Rough Riding (March 6 2016)

DSC06042Today, we make our way back to the Sea of Cortez, north of Bahia de Los Angeles, to Gonzaga Bay, at the bottom of the San Felipe – Puertocitos stretch. Big Dog had been asking everyone, from campers to gas station attendants to the military guys, how bad this road is and the concensus seemed to be: you can do it but go SLOW. Apparently there are about 25 miles of rough driving, out of which 5 to 6 are really hairy. Eric and Vi did it towing their Scamp trailer. Myron said he blew out 2 tires on the sharp volcanic rock. Obsidian is as sharp as broken glass.

“But it was after the Baja 1000 tore through.”

Hopefully, it’s not that bad.

I am praying we don’t get stuck, stopped or suffer tire damage. I hope Sprockets holds up through all that rattling. I hope I don’t have to breathe too much dust.

The morning on the Pacific is overcast, marine layer covering the coast. Since the sun rises way to the east, it is also darker, not to mention we are now an hour earlier in this time zone. Aside from the pounding surf, all is quiet. It is deserted out here.

We drive back out through dirt road, past the ranch. A cow scratching behind her ear with her back leg makes us think of those super limber sumo wrestlers.

When we get to the military checkpoint, Big Dog wants to ask them for water to clean the windshield. I stay in the vehicle watching with surprise as one of the soldiers walks over to their building across the road with the bucket. Big Dog waits and has an animated conversation with the other soldiers.

DSC06043DSC06044Now, with the windshield nice and clean, we are on the road going north again. Around Nuevo Rosarito, there’s a restaurant with 4 or 5 big rigs in the parking lot. It’s been the case that every time we see a fork-and-knife road sign designating a restaurant up ahead, the place is either closed, long gone or abandoned, but today we are in luck – this is one of the rare cases where the road sign actually leads to an operating restaurant.

DSC06048And what a busy truck stop! The two ladies running this tiny Mexican greasy spoon are busy as can be, making breakfast for the big table of truckers. There are 4 or 5 men and later, a big blonde with hair wet from her shower joins them. The other side is also full of diners. We take a table near the counter just before another group – a family – takes the remaining table.

The place is hopping and the ladies make one breakfast after another. They are huge plates, piled high with eggs, mounds of beans and macaroni salad. Macaroni salad? Who do they think they are? Mexican Hawaiians?

A glass case holding razors, combs and other sundries is decorated with car racing stickers, radio station stickers and so on. Big rig truck posters decorate the walls. The whole scene feels very nostalgic. There are many rural Japanese places like this – at least there were, once – two ladies cooking up a storm for a loyal following of itinerant regulars in a small kitchen, dark with decades of old grease.

DSC06047Big Dog has huevos con machaca and I order huevos rancheros for a change. The flour tortillas come nicely toasted and the coffee is good. I can see why this place is so popular with these drivers.

DSC06056Stuffed, we hit the road again, driving through the cirios-cordon-ocotillo landscape. There are palo verde and elephant trees, cholla cacti, flowering yuccas, datilillos… So much more variety than Baja California Sur. Back through Boulder Land and past the turnoff to Bahia de Los Angeles and a once-operating Pemex which is now another “ruin.”

A sign tells you that the next gas is not for another 220 kilometers. A kilometer later, another sign tells you it is 219 km ahead.

“You’d think there’d be a sign at the last Pemex warning you about all of this,” Big Dog laughs.

Near the dry lake Chapala we see a big rig coming down the dirt road from the east. That must be our road.

“I want to get there in time to talk to the driver,” Big Dog speeds along. He gets to the dirt road just as the big rig approaches the highway.

De donde viene?” he asks.

“Mexicali,” says the truck driver. He tells Big Dog that, yeah, you can make it in that vehicle, so off we go, into another unknown.

DSC06063First, the road is straight, heading towards the hills. It’s a dirt road but not too bad. As we enter the hills, we ask another approaching car about the road ahead.

“It gets a lot worse than this, but just take it slow,” says the driver.

It does. There are bigger rocks to go over, tight twists… but there are also workers everywhere. They are building bridges to go over the arroyos of the Arrastra as well as making the base for the paved road. There is a workers’ camp out here with camp housing and a staffed kitchen.

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DSC06068An SUV overtakes us but we overtake it up ahead – it’s stopped and getting tires changed.

DSC06069I never do see much obsidian but there are plenty of sharp-edged rocks. The road is rocky and bouncy and Sprockets gets tossed right and left. However, it is not terribly dusty unless someone passes by. The worst bit seems to be before Coco’s Corner, the junction to either San Felipe or Calamajue. There are shops selling sodas and beers (natch!) After that, the road is mostly level washboard, with a softer sand dirt road running parallel to it. Big Dog chooses the sand over the washboard wherever he can. And then…..

DSC06078DSC06079

Pavement! Asphalt! Hurray! You can hear Sprockets sighing in relief.

DSC06183DSC06082The paved road goes straight to Gonzaga Bay, where RVs line the beach. We drive down a mile of dirt road to check it out. The wind is howling from the west now and when Big Dog turns Sprockets around to park, we’re all enveloped in dust. The windows are open and I can actually feel the grit raining down on me as it settles. This is gritty, sticky dust. Everyone is sandblasted here. Who would want to stay? Why is anyone here?

Just to the north is Alfonso’s Resort. Some resort! It’s a line of funky, scruffy buildings.

There is another military checkpoint just beyond Gonzaga. A soldier comes aboard to check us while a couple of them stay outside, but we all get engaged in a conversation about Japanese.

“How do you say ‘gracias’ in Japanese?” they ask.

“Arigato.”

The soldiers burst out laughing and make a “scratch cat” gesture. Then they ask how to say “gato” in Japanese and crack up even harder when they hear me say “neko.” OK, you can go now. Ha ha ha.

DSC06093DSC06096The coast here is barren – there is not much vegetation, not much signage.

“Look, there’s a sign saying Campo La Costilla.” It was once a camp spot but when we go down that dirt road, there are only homes. No beach camp. Just something that looks like a garbage dump at the bottom.

A little bit north of that, we go down another dirt road to a restaurant with palapas on the beach. Big Dog goes into the restaurant to ask about camping but they seemed perplexed – though not perplexed enough to ask for P200 for a night of camping. While stopped there, a coyote comes around, just meters from Sprockets. It is beautiful with a long bushy tail. We toss it some old ham, hoping it will come back around for it when we are gone.

DSC06102We get to a settlement of a lot of ramshackled buildings. I can see a Pemex from the highway above this “town.” Can this be Puertocitos? Beyond it, a sign points to Octavio’s Camp but the road leads to a house on a cliff. The man there (Octavio?) says the camp is below. There it is, below this cliff – a few palapas lining one side of a small bay. So far, it is the most inviting looking place we have seen.

Turning around on the highway, there is a sign for Puertocitos. Guess they are not used to people coming from the south.

If I thought Bahia de Los Angeles had that scruffy Indian Reservation feel this place is much, much worse. A bunch of the ugliest buildings are scattered about, in no particular order. In fact, there is no order to anything. They are just…scattered. And everything is so makeshift. Buildings are built with various construction materials – scraps of tin and plywood. It is as if everyone built out of salvaged crap. There are a few incongruously nice homes but most of them are hideously ugly. Even the dirt roads wind around randomly. What is wrong with the residents? The trailers at San Lucas were so much better cared for.

DSC06104DSC06105DSC06110It is a shock when we get to Octavio’s and find out they want US$25 for the night. There are no hookups, although we see a building with toilets and showers. Big Dog cuts a deal for P300, the most expensive rate we have paid on this entire trip.

DSC06108Big Dog has been talking about how cool the tides are near San Felipe. The water near shore is shallow for a long ways so the difference between high and low tide can cover miles and miles. This is why we are here.

There is a long, wide stretch of mud flats between the beach and water. Maybe there is good clamming to be done here.

We meet another couple on the beach who are also staying at Octavio’s and when we find out they are paying P250, that pisses us off even more.

“We’re overpaying by P200, for sure,” grumbles Big Dog.

“Yeah. Even with toilets and showers, this place only warrants P100,” I agree.

“Or less.”

This was before we actually try to use the toilet. Out of the two, one is not even hooked up to the tank. I use the other only to find out there is no water there, either. I peek inside the shower stall. It has no water and yet there are inches of disgusting standing water on the concrete floor. The facilities look horrific. The showers and toilets at the truck stop where we ate breakfast seem like luxury accommodations in comparison. There is trash everywhere – styrofoam containers, discarded shoes, dirty diapers… No one is taking care of this place.

For dinner, I barbeque the marinated yellowtail collars which are super tasty but too much work for Big Dog who gets a fillet. There is also salad, potatoes, green peas and tostadas. There is tons of meat on the collars and I am too full to finish, so I put the rest of the meat into a container and toss the debris into the pile of trash at our site. There are gold sandals there.

In the middle of the night, I have to use the toilet but cannot stomach the thought of walking in the dark to that bathroom. It doesn’t flush, anyway. So I just crap in the sand. I am so grossed out by this whole place.

End of Day Miles: 2513.5 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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