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  • Writer's picturevanlafaxine

week 8: baja california norte

day 48: mexicali to san felipe

bill: we crossed at mexicali, got searched at the border, all worked out okay except we had to pay for our tourist visas and they don’t take card at a government office? all of our cash was hidden around the van in various hiding places so we had to sketchily dig through hidden pockets in front of the border guards, but they didn’t notice. got stopped at a military checkpoint where they again searched us and found a loose tylenol amy had wrapped in saran wrap in her purse. “drogas?” after some reassuring that it was tylenol, we were on our way. drove to san felipe, tried to get some cash since it seems visa is extremely hit or miss in a lot of places, but the banks charge exorbitant rates to take out pesos - we paid $60 in fees to take out $375 in pesos! between the double mexican car insurance, mexican phone plans and bank fees, mexico may be much more expensive than we thought.

Amy: we woke up early to make the 2 hour drive to the border. We decided to cross at Mexicali East (the less busy of the 2 Mexicali crossings) and got though without any major setbacks. We had a border agent search the van for about 5 minutes, opening every cupboard and drawer, lightly feeling around. As soon as we crossed the border, it was clear we were in Mexico. The road signs switched to Spanish, the roads got a little rougher, and we could see more poverty - dirt roads, shacks, folks selling trinkets at stoplights, and many, many stray dogs. We learned very quickly to watch out for giant speed bumps, which are placed with wild abandon on random streets and highways. Bill drove all the way to San Felipe, about 3 hours. We rolled into our harvest host around 1pm, a nice winery just north of town. We drove the motorcycle in, got Mexican SIM cards for our cellphones, a few groceries, more cash, and walked the malecon (the main boardwalk along the ocean, right downtown). So far, Mexico is pretty neat! We ate dinner at the winery to some live traditional music, and met some expats who gave us recommendations on where to go and what to do in Baja. We’re pumped! 

tope (aka speedbump)

day 49: san felipe to san luis gonzaga

Amy: Next stop, Bahia de Los Angeles! Or, that was supposed to be our next stop. We ended up pulling off to camp partway in San Luis Gonzaga, at a place called La Poma right on the ocean. We parked our van right on the rocky shoreline. We spent the evening collecting shells and watching the pelicans dive for fish. This is what Baja is all about- camping on the beach!

bill: drove from san felipe to la poma beach in san luis gonzaga. we had intended to drive about twice the distance but it turns out that even now that highway 5 is paved, it is still a white knuckle drive; giant suspension bottom dips that come out of nowhere, no shoulders, roller coaster humps, and generally uneven roads that if you go faster than 60km/h make you feel like you are going to bounce off the road.

the baja is absurdly beautiful; white sand beaches contrast endless rust black volcanic mountains, bleached salt flats side by side with azur sea, the desert is carpeted with magenta flowers. very remote, very few cars, no cell service basically anywhere.

highway 5

day 50: la poma to bahia de los angeles

Amy: We woke up early and watched the sky lighten from our cosy bed in the van. It looked like it was going to be a good sunrise, so we hopped out of the van and walked the beach to soak it all in. It’s nice waking up with the sun. We packed up and left around 10am to get to Bahia Los Angeles (for real this time!). Bill started driving, and then I took over so he could ride his motorcycle. The landscape changed from rocky, barren wasteland to desert valleys with the familiar saguaro cactuses and flowering agaves, as well as a long spindly Dr. Seuss-esque trees which only grow in this part of the world. The road into BOLA was even tougher than highway 5…some sections of pavement were missing, and I had to dodge even bigger potholes. We wanted to stay at Playa La Gringa (free), but the road in look too rough so we pulled into Camp Archelon, a former turtle sanctuary. We strolled the beach (sandy this time), collected more shells (duh), pet the local dogs, and watched the sunset turn popsicle colours- yellow, orange and purple. 

bill: drove from la poma to meet up with highway 1. since this is the main and only highway running up and down the baja i expected the roads to be better but somehow they are worse. the highway 1 is insanely claustrophobic. the one lane is exactly one van wide with literally no shoulder, with an immediate 3-4 foot drop off the side, if you dangle your tires a bit too much, you will roll your vehicle. this wouldn’t be a problem if the dividing line wasn’t the only 2 inches that separate you from barrelling truckers, who often exceed their limited space allocation; there is literally no room for error.

got on the bike and the drive was actually very pleasant, amy had a bad time driving the van. we drove off the 1 and 65km down a side road to bahia de los angeles, a small village on the sea of cortez. along this highway, random sections are just missing, it abruptly turns from highway to rough rocky desert road without warning or signage, sometimes only in one lane, and then 50m later back into highway

bahia of los angeles is beautiful, a sweeping peninsula and a number of islands wrap around the bay. we camped on the beach at camp archelon, it is so nice we will probably stay a few days.

day 51: bahia de los angeles

bill: big day: sat on the beach, read, went for a walk, amy gathered shells and got sunburnt

Amy: We woke up and I spent the morning reading in the sun on the beach, and watching pelicans and other long-beaked birds fish for their breakfast. Hungry, we made our own breaky (tostadas), then read some more on the beach. We waded out to a sand bar near a lighthouse, and eventually made it to a stretch of beach littered with small conch shells. You couldn’t walk without touching one! As the tide went out, we also saw a few starfish. We ate dinner at the camp cafe and got ready to move further south.



day 52: bahia de los angeles

bill: we were going to drive down to guerrero negro today but we got talking with some people around camp and the day slipped away. we took the bike down the rocky road to playa la gringa and went for a walk down to the point, then had a fire with our new friends at night.

Amy: It’s been nice to synch our sleep schedules with the sun. The days feel longer and the mornings less rushed. We took it easy, slowly packing up the van and chatting with folks. We got to talking with two other couples, and agreed to push our departure by a day so that we could caravan to Guerrero Negro to see the whales. Yay! We have friends!! With our plan set, we explored Playa La Gringa with the motorcycle. It was a quiet rocky beach, and we strolled the length, collecting shells. I went for a quick dip, but the water was FRIGID, so it only lasted a few seconds. Back at camp, our new friends invited us for a campfire. We chatted and drank around the fire (and got some bottles of wine from the cafe to keep us going!)

day 53: bahia de los angeles to ojo de libre

Amy: Caravan day! We met up with the others and left together for Guerrero Negro. It worked well! We had some meet up points, got groceries and gas in town, and then made our way together down the 25km dirt road into Ojo de Liebre to see some ballenas gris (grey whales). We all shared a palapa, and later, another couple joined us. We were now 8! 

bill: our next stop was guerrero negro, a town specifically famous for whale watching. you can take tours out of the town and camp in a restaurant parking lot, or you can drive down to ojo de libre, the beach on the bay where the whale tours are, the only caveat being that the road there is 25km of very rough washboard. we opted for the latter, all of our friends from bahia de los angeles had the same plan so we all caravanned together. the road was long but not as bad as we were worrying it would be, and it ran through the world's largest salt factory which was very cool. we all rented one palapa down on the beach to camp and hung out into the night.

the nicest thing about the baja is meeting people, we have been mostly on our own while we have been travelling except for pit stops with family and friends, you don't meet that many people when you are moving everyday and the people you do meet have their own stuff going on. in the baja, all the travellers are doing the same thing, heading down the same road (literally and metaphorically). everyone wants to talk solar setups and carburetors, suspensions and travel plans. oh and mostly everyone are canadians escaping winter.



day 54: ojo de libre

Amy: WHALE DAY! Bill woke up early and chipper - we were both eager to see some whales. Eight of us fit in the small boat, and the captain motored us out about 10mins into the lagoon. We waited patiently for a few moments and then the whales came. First, their puffs of blowhole mist visible in the distance. Then their bodies surfacing above the water, only to dive back down again. They came closer and closer until we could see their grey bodies floating beneath the boat, and their barnacled heads poking above the water. Some swam by with their fins waving, others dove down deep with a big whoosh of their tail. They got within arms reach a few times - gliding parallel to the boat. I missed the first whale swim by, but then one surfaced right beside me. I reached out and touched its glistening, silky skin - it had more give than I imagined. It was squishy, spongy and blubbery, rather than firm. The whales continued to circle the boat for an hour, constantly curious, and always gentle. They bumped the boat, but only lightly, as if knowing we were fragile creatures. We spent the afternoon back on shore reading and chatting with our new friends, then collected some firewood for a giant bonfire. We all stayed up late by the glow of the fire, listening to the coyotes howl.

coyote watch

bill: we woke up at 06:30 to be on the first boat going out for a whale tour. we met a bunch of people who were doing a tour for the second or third day in a row because they love it that much.

every year the grey whales travel down from alaska to mexico into bays like ojo de libre to birth calves and mate, so there are thousands of whales in the bay. they seem to be interested in humans and will come right up the boats to check the people out, some whales even like having their barnacles scratched. they will put on a show, rolling around and splashing the boat and some will even let you kiss them. the mothers will bring the calves up to the boat to show them humans. it was a thoroughly unreal experience. also whales are very squishy.

in the evening we gathered a giant pile of wood from way back in the desert and had a big bonfire with our friends, and stayed up well into the night.

here is this week's video:

1 Comment

David Caughey
David Caughey
Mar 12, 2023

Living so vicariously through you guys - this week sounds like it was absolutely incredible.




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