Friday, April 4, 2008

Baja 2008

We decided to go to Baja on the spur of the moment. Our dual mission was to check out the Baja Bush Pilots and see if the area was suitable as a snowbird/retirement destination. We incidentally had a little fun too!

We had tried to make some advance reservations but weren't able to get much information or many contacts from the internet so, on the basis of an email from Javier, owner of Las Casitas in Mulege, that said "we don't have those dates, but my cousin has a clean hotel and we can work something out" we took off. We flew into Loreto on the East coast of Baja, took a cab to the bus station and 2 hours later Julie was not feeling too hot from the motion but all of us were in the oasis town of Mulege, pop. 3300 or so.

After some confusion getting my cell phone to work in Mexico, we got a cab over to Las Casitas where the girl at the desk said… 'No es possible, no room". When we mentioned Javier, I saw that unmistakable look - "The freaking boss made some deal with these gringos and now I have to clean up the mess". But Javier showed up and all was well. It was pretty nice… only 8 rooms and only 40 bucks a night.

Everyone was super friendly and Hanna was our advance ambassador – telling everyone she saw "Hola!" and then "Gracias, Adios!". We met a local Navy Doctor on the beach that was a real nice guy and asked me 'why her face is from a different world?'. He understood 'Adopte, Cheeena'.

The town is real pretty, full of palms and near some awesome beaches (the Bay of Conception). There isn't much in the way of tourist development.

Now, I guess we learned something about little Mexican towns; They are not quiet. We were just a block away from the main plaza. For a few days before "Disco Mejore", they had to drive the loudspeaker car around town late into the night advertising it. Then they rolled the trucks with the sound gear into town and it was Disco Mejore all night. The 'club in a tent' one street over must have borrowed the Rolling Stones touring sound system to blast all night on the weekends. The fire department was right across the street and Stockton, CA had obviously tuned up the siren when they donated the truck to the 'Bombaderos'. Then of course there was the boxing match. All this interspersed with 3AM attack dogs in the courtyard behind us, the 6AM rooster, a maid that felt compelled to enter our room precisely at 8AM in the morning and yell "Aiiiie, Perdon!"… and some mysterious church bells. So… when Easter came around we were rolling into town and enthusiastically telling our cab driver how much we were anticipating a good nights sleep… when he sheepishly pointed out a new poster – the cockfights. Yep, the traditional Easter night cockfights. Or as I like to call them 'slash a chicken for Jesus'. So we started sleeping in the afternoon – like all the locals.

At the river mouth we talked to some fishermen that use these rusty air compressors to feed a scuba mask and dive for bottom fish which they net. Most of the fish we had was muddy and mushy – like bad catfish. But you find somewhere with a good fish taco, and yeehaa!

The town had a very cool cemetery…

The Baja Bush Pilots showed up (at least 40 planes) at the local 4000 ft dirt airport, so we went up to the hotel there for dinner (Serenidad - nicer hotel than ours, a frigid pool, food we liked more but twice the cost), met some of the BBP's, had roasted pig and a Mariachi band. Many of them had the traditional twin engine, retractable, turbine powered 'bush' aircraft (inside Alaskan joke), but there were a few taildraggers, too. In fairness, they are a very well organized group that provides a lot of support for pilots flying Mexico and S. America, in areas just as inhospitable and remote as Alaska. They seemed like largely good guys and a good resource. They use GPS tracking devices and will post their flight plans on the website and the tracking devices allow anyone with web access to see the aircraft position every 10 minutes. Sounds like good idea to me.

We hired a local guide to take us out in the desert and give us a little botanical demonstration of medicinal uses for local plants and how to find water in cacti… it was a lot of fun. The buzzards were circling the entire time and Jake said "I hope they don't know something we don't" but we all made it back alive. Salvador then took us up to some 7000 ? year old cave paintings that was a little hike and real fun, too.

Hanna decided to hold Salvador's hand most of the way back…

We wanted to go up North and see the Gray whales in their calving grounds. From the Baja Bush Pilots website, we thought that it was 20 minutes from Mulege. Which is true… IF you have your own plane. For us… 2 hours in a taxi, spend the night at San Ignacio, 2 hours in a truck (the last half or so on very rough single lane), and then reverse to get back.

On the road to San Ignacio…

San Ignacio is a real pretty and very small town. We found a decent hotel (Quiet!!) and went down to the plaza to hook up with the whale tour people.

No problem… we had great luck the entire way just winging it.

It was a tiny town and the plaza was the traditional square and real pretty – softly lit at night with a bunch of people (mostly kids) hanging out. We found a decent restaurant on the plaza and all was well.

So finally, the next day… WHALES!! 40-50 foot whales…. Whales as far as you could see.

We had been told that the whales wanted you to touch them. I found this hard to believe and felt a little uneasy about hassling them in their calving grounds, but we found the most incredible thing…

We didn't chase them, trap them or entice them in any way … and they came right up to the boat. On their own. In fact 2 or 3 cows (I'm not sure how many were different) PUSHED their calves up to the boat. One of the cows seemed to target Hanna and pushed the calf up several times until Hanna touched it. I'm not sure what was in it for the whales – maybe teach the kids that they didn't have anything to fear from humans? They weren't rubbing on the boat. It seemed more than curiosity – like they wanted to interact. Maybe they're sentient enough to know they're doing PR work for the species… I don't know but it blew my mind.

I had a scruffy, overweight, middle aged guy stand in for me in the family photo…

We made the long trip back to Mulege and hung out for a few more days. The kids got frighteningly sick so we took them to a very ill-equipped but clean hospital with a very nice doctor and they got better pretty fast. We had to spend a couple extra recovery days – so we moved up to Serenidad on the airstrip, which I was excited about because it was the weekend again and there were 26 transient planes there… but then I got sick too and spent about 24 hours comatose…. :-(

We all made it back OK, learned a lot about the area, had a great time and some adventure so… hey, it's all good!