December 23, 2005

Baja California Sur

In Nov./Dec. Anja and I went to Baja Calif. Sur, traveling with backpacks. We traveled 16 days by bus, and hitchhiking, north to the Sierra de la San Fransisco to check out the 10,000 year old Cochimi rock art, a UNESCO world heritage site, simply referred to by the locals as La Cueva Pintada, (The Cave Painting). The rock art is geographically spread around a bit. The area we traveled to was in the bottom of a canyon called Canon San Pablo near the village of Santa Martha. Stone huts where the people live the way they must've lived 1000 years ago. Herding goats, making their own leather products like shoes and saddles for the few mules the village owns, goat milk, goat cheese, etc. The government authority, INAH (Instituto Nacional de Antropologia), strictly controls who enters the canyon. The pristine nature of the sites shows how effective the restriction is! You gotta hire an INAH approved guide to escort you the few days, down a single track, it takes to go there and back. We tried to stop at most of the towns along the 400 miles between Cabo and Sierra de San Fransisco mostly because it sucks to ride the bus for more than 3 or 4 hours at a time, and there's tons to see along the way.
We flew into Cabo and went to the zocalo for some street food and to hang out.

This guy was playing for tips.....we payed a couple pesos for the tune and this pic.


We hung around the square that, like most zocalos of mexico, really came alive around dusk. A few hours after dark we walked to this beach in front of some fancy hotels at San Jose del Cabo where we slept the first night. Had to get up early and be discreet about sleeping on the beach so we didn't piss people off. Beside it's super nice to be up and around at that hour.


The next morning we got up and walked into town for some coffee, then got on a bus to LaPaz where we got a room in this joint.

LaPaz was really cool! It had more of a mexican feel to it, unlike Cabo and all the US business' there. I was fascinated to learn that the VW Beetle was sold brand new in parts of Mexico until a couple years ago.


Left LaPaz the next day and headed to Puerto San Carlos on the pacific side. We didn't get there until 11pm so trying to find a place to camp was a challenge. Once we got our bearings and figured out where we were going we walked the dirt streets to the outskirts of town and found an ok place in the low dunes on the shore of the bay. We set up the tent and I returned to a little store we walked past for a couple beers. The next morning we had a view out the tent of the locals going off to fish in their pangas.


The next day we worked our way back to the Transpeninsular then over the mountains and down into Loreto, on the Sea of Cortez. We got up early in Loreto to take a walk down and check out the fisherman getting ready for their day.

After Loreto we headed up to Bahia Conception. Our bus driver dropped us off literally right on top of the guardrail instead of at the turn off a couple hundred meters down the road. Crazy narrow road where I wouldn't want to get stuck hitchhiking between towns. The drivers are pretty ruthless too. We spent a night at Santispac where I could've spent the rest of my life.


This was the view out the front of the palapa in the morning.


Homeboy came by selling stuff...we bought some fresh tamales for breakfast.


We left Santi and hitchhiked a few miles up the bay to Bahia Coyote where we stopped by to visit some of my river guide friends from Utah that were working at the NOLS base for the winter. One of the guides working for NOLS, Miguel Angel, was friends with this guy that lived in the Sierra named Juan Carlos. He said when we got to the mountain to look up Juan to be our guide for the sites.


Some of the NOLS staff were heading into Mulege so we hitched a ride to the bus stop (pic'd below) where there was this girl, about 10 years old, squeezing fresh orange juice.


We decided we needed to pick up the pace so we bused to San Ignacio. We weren't sure how any of the archeology stuff was going to happen, but knew we needed to go to San Ignacio to make it happen. The bus dropped us along the hwy. outside of town so we made the mile long walk into town. The walk felt good, even with a big pack, after the long bus ride. We passed up a couple rides in favor of walking through the palms eating dates that littered the ground. San Ignacio we found to be a small town oasis in the midst of the high desert halfway between the two seas. We found a room at Mama Chalitas, right on the zocalo, for like $15, where we dropped our packs. The son of the senora who we rented a room from was hanging around so I asked if he knew Juan Carlos. After a few I decided we were talking about different Juans and that he didn't know Juan Carlos de la Sierra. We got a couple beers and some street food then crashed for the night. The next morning we found the government office for INAH in a little 200 year old stone room on the side of the mission where we talked to the official, Enrique Arce, about the arch sites and asked if he knew Juan Carlos. He was all fascinated, and thought it was badass, that we were traveling with only backpacks. I guess he was used to seeing tourists driving huge expensive vehicles. He knew Juan and we were psyched that this plan looked like it was going to work out. (I think, in hindsight, Enrique probably went a little out of his way to "hook us up" because he could see our travel style was a little less obnoxious than most gringos in mexico.) He said he needed to work on it, and we needed breakfast and coffee, even if it was instant coffee. He directed us to his families cafe a couple streets over. We went back to the INAH office where it came time to pay the dude our fee. Anja and I looked at each other like "you got any cash"? Neither of us had cash and the nearest ATM was fifty miles away in Santa Rosalita on the Sea of Cortez. The reckless oversight was so irritating! I'm really freaked out about leaving my pack anywhere, but we left our packs at the INAH office and went back out to the hwy. We took a day pack with passports and pretty much anything important out of our big packs and hitched a ride with this Mexican dude in a little car. A few minutes into the ride he started giving us his spiel about Jehovah Witness'. I said no thanks! We made it into town where we walked to the bank. Santa Rosalia was settled by the french copper miners a long time ago and still has huge french influence, including a rad bakery. We stocked up on bread and headed to the bus stop. Made it back to San Ignacio where the INAH office was closed. We found our packs and Enrique at his families cafe. He was all in a hurry about us meeting Juan Carlos who was coming to town. I about peed my pants! Apparently when we were making our bank run Enrique got in touch with Juan, on the two way radio. Juan was coming to San Ignacio to pick us up. We met Juan Carlos and I gave him the note that Miguel, from NOLS, sent with me. We loaded up in the back of his Toyota and met Jose Arce (Enriques brother) who was also catching a ride to the village in the mountains. It took about about three hours riding in the back of that old Toyota, climbing, climbing into the mountains as the sunset over the western horizon and the pacific ocean a blue distance away with a few lights of villages scattered around a dark abyss of wild mexican desert. Jose Arce had a photo of some "amiga gringa", he seemed a bit fond of, named Meghan Greenburg, from Hopkinton, Ma. So if your out there Meghan, Jose says hello!
San Ignacio Mission (circa 1786)

.......if your going to San Fransisco (note the NOLS sticker on Juans truck)


Juan Carlos, Pemex attendant, Jose Arce. Getting ready to head out for SF


Speeding along the Transpeninsular through the Viscaino Desert north of San Ignacio. The Sierra de la San Fransisco is in the background.

Got to Sierra San Fran well after dark. We chilled out talking to Jose's family and set up the tent. The local kids were fascinated with our tent. I'm not sure if they'd ever seen one.


The next day we went into the village, from Juans families house (where we camped) about a half mile away. We rode in the back of Juans truck with the school kids who were hitching a ride to school. As you can see they were a happy-go-lucky set of hooligans just living their rural life.


The school.

After we dropped the kids at school we did some looking around. It had most of the usual mexican stuff like free roaming chickens and a mission.

Then to the grocery store to get some grub for a few days of camping.


After getting situated a little we started to pack up. The INAH made us hire a burro each whether we used them or not, so we let the beasts carry our packs. This if Juan on the right rigging the burros.


"The Man" Juan Carlos


We went out across some flats from the village to the rim of an abyss called Canon San Pablo


The trail down was 5 hours one way!

Almost to the bottom!

I've thought for a long time how to take pictures to do justice to a site, but there are some places where pictures just don't do justice. This is surely one of them! A UNESCO World Heritage Site for sure! This deer is probably 10 feet long.

We made it back to the village in the afternoon. I got the idea that Juan seemed to be a pretty well respected member of his community. He had one of the few vehicles that the village owned, he was a steward of the cultural sites in the surrounding mountains and canyons, and I'm sure the $190 bucks he made from his service to Anja and I went to the welfare of the community more so than his personal welfare. Juan went to visit with some of his peeps and came out saying that we'd return to San Ignacio later on that night....the village was having a wedding celebration and we could stay for it if we wanted to. I felt flattered, but also knew that it was pretty much impossible to go anywhere without Juan. As the evening waxed the party grew into a couple hundred people that traveled from all over the place. I didn't want to dis-respect my invitation so I left the camera put away for the most part.


One of the more interesting moments was as the crowd started to grow one of the ladies came to where Anja and I were sitting and asked Anja to come sit with them. It then occured to me that the men and women were segregating themselves. Juan, Anja, and I, Jose Arce, and two other guys left the village after dark and had a cold dusty ride down from the mountain crammed into the back of an old toyota truck. As soon as we hit the pavement we had a flat. Bad for Juan, but good for my butt bone since I could get out and stretch a while. Juan and another guy changed the tire and we were under way again. We stopped where the highway splits and one way goes to Punta Abreojos. Juan shut off the truck and there we sat. Finally I asked what we were doing. Jose said we were waiting for people coming from the coast who were bringing fish. We all stood around in the dark for a while, there were a couple semis over there, and another small group of four or five over that way. One of our guys walked over to the small group of people and started chatting them up. I don't know what happened but, somebody from the other group pulled out a short little mexican guitar, Jose Arce pulled out an accordian that he had up at the wedding, and another dude, with a pretty good voice, started singing. It was such a rad little jam session there in the dirt on the side of the road in the Baja night, waiting for somebody to bring fish from the pacific. We made it back to the zocalo in San Ignacio around mid-nite. We settled up with Juan and he and Jose headed out. Anja and I were trashed tired so we went off in the date palms beside the mission, set our tent right on top of the sticky dates, and went to sleep.

We needed to scram and get going back to Cabo 400 miles away to catch a flight back to SLC. Since we didn't get to check out Mulege on the way north we really wanted to check it out on the way back south. The next day we hitched to Mulege.

Mulege was so amazing! We did the usual street food thing, internet cafe, and went to the store for some beer and snacks. Then hoofed it to the beach about two miles out of town. Found the neatest campsite, checked with the locals to make sure the tide wouldn't get us, and proceeded to relax on the beach mexican style.

Wide open Sea of Cortez in front of the tent.

River estuary behind the tent.

Got up early and stumbled down the beach. About 300 meters off shore were two pods of four dolphins each headed for Panama or somewhere. I didn't even try to take a picture. I figured by the time I screwed with the camera they'd be gone and I'd miss it so I just watched.


Happy Camper Anja!

A little palapa cafe down the beach a piece made for the perfect place to drink coffee in the morning. Even the instant coffee tastes good here.

It's funny how sweet the mexican locals can make a plastic table and chair set look.

The next day we got up and toured the old mexican jail in Mulege.


This banana tree was growing in the courtyard of the prison. Had to try 'em out.


After Mulege it was sort of a fast track to the airport. We caught a ride from Mulege to Loreto with some US expats from Wisconsin. They were pretty cool peeps. We got a room in Loreto... we needed a shower. Another room in LaPaz then back to SJdC where we stayed at this joint run by a Swedish gal thats lived in Mexico for 30 years or something like that.

Back in Jose Cabo we ran into a group a three timeshare salesmen on a back street. They tried their shit with us for a minute then one of em said "you don't look like the type of person we'd sell to anyway". They were well traveled guys from Mexico City. The timeshare guys and I sat in the shade of a building on a dusty narrow back street and drank beer out of dixie cups for three hours. We talked about Mexican culture and the Catholic church. They explained that most mexicans are catholics not because of their conviction, but because it simply made life easier if they didn't buck the system and just "fit in". They went on to say that they even thought the people that buy their timeshare pitch were idiots. What an amazing trip it was. Every trip I make with only a backpack deepens my conviction that it's the only way to see real culture. The impromptu jam session on the side of a remote desert highway in the middle of the night wouldn't have happened even as part of the most expensive tour money could buy. Besides, what those expensive tours offer, even if I did want it, I could find in Florida, then I'd have to put up with timeshare salesmen instead of drinking beer with them.

And the world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles, no matter how long, but only by a spiritual journey, a journey of one inch, very arduous and humbling, and joyful, by which we arrive at the ground, at our feet, and learn to be home.  
                            -Wendell Berry

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