THE Naked Cowboy

Welcome to our next bus adventure!

This time we’re with three of our kids, plus our beloved Marigold PLUS a second VW Westfalia that we are renting.  A double-bus adventure begins.

Post Baja, we stored Marigold in Irvine, California for a few weeks until our return on March 12th. We decided to take the kids on a camping adventure in SoCal for March Break.

Two buses hit the road from Costa Mesa with Jalama Beach (2 hours north of Santa Barbara) as our first destination. En route, we decided to check out famous Venice Beach. We strolled along the boardwalk, people watched, saw the famous Muscle Beach and then walked along the sand. It was 33 degrees and gosh was it ever busy! Apparently it was the nicest day of the year so far – by a large margin.

When Debbie returned to the busses, there was a whole lotta activity going on with the car parked right next to us. Cowboy hats on the roof of their car, guitars on the ground and white cowboy boots laying around.

Hmmmm…

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Then Debbie noticed the writing on the hat. It clearly stated, “Naked Cowboy”. This immediately took her back more than 10 years ago when she first saw the iconic Times Square ‘Naked Cowboy’. She first thought this was an imposter until she made eye contact with the 6’5” blonde, blue eyed, pony-tailed, ADONIS and realized he was the real deal.

Yes – the NYC Times Square real deal. THE Naked Cowboy.

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Image our good fortune. Now imagine the look on our kid’s faces…..

Robert – aka The Naked Cowboy – got into costume. Yep – ripped his clothes off down to his corporate sponsored ‘Fruit of the Loom’ tighty whities. Then put on his gigalo-white boots, slung his guitar over his bare chest with it strategically placed to give the illusion of nakedness, and put on his white cowboy hat. He was ready for action.

While he is synonymous with Times Square, he shared with us that his real start was right here at Venice Beach where he used to model.

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So here he was, on vacay, back where it all began.  And with his wife in a scantily-clad bikini alongside.  She is apparently the Naked Cowgirl.

We had a good chat with him as he was getting ready to ‘perform’.   He was super curious about our two busses and our story. Funny – while we were away from the busses and cruising the boardwalk, he was observing the plethora of people taking photos of Marigold and our rental Ruby.

We said our goodbyes, but not before we got a bunch of autographed photos, and learned about his new venture, Naked Cowboy Oysters.

Then onwards to Jalama Beach, where we are spending 3 glorious nights camping directly on the beach.

And as the Naked Cowboy told us today as we parted ways, “Each day keeps getting better”.

Thanks, Robert. That is now our trip mantra, and words we will cherish forever….

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Slowing Down

Due to limited WiFi in Baja California, we were’t able to post this particular blog during our trip.  Here’s one from the tail end of our trip, when the bus was getting cranky.   

One of the most scenic parts of driving Baja is the central Catavina desert region.  It lies between Guerrero Negro and El Rosario (which is also known as the famous 300 km ‘Gas Gap’).  Mex 1 passes through a region known as Sonoran Desert Vegetation and reminded us of Tucson, AZ and St. Geoge UT.  This is the land of cardons (larger relative to the saguaro cactus), boojum trees, chollas and agaves.  Many of these species can only be found in this region.

We were super stoked to hike in an area littered with massive granite boulder and these rare cactus species.

As we wound our way through the various mountain passes towards the trailhead, we came around a bend and saw cars backed up.  We could not see what was going on further ahead around the bend, but lined up in the queue.

We suspected an accident, as this was a ‘Curva Peligrossa’ (dangerous curve).

IMG_1847 We stopped Marigold, got out and saw that it was in fact a serious accident.  A fatal car accident.  Many Mexicans were standing around and helping at the scene.  We stood back, out of respect, to give the people space. There were many helping hands already working together.

A distinguished elderly Mexican gentleman left the scene and approached us.  He quickly stated in his perfect English, that he is a medical doctor, and there is one fatality and a woman in serious condition.

He then asked us, “Do you own the yellow Kombi?”

Jeff replied, “Yes”.

(You see, Mexican’s refer to these hippy busses as Kombi’s. ‘Kombi’ comes from the German word Kombinationskraftwagen referring to a combination motor vehicle – part cargo mover and part people mover.  In North America we refer to them as busses, transporters or Westy’s. In Europe and Mexico they are known as Kombi’s)

The doctor then went on to explain that help was 100 km away, most of the travel being through mountainous passes.  An ambulance had already been dispatched, but would not be arriving for a very long time.   The group helping at the accident scene wanted the injured lady transported by our bus, Marigold, to a medical facility closer to San Quintin.

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Jeff and I stepped aside and discussed this urgent situation.  Do we transport a woman without understanding the extent of her injuries, in a bus that could breakdown any moment, without being in cell phone range?  Not to mention that neither Jeff nor me are Paramedics?  Or do we take her, and at least get her closer to a medical facility, even of the bus breaks down?

After a quick discussion, we felt the heart-led thing to do was to offer Marigold as an ambulance for the injured woman.   The back seat folds flat and she could be comfortably transported.

Another Baja traveller offered to follow us, knowing we were having some engine issues, in case we broke down.

So we gave the doctor the green light to transport the injured lady, although we were extremely nervous about her medical state and saddened by this whole situation.

The doctor went back to the scene, and then returned to us. He then shared that the injured lady would prefer to wait – but thanked us for offering our help.

Then another person helping at the scene came to us holding a cell phone covered in blood, and some ID.  In her broken English, she said this was the cell phone of the deceased man and asked if we could call his family.  She explained he was a single driver, English speaking, and that no one at the scene spoke English well enough to notify his family.

We warmly shared that the police and ambulance should be the ones to handle all of the details from the accident.  It turns out we couldn’t get a cell phone signal anyways in our remote location. So we politely declined.  Our thoughts then turned to the many police and firefighters that have to make those heart-wrenching calls as part of their daily profession.

Again we found ourselves in a situation that would likely never happen back home.  To be so close to an accident, not to have police, fire or ambulance securing the scene, and to be directly and emotionally involved in such a horrific, upsetting situation.

After some time, we got flagged through, and Marigold narrowly made it past the carnage. Other vehicles had to wait hours before the accident was cleared.

We drove in silence until we reached our lunch stop.

While eating Lobster Burritos at the famous Mama Espinosa’s in El Rosario, the ambulances went by in the direction of the accident.  Likely an hour and a half after we left the scene. We counted our blessings, thought of the families impacted, especially the friends and family of the man from California, and expressed gratitude for our life and being safe.

There is a quote, “The value of life is revealed when it confronts death from close quarters” – A. Dubey.

Having just experienced a life and death encounter, we shared our gratitude with one another for being healthy and having an abundance of love, opportunities and experiences.   And simply the value of being alive.

This tragedy will always remind us to be grateful for all that is (and all that will be), as someday this will all be gone.

There were strong and deep emotions that were generated from this experience – yet a stillness descended on us as we drove away. We both acknowledged the importance of living life in the slow lane and being present – both physically and mentally – in order to truly live life. And to find inner peace in our busy world.   Easier said than done.  I guess this is part of our work, and perhaps why Marigold has come into our lives. To teach us some important life lessons about slowing down.

If we were not so single-minded about keeping our lives moving, and for once could do nothing, perhaps a huge silence might interrupt the sadness of never understanding ourselves“.  – Pablo Neruda, Chilean poet 

‘Moon River’

We didn’t have an opportunity to post all of the blogs we created while in Baja.  Here’s one from our time in Bahia Concepcion.

On our way northbound, we could not wait to return to Bahia Concepcion.  A breathtakingly beautiful place where the mountains meet the azure blue waters of the Sea of Cortez.  Having met many travellers, we learned that Playa Escondida was THE beach to camp on.  It’s called Hidden Beach and is set back from the highway, over a mountain saddle away from everything. The roads leading to this beach are rugged and large RV’s cannot make it here.  We had no issues navigating the dirt road and welcomed the company of smaller campervans at our destination.

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The beach camping area was smaller than we anticipated and much busier.  The winds were strong and this was one of the few sheltered camping areas.  So we picked our spot and settled into our base camp for the night.

Our immediately neighbour, Dan, came over in the afternoon and introduced himself.  He quickly commented on our Nikon camera and its large zoom lens.   In the most respectful and courteous way,  Dan begged us to take a picture of the moon rising from behind the island in front of us.  He described the islands and the cactus and the mountains beyond, with the moon shining over the ocean water. And the incredible silhouette of the cactus atop this island.   It was quite the picture he was painting.   We were game.

Throughout the day, Dan gently reminded us of the time the moon hit this magical moment.  7:00 pm……

Now the pressure was on.  We set up our tripod and snapped as many shots as we could, hoping that we captured the image for Dan.

Dan was on a father-son camping trip with their golden lab, Timber.  He was a widower who has been travelling to Baja for many many years.

His description of the big event was impeccable.  The beauty of the moon rising, illuminating the Bay, back lighting the cactus was something we will remember for the rest of our lives. We all stood in silence soaking up the moment.

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Then as the moon rose higher and higher in the sky, a river of light appeared on the Sea of Cortez.  It was so bright none of us needed flashlights and Orion’s Belt was hardly visible.

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Dan asked us if we knew the song,  “Moon River”.

Debbie replied, “Yes.  It’s by Henry Mancini and I happen to have it on my iPod”.

Dan was gobsmacked.  He got a little emotional and shared with us that he had not heard the song since he was 12 years of age, more than 4 decades ago.   He asked if we could play it.

So Debbie queued up the song – an old time favourite of her late father’s.  She recalls him singing it to her when she was a little girl.

Under the full moon, Dan, Debbie, and Jeff crooned out loud the lyrics from this classic.  It was one of those precious shared experiences that brought Dan to tears and got Debbie choked up.  A special moment for each of us an individuals, and for us together – being total strangers.

Moon river, wider than a mile
I’m crossin’ you in style some day
Old dream maker, you heartbreaker
Wherever you’re goin’, I’m goin’ your way

Two drifters, off to see the world
There’s such a lot of world to see
We’re after the same rainbow’s end, waitin’ ’round the bend
My huckleberry friend, Moon River, and me

Two drifters, off to see the world
There’s such a lot of world to see
We’re after the same rainbow’s end, waitin’ ’round the bend
My huckleberry friend, Moon River, and me

 

 

 

 

 

Opening Our Door

Here is a blog we weren’t able to post during our Baja California roadtrip.  There are a few more blogs to follow shortly!

December 26, 2014:  After an extra long journey to Costa Mesa, CA on Boxing Day, we arrived late at night to pick up Marigold. Thanks to a 7 hour flight delay caused by bad weather in Denver, we finally arrived at VW Surfari at 7 pm to pick up Marigold, with little time to stock up for our 16-day camping expedition.  Our goal was to cross the border at 6 am the next day, so we worried about being able to honour our pre-camping ritual: Trader Joe’s.

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Back in November, Bill Staggs of VW Surfari generously offered to receive our bus off the car carrier and then store it along with his dozen-plus air cooled VW campervans. We’ve gotten to know Bill a little bit by phone as we live over 4,000 km away from one another. You may know him from his appearance in the recently released documentary, “The Bus Movie”.

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So last night we arrived at his shop – weary and anxious to get going – only to discover the sliding door on Marigold was jammed. It would not budge. At this point we are in Bill’s garage, working like possessed zombies half asleep, trying to open the door. It should be noted that we have never had issues with our sliding door. Ever.

We called Bill who was 30 minutes away. He talked us through a series of remedies (including Debbie hip checking the door from the inside repeatedly.)

Nothing worked.

And we were losing patience…

Bill told us to make ourselves at home at VW Surfari’s world headquarters and he’d be over right away. Meanwhile we were course-correcting our trip and praying Trader Joe’s was open late on Boxing Day. Otherwise we’d be losing one valuable day in an already tight schedule to travel the entire Baja California peninsula.

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Bill arrived and quickly went to work on the door. He took charge for no charge, and worked tirelessly for more than an hour. We took the sliding door off, took apart the hinge, replaced parts, deep cleaned everything, and super lubed the seized piece. Bill said he had seen many things, but not a door like ours (which he said was working a few weeks before).

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At 8:45 pm PT, the problem was resolved, Marigold’s door was reinstalled and working better than ever. Without Bill coming to our aide our trip would have been greatly compromised.

He was kind, generous, trusting, patient, wise, and provided a wealth of information. He lives and breathes Baywindows and Vanagons and is a walking encyclopaedia. Fascinating man – someone we’d love to sit around a campfire with for a long chinwag.

Thanks, Bill, for opening the door to your business. And opening Marigold’s door – our home for the next 16 days in Baja California.

On a final note – Trader Joe’s opened their door to us as well! We arrived at 8:50 pm just in time to shop for our trip before they closed at 9 pm. Our grocery list was quite long and TJ’s staff stayed late to allow us to stock up.

 

Mexican Magic

Day 14:  The Driveway of Naomi and Gonzo (near Aqua Caliente)

Woke up our second last day of our adventure, and quickly started calling Bus Depot, Go Westy and many parts suppliers to get a brand new alternator.  Only Bus Depot had one in stock, at it was going to take days and a whole lotta shipping charges to get the part to San Diego.

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Meanwhile, Naomi had offered to drive Debbie to the San Diego airport.  So sweet.  Our Plan B was coming together with a new part for the bus, and getting Debbie home in time for the kids.

Plan A was sourcing a part locally, and getting back on the road by the end of the day.  Gonzo believed our alternator could be rebuilt, so off he and Jeff went to the guru in town.  They said it could be done and it would take a few hours.

During this time, we connected with our hosts and their friends.  Peeking into a world that was foreign to us in many ways.  Naomi and Gonzo have given up much of their money, possessions and now their home, to be in service to others. They were days away from having an Open House to show off their new home for the abandoned and neglected elderly in Mexico.  Their home was part trailer and part permanent structure – perhaps about 1,100 sq. ft in size.  They were giving up about 800 sq. ft. of their home – 75% of their personal space – to help others in need. Something we rarely see in our society.

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Naomi quickly got Jeff to help out the volunteers finish the kitchen – some dry walling, electrical wiring and cabinet installation.  Meanwhile, Naomi and Debbie hit the kitchen to do some baking for the Open House.   Debbie learned how to make Empanadas with a recipe from Naomi’s Mexican grandmother.  We also baked cookies.

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Then Gonzo returned with our refurbished alternator.  And voila, after a few more hours the bus was running and like new.

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We hugged, kissed and high-fived our new friends and hosts.  Debbie even got a little teary-eyed saying good-bye.  Touched by the kindness and generosity of total strangers.

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The whole experience was magical, moving and expanded our world.

For us, the emotional extremes were profound.  Having the bus breakdown in an unknown area……at night……..in Northern Mexico, conjured up all sorts of obvious stress and anxiety.  Fear for our safety and wellbeing, getting Debbie to the airport on time (we had less than a day), and finding a replacement part for Marigold with limited resources available to us.  We didn’t know if our phone would work, and there was no WiFi.  Plus, we were in the middle of an intersection when the bus konked out. At night!

But lo and behold, it was our good fortune that the car behind us was a helpful soul who took the time to ensure we were taken care of.  Thanks to Ulysses and his wife Patricia (who stayed with Debbie and Marigold, while Jeff went to visit the mechanic).  How lucky is it that we ended up meeting not only a magical mechanic, but generous people with HUGE hearts.  Naomi and Gonzo wanted nothing in return and were simply helping us.

The experience will stay with us forever, and really can’t fully be captured in words.

By 2:00 pm we were back on the road, heading north on Mex 1. Naomi had secretly tucked some warm empanadas and cookies in our bus. In her usual self-less way – she gave us half the batch of baking that we had made together.

Our next big hurdle was crossing back into the US at Tijuana before dark. Not long ago, waits could be up to 6 hours to cross.  Just last year, they upgraded the San Ysidro access point and we sailed through at 5:30 pm on a Friday night. This is the largest border crossing in the world with 1,000,000 passing through each and every day.

Made it to San Diego at sunset…..sad to know it was the end of an epic trip, and happy to know we made it 4,000 km safely.  And much richer for the magical experience.

TJ

Our Inevitable Breakdown

Day 12: Stayed put in Guerrero

Day 13:  Guerrero Negro to La Bufadora (600 km)

Before leaving Guerrero, we went to Scammon’s Lagoon which is the birthing place of California Grey whales during their migration south from Alaska to Baja.  The pregnant whales come into this shallow lagoon with a higher salinity to give birth between December and April each year.  The shallow waters protect the calves from predators such as the killer whales who wait just outside the lagoon. We had the opportunity to see several mom’s and their calves.  So incredible!  These 1,000 lb. babies work hard to keep up with their mom and seem to draft their large bellies.  Since it was early in the birthing season, the mom’s were VERY protective of their babies and did not allow us to touch them.  They did however come close and dove directly underneath our panga.

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On our way back from the lagoon, there was a coyote on the beach.  And a little further down, a dead baby California Grey whale, apparently attacked by a killer whale or shark. Mother Nature in its unobstructed raw state – incredible.

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Adjacent to the Lagoon is one of the worlds largest producers of industrial and table salt.  The ESSA company has 200+ lagoons which they pump full of water, then let evaporate by the sun.  They produce 7 million tons of salt each year.  As we headed out to Scammon’s, we saw this impressive manufacturing operation. Since the salt production is done is shallow lagoons, barges must take the salt to an island with a deep water port which is 8 hours away.

We reflected with puzzlement on how this highly protected area for the whales can coexist with a major world manufacturer of salt.  But apparently they do….

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Yesterday we departed Guerrero Negro at 6:00 am and set out to drive as far as we could during daylight hours.  We knew Marigold’s engine wasn’t happy. So our thought was to push her as far as we could, and hopefully make it to Ensenada – about 600 km away.

You see, our particular engine was only installed in the US and Canadian campervans. The Mexican version of our bus had the Beetle engine installed, not our T4 engine.  So our best bet was to get to the border ASAP, and at least be within towing range of the border.  Parts would be near impossible to get here in Mexico.

As we passed through Catavina, the battery light came on.  It was flickering to the same frequency as the engine sounds.  Jeff immediately thought it was the alternator, and was worried about the ball bearings and how long we had before things got worse.

At our lunch stop, Jeff read on TheSamba.com that we can run about 200 miles with a faulty alternator once the red light appears. Fingers were crossed.

Nine hours later (and 600 km travelled), we pulled into a stunning campsite (Campo #5) atop a cliff overlooking the Pacific near La Bufadoro.  We were just south of the large city of Ensenada.  The sun was setting and it was spectacular to see from such a great height.  But Marigold was struggling.  Her battery was nearly dead from the broken alternator.  So Debbie suggested we head back into Ensenada where there are people to help us should the bus stop running.  Otherwise we would be all alone….

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About halfway between La Bufadoro and Ensenada, the bus completely konked out at a stop sign. We were fortunate to be in an English-speaking beachside community.

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She was done.  Toast.  Kaput.  Alto. (That means ‘Stop’ in Spanish)

The guy behind us immediately got out and asked if we needed help.  He told us his friend is a VW mechanic (every single Mexican seems to be one or knows one….) and off Jeff went to meet his mechanic friend.  Half an hour later, they returned and we limped the bus to their home not far away.

It’s now pitch black outside.

And we are parked in the driveway of Gonzales (aka ‘Gonzo’) and Naomi in a gated beach camp community.  He is a mechanic and a Pastor.  She is a Missionary originally from LA.  They are devoting their life to helping the elderly, and especially those living alone or abandoned by their families.  They are renovating their home in order for 5 elderly to live with them full-time.  What a deep commitment to serving others.

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Gonzo then immediately went to work pulling out the alternator.

As suspected, the ball bearings were seized and totally shot.  They had disintegrated and damaged the housing.  Metal shards and shavings were everywhere.

By now it was late, and we were pretty exhausted.  So we headed to bed wondering how we were going to get home the next day, so that Debbie could catch her flight.

We counted our blessings that the bus took us 600 km with a broken alternator, that we didn’t break down in the desert and that we were safe and sound in Naomi and Gonzo’s driveway overlooking the Pacific.

Jeff’s Banana Hammock

Day Eleven:  Playa Escondida, Bahia Concepcion to Guerrero Negro (350 km)

While initially we were planning on staying 2 nights at Bahia Concepcion, midday we decided to break camp and move on.  But not before a kayak around some islands to chase a pod of dolphins.

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And not before checking out the hand made goods from a beach vendor.  They came along selling the usual blankets, jewellery, etc.  However this vendor was selling something very special…..

…a Banana Hammock!!!

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Seriously.

No, not the Speedo variety popular in Europe.

We bought the REAL DEAL.

A genuine hand-made Mexican mini hammock for our banana’s and other fruits.  (If your mind is elsewhere, focus).  We could not stop laughing after we made this purchase.  It actually works perfectly and gentle cradles our fresh fruit.  We picked a yellow hammock to match the bus interior.  Several fellow campers on the Baja are seriously envious of Jeff’s Banana Hammock.  It seems everyone we meet wants one like ours!

Now back to our travels….

Having the freedom and flexibility to change our itinerary to suit our daily desires is one thing we love about road tripping in Marigold.

Now that we are backtracking north, we get a chance to repeat things that worked well for us – not to mention the amazing scenic drive on Mex 1.

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One of the highlights was a stop at a famous 100+ year old bakery in Santa Rosalia.  This town has a church designed by Eiffel, which was built in France then shipped overseas and re-assembled.  The bakery – no doubt – was influenced by the Parisians.  We stocked up on their famous warm Conchas (Pandulces or sweet breads).  Pure yummy-ness.

We arrived in Guerrero Negro to find our friends from Montreal camping here.  It was nice to get caught up with them and camp beside them.

The bus is making the most peculiar sound.  We had to visit Chinos Garage here in Guerrero to determine how serious the problem is.  It’s been a stressful day determining how to proceed – whether to flat bed or carry on.  The Mexican mechanics believe her engine is solid and there is some wiggly part in the fan making a racket.

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To be safe, we are spending an extra night in Guerrero to drive solely during the day.

Stay tuned.  750 km to the border……fingers crossed.

BTW, in case you were wondering, Jeff wears board shorts, not Speedos.