Winter in Baja – 1

After traveling all around the Western U.S. for a couple years – and spending a winter in Arizona, I went further south for my next winter – into Mexico.

The Baja peninsula is essentially a little sliver of California, continued south for another 900 miles. It is almost as long (north-south) as California, but only about 30% as wide. And – is about 5% as developed as California. This was a very welcome relief, especially when it came to spending time on beaches.

I spent a bit of time in California before crossing the border. While there, I met some folks at a Vanlife gathering in San Diego. Some of those people were also getting ready to go into Mexico right around the same time as I was (Thanksgiving). So, I joined up with them and had travel companions for about half my time in Mexico. I’m writing this post now two years after the fact. I basically forgot about or didn’t really feel like making blog posts. Now I’m catching back up. This means I will be short on details and stories and mainly show pictures.

I crossed the border a day or two before the others. Here’s where I slept the first night – in Ensenada. It’s a ways south of the border commotion, but it’s still not a very nice city.

When the others arrived, we went down to the only place we paid to camp in Mexico – a site down on a cape 10km or so south of the city.

The people I traveled with are:

They are all really cool.

Here is the route covered in this post. It goes from the border at Tijuana to the bottom of the state of Baja California. First – a view form far out for location:

And, closer, for detail. The little circles are the areas where we stopped to camp. Some locations aren’t 100% accurate.

After a couple days in Ensensada, we headed further south. We made a convoy crossing of the peninsula – over to the Sea of Cortez side.

We stopped to camp near San Felipe. We’d seen some possible campsites on maps north of the city, along the beach. We got out there as it was getting dark on Thanksgiving night.

Now, one of the biggest and best differences between California and Mexico is that in Mexico, the beach is generally all public land. Anyone can use it. Basically, if you can get there, you can do what you want on the beach. We were seeing roads to the beach but it wasn’t very clear whether they were public roads or private driveways. We headed down one road but ran into a couple people on a 4-wheeler ATV. After some discussion, they had the guy who lives there come meet us, but warned us about him first. Something like “don’t worry, he’s not as crazy as he looks, and he won’t hurt you”. The guy (her dad) – named Kenny or “Pop” arrived. After about half a sentence of us explaining ourselves, he said “yeah, cool, go set up over there” and drove off.

Kenny turned out to be full of interesting stories and funny (mis)adventures. We stayed at his compound for about a week. I meant to get some pictures of him before leaving, but I forgot. I could write a lot about Kenny and some of the things we did with him while there, but I will keep it very short:

  • He’s from the U.S. He had some kind of technically skilled blue collar job (I maybe metalworking for construction). His family bought this land many years ago – they went in on it together. They’ve been developing it slowly over the years (just a couple houses for them and some infrastructure for water and electricity)
  • He had a severe head injury. This was why, before we met him, his daughter warned us by saying “don’t worry, he’s not as crazy as he looks. He won’t hurt you”. He’d had a motorcycle accident while living in Las Vegas many years ago. He was going out for a night of drinking – and it seems had already imbibed some decent amount. I believe he was riding over a median – I forget why – and he ran into a large sign. It was a wide sign with two support beams – one on each side. He hit just the sign – with just his head. With no helmet. He got up and drove to the nearest bar and asked to use the phone. His head was split open and he was bleeding all over the place. He had been on his way to meet a friend at another bar, so he used the phone to call that var and ask for his friend to come get him. His friend arrived and Kenny said “no I’m not going to the hospital”. He had some kind of mistrust for the medical industry. But his skull was broken and his friend convinced him to go. He got a metal plate in his forehead. When I asked him whether he still has pain or any symptoms from this injury he said “yeah sometimes it feels really itchy back behind the plate”
  • I think he owes a lot of taxes in the U.S. and that’s why he lives permanently in Mexico and rarely goes in to the U.S.
  • When he does leave, he sets up booby traps for the guys that will try to come steal from his property. I forget the details now but they were fairly sophisticated and potentially deadly. One of the traps was set up to drop something heavy if someone lifted his deep cycle batteries. When returned home one time, a battery was gone and there was a fair amount of blood in the area.
  • His family admires him a lot, and when telling us about Kenny, said that “if you have any kind of problem around here, he knows how to fix it, or knows the right people to call”.
  • One night when Kevin, Keller, and Jodee were trying to head back to the U.S., they ran into a highway blockade that was occurring as a protest against a fishing ban. They came back to Kenny’s thinking about trying to navigate through the desert a bit to bypass the blockade (there were many “roads” or paths right there, but many were quite sandy). Kenny sprang into action with a big rum and coke, his two dogs, and his trusty old 1980’s Jeep Cherokee that drives along feeling like the doors or a wheel is about to fall off – but that always works ok and always got us through wherever we went. He stopped at the convenience store along the way. We thought maybe it was to talk with locals there to get info on the roadblock. Turns out it was to get a couple wine-coolers. We helped get Kevin, Keller, and Jodee around the blockade, which required some serious digging to get one van unstuck, and on the way back, stopped to help a couple other groups that were stuck. Kenny does know Spanish, but he didn’t use it. We came upon one vehicle that was very stuck, with the passengers outside looking like they weren’t sure what to do. Kenny just grabbed a shovel, walked over, and started digging them out. He didn’t even acknowledge them – just got to work. I didn’t know enough Spanish to say much so I just I started digging as well. We dug and pulled them out and when they tried to offer Kenny money, Kenny refused.

Around this area, we started digging for clams. The ones in this area weren’t all that big, but there were tons of them and they’re easy to dig up. We’d go out as a group and dig for maybe 30 minutes and have enough for dinner. Another good “just pick it up” life strategy example.

Before, Keller had to go back to the U.S. for something related to his job. After he did that, he came back to join us again for a while.

On the way south, we stopped at a well-known Baja fixture: Coco’s Corner. Basically, this old guy – Coco – has a home in a really remote area – along a fairly well-used but really rough road. He welcomes people to stop for a coke or beers, to use his outhouse bathrooms, and to stay the night inside his fenced-off area. He also likes to collect women’s underwear to put on the wall. He lost his legs – I believe long ago.

Personally I wasn’t too crazy about the guy. He is:

  • Nice, friendly, welcoming
  • Generous in giving people beers or cokes
  • Generous to let people stay at his compound
  • Highly misogynistic
  • Was really rude to me while I was helping him. A truck that belonged to him had one window smashed out. Coco asked Kyle and I to board it up for him before leaving. We did, and we were doing a good job, and while we were working, Coco was talking shit to me.

Some of the pictures below are from the Cortez side, and some from the Pacific side.

Keller headed back at some point, and then the group was down to just myself, and Kyle/Jimena (and their dog, Georgie). From then on, we each went on at our own paces and routes. Our paces and our routes were both similar, so we ran into each-other 5-7 more times throughout the Baja peninsula. Sometimes we’d see eachother in town or in passing and just say hi and talk for a while, and sometimes we’d go camp together for a night or a few days.

My overall impression of Mexico through this point were:

  • Great weather in winter.
  • Nice beaches on the Cortez side. Warm enough for swimming.
  • The towns in this state can feel a bit sketchy – especially within ~100 miles of the border.
  • It’s fairly easy to find places to camp. Further south, it would become very easy. The app/website iOverlander works very well here – both for finding campsites and other places like laundromats, stores, etc. It also works well for offline use.
  • Nice people, nice food, nice dogs. 🙂

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