is the sixth largest of Mexico despite not too many people living there, explains already a lot.

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As we’re not too keen on meeting too many other tourists, we preferred San José over San Lucas. It’s older, much smaller and has retained its old town away from the beaches. We strolled around, had great lunch and then stopped at the local fresh water lagoon close to the beach. What an oasis for birds!

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Our next destination was the fishing and windsurfing mecca of Los Barriles. Just a couple of miles before we reached the town, we crossed again the Tropic of Cancer. And this time we also found a large sign to mark it. So 2.5 years after taking our picture with a sign of the Tropic of Capricorn in Namibia, we now also have one with the Tropic of Cancer.

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Once we were in Los Barriles we headed to the campground at Martin Verdugo’s beach and got a space underneath a big tree with lots of shadow – excellent!

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Sam and Max headed right away to the beach as they wanted to try their fishing equipment. They had lots of fun, even though they did not catch anything.

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The next morning, we went right back to the beach. The water was absolutely still, there were no waves or wind at all. It seems like the windsurfer’s paradise is only true for the winter months. After our dip in the sea, we headed to the pool and only went back to our van when it was time for lunch.
On June 21 at lunch on the Tropic of Cancer we got treated to a special feature: there was no shadow – the sun was standing exactly above us. Luckily we were parked underneath that big tree such that we could still enjoy lots of shade.
We spent the afternoon around the van. We watched a hummingbird in the tree, ate some coconut that Sam had gotten from the palm tree next to our van and eventually headed to the supermarket to replenish our stocks.

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The evening we spent again at the water, which was again nice and calm. Sam took another go at fishing. He almost caught a yellow puffer fish, but not knowing if it is edible, he rather let it go again.
As there was a big group of manta rays just passing along the shore, jumping out of the water in formation flight, Sam hurried back to get his camera. By the time he was back, the mantas had gone already a bit further out, but till doing their jumps.

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What Sam had not counted on was to catch a manta ray so close to the shore with his small fishing gear. But once he saw the shadow of a manta circling his swimmer and eventually realized that the line had been bitten off, he stopped his attempts of fishing. After all, manta rays are nice in the wild vs. fished out of the water.

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The remainder of the evening we spent in the pool, enjoying the nice place we had ended up in. As usual it’s those place you don’t expect much from – like in this case Los Barriles – where we were treated to a nice surprise: great inexpensive and clean campground, great pool and calm waters… Just great!

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Posted by dreiumdiewelt 22:23 Archived in Mexico Tagged beach place lagoon cabo solstice todossantos losbarriles Comments (3)

Returning to our favourite spots – Loreto and Conception Bay

written by Birgit, pictures mostly by Sam

sunny 36 °C
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Los Barriles was clearly one of the highlights of our journey so far. Still it was fairly easy to head onwards from there, as we knew already where we wanted to go next: Loreto and then the Bahia Concepcion.
This also meant one long day of driving to get to Loreto, almost 300 miles / 500 km. Given that the drive was really nice, we did not mind too much. The first bit was through nice mountains and from La Paz on we knew the way already. And we already knew about the 10 km stretch of highway construction work going on this time. Eventually we stopped for lunch and had excellent burritos.

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Our next stop was in Ciudad Constitucion. This way we got to actually turn off the highway and thus to break the more than 50 miles / 80 km stretch of absolutely straight and boring road. The main plaza did not feature a playground as we had hoped. But at least we got icecream and Max was getting the ‘usual’ compliments about the colour of his eyes and his hair.
Towards Loreto the road became nicer again winding through the mountains with lots of cacti on both sides. And we were lucky to avoid the cows on the road, but probably the car which was trying to pass us exactly there was more shocked than we were.

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And then it felt like coming home to the Loreto Shores campground. We were clear that we’d stay for a minimum of two nights, which eventually became three.
We started off with one of those relaxing days where we did not move around a lot. Even the tamales we had for lunch were delivered directly to our place by a street vendor. And the pool was not far away, so we spent lots of time there. Rody (10) and Gaby (12) were still there and like last time they were diving, jumping into the water and making rolls underwater forward and backward. Max tried to copy them as well as he could - armed with flippers and his paddleboard.
While Max was playing baseball in the street with the local kids, Sam suddenly got all hectic over dinner. He quickly got his camera to take pictures of the whale he believed to have seen jumping in the bay. Zooming in onto the whale, he realized that in fact he had seen a small fishing boat turning over. The poor guy was quite far out and seemed to move towards the shore terribly slowly. So Sam asked Shelley and her family if he could take one of their kayaks to go out and make sure the fisherman is fine. And so he did. He then also realized why the fisherman was not moving forward very quickly: he had tied his upturned boat with a rope to himself and was trying to pull it out. So eventually Sam pulled out not only the guy, but also the boat in return for lots of ‘gracias’. And Shelley was greeting him back with a bottle of Gatorade in her hands to make sure all invested energy is replenished again. What a quote: two people rescued from the water within less than a week!

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The next day we went into town. As we knew already where to head, we had good lunch followed by the best icecream we had found on our trip so far.

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The remainder of the day was dedicated to Max’ swimming lessons in the pool. While the day before he was still quite dependent on his flippers to get around, today he realized that he can do it also without. He’s a quick learner and the amount of time we’ve spent in the water lately certainly helps as well!
We had managed a lot in a single morning: breakfast, a swim in the pool, getting the van ready to head off, shopping at the supermarket, a fisherman’s supply store, and an alterations place. So we had really earned our fried chicken for lunch at an enormous playground.
But eventually it was time to leave Loreto and to head towards Conception Bay. This time the military checkpoint north of Loreto did not just let us pass after a couple of questions. For a change they now wanted to search the car. A couple of minutes later (and some smiles upon noticing the DosEquis XX beer cans together with the rest of our shopping in the back of the car), we were allowed to head on.

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Initially we had planned to just go back to Playa Santispak, which we had been our first place to stay on the Baja California. But given that all of the four palapas there were full, we were quite happy to retrace our path for 3 miles south to Playa Cocos. The beach was at least as nice as in Santispak and we soon realized that it was cheaper at 100 pesos / night to stay there.

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What initially seemed to be a very quiet and calm night with just another family camping all the way down at the other end of the beach, soon took a different dimension with a Mexican family or rather group of friends taking the palapa hut right next to ours. It remains open why they chose to stay so close – after all there are about 20 palapas on that long beach with only 2 being taken. But fine…
We were treated to lots of Mexican music (loud) and eventually the group decided that they needed more space, so they moved into the palapa on the other side or ours as well. That meant a bit of traffic in front and the back of our hut.
They had lots of fun, spent most of their time in the warm water and every few minutes an empty beer can was thrown out of the water onto the beach next to us. Hmmmm… We took it as cultural immersion and had fun observing and commenting what was going on.
After playing a round of Rummikub in our palapa, eventually we took our chairs out to look at the starry night – observing the milky way and counting shooting stars. What a great night sky!
The only thing bothering us a bit was the large fire entertained by our neighbors next door. It took us a while to realize that every couple of minutes when their fire got lower, they just ripped off some of the palm leaves covering the side of their palapa and kept the fire going that way. Once we had realized what was going on and a bit of decision making on what to do, we headed over to them telling them that we did not think it was a good idea to take apart the hut just to keep a nice little fire. Admittedly they were very fast in giving an explanation: they told us that given that the palm leaves on the hut were already very old, they were replacing them with new ones and that in fact all palapas along the beach will be redone by them in the next couple of days. We thanked them for that explanation and even though we were uncertain if to believe them, there was nothing we could do. And anyhow to our surprise, after we had told them off they did not rip off again a single leaf and let the fire die.
We watched a bit more for shooting stars and by the time we went to bed at 11:30pm, the group was still in the water drinking beer and the music was still going full blast.
The next morning the beach next to us was quite a sight - so many beer cans were lying on the beach… Around noon, the owner of the place came along and stopped at our cabin. I was already heading off to get the money to stay for another night, but actually he just asked if the people next door had been there already last night and if we knew if they had been destroying the wall of the palapa. So we told him our story and he went off with a very frustrated look in the face to get the police.
Just before the group next door was ready to leave, eventually the police came with two cars. We did not intervene in any way, but were happy to hear from the owner of the place, that he did / will get compensation for the damage done. He thanked us extensively for our intervention and let us stay for free for that night. What a nice gesture!
In the afternoon, Sam and Max got some exercise and walked along the beach to the lagoon.

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They stopped at the family with the jet-ski and Sam had long conversations with the owner about the 2-cylinder Rotax engine Bombardier is using and its Austrian origins. After a bit more of talking, Sam and Max got to go out on the jet ski. You can imagine their excitement. Max got to push the throttle and thanks to a passing motor boat they even got to jump over some waves – carefully such that Max would not fall down. It is really a pleasure to see how nice and friendly people are around here. And how much they adore Max with his blond hair and blue eyes. They took dozens of pictures of him - and given his great adventure on the jet ski Max was more willing to let them do that vs. normally being scared of a situation like that.

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That evening we were the only people camping on the beach. So this time, we could enjoy the quiet and dark when watching the nightly sky. And we were joking to each other that somehow we’re missing the music.

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After each of us saw at least three shooting stars it was time to go to bed. Being the only people on the beach we did look forward to a very quiet night without disturbances. Reality was different: at 1:30 am in the morning Sam and I woke up to the sound of a car and a voice asking in Spanish if he can have water for his car. At first we did not get it, what was going on and Sam already suspected some kind of scam scheme. It turned out that the guy really just needed water for his cooler – at least he had the hood open and as soon as Sam handed him a gallon of water, he put it in, thanked us a couple of times and excused for the disturbance and headed off again to the highway and direction south towards Loreto. What a strange thing to happen! It took us a while to go to sleep afterwards and we could not resist to discuss on why our mind is triggered to always first expect the worst – is that just a good thing helping us to survive in unknown environments or is it prejudices hidden somewhere in the unknown areas of our minds that make us dread bad things to happen.
The next morning, we were clearly lacking some sleep, but our blond alarm clock worked very well by demanding to get some milk and a story ready – as usual around 8am.
We took our time before leaving and spent some time in the inlet to the saltwater lagoon with its mangroves. This was not only a nice spot for us, but also for lots of fish enjoying the slight stream of water flowing into the lagoon. But eventually it was time to say good-bye to the Sea of Cortez and to head north. And sometimes the good-bye is just a bit harder than usual…

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 00:14 Archived in Mexico Tagged wildlife beach jetski cocos loto Comments (0)

Heading North to Coco’s Corner

written by Birgit, pictures mostly by Sam

sunny 33 °C
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Admittedly it was hard to leave Playa Cocos and we officially waved and said good bye to this magical place. Bahia Conception had been our first stop on the Baja and it was fabulous that we had the opportunity to return to it.
Santa Rosalía (this is where our ferry had landed from the mainland) made a nice stop for lunch. And we were amazed by the change in scenery once the road headed inland form Santa Rosalía into the mountains. Suddenly the ground seemed reddish and contrasted nicely with the green cacti.

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We had initially planned to go all the way to Guerrero Negro, but once we turned off the highway in San Ignacio, we realized that it was a really nice place. Lots of palm trees along a river, a mission church of which our guide book says that it is the nicest example of historic architecture on the Baja and a central plaza featuring enormous old trees. So what was intended to be a short stop, turned out to be a nice place for biking, an excellent place for getting ice cream and in fact a very nice mission church.

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So we figured that we might as well just stay overnight in San Ignacio. Our guidebook was very positive about Rice n’ Beans and so was the internet, so that’s where we went. As in most of the official Baja campgrounds with the exception of Cabo, we were the only guests. Still, the pool was ready for us and even more importantly: the restaurant / bar supplied us with fries for Max and cold beer for Sam and me. And a bit later we were treated to margeritas ‘mexican style’ which seems to imply just more tequila than usual. This compensated for the fact that the campground itself was nice, but not quite as scenic as the last one – which admittedly is hard to beat. After all Playa Los Cocos had managed to move into the number one spot of nice campsites even surpassing the marvellous Valley of the Gods.

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As the campground featured a wifi connection, this was to be the place where we wanted to publish the most recent blog posts. So Sam spent much of the evening with editing pictures. Unfortunately, the next morning, somehow the wifi or the laptop or the combination of both kept him busy for quite some time, just to realize that it will not work. So we gave up and headed north.
Up to now the roads on Baja had been quite ok. A pot hole here and there, but nothing severe. And the roads were sometimes very windy, but still wide enough to pass cars or trucks without being too afraid. As of Santa Rosalía that changed: the roads did become significantly narrower and the density of pot holes increased significantly. Driving was not nearly as much fun as it had been. The landscapes were great, but the amount of concentration dedicated to driving did not allow the driver to divert his attention for too long from the road.
Our first stop for the day was at one of those mega cactus. They are all over the place, but mostly just very hard to get close to. But this one was easy to get to!

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Lunch break was in Guerrero Negro, a town which is usually known best for whale watching. We were not in the right season to do that – the last whales were passing back in April. So we limited ourselves to a tour of the town and the surrounding salt pans, had lunch in a park and headed on to Baja California Norte.

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It seems like the roads in BCN even got worse than what we’d seen in the last couple of hours in BCS. This is a bit surprising – after all there’s only one paved highway along that stretch of the Baja. That means that all supplies that are not brought in via a ferry or airplane need to pass that road. Still, the great landscape compensated for everything!

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But after all, we should not complain about the MEX 1. We had taken the conscious decision to make Coco’s Corner our next stop. The place and the guy is legend. I had read an article about the Baja a couple of years ago (this is when actually the Baja started being a place on my ‘where to go list’) and it featured a bar in the middle of nowhere along an unpaved stretch of road – that’s Coco’s Corner. In addition, our beloved freecampsites.net had an entry about his place dating from Jan ’16 saying that you’d better hurry to see his place before the paving of the road will change everything.
So we figured we might as well go there. It sounded like being ‘just’ 21 km off the main highway. Given that we’ve done our share of dirt driving in places like Namibia or Chile, we also wanted to do at least a bit of gravel / dirt / sand driving here in Mexico – that’s what the Baja is famous for after all. It turned out that the road was NOT good. At least not in the kind of van we’re travelling.

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Still, in a bit over an hour we made it to Coco’s Corner and already got a glimpse of his collection of paraphernalia. And he was home, happy to meet us. So we sat down with him, had something to drink and immediately got to see and sign his famous guest book.

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There’s not really anything to do at Coco’s Corner, so we spent our time just chatting along with him, having a look at the bees he’s feeding water, his kitten and eventually having dinner.

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And a bit later, due to the absolutely remote location really far from any town or larger settlement, we once again enjoyed a clear starry sky with its share of shooting stars.

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And like it happened so many times before, our travel plans changed as we talked with people. When telling Coco that our plan was to go back to MEX 1 and to travel up the west coast of the Baja up to San Diego, he suggested we rather go north along the east coast. We’d be having less of a bad gravel, as the newly built highway starts 16km north. Plus, as the MEX 5 is still not finished all the way, he promised to have little traffic. We liked the idea, took some last pictures and headed off.

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So we headed north along the coast and were amazed by the contrasts of seeing the path of the old road vs. the new highway. And when stopping for lunch, we were simply amazed by the enormous size of the bug which was flying around.

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Posted by dreiumdiewelt 21:24 Archived in Mexico Tagged landscape cactus north highway coco gravel cocoscorner sanignacio margerita Comments (1)

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