Baja California

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(>Pictures at the bottom!)

…back in Mexico
The decision was actually spot on; to head east while the west was drowning in rain and mud. Despite the uneasy feeling that we hadn’t been given enough at the border, we travelled through the vast expanses of the Colorado Delta, where vegetables are grown intensively or the whole thing is left to nature. That same day, we reached a small campsite on a branch of the Colorado River run by Don, a dropout from America. Don told us about the “green zone” of Mexico and explained the customs system and the border zone along the US-Mexican border. We were able to relax and enjoy the evening and were glad that everything went smoothly.

As heavy rain was still forecast on the west coast of the Baja, we decided to stay on the east side for the time being and only drive northwards on the west side on our return journey. We soon cancelled the crossing to the mainland of Mexico from our plans; far too complicated for just a few days. And, as the longest peninsula in the world, Baja California has a lot to offer travellers, so crossing over to the Mexican mainland was hardly necessary.

As far as San Felipe, we found the extensive delta plain of the Colorado River rather boring. Apart from the mountain range to the west, it really wasn’t very exciting. San Felipe; well, a small Mexican town on the Gulf of California where everything was kind of chaotic. The waterfront promenade with its countless restaurants made a relatively orderly impression, but just behind it began the typical chaos of Mexican settlements. We stocked up on food for the next few days so that we could safely make it to the next larger town and calculated the distance to the next petrol station.

Somewhat carefree, we continued our journey in a southerly direction and enjoyed the beautiful coastal landscape as well as the wonderful camping opportunities near the sea. In the meantime, the fuel gauge moved towards “¼” and the longed-for petrol station was soon ahead of us. But what a nasty surprise: neither petrol nor diesel was available! The delivery of the coveted juice was supposed to arrive the next day, but it wasn’t certain. It was around 250 kilometres south to the next petrol station or back to San Felipe, which was around 150 kilometres away. We filled our reserve canister in the tank, which extended our journey by around 150 kilometres, and returned to San Felipe. The petrol station in a southerly direction was not on our planned route.

We returned with a full tank and were able to continue on our dream route along the eastern coast. Before we reached Bahía de los Angeles, we scrambled along an impossible path to Misión San Borja, which is located in an absolutely deserted area and is only visited by very few travellers. Instead, the owner personally guides you through the church and its outbuildings before we return to the tarmac road via the path, which is only suitable for 4×4 vehicles with increased ground clearance.

From Bahía de los Angeles, we continued to follow the coast and battled our way through sandy areas, rocky deserts and washed-out sections of road. Up to Puerto San Francisquito it was actually still really pleasant. However, there were later sections through the Sierra de San Borja that were almost “borderline” and we considered ourselves lucky that everything worked out. Slipping down the steep sections would have been the worst thing that could have happened, far from any possibility of communication or other help.

Eventually, after many hours on these 4×4 roads, we reached Baja California Sur and better roads that led us back to Mex1 – the main road through the whole Baja, which runs pretty much through the centre of the peninsula.  Here we were able to replenish our supplies; in addition to our food, our motorbike was also craving some precious juice (diesel).

High up and many metres above the valley floor, we were tempted by the Sierra San Francisco, where amazingly well-preserved rock paintings can still be seen. The detour from the main road up into the mountains left us in awe of the ancient wall paintings, which are said to be around 10,000 years old. The guide also explained the various motifs and how people might have once lived here. Insane really; 10,000 years! Will our artworks last that long?

Our next stop was in San Ignacio, a wonderful little town where everything is really neat and tidy. Even the campsite was beautiful and for just a few pesos we were able to book a wonderful pitch under palm trees. Yes, even the Mexicans could do things differently and conjure up wonderful oases. 🙂

From San Ignacio there weren’t many other options than to drive on the Mex1 and so we dutifully followed the narrow main road, which is used by large and long articulated lorries. Every junction with these huge monsters was a special encounter; the two-way wind and the narrow road always caused me (Tom) a certain amount of anxiety. The many crosses along the road probably tell their own story.

Back on the east coast of the Baja, we soon reached Santa Rosalía, where everything to the north revolves around copper and cobalt mining and the landscape looks accordingly. In addition to huge amounts of rubbish along the road, everything is somehow dumped in the landscape in the hope that the huge bulldozers from the open-cast mines will one day bury it with worthless rock. A desolate sight in this actually wonderful area! Instead, the old centre of Santa Rosalía made a particularly great impression on us, where the buildings were constructed in a special architectural style made of wood; a great riot of colour and the joyful life of the local population.

We followed the Mex1 road southwards for a short distance, from one beautiful bay to the next, where we discovered the countless camping sites where the “snowbirds” (Americans with their huge camper vans) spend the cold winter in the warmth. After Bahía de Conceptíon, we had had enough of the tarmac and turned inland again towards San Isidro/San Josde Comondú. After leaving the Mex1, we somehow assumed that this route would be a lot more challenging and correspondingly tougher for our jeep. We were really looking forward to the quiet road, away from the main road. But the joy was soon replaced by annoyance; in addition to a lot of “corrugated iron track”, rough stone passages shook our jeep vigorously and the speed was correspondingly low. It took us a whole 3 days to reach the Misión San Javier, which lies to the south-west of Loreto. A good choice in terms of scenery and experience, but Chantal was happy when we had a firm road surface under our wheels again. I (Tom) was also quite unhappy that the “shaking” was over for the time being.

Before the Misión San Javier, we had to plan a short detour down to Loreto; our food supplies had all been used up, and the water and diesel tanks were also very low. So we made a short and unexpected visit to Loreto, which was a cultural centre for the indigenous population even before the European settlers arrived. Although a culturally rich town on the Gulf of California, we didn’t like it at all and were glad to be able to drive back up into the mountains.

Before continuing on to Misión San Javier, we were able to spend a wonderful night by the river of the same name and the hundreds of tadpoles accompanied us into a deep sleep, which came to a quick end the next morning with the arrival of tourist traffic. So, together with the many other travellers and tourists, we covered the last few kilometres to the Misión San Francisco Javier de Viggé-Biaundó and were very surprised by the small but very beautiful village surrounded by mountains. Countless tourist guides accompanied the visitors around and through the mission church, while souvenir sellers vied for their favour.

In the morning, we continued our journey along the course of the San Javier river and again enjoyed the quieter landscape through an ever-widening valley. The mountain range of the Sierra de la Giganta became smaller and smaller in the rear-view mirror and an endless expanse of flat landscape followed as far as Santo Domingo. In the end, it was a monotonous journey through small plants and cacti. We rumbled for countless kilometres over corrugated iron and sandy passages until we reached the sea or the Santo Domingo lagoon. We tried to make the journey as pleasant as possible by lowering the tyre pressure, but despite all the measures we took, our car and we were completely vibrated.

We skipped the tour out to the whales in Puerto Adolfo López Mateos, as the swell in the small boats would not have been good for Chantal’s back. Instead, we stocked up for the next few days in Ciudad Constitución, filled the tank to the brim, discovered a side road through the mountains back to the east coast of the Baja and were glad to be able to turn our backs on the traffic on the Mex1 road again.

Up to the village of San Luis Gonzaga, we again had to endure a lot of corrugated metal and bumpy passages as well as a flat, boring landscape. Whirling up dust, we covered these kilometres as quickly as possible and were glad that we were finally going uphill and downhill again. But the mountain range of the Sierra de la Giganta was also becoming more and more recognisable. It climbed almost unnoticed, accompanied by valleys and crossings. After El Ciruelo, these valleys became narrower and narrower and steep passages led us further and further up. The chosen road, or should I say path, turned out to be a direct hit. The further we travelled into the Sierra de la Giganta, the more exciting the deep valleys and gorges became. The route took us over countless mountain ranges, up steep ascents than descents and along vertical rock faces.

We were very surprised by the abundance of water in these remote valleys as well as the dense population, which made it difficult for us to camp in the evening. Once we had passed the headwaters of the Caracol River, where the water needed for farming is no longer available, we were once again faced with a deserted mountain world.

At a crossing just a few kilometres from the east coast, we stopped for a night in the fresh mountain air and were glad that there was enough wood for the evening fire. Despite the freshness; the place was exclusive and the rising full moon was a very special moment where otherwise only the coyotes roam.

La Paz was still around 100 kilometres ahead of us, but very time-consuming. The route along the Bahía de Coyote meandered between the coast and over mountain foothills, through breathtaking gorges and extremely steep sections of road. In San Juan de la Costa, the quiet tranquillity was over; an open-cast mine hurled us out of the dream world and back into the present. Huge lorries carted masses of rock to the sea, where they were transported away by ship. Dust and noise were also part of the experience. On the other hand, there was a wide road in the direction of La Paz.

No sooner had we hit the tarmac than the many camper vans were parked in the bays and beach sections and the roaring ATVs were roaring along the coastal road and the sandy beach sections. Well, welcome to the modern age and the many varieties of pleasure and freedom. We also stopped at a beach where countless motorhomes had already set up camp for the night. In addition to the foreign globetrotters, we were joined that weekend by many Mexicans who had fled from nearby La Paz and wanted to spend a fresh evening by the sea. In contrast to the motorhome travellers, the local people were a little noisier and the jukeboxes provided additional sound. But, surprisingly, after nightfall, the beach emptied relatively quickly and a very quiet night followed with the sound of the sea instead of rhythms from the jukebox.

On Sunday, the journey to La Paz was on our agenda and was correspondingly short. This tempted us to drive out to the peninsula off the coast in the hope that we could get a view of the city from the sea. But after countless kilometres, the journey came to an end; a large fence with barbed wire and security guards turned us back, as the area is only intended for guests of the holiday resort and no public traffic is welcome.

Somewhat disillusioned, we bumped back to the paved road and were able to rescue a Mexican family from their predicament to make up for the disappointment. The driver thought he could drive his Honda saloon through sand and gravel and got the whole vehicle stuck in a deep sand hole. The jeep was the right tool and – in no time at all – the family was able to continue their Sunday outing.

Now we were definitely heading for La Paz, where there are plenty of good supply options. Of course, strolling along the beach promenade was also part of it, where many people were moving back and forth on this glorious Sunday. We also joined them and before continuing to the southernmost point of the Baja, we treated ourselves to a short stop among Mexicans.
Further down, everything is supposed to be very American; we are curious to see if it really will be.

Chantal and Tom/end of February 2024

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