Salt Flats, Clams & Whales (Feb 7 2016)

It’s Superbowl Sunday – where it matters.

We are still the only ones out here, but on our way out, we cross paths with a guy in a jeep. He’s staying here for a few weeks and asks if we went clamming. Apparently it is really good here. Maybe when we come back. Maybe when it’s warmer and less windy.

The first Pemex we stop at has no diesel but we get to talk to two motorcyclists from Utah. The girl is on a 100cc bike! Whooooooa. That must be slow going.

The second Pemex does have diesel but the woman who is pumping (there is no self-service here) forgets to zero the pump. Just removing the nozzle does not do it so you have to be on guard to make sure they do. The woman makes some adjustments but I still wonder if we are not overpaying. We must be more vigilant!

Back up the hill and back Mex 1. This is the Transpeninsular Highway that goes from Tijuana down to the southern tip, but not in a straight line. It zigzags from the Pacific side to the Sea of Cortez side as it goes south. Right now, it is heading towards the Pacific.

DSC05394The cirios-cordón cacti-yucca desert landscape continues but you can see the land getting dryer and shrubbier. The green is less green. Out here, there are also conical sand hills that look like giant ant hills.

“What if ants the size of hotdogs came out of those hills?” I laugh.

“They’d be pretty scary even if they were the size of cocktail weenies.”

“And what if they were the bitey kind!”

“Yeah, they bite and if you try to kill them, the head comes off and shoots venom.”

“And the scent of the venom makes the other ants crazy and aggressive. Maybe it all began when some creep fed normal ants hotdogs and the nitrites turned them into giant mutants.”

Mex 1 is much better in this section. It is still narrow in parts, potholed in parts, but there’s also a stretch with real shoulders!

Driving down Baja, gives you a real sense of the continuance of terrain. So much of it looks like the Southwest. Here, there are even mesas. Two million years ago, before tectonic activity tore it away, the peninsula was part of the mainland

As you approach Guerrero Negro, the land gets flatter and more barren – this is the Vizcaino Desert.

We go through a military checkpoint – there is usually one several miles north of every major town, especially a port town. No one searches us or asks for ID or travel documents. Some ask us where we are going, but others just wave us on.

DSC05395The 28th Parallel divides Baja California from Baja California Sur. BC Sur is Mexico’s newest (31st) state and only attained statehood in 1974. You have to go through an agricultural checkpoint (“Any fruit?”) and pay 20 pesos to get your tires sprayed with some sort of disinfectant.

DSC05398The town of Guerrero Negro is close by and we need to get some lunch. The main road into town is lined with fish taco trucks, stands and small restaurants but it’s the truck surrounded by diners that calls us. Sure enough, “Antonio” serves up the best fish tacos we have ever had. Big pieces of marlin – so fresh and tasty – fried up in a light batter. They are so good, we wind up getting a second one (and could have easily gone for a third.) At P19 each, they are pricier than the ones we had in Ensenada but oh, so much better.

When Antonio hears that I’m from Japan, he shouts “Sakana! Ebi!” I tell him that “taco” in Japanese means “pulpo (octopus)” and we all share another laugh.

DSC05399DSC05400Big Dog has a conversation with a retired American from Colorado/Arizona who is out here with his lady friend in a pop up camper. He’s talking about his recent whale watching experience.

“There were hundreds out there! Spy hopping, breaching… It was amazing. There’s also a bird santuary in town, by the water,” he adds.

After the tacos, we head out to the Refugio de Aves. There’s aren’t many birds out now, we we keep going… Over washboarded dirt roads towards the Old Pier and Old Lighthouse. Guerrero Negro is Salt Town. It is surrounded by salt flats and that was the economy of this area before whale watching became so big. There is still a port (the new one) here to service the salt industry. When I focus my binoculars on what looks like a big white convention center off in the distance, I see that it is what must be the world’s biggest pile of salt.

DSC05401DSC05402The road is sandwiched between estuaries, marshes and sloughs making it feel like a tropical Arcata. And the road seems to have been built on old clam shells! There are piles of them everywhere.

DSC05408DSC05409Herons, egrets and boobies are in the water and seagulls pick clams out of shells. Can you train them like the fishing kamo in Japan to go and get your clams?

DSC05405The Old Lighthouse and Old Salt Pier are on a point with some crumbling old buildings. There are mud flats on both sides and since it’s super low tide and a Sunday, families are out there clamming. Some are fishing from the Old Pier. In the water are not only fish but sea urchins. It is all beautifully relaxed.

DSC05406Walking back towards Sprockets, we see a man swinging a machete and lugging a giant sack of clams. Does he use the machete to search for clams?

“Wow, look at all those clams!”

We go up to him for a better look. They look like arc clams, the akagai that are so expensive and delicious as sashimi.

Big Dog asks him if he sells them and for how much? P30 for a dozen, he says. Oh. My. God. I’ll take them! I’ll take them! Then he shows us a different kind.

“Chocolata,” he says, holding up a light brown clam, as big as a castanet.

“OK. Seis y seis,” I say but he starts throwing in more than 6 each. We wind up with about 15 or 16 huge clams.

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We get beers, veggies, munchies and ham slices at the local mercado, then to the Pemex station to wash the veggies and the clams which are still pretty muddy. From there, we head to the Whale Camp – campo de ballenas – at the edge of the Ojo de Liebre bay (also known as Scammon’s Lagoon after the man who discovered the hordes of whales here and started the big whale hunt which seriously decimated their numbers.)

From the turnoff 5 miles south of town on Mex 1, there is a very short stretch of pavement (“So what happened? They run out of asphalt?”) before miles and miles of washboarded dirt road. Salt flats stretch out forever in all directions.

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DSC05415The whale camp charges P80 to go in and camp. It’s US$10 if you want a palapa but we don’t think we’ll need one. The palapa sites are closer to the entrance and the restaurant/office but we keep going to the very end were earlier campers have staked out some prime waterfront sites. Each site is large enough for several vehicles and tents and we settle into one that is on a bit of a rise. There is an outhouse (with a pit toilet) near the next site. It’s farther away, meaning more of a hassle to get to but hopefully less odor.

DSC05416Dinner is, naturally, steamed clams. I am saving the arc clams for tomorrow, going with the chocolate clams first, but they are so big and plentiful, they can hardly fit in my pan. Sure enough, they are big, meaty and wonderful and perfect with the linguine with parmesan, squash, tomato and arugula. The grapefruit juice that I stuck in the freezer section of the fridge got slushy, making perfect, ice cold salty dogs. I’m as happy as a clam.

End of Day Miles: 606.8 mi

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Author: ontheroadwithsprockets

I've been traveling since I was born -- the first big trip was before I was two, across the Pacific, from my native Japan to Los Angeles on a cargo ship. There have been many journeys since then, through many continents and cultures.

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