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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‘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.

 

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.

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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Turnaround Point

Day Eight and Nine:  Rancho Pescardero south of Todos Santos (0 km driven today)

Months ago while planning this trip, not having any idea how we’d feel after driving 1,700 km in a vintage VW Westfalia, we decided to check into a hotel for 2 nights at our turnaround point.  Our thought was that we’d take this time to recharge,  put our feet up and get ready for the second leg home.

Here’s the problem…..Now that we’re back in civilization, we really miss Marigold. And it seems our need to recoup doesn’t really exist. Why is this so….?

We had the best nights rest – sleeping in our bus. Like 9 hours each night.

We ate incredible food – cooking while camping in our bus. Clean and healthy.

We were rested and mellow – from the drive in our bus. Chillin’ while drivin’

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So we are well rested, and this hotel stop is merely an added bonus.  Although we are not quite sure what to do with ourselves.   We don’t have to set up camp, pop the top, make the bed, do the dishes, stow away our gear, make the meals, let alone navigate and drive.  This is our way of life when living in a 90 sq. ft. home on four wheels.

We actually developed some neat systems in Marigold and are proficient at breaking camp, splitting the driving (Debbie prefers to do the first leg in the morning), and setting up camp.  It has become second nature to us. We each intuitively know our jobs and get ‘er done each day.

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So this morning – with all of our extra time – we walked north on the beach to San Pedritos to check out the surfers and the free beach camping site.  Much to our delight there were two Baywindow busses camping in amongst the big rigs. Sadly, however, the hurricane ravaged this area and it is a mess.  Gone are the lush surroundings, and palms.  Instead there is debris everywhere and the access is poor.

One of the busses was a 1992 that looked like a 70’s Baywindow.  It had Chilean plates.  We spoke to Ben, the owner, who told us it was made in Brazil.  You may recall, the last of these busses rolled off the assembly line a year ago.  It should be noted the Brazilian busses are an interesting and odd breed.  They combine the front end of the 70’s bay window bus with the back end of the 60’s split window configuration (15 windows).

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Ben has been on the road for 2 years and has another year to go.  He is a videographer who is documenting his journey and bus life.  Part of it involves being a sort of taxi service for anyone wishing to join him for the ride.  His website (www.kombilife.com)  is where you can follow along.

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Finally, we wish to acknowledge our friend, Juliet Nicol, who first introduced Debbie to this beautiful  part of the world.  Many of your friends are still here – Carlos, Danny, Renee, and Karla.  Hola from your friends here at Rancho Pescadero.  (Yes – the fish tacos are still out of this world, Juliet)

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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.