Baja with Gregory and Sophia
Baja won our hearts. The challenge of it: the prickly, gritty, peligroso saltiness that gives everything an edge and makes it an adventure. Some of the simplest things often took gentle urging with what became our most favorite mantra…”¡Con precaución….. está bien!”. I’ve come to the conclusion that Mexico is incredibly underrated by its neighbors to the north. Canadians flock to the beaches in Baja, yet, Americans are a rare sighting by comparison. The culture of fear in the United States is keeping you back, friends! As our new friend Gregory said the day after we made it back to the States,
America is clean and boring, yo quiero dirty Mexico.
We’ve been thinking the same thing, Gregorio!
By March, Michael and I had spent two months driving the length of the Baja peninsula and were slowly working our way north. We had a routine of traveling somewhere new and trying to stay on a beach for a week or more. We usually got antsy to move on and see something different after about week, but the longer we stay in one place, without driving and spending money on gas or fish tacos and margaritas, the further we can stretch our money out. It’s impressive how cheaply living on a beach in a van in Mexico can be done. For the two us, we can easily do it for under a thousand US dollars/month. A thousand dollars includes everything, gas and travel, food, beer, tequila, palapa rentals, Wi-Fi café’s, purified water, concerts, extra batteries, random repairs to the van. It’s not so far-fetched a dream, if you’ve ever wanted to do it. Not just financially either. By respecting the desert and following a few practical guidelines, I’d say anyone can do it safely and cheaply, and you’ll be happy you did. The Mexican people are incredibly friendly and helpful, there’s camaraderie amongst the other tourists, and life is simple in Baja.
Conception Bay is right off the main highway (most everything is!) and a popular stop for anyone driving the Baja peninsula. For many, it’s the destination and as far as they go. I’m glad we saw the rest of the transpeninsular highway, but I was equally glad to be back at Conception Bay; the white sand beaches and small islands are hard to beat.
On our way south we stayed at Playa Coyote when we got to Conception Bay. This time we headed to Playa Escondida, a smaller beach around the corner that tends to attract smaller vehicles, vandwellers, tent campers and more low-key travelers than Playa Coyote and Burro, with the big RV’s with their annoying generators. Thanks for the tip, Lance and Michael!!
As soon as we got there, we knew it was our kind of beach. The other campers immediately welcomed us and conversations quickly turned to the good spots to skinny dip, stories of whale shark sightings, and community fish feasts. A few hours later we were invited to a dinner that Gregory and Sophia were making. It was yummy! Little did we know how much they would affect our remaining time in Baja, for better or worse! HA! Lol.
That first night on the beach the phosphorescence was thick and everyone quickly shed their clothes in exchange for masks and snorkels and a glow-in-the-dark swim. The universe is our playground and warm Mexico nights are full of magic. I think everyone on the beach that night felt young and breathless with life.
Conception bay is filled with islands, big and small, close and far. Our inflatable kayaks were perfect for accessing little islands with rocky shelves full of fish. Michael’s main motivation these days was to spear enough Triggerfish for our new friends and us for dinner. He’s very helpful and manly that way, a spear-fishing stud! I loved helping him and seeing how excited he got! On the rare occasion he did strike out (you know, when the fish were visiting their friends on the other islands), it seemed one of our neighbors would be having a fish fry. We ate like kings and queens at Playa Escondida! The small beach held a strong sense of community and it was a frequent occurrence to see strangers helping strangers and friendships being born as spontaneously as the dolphins arriving or the wind picking up and gratefully driving the flies out of our faces. Anything and everything could happen at once, which it often did! Matt and Abbie know what I mean ;)
We liked Greg and Sophia immediately. The four us easily gravitated towards sharing meals and making plans together. When the opportunity to travel with them presented itself, we grabbed it. Vehicle problems can be fun if they’re not your own ;), or if you’re on a beach in Mexico. Beach life is ridiculously decadent and hard to leave but if you knew Greg and Sophia, you’d understand the temptation to follow them wherever they’re going. First of all, they’re from Halifax, Nova Scotia and drove all the way to Baja. Badass. Greg plays drums and dresses up for potlucks in vans, bolo tie and all. Sophia is a world traveler and speaks Spanish fluently, enamoring all the locals with her conversational skills and beautiful smile. They both work to empower and foster sustainability and relationships in communities, work that sounds meaningful and important and that I should know more about. It was an honor to spend a couple of weeks getting to know them a little and I really hope to catch them later down the road…
Check out their blog here: http://thecolab.info/about/
Co*Lab, a collaboration laboratory expanding the edge of change
As much fun as we were soaking up in Baja, Sophia and Gregory had commitments in the States and were having trouble leaving. Their Vanagon had been at the mechanic for over a week and although we rescued it, it still needed a push start to run. Therefore, Michael and I invited ourselves to help push them back up to California!
Our last night on Playa Escondida was festive. We were busy packing up when Matt and Abbie arrived for the night. Michael and I were hoping we’d see them again! Since we had last seen them, they had both bought property near Santiago, and acquired a new dog! The same afternoon an ice cream truck rolled onto the beach! I mean an honest to goodness ICE CREAM TRUCK! With its speaker playing the familiar tunes, we ordered banana splits with coconut ice cream. Baja at it’s finest!
Early on the morning of our departure a whale shark swam fifty feet off shore up the length of our beach. Dolphins, whale sharks, stingrays, tropical fish…..I’m in love with the Sea of Cortez!! As we push started the Vanagon and hit the road, I wondered when I would be back, because surely, I will.
In one long, hot and dry day, we drove north to Guerrero Negro, a city on the border of Baja Sur and Baja Norte, in a flat open stretch of highway.
Guerrero Negro is the Mexican translation for the name of a U.S. whaler, the Black Warrior, which sank offshore in the 1850’s. After depleting the population of gray whales by the late 19th century, the hunters moved on and remarkably, the whales were able to recover. Today whale hunting has been replaced with the sustainable activity of whale-watching. (Baja Moon Handbook, Nikki Goth Itoi).
Crazy history, right?! From Guerrero Negro, we made our way through the salt flats, to La Laguna Ojo de Liebre, one of three shallow lagoons in the Southern Pacific where gray whales come to give birth. Michael and I hadn’t seen the Pacific side since January and it felt a little like returning home :) The lagoons provide safety from orcas as well as warmer water (important for babies that don’t have much fat) and high salinity (that helps the newborns with buoyancy). The landscape here is flat, white with salt, and even under the desert sun it’s hard not to think of the arctic tundra.
We got up early the next morning to catch the first boat ride out into the lagoon. Swimming and kayaks are prohibited in the sanctuary. I suppose to strum up money for the tourism industry as much as being able to regulate and minimize human impact on the whales. It makes sense to me, but, for Mexico, where laws seemed more like suggestions, it almost felt out-of-place to see an environmental rule so strictly enforced. I wasn’t surprised either though, there’s obviously a lot of respect for the ocean in Baja, and I was grateful, and happy to spend my money on a tour, supporting the area.
While we were there 1,700 gray whales were swimming around in the lagoon. Our panga driver was a quiet tour guide, letting the whales do all the talking. When he stopped the boat in the middle of the lagoon, pairs of whales (mamas and babies) would swim over to us to get a closer look, nudging the boat and reaching their faces up to the sides so we could pet them!! Words don’t describe the magic.
We still had a few days before the gang needed to be in San Diego so we headed over to Bahía de los Ángeles, another beautiful coastal bay,this time on the Sea of Cortez side again. Zig zag zig zag we go. L.A. Bay, as we gringos sometimes call it, is 40 miles off the Highway 1, making it a little less traveled destination. The glorious part is it’s a smooth paved road the whole way! Plus, the beach is long, secluded and diverse, AND, small, smooth pebbles and cobbles spread across the shoreline, which means no sand in the vans! Everything about our two nights here was worth the extra mileage off the highway.
BAJA WE LOVE YOU!
We jump for joy because we live in a van on a beach in Mexico! Our last night in Baja we were tucked in the desert outside of Catavina. We weathered a crazy loud thunderstorm hunkered in our vans just as we pulled into camp. An hour later the sun was out and by nightfall the stars were shining overhead. Push starting the Westy Vanagon didn’t work in the sand on a cool morning so Michael used a tow rope and pulled the beauty into action. Always an adventure on the road. The drive from Catavina to the border was long and exhausting, thank god for the best tacos on the planet in Tecate, Tacos El Guero…. go see for yourself, I swear, they’re the best!
Utah! Get me two!