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April 3rd (Punta Conjeo)
Back on the highway and heading south, our next stop was the town of San Hilaro, only a few miles off the highway. Nelson and Goldman described it as a small village within an arroyo with a small stream of good water flowing. A few palm trees lined the banks and they stayed for several days to water their horses and gather a few specimens.
Now, there is only a single ranch at San Hilaro. The water still flows, but I would not say was "good." There are a few palms growing in clumps, but mostly the area along the arroyo is a tangled mess of mesquite and acacia. The stock runs free and the ranch was not very inviting so we turned around and headed back to the highway.
Ten miles of dirt road stood between the pavement and the sandy beaches of El Conejo. We thought it would be nice to camp on the beach, dip our toes in the water, and see a part of the Pacific side we had never been to. If you surf, this is the place to be. It is a perfect left point break without crowds. There were four vans parked on the bluff overlooking the waves, all huddled to protect their camp at the center from the wind. They had stacked rocks, laid out surfboards, and strategically placed driftwood to keep the 20-knot winds from blowing sand into everything they owned.
These four groups (three couples and one single guy) were all traveling separately but found themselves in a similar location with a similar mindset: surfing. One couple was just starting a two-year journey to South America. Another was from the Pacific Northwest and was escaping the snow and bad weather, while the last couple didn't have any plans and was not sure where they were going next.
It is not a bad place to be or a life to live when you can walk down the beach to the fishermen and buy lobster for dinner, "showers" are available at the ranch nearby for 50 pesos per person where there is a water tank elevated and a PVC pipe that dumps cold water. This is private property and a guy comes around every morning to collect your name, logging it into an account book.
I woke up feeling somewhat somber, knowing that in a few hours I would have to drive to San Jose del Cabo, hop on a plane, and go home.
On asking JT and Papa how they felt the week’s filming went, they said they were pleased with accomplishing what they had hoped to throughout the week. The goal was threefold: ride horses into the Sierra la Laguna, following a similar route taken by Nelson and Goldman; surf some of Baja’s beaches (as it is one of only a few things Baja is known for to the outside world and is an important economic and cultural contributor for some places on the peninsula); and capture the opulence of Cabo San Lucas. I’d say the week was a success.
This did little to uplift my spirits completely. As we veered inland, all I could think about was that blue again. It's no wonder that legendary conservationist, scientist, and filmmaker Jacques Cousteau called the Sea of Cortez the world's aquarium. And let's not forget his famous quote: "The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever."
I was leaving it behind again--and already I was planning the next time I’d see it. It is always with some degree of hesitancy or reserve, however. I always fear the state I will find it in when I return. It will never be as it was the time before, and its future is uncertain.
As the plane rumbled forward, then lifted, I looked out the window and bid the wondrous place a silent farewell.
Guest blog by Associate Producer Bri Bruce
Awake before the others, Papa and I decided to go for a drive to see the area. We headed north toward La Pastora, through a sparsely built area, then drove out to a beach where several cars (including a school bus that had been converted to an RV) were parked in the sand. There were several surfers in the water beyond the rocky beach and we stood watching them for a while, noting they were wearing wetsuits in the much cooler water. We returned south, heading for Pescadero, and wound through the hills and dirt roads there, stopping at another beach, this time deserted. ATV tracks scarred the beach, not a person in sight. The beach was not conducive to swimming—or surfing—as the step beach caused the waves to double over and break right on the shore.
Continuing south again, we came to Cerritos, taking a dirt road from Mex19 to the ocean. Between the two large hotels on the stretch of beach, we found a smaller road that dead-ended into a series of tents and umbrellas. There were vendors selling hats and jewelry, tourists lounging about in beach chairs. Several stands of surfboards were propped up, with signs reading “Rentals” and “Lessons.” After doing a quick scan of the boards, and talking to a few of the people offering rentals, I found a stand to come back to tomorrow.
After a late breakfast back at the complex, JT and Papa left to film on the bikes, so Heidi, Jade, and I walked around Todos Santos’s historic district to visit a few museums and galleries. We stopped for some fresh fruit with chili and lime at the mission before heading back to plan the rest of the trip’s filming.
La Purisima to San Juanico
We broke camp as soon as possible for fear of being eaten alive by bugs. Our mission for the day was to attempt to find the "intake" for the aqueduct that runs through both towns (San Isidro and La Purisima) and for a length of maybe 8 miles. This canal de agua is still very much in use today and was built by the missionaries. It is also some very impressive engineering for the time.
After several dead end roads, we were able to find the head of the aqueduct. A dam had been constructed across the entire river and at one side water is diverted into the flume. It appears that an old dam, just upstream several hundred feet, might have been the previous intake point for the canal.
The rio, as we were told, flows all year and keeps the town's crops of corn, nopale, citrus, mango, date palms, and others growing well. This area, although quite fertile, is very slow and tranquil. A few farmers were seen tending to their crops, but most were left to fend for themselves and keep the weeds at bay.
JT and I ended up at the only restaurant in La Purisima and soon found ourselves entertained by four young Mexican boys. They all wanted stickers and were in awe of us and our motorcycles. Then a group of 5 dirt bikers came in and we watched the four boys turn their attention on them. JT took advantage of the situation and asked the boys for an interview. The two youngest stayed quiet and mostly hid, but the other two stole the show. We very much enjoyed our time with them and I think they enjoyed the tricks I could do with their soccer ball, spinning it on my finger, balancing it on my head, and the variety of soccer moves like flipping it up in the air and catching it behind my head. This old guy still had it!
We were told that the old woman that owned the restaurant and the property had lived there her entire life and her family is well embedded with the town and its history. When we inquired about a possible interview, the young man running the restaurant assured us that she would be delighted. He suggested that we wait and it may be an hour or so. Then it turned into two hours more. We were pushing the daylight limitation and had an hour and a half drive to our next stop. So, we passed on that interview reluctantly and headed for San Juanico (Scorpion Bay).
Loreto to San Isidro
Abel was the most gracious host and honored us by agreeing to sit down for an interview. He has a very interesting life and was willing to share it with us. If anyone is thinking of spending some time in Loreto and needs a comfortable, safe, and inviting place to stay, I suggest Hostel Casas Loreto.
Our next stop was the towns of San Isidro and La Purisima in the middle of the peninsula. Both are touted to be beautiful and interesting oasis towns. The dirt road to San Isidro leaves Mexico Highway 1 at 59 kilometers north of Loreto. At first it is an easy and well-graded gravel road. Several miles later it gets worse. And several miles after that, it gets even worse (if a road could get that bad). We were maybe ten miles into the trek and had been following several motorcycle tracks nearly the entire way. As we came over a rise, staring down a boulder strewn "road" as it crossed the wash of an arroyo, we came to two motorcyclists slowly working their way out of the rocky wash.
Both guys were riding large BMW bikes and the front rider was clearly struggling. As I approached them, I asked if he needed a hand. His face was set in complete focus and had pain written all over it. Apparently, while attempting to navigate the rough roads ahead, he crashed his bike. With several broken ribs, this guy was slowly and painfully getting his bike out of this area and back on tarmac. He was tough and JT and I took a moment to reflect on our situation and the road ahead.
That 60-kilometer road was very difficult in spots, smooth in others, and everything else in between. The KLR 650s did a great job and we crested the lip of the canyon overlooking the Rio La Purisima. Water was flowing, palm trees were swaying, and crops were green and thriving. Another oasis town surrounded by dry desert and high canyon walls. Beautiful.
Typically when we arrive in a new place and will be staying for a while to film, we’ll ride through and get a good feel for what is there and what we might want to capture. We were an hour or so away from "the magic hour" so we set to find a good camp spot. We found a perfect site on a bluff overlooking the river on the other side of town.
JT set off with the camera to film and I was left behind to set up camp. Soon I realized that our ideal camp spot was not so ideal. We were harassed by just about every bug that flies. Swarms of bugs. So many you could barely see. Our only saving grace, we thought, was that nightfall was upon us and maybe they would dissipate.
The bugs stopped harassing us once the sun went down, but the minute the headlamp or flashlight was turned on, we were swarmed again. Thousands of bugs showed up almost instantly. It drove us crazy!
Mission San Javier is (in our opinion) one of two of the most beautiful missions in all of Baja. Next to San Ignacio, this beauty is striking. The pueblo is a small ranchero community that seems to celebrate their heritage, their work, and the mission. Palms, 300-year-old olive trees, sugar cane, and other crops thrive on the fertile soil and abundant water. The sheer walls of the canyon stand out as a wonderful backdrop for every view of the mission. It is truly a must see!
We drove out to Puerto Escondido to get a few pictures of one of the other "ghost harbors." Although this one is in use and seems to do a fair amount of business, clearly construction stopped long ago and the best plans were never finished.
Twenty pesos. That was what it cost to get JT's bike fixed. A wire to his headlight switch came loose and needed to be soldered. Abel at the hostel was great at directing me to his friend's shop to do the repairs. Now it works great.
Mulege to Loreto
JT and I found a nice little beach next to a small community of gringo homes just 8 or so miles south of town to spend the night. As usual, last night was a bit chilly and as soon as the sun came up we were warm and ready to get moving. I had some time to blog, drink coffee, and relax as JT came to life in his sleeping bag. I love the Sea of Cortez and the Bay of Conception. Peaceful and embracing.
With the last of the filming needed for Mulege, we drove into town to secure the last glimpse of this spectacular and inviting pueblo. JT struck off by himself, so as to be unencumbered by my "tagging along.” This was an agreement we came to a while ago and it works well...I think!
While in the plaza and catching up on my blogging, I kept noticing and saying hi to an American couple that was walking about. They looked lost and after the 6th or so lap, I asked if they needed any help. They were looking for their lost friend and hadn’t seen her since last night at midnight. They were worried and were heading to the police department.
I finished my work and JT arrived when I noticed the "lost friend" walking down the street, fitting the couple’s description. As it turns out, she was never "lost" and her friends just mistook her actions (getting up early to go for a walk and to get breakfast). We all had a chuckle.
After driving around trying to find the road to the prison museum, we passed the fire station. The firefighter outside the station was wearing a T-shirt that read "Branciforte Fire District" so I slammed on the brakes to stop and talk with him. I gave him one of my patches and told him that his shirt came from my hometown. His English was not good, my Spanish is terrible, and I don't know if he understood me. Regardless, it reminds me how small the world can be!
The Mulege Prison was completed in 1909 and was in operation until 1974. Interestingly, it was the only prison in Baja that was built with no bars. The prisoners were free to go to work every day, but had to return at 6pm. If a prisoner did not return, the others would go and find him.
Our original plan was to head over to San Isidro and not come into Loreto. Nelson and Goldman skipped Loreto completely so as to spend time on the Pacific side of Baja. We wanted to visit the Mission San Javier that resides west of Loreto and in the Sierra La Giganta in a beautiful oasis valley.
The Hostel Casas Loreto opened up their doors to us and we decided to stay two nights. Parking was not an issue as Abel (our host) told us to park the bikes inside...next to our room.
San Jose de Magdalena to Mulege
This little pueblo in the mountains is so tranquil and beautiful. The river runs all year around and the arroyo is dotted with palms, homes, and small crops. Very picturesque and well worth the short drive.
Every Saturday the Serinidad Hotel in town sponsors a "Pig Roast" for guests and locals. Many private pilots fly in for the event from the States and it can bring as many as one hundred people together for dinner and margaritas. We decided to attend the event if for no other reason than to film a pig roast.
The headlight on JT's bike has stopped working. I noticed it as we drove into town. So, while at the beach, I set about to attempt to fix it. I removed the bulb, which was still good. I checked the wiring, which all seemed normal. I removed the seat and side plastic casing, looking for a fuse, but could not find one. I then removed the tank to follow and inspect the wiring. No issues there. I was stumped. I told JT that it must be a short somewhere and I suspected the handlebar switch. It was a different switch (not a standard factory Kawasaki part). JT fiddled with the wires on the handlebar during our last ride of the evening and got it working. Now I have to dive into it to fix it properly.
When we arrived at the hotel, we were met by the owner, Mr. Don Johnson. He was a gracious host and sat to talk with us for a while. Does anyone know of a good autobiographer? He is looking for one. Anyway, he told us that because of a low turnout, he would not be roasting a whole pig, only ribs. We filmed anyway and the food was excellent and we enjoyed the atmosphere. Thanks, Don!
San Ignacio to San Jose de Magdalena
We wrapped up our filming in San Ignacio this morning by climbing the bluff above the town in an attempt to re-create the famous shot of the mission that Goldman took in 1905. Today, the trees have grown to such heights and buildings have been erected so as to completely impede any view of the mission. We found the other location of the second photo to be the same. I guess that is called progress!
We saddled up and headed for Santa Rosalia. The short drive put us in town for the noontime rush. The taco stands in town were full and we were left to wander around, looking for one that had two seats for us. Next we set about filming the old El Boleo bakery, the church that Gustavo Eiffel designed, the mining operation, and the old mining ruins. After a full afternoon of filming on a busy Friday, we were ready to get out of town.
That night we camped at a spot we found in May, just off the road to San Jose de Magdalena. As I set up camp, JT headed out to explore the nearby town of San Bruno and film. We had a great dinner of beef tacos with salsa verde and broccoli cooked over a fire.