Wednesday, October 15, 2014

True North in Mexico, Part II - Baja Road Trip, Bend to La Paz

Wednesday – Tuesday, October 1-7, 2014: Baja Road Trip, Bend to La Paz

Fall, 2014 brought us back to Mexico for unfinished explorations in the Sea of Cortez. Last May our northern turn-around point was Punto Pulpito north of Loreto. This season we plan to go farther north to Bahia Concepcion. The water in the Sea of Cortez is warmest during the month of October making the snorkeling so much more pleasant so that is why we planned to be here in October and November. We had some boat parts to bring with us including a large solar panel so plans for a road trip gelled early. We left Bend October 1st, a week later than originally planned due to Hurricane Odile, which passed directly over Baja with its eye just 35 miles west of La Paz on September 14th. Fortunately, the boats in marinas in La Paz and in Marina Costa Baja where we left our boat had no significant problems even though a number of dock cleats pulled loose. Boats in the anchorages suffered the most damage as we discovered during our road trip.

Another boat's cleat that pulled during Hurricane Odile
We took a week to drive from Bend to La Paz via the Tijuana border crossing with stop in Carlsbad, CA to spend a couple of nights with John & Reiko along the way. We left Carlsbad October 4th for a hassle-free, green light crossing at the border about 11 AM. Online instructions indicated there would be a parking lot on the Mexico side of the border where we should park, then walk over to the immigration office to get our tourist visa but we missed the parking lot and found ourselves immediately on a fast highway south. It took a couple hours by car and foot to find and return to the correct office to get our visas. The parking lot is now located on the U.S. Side of the border! After that, it was smooth traveling.

Highway 1 is the Baja Peninsula Highway that runs from Tijuana all the way to La Paz and on to Cabo, about 950 miles altogether. It is a paved two-lane highway in pretty good condition, well-striped with a good shoulder in sections but no shoulders much of the way – and narrow.
...and miles to go before we sleep...
Watch out for vehicles that hover over the center line! There are literally hundreds of tight narrow dangerous curves - "Curvas Peligrasas".

Dangerous Curve ahead!
There are ample opportunities to refuel with gas or diesel at Pemex stations in almost every small town along this stretch as shown on our National Geographic map. The highway follows the water on the west side of Baja until Ensenada, then goes inland to the east across a very dry landscape filled with cactus, and back west again to the coast south of Lazaro Cardenas. For the next three days it would curve through the countryside presenting contrasting landscapes: boulder fields, lush green grasses, many kinds of cactus, dramatic mountain ranges and splendid sandy beaches.

Our first view of the "cardon" cactuses.  We're back to Baja!
As we approached Lazaro Cardenas in the early evening, 146 miles south of Tijuana, we spent about a half hour searching for a hotel. We found Hotel Mision de Santa Maria, an older hotel on the beach full with two bus loads of medical students except for one last room which we took, then headed to the beach just as the sun was setting.

Beach at Hotel Mision de Santa Maria
The next day we crossed some interesting terrain that was very dry and covered with an unusual cacti we had never before seen. It was tall, skinny with short spikes all around, then a tuft of longer spikes at the top. What is this cactus called?
Mystery cactus towers above the cardons
A most unusual landscape surrounds Catavina: a boulder field that extends for several miles with graffiti here and there. The map notes cave paintings nearby but we didn't stop to find them. Farther down the road, the landscape changed to a vibrant green, evidence of the recent summer storms. We were traveling right down the center of Baja through the Valle de Los Cirios with the Sierra la Asamblea to the east and Sierra Colombia to the west. At the same time, ominous dark clouds were building until a light cloudburst covered the area in the early afternoon under a big sky full of lightning in the distance.
Bad weather ahead
We drove through several “vados” or washes but all were shallow.
One of several washes on the road
We passed over many more modern well constructed bridges than washes, and surprising at how many dry washes we passed over ("arroyos" in New Mexico) completely full of a river of gravel and boulders.
One of the many bridges over arroyos
We took note of passing through Los Palomas since it is on the same exact latitude as Bahia Tortuga to the west, our first overnight stop last year with the Ha-Ha. Gas stations were 250 miles apart on the second day, quite a change from the first leg of the trip. It came as no surprise as they are all well-marked on our map. Highway 1 passes many very old missions. Most are visible from the highway but way down a long unpaved road. We continued on through San Ignacio to Santa Rosalia on the east coast of Baja and found the Hotel Morro. This hotel was full of electricians who were working on the hurricane damaged power lines.
Utility trucks working to restore Santa Rosalia
We secured a room for the night, went to town for dinner but left the touring for the next day because it was a very rainy night. Fortunately, we woke to a sunny dry day and, surprise! There is an Old French Quarter left over from the days of French entrepreneurs investing in the copper mine. Their picturesque row houses are plantation style homes that are still inhabited.

Famous bakery in Santa Rosalia
Along the waterfront, a few damaged boats remain on the rocks from Hurricane Odile where the town's old dock was demolished. A new dock with a few boats remained intact.
Remains of old marina in Santa Rosalia
The day's drive took us to Mulege. We stopped to look around the little town and found people hard at work cleaning up mud packed streets and lots from Hurricane Odile.
Washed out road and resort in Mulege
We scouted out the waterfront for a possible anchorage where we would be able to meet visitors in November but the whole area near town is very shallow. We looked over the next anchorage south of town, Playa Santispac in Bahia Coyote, and learned that taxis operate from Mulege to Playa Santispac but not in the other direction.
Bahia Coyote, in Bahia Concepcion
It's supposed to be easy to either hitch a ride back or talk a local into driving there. We drove through more dramatic landscape changes during the day from very green covered large hills to impressive mountains and through many washes. Highway repairs were being made in many areas where the boulders and rock fields washed down hillsides, through washes and across the roads.
(Tiny) workmen rappeling down road cut south of Loreto.
All was passable and in surprisingly good condition. We waited in a line of traffic for one accident, the only one we saw on Hwy 1. A tow-truck was trying to retrieve a semi cab and flatbed that had gone through a guardrail and a short way down an embankment while rounding a curve. No injuries!
Tow truck unsuccessfully trying to raise semi.
We drove on to Loreto, checked into the restful-looking Oasis Hotel, a small quirky place on the beach.
View from our room in the Oasis Hotel
Loreto was deserted! We counted about 20 other tourists all afternoon. The main street and malecon were very clean and tidy with little evidence of the recent hurricane. In the evening we walked to Agave Restaurant for a welcome return to a Mexican fish dinner and a margarita.

With just 225 miles to get to La Paz, we left at the leisurely hour of 10 AM, stopping along the way at Puerto Escondido to check out Odile's carnage. We saw several boats on the rocks that had been in the anchorage though those in the marina looked fine.
Odile victims, Puerto Escondido
We talked with a couple from Louisiana who rode out the storm on their boat which had been tied securely to a mooring ball in the “Waiting Room”, just outside the main anchorage. When the winds kicked up to 130 mph, an unattended boat broke loose and wrapped its mooring line around theirs, so they cut their own boat loose and then motored for several hours in 6'-8' waves inside the Waiting Room. The guy either fell off or was washed overboard by a large wave astern. His wife took over the helm to find him, miraculously, in the limited visibility of a torrential rain and a rough sea. After that, the rest of the drive to La Paz was completely uneventful. The road was generally good, except for the areas under construction.
Entering La Paz on Mexico 1
We were anxious to get to Costa Baja and check on True North for ourselves. Ahhh, all looked calm and in great shape. We later heard stories from others who had remained on their boats inside the marina during Odile that they got a bit of a rough ride. 
The trusty Toyota at Marina Costabaja, La Paz
It is unusually humid in La Paz and very hot once the sun reaches the marina. It's still early in the season for cruisers and so kind of quiet. We spent the past week getting True North ready for leaving the dock, mostly working in the cooler mornings. By mid-day it is too hot to work, by mid-afternoon we head for the pool for an instant cooling off. Fortunately, the evenings are balmy and beautiful. We wrapped up the projects today and hope to be out on the water in a day or two. Stay tuned!

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