“So you want to go to Baja?”
Article published in Windtracks Magazine
My daughter Jessica and I rolled out of the Bay Area in my Toyota pickup and camper five days before Christmas last winter, laden with a month’s supply of sunblock, duct tape, canned soup, gallon jugs of water and all the assorted things you find on those traveler lists.
Forty-eight hours later we were in Punta Chivato, hunkering down our big canvas tent on the leeward side of our cab-over camper so that it would withstand the mighty El Norte. During our 18 days there, I sailed one day all day on my 4.6, and two two-hour afternoon sessions on my big board and 6.5 sail. The other 16-1/2 days, we spent with our San Luis Reservoir friend, John Marmorales, snorkeling, bicycling, fishing, sea shelling, and experimenting with camarone recipes. The weather was nice, the water warm. At times we forgot we came to windsurf and stopped griping about the lack of wind.
John headed north, and Jessica and I stayed around for the rainstorms that swept through Baja, the heaviest rains in 50 years, I was told. We had 12 more days, and the rain had given us cabin fever. When we saw sun again, we broke camp and headed further south for the races at Los Barilles.
Ramon, the guy who works at Punta Chivato by riding his ATV up and down the beach, told us there were small puddles on the 20 kilometers of washboard that leads out to the highway, but they would be no problema.
We got 10 kilometers out and got stuck in what could only be described as a lake in the middle of the road. We knew other people (amphibious) had made it through, so we gave it a shot. The motor got wet out in the middle and wouldn’t start. Locals driving a Pepsi truck pulled us out to the highway before dark, but not without first pulling off their own rear bumper. We spent the night at Palo Verde, eating dinner with Juanita at her roadside cafe.
The next day the motor started. We figured it had been a wet distributor. In the mountains between Mulege and Loreto, however, the motor simply exploded, blowing small pieces of Toyota innards all along the highway. We were then rope-towed by a Green Angel (tourist assistant) into a goat farmer’s camp along a creek in the desert. Soon we found that the goat farmer was not much of a mechanic, as the Green Angel had promised. He had only a screwdriver.
The Green Angel drove into Loreto and conscripted another Green Angel, Jesus, to tow us with a truck into Loreto, where we could get help. We waited until 10 p.m.. Jesus hooked us up to his truck, my front wheels lifted off the ground, and we rolled along on our merry way through the vast empty desert, conversing (me in “Spinach” and him in “Anguish”) as best we could. Suddenly Jessica screeched “Omigod!”
We all looked back to see the truck and camper on its side in the middle of the road. It looked like a huge wounded animal. Jessica jumped out of the tow truck and ran into the night hollering something about life being finished now. But when she heard the coyotes yapping out there, she decided to come back and be a part of what Jesus and I were doing. Which wasn’t much more than standing around muttering “Chihuahua! Chihuahua!”
My rear tire had hit a deep pothole in the road. As the rig lay there, seemingly panting and whimpering, I could see that our mountain bikes and sailboards, strapped on the roof and rear of the camper, had not been damaged. The side of the camper had taken all the weight from the big slam. We spent the next five hours waiting for help to arrive from Loreto. Big trucks zoomed by. We slowed them down at the last moment of their approach with our single weak flashlight, so they wouldn’t grind our possessions into oblivion.
At about 3:30 a.m., a huge tow truck subcontracting for the highway patrol came, up righted us and towed us into a compound (read junkyard) in Loreto. At 8 a.m., as we slept on top of a weird jumble of clothing, sails, and food, with pink Kool-Aid crystals everywhere, the MHP (Mexican highway patrol) came to make a report.
The upshot of this big powwow between me, the patrolman, Jesus, a local dentist who interpreted, two tow truck operators, a snag-toothed old man living in the compound, and two junkyard dogs that kept looking for food mixed in with my clothing and sails, was that I didn’t need to make a report if I didn’t want to. Jesus offered to do body work on my dented door and fenders and perform motor work as needed for free if I didn’t make the report. That would keep him out of trouble. I only had liability insurance, so it didn’t make any difference. I didn’t make the report.
The camper was pretty well busted up. The truck didn’t look good. I thought of leaving everything behind and just going home. But we stayed in Loreto, trying to put things back together. We took some camping gear and set up in a palapa on the beach across town in an RV park. The camper and truck sat in Jesus’ front yard. More heavy rains, town flooded, phones out, no Toyota motors in sight to purchase. (Later I found out most Mexican mechanics have a hard time with post-1984 autos anyhow because of fuel injection).
Discouraged, nine days later we crammed the bikes and boards inside the camper, and took a bus to Tijuana. It was a 17-hour ride, standing room only. The young driver raced against himself all night through the hills and turns. The bus swayed as though being punched by desert thermals. Then we Greyhounded from the border to the Bay Area.
For two months I tried to ship a motor to Loreto, or talk someone into towing my truck home, all the time worrying about my boards and sails. I found that it’s extremely difficult to ship things into Baja. American trucking companies don’t cross the border. To ship you have to go through Mexican customs broker, and pay tariffs. The broker I contacted told me he had friend building at Punta Pequena and he’d tow my rig home for $300 on a lowboy trailer.
But when he got to Loreto with the lowboy, he decided the load was too heavy and became very irate that he’d been asked to go so far out of his way. I tried to calm him down by way of fax and asked him if he couldn’t maybe split the load into two trips. While negotiating with him, however, another bombshell fell into my life. I got layed off from my nice computer job in Silicon Gulch.
I listened respectfully while my friends admonished me to not return to Loreto. (These were non-sailor friends who didn’t know what it was like to be separated from your equipment by 1,300 miles, with a new wind season approaching). A week later I borrowed a Ford F250 van, rented a tow bar and, in the middle of March when California was having more heavy rainstorms, drove straight down to Jesus’ house. He and I and a dozen of his neighbors hand-lifted the camper off the truck (where it sits to this day), and put my sailing gear and stuff into the van. I drove almost non-stop, 35 mph, clear back to the Bay Area.
Now I have another motor in the truck, another camper mounted on the bed, and a new job. Last week, Jessica, supervisor at the boardwalk in Santa Cruz, called and asked, “Dad, when are we going back to that nice beach in Baja?”
This is a real problem. You see, I like the place, but I got virtually no wind, wrecked my truck and camper, and messed up two weeks of a month’s vacation just driving around in Loreto with mud holes and broken phones, swearing I’d never come back to Baja unless I flew.