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Dodge Ram 4x4 EarthRoamer Does Baja - The End of the Peninsula

Posted in Events on September 1, 2002
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Contributors: Bill Swails
At Bahia de Pedrito the local motion is surfing, a sport enjoyed by a merry band of California expatriates. Here's one of them in action.

Where we left off: If you read last month's installment of "Earth-Roamer Does Baja," you'll recall that author Bill Swails and his Dodge Ram expedition truck finally reached a campground called El Coyote on the western shore of Bahia Concep-cion, where he set up camp for the night. He spent a couple of days there, and then moved on toward Playa San Peditro, into EarthRoamer Does Baja, Part 2. -The Editor.

Surfer Dudes
Feeling rested and ready for more of Baja, I departed Bahia Concepcion and headed out toward my next camp destination, Playa San Peditro. When I arrived I learned it was a local surfing mecca. I thought it might be fun to hang out with the surfer crowd.

I met this friendly couple vacationing from Mexico City at Playa San Peditro. They both spoke excellent English and helped me learn a few more Spanish words.

As I pulled into Playa San Peditro, I was delighted to learn that it is really nice, with a large restaurant and bar. Even better, the owner and staff spoke English. It was great to communicate in sentences for a change, rather than relying on my limited Spanish vocabulary. As I claimed my camp spot, two surfer dudes from Southern California introduced themselves. Too much exposure to ultraviolet rays and a steady diet of beer had obviously taken their respective tolls. At one point in the middle of a conversation I asked them where they got their tourist cards. "What's a tourist card?" they both asked in unison. I explained to them that every American traveling past Ensenada or staying in Mexico for more than 72 hours is required to carry a tourist card. They proceeded to tell me about the value of a pit bull, and also of Playboy magazine.

They carried a stack of old Playboys in the front of their truck. When stopped by military checkpoints, the young military guys invariably expressed an interest in the Playboys and the surfer dudes would give them a copy or two. The military guys would then see the pit bull in the back of the truck, decide the inspection was complete, and wave the surfers on. Now there's a tip you won't find in any guidebook.

If you're looking for spectacular scenery, Baja won't disappoint. The ocean views along the southeast coast are among the most spectacular I'd ever seen.

Driving on after a brief rest, I finally made it to Cabo San Lucas, the southernmost point on the Baja Peninsula. I drove into town looking for the American Express office to see if I could get an advance on my credit card. No, they couldn't give me a cash advance, but to my total astonishment, they were willing to cash a personal check. Before they had time to change their minds, I quickly wrote a check for $1,000, which is about 10,000 pesos. In return, the teller gave me a huge stack of 200-, 100- and 50-peso notes. On the way back to my truck, I guarded the huge stack of pesos like it was gold, since this was the money that I'd rely on to buy the fuel I needed to get back home.

In San Jos del Cabo, I found the only remaining beach campground in the area. It is a magnificent spot with thundering waves and spectacular sunrises. Flush with pesos, an increasing Spanish vocabulary and confidence over my success so far, I began to plan a route north that would require several hundred miles of four-wheeling. It was impossible to know what to expect, since my guidebooks have contradictory opinions on road conditions. Also, I hadn't met anyone who has traveled these roads.

The scenery was always competing with the road for my attention. That's bad, because with roads like this, you only get one mistake.

I decided to follow a dirt road along the eastern coast on my way north, so I checked my trusty guidebook to see what it had to say about the roads upon which I was going to travel. Bottom line, the book advised not to take this road, which it called "hazardous." Ah, well, a few hazards are what I came to Baja for. So I decided to try it.

The first task at hand involved finding the dirt road that leads to the coast. With that accomplished I was on my way, even though that way was punctuated by unmarked intersections. By using my GPS and making educated guesses, I eventually found my way through the maze of trails onto the dirt road headed for the coast. After crossing a small mountain range and passing many small rancheros, the ocean finally came into view. That was the good part. The bad part was that the road north of El Cardonal deteriorated to a rough dirt trail desperately clinging to the side of the mountain. Still, keeping my eyes on the road was a challenge, since the views of the ocean along this route were as stunning as any I'd seen. It was only another 15 miles to my next camp at Ensanadas de los Muertos, but the combination of beautiful scenery and exciting road made it a three-hour drive.

My remote camp at Punta El Mechudo, just south of San Evaristo on the Sea of Cortez, worried me because of its remoteness. Hey, they don't have banditos in these parts, do they?

Ensanadas De Los Muertos
The not-so-pleasantly named Ensanadas de los Muertos (cove of the dead) turned out to be my most pleasant camp so far. The weather was warm, the winds had died down, and I was parked fewer than 20 feet from the water on a wide beach with astonishing views out every one of EarthRoamer's windows.

The next morning after watching an impressive sunrise, I set up my beach umbrellas and chairs and worked on my suntan. Even now, back home in the Intermountain West, this is still my idea of the perfect beach. The sand is like powder and the water in the crescent shaped cove is only shoulder deep several hundred feet from the shore. The water is cold enough to be refreshing, but not too cold. A couple of sailboats are anchored in the cove creating a perfectly picturesque scene.

After watching the sunset and eating dinner, I sat under the clear sky looking at the stars and listening to the gentle lap of the waves. I've seen skies this clear high in the mountains of Colorado, but I don't remember ever seeing the stars so clear at a beach. Most of the beaches where I've camped are near cities, and the light from the cities ruins the night sky. I gazed into the clear black sky with the infinitely dazzling stars as the lapping waves soothingly serenaded me. This is truly an extraordinary place

Southern Baja is so remote that the colors often boil down to just the basics: nothing but white powder sand, blue sky and cool blue-green water.

La Paz And Beyond
Reluctantly, I left my perfect beach and headed for La Paz, where I re-supplied with fresh fruits and vegetables, topped off my diesel and water tanks and called friends and family before embarking on my remote travels north. I hadn't had access to a phone since I left San Jose del Cabo several days earlier, so my friends and family were happy to hear that I was still alive. After La Paz, I headed north along a coastal side road. The guidebooks have various nasty things to say about this road, using phrases like, "a dangerously exciting road riddled with gullies," or, "4WD only with great caution." By now I'd grown used to their dire warnings.

The first section of this road is paved, and the scenery looks like Arizona's Grand Canyon meeting the ocean. The Sierra de la Giganta's volcanic plateau is unlike anything I'd seen in Baja so far and is truly spectacular. After reaching the small mining town of San Juan de la Costa, the pavement ends and the road turns to dirt. The first few miles weren't too bad, or so I thought. Then all hell broke loose and I began to second-guess my choice of routes. The washboard road was so bad I felt like I was driving on square wheels. The roughness of the road forced me to slow until I was barely creeping along at 5 mph. There are many dirt tracks paralleling the main road and I considered trying them, but the sand looked soft and I'd seen just one car on this road in the last hour of driving. Also, it was more than 90 degrees outside-not a good place or time to get an 11,000-pound truck stuck.

Finally, enough was enough. I got fed up with the violent vibrations and decided to try something different. I discovered that when driving at about 40 mph, the massive vibrations became less severe and the driving became tolerable. The difficulty was getting up to 40 and slowing back down. As I sped up, my truck began vibrating so badly that I was sure it was going to explode. It definitely wasn't smooth riding, but it was much better than trying to crawl.

I've never been more tense while driving. Everything was fine when the road was straight and level, but when I came to an arroyo crossing or curve, the experience became downright scary. Slowing down for curves brought the demonic vibrations back to life, and there were no "Curva Peligrosa" signs warning of the frequent dangerous curves like those I found on the Transpeninsular Highway. Arroyo crossings were even worse because the dips didn't look big enough to worry about until it was too late to slow down. So I found myself threading a 511/42-ton truck through a narrow path across the arroyo and almost becoming airborne when I hit the rise on the other side. Now I know how Baja 1000 drivers feel. This would have been a lot more fun if I had known there was a crew waiting to rescue me and fix my truck if I crashed or broke down. But no deal; I was alone in a place as remote and inhospitable as any in which I have ever traveled.

I found that Mexican kids were often the best Spanish teachers.

After what seems like days of this vibrating hell, I turned off and followed a dirt road to a secluded camping spot on the Sea of Cortez near Punta Evaristo. After taking a few sunset pictures and eating dinner, I settled nervously into camp. I suddenly remembered something I read earlier in a camping guidebook. It said: "Don't boondock alone except in a place you are very sure of. Individual campers are uniquely vulnerable." I looked around and became very uneasy about boondocking alone at this extremely remote location. I felt very vulnerable as I nervously drifted into an uneasy sleep.

Next month, EarthRoamer Does Baja 3: Lost, or at least badly confused, and with a seriously busted EarthRoamer.

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