Baja California Norte

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(>Pictures at the bottom!)

….our final spurt back to the USA
After the impressive drive out into the lagoon of Guerrero Negro and a relaxing night in the sand dunes of Soledad, we continued our journey northwards. Our idea was to reach the southern border of the USA in a week at the latest. But we wanted to, because things usually turn out differently than planned ­čśë

The very first time we tried to leave the Mex1 road and continue on a backroad, we had to turn around after a few kilometres and drive back onto the busy main road. This was followed by many boring kilometres, sandwiched between lorries and Mexicans driving as if they were on a Formula 1 circuit.

Thanks to Chantal’s ability to read the digital map correctly, we soon found the long-awaited route to the coast and away from the busy road. We were back in our own world and the hustle and bustle of traffic was behind us. We followed the coast through wide, lonely landscapes. There were only a few small fishing villages in the bays, where people can earn their living from fishing and crabbing. The few cattle and goats are probably not productive enough in this barren landscape or are simply no longer in fashion these days.

And then, during the first night, we discovered a mouse living in our jeep. How it got into our jeep was and still is a mystery. To our surprise, the little mouse shuttled back and forth between the engine compartment and the interior as if there was a large open door somewhere. During the day it was relatively quiet; it was only in the evening that the little rodent moved through our car. Suddenly, rustling noises accompanied us through the quiet nights. Let’s hope it doesn’t snag a cable and cause our car to break down. Somewhat helplessly, we wanted to get rid of the animal, but not catch it Mexican-style on a sticky list and dispose of it in the rubbish.

After two days, we also knew why the little thing was in our car: Chantal found two newborn mice in her winter shoes. Somehow the capture worked and we wanted to release the 3 rodents – mother and young – into the wild. But when we released them, there was only one small young animal left in the supposedly well-sealed shoe. Where had the mouse and her young gone? We put the shoe with the single young animal back in the jeep and sat helplessly by the evening fire, surrounded by a unique landscape of bulder boulders. By late evening, we knew: the mouse had returned to the protected jeep with its cub and had taken the second cub to a new hiding place. Throughout the night, it rustled again under our sleeping area.

The next morning we found a nest with four young and blind mice in a beautifully prepared nest in the back of a small cupboard and we realised the nightly noise. The mouse had to transport materials for her new nest through our car and look after her little ones accordingly. In return, we managed to capture the mouse again with the help of the young animals. We took our time with the release of the rodents and hoped to find an ideal place for them in the end. So we were finally able to release our flatmates into the wild. Well, that was the end of the mouse adventure and we hoped that, in addition to the nibbled food, the electrical cables in the car remained intact.

We continued our journey through the mountainous coastal landscape and very lonely stretches of land between the Pacific coast and the Mex1 road. We enjoyed the warmer days more and more and were glad that the sun soon made the night-time cold disappear in the morning. But with the onset of warmth, other animals suddenly moved through the landscape and I – Tom – have an uncanny respect for snakes!

At a camp close to the sea, the rear black part of a large snake disappeared as we arrived, never to be seen again. According to our leaflets, this was supposed to be a non-poisonous snake, but we weren’t sure. Somehow the next day I (Tom) had forgotten about the snake we had seen the day before. So I carelessly got out of the jeep to take some nice photos of the surrounding cacti. I walked round the back of the car and couldn’t believe my eyes at first: a large rattlesnake changed sides in front of our car. Nice, but absolutely dangerous in an area where the nearest doctor is several hours away. From now on, when we opened the door, we first inspected the ground before getting out. Even at the evening camps, the ground and the immediate surroundings were thoroughly searched with a wooden stick beforehand. We hoped this would further minimise the risk and the subsequent noise from the wood chopping probably drove away the last remaining creepy-crawlies.

Due to a lack of diesel in the tank, we had to return to the Mex1 road, where we could buy the coveted juice from the street vendor. The official Pemex petrol station closed a long time ago. So various villagers sat along the road and sold the much-needed juice to travellers passing through at somewhat inflated prices. But supply and demand set the price. ­čÖü

As far as El Rosario, there was again no other option than to follow the lifeblood of the Baja. There were no other roads or paths that would have made sense for our return journey towards the USA. The short detour to Misi├│n San Fernando, where a few missionaries once settled a long time ago, was a small change from the tarmac. Only a few adobe bricks remain of the once proud church, the rest of the monastery complex has been reclaimed by nature.

To the east of El Rosario, we once again followed a wonderful mountain path that is probably only visited by a few tourists. Although there was a sign at the gate saying that it was forbidden to drive through, a Mexican farmer let us pass, and so we headed back up into the marvellous landscape. Presumably the neighbours prohibit the right of passage so that the path is not damaged by ATVs and other off-road equipment.

Our progress on this mountain track was not exactly breathtaking, and in places we travelled at walking pace over or through various passages that any off-roader could only dream of. In terms of driving technique, it was a dream to be able to drive through such a landscape. But the next bad weather front was breathing down our necks, so we decided not to continue into the foothills of the Sierra de San Pedro Mártir and headed back to the Pacific coast. Getting stuck in a side valley like this due to rainfall and flooding would probably be the stupidest thing that could happen to us in this remote area.

We also had to postpone the drive up to Picacho del Diablo (3078m) and the Sierra de San Pedro Mártir National Park due to snowfall. Instead, we had a skidding ride on a coastal path, where we were both relieved to get from the boggy paths back onto firmer ground without any major slippery sections. Our AT tyres are probably not grippy enough for mud!

To pass the time, we decided to head towards Ensenada for the time being. South of this large town there is a rocky outcrop where the Pacific waves are said to shoot up to 20 metres high. In hindsight, we doubt whether the waves really shoot up that high, but the route through the many souvenir stalls was several times longer, with crowds of travellers from anchored cruise ships snaking their way to the sight. The vendors were also, almost unusually for Mexico, rather annoying; the sales pressure on their part must be extremely high. Even at the front of La Bufadora there was no end in sight and the hawkers were hot on our heels.

The weather forecast promised an improvement, so we drove in a wide arc, east of Ensenada, back to the west side of the Sierra de San Pedro Mártir National Park. Despite some misgivings, it was once again worth the time. We drove through four vegetation zones from sea level up into alpine terrain, where large pine trees lined the roadside. In addition to snow, we also discovered the highest peak in Baja California, the 3078 metre high Picacho del Diablo. However, we were denied a view of the Californian condors. :-/

After the many impressions of this high mountain world, we wanted to continue our journey northwards through the foothills of the Sierra de San Pedro M├írtir. However, the route soon proved to be too challenging and hardly recommendable as a single vehicle in such a lonely area. Somewhat disappointed (Tom), we returned to sea level and the Mex1 road, where there are no boulders to climb over, but a strict military checkpoint. This military checkpoint was still deeply ingrained in Chantal’s subconscious, where almost all of her vape paraphernalia was confiscated, as e-cigarettes are strictly forbidden in Mexico; they are said to be very dangerous to health. So we turned off again a few kilometres before this checkpoint and searched for our backroad through the mountains. Both the paper map and our tablet showed a route that could actually be travelled without any major difficulties. But maps – electronic or on paper – can sometimes be deceptive.

On the map, the distance looked short and we were already planning our onward journey to the next national park. But in the narrow valleys, landowners often remove roads from their property and build some kind of bypass that is safe to drive on a motorbike. However, our jeep is a little wider and so we were often faced with almost insurmountable stretches of road. One inclined slope was the “end” for us; the washouts were too big and slipping down would have had fatal consequences. So we chose the marked path across the property, where the owner probably no longer wanted through traffic. Although there were no complaints from the owner, we had to cut the fence to continue our journey.

The path we had chosen became increasingly difficult and rocky, it was almost impossible to turn round and, with a bad feeling in our stomachs, we clambered from one difficult spot to the next in our jeep, which was subjectively almost even more difficult. At some point, we had passed the point of no return. Later that afternoon, we reached the crossing and the path was a lot better. In the headlights, we later found our accommodation for the following night, where the coyotes howled us to sleep.

The following day, everything looked a little easier again and the first rancho hinted at civilisation. But even on this side of the pass we had to drive through various areas belonging to some large landowner, and oversized signs warned us that only local traffic was allowed. We opened the gates each time with uneasy feelings and drove on towards the Mex3 road with a guilty conscience.

According to the weather forecast, it should remain dry and sunny for one or two days before the next bad weather front. With this knowledge, we scrambled up to the Sierra de Juárez and the Constitución de 1857 National Park, where countless Mexicans were already struggling up to Laguna Hanson with their heavy vehicles on this Saturday. This lagoon is located high up in the Sierra, in a pine forest and is very popular as a recreational area. Despite the windy conditions, most of the places where camping is permitted were already occupied and, as is typical for Mexico, music was blaring from party speakers everywhere. We would actually have liked to stay, but the expected noise drove us away from this unique area; Mexicans seem to like it a bit louder. So we found our place to stay for the night a little off the beaten track and looked forward to one of the last nights on Baja California. While various vehicles were still looking for their way along the nearby road with full lighting, we let our piggy sizzle on the barbecue.

The next morning, the clouds were already very low. On the road near us, various groups drove past in convoy with their off-roaders, while we were able to escape the onset of the rain to the next village. We didn’t really want to weave our way through the convoys and the road surface became increasingly slippery as it got wetter. From La Rumorosa we had to take the pay road down to the Colorado plain, there was no other option.

So we spent another windy night in the huge river delta of the Colorado before continuing eastwards. Our idea was to spend one last night in Mexico and only enter the USA the next day. We continued our journey south of the huge border fence and crossed the Áltar Desert with its wide open spaces and marvellous rocky mountains. On the eastern edge is the Gran Desierto National Park with its countless volcanoes, where we wanted to spend our last night in Mexico.

Yes, we wanted to; on the way to a volcanic crater, we were stopped by paramilitaries in the middle of this rocky desert and told to leave the area. The weapons in their pick-up were a little intimidating and the masked men also made a frightening impression. The driver gave us friendly but clear instructions on where we should go to spend the night in this landscape. Somewhat confused and shocked, we returned to the main road that follows the US-Mexican border.

This experience left us in a bad way. We had spent two months on the Baja California and over a month in Mexico with the PanAmericana trip, but something like this is scary. Our decision was soon made: We’re going to the USA straight away!

We crossed the border in Sonoyta/Lukeville on the same day and were surprised: after showing our passports, we received a warm welcome in the USA and were wished a safe journey. Quite the opposite to our return in Los Angeles in January; neither an inspection of the car nor any other formalities.

At the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument campsite, we were briefly greeted by the sun before the onset of rain and gusts of wind drove us inside our mini-camper.
Well, welcome to the USA ­čśë

Chantal and Tom/April 2024

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