So we’re just back from another of our “excursions”, this time on a driving trip to Southern California. As we told you in our last posting, we had some errands to do that needed us to be in the States, so we rented a car in Loreto and spent two weeks on the road. We only took two days to drive the 800 miles, but we thoroughly enjoyed the journey and would love to do it again, taking a bit more time to stop and smell the, um, cactus. Although all of the terrain was desert, there was a surprising amount of variety. There is a mountainous backbone running the length of the peninsula, but it meanders from the Pacific side to the Sea of Cortez side. The road also meanders, and uses its own drummer. Sometimes it runs along the coastline, sometimes it winds through the mountains, and it crosses from one side to the other halfway down the peninsula. The mountains are the same beautiful Sierra de los Gigantes that we saw when we were sailing up to Puerto Escondido. They are layered with many different colors and textures of rock, and as we drove up the peninsula the face we saw changed from hour to hour. We enjoyed the immense variety of cactus, from 30′ tall cardon cactus to bushy cholla’s, tree yuccas with their spiky curvy arms and barrel cactus with their radially symmetric bright red needles. There were a few tree-like plants that didn’t have leaves, or if they did then they were *really* tiny! One of these was tall and skinny and often leaned over or did a full U-turn to the ground. They had a little tuft of yellow at the very top, like a crown. We took to calling these “Dr. Seuss trees”.
Near the end of the first day, we were in a stretch of road that was between towns too small to have gas stations, and we were running low. We came across a tiny town that had no Pemex station, but did have an enterprising family who offered gas for sale from a number of jerry cans that they must have gotten filled 50 miles away. We were happy to support their ingenuity, and breathed a sigh of relief that we would safely make it to the next large town without incident. Nearby we saw some signs for an anthropological attraction just off the highway, and decided to see what it was about. We pulled off the road into a dirt parking area, and followed the marked path a mile or so to a low cave with a lot of paintings inside. There were several interpretive signs along the way describing what is known of the Cochimi, the indiginous tribe that inhabited this area until the 18th century. There is very little known sbout them. The paintings were done using mineral pigments, so it is difficult or impossible to date them. There were a LOT of small paintings, some of animals or people, some of geometric shapes, and some are abstract. It was very cool to see them, and to imagine what it must have been like to live in this remote place. The cave was located fairly high up a hill, and had a wonderful view of the valley from between the boulders.
The road at the northern end of Baja went by the beautiful beaches of the upper Baja peninsula. We made it to Tijuana quickly, but needed to make a stop to get insurance to cover the car while we were in the U.S. Although the car rental company did authorize us to cross the border, they didn’t offer this coverage! They had suggested that we stop at a Bancomer branch, a major national bank. So we drove around the city center of Tijuana a bit looking for a branch (and a parking place). When we did find one, the teller told us to go to Oxxo, a convenience store much like 7-11, that happened to be right next door. The clerk at Oxxo pulled out a small cellophane packet containing a glossy how-to brochure and a form with all the fine print. The insurance was available in increments of a week, and was underwritten by Bancomer. The store couldn’t take a credit card for insurance, so we had to pay the $25 bill in cash. We found a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant to get a bite to eat, and used our iPhone to register on-line – even with our limited Spanish it only took us 10 minutes to get the insurance lined up. This is a service that we could never find in the U.S!
Then we hopped back in the car and joined the line to cross the border. It took us two hours of slow stop-and-go traffic to get to the front of a line, It turns out that Friday evening was the worst possible time to cross – the border agent told us that it’s usually *four* hours at that time. Yuk! We were sure to cross mid-week on the way back, and made it through much more easily.
Our first stop was to Minnie’s Chandlery in Newport Beach. We found this place on our way south, and the second time through it’s still incredible! One of the items on our to-do list was to get our new (to us) liferaft serviced, because it was 10 years out of date. The first thing we saw when we entered Minnie’s was another 8-person liferaft, recently serviced, for a few hundred $$$ less than we were expecting to pay just to have our new one serviced. We bought that one, and “traded in” our old one. Somehow we managed to spend another $500 – and three hours! – without really working at it. 🙂 Wow, that was easy!
We had a looong list of tasks to do (I think the count was 45 seperate items), but managed to have a little fun as well. We visited Kathy’s college buddies Beth & Mark, who shared an amazing Thai restaurant with us. We didn’t realize how much we missed Thai food! Later in the week we also enjoyed a fabulous meal at a sushi restaurant. We also visited Dan’s oldest son Jesse, who took us to watch him as he took a class in circus acrobatics. He was working on trapeze and the fabric apparatus. It looked like so much fun that both of us were inwardly scheming how we could take classes too! The school’s motto was that it was for “anybody with any body”, and we were convinced that we’d qualify. We also went for a marvelous hike in Pasadena’s Eaton Canyon, gaining 1300 feet in 2.5 miles. We enjoyed the close-up look at a different eco-system, including finding tufts of black bear fur along the trail and pine trees at the top. Unfortunately we couldn’t help but notice the cloud of pollution as we gazed back over the city and reflect on the contrasts of population density between Southern California and Baja Mexico.
The primary goal of this trip was to finalize the requirements and apply for Captain’s licenses with the Coast Guard. There are *lots* of requirements, including a security screening, a drug screening, a physical, a first aid/CPR class, 3 letters of character reference, a “killer” written exam, logging a huge amount of time on the water, and swearing an oath of loyalty to the U.S. We took a class last September to secure the written exam part, and we’ve spent the last year or so acquiring the sea-time, so it was time to wrap up the rest. We spent a lot of time running around town jumping through all of the hoops, but were finally able to submit our applications the last day. What a relief! In a few weeks we expect (hope) to receive notice of our new credentials and you’ll have to start calling me ‘Captain Kathy’!
Our last stop was to a little business in San Diego that does mail-forwarding for cruisers. People rent a mail-box there and whenever someone is heading down to Baja they stop by to pick up everyone’s packages. Although we aren’t renting a box, we did volunteer to bring back some mail. Cruisers have generally formed a real “pay it forward” sort of community. There was a LOT more mail waiting than we’d expected, so we only took enough so that our drive back retained a limited view out the back window…
The drive back was just as nice as the drive up. The first night we stopped at a hotel that quoted prices in dollars (usually not a good sign!), but we stayed anyhow after the woman at the reception desk offered to show us a room and listed the *names* of all the rooms. This was one of those places that has a decorated theme for each room. We stayed in the “Medieval Room”, which was very cute, and the most comfortable bed we had the whole time we were gone. We made up for this with the last night, where we paid the equivalent of $18. 🙂 The restaurant at the motel the second night had a nice menu, but unfortunately they were out of everything but quesadillas. So we had the quesadillas, which were very good. Dan joked that you could have either the menu or the quesadillas, but that he recommended the quesadillas.
On the second day of our drive back, we stopped in a town called San Ignacio. It’s just off the main highway, and is a little jewel. It’s set in an oasis, with lots of palm trees nestled in a canyon in the middle of the desert. Apparently there are springs here, keeping things wet and green. The town has a wonderful square, which is quite reminiscent of the town squares we saw on the mainland. We looked at the church, which was founded as part of a Spanish mission in the mid-18th century. They had some interpretive signs in the yard, and a labeled cactus garden that we appreciated. We were very saddened at the historical information about how 1200 native people were decimated by disease brought by the Westerners. 200 years later there were virtually no indigenous people left. The building of the church had also been challenged by natural disasters, including volcanic eruption, flood and drought – a difficult place to set up shop!
As we were nearing home, we noticed that there were lots of heavy cumulus clouds, some of which looked quite dark and threatening. When we had left two weeks previous, the skies were perpetually clear. Now that we’re back, we can definitely tell that the weather has changed. It’s hotter, more humid, and there are frequently clouds over the mountains. From what we’re hearing, the summertime does sometimes include thunderstorms, but not consistently. Everyone here prays for rain. 🙂
Now we’re heading off for some fun in the sun at one of the nearby islands. We’ll be out of touch more than usual, but will hopefully check email at least once a week. Please stay in touch!
>> Kathy & Dan