Jan 2012

Blog, North America

DISCUSSION 13 Comments

Crazy Eyes

When I was about 10 years old, I was hiking with my dad and brothers in Sedona when we decided to duck a fence to find a shortcut to some Indian ruins. A few minutes later a strung out crazy person jumped out from behind a bush wielding a sawed off shotgun. He had a string of shotgun shells around his neck and he kept the gun aimed directly at us. He had crazy in his eyes. After a half an hour of pleading, he let us go. I had this in mind as I ducked the fence and started walking into the bushes at the property that we assumed belonged to a friend of a friend in La Ribera near Baja’s southern tip.

We left La Paz on Sunday morning and headed south. We didn’t know where we were going, only that there was a couple from the states trying to build some kind of permaculture farm near La Ribera. A bit of Google stalking led us to Biosfera Buena Fortuna, where we figured we’d find someone who knew them. We drove there and found a young American guy pruning a tree, so we asked him where we might find Tiffanie.

“I think she lives toward town a little. Look for a gate with a Buddhist symbol on it.”
“What do you mean by ‘Buddhist symbol'”, I asked.
“I’m not really sure.” he said. He was like Yoda, except less helpful.

Back in Nacho, we headed toward town and found a gate with a strange symbol on it. Buddhism probably has strange symbols, so we figured we must be in the right place. Bingo bango. The gate was locked and there was no house in sight, just trees, shrubs, and a dirt track winding into the foliage.

After squeezing through the barbed wire fence I walked down the track past banana and mesquite trees. I noticed a child’s bare footprints in the dust. After a while I came across a huge thatched palapa, under which two men and two women were building a deck, while two little girls played. No guns, no crazy people.

We spent two days in La Ribera with these folks; Tiffanie and Troy moved here a week ago with their 3 year old daughter Anjali from Corvallis, Oregon. They brought along their friends Tiffany and Josh, with their 3 year old daughter Stella, to help get the property ready for living. Due to computer issues we didn’t tell them we were coming, but they all welcomed our arrival – and my trespassing – with open arms. It was as if we’d known each other for years.

Tiffanie runs a food blog and was generous enough to cook for us all weekend in her open-air kitchen. We contributed cornbread cooked in our Dutch oven in the campfire, and passed around a bottle of Nate’s home brewed quadrupel. Each night we ate dinner under the palapa, and then sat around the campfire. Outdoor living: it doesn’t suck like you might think it would.

On our second day we made our way to the beach for a bit of recreation. I still hadn’t caught a fish, and was determined to finally satisfy my primordial predatory desires by landing The Big One. They say to visualize yourself succeeding to find success, so I tried. I imagined casting my bait 300 yards into the dark undergrowth of a fish infested kelp forest. I imagined a 60 pound roosterfish taking my hook, and myself bravely fighting until the fish became tired enough for me to haul it ashore, where I would plunge my dive knife into its head like a Spartan warrior. I wouldn’t even show any emotion, even though it would be very emotional for even the hardest of war hardened killers. I would wipe my bloody hands on a whole bunch of Kleenex tissues and then take a photo with my kill. I would leave the bloody Kleenex tissues right there on the beach so that future beachgoers would wonder what kind of terror must have happened in that spot. It would be a story they would pass on to their grandchildren. “I tell you, grandchildren, there was more blood on that tissue than on all of Normandy’s beaches. It must have been one hell of a nosebleed.”

Try as I might, I couldn’t seem to cast more than 40 yards. I stood there on the shore for what seemed like an hour, my pale white torso turning a splotchy red from the sun. I didn’t have a fishing rod holder, so I held it with my hand. Slouched over, burning, holding onto a fishing pole. An obnoxious retired American guy walked over, beer in one hand, a cigarette in the other, and the bulbous potbelly of a malnourished famine child protruding from his frail body.

“I like your fishing pole holder! Ha! You know what your problem is? You have too much bait! Ha Ha! I knew it when I saw you casting! Ha! ” Great, I thought, I can’t run away or else I’ll dislodge my bait from the fish infested kelp forest. The man was yelling every word in my ear. Must be drunk. Or senile.

“You know what else you’re doing wrong!? You’re standing there in your shorts with those f***ing Hanes underwear! Ha! You need to jerk those f***ing pants off and put a f***ing beer in one hand. HA! You know what else you’re doing wrong!? You need to taaaake ooooooffff thaaaat f***********ing waaaaaatch! HA HA HA!” Damn it all, and here I forgot my tazer and my pepper spray back in Nacho. I’d just have to wait until he got bored and left.

In the end I didn’t catch any fish. Turned out I wasn’t casting into a fish infested kelp forest after all. My later paddle boarding expedition proved that in fact I was casting into 5 feet of water with a smooth sandy bottom. Thank goodness we’re near civilization or we’d have starved to death long ago.

On Tuesday morning we loaded up Nacho and said farewell to our new friends. Josh and Troy, both ER doctors, found it hard to believe that we were traveling without a first aid kit, so Josh unloaded all of his supplies on us. Now we’re basically a traveling medical clinic; we have an EpiPen, antibiotics, splints, various pills, and a flesh stapler. Yes, a flesh stapler. The way Josh put it, “I love these things. In the amount of time it takes for the patient to evacuate their lungs in a blood curdling scream, you can have the whole wound closed up.” He said it with such nonchalance, so matter of fact, and with a hint of crazy in his eyes.

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Jan 2012

Blog, North America

DISCUSSION 17 Comments

The Second Law of Thermodymexico

When you stop putting effort into your hygiene, you will eventually look like a hobo after a bar fight.  If you put up stop signs and add lines to a Mexican road, the population will eventually learn to ignore them.  Our driving habits, like my attention to my appearance, are only getting worse.

Over the last few days we’ve been doing a lot of driving.  It’s not what we envision for the entire trip, but we’re eager to get past the Baja peninsula.  It’s not that we don’t like Baja, but we’ve already done the trip this year and are stoked to find our way Southward to places yet unvisited.  Tomorrow we’ll be off to Mazatlan by ferry, and that will signal the beginning of unmarked territory for us.  Besides swamp ass and hemorrhoids, all of the week’s driving has given us a new appreciation for Mexican long haul truckers, and has caused my attention to traffic laws to become more, shall we say, relaxed.

We made a long push in a single day from Bahia de los Angeles, through Geurrero Negro, and across the peninsula to the Sea of Cortez.  We rolled right on through the French mining town of Santa Rosalia and into Mulege for an early taco dinner.  Over the last week we’ve kind of overdone it on street tacos, and ended up ingesting way too much carne asada and pork.  The resulting acid reflux reminded us that we really ought to diversify.  This is Baja California, and the fish taco is king, so in Mulege we ate tacos de camaron y pescado.

We carried on and finally came to a stopping point at Bahia Concepcion.  Usually this bay is calm and warm, so we figured we’d stay for a couple of days to relax.  We made our way down a rocky road to a small cove and pulled up to a palapa on the beach. I still hadn’t landed any fish, so I planned to do some surf fishing off of a small island near our campsite.

As luck would have it, we woke up to high winds and cloudy skies from a storm that was rolling across the peninsula.  I decided that instead of fishing, it would be a great idea to go paddle boarding.  The winds were strong like bull, so I ended up paddling to the island and exploring it on foot.  Sheena gave the paddle board a try and ended up falling off for the first time ever after being swiped by a rogue wind gust.  The water was only waist deep, but I still basked in the sweet satisfaction at seeing her plunge into the chilly water, ending her eight month streak of not falling off.  We rounded out the day with shark tacos and the first bottle of Nate’s World Wide Quadrupel, which were both great, and made the decision to cut our losses and push on the next day.

When we awoke our minds were already on the road before we emerged from the van to find calm weather and a glassy smooth bay.  All signs said Stay Put, but so early in the trip we haven’t been able to shake our sense of urgency.  Urgency to do what, I’m not sure.  We lifted anchor and set off on the tortuous road once again on our push to get through the desolation of Baja California.

Our goal was to make it to Loreto, our favorite town on the peninsula, for breakfast before heading on to La Paz.  We rounded a bend on one of the mountainous sections of road along a ravine and came across a full sized 18 wheeler that had tried to take the corner too fast.  Its back end had skittered off the side of the road and both rear axles were suspended over the edge of a cliff.  Its young driver sat on the side of the road with a shocked look on his face while a tow truck driver assessed the daunting work in front of him.  I asked Sheena to take a picture but her pity for the driver made her unable to press the button.  Like watching a hobo lose a bar fight and then taking his picture, it’s hard to kick someone when they’re down.  No matter the entertainment value.

We made a quick stop at Loreto for breakfast of eggs, cactus, and chilaquiles and continued on.  Really putting the “Drive” in Drive Nacho Drive.  By evening we made it to La Paz, the capital and cultural center of the state.  Cabo San Lucas may be the cruise ship, tourism, and college spring break drinking capital, but La Paz is a real city with real history and culture.  After a dinner of stuffed potatoes and beans we parked and spent the evening strolling along the waterfront malecon.  Entire families walked up and down the boardwalk late into the night, kids rode their bikes and rollerblades, a group of young people took turns dancing to a radio, and a young girl in sparkly red shoes pushed a stroller with a doll in it.  Unbelievable.  You know, the fact that Paris isn’t the only place left where people still rollerblade.  The happiness of La Paz’s people wore off on us and we decided then and there that we would eventually settle down in a place where our children can enjoy the kind of community and outdoor living that we found in La Paz.

After another regretful night spent camping on the beach at Pichilingue next to a truck pumping polka music into the wee hours of the morning we bought our ferry tickets for Mazatlan, ate our breakfast sitting in folding chairs on a white sand beach, and then pointed Nacho south toward Cabo Pulmo.  We passed a man grazing his goat on a leash in the median of a busy roadway, we emptied the contents of our library on the floor after hitting one of Mexico’s ubiquitous topes too fast, and I rolled through stop sign after stop sign in 2nd gear.  In one case we rolled through a stop sign in front of a cop.  I didn’t care.  He didn’t care.  The lines and signs are just a remnant of good intentions ignored.

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Jan 2012

Blog, North America

DISCUSSION 15 Comments

When it Rains it Pours

As we pulled up to the bay at San Quintin, it was as if we’d entered a military ambush. We passed an armored vehicle loaded with troops. As we made our way into the dirt parking lot we noticed several of these around the place. The dock leading from the restaurant to the water front had several troops with machine guns, waiting as if they were expecting the bad guys to show up at any time. Nope just us. We quickly circled around the parking lot and headed for the exit. A soldier gave us a piece sign as we passed by. On our way out we noticed that a seemingly important meeting was underway in the restaurant. Whatever it was, I think they were safe. We pulled a few hundred yards down the road and found a camp spot.

When we parked we turned on the water system, only to hear water spraying the back of the cabinets. It seemed my repair of the Sure-Flo check valve while we were in Phoenix didn’t hold. All right, no water. Next, I flipped the switch for the inverter. I heard a sizzling sound, and then our Samlex inverter went into overload mode. The same thing had happened before we left Flagstaff, and I had to get it replaced under warranty. Not so easy now. And all of a sudden we had no water and no A/C electricity.  When it rains, it pours.

No inverter means we can’t charge our computer battery. I knew we should have gotten a 12v power cord before we left. If we don’t update for a couple of days, it means our computer is dead. We hope to find a new inverter in Cabo San Lucas.

We made our way the next day down to Bahia de los Angeles, where I started the evening by repairing the water system. Once we get to Cabo, we’ll be replacing all of the crappy Sure-Flo valves with something a little more robust.

On the way to Bahia de los Angeles we stopped near Catavina and hiked around the rocks. The deserts of Baja are beautiful, and have unique flora not found in the Southwestern USA.

Unfortunately, due to our battery situation, I can’t spend too much time on this update. We’re off to Bahia Concepcion, which has fantastic snorkeling and paddleboarding potential. We’ll do some fishing as well. I hope to get the inverter fixed soon and be back to normal updates.

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Jan 2012

Blog, North America


Return to Baja

By 4:00, as the sun approached the Pacific horizon, we figured Tommy, Dan, and Sunday were in the clink.  The last we’d heard from them was the previous day in a quick email stating that they’d meet us at Tommy’s beach house near Tijuana between noon and 1:00.  We bought some tamales from a guy in a beat up minivan and hunkered down on the deck of the beach house to wait.  We knew something unexpected would happen on account of Sunday being in the car.  Strange things are always happening to him; he’s been run over by a drunk driver while on a date, sandwiched between two semi trucks, attacked by a vicious dog in American Samoa, the list goes on and on.  Like a magnet for calamity, Sunday had surely done something to get the whole group put away at the US/Mexican border.

The previous day we had made the unexpectedly long journey from Puerto Penasco to the Pacific Ocean.  At the first military checkpoint we got out of Nacho and let one of the soldiers in, while another soldier approached us.  “I’m so sorry for the inconvenience, this is a routine checkpoint to inspect for weapons and drugs.  It’ll only take a minute.”  We told him we were happy to stop, and that the weather was perfect for a quick stretch.  “Yes, the weather is great now, but in the summer we suffer in our army uniforms.”  We told him about our Baja trip last summer, and about the heat we encountered.  “So you’re going to Ensenada now?  It’s not far.  You’ll be there in four and a half hours.”  We made our way across the barren desert at the Northern tip of the Sea of Cortez before turning North, where we began skirting the US border.  After Mexicali we climbed high into the mountains just as the sun set, breaking our “no driving after dark” rule for the second time.  We descended from the mountains into Tijuana in the dark.  After what seemed like an eternity we arrived at the surf spot known as K58, South of Tijuana.  Driving time: nine hours.

We woke up to waves that sounded like turbo jet props.  Row after row of fifteen to twenty foot faces pounded the shore, smothering my intentions of surf practice that day.  Instead, I pulled out my tackle box and proceeded to build a rig that I could use for surf fishing while Sheena went to take photographs.  I’ve never used a proper surf rod, but got one for this trip and am anxious to try my hand.  Between my underwater Rambo getup and my atom-bomb like surf fishing rig, I hope to be feeding on homemade fish tacos on a regular basis.  I spent the morning practicing my surf cast, which, as it turns out, I also suck at.  I’m an Arizona boy.  Give me time.

At nearly 5:00, after we ate tamales from the clunker minivan, after Sheena went for a run, and after I walked around the beach aimlessly like a crazy person for what seemed like an eternity, Tommy and the boys finally showed up.  Contrary to tradition, nothing ludicrous had happened as a result of Sunday’s presence.  No semi truck accident, no attack dogs, no clink.  Tommy had simply forgotten his keys at home, and only realized it when they were nearly to Mexico.  We had such a rough time sitting on the patio watching the ocean while we waited, we decided we would never forgive him.

We built a campfire on the beach and grilled up steaks, asparagus, and sweet potatoes.  The boys broke out a bunch of microbrews for an impromptu beer sampling.  We sat in the hot tub, and then went for a middle-of-the-night ocean swim.  Sheena made hot chocolate, and I wondered why it took us so long to decide to do this.  So far living in a van isn’t half bad.

Later in the weekend we decided it was time to tempt fate.  The waves had let up slightly since we had first arrived, but it still wasn’t pretty.  The house sits in the middle of a long beach break, so at any time there are about five rows of progressively bigger waves standing between the beach and the calm water beyond the breakers.  All we have to do, we thought, is use our weak arms to propel ourselves past all five rows of those enormous, violent waves, and we’ll be home free.  Sheena and Tommy were the first to make the attempt in the tandem sea kayak.

I watched with concern as they broke through the first two sets of waves.  They paddled fast, and then Sheena’s arms shot up in the air as they crashed through the wave.  I watched with fear as they paddled through the third and fourth rows of waves.  The kayak became almost vertical on the wave face, Sheena’s arms flailed, and the boat sailed through the air as it broke through the wave crest, crashing back into the water.  As they reached the fifth row of waves, I watched the boat become vertical, Sheena was ejected, Tommy flew in the opposite direction, and the boat was tumbled all the way back to shore, sans passengers.

After Sheena and Tommy’s ill-fated attempt, I threw my better judgment to the wind and got in the boat with Tommy.  It went much the same way as it did with Sheena.  On the fifth wave, I heard Tommy’s usually casual voice turn serious.  “This is going to hurt…BAD!”  The boat shot up the face of an enormous wave, but as it became airborne I remained in my seat.  Tommy was long overboard as the boat sailed backwards, upside down, into the crush of the crashing wave.  I remained seated as the weight of the boat drilled me upside down into the churning whitewater blender.  As the boat folded me in half, I returned my lunch to mother nature.  I imagine it was how Sunday felt when he got sandwiched by those two semi trucks.  Our boat was gone, so we swam to shore while periodically getting drilled by more waves.

This evening we steamed some fresh clams that Tommy collected and ate them on the patio before bidding ado to our friends as they pointed the car northward.  Dan is headed back to Oregon to fight fires.  Sunday is headed back to Rhode Island to write mapping software, and Tommy goes back to work as a mechanical engineer on his family’s California dairy farm.  Later this year Tommy and his fiancée, Brooke, will take off to drive the Pan-American highway in their VW Vanagon.  In the morning, Sheena and I will go test out the road for them.

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Jan 2012

Blog, North America

DISCUSSION 24 Comments

Our New Life

In 2006, during the same trip on which I proposed to Sheena, we visited the Greek island of Santorini.  We had heard that the most amazing sunset in the world could be seen from the town of Oia, high on the edge of the caldera of the island’s blown out volcanic center.  We made our way to Oia one evening and took our place on the cliff’s edge.  As the sun plunged slowly into the sea, we kept waiting for the sky to ignite in the most beautiful sunset we’d ever seen.  It never happened, and the sunset from Oia went down in history as the 128th best sunset I’d ever seen.

A couple of days ago when we finally left Arizona, we reached the Mexican border at Sonoyta just as the sun reached the horizon.  We crossed over, and a few minutes later the sky exploded into flames like a cheap polyester suit, creating a rainbow of color that filled the sky.  There’s really nothing like a desert sunset, and hardly a better visual display to welcome us into our new vagabonding life.

In crossing the border so late in the day, we violated our first self-imposed rule of Mexican travel: no driving after dark.  Given the delays in our trip thus far, and the relative safety of the road to Puerto Penasco, we decided that it was okay just this once.  Don’t get me wrong, when I say “safety” I’m not talking about banditos and narcotraficantes with guns.  I’m talking about cows.  As soon as the sun goes down, the country’s livestock takes to the roads.

Sheena napped in the passenger seat, and when she awoke at the outskirts of Puerto Penasco, she was wielding some fierce hunger-induced anger; a term we’ve come to call “hanger”.  We stopped at the first sign of a street side taco stand for fear that she would get any hangrier.

If there were to be an embodiment of heaven on Earth, it would be the Mexican taco stand.  The one we found was fronted by a piece of plywood with the words Tacos al Pastor spray painted on it.  We sat in the ubiquitous plastic lawn furniture that graces every taco stand in Mexico, and ordered several tacos and quesadillas.  From a rotating spit of meat and pineapple and the well practiced hands of the taco guru, our dinner was crafted; fresh flour tortillas filled with roasted pork, cilantro, onions, and fresh guacamole, a plate of limes and grilled and salted green onions, an assortment of salsas, and bowls of radishes and cucumbers.  We washed it down with a bottle of sangria flavored soda called Topo Chico, paid our $10 bill, and were on our way.  The Mexican taco stand.  Pretty much the best thing ever.

Puerto Penasco, or “Rocky Point” to Americans, is a small resort town at the northern end of the Sea of Cortez. As the closest bit of ocean to Arizona, it is quite popular with the college crowd during Spring Break.  January isn’t a hopping time of year here, as evidenced by beachfront resorts all along the water front with empty parking lots.  We drove Nacho northward past all of the resorts along Bahia de la Cholla until the road turned to dirt.  We continued on until we came to Puerto Penasco’s northern outpost; a small bar and restaurant called Wrecked at the Reef.  For $5 per night we could camp on the beach in peace, a good distance from the concrete resort jungle.

Reaching the Sea filled us with an overwhelming sense of joy, and we’ve been riding a wave of endorphins ever since.  When we arrived, I went down to the water’s edge and sat for a while.  This is your new life. No matter how often I remind myself, I still can’t believe that we’re doing this.  We opted to simplify our lives to save money, and our lives got so much better.  Now we’re on this adventure and our lives have gotten magnitudes better.  Can it get any better than this?  I guess time will tell.

Yesterday I put on the snorkeling gear and headed out with the spear gun to see if I could catch us dinner.  My visualizations of being an underwater fish-dominating Rambo went unrealized, as I only spotted a couple of small fish hanging out by the reef.  Next time you dirty rats, next time.  This morning before leaving Puerto Penasco for Baja’s Pacific coast, Sheena headed out on the paddleboard.  After scooting around Bahia de la Cholla, her streak of never having fallen off the thing remains intact.

As I write this, the sound of crashing waves fills Nacho’s interior.  In the morning we’ll wake up without aid of an alarm clock when the sun warms our little home.  We’ll roll out of bed to the sight of enormous waves crashing on the Baja coast.  We’ll sip our coffee and eat breakfast outdoors before going snorkeling.  Or fishing.  Or surfing.  This is your new life.  Holy shit, this is our new life.

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