FINALLY - LAND'S END!
Trip Start Dec 26, 2009
7Trip End Feb 12, 2010
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Before arriving in Joshua Tree National Park, we stopped at a parts place yet again in Yucca and were delighted to see another Vanagon owner in the lot changing out his alternator which he had waited 2 days for. Unfortunately it was the wrong one so as part of the generous and sympathetic community of Vanagon owners we sold him our spare alternator and now cross our fingers we will not have to replace it on this trip! The part we ordered would not be in until the next morning so we headed into the Park. This park is particularly special for its granite boulder formations set amongst unusual desert vegetation and thousands of Joshua Trees. This area gets an annual rainfall of 4.6 inches and in 24 hours it rained 5 inches while we were there. We did have a fortunate break in the weather for a few hours in the morning and were able to introduce Lea to climbing and scale a few of the moderate routes
The guys - Cesar who owns California Westy's and his guru mechanic Daniel, who once upon a time worked in Brazil making these things - were able to fit us in later in the afternoon. We finally found the top bunk hinges we had been searching for and Roger installed them, after some modifications to the board and use of their saws-all. Daniel spent several house looking for our fault and discovered it to a worn-out throttle body valve/flap which he had never seen in all his years. He had no idea how something like that could have worn out. Luckily, the "parts" van had one intact which he installed. The storm systems which were being dubbed "The Western Wallop" turned into somewhat of the "storm of the century" in the area. Parts of San Diego were flooded so we decided to wait it out in a hotel
Having heard about fuel shortages and lengthy distances between fuel stops, we filled our tank as well as our new 20L jerry can and headed for Tijuana. The border official denied us entry indicating we could not transport the extra fuel into Mexico. Her vehicle must have been empty as no other traveller we've met has ever had this problem. So we were re-directed into the US border where we waited and had to explain to the US Border Official why we were turned around. We found a small mechanic shop on the US side who gladly took our 20L (5 US Gallon) of fuel but were pleased to retain our new $60 jerry can. We headed for the second time into Mexico where the same Border Official waived us through, without even checking. We drove on and soon realized we did not go through any customs or other official entry point other than inspection. We had heard this could be done in other towns on our route but roadside military checkpoint guards told us Tijuana was the only immigration point. We turned around and headed back again into the US for the second time. With luck we had the same Border Official who upon seeing us pull up put his hands in the air and said "what now?". Roger said "It's really difficult getting into Mexico today"
We drove just past the town of Ensenada where Roger cringed when he saw the Immigration Office sign which the military official said didn't exist. While passing out of town we saw a caravan of 4 trailers on the side of the road with Canadian plates. We pulled over and found out that the bridges were down all through the Mexico Hwy 1 which is the only road south. We camped out for the next 2 days with a number of wonderful travellers making the best of the situation. We even had a chance to zip line in the park which entailed several tricky walking bridges and even got some help from our new friends Randy and Claudette in installing our new pop tent. The group gathered that evening for our own version of "happy hour" with treats and BYOB. The next morning we headed out early with the final go ahead from the police indicating the bridge had been repaired. We arrived 10 miles before San Vicente only to find that the bridge was fine, it was the approach to the bridge that had washed out and cars were being towed by tractors across the 2 feet of water in the river. We debated for some time as we watched cars being pulled through and dip violently into the lowest point of the water close to the exit. At one point the bulldozers pushed new soil into the low spot which meant it was go time for us. Our engine sits very low at the rear and we were concerned about water getting into our air intake
We drove on only to come to yet another river crossing as the approach again to the bridge near San Quintin was washed away leaving at least a 300 ft gap. This river however was not as tame as the last and the detour encompassed driving in deep sand to the river's edge. Here "coyotes" would take you across for 200 pesos ($20) in jacked up/supped up pick-ups/4x4's where other heavy earth-moving equipment were towing larger vehicles. This crossing was busy and bustling with cars, trucks and RV's. Roger was very concerned about this more challenging crossing which was some 400 ft wide. 4x4's were getting stuck and bulldozers were pushing them out. Clearly not a spot for a 20-year old, 2-wheel drive VW camper to be. With pressure mounting as more and more vehicles approached the crossing and knowing the bridge would not be repair this year, we negotiated with a coyote and were roughly and violently dragged through the deep water. Fearing our engine being completely submerged Roger had the engine turned off and our fingers were crossed. We managed to get to the other side knowing Etien had been abused on his underbelly. After a quick inspection of our propane tanks under the vehicle indicated no leaks we started the engine, water spewing out of our tailpipe we pressed on again after navigating tricky muddy roads we were finally back on Hwy 1 towards El Rosario
We had lunch at a taco stand in El Rosario and were shortly stopped in our tracks yet again by a long line up on the road with both ends of the bridge destroyed by the storms. This crossing proved to be the most taxing as huge crowds of trucks, trailers and cars lined both embankments, all waiting for their turn to cross. This crossing, although not as deep was being "worked on" by bulldozers pushing mud and soil into something of a resemblance of a road into the river. Two or three trucks would pass through and it would be so badly rutted that the dozers were now pushing tractor trailers across. Four hours later we had our turn and it was already dark with no coyote to pull us we were on our own steam this time. We reached the crossing and Roger put it into low gear and after a few Hail Mary's floored the pedal. We twisted and turned but miraculously made it through a foot of mud and rocky river bed and emerged dirty but intact on the other side. We reluctantly drove into the night, fearing the cows grazing on the side of the road which we were informed is the #1 cause of accidents at night. We settled into a ranch which our friends had mentioned, exhausted and fell asleep.
The next morning found us on the road, after numerous military checkpoints with camouflage, sandbags and big guns - part of Mexico's response to its increased drug trafficking and arms-related problems
Enter La Paz, a beautiful and organized city along the Cortez. After news of the possibility that only transport vehicles were being allowed on the ferries we we delighted to obtain our tickets for passage to Mazatlan in 5 days
On Jan. 28th we finally hit our intended destination of Cabo Pulmo, a National Marine Park known for its exceptional diving. We camped 10 km north, after a bone-jarring, filling-popping, teeth-rattling road, on a beautiful sandy bay by the water. Water being a premium in this area we discovered a well from which other campers were hauling buckets of water from. We decided to replenish our dish washing water from this source, not knowing when our next chance to refill would be. This proved to be more challenging than expected and a makeshift combination of plastic drum, rope, pulley and dive weights were "McGivered"
Next morning we arrived early at the dive shop and had some freshly baked pomegranate scones and geared up for our reef dive. Luckily it was only 3 of us plus the "Divemaster". Lea succeeded in her first non-training dive and appeared very relaxed. The other fellow, however, not so much. He purported to have dove many time but shat the bed on this one. The Divemaster was clearly annoyed and had his hands full, although Roger expected much more from a Divemaster, having been in this situation before with multiple new divers. The Divemaster never pointed out a single animal but I was fortunate to have my own private guide. We were also graced by the presence of a grey whale at the surface, they come into the Cortez in the winter months to bear their young. Visibility as a result of the storms was very poor, but we did manage to spot a Shovel Nose Ray, a Leopard Shark, big groupers and numerous tropical fish. We had planned on several dives here but as a result of the poor conditions are writing this now from Cabo San Lucas, the big tourist town by the rocks at the tip of the Peninsula. We hope to find diving conditions better here before heading back through Todos Santos which we hear is beautiful and then into Le Paz for our ferry into the mainland. We are well, however, Etien has been leaking oil ever since his encounter with the riverbed but we think he'll make it with some constant topping up.
That's all for now. We'll blog again after arriving at Roger's parents' house in Ajijic.
Roger and Lea