I'm writing this almost a year late, but at least that way I can include all the modifications we've made to the truck and how it's performed over the last year. Anyway, we got a new truck. It’s 2 years newer and has 28,000 less miles. Okay, Okay. It’s not new, just new to us. It’s a 2003 F350 with 442,000 miles on it. BUT, it has a Ford remanufactured engine with only 58,000 miles (as o...
When we were finally able to leave Loreto, we drove an hour north to the Bahia de Concepcion. This is a beautiful finger of water on the Sea of Cortez side that we had noted on our drive south back in December. It was full of little inlets of water that looked super calm and blue, and we couldn’t wait to kayak there. We must have been looking at the water and not at the beach though, because what we didn’t realize was how crowded these beaches were. Another beach of RVs shoulder to shoulder, and these ones also required a fee to camp. In Mexico, the government owns all of the beaches, so all beach access is free to public use. It’s only when someone owns the access to the beach that they can charge a fee. So we aren’t really sure how that works, but most of the time don’t expect a fee. We’d been looking forward to this spot for a while so we just paid the price and tried to find space on the beach with the most room between the next neighbor. You win some, and you lose some, and this spot was definitely one of our losers. When we got the inflatable kayak out, we ended up having a hole right on one of the seams, which made it really difficult to patch. We couldn’t find our patch kit at first either and wasted an hour searching for it (it ended up being in the first place we looked), but couldn’t get the glue to hold or the patch to stay because it was right on the seam, and after trying so many times the glue got too bugged up to hold the tape kit in place either. We had to give up on kayaking, and by the time we had given up, it got really windy and overcast anyway. So we cut our losses and decided to leave.
The one benefit, however, of having neighbors, is that they can recommend other places to visit. The truck camper next to us at the Bay of Conception mentioned his favorite place to whale watch in Baja, which happened to be on our way to our next spot. The Laguna Ojo de Liebre (Eye of the Hare) is a lagoon south of Guerrero Negro where the gray whales come every year in January through March to give birth to their babies before migrating north to Alaska. The lagoon is located in a protected biosphere and they offer whale watching tours. When the babies are born they don’t separate from the mothers more than a few feet, and apparently the whales are really friendly and come right up to the boats. The pictures online show the whales so close people can pet them. The tours are only $50 bucks each, so after the disappointment of our kayak deflating, we decided to treat ourselves to a tour. You can pretty much just show up to the Laguna and the boat captains will take you out for a tour any time of the day. We had planned to show up at 8 am in case morning tours were better, but we slept too late and didn’t show up til 10. Turns out our oversleeping was a good choice because a 32 person caravan from Switzerland had shown up for the morning tours, and after they were done, no one else was around, so we had the tour boat all to ourselves. They don’t have to go too far out into this lagoon before finding the first whale. We saw mothers and babies playing in the water, spouting, tails flipping, and their heads breaching out of the water. We probably saw at least 40 whales, and within 20 feet of the boat. We didn’t get to pet any babies, but it was pretty spectacular to see so many. Other places I’ve traveled offer whale watching and the most you see is a whale spouting miles off the shore. I think this helped redeem the whole week we missed when sick and the disappointment we had at the previous camp spot.
We headed to Guerrero Negro afterwards because this was one of the biggest towns we would be in for a while, and the caliper on our front right brake had started sticking, and realized we would need to change the brake pads, rotor and caliper soon. Our truck is pretty common in Baja, so we figured we’d be able to find parts pretty easily. We went to a few auto parts stores which didn’t have the parts and each one referred us to go somewhere else. We checked the junk yard as well, but no luck, so we continued on, knowing we’d have to make it to San Felipe or Ensenada before finding parts.
Our next stop was the Bahia de Los Angeles, another sleepy town overlooking the Sea of Cortez. There is no cell signal there, and the gas stations didn’t even take credit cards. We found some grilled shrimp tacos, and then headed to the Playa Gringa to camp. There were only two others on this beach, and the water was really calm, but again we had a lot of wind. It was too cold to even get in the water, but we had actually planned for this spot to be a dirt bike destination rather than for swimming. When we watched the 50 Best of Baja series, we learned about a lot of trails in Baja that have been built by American enthusiasts of the Baja offroading scene. One of these racers that has been coming to Baja for years Bill Nichols, built miles of single track out in the desert, and Blake for sure needed to check out a couple of them. Most of the trails are meant for long dual sport rides and connect the different towns if you were to ride the whole length of the peninsula over a couple weeks. But we decided to just check out different sections of the trails as an out and back. From our camp spot in the Bay of LA we checked out 15 miles of Fred’s Tractor Trail as an afternoon ride. It took us inland from the bay and over a bunch of steep climbs and into the sand washes, with great view of the surrounding mountains. Since Blake’s bike caused a hold up last time we rode in El Mechudo, this time it was my bike’s turn to cause problems. Right after we decided to head back to camp, the chain on my bike fell off and got kinked and stuck between the sprocket and swing arm. It took up an hour of our time trying to pry the kinked section out and get it loose enough to get back on the sprocket. We got back barely in time for sunset. The next day we drove a bit further from Bay of LA, and checked out a few miles of the Window Rock Trail. This one was tight sandy single track through desert and cactus leading to a really neat rock formation known as the Window Rock. At points the cactus were overgrown over the trail and we had to duck to avoid them. We did a couple hours out and back and luckily had no cactus encounters and no flat tires from the spines.
When we drove south to Cabo in December, we did the MEX1 from Ensenada, but this time we wanted to drive the MEX5 to San Felipe because it goes along the Sea of Cortez side and would be something new to see. We were warned by many that the MEX5 was a really slow going route because several parts had been destroyed in the hurricanes recently and in past years. Long sections of this “highway” aren’t even paved, but it would be worth it for us see a new part of the country. The first couple miles of the MEX5 are a beautifully paved new road, but the deception ends quickly and the construction areas begin. I’m not sure anybody is actually currently working on fixing the destroyed areas of the highway. It looks more like they just put a cone out at any rough spots and call it done. Rocks and sand were piled up on the road and abandoned almost leaving the highway to be a one way road. When the pavement ended, the highway was routed back on to the old unpaved highway, which had a few steep turns we were shocked to learn that semi trucks actually complete this drive. On some of the turns the brake bumps from the semis were so deep we were going 1 mile per hour and thought we’d never make any progress.
The old highway leads to a place called Coco’s Corner, a small home in the middle of nowhere inhabited alone by a man named Coco, who is past 80 years old, and a double amputee in a wheelchair. Coco is an iconic name in the Baja racing world. All of the Baja races go past his home and a lot of the chase teams stop to buy water or snacks from him. He apparently used to be a racer in Baja, and fell in love with the area and decided to stay, and has lived there alone for over 20 years. He’s been in all the movies about the Baja races. Now, lots of travelers on the old highway stop at his home to simply talk with him, buy a water or beer, camp behind his home or stop and help with whatever he needs done around his home, and he survives mostly on donations from passing travelers. Once Blake started learning more about Coco through the filming we’d done at the Baja 1000, he really wanted to make the stop at Coco’s Corner. Beer cans hang in the front spelling out “Coco’s Corner,” and the most interesting arrangement of patio seating made up of toilets (he assured us they hadn’t been used.) His home is full of racing memorabilia with photos on the wall, old guestbooks of visitors, and even an old dirtbike of Gene Dempsey, a legend in the racing world. Through Chuck Dempsey we were first introduced to Baja so it was cool to see how small of world it is sometimes. He has over 1500 hats, bras and underwear from past visitors hanging from his ceiling. When we arrived there were already several others there helping him repair a fence pole. We bought a cerveza from him and talked with him to learn a bit more about the history of his home. Our conversation wasn’t long since there were other visitors there to see him, which is a great sign that he is taken care of and loved in the Baja community. It’s a wonder to understand how he can live in such a remote spot with no cell signal and no resources, and is a reminder to appreciate everything we have in our lives. We arrived right before sunset so decided to camp in his backyard for the night. There was another couple there traveling the same way as us in their truck bed camper staying for the night, so we both camped out and told stories of our Baja adventures so far.
The road from Coco’s Corner eventually turned back into pavement, and travels along a section of the coast so unlike what we had seen in Baja yet. It was grassy mountain hillsides overlooking black sand beaches, and covered in purple flowers. Since we were so far north in the Sea of Cortez, the water had become really really calm and looked like glass. Out in the bays were also rocky islands jutting out from the glassy water. We felt like we were driving through Ireland. We had to keep our eyes on the road though, because even though it was paved now, the hurricanes had destroyed most of the bridges through the area. There isn’t any real running water in the area; only dry riverbeds that come down from the mountains, but the bridges are there if these areas ever flood. At least ten of then bridges had been washed away, leaving gaping holes in the highway. They had routed detours that then had to go from the highway down into the riverbed, and back up. Most of these were pretty decent enough detours for the semi’s to get around, but there was one that they had to cut weaving into the mountain that we couldn’t believe the semis were able to make the turns. Again, the brake bumps were so deep the entire camper was rocking side to side, and we did all of this with that stuck caliper and brakes grinding! The friends we met at Coco’s Corner had warned us about all this, and told us on this specific detour when they came through the first time a semi had been stuck on the detour causing even more problems. The craziest part was that the wash outs revealed that the highways here in Baja are really only made up of about two inches of asphalt which we could see from the side. So even on the bridges that hadn’t collapsed, it still made us wonder how structurally sound they were. Eventually the pavement ended again and we were on an uneven dirt road for several kilometers before finally we got closer to San Felipe, our end destination.
San Felipe is one of the bigger towns on the Sea of Cortez side, but didn’t really give us anything to shout about. There are dunes on the south end of town that everyone rides on. We went straight through town though to get to the AutoZone, where we were able to find the caliper and brake pads for our truck for decent prices, as well as a mechanic a block away who was willing to do the maintenance on both front brakes and turn the rotor, all for $24 of labor. We’re taking advantage of the cheap Mexican labor before we head back stateside. So much that we returned the next day for them to help us with our right leaf spring which has been sagging. Blake replaced it back in August with a used leaf, but it didn’t fix the issue. The mechanic said he could re-bend the leafs to their original arc for $40 bucks. We had them do the work, but in the end it didn’t actually end up helping with the sag, so we will have more work to do on that another time.
We really haven’t had too many other new issues come up on the truck and camper in the last two months, except a couple I’ve mentioned in past blog posts. The water pump in the camper has been a continuous issue. Normally we have a switch to turn on the pump, and it builds pressure so that it can pump through the faucets, and turns off when enough pressure has built. The water pump broke back in early December, and Blake could only fix it to the point where when we hit the switch, it would always be on, rather than automatically turning off once it built pressure. Which meant we had to be super careful with the pump not to leave it on longer than a couple seconds so as to not burn it out. This was super fun because it made activities like going to the bathroom or showering in the camper a team activity because someone had to toggle the pump back and forth while the other did their business. Even worse, the switch broke. Once we got into a town, we were able to buy one at a little electrical store, but when we were still out at our camp spot, we found we were only able to get the pump to work by touching some metal to the two wires. So we used a knife with a wooden handle to make the electrical contact. This is quite a ridiculous situation. Just recently, Blake fixed the part of the pump which allows it to turn off when it has built enough pressure, but coincidentally, the switch we bought for 50 cents in La Paz broke already, so we are back to using the knife trick.
We did lose one of our tie downs holding the camper to the truck on the washboard dirt road to go to our whale tour in Guerrero Negro, and couldn’t find it on our way back. The screw just wiggled loose with all the bumps and unhooked itself. This is now ratchet strapped down. Our next big concern is that the wood paneling above another one of our tie downs has rotted to the point where the tie down may just rip right out after the next big bump we hit. This has been a long term issue slowly deteriorating over time ever since we bought the camper (and honestly probably years before that) so it was something we wanted to tackle while we had crafty cheap labor here in Ensenada specializing in RV repair. The guys at the RV repair were willing to do the job for $160 with all the parts, and we considered this to be a pretty good deal. The guys completely took apart the lower part of the panel on the outside of the camper to replace the wood. When they had everything exposed we could really see how bad the wood had been; it was completely crumbling. They did a really good job getting the wood replaced, but then it started raining, and we could tell they were taking some shortcuts in putting the paneling back together, so Blake was out supervising in the rain. They wanted to completely skip sealing everything back together with silicon, and were using too small of screws to put our jacks back on the camper. Blake wasn’t afraid to tell them that they needed to do the job right, so the guy had to go to the store twice to get silicon and proper screws. The whole reason the wood was rotten in the first place was from water damage, so it was shocking we had to convince them the importance of sealing everything back up. In the end Blake was doing the work with them just to make sure it got done properly. We were working til 7 in the dark (we started at 7 am). And in the end they even tried to tell us we had to pay an extra 300 pesos ($15 bucks) for “parking” in the repair area. That was never part of the deal, and Blake was quick to remind them that the client isn’t normally out there helping with the work, and they quickly backed off. We provided them headlamps to work, a raincoat for the guy, big tarp to work under, and even brought out some of our own tools. Kind of expected in Mexico, right? But at least in the end our camper is more structurally sound and this probably prevented really catastrophic damage in the future.
While the guys did the wood repair, Blake also finally repaired our furnace which had been broken since before our trip. We hadn’t needed it yet except for that freezing night we spent in Flagstaff in October, but we’re expecting that the nights will get somewhat cold once we start heading north, and wanted to be prepared. Plus the repair guy was willing to get in and help Blake with that as well.
Our time in Baja has pretty much come to an end! For now! We’ll definitely be back in the next couple years, because there is so much more to explore. We really made sure that we explored everything in the southern half of the peninsula well, since that would be farther to drive to. When we come back we will probably focus on exploring some of the more northern parts of the peninsula that we kind of skipped in the end when we wanted to get some of these repairs done. We’re going to end our Baja trip with a bang and get our final dinner at the first taco spot we started at, the Baja Burro!! I think we may even ask for a kilo to carry out and smuggle it across the border.