Baja: Sea of Cortez
Still riding the high from Mike’s Sky Rancho we rambled east toward the Sea of Cortez. With some anticipation we rolled into the beach town of San Felipe, but the disappointment was immediate. There was a vibe of retired-drunk-white guy that was hard to get past. They seemed to be everywhere- the big-bellied, red-nosed types that conjured images of creepy uncles more than Santa Claus. We ate a hasty lunch trying to ignore the loud, slow, English speakers who didn’t want their camarones too spicy or their margaritas too salty. We bounced as quick as we arrived and headed for a deserted beach outpost called Puertecitos.
Puertecitos has definitely seen it’s heyday come and gone. As we rolled in we weren’t super confident we would even stay...but we were so thankful the setting sun forced an end to our travel for the day. We found the beachside campground on the site of what appeared to be a once-upon-a-time resort, now defunct and falling apart. While most of Puetecitos fell a little flat, the real gem of this bay is the seaside hot spring that requires a short walk/drive through town. Ask anyone in around for the timing of the tide because it’s critical to get just the right mix of cool sea water and scalding thermal water to achieve a therapeutic soak.
BAHIA DE LOS ANGELES
On south we found our way to Bahia de Los Angeles and quickly felt at home. We paid for a night at an eco-camp on the beach just north of town. One night turned to nearly a week as we fell in love with the land, the town, the water, and the fellow Overlanders we shared campfires, drinks, and food with. As we found in most places down the Baja peninsula the wind picks up fast and fierce- the first signs of chop on the water meant things were about to get real rough. And another word of warning- when we first pulled into town there was NO diesel avaialable at the gas station. However, when we left there was fuel available and we filled our tanks. Don’t make the journey out there without enough fuel to get back- unless you’re happy to wait it out for the next delivery. Oh darn, another day in the Bay of LA.
From Bahia de Los Angeles we took several days to get to San Francisquito. The drive to the lonely bay was long and riddled with corrugations but- victory! - no broken eggs. It was fiercely windy as we rolled in and found the owner of the bay, Beto. As we yelled introductions across the wind he kindly let us camp on the beach, anywhere, which we settled into nicely for a couple days. We took advantage of the solitude to do some vehicle maintenance and recovery training. For anyone interested- this was also when we decided the Hi-Lift/Sprinter van combo was an accident waiting to happen. We gave the jack to Beto before leaving. Take all provisions you need- water, fuel, food- as there is no resupply.
If you do happen to make it out to San Francisquito, ask Beto about the petroglyphs. He’ll draw you a map in the sand to this middle of nowhere place where you park and then follow a scratch of a trail to some of the coolest cave paintings I have ever seen. These are definitely not in any guide book.
We left San Francisquito just a couple days before Christmas and headed to the literal oasis of San Ignacio. If you go there, stay at Ignacio Springs B&B. The place is absolutely amazing, made even better by the couple who run it. It was there that the owner gave us directions to a fishing camp that he said we must drive to. He said it was desolate, the road was rough, and it would be an adventure...so, off we went.
Once off the pavement our pace to slowed to a crawl and stayed there the duration of the drive. I don’t remember the distance but the drive from the highway to the coast took us about 4 hours. Along the way we had to squeeze by not one but two trucks with snapped axles, abandoned in varied states of recovery. The entire route had us talking through scenarios should we find ourselves in a similar situation.
When we finally arrived at the bay we were stunned by the sheer silence. We were nowhere. And it was heaven. We were still pretty amped from the drive out there- it was the kind of drive that left us feeling exhausted and totally pumped to do it again. We built a fire and relived the experiences of our day and planned what we would have to do differently on the way out. We knew it would feel like a completely different road and offer up new challenges. After a night spent under stars upon stars and the sounds of only the sea, we made the drive back out. We could have stayed longer but this trip was more about the journey than the destination- a true taste of overlanding.
We rolled into Mulege (moo-la-hey) thinking we would only stop for lunch and then carry on south to Bahia Concepcion....but the town won us over before we even stepped out of the van. We camped at Don Chano’s where we enjoyed luxuries like showers, running water, and...grass. Blessed grass when all we had seen was weeks of sand. White sand, red sand, blowing sand, sand in my teeth, desert sand, beach sand....that grass was the most decadent thing. We stayed many days here, at several different times, as we travelled up and down the coast. Mulege is what we call “on the list”. When we contemplate settling down (gasp) there is a short list of places we can imagine doing it. Mulege is one of them.
BAHIA AGUA VERDE
The question most people ask us when we tell them about Bahia Agua Verde is “Do you think my vehicle can make the drive?” Our answer is always “Well, the women who live out there drive it in rattle trap sedans with bald tires and eight passengers, so yea, I think you’re vehicle can make it”
Bahia Agua Verde is accessed via a dirt road that is not necessarily challenging but can be nerve wracking. The grades are steep, the curves are tight, and the road is often one-vehicle width with steep drop offs. We didn’t encounter any on-coming traffic but we constantly made note of the last pull out we would have to back up to if we had.
It’s best to ask the locals when you pull in where to camp, as a couple sections of the bay are designated for the fishermen to launch their boats in the morning, and come in at the end of a very long day. It’s awesome to watch, but you definitely don’t want to get in their way. Besides, they’ll be the ones providing the fish for the fish tacos- so give them space. No one speaks English in Agua Verde. Learn some spanish so you can get by- and also to connect to the beautiful people who live there.
Please, as with anywhere, but especially in remote locales where gracious residents are willing to let gringos set up camp on their beaches- have respect. Agua Verde has no services- there is no electricity, no running water, there is a tiny store but the shelves are mostly empty. And most importantly- there is no trash service. Pack out your trash, have a plan for your poop, and don’t leave anything behind. It’s also nice to take some things to give- stickers or markers for the kids, little items like some extra caribiners and gloves for the fishermen, and a couple nice things for the women who cook food (when they have some to sell). Take all the fuel, water, and food you need. Be prepared to pack out all your trash. You can take it to one of the bigger towns and dispose of it there.
Conception Bay is a mecca for travelers. There are numerous beaches along this bay to camp directly on the beach. The water is amazing, the sea life is astounding, the abundance of fresh fish unending, and with so many islands and bays to explore one could spend many months here. Again, no services but there are a myriad of vendors who drive in each day to sell you whatever you may need. One could essentially stay here in perpetuity and want for nothing. Farmers drive up with their fresh-picked produce, fishermen come by with fresh fish, there are tamale vendors, water, a truck that will pump out holding tanks.....it’s convenience unlike anything I’ve ever seen. I definitely recommend beach hopping as each little bay has it’s own charm.
We went as far south as Loreto on the Sea of Cortez. It took us over a month to get that far south. Loreto is a relatively small town but felt urban after so much time in the desert. There are big grocery stores, departments stores, great restaurants, a craft brewery, and some fantastic artisanal shops. It’s a nice breath of modernity should you need it. And the lovely pedestrian downtown is a real treat.
We could easily spend a year exploring Baja, but that’s because we travel real slow. Our travel days are short with long breaks in between. However, Baja is a place to visit regardless of how much time is available. Baja is a land like none other; a place where the desert meets the sea and they carry on together to create thousands of miles of arid coastline. Add to that the generosity and kindness of the Mexican people, and Baja California is a place to be treasured.