Baja 1000 x 3 – Down and back to Cabo San Lucas
Oct 8th, 2012
So, we’re just now back from an AMAZING Jeep Expedition down the Baja California Peninsula, tracking part of the Baja 1000 route, which we began in Mexicali, went through San Felipe, Gonzaga Bay, Guerrero Negro, Santa Rosalia, Mulege, San Ignacio, La Paz, San Jose del Cabo, Todos Santos, Loreto, Santo Tomas, Ensenada, and finally back to the US of A at the Border Crossing in Tecate. Amazing trip…I recommend it highly!
My 20-year-old daughter, Ally, was my copilot on this trip. It had been probably four years…maybe six…since we had been on an adventure together, just the two of us, and we had a fantastic time together! We met up with a local Phoenician, Sam, and that three of us headed down to Calexico to meet Russ, the trip leader, and cross the border. We did so without incident, and arrived our accommodations for the first night at a corporate hotel in Mexicali. After getting swaped to another room because our air conditioner was on the Fritz (or should I say Francis?), we took a quick shower, and headed off to dinner at a recommended restaurant recommended by the front desk, at which we were pleasantly surprised at both the service, and the food.
At dinner, Ally asked me if it was legal for her to drink in Mexico, (which we both know she already knew it was, and was probably plotting for MONTHS, lol), waiting to see my feedback before she ordered a drink. Thankfully for her, I was okay with that, and so she and I enjoyed our first alcoholic drink together. (Quite the bonding moment for our somewhat white-trash upbringing, LOL. She’ll be 21 in less than 2 months, but I still felt \”dirty\”, lol).
We crossed the border in Mexicali, and then made a beeline for the highway that connects San Felipe and Sonata. We were headed to Mike’s Sky Ranch, which is a staple along the Baja 1000 route, evidently. (Click here for photos). After a fantastic meal and a wonderful night there, we headed to San Felipe, and had fish tacos for lunch by the beach, while we waited for the last of our Compadres, Woody, to join us, Delayed due to fuel pump problems on his way down from Reno, he was not able to meet us at the border and cross with us. Once we were all together, we headed South, which is when the fun began!
From San Felipe, we took a dirt highway south, and ended up staying the night at a beautiful beach campsite on Gonzaga Bay. Though absolutely beautiful, it was extremely difficult for me to imagine living in, if I was anything other than a professional fisherman. I’m sure their tourism business booms during the Baja 1000, but the rest of the year…not so much…which was evident from the poverty. Don’t get me wrong…this place was no different…the entire way down we saw poverty…then even worse poverty…then unbelievable poverty. If ever you are feeling down on yourself, your luck, or your place in life, take a trip south of the border for a few days and see how some other folks live who were not nearly as fortunate to have been born in America. Air-conditioning was almost unheard of, electricity that did NOT come from a generator was a luxury, and running water was extremely iffy. We visited more pit toilets and porta-potty is than we care to remember, due to lack of running water. and, we didn’t have to go halfway around the world find it. This is literally our next-door neighbor. It’s unbelievable how different our governments are, and how different the surroundings are as a result.
From Gonzaga Bay, we took another portion of the Baja 1000 route, complete with lots of potholes and whoop-de-doos, and ended up on Mexican Highway 1. Turning Southeast, and then took The cut-off via Mexican 12, headed back to the Gulf of California, all the way to Bahia de Los Angeles, where we spent the night, camping on a beautiful beach, once again. Life is rough, huh?
The next day, we took \”Mexico 5\”, which sounds like it’s supposed to be a highway, but turns out it’s another ungraded dirt and gravel road (and also part of the Baja 1000 route, which I supposed makes sense) toward Coco’s Corner. After about an hour of driving, we encountered one hell of a rainstorm. We were on flat ground, so at least we worn in a valley, however the rain had fallen so quickly and for so long, that we needed to stop and see what was going to happen with the road. We could make it back to town if we needed to, but we needed to press on as soon as we knew it was safe. After eating lunch at our jeeps, parked in the middle of the dirt highway, and allowing the rain to seize finally after about an hour, we pressed on, slogging through mud and swap. Thankfully, the soil is fairly sandy, so the mud was not terribly deep.
Even including this crazy rainstorm we waited out, the most unbelievable thing that happened all day, happened after the rainstorm: we passed an oncoming Toyota Corolla on the way to Coco’s Corner! That’s right…a couple in a Toyota rental car, obviously WAY outside of their preparations for the trip. They’ve used up, nor as for help, and though we were all staring at him incredulously, they seem to be just fine without assistance, weaving their way between rocks and across washouts.
Because I liked his description so much, I’m going to use a quote from Sam (one of our compadres on the trip) who wrote in his trip report, \”…we arrived at Coco’s corner. Coco is one of those mystical characters who has lived most of his life in the outback of Baja. Now a double amputee, he still gets along with the generosity of others. His site is always on the Baja 1000 run. We stopped for about an hour, spoke with Coco. Had his free Coke and beer and got him to put a JeepExpeditions.org card on his wall.\” I couldn’t have said it better myself. Coco was a an extremely interesting character! He told us that the Corolla we passed had been driven north by some tourists not knowing what they were getting into, and that they actually stayed overnight there the night previous, because they were stranded, not able to drive more than 10mph down the roads which we, in Jeeps, were only able to average around 20 mph or so. bear in mind that the only place you can sleep at Coco’s corner, is a few old, rundown campers and trailers that have been long since abandoned by their previous owners. And, just for a little added excitement for this poor couple, Coco caught the scorpion you see in the photos, while they were having dinner. Talk about culture shock for these guys, lol.
Leaving Coco’s, we took \”Mexico 3\”, which included lots and lots and lots of washboard miles before we would see pavement again. After we finally arrived back on Mexico 1, headed to Punta San Francisquito, where once again we were able to pick a fantastically beautiful spot to camp on the beach. Mexico may not have elaborate hotels everywhere you go, but damn right they have some beautiful beaches. Camping on the beach was a new experience for me, and Ally too…that’s not something that we can do frequently in The States, so far as I have ever been.
Upon waking up in the morning, taking a walk on the beach and collecting sea shells, then fixing a quick breakfast, we headed out of town, on our way to Santa Rosalia, which is a quaint little mining town that was originally settled by the French. You could tell, by the architecture, that we were in a very different place. Buildings looked more Colonial, or European, than anything else we had been seeing on the trip. Truly a very pretty place! After having a late lunch there, we pressed on to Mulege, where we set up camp, in the mud, and got rained on that night. We were catching the tail end of the tropical storm that was blowing from Pacific to the Gulf, and thankfully this was as bad as it got this night…we’d had enough \”torrential downpour\” to last us!
We worked our way down from small, dusty town to small, dusty town, southeastward down the peninsula, with the headings set for our ultimate destination, Cabo San Lucas. When we arrived, we were pleasantly surprised about how modern the city was. Roughing it in rustic conditions, and camping out for a week in a row, had taken its toll on me, at least, and I was very much looking forward to the three-bedroom luxury condo we rented, with a beautiful patio overlooking the ocean.
As part of the trip planning, we had proposed a \”zero day\”, in which we would do laundry, kick back, drink some beer, have some nice meals, and not worry about driving, packing, unpacking, and filling the tank. Ross, Ally, and myself decided to do a little snorkeling, and had a great time at Punto Gorda. it was Ally’s first-time snorkeling, so it was exciting to experience that with her. I love my girl! Even if she’s not excited about experiencing something new, or something she’s had apprehension about, she still goes with the flow, and gives it a shot. Kudos, Ally!
We headed into downtown Cabo San Lucas that evening for dinner, and Ally and I had a margarita at the quasi-Famous, Cabo Wabo Cantina, owned (and marketed) by Sammy Hagar, of Montrose and Van Halen fame. (insert Hagar/Roth grudge match here). I’ve gotta say, it was the best margarita I had had all trip, which was ironic, because we ate in some pretty authentic places, lol. While we were downtown at the waterfront, we also had a water taxi take us out to \”Land’s End\”, which is the furthest most point South on the Baja Peninsula. We got some great photos of the waves crashing against the whole the rock, which you’ll see in the photos.
Being the fact that we took our time getting down to, San Lucas, retracing the Baja 1000 routes, we knew that we needed to step up the pace in order to get home on Sunday. So, we headed out of Cabo San Lucas northward, through Todos Santos, and drove nearly 10 hours to get to Loreto for the night. We stayed at a somewhat creepy hotel, which I’m sure, in its day, used to be quite nice, but looked as if it had not been repaired externally for many decades. Thankfully, the rooms were clean, and there was running water, which in many places, is a luxury, as I’ve mentioned before, LOL. Are you starting to see a trend here?
From Loreto, we took another sprint northward, driving to Guerrero Negro, but realizing that wouldn’t put us close enough to the border in order to hit our goal of crossing the border on Saturday afternoon, so we decided to push through, and get some more driving hours in before we quit for the day. We also wanted to see the Mission at San Ignacio, due to a strong recommendation from a Californian who had been racing Baja for 20+ years, who we bumped into in San Carlos. I am extremely grateful we decided to, because this was the most beautiful mission (and city square) we had come across during the whole entire trip!
That resulted in us needing to drive after sun had set, which is not recommended in Mexico, and I’m not sure that we had a really solid idea as to why this was the case, up until this night. The reason is, the paved roads are not in good shape, the road is extremely narrow and winding, and there are semi trucks traveling quickly in both directions all night long…this is a MAJOR truck route. And, the trucks share the center line. here’s what I mean by that: So they don’t put a wheel off the right-hand shoulder, they stay toward the center of each lane. When semi’s pass each other, it’s a bit of a dance, and their mirrors come really close to touching at 50+ miles an hour. When they’re passing oncoming cars, however, they frequently do NOT move over to the shoulder, and crowd the centerline…so, to avoid getting crushed by a semi, cars are forced to slow down and swerve over to allow the semi he get by you safely. To say we literally took our life is in our hands this night, would certainly be appropriate. However, our accommodations that night in Santa Rosario were fantastic. The hotel we stayed in was extremely modern, recently refurbished, and probably a $150 a night hotel if it were in anywhere other than Baja California peninsula. I think we paid around $40 for it, unbelievably. To say tourism is down, is an understatement.
After a wholesome breakfast at another Baja 1000 staple, Mama Espinosa’s, we headed up the coast toward Ensenada. Thankfully, the roads were much better, and we were able to make Ensenada a little after lunch time. there was a large resort right next door to our accommodations in Ensenada, so we headed over there and had a fantastic dinner as we watched the sunset over the Pacific Ocean, and excellent service to boot. I highly recommend the orange Grove Hotel if you’re in Ensenada, and looking for a place to stay a few nights…extremely comfortably.
The next morning, we got up, and went BACK to the resort, had a beautiful breakfast, and headed off to Tecate, to cross the border, and get on our way back home. We had been gone 13 days at this point, it definitely felt like home was calling. Ally and I swapped driving responsibilities all trip, so we trucked home through Yuma, Sierra Vista, and Buckeye, getting home around 8 PM.
In short, a fantastic trip, and thankfully without any incident whatsoever. I know that there’s a lot of talk about safety south of the border, but frankly, I’m not sure why. The areas we were in, which obviously is off the mainland, seem to have nothing but helpful, friendly people, great tasting food, inexpensive accommodations, lots of options for camping, and even with the really bad highways, a great experience!
Knowing that you are not able to take firearms illegally into Mexico, I was apprehensive at first, so I purchased a couple of large machetes, (which could be passed off as off-road tools), to clear the path. I figured if we ever needed to explain them away, a little bit of dirt in some chunks missing out of them would show that this was not a weapon, it was an agricultural tool. Even through all the military checkpoints, we were not questioned once. I took the stance of humor, every time I needed to talk with somebody and Spanish, because I knew my Spanish was not good enough to really get my point across clearly. I figured, at least if they realize that I’m okay with laughing at myself, perhaps they’ll laugh along, and help me anyway. That stance worked for us the entire trip. My Spanish got much better…don’t get me wrong…and I really would love to learn the language in full, but I was able to get help every single time I needed it, which was great.
I woke up the next morning, extremely grateful for my life, as it currently is. I think that we get caught up sometimes in our problems, and we don’t frequently focus on the things we actually have, which could be considered gigantic positives by someone in a different country. Without travel, I really don’t feel as if we’re able to expand our minds fully, and understand what we truly have. Sometimes it’s tough to be grateful, when you don’t know what you have, compared to the rest of the world. Let me tell you, Mexico was definitely an education for me. I’m currently considering how I can help, in some way, shape, or form, to help promote some changes down there.let me know if you know of any organizations that are currently doing work to improve the infrastructure in Mexico, will you please e-mail me?I feel like I want to get involved.
-Kevin (and Ally)
PS: If you haven’t yet gotten enough of Baja California, one of our fellow Jeepers on the trip, Sam W, (as seen in the photos driving the dark blue Unlimited), did an extremely detailed write up, including waypoints, and restaurant reviews, which I posted the links to below.