‘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

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

Northbound We Go

Day Nine: El Pescadero to Tecolote Beach (145 km)

Woke up to the full moon setting over the Pacific Ocean, while the sun was rising to the East.  It was a spectacular display with the moon illuminating our room, before the Sun made her presence.  The moon’s size, shape and colour reminded us of the large harvest moons in the Fall.  A magical way to end our stay at Rancho Pescardero.   We watched in awe as the moon set on the horizon.

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Packed up and said our good-bye to hotel living.  But not before their chef allowed us to take a tour of their organic garden and hand pick some fresh veggies for the road.  Chef Bueno picked baby romaine, tomatillos, limes, zucchini, cucumber, beets, red leaf lettuce, basil, Boston bib lettuce, sage and tomatoes.  Tonight we will make a fresh salad courtesy of Rancho Pescadero – such a treat!

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Drove north through La Paz and spent some time looking for a replacement Coleman stove.  No such luck.  We did learn from Dave – our VW camper van neighbour at Tecolote – that any sort of fuel can be used inthe MSR Whisper lite.  So we can use regular gasoline, as we cannot find any camp fuel in Baja.

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Windy as heck here at Tecolote Beach. Strong winds from the east, however warm and clear blue skies.  The water is turquoise and the mountains surround us.    We are camping in the dunes between some shrubbery to help shield us from the wind.

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Laying low tonight, as tomorrow is our single longest driving day. – about 500 km with a large mountain pass.

We are hoping the winds shift direction and blow in from the south. In doing so, we’ll get some help over the mountains and improve our fuel efficiency (which is running at about 18-20 MPG).

Northbound we go.  145 km down, and 1,500 km until we reach San Diego.

Marigold has been a dream, and has presented no issues.  Her sliding door is getting a little sticky – likely from all of the dust down here.  We’ve topped up the oil and are putting in premium gas.  Otherwise, she runs perfectly.

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Banditos and Boojums

Day Two:  San Quentin to Bahia de Los Angeles (380 km)

Woke up to find that we were robbed last night while we were sound asleep.

Our double burner Coleman camp stove, special cooking table (that we picked up in person from Go Westy), pots, frypan, and lighter were stolen in the night.  Jeff was pissed off about the lost goods.  Debbie was pissed off about some crooks being 3 feet away from her lurking in the dark.    After the initial anger and upset, we counted our blessings that we were okay and that only a few replaceable things were stolen.

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The morning after….

Things always happen for a reason, so we decided that we weren’t really meant to cook all of the time on this trip, but rather visit more fish taco stands and local eateries.  Fortunately we travel with a small MSR Whisper Light stove as a backup, so we can still enjoy our tea in the morning and making the occasional single pot meal.

Before leaving the San Quentin region, we took a sunrise stroll on the beach to shake things off.  What a glorious morning.

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Nowhere did we read about locking everything up at night or bringing ALL of your belongings inside.  So you’re hearing it first from us folks – bring EVERYTHING inside. Leave nothing to chance.

We learned a big lesson here and will be vigilant about keeping everything locked inside the bus.  And also selecting campgrounds that are busy.  Counterintuitive for us, as we long for solitude while in nature, but during this trip we will hunker down with others.  Call it what you will – herd mentality or safety in numbers.  We are seeking the company and security of other travellers.

After breaking camp a little quicker than usual (strange how that occurs with a few less things to pack), we made our way south to El Rosario, then onto the Sea of Cortez..  This is north end of the famous ‘Gas Gap’, with the next gas station more than 300 km away.

We fueled up the bus and estimate her range to be about 400 km on a full tank.  So no need for a Jerry Can.

On our way out of town, we passed a cute hotel and cafe that advertised it had WiFi. We stopped to charge our devices and access WiFi.  Plus chow down on Chilequiles and Huevos Rancheros for breakie.  And watch their two chihuahuas play together.

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Today’s drive took us southeast across the peninsula from the Pacifc to the Sea of Cortez with spectacular scenery and desert flora along the route.

A highlight for us was seeing all of the Boojum trees around Catavina.  These tall skinny cactus look like something created by Dr. Seuss.    They resemble a furry giant carrot growing upside-down. There are Seuss-like tufts at the top.  So bizarre and cute at the same time.  No where else in the world can you find these funny trees which only grow in central Baja.

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Debbie is standing next to the Boojum Tree – look closely!

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We also passed an area littered with massive granite boulders.  It looked like the home of Fred Flintstone.  On our way back north we will stop here for a hike.

Finally, we turned off Mex Hwy 1, towards Bahia de Los Angeles (Bay of Angeles).  This region is considered to be on of the most scenic spots in all of Baja with its blue waters and barren desert shoreline backed by rocky mountains. The huge bay is protected by a chain of islands making it the perfect playground for fishing, snorkelling, scuba diving and sea kayaking.

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Our home tonight is Dagget’s Beach Camping.  Lovely spot just north of town where we have our own palapa and direct ocean access.  Not many spots in this campground, however there are 2 other Canadians as our neighbours tonight.  We are in good company.

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Buenos Noches, from the Sea of Cortez.

Crossing into Mexico

Day One:  Dec 27, 2014

Oceanside, CA to San Quentin, MX (400 km)

I must admit I was a bit nervous and stressed about crossing into Mexico.  While everything we read, and everything we heard gave me comfort, my spidey senses were tingling a bit.  Hard to ignore that feeling and have the fear creep in to my mind.

Welcome to Mexico!

We chose to cross at Tecate, about 30 miles east of Tijuana, upon the advice of many.  Furthermore, we avoided toll roads and rather opted for a meandering scenic drive through Mexico’s two main wine regions (Santo Tomas Valley Region and Guadelupe Valley), south of Tecate.  Apparently this was a safer, less busy route.  Which indeed it was!

Crossing was a breeze.  We were well prepared getting our Mexican documentation in advance, there were no waits at the border. No inspections – unlike the movie “We Are The Millers” where the yellow bus was ripped apart and the hippy guy beat up….

Tecate was typical Mexico.  Broken dusty roads, colourful wall murals, locals standing around looking bored, old beat up cars and trucks, brightly coloured cinderblock storefronts and stray dogs running around.

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The roads were fairly quiet and we got into the Mexican driving groove, learning the nuances.  Passing on the double line is common, and we learned that if you are the slower moving vehicle (yes, that would be us), you move as far right as possible (like on the shoulder) to allow cars to pass. So around some crazy twisty mountainous roads, we had large trucks bombing by us with oncoming traffic. Yikes.  Mexico is in the process of upgrading their notoriously dangerous roads.  Lots of construction, new asphalt and wider sections.

El Pabellon campground

On our journey we stopped at Ensenada for lunch on the beach, then drove south past San Quentin to El Pabellon Campground directly on the beach.  For $10 US a night or 130 Pesos we stayed on the beach, had clean flush toilets and hot showers,  Saaaweet!  Debbie drove the bus right next to the surf, but got stuck in the sand along the way.  We tried and tried to get the bus moving however we kept digging a deeper hole.    Amazingly – on a totally remote beach – a couple appeared with a dog.  We figure they were amused by the rooster tail of flying sand from our spinning tires and decided to check things out.   Thanks to our fellow Canadians from Osoyoos, we had 4 extra hands to push us out of the sand rut, while Jasper their dog wagged his tail with excitement.

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We set up camp amidst the dunes, made a gourmet meal of organic salmon, with a kale salad and ate on the beach watching the sunset over the Pacific.

Good night Baja

Our dream is now a reality.  400 km down and 3,000 km to go.

We crawled into bed at 7 pm after two long days of driving.

Buenos noches, all, from Mexico.