A Travellerspoint blog

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The heat and museums of Tuscon

written by Birgit, pictures mostly by Sam

sunny 41 °C
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When leaving the Flagstaff KOA it was just a short drive up the road to pick up our brand new shower system at Buddy’s RV. Excellent! We’ll be looking forward to great outdoor showers from now on…
And even though we did not realize it at this stage: it was a really good idea to get the shower replaced before reaching Southern Arizona. The climate in Flagstaff had been very pleasant, actually even a bit too cool compared to the nights we had spent in Sedona. Flagstaff’s altitude is about at 7000 ft (2130m), so refreshing even during summer. As we headed south, we realized that we were going down significantly - after all Tucson is only at an altitude of 2600 ft (800m). As we left Flagstaff fairly late (had to stop for groceries and allowed Max one last training session in his favourite bike park), we did not make it all the way to Tuscon, but stopped in Pichaco State Park for the night. Already there we were amazed by the amounts of Saguaro cactus adorning the landscape.

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What a change in climate: while the night before Sam had still prepared a bottle with warm water to take into bed to warm his feet, this night I hardly slept at all because of the heat – it did not cool down further than 74 °F (or 23 °C) at night.
But the next day we got to see even many more of them in Saguaro National Park which was our first destination of the day. When Sam walked around to take some pictures of cacti in bloom, the spider webs in the lower bushes caught his attention. The ranger confirmed that what he had seen were in fact the nets of Tarantulas…

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Our main destination of the day was the Sonora Desert Museum. We enjoyed the museum, which in fact is a combination of a zoo, botanical garden and geology museum. While Max was more fascinated by the snakes and the caves, we also liked the nice exhibits which included a sizable piece of moon stone. Given the midday heat we did not get to see all of the animals, but the black bear was impressive, as were the bobcat and grey fox. Still, the clear highlight was the beaver and the otter which were enjoying a swim in the pool and regularly visited their den.

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While Max enjoyed the visit, Sam was pretty down soon after: he realized that his camera lens was letting him down – the autofocus did not work anymore and as it the whole lens got stuck, also the manual focus did not work. This is not good news, specifically when the large portion of our trip is still ahead of us…
And there’s another thing we realized: in Sedona our fridge had started to make funny noises to the degree that eventually we shut it off periodically. After a bit of troubleshooting and research in the various manuals of the RV, we deducted that the last 17 nights without electrical hook-up had probably depleted the batteries in the back of the RV and that the limited driving we had been doing lately had simply not been sufficient. So the theory was that after the two nights with electrical hook-ups in Flagstaff and Pichaco, we should be fine again. But the theory proved not to be right, as soon after we stopped for the night at a free campsite called Snyder Hill a bit west of Tucson the fridge stated to make funny noises again…

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So we changed our plan for the next day and went to have our equipment checked. After stopping at two camera repair shops, it was clear that we’d be talking a lens replacement and not a repair – as any kind of repair would have left us stuck in Tuscon probably for the next two weeks. Still, both stores did not really have what Sam wanted and were already considering to potentially order a new lens via the internet.
Before making a decision, we decided to check the van first. A nearby Jiffylube soon discovered that both batteries in the back of the van were simply dead. And as living without a fridge in the actual temperatures (at that stage it was probably 101 °F or 38 °C) is simply no option, the choice was pretty easy to get new batteries. At least all the other news was good: the brakes and bearings looked good, the motor oil did not need a change yet and there was no other obvious damage that would need to be taken care of.

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We paid less than expected and even got a coupon for a free car wash as a bonus. So we did that – why not and were soon the owners of a shiny camper van. Great!
Well great, if it wasn’t for the cover of the gas system that was suddenly missing – which we realized at the third camera store we went to. So the feeling of elation about the fixed and clean car subsided quicker than a snap second and I just felt horrified: we would never be able to get that part exactly in that color again except if we’d pay a lot of money to get it custom made… NOOOOOOO!

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It took a while for clear thinking to set in again. Once it did, I called the car wash and asked them to check if a piece like that was found. The lady checked and about two minutes later I was relieved to hear that they had it. Great – I just hoped it would be in acceptable condition and was glad to know that we’d not need to drive the 5 miles again hoping to find the part somewhere on the street – probably run over by other cars a dozen times.
In the meantime, Sam enquired about new camera lenses and eventually ended up buying a new Tamron 16 – 300mm lens. As Sam always wanted to have a 300mm lens, he was happy with that choice and given that online we did not get significantly better prices, he went with that. And we agreed that this will be it – no other birthday presents needed in a couple of days!
Max had been nice the whole time, playing mostly by himself. Still, the heat took his toll also on him and as all three of us were fairly exhausted, we decided to treat ourselves to the local KOA campground which features a pool. And that’s where we spent pretty much the rest of the evening: at first in the regular pool, then soaking in the hot pool. And life was good again – even though the day will hopefully remain to be the single most expensive of our whole trip!
Sam had already fallen in love with Tucson right from the start: after all with the large air force base there were constantly jets and helicopters passing over our heads and soon enough also Max learned to distinguish an A10 from an F16.

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So Sam had really been looking forward to visit the PIMA Air and Space Museum. At first we toured the museum itself - outside and some of the hangars. Sam was fascinated and commented the lack of similar aircraft museums in Europe.

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But after all he had been even more keen to tour the boneyards where the US military is storing 4000 planes and helicopters that have been taken out of service. Some of them are used for parts only, others are ready to be reactivated in a matter of days or weeks. The highlight of the tram tour of the outside facilities at the museum and the bus tour of the boneyards was probably the fact that the tours were held by former pilots who were able to tell by far more stories about the planes than what we would have guessed when just walking around on our own.

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We had come as one of the first people in the morning and left only shortly before the museum closed, so it was not a long decision making process to define that we’d go back to the KOA with the pool.
Before heading off to visit some more museums around Tucson, we first dipped again into the pool – after all it was supposed to get up to 109 °F (44 °C) today, so we figured that a bit of cooling off before starting could not hurt.
Our first stop was at San Xavier der Bac mission, an old building from the 18th century. The stop at the mission was relatively short, but ended with a culinary highlight: it was time to try Indian frybread: Sam and I tried the bean-tomato-cheese-lettuce version, while Max was delighted to get his frybread with cinnamon and honey. We were not alone for lunch: there was a whole group of little whistlers surrounding us.

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Strengthened by lunch we were ready for the next adventures. A bit south of the mission we stopped at the ASARCO Pima mine. After a quick photo session in their yard (in which Sam was quite disappointed not to see any of the local rattle-snakes) we went on the mine tour and were impressed by the sheer size of the excavations. But also the milling processes to extract the copper from the rocks were enormous.

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But more to come, as we still had one more agenda item on the list for today: Sam really wanted to see the Titan Missile Museum. We got to see a missile in its silo – without the nuclear warhead that would have featured these missiles still until 1982 when they were decommissioned. What a reminiscence of the cold war and it’s quite hard to believe how much effort and ingenuity was put into devising a system that was only designed to retailiate in case the enemy would have attacked first. Impressive, but at the same time quite scary as well.

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An hour’s drive later we arrived at Benson, our stop for the night. And the first activity was to jump into the pool. It seems that by now we have adjusted quite well to the temperatures. Sam was already feeling cold and went to get his jacket at 8:30 pm – when accuweather still said that the local Benson temperature was 95 °F (35 °C)… Let’s see it his projection of freezing tonight with his light blanket will come true!

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 21:43 Archived in USA Tagged arizona museum air mine tucson space heat lens battery missile Comments (0)

Birthday celebrations in Tombstone

written by Birgit, pictures mostly by Sam

sunny 41 °C
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It’s Sam birthday. So we planned for an easy day and kept the Mexican border formalities for the next day…
After a nice omelette in the morning Sam and Max explored the playground. As it had only little to offer, they soon switched their preferences and went to the pool where they pretty much stayed until it was time to check out. A quick stop at Walmart’s ensured that we had a birthday cake – unfortunately Sam’s favourite apple pie was not on stock, so he had to go for the cherry pie.
And then we got to Tombstone. What used to be a bustling silver mining town back in the 1880’s is now a Western town renowned for its enactments of historical gunfights and for visitors and people living there dressing up just like in the old days. It sounded like a fun place to be and a perfect place for celebrating a birthday (thanks for the recommendation to go there, Rainer and Ulrike!). Our first stop was in fact to see a gun fight – a comedy one as we were promised. And it was fun and we had lots of good laughs.

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But also just strolling through the streets was really nice – there were lots of people looking like they were about to star in the next Western movie and all of that in a really nice scenery. What looked like real life was obviously a lot of acting and really nice costumes. When we had a conversation with one of the cowboys who had been starring in the gunfight, we found out that what looked like a local actor, was actually a long term traveller: he had given up his home after years of working with mentally ill people and later as a professional photographer and now travelled the world together with his dog. He travels on his BMW GS1200 and the dog travels in a side car. He somehow tried the acting and had been doing that for a month. Still, he did not know how long he’d be staying around from there on and where he’d be headed next.

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Eventually it was time to have lunch: a huge burger for Sam, french fries for Max and cheese enchiladas for me. This was actually enough food, but probably it was the name that made us order ‘Death by chocolate’ as a desert. And even though no one of us was really hungry anymore, the portion was gone in what seems like a split second – and we even forgot to take a picture of it before it was all eaten up.

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In a last stop before leaving Tombstone, we went to the Boothill Cemetery. What at first looks funny with lots of signs in the graveyard starring statements like ‘shot by…’, murdered, ‘killed by Indians’, ‘hanged’ or ‘hanged by mistake’ is actually an awful reminder that the old times were in fact very dangerous times and that it was most probably not really fun to live back in these times.

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Our campground for the evening was in Patagonia Lake State Park and it was a real pleasure to cool off in the lake after a hot day.

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One once Max was sleeping soundly in the back of the van, we enjoyed the starry sky and had an attempt at taking some pictures of the stars. The attempt was fun and ended with a long shopping list of equipment that would enable taking really nice pictures of the milky way – given that we came up with a total bill of almost 10,000$ to do that, we concluded that we’d be happy for the time being with those pictures we were getting. And Sam started considering that instead of buying an enduro bike upon his return to Europe, this could be an alternative option for investing his money... With that we went to bed - most likely our last night in the US for a couple of weeks.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 08:18 Archived in USA Tagged lake dinner birthday cowboy tombstone Comments (1)

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
View Around the world 2016/17 on dreiumdiewelt's travel map.

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
View Around the world 2016/17 on dreiumdiewelt's travel map.

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)

Bye bye Mexico & welcome to Southern California

written by Birgit, pictures mostly by Sam

sunny 30 °C
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Eventually we reached San Felipe and found a nice place at KiKi’s RV Park which featured a palapa on two levels. This allowed us to move our bedroom on the upper level of the palapa for a change. This was excellent – specifically as it is so hot and humid here in San Felipe such that we were thankful for every little breeze.

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We spent the next morning on the beach, eventually went into town for lunch and then used the opportunity of being in a place with lots of dunes for doing some quad riding. That was so much fun!

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Max first rode with his dad, later with me. Sam used the opportunity when he was alone on the quad to go fast, jump and try steep inclines and the like, whereas Max and I took it easy. At least whenever I was the one at the throttle. When Max had control, he did go full blast – at least until I got scared and took his hand away from the gas.

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After that excitement we were all a bit exhausted. While Sam and I were in favour of taking an actual break, Max continued playing all along – in this case playing with his little surfboard in the sand until he was all sandy.
Luckily enough with the beach just a couple of steps away, it was easy to get rid of the sand and to even get treated as a bonus to a nice sunset.

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The next morning, another dip in the sea was due before finally leaving the Sea of Cortez and with that also Mexico.
We were surprised to see that on our way towards the border, there were enormous white areas along the beach. When we found a turn off towards it from our highway, we explored what it was and realized that it was a huge salt pan or probably rather a salt sea. The blinding light from the pure white was fascinating!

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We were much less impressed by the border between Mexico and the USA. We had to wait for about an hour on the road directly south of the gigantic border fence between the two countries. When it was eventually our turn, we realized that this was directly the US side, i.e. there was no outgoing customs or immigration point at all. The agent at the US border was extremely friendly, explaining to us how to get to Mexican customs to make sure our car is officially out of the country again. He also asked about the soccer game of this evening – and with that we realized that this was the day when Germany was playing Italy in the Euro 2016. We had not been following the news at all in the last couple of days.
After going back to the Mexican side of the border, lots of waiting and a couple of referrals from one office to another, we were finally able to make sure that the temporary import of our RV was officially stopped. Once more we stood in line for getting back into the US and got questioned about our trip by another agent. This time we knew how to answer the questions and got into the US without much ado.
As a welcome to the US, we were treated to a nice sunset – they are just much more interesting whenever there are clouds around vs. a clear sky. And luckily enough we were not in the middle of one of those thunderstorms going on around us!

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Our first night back in the USA was the Friday night of Fourth of July weekend. Given that all campgrounds and RV parks were probably full on that weekend, we used freecampsites.net once more and found a nice BLM site not too far from the Mexicali border at Plaster City OHV area. We did see a couple of buggy drivers, but none of them stayed overnight. So we had the pleasure of having a lonely campsite again with a nice starry sky. And there’s nothing to complain about the toilet facilities – they were significantly cleaner than many others we had on our journey so far and featured a nice view…
The drive over the Tecate divide into San Diego the next morning was really nice. We only briefly passed through downtown San Diego before heading directly to the USS Midway, a decommissioned aircraft carrier that is now a museum in the San Diego harbour.

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After our visit to the USS Midway, we prolonged our parking and headed south along the embarcadero to a pleasant food court where we had a late lunch before heading north along the coast towards Los Angeles.

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We had reserved a spot for the night at the Los Angeles KOA in advance – a smart move since the KOA was fully booked by the time we arrived in the evening. I can’t really say that it is a pleasant place to stay: it was a classical RV park with RVs standing next to each other tightly and even though it’s called the Los Angeles KOA, it’s located in Pomona, a suburb 30 miles / 50 km away from downtown LA. Given the holiday weekend, we were charged 66 USD for the night, so a new record by far surpassing the previous 45 USD max we had paid back in Oklahoma. Still, it served our needs for having a place for the night.
The next morning, we were not able to resist going shopping at Aldi’s before heading towards downtown Los Angeles. More or less by coincidence we ended up in the Central Market an enormous food court featuring food from all corners of the world. It reminded us a bit of Spittalfield Market in East London. We opted for Chinese food – a good choice!

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Our walking tour of downtown featured Pershing Square, the jewellery district and a couple of theaters along Broadway. We were surprised to see lots of nice old buildings and architecture. Even though we usually say that we’re no big city people, once in a while it is very nice to stroll around a city after all – specifically after having been for such a long time in the rather lonely deserts of Mexico’s Baja.

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Posted by dreiumdiewelt 00:13 Archived in USA Tagged mexico market hut la outside border downtown salt palapa Comments (1)

Celebrating the Fourth of July with friends

written by Birgit, pictures mostly by Sam

sunny 22 °C
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The next stop on our journey was Thousand Oaks, just north of Malibu in the Santa Monica hills. This is not necessarily a typical tourist destination and only made it on our travel map, as this is where my friends Susan and John are living.
I had pre-warned them already when we met last year in September, that we might want to meet when we’re coming to their area. And luckily enough they were around and not traveling themselves!
We arrived at their house and welcomed with more food than all of us together could possibly eat: there were blue corn chips (yummy!) with John’s homemade guacamole and salsa. And then there was a big barbecue feast with bison burgers, German brats, rolls, sauerkraut, pickles, tomato, various sauces, corn on the cob and much more… Max was delighted and ate much more than what he usually eats, but also we had clearly more than needed – specifically when the apple pie and fruit came into play!

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What Sam and I had not realized so far is that we had really longed for good conversations. After all John and Susan were the first friends we had seen for two months now. And even though we’ve met lots of other people in the meantime, conversations with strangers are just different and much more superficial. So we kept John and Susan up longer than what they are used to and went to bed with the nice feeling you have after such great conversations.
The next morning John and Susan introduced us to one of their favourite breakfast places – the Side Street Café. What a great menu! Really nice!

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But the next highlight of our day was not far away: we went to the Ronald Reagan Library. John easily navigated us to the best parking position despite the hundreds of cars lining the access and the ushers advising us to use the overflow parking down the hill. There was quite a program at the Library for the Fourth of July: we met the flag maker Betsy Ross, had a chat with President Lincoln, Max bounced in the bouncing castle, we walked through Ronald Reagan’s Air Force One, had an excellent snack featuring Jelly Beans and saw the Oval Office how it looked in Reagan’s times.

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But there was more to come: in the early evening we went to Janss’ Marketplace, got our bracelets entitling us to join the firework viewing on the upper deck of the parking. Max immediately entered the bouncing castle just there before doing his balancing tricks in the playground.

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John and Susan treated us to excellent dinner at the Sunset Terrace and the timing was just perfect to arrive on the upper deck of parking to enjoy the Eagles Revival Band. Even though we seemed not as well prepared as many others who were carrying loads of stuff up there, John organized us seats and we placed them in the best position just in front of the band. We had to smile when the band played ‘Hotel California’, we got to think of the dark desert highways on the Baja and had a look at the picture we took of the ‘Hotel California’ in Todos Santos. At 9pm we just had to turn around our seats to enjoy the fireworks – all of us love fireworks!

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The next morning it was time to say good bye to Susan and John. All of us had really enjoyed the stay with them, but Max was very outspoken about the fact that he did not want to leave.
Eventually we headed off towards Hollywood. Our first stop was Mulholland Drive which treated us to a nice view not only of the infamous Hollywood Sign, but also of some very exquisite mansions in the Hollywood Hills. Given that we had not spent the 200$ to go on a Hollywood Tour, it was up to us to speculate which of them could belong to the various celebrities living in the area.

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Next on our list of places we wanted to see was the Hollywood Walk of Fame. It was fun to spot stars of all kinds of celebrities, such as Jodie Foster, Steven Spielberg, Aretha Franklin, Mickey Mouse, Michael Jackson, Anthony Hopkins etc… Along the way we also passed the Dolby Theater - location of the annual Oscars and Graumans Chinese Theater where various stars have left the imprints of their hands and feet.

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I really enjoyed that stroll along the Walk of Fame. The only bad news was that we had gotten an expensive parking ticket (73$) as we had missed to read that along that side of the street, street cleaning was on Tuesdays noon – 3pm and not like on the other side of the street on Mondays. Next time we’ll look more closely before parking!
We took the scenic route via Sunset Boulevard, Rodeo Drive, Wilshire Boulevard and Santa Monica Boulevard to the beach. I’m not sure how often I had watched ‘Pretty Woman’ as a teenager, but even though that’s quite a while ago, all these sites reminded me so much of the movie.

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In Venice Beach we once again went for street parking – this time checking the signs better than earlier. We checked out Muscle Beach, saw the beach basketball courts that were featured in ‘White Men Can’t Jump’ and had lunch on the beach. With the life guard stations all along the beach, we were a bit reminded of ‘Baywatch’. Pamela Anderson was nowhere to be seen, but there were enough other people to watch.

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Max enjoyed the playground and was disappointed that he could not use the skatepark with his bike – after all it was crowded with adults who were practicing their tricks in front of a big crowd of spectators. On our way back to the car, we were lucky to catch a show of the Calypso Tumblers, featuring breakdance, acrobatics and funny commentary – fun!

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But best of all, was just e whole atmosphere and specifically the people there.

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Leaving LA around rush hour was less fun, but otherwise we would have missed a trademark of the area. Having the feeling on a 7-lane highway that there are at least 3 lanes missing is something that would have never occurred to me if I hadn’t seen it.
Even though we could have spent lots more time in LA and surroundings, all of us were happy with what we had seen and were ready to head on towards new adventures.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 09:41 Archived in USA Tagged venice beach breakfast friends castle lincoln library hollywood fourth bouncing Comments (0)

Watching wildlife along California’s Central Coast

From Santa Barbara via Pismo Beach to San Simeon

sunny 22 °C
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Our first adventure on the way along the coast north of LA was the search for a campground. We had been thinking to go to a free campsite north of Santa Barbara. But as it was getting late we tried our luck at the Emma Wood State Park. The lady there was very friendly and still had availability. It’s just that she did not believe us that we have an RV. So Sam got out of the car, showed her all of the inlets and outlets and eventually we were admitted to the Park. Yes, this is an RV!

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We were lucky: this way we did not have to drive any further and were able to enjoy the sunset at the beach. And we finally met our first Trump supporter, as up to now everybody we talked to did not think it was a good idea to have him President of the United States. Our neighbour had a cap identifying him as a veteran of the Vietnam War and without too much questioning, he told us that this man (i.e. Trump) is the best thing that ever happened to America and that his attitude was exactly right – stomping relationships with other countries is exactly what is needed, as Americans are paying too much for others anyhow. So the Trump supporters do exist after all… It will be interesting to see who will win the election in November then.
The next morning, we were surprised by an overcast sky. This is worth a mention, as we had been treated to ongoing sunshine with sometimes a cloud here and there for over six weeks now. So not to see the sun or even bits of blue sky was a bit of a strange feeling.
We spent the day exploring Santa Barbara and were lucky to find excellent food at Rebar, close to the train station. And there was a skatepark – and this time it was not that crowded so we allowed Max to go. So he was happy! We also checked out the main attractions of Santa Barbara: the County Courthouse and the old mission church before heading north towards Pismo Beach.

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When it came to finding a place for the night, we were a bit cautious with driving our van into the sand to stay at the state recreational vehicle area. That is an enormous stretch of beach and sand dunes in which camping along the beach is allowed and any kind of vehicles can ride freely in the dunes. So we saw loads of dune buggies, quads and trucks with flags such that they can be seen even in the valleys of the dunes.
So after a couple of unsuccessful trials to get a slot at various campgrounds, we ended up at a nice (but costly – a new record) RV park directly along the beach. When checking out the beach, Sam noticed the water fountains coming up in regular intervals and we concluded that there must be whales out there. And after a run out to the pier, Sam got to see them even closer and was treated to a nice sunset on the way back.

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We had a nice plan for the next day: we wanted to do some shopping at the Pismo outlet mall. We were not really successful, as the designer clothes there did not appeal to us. We’ll try again another time. At least we had good lunch there: Huckleberry’s treated us to a nice Florentine quiche, a seafood wrap and grilled cheese with fries.
The whole afternoon we spent at the beach and on the pier in the hopes of seeing whales again. On our first time out at the pier we saw a sea otter, a shark and a school of dolphins. A bit later we noticed from the beach that there were whales again. So we went out to the pier again in order to be treated to a couple of whales showing off their tails and later also to do nice jumps out of the water.
After we were treated to a nice sunset at the beach, we left for our campground, the Oceano County Campground and enjoyed being able to camp on grass again for a long time. And there was another surprise: the camp hosts were inviting all campers to 9” funnel cakes with fresh strawberry topping, whipped cream and powdered sugar. Wow – what a treat!

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The next morning, we headed off quite early, as there was so much to be seen and we wanted to make sure that we’ll start looking for a place to stay overnight when it’s still light outside. Still, leaving so early also meant that the think marine layer had not yet cleared and consequently we saw Montana d’Oro State Park still in the fog and had to imagine how it would look in sunshine, just like for the view down to Morro Bay.

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As we just did not get a slot in San Simeon State Park Campground anymore (the car in front of us got the last one), we continued and checked out the pier of San Simeon located in a really nice bay. Even though we spotted Hearst Castle on top of the hill, we decided that we’d rather concentrate on the natural sights surrounding us vs. visiting the castle.

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First on our list were the elephant seals just a bit further. At this time of the year, the males occupied the beach for molting (i.e. shedding their fur). And wow – the older males are gigantic at up to 5000 pounds each. Seeing them lie at the beach was one thing, seeing them move from the water to the beach or on the beach was even more impressive.

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Posted by dreiumdiewelt 20:37 Archived in USA Tagged beach whales pier shark cold trump otter seaelephants Comments (0)

Famous Highway Number 1

From San Simeon to Monterrey

sunny 20 °C
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A bit north of San Simeon started the famous part of Highway 1 – built in the 1930’s as part of the ambitious new deal projects despite the steep rock faces. We were impressed with the road right from the start – what a view down to the ocean!
Unfortunately, the view did not last for long, as we found ourselves in the middle of a thick marine layer obstructing the sight down to the ocean and even around the next curves.

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Anyhow we did not go too far. Given the ‘campground full’ signs at all official campgrounds, we fell back to our usual alternative and went for dispersed camping. So we turned off the highway along the Nacimiento Ferguson Road and went in steep curves upwards hoping to get above the clouds. On our way up we passed some redwoods along the way and eventually were in bright sunshine. We found our spot soon and enjoyed a lovely view down onto the clouds.

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The only downside to the nice location were the flies. What a nuisance! With flies all around us, I even took up the discussion with Sam if we really want to go to Central Australia in a couple of months… But on the contrary, the birds were really nice!

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In the morning the marine layer cleared and we were rewarded with a nice view to the Pacific Ocean. Around lunchtime, it was time to go and explore at least a bit. So while I got the van ready, Max and Sam already headed off to bike / run down the road. They made 3.4 miles by the time I reached them and picked them up at the next turnout.

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We did not have to go far for a nice place to visit, as Limekiln State Park was just down the road. After a nice stroll through an impressive forest of coastal redwoods, we checked out the limekilns first, before heading to the 100’ waterfall. After lunch, we enjoyed some more time at the beach.

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On our way back to camp, we once again saw whales, this time even jumping completely out of the water, resulting in big splashes. Really cool, the whales are fascinating!
The weather was great and the marine layer had cleared completely. Therefore, this time we were not forced to go so far up along the road and we stopped a bit lower. We found a nice big turnout along the road with a great view.

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The next morning we headed north along the coast and enjoyed great vistas along the way. But the nicest view of all was in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. The waterfall falling onto a secluded and inaccessible beach is probably the signature view of Big Sur.

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Next on our list was the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. Not surprisingly, the campground was full, but we were admitted for day use. So we used the opportunity to do a hike along the river and got food at the lodge. By coincidence more than anything we got to watch part of the soccer Euro 2016 finals to the end of regular play time when it was still 0:0. We did not want to wait for the game to finish, so we did not see the celebrations of the Portuguese once they won, we only read about it in the evening.

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Our next destination was Carmel – by – Sea. We did not really know what to expect, but were pleasantly surprised by a very nice town. The downtown area was clearly groomed towards the needs of tourists and it was clearly high end tourism. Prices were not low – neither for ice cream or pastries, nor for realty – we did not find a single place advertised that was less than 1.5 million, but there were several above 10 million – which then gets you a nice property and house on at the coast. It felt like a nice place to visit, but not like a place to live.

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When doing the 17-mile drive, we were really impressed. Less so by Pebbles Beach Golf Course (even though we’re absolutely aware that it must be the non-plus-ultra for golfers to play there), but much more so for the mansions and properties we saw along the way. Some of the place we saw, were by far nicer and more impressive than the mansions around Hollywood – and they definitively had a marvellous view!

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We stopped a couple of times along the way and were lucky to see some deer on the golf courses.

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Bird and Seal Rock promised some wildlife viewing and in fact we were able to complete our collection of marine mammals: after sea lions and sea elephants, it was about time to also see some seals and there were lots of them.
By the time we left the 17-mile drive and drove through Monterrey, we were all already rather tired and keen to get to our campground. Given how full everything had been in the last couple of days, I had made reservations in the afternoon and after four unsuccessful calls, the Monterrey / Salinas KOA reserved their last slot for us. We were not too thrilled by the location directly next to the highway, but at least we had nice neighbours. Their four-year-old son had a pedal bike looking like a Yamaha endure and Max raced with him around our van. The whole family had spent their weekend watching the superbike world championship run at the Monterrey racecourse. This would have been fun to see as well, but we did not know about it and even if we would have known about it, there’s simply so much to do and too little time to do it all!
The next day we took advantage of California’s fruit and vegetable production: in the self-proclaimed ‘World’s Artichoke Center’ we bought a full case of fresh fruit. A bit later we stopped at a beach. The location was great, but eventually we realized that quite a couple of visitors prefer it for getting their suntan complete also in those parts that usually don’t get as much sun. We rather just had lunch and eventually headed on towards Los Altos.

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Posted by dreiumdiewelt 21:32 Archived in USA Tagged coast beach whales golf highway road redwoods produce limekiln pebbels Comments (2)

Cable Cars and Bridges in the Bay Area

Los Altos, San Francisco, Pleasanton

sunny 22 °C
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When heading from the coast in Half-Moon-Bay towards Los Altos, we passed a nice forest and a very scenic lake. We only realized a bit later that the scenic lake was in fact the San Andreas fault – another reminder that we’re on dangerous grounds – specifically as scientists are warning that the next big earthquake is long overdue for the bay area.
Our first impression of the bay area was extremely positive. We had expected 5pm traffic towards the southern suburbs to be more than just bad, but realized that traffic was flowing nicely for most parts. So we ended up being too early at Hamish and Elis’ place in Los Altos. While we had pre-warned Hamish a couple of months ago that we’d be coming to the bay area, due to lack of reception around Big Sur, we were only able to firm up our plans that morning. So we were lucky that Hamish and Elis were spontaneous enough to receive us on such short notice.
While we enjoyed a nice BBQ and catching up, Max and Venicious enjoyed playing with each other and specifically riding Venicious’ bikes.

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They continued playing the full morning and Max did not want to leave his new friend at all. Still, we had plans, as we wanted to see San Francisco. We soon realized that we should rather give up on our original plan to park somewhere downtown and headed towards the waterfront at Fisherman’s Wharf.

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After some unexpected excellent food at a street booth, we went for the classic cable car ride We were lucky to be offered half-price day passes from other tourists (which eventually we sold for the same money at the end of our second cable car ride). Max and I sat, while Sam took the classical transportation method standing outside. We all enjoyed the cable car rides and it is simply amazing to see how steep the hills in San Francisco really are.

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After getting off at the final station at Powell / Market, we explored Union Square and Chinatown before taking another cable car back to our car. It was fun!

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Then it was time to approach the next San Francisco classic: The Golden Gate Bridge. Edging our way along the waterfront towards the bridge, already gave some nice opportunities not only of the bridge, but also of famous Alcatraz.

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But we had taken the conscious decision that did not just want to see the bridge, but we also wanted to drive over it. And we’re so happy that we took that decision: to see the bridge up close has just a different feel to it vs. just looking at it.
And best of all: on the north side of the bridge we had the evening light being just perfect and we really enjoyed taking in various viewpoints. To complete the vista, we got to see a couple of container ships and even some whales on both sides of the bridge.

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Considering evening traffic, we rather opted for going north and heading out towards Oakland via the Richmond bridge – which also had the nice side benefit that we did not have to pay any bridge tolls – to reach our next campground in Pleasanton.

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We spent the next morning in the attempt of getting Sam’s glasses fixed. He had realized that his frame had a crack on one of the two sides – the one that had not been changed a couple of months back in Germany. So we tried to locate a Silhouette retailer and at the second attempt even found one. We soon realized that they were only selling frames, but not able to fix the glasses on site. At least they were able to refer us to another store where we were promised that the new frame could be mounted within a couple of minutes.
Perfect! We went there and the guy was in fact very quick in getting Sam’s old glasses taken apart and the new fame mounted. Except that when mounting the first lens, the lens cracked… He had not realized that Sam’s lenses were high index material, which is significantly more brittle than poly-carbonate. Not good…
At least he had lenses on stock for Sam’s prescription and was able to basically make new lenses and fix them into the new frame – and all of that for 15$. Sam is happy with the result and even though this kept us busy until the early afternoon, we are glad to having done the replacement. After all, a journey like that without the proper kind of glasses would be a big miss. And after all: Yosemite was waiting for us!

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 16:48 Archived in USA Tagged car bridge golden san francisco cable bay glasses gate wharf altos Comments (0)

Yosemite’s majestic mountains

Yosemite National Park

sunny 36 °C
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We can call ourselves really lucky: a couple of days earlier when it was obvious when we’d be getting to San Francisco and then to Yosemite I was lucky to get a reservation for a single night at Crane Flat Campground. Considering that campgrounds for Yosemite in summer time are usually sold out a couple of months in advance, we were very happy.
And then we were even more lucky when I found space for us for the following two nights at Upper Pines Campground (so even a campsite down in Yosemite Valley) just before leaving towards Yosemite – i.e. when we still had reception.
So it was a very relaxed drive and late arrival in Yosemite – having a reservation is not really what we’re used to. But admittedly this was extremely helpful, as also most of the national forest campgrounds before entering Yosemite were full. And while dispersed camping might be allowed in the national forest, we were not too sure if this was a good idea in bear country without having any proper food storage at hand.

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Crane Flat is a nice campground with large sites located in a big pine forest. We easily found our spot and marveled at how nice it is not having to think about where to stay for the night.
The next morning, we got up early by our standards and headed into Yosemite Valley. We stopped at a couple of viewpoints as we got closer.

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The trail to Bridaveil Falls was short and nice. But it also gave us a flavor of how many people are crowding the valley. And despite all kinds of warning signs with visual examples and statistics of 2015 injuries displaying how dangerous it is to scramble in the granite rocks leading up to the falls, we were able to observe a tourist slipping and hitting his nice camera lens on a rock…
So we left in search of a quieter place and were successful at Cathedral Beach where we enjoyed the nice views of El Capitan and the Cathedral Range and the river with a pleasant beach.

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Later we used the nice afternoon sun for taking in the major view points in the valley before retreating to our spot in the Upper Pines Campground next to newly named Half Dome Village to have BBQ with roasted marshmallows as desert.

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The next morning, we decided to allow Jordan and Chris to join us with their tent on our campsite. The couple had tried their luck at the only first come – first serve campsite. As they had camped up close to Glacier Point, they got up at 4:15am, to get into line at Camp 4 at 5:20am in order to learn eventually from the National Park Staff that the group before them was the last one to get a spot… Wow! And as all reserved campsites are laid out for 6 people, Jordan searched for sites with less people and that’s how we got together. As usual, our guests get to sign our guest book...

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Our target for the day was a hike up to Vernal Falls and we even got further up vs. our original plan. We hiked up to the top of the falls and then even further up to the John Muir Trail to head down in a loop.

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Given that it was quite a warm day and a ‚moderately strenuous‘ hike (as per the park flyer), we deserved a dip in the river before having dinner at our site. And yes, we slept very well after so much exercise.

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Our last day in Yosemite was dedicated to Sequoia trees. Due to the fact that Mariposa Grove is currently closed for improvement works, we headed to Tuolumne Grove. And yes, it was very impressive to see the trees grow. But it was also interesting to see a fallen tree just to take in the dimensions of the giant sequoias. After all, their diameter is just enormous.

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After a couple of stops with great vistas along Tioga Road, we had ‚scrambled pancakes‘ (aka Kaiserschmarrn) at a nice lake.

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A bit later we got to the Tuolumne Meadows before going up to Tioga Pass at nearly 10,000 feet. With crossing the pass, it was time to wave good-bye to Yosemite national park and to recognize how quickly a landscape can change from one moment to the other.

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Posted by dreiumdiewelt 10:09 Archived in USA Tagged mountains waterfall rock hike yosemite sequoia Comments (1)

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