Trip Start Dec 26, 2009
Trip End Feb 12, 2010

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Flag of Mexico  , Baja California,
Saturday, January 30, 2010

Hey everyone - it's been 2 weeks since our last entry.  We've been off the grid here in Baja.  Our last entry left us stranded in Barstow, CA.  We waited impatiently for our UPS delivery which came late the following day bearing our shiny new computer for Etien.  After installing it, Etien came to life again however, still suffering other ailments and although consuming a tremendous amount of fuel we decided it best to leave Barstow and head toward Lake Havasu, Arizona.  The reason for backtracking was that there is an annual Buses By the Bridge get together of VW enthusiasts and if anyone knew about these things it was this group and we figured we could get some assistance and advice there.  We limped eastward and stopped at "Off Road Willy's" graveyard of hundreds of VW campers and buses.  We stopped in and asked Willy if he had any later models like ours to see what parts we could salvage but alas he only had the older air-cooler versions.  We arrived late at the Havasu meet, billowing black smoke.  The following morning we were rewarded by hundreds of completely restored VW buses from the 50's onwards, in all shapes and sizes.  We've included several photos of the more interesting ones.  The meet was interesting as were some of the characters who attended.  Everyone had some knowledge to offer and sympathy towards our plight (having likely been in our position many times before).  The Boy Scouts prepared a flapjack and sausage breakfast with coffee for a minor donation and we talked shop with whoever was willing to listen.

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.  Lea, terrified again, rose to the challenge, somewhat, however, she had more trouble with her new climbing shoes than climbing itself.  For those of you who do not know, climbing shoes are purchased at least 1 size smaller than your regular shoe size and need to be broken in.  Lacking in technique, she used elbows and knees at full discretion - what we call "dirty climbing".  But, she did manage to succeed to the summit of our "monster" 40' cliff and I was proud.  It started to rain so we quickly packed up when we saw Phil, the guy who bought our spare alternator randomly in the park and had a quick chat.  He told us about places to camp and climb and stories of how his last Van burned to the ground in the park a few years back with all his possessions.  It's interesting meeting people who live permanently in their VW's and on the road, aimlessly roaming from place to place.  We headed to pick up our part which did not arrive and so we abandoned that idea and headed to San Diego where we had sourced California Westy's who could possibly help us finally heal Etien before heading to Mexico.

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.  The storms were intense for 2 days, but, eager to press on we decided to leave on the third day (Friday, Jan. 22) and head towards the border.

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 explained our situation and he gave us tips on where to go when we re-entered.  Back again at the Mexican border for the third time we pulled into the "items to declare" area which was us.  We were able to obtain our tourist visas and got directions in Tijuana for our Vehicle Bond which is required to enter mainland Mexico later in our trip.  After a fistful of photocopies and documents we got our little holographic sticker which represented a promise to return our vehicle out of Mexico, and proceeded south.

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 paid the tractor operator 100 pesos ($10) to chain us up and drag poor Etien across the riverbed.  By the graces that be we made it across without issues.

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.  These Mexican "DEA" checkpoints, although intimidating haven't caused us any troubles although the inspections do cost us some time.  We came across an "agriculture" inspection which separates North and South Baja and is Mexico's attempt to prevent the import of invasive species through fruit and vegetables being brought in.  After paying 10 pesos ($1) to the official he warned us to roll the windows up while an automatic sprayer misted what only could be water on the underside of our van.  It looked like a sad sprinkler turned on very low that you had to drive over.  We both looked at each other and broke into laughter repeating "roll up your windows - what a joke"!  There were several towns that were clearly hit hardest by the storms, lacking power, water and supplies.  We became concerned after many gas stations were closed depleted of fuel as the trucks were having trouble getting through.  Some stations were rationing gas and we were able to at least buy 20L.  We did manage to make it further south and were treated to inspiring desert-scape with tall organ-pipe cactus and other species.  For $8 we found ourselves happily camped directly on the beach of the Sea of Cortez with a cold cerveza in hand.  We spent the evening looking at the stars, enjoying the warmth and the time to relax.

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.  We spent the night in Los Barrilles where Roger bought some scallops and we decided on dinner out at a small restaurant along the beach.  We met a Brit kite surfer chick who suggested we could camp out on the beach by the kite surf shop.  We were settled in to sleep on our spot on the beach when a bunch of rowdy surfer dudes showed up and started partying 20 feet from our van.  Fortunately, they ran out of booze and dope quickly and drove off, leaving us to finally get some sleep.  We found an idyllic beach the next day in a place called Santipec.  Roger made tortillas on the tailgate in the cast iron pan and Lea dumped in way too much hot sauce (without any real collateral damage - except for Roger's "ring o' fire" the next day).  Lea was just fine, being Portuguese counts for something!

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".  We finally cooked those scallops Roger purchased which turned out to be reminiscent of the turkey scene from the Griswald's "Christmas Vacation" - they were tough and rubbery and the worst we both ever had.  Lea said they belonged in the Smithsonian Institute with a plaque stating "Scallop circa 1850".  We'll try the camarones (shrimp) next.  We had terrible wine while watching beautiful wild horses roam on the beach.

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
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Maria on

Hey guys,
Wow, the adventures always seem compounded by challenges....guess it just makes the trip that more interesting and memorable. We miss you guys and were really starting to worry about you since the last update given that you were stranded in somewhat shady surroundings. I even tried to call the cell phone several times but always got the same response...the Rogers client is not available...blah blah blah.

I provided a previous comment but have come to see that it was never posted so hopefully this one makes it through. We were waiting on baited breath for a new blog just to reassure us of your safety and sure never fail and cease to amaze us. This is truly a trip of a lifetime!!

Anyway, so glad to hear from you guys and aside from the oil leakage, it's amazing what the Westy's pulled through. We're always so excited and anticipating the reading a book and you're both soooo good at it. You're both in great hands and know how to support and take good care of each other in good and bad times and you always pull through...such troopers. We love you guys and hope you enjoy the rest of your trip, hope that Etien behaves and brings you home safe and sound.

Lots of love, stay safe!

Lee-Ann on

Wow! What a trip! Please keep the up-dates coming. The photos are amazing!

Frank, Rita & Hunter on

What an adventure your two are having. Glad you made it to Cabo. The story about the throttle body is intriguing. This IS a VERY common problem with the Vanagons that I have seen. Just had to patch up two of them for stuck travellers here on the beach in La Manz with similar problems. In my humble opinion all Vanagons need their throttle bodies rebuilt. I do this, see my webpage for complete details. I have a few in stock ready for exchange and it is becoming more frequent that these need to be rebuilt. Anyways, glad your problems got sorted out. We are still here on the beach in La Manzanilla and will stay here until mid to late March if you get down this way. Safe travlels and don't forget the ferry ride includes a meal !

nightrider on

Glad you guys made it all the way. I knew you would. If you come back thru Utah or New jersey you are always welcome.



Cabo San Lucas Travel Deal on

It is a Great trip ! The photos are so amazing.The adventures seem compounded by challenges....guess it just makes the trip that more interesting and memorable.!

One stop shop for Cabo San Lucas travel deals

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