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Isla Magdalena

"The Devil's Road" Main Expedition, Day 33

April 2nd (Puerto San Carlos to Mission San Luis Gonzaga)

In May of last year, JT, Greg and I had the pleasure of meeting and spending the day with Julio Solis of the Waterkeeper Alliance (the Bay Keeper at San Carlos). We had a wonderful day and he gave us a great interview. His interview can be seen in our Isla Magdelena episode on our website. We wanted to check in with him to say hello and see what, if any, changes have happened since we last saw him.

The drive to the bay is not that exciting. It is a straight and well paved road. We did see a few clumps of the Creeping Devil's cactus here and there. Julio, unfortunately, was not around. Disappointed, we drove around town to see if there was anything to film that we had missed last May.

We are officially part of the "biker community." Now, we have been embraced, acknowledged, and other bikers actually wave to us. In San Carlos we drove by a restaurant with 8 or so motorcycles parked out front. It looked like the perfect opportunity to sit and meet some of our fellow riders and eat some good food. We were acknowledged by a biker gang from Ciudad Constitucion called Reyes del Camino. These guys were well decorated with leather vests and biker paraphernalia, but didn't give us much thought and kept to themselves.

As they were leaving, one of the younger members nodded at us his and quietly asked where we were from. His English was good, so I took the opportunity to "break the ice." As it turns out, these guys were tame and very interested in our project. We gave out stickers, which immediately most found a place on their bike to proudly display it. I gave a bandana to the leader and with honor he tied it around his neck. The bikes were a rag-tag display of Yamaha, Suzuki, Harley Davidson, and several unknown brands, even a dirt bike. In Mexico, anything goes! You can’t help but admire it.

Looking at the map and our planned route, we were still several days ahead of schedule and had nothing else to film in the area, so we decided for a side trip to see the Mission San Luis Gonzaga. The twenty-mile dirt and gravel road was not too bad. There were a few thin sandy spots, but they didn't give us any trouble. This mission sits in a shallow arroyo with a stream running through the bottom. Palm trees line the stream banks and as usual, the cows, horses, mules, and donkeys ruled the town. They run freely and leave their "calling cards" everywhere.

San Luis Gonzaga is another small community centered around the mission, it's water, and the livestock that can be raised. It was quiet with many buildings in ruin and we walked around taking pictures uninterrupted. That took all of about 45 minutes and we looked at each other as though we were both asking, "What now?" Since Nelson and Goldman did not come through here, we took the drive to get "B" roll shots and visit a place we had never been. That night we camped in the desert a few miles out of town.


"The Devil's Road" Main Expedition, Day 31

March 31st (Puerto Adolfo Lopez Mateos)

This small fishing village has a history of changing its name. In 1905 when Nelson and Goldman came through it was know by three names: La Soledad, Matancita, or Santo Domingo Landing. It is here that they boarded a sailing vessel owned by the Chartered Company of Lower California for a trip to Isla Magdelena and Isla Santa Margarita.

Today, it is officially know as Puerto Adolfo Lopez Mateos, named after one of Mexico's former presidents. The town survives on commercial fishing and whale watching. The bay that fronts the village is one of the major breeding and calving grounds for the gray whale. JT and I jumped on a boat with a very nice couple (he is American and she is Australian). They wanted someone to split the cost of the boat and the captain assured us that there were still three mothers with calves in the bay.

We had a good trip and motored alongside one mother and her calf for about an hour. They did not want to engage with us and kept us at a distance the entire time. We were able to get some other footage of coyotes, herons, frigate birds, and fishermen cleaning their catch on the island shores.

Both of us were in bad shape and needed showers in the worst way. When you can't stand yourself, you know you are affecting those around you. So, we secured a room in Ciudad Insurgentes for two nights to charge up all of our devices, download and copy data, and get a shower. We are also spending this time to go through footage and gear and get a feel for what we may need during the next month.


Day 9, Preliminary Expedition: May 24, 2016

May 24, 2016 (Day 9)

I woke well before dawn to the sound of a familiar buzz. Mosquitoes! There were thousands of them all swarming around my head and especially into, on, and around my ears. Greg soon followed suit in waking to the sound and JT was, seemingly, sleeping peacefully with his shirt swaddled around his head, just a small hole around his mouth so he could breath. He, too, was miserable.

We packed faster that I thought would be possible. At the launch ramp, the tide was low, but still suitable for an easy launch. Julio joined us for a tour of the islands and the bay. We headed for Isla Santa Margarita, the farthest island from San Carlos. In 1905, Nelson and Goldman landed on the east side where unsuccessful attempts were made to can sea turtle meat for export. We found the frame of a small house on the beach, the only remaining marker of the cannery. According to Julio, there were still ruins of the old canning facility.

Halfway across the bay, the wind picked up and the conditions began to deteriorate. The decision was collectively made to abandon the attempt to visit Isla Santa Margarita for the closer and more interesting Isla Magdalena. We first landed by an old pier, the site of a phosphorus mining operation that had been overtaken by a seasonal shark fishing camp.

Next we moved up the eastern coast of Isla Magdalena to the village of Magdalena. Here the crew was treated to a quick and informative tour of the village and a short history lesson by one of the town’s elders.

The village of Magdalena.

When Nelson and Goldman were here, the orcilla lichen business was in decline. This lichen was gathered, processed, and shipped to Europe for use in the textile business as a dye. It was very expensive and of good quality. The only business being conducted at the time of their visit was the selling of beef to visiting vessels and the shipment of sea turtles to San Francisco. We learned that in the height of the turtle business, they were processing over 100 turtles a day.

We left the village after learning that the fishermen of the island were not fishing today because the weather and water conditions were too rough. So, we ducked into a nearby mangrove lagoon to film.

We ended the day with a three-hour drive to Mulege, a shower, dinner, and bed at the Serinidad Hotel.