On the day before New Years, we went to mass in the Loreto mission church. Despite understanding none of the sermon, we enjoyed the hymns and Xmas carols sung by a teenager with a wonderful voice and great guitar playing. That is the first time this good atheist has been in a church in a few decades. The guided altar had many very old oil paintings and the original Lady of Loreto, a statue brought from Spain in the 17th century. Out at the seawall we watched pelicans dive-bombing for fish. On our way out of Loreto, we stopped at a “welding shop” to get our front camper tie downs fixed. It had bent from all the rough roads. After 4 ingenious Mexicans put their heads together, they dug through a pile of rusty metal to find a plate and bolts, drilled a hole, cut bolts shorter, hack sawed the plate, hammered things straight and fixed it “just like new”. For an hours work, they charged $15. Finally after that and sorting out our electrical problems, the camper is working perfectly! It is a great vehicle for down here – we can go anywhere, dry camp, and park on city streets, rarely paying for camping.
We did a quick tour of Nopolo, a big resort development south of Loreto. The golf course was vacant – tow cars were in the lot, one employee, restaurant closed, no seat on the toilet, a course that was dry. Most lots were not built on, much construction was halted haphazardly, trees were dead in their pots and grass was growing in the cracks in the cement. It didn’t look like a good investment to me. We went into an open house condominium, a small one bedroom for US$229,000. All the Yankee money is making real estate too expensive for the Mexicans and the developments are not ecologically sound (they abuse valuable water resources – there is not enough for Loreto). The resort is owned by Fonatur, an arm of the Mexican government.
On our way to La Paz, we decided to take a detour from Ciudad Constitucion to San Carlos on Magdalena Bay, one of the three lagoons in the Baja where grey whales migrate in the winter to calve, and thus a prime whale watching location on the Pacific. While driving down to the beach, we were soon being hustled by a good-looking young Mexican fisherman, Gabriel, who preferred taking tourists out sightseeing to fishing. He told us where to camp on the beach and we agreed to go out him the next morning. We saw two rare birds on the beach, the yellow crowned night heron and the white ibis. We are really enjoying the binoculars and Sibleys, a wonderful bird book. The next morning, Gabriel picked us up in his panga. We bird watched in the mangroves, cruised narrow mangrove channels, visited an island with hundreds of thousands of cormorants an pelicans, visited the boat access town of Magdalena on one of the channel islands, saw sea lions, and fished for halibut. Despite not knowing which end of the rod to hold, Barbara caught 8 fish, keeping the five largest halibut. I caught three. Neither of us had ever fished before. Gabriel said it was his best fishing day ever! On the way back we were accompanied by a pod of bottlenose dolphins swimming just in front of the boat. They sprayed our faces with seawater when they leapt a mere meter in front of us. Gabriel gave us 8 large halibut fillets and sold us 2 kilograms of camarones for $5 per kg. It was an incredible morning with this very charming man who spoke excellent English. We plan to return on our way back in early February when the California grey whales will be in the bay.
We drove to La Paz, the capital of Baja California Sur (BCS) and a city of 270,000 on the Sea of Cortez. Parking next to the malecon, the large seawall on the ocean, we attended a free concert in a square on the water. We were treated to incredible dancing from a professional dance troupe from Chihauhau. They changed costumes multiple times and put on a spectacular show. They finished with several polkas that knocked our socks off.
While waiting for our friend, Mark Hatlen, to fly into La Paz 3 days hence, we drove down to La Ventana, the beach where another friend, Charlie Chandler spent last winter wind surfing and kiting. The RV park was crammed with RVs from all over the world, most with large adjoining tents holding all their sails, boards, and kites and tarps to mark their territory or keep the sand down. One of the windiest places in Baja and a beach facing NW,the direction of the wind, the bay was filled with kite and board surfers. Many were elderly. We camped solo 3kms north on the beach at El Sargente and picked up 17 bags of garbage on the beach. We have developed the habit of carrying plastic grocery bags and have little trouble filling them with plastic bottles, fishing line, shirts, sandals and rope. The beaches are so beautiful, it seems the least one can do for the free camping. The wind blows everything around carrying the plastic like kites in its breath. There is no recycling program or bottle return. Plastic is a scourge of the earth that has been made indispensable to our society.
We decided to hike up an arroya with water and palms near El Sargente and our camp. We were joined by Bob, a winter resident from Portland, who served as our guide. He thought our truck could go anywhere and took us up the sandy wash. We were soon mired up to the axels. A front end loader was loading trucks with sand one km down the wash but his nylon rope broke twice trying to yard us out. We jacked up the front wheels and filled the tracks with rocks. We sent Bob back for a chain while we repeated the jacking with the rear wheel. To lighten the load we emptied our grey tanks and water and most everything we could from the camper. With difficulty, the loader with chains was able to extricate us. So after 3 hours of digging sand (we had no shovel), we were hot, sweaty, and dirty and drove back to El Sargente having not explored the arroya at all. Another adventure in Baja! We drove back to La Paz to pick up Mark from the airport.
After one night in La Paz and a long walk along the malecon and a visit to the church, we drove south to Los Barriles, where we camped in a free arroya. It was interesting to watch all the campers head to the bush with their shovel to do their business in the morning. This is a very gringo town with many big splashy houses. We walked the beaches and Ron kayaked along the coast. After returning he got in a big fight with a woman over cleaning up her horse shit from the beach. He tried his best to provoke her and was very successful. Her argument that the Mexicans did this all the time and that because she paid taxes, it gave her the right to despoil the beaches, failed to convince us. The fact that she was a Canadian from White Rock was an embarrassment. There was a sea-lion lying on the beach soaking up the sun. He became irate when we attempted to walk between him and the water. Barb and Mark snorkeled.
Heading south, we left highway 1 to go down to Cabo Pulmo National Park where there are large coral reefs and great snorkeling. Before we had a chance to hit the water, it stormed, rained and was very windy. It apparently was snowing in southern California. With no prospect of change for 2 to 3 days, we decide to leave and hit the cape on our way to San Jose del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas.
San Jose is much less touristy than Cabo, and has an old town colonial atmosphere apart from the huge hotels on the beach. We visited the church, the many art galleries and the estuary to do some bird watching. We went over to Peter and Marilyn Johnstone’s, who have a winter home in San Jose and went out for dinner to a restaurant after margueritas.
After driving 30kms on a four lane highway to Cabo San Lucas, we took a glass bottom boat out to the famous arch at Lands End, toured the high-end mall with marble floors but many empty stores, and walked around the marina and downtown with its thousands of street vendors. Finally reaching the Pacific and its big surf, we camped on a lovely beach, picked up 14 bags of garbage (Mexicans seem to be the worst at littering). Our next camper adventure began as one of our camper batteries started to leak. After two trips back to San Jose to buy a battery (the store was only open on Saturdays from 6-11 and Costco had none – we got our $40 membership fee back) we finally found a 6 volt deep cycle battery. Everything is way more complicated down here and not speaking Spanish is a definite handicap.
As it has been raining or cloudy for several days, we decided to leave the beach and head for Todos Santos, the location of Hotel California. The story in the song has no basis in reality but is great for business. It is a very nice town with lots of galleries and small shops with friendly people. Mark is staying in a hotel across the street from the HC and only costing $30 and we’re staying on the street across from the hotel. It has uncharacteristically rained hard all day and we learned that it had snowed in LA and the orange crop was lost due to frost. We walked down to the beach and out past the lighthouse to the rocky point south of town. Climbing onto the high point, we watched whales in the ocean and turkey vultures soaring on the thermals bellow us. The fishermen coming into the beach go as fast as they can, hit the sand with their motors up and try to make it up as far as they can.
The sun finally came out and we headed back down south to Los Cerritos, possibly the most beautiful beach yet seen in Baja. Stretching for miles, it is hard packed sand and like walking on a sidewalk. At one end is a surf break and a lot of young surfers. It really takes a lot of athletic skill. We’re camped amongst a sea of RVs, mostly people from BC and some American surfers, here on the free beach. Last year everyone had stayed at a nice campground, but it had been purchased by an American, and was now closed. We walked the entire 7 mile beach. After 3 nights, we went back to La Paz for a night, a chance to recharge the batteries after many sunless days, shower, empty the tanks and then head north-east along the bay to a free beach called Tecolote, the access beach for kayaking around Isla Espirito Santo. We did the usual – beachcombed, climbed a mountain behind the beach and read books. I’m getting a little tired of the same routine. Hard to understand all the people who do the same things on the same beaches for months. We met Dave and Marilyn from Saltspring with whom we’d camped at LA Bay and Concepcion Bay.
Today we are going back to La Paz, Mark is getting a hotel the day before he flies back home on the 29th and we head north to San Carlos and Magdelena Bay to see the California grey whales.