Mar 22, 2012

Shannon's Two Cents

Brenton is usually the one writing the blog updates, and that's fine with me, but I figure every now and then I'll throw in my two cents and let you know what I'm thinking about this epic adventure of ours. 

Our drive down the Pacific Coast was beautiful.  I have come to the conclusion that when it comes to which coast I find more appealing, I prefer the rocky west coast.  I have never been much of a beach girl.  Ask my mom, vacations "down the shore" in New Jersey consisted mostly of me crying because I couldn't stand the sand in my swim suit.  I also prefer to go no further into the water than waist-deep.  This might be one of the few things I don't have in common with my mom. 

Driving down the coast of Washington, Oregon, and Northern California, I enjoyed looking out into the water and watching the waves crash against the rocks in the distance.  The rocky beaches also mean sand in your bathing suit is less likely.   

We spent each night of our westcoast drive camping in state or national parks.  Our "no driving at night" rule wouldn't go in affect until Baja, so we often drove into the night before picking our spot to sleep.  When we needed showers, we'd pay a little extra to stay at the nearest KOA.  Brenton says, "Look at how adventurous we are, going from KOA to KOA!"

Our first stop was in Cardiff-by-the-sea, California to visit one of my good friends, Nicole.  Nicole and I have known each other since high school, when we cheered together.  She has always been one of my favorite people.  She is sweet, kind, and soft spoken.  You'd never guess she can bench press more than most guys double her size.  We stayed the night with her and her family and enjoyed breakfast with them the next morning.  It was a short but sweet visit.

I had the pleasure of meeting an old friend of Brenton's, Kandis, and her boyfriend.  They had us over to their cute place and made us breakfast.  We would have liked to had more time with them as well, but with our last minute planning we had to settle for a quick, but fun visit.

We also met with some fellow Pan-Am veterans, Chris and Kristin.  They did their trip back in 2009 and along with another couple, they started the website, Drive the Americas.  It's a resource for people like us.  The website is designed to connect fellow travelers and help with the planning process.  It was great to chat with them over pizza and beers and ask them lots of questions. 

Our final U.S. stop was at our friends Vicki and Pete's in San Diego.  We stayed two nights here enjoying time with Vicki, Pete, and their cute little pugs, Pirate and Spider.  We met Vicki and Pete at Overland Expo last year and have kept in touch with them since.  They are just as excited about our trip as we are!  They are planning an African adventure, set to depart in 5 years.  Trust me, this kind of stuff takes that long to plan.  We are so excited for them and can't wait for their big adventure.  

Finally, it was time to cross into Baja.  We were crossing at the Tijuana border.  I later read this is one of the busiest border crossings in the world.  You don't say?  As we approached the border we felt like cattle being herded into a pen.  We were asked a few questions, the border agent peeked in our windows, and we were sent on our way.  We never actually stopped to get our tourist cards, instead we got caught up in the herd of cars headed towards the city center.  Oops.  

We were feeling intimidated to say the least and it took us about 15 minutes to find Mex 1D, the toll road to Ensenada.  What were we going to do about the tourist cards?  We had to have these to travel past Ensenada, but for the time being, we just wanted to get out of the city.

We arrived at our first stop, El Ranch Faro (The Lighthouse Ranch).  This was our first volunteering stint with the Muskoka Foundation.  There was a little confusion on our part as to what was going to be happening at El Ranch Faro, but things eventually got straightened out and we were able to spend about 4 days getting to know the people.  

El Ranch Faro is an all girls orphanage in the beautiful wine country of Northern Baja.  The orphanage is a new partnership for Muskoka, so Brenton and I were there to get to know the people and the area and get some insight into what Muskoka can do for them.  Our favorite part of our visit came on our last night.  

The director of the orphanage and her husband came to us insisting that we stay in their pop up camper.  We were trying to explain to them that we were very comfortable and warm in our car and that they didn't need to go to the trouble.  They clearly weren't buying it, so we told them to look for themselves.  They were amazed at our set up.  Several kids gathered round and we spent a couple of hours giving them a tour of the truck and, at their request, showing pictures on our laptop of the different places we have traveled.  Brenton and I just stood back and watched their faces lightt up with excitement.    

And those pesky tourist cards?  On our last day at El Rancho Faro we got up early and drove to Tecate.  After some reading in our guide books, we figured this would be our best bet.  It's a much smaller and less crowded city and border crossing.  Good choice.  We found parking easily, just a block from the Migration Office and the entire process took no more than 15 minutes.  We are now officially tourists in Mexico! 

We said our goodbyes to El Ranch Faro and headed south once again.  We made our way to the town of Vicente Guerrero.  We pulled up to our camp for the night, Posada Don Diego Resaturant/Bar/Trailer Park.  We picked our spot and went in the restaurant to pay.  After a quick glance at the menu, we decided we couldn't resist the temptation to have some good seafood.  Shortly after we sat down, another couple sat at the table next to us and we chatted with them throughout our meal.  Bruce and Lisa are from Canada. They had driven to La Paz and were making their way back north.  They have been doing this trip for eight years so they had plenty of excellent recommendations for us as we head south.  We told them our ultimate plan to drive to Tierra del Fuego and Bruce said, "every young couple should do that trip."  We love getting positive feedback.

The next morning we headed towards the town of Cataviña.  On the the way we stopped in El Rosario to fill our gas tank and our two fuel cans.  El Rosario is the last (reliable) place to fill up for almost 200 miles.  Not long after passing through El Rosario, the landscape begins to change.  There are all types of cacti: cirio (or boojum) trees, cardons, barrel cactus, chollas, and agaves.  This area is known as the Sonoran Desert Vegetation Region and some of these species of cacti are only found here.  As we got nearer to Cataviña we entered another impressive area known as the Catiñva boulder fields.  This has been my favorite area so far.  Huge boulders as far as the eye can see with these beautiful and unique cacti dispersed throughout.  It was breathtaking.  Just outside of Cataviña is El Marmol, an abandoned onyx mining area.  We spent some time hiking among the chunks of onyx and exploring an old mining entrance.

Our next destination was Bahia de Los Angles (Bay of Angels).  Up to this point in Baja, the weather had been mostly overcast, windy, and cold.  We were really hoping for some sunshine and warmth, and we weren't disappointed.  As we approached the town, the skies opened and sun was shining.  The Bay of Angles is beautiful.  Our view to the west is a large rocky mountain range and our view to the east is the beautiful blue waters and the islands guarding the bay, the largest of which, Isla Angel de la Guarda, is 45 miles (75 km) long!  The protection these islands offer gave me some reassurance our second day here when a local gringo told us that an earthquake had hit Acapulco and we didn't know yet if there would be a Tsunami as a result.  What? A Tsunami?  No one seemed overly alarmed but I watched the waters closely.  I am happy to report, there was no Tsunami.

We don't know how long we'll be staying in Bahia de Los Angles, but this little oasis has kept our attention for several days now.  We've been enjoying the company of our camp neighbors, talking with the locals, delicious seafood, perfect weather, and beautiful views.  This is what it's all about.

For more Washington to California pictures, click here: West Coast: USA
For more Baja Norte pictures, click here: Baja Norte