Sunday, April 18, 2010

La Bufadora to Catavina

The early morning departures from camp to allow for afternoon hikes and siestas haven’t quite come off as planned. It’s easy to convince each other (this is through non-verbal communication) to spend another hour under the downy warmth of the two 35 degree sleeping bags encased in our comforter cover.

A few notes about the roof tent. We’re figuring it out but there are some quirks. First, I’m very glad I built the shelf described on the AutoHomeUS blog (pics and link to come). It hangs above our feet where the roof slants down and provides a spot for books, the camera, the laptop, water, etc that would otherwise be cuddled up in bed with us. The slanted roof is also covered with a large bungee net that’s perfect for stuffing clothes in for easy access during the 2am bathroom run.

Functionally, perhaps following in the mold of great Italian design like the Ferrari, the tent is sleek and has all the bells and whistles but doesn’t always seem very well thought out for day to day use. For example, to get some airflow through the back door, you need to unzip both sides of the screen from the bottom, unzip the inner door from the bottom, unzip the outer weather proof door from the bottom and cinch it at the top, unzip the inside door from the top so a flap drops down, then rezip the inner door and screen. By the time you’re done with that, you’ve gone from needing ventilation to needing a ventilator. Yes, you can also ventilate from the side doors but the sound of the ripping velcro on the screen while suspended 8 feet off the ground is not the most settling to your sleeping partner and zipping from either side provides a great eye-level view into the tent for passersby. Basically, the whole thing could be fixed with a few additional zippers although I’m sure we’ll get more used to it and maybe figure out some tricks as time goes on.

One final note on the tent. I’m 5’10” with size 9 feet and I have to have my head ALL the way up at the door to have foot clearance while lying on my back. I think they might make an extra long version as well. Otherwise, taller people considering this kind of set up might want to consider the Maggiolina line that has vertical walls.

This morning, we fired up the stove only for coffee and ate our fill of Mom’s “Friendship Bread” (Note: the name applies only if you are friends with your heart surgeon but not on speaking terms with your nutritionist) before scrambling down the bluff we’d camped on towards the water.

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Before, we could get on the road, we had our call on “Debbie G” for the first time. Oh, you don’t know Debbie G? Debbie G is the spare parts/tools/recovery box I made out of leftover half inch plywood to fit underneath the roof rack. It seems the ply was issued a stamp of approval by one “Debbie G” so I left her blessing in place before applying three coats of marine varnish. Our current need for Debbie G? Flat tire? Torn belt? Punctured gas tank? Well, no. We had a brake light out.

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Once on the road, we stopped as we drove through Santo Tomas, San Vicente, and got some fresh rolls at a panaderia before taking a dirt road out to the coast for a picnic. We wussed out about a kilometer from the beach when we reached a sign with “TERMINA” painted in red and various threats about private property. 

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A little farther down Mex 1, we had better luck and some great views.

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From there, we buzzed through San Quintin and got the “last gas” in El Rosario before the road cut east into the hills towards Catavina. I had been to Catavina about 10 years ago when my rock climbing partner, Cary, came across an article in Rock+Ice Magazine describing Joshua Tree-like granite boulders and unique vegetation. While the climbing turned out to be not much more than “chaucy” (see Oxford American Climber’s Dictionary page 73 between “bomber” and “desperate”) bouldering, the unique combination of 4000 ft or so of altitude plus the weather patterns coming in the from the Pacific (again, much like Joshua Tree) create a unique and scenic landscape.


Catavina’s in the middle of a long and lonely stretch of Mex 1. Most of the vehicles on it are eighteen wheelers or busses getting products or people from one side to the other as fast as they can – and they make TIME. It took a good amount of concentration to focus on the road as it whipped around tight turns through the hills and across washes marked with “VADO” signs. In fact, we came across an unfortunate scene of a dual cab pick up truck that had rolled over just minutes before. There were already a few people on scene and after seeing that the unlikely number of passengers including a few kids and babies were okay and letting them know we didn’t have a radio, we sped east towards the Federal Policia outpost more than 30 km away to let them know about the accident. By the time we got there, we saw a tow truck, Federales and local policia heading that direction with lights and sirens.

A note about the GPS maps we’ve been using. I loaded both the Garmin World Maps and the Smelly Biker Wanderlust maps on the Zumo 660 and have been switching back and forth to compare. Conclusion: they’re pretty much the same through Baja and they both suck. Yes, Mex 1 has been included on both maps for the whole trip but it’s not uncommon to see our burrito completely off the road in the middle of nowhere. Wait, that last statement probably makes more sense if I explain that since crossing the border, our vehicle icon on the GPS has been a burrito.


To be fair, when the above picture was taken, we were in fact driving through what was once a lake.


Again, referring to our “Chuch and Church Camping Mexico’s Baja” book, we followed their recommendation towards Rancho Santa Ynez, a small house with a deserted camping area. We settled into a spot beneath what we later learned was an ironwood tree and began to unpack when a Subaru with a roof tent we hadn’t noticed parked in front of the house turned around and started back towards the main road. Seeing us, a young woman got out and asked if we had change for a 200 peso note. The proprietor in the house couldn’t make change for the 80 peso camping fee. Of course, at this point, we realized we only had a 200 peso note as well but could scrape together exact change in dollars (and cents out of the truck ashtray). We offered to work something out by paying for both sites with our 200 and settling up in the morning to save them a trip into town. They politely declined noting that they’d be leaving early in the morning but changed their minds just about the time I’d handed the cash to the owner who’d come by in the truck. I asked the owner in Spanish if I could take the cash back and she could make change if we paid for both camping sites with our 200 peso note. She agreed and proceeded to give me 140 pesos change, the change she told the other people she couldn’t make. It seemed like she was just willing to do it for us because we spoke Spanish. After a thorough exercise of my Spanish numbers, we worked it all out and learned  little more about our campmates.

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Joy and Brent are a couple from British Columbia, probably right around their early 30’s, who’d been on the road in the Baja for about a month and a half. A friend had begun rep’ing a new roof top tent and had set them up with a demo and a stack of business cards for the trip. To me, it looked a lot like the Camping Lab models I’d seen on the ExPo but unfortunately, I never got a chance to go over and take a look.

Joy and Brent turned out to be a nice couple and we all had a good time around the fire talking about over-blown stories of violence in Mexico along with stupid things you can do to become one of those stories. They’d been all the way down to Cabo, staying at various beaches out of the Church and Church book and, it would appear, meeting every hippie, gringo, snowbird*, Parrothead, ex-pat, and Mexican entrepreneur on the peninsula. In fact, when one of the aforementioned showed up (I won’t say which) an hour or so later, the three of them began adding nouns to people’s names and rehashing their itineraries. “Wait, Kayak John or Spearfish John? Oh yeah,he knows Green Bus Ted and Kathy who he met through New Mexico Tom and Nothing-Particularly-Descriptive-About-Her Sally.”

* retired Canadian RV’er

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They enjoyed their trip so much they bought a piece of property on the Pacific coast in El Pescadero and have been making plans to rent out rooms in their house in BC to return as soon as possible. It sounds like more southern Baja (other than Cabo) has taken on a really nice artisan, organic farmer, surfer/skater feel and is a good mix of the locals and ex-pats.