Thursday, January 18, 2018

I Spy the Worlds Largest Mammals - January 18,2018 - Day 17

Crossing the frontier between north and south Baja, we were expecting immigration checks, agricultural inspection (and the possibility of the confiscation of my perfectly ripened mango). What we received was a bill for the 20 pesos (1USD$) and an agriculture spray so fast we were questioning if it had happened. Just like that the time zone jumped one hour later and my mango survived it too. We pulled into Guerrero Negro with a laundry list of errands; first we had to fill up the water at Pura Freska where it was only 24 pesos for purified water to fill our entire 7 gallon jug AND our shower. Next our propane was also empty, after a quick stop we paid just over 40 Pesos (2$USD) for 5 pounds of propane, enough to last us….plenty of breakfasts, lunches and dinners. Next it was onto the grocery store where we stocked up on coffee, eggs and chorizo (breakfast of champions). After completing our errands we rewarded our selves with some of best fish and shrimp tacos we have had thus far. Coming from a little truck on the corner surrounded by locals we knew right away that we had found the right spot. We sidled up to the counter and gorged on 25 Peso tacos arriving sanitarily on plastic bag wrapped, plastic plates. With supplies stocked and bellies full we headed off to Laguna Ojo Liebre for an opportunity to see some whales.

We were able to sweet talk ourselves into a deal by wrangling up a couple of other campers, 630 Pesos (35$) per person instead of the typical price of 830 Pesos. It is still early in the whale migration season and business appeared to be slow at Laguna de Liebre Campground where we spent the night. Our panguero was at the end of the dock waiting for our group of five, with a little blue boat named Princesa. A pod of dolphins quickly found our wake and danced ahead of Princesa taunting our boat deeper into the lagoon. Beneath the dull roar of the 40 horsepower outboard the echolocation banter is audible and as indiscernible as the rapid-fire Spanish we are assaulted with on the daily. The first mother and calf we encountered in the shallow 5-12 meter deep lagoon was only 3 days old according to our guide, and they are only one of the 60+ pairs that already had arrived in the lagoon so early in the season. By February there could more than a thousand additional calves, nursing and learning how to whale. The females make the journey all the way from the Bering Sea, some 20,000 miles of a journey and the longest known animal migration. The whales can reach up to 36 tons and 70 years old. They come to the lagoons in Baja where the water is shallow and warm, ideal components for extremely high salinity. This combo creates a fantastic location for what happens to be the largest salt works factory in the world. The salinity is beneficial, helping the new calves to stay afloat in their early months of life. The calves nurse in the safety of the lagoon for roughly 7 months before making the big migration back North with their mothers. We had a whale of a time spotting these gentle giants and hope to come back in the future when the season is in full swing. 

Early morning fog layer over the lagoon

Osprey nest over top of the lagoon
Pangas ready and waiting

Mother and Calf

They actually have two blowholes and in the right conditions the arc creates a heart
Mama's got a lot of barnacles
Look at that back
Whale of a tail
I Spy
The worlds largest salt works
The salt train really dwarfs that normal sized truck

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Exploring Baja's Seven Sisters - January 14, 2018 - Day 13

The seven sisters are a remote group of point breaks located a few teeth chattering hours off of highway 1, it is the most remote stretch in all of Baja, (not a gas station for 360 kilometers remote). From Rosario it was 180 kilometers and 4 hours of being bounced, tossed and thrown around on the dirt/gravel/sand/rock lengths of road through the dessert before finally reaching the waves of Puerto Canoas, still north of the Seven Sisters. The beaches are absolutely littered with shells; abalone, lobster, crab and giant iridescent snail shells all buried into the medium and large rounded rocks that form the beaches super steep embankment. When the waves slide in, the rounded rocks roll over one another creating a perpetual harmony, reminiscent of a rainstick orchestra; our beach soundtrack on repeat. 

We were able to camp for a few days submerged in waves and solitude. We only saw two other gringos during our entire stay, two nice lads from British Columbia also learning to ride the waves. There were of course the local fisherman driving a truck back and forth to the large building at the end of the beach, clearly processing seafood. On one of their passes we stopped them to ask if they had any langosta (lobster) for sale as we had seen plenty of remnants as evidence on the beach. They told us they did and assured us they would be back tomorrow. The next day they parked by the van and unloaded 4 sizable lobsters for us, “cangrejo?” (crab) they asked. Who could say no that that?! Properly loaded with seafood we proceeded to try to pay them, and they wouldn’t take anything, not even tequila or beers! We profusely thanked them and gazed with glee at our California Spiny Lobsters and box full of Rock crab claws, soon to be a delicious supper. 

Holy guacamole! I thought we had experienced some bad Baja roads in the previous days, but wow we were not prepared for the journey from Puerto Canoas to Punta Ositos. It was a true 70 miles and about 7 hours of off-roading to the 7 Sisters. The nerves that journey racked were equally taxing on us to the havoc wreaked on poor old Velma. Upon arriving the gringos familiar with the area looked Velma up and down and asked in disbelief "you came from Canoas, in that?" We may have cracked our exhaust, decimated our catalytic converter and bent our engine mount, but we did it with gusto! We really pushed her to her limit and knew from there on that she would safely deliver us to Panama and home again. The waves were fabulous but a bit intimidating for learning so we decided to press on towards Southern Baja. 

Puerto Canoas from our living room
An entire box of California Spiny Lobster and Rock Crab claws

Dinner prep

What happens in Catan, stays in Catan
A lonely beach in the middle of nowhere on the Baja coast
This is steeper and more treacherous than any photo could do justice, but Velma handled it
Just can't get enough of the beautiful desert flora

When there's no gas station for 300+ kilometers, mystery barrel gas it is
Whoops! Just testing out our new traction pads, they are phenomenal for getting unstuck 
Looking down on a salt flat, we drove on the outskirts but there were some deep tracks tempting the center

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Desert Giants in San Felipe, Northern Baja - January 13, 2018 - Day 12

We drove deep into the desert of Baja on the eastern coast, just past San Felipe on highway 5 towards Valle de los Gigantes where we could find the worlds tallest cacti species. The Mexican Giant Cardón or Elephant Cactus can be found in Baja and more rarely in the state of Sonora of Northern Mexico. This species is closely related to the better known Saguaro which is found throughout Arizona and also Sonora, Mexico. The differences are slight but in comparison to the Saguaro, the Cardón cacti tend to have more branching, lower down on their trunk and also have spiny fruit while the Saguaro Cacti do not. Admission was 10$ per car and the little man who came out of his motorhome seemed overly excited to see us, like he maybe hadn’t seen any humans for awhile, he plopped his cat through the van window onto my lap as he galloped to open the gate for Velma, as he fumbled for words in broken English. Driving into the cactus reserve we looked at each other "did he just tell us there's no camping allowed but it is cold and we should start a fire?!" The small valley is crisscrossed by tracks requiring varying levels of 4WD finesse and void of anyone except us, the cacti and a few watchful vultures awaiting their next meal. We stared in whimsy at the towering giants above us. These cacti are made of 80% water, with shallow roots that can reach up to 30 meters outward (almost 100 feet). These cacti are in no rush to grow big and strong, with an average height of only 6 millimeters in their first year and only growing to 2 meters (6 feet) after 50+ years. Not until they have lived a long full life of 75 years will they have matured to produce seeds and regenerate their first limb, life is only just beginning. The largest Cardón Cacti can live 2,000 years or more. Some of these cacti are absolute monsters, with more than 25 limbs (I tried to count one of them 3 times before admitting defeat). Feeling dwarfed by the giants of the desert we waved goodbye to the strange man and his cat. The further we distanced ourselves the more we realized that Baja is covered in these giants, and perhaps the visit to the Valle de los Gigantes was unnecessary as the entire peninsula is a valley of the giants. We will save our 10$ for fish tacos and chilled cervezas. With a whole day of adventuring ahead of us we started down highway 5, the road was in decent shape...until the detour. What we expected to be a relatively short dirt path turned into hours of graded washboard with only a handful of vehicles the entire time to confirm we were still going the correct direction. We watched as the seemingly finished new highway zigzagged in and out of our path, frustratingly with no opportunity to rejoin it. 

A fabulous introduction to the dust and dirt of Baja and a small window into the Baja 1000; an intensive off-road race that tests the endurance and ability to overcome different obstacles, terrains and environments in a variety of vehicles on 1000 kilometers in the fastest time. Elated to see a sign offering cold beers after hours of off-roading we stepped into Coco's Corner to find a welcoming spirit and cold Bud Light (you take what you can get when in the middle of the desert). Coco has been providing a comfortable respite for over 20 years to adventurers and competitors in the Baja 1000 and he is renowned in the off-roading world. Coco has quite a fan base with layers of photos, stickers, autographs (a huge portion from Baja 1000 competitors) and an entire ceiling worth of unmentionables left behind. He pulled out a book many inches thick with only one line devoted to each visitor to pass through his doors in the last 20 or so, he proudly handed us a pen to leave our mark and join the more than 10 guestbooks worth of signatures that have been filled and shelved. We hung out for awhile and he showed us around his humble abode, including some really cool lightbulbs he discovered, they are being developed as a means for developing nations who have electricity shortages and can be illuminated with nothing more than a bit of water. Coco keeps his dwelling eco-friendly by singly solely solar to run the lights, and in the event that solar is not available (rare in these parts of Baja) he will be prepared with his awesome lightbulbs. Kevin helped to demonstrate the power of innovation by using his tongue to light the bulb. With the sun continuing to beat down and time ticking away we pulled out of Coco's Corner and redirected ourselves back to the west coast of Baja. 
Treated to a beautiful sunrise at Punta Estrella with a little lunar action as well

Vultures peering over the desert

Baja 2018 Preview from Dan Martinell on Vimeo.

Deceivingly gentle in appearance, actually smothered in 2" spines 

Coco's Corner, eclectic to say the least

Coco himself showing us an amazing lightbulb that works with the power of water

Another deluxe van dinner with clams we foraged from Punta Estrella