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 

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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.