In La Paz I signed in at the Marina rather than going around to all the offices (Port Captain, Migracion and Customs) myself. They assured me that I would save a little money and a couple of hours of chasing down and waiting in the offices. Apparently the officials prefer to deal with the competent and bilingual marina staff processing batches of new comers rather than a constant parade of yachties speaking bad Spanish and resenting the whole process. In any event it was quite painless that way. . .paid my marina fees, harbor dues, Check-in fees and whatever else all at once on my Visa card.
Newly arrived in the one big city of the trip (La Paz is almost 200,000 people and very old), I was eager to walk uptown and see what could be found for a supper and so forth. First stop was at an internet café to check email and let interested parties know I was still alive and well. Thence away from the waterfront (gringo) strip up the hill into the real town to find tacos and so forth and finally back to the marina for a night of no anchor drills, peace and quiet. Ha. I woke before midnight as the band in the restaurant at the top of the floats shifted the volume up to “drunk customer” setting. The bass was amplified beyond reason, though the vocalist and the guitar were both quite talented. It would have almost been pleasant in a city-sort of way if it weren’t for the 4 competing CD players on nearby boats. There was rock, Country western and rap at least, four different styles and beats, more or less equally represented and me in the middle, or so it felt. Oof. The band quit at 2:00 (and I never heard them again). By 0300 it was down to just one country CD player. He died at 3:20. I definitely prefer wind, wave and anxiety.
With full morning I staggered out and uptown to find the “farmers’ market”, where good breakfasts are not expensive at the food stalls. This was the only time on the trip I saw any sign of hostility from anybody. One man, sitting two tables away, pretty obviously at least a little tipsy, began to speak directly away from me in a very loud voice and almost unaccented English, “hey, that’s cool, come down to Mexico, check out how the wetbacks live, spend a little money, be a big man, hey, not bad. . .” Clearly he hoped for a response from me but I hardly realized he was intending the comments for me before an ad hoc committee of the food counter proprietresses descended on him en masse and helped him out to the street. It was such an unexpected and unique sort of thing I only began to realize the implications later. No doubt, to have such excellent idiomatic English he had to have spent a lot of time in the States. Equally without doubt he was ill treated and probably deported as an “illegal” to have conceived the strong anger toward all gringos. I continue to resent our immigration policies and procedures enormously. This sort of personal ill will amongst neighbors is a very bad thing and the inevitable result of our treatment of migrants from Mexico. Anyway, it was an excellent breakfast of “huevos al gusto” (eggs as you like them) for $30 pesos and an enormous glass of orange juice squeezed by hand while I watched for $10 pesos more (many many oranges went into that glass). All was brought to my table by a primly smiling 4 year old young lady as her mom finished each bit and she wiped each table carefully and squinted along the top to be sure she got each one spotless as the customers around finished eating. She took my 2 peso tip with a very big smile.
The downtown bus station is located right on the waterfront opposite the Municipal Pier. At first glance it’s not too obvious, but you soon learn to spot them. . .the bus company name is “Aguila” and they run marvelous modern buses all over Baja California. The next bus for Loreto left at 11:30, giving me 2 hours to get things organized and get back to leave. Cost would be $190 pesos. . .$20 USD and the ride would take about 5 hours. Yes, I could certainly be let down at the crossroad for Puerto Escondido. I hurried back to the marina, let people know I’d be gone overnight, packed some things in my backpack and was sitting in line for the bus by 11:00, munching on a torta from the lunch stand next door. I didn’t notice it but my ticket actually included a seat assignment. When time came to board I went back in the bus a short distance and realized all the window curtains (heavy and dark, intended to make the bus dark enough for good movie watching) were already drawn. The only seat with a view of the road (something I was very interested in) was the front pair of seats opposite the driver. I homesteaded, put my pack in the large overhead bin and was amazed at the comfort. These buses are spotless, large, nearly silent (inside), air conditioned, plushly upholstered, equipped with a clean restroom in the back and seven or eight color VCR monitors mounted overhead. The seats recline farther than and are much better designed than first class seats in an airliner, you have individual air conditioning vents and reading lights. Wow. The other price I noticed was $770 pesos (about $80 USD) to Tijuana, almost as far as Seattle to Los Angeles! The ride was a quick five hours, the driver extremely smooth and careful, the road pretty in places, straight and barren elsewhere, three stops along the way for only 10 minutes or so each time, even at a military checkpoint. I almost managed to ignore the movie (Stories of the Fall, with Spanish subtitles) while I watched the road and the terrain roll past.
It was 5:00 before I arrived at Escondido, walking the 2 kilometers from the highway to the boat launch. The truck started at once, so I visited a bit with the guard (he had caught a cold the day I left and was just getting over it. . . I gave him a rough time about his cigarettes). Having let him know I’d be back in the morning for the trailer, I cut it loose and drove into Loreto for the night. The restaurant at Tripui resort on the road into Escondido was closed for the night and the rooms were $45 US, so it was an easy choice, knowing I could stay in town for $18 or $20 US and have a choice of restaurants for supper. On the way into town I passed a broken down old Toyota station wagon with three kids, mom and dad standing alongside the road. Stopped, offered them a ride, but they’d already sent word for a brother to come to fetch them, so commiserated over the blown head gasket (water in the oil. . .) and left them. I stayed at the Motel Salvatierra on Avenida Salvatierra, which is he main drag in from the highway. The room was basic but spotless and smoke free. They gave me the key and the towel and let me understand I’d have to return both key and towel to check out. The shower seemed to be a big disappointment until I had an inspiration. Sure enough, in Spanish, C stands for caliente and H stands for h-h-h-frio. Say that with a shiver. Anyway, using the Caliente faucet to get the hot water from worked fine. The fly in the ointment emerged after midnight when the room next door turned on the television and got what sounded like a LA Police sort of show, with gunfights and car chases and watched it until 3:30. I definitely prefer uninhabited islands, now that I understand the question.
The ride back to La Paz was without incident other than picking up various hitch hikers and stopping to give a jug of gasoline to an ancient ranch hand with a dilapidated pickup. The prize for the day was a flock of 4 young ladies in junior high uniforms who were waiting at a bus stop in the country outside Ciudad Constitucion. As I drove past one of them boldly stuck out her thumb and smiled. . .so of course I stopped. All four of them packed into the front seat. . .two deep on their side, but I still had room. There was excellent joking back and forth. . .they were obviously tickled to have flagged down an old gringo and gotten out of the bus ride to town. When I ran out of Spanish vocabulary at one point I changed to full speed English and asked “I don’t suppose any of you young ladies can speak English?” and all four answered “NO!” at once and then realized they’d been tricked and laughed hilariously the rest of the way into town. After that my road repair worker and the two ranchers I picked up at one time or another seemed pretty tame by comparison, though one of them got into the spirit of finding useful new words to teach me as we drove a hundred miles or so together into La Paz.
Along the way I reflected on lessons learned and the most important one seemed to be that auto mechanics were good and cheap and I was driving an old truck that needed some tender loving care. . .and I had two and a half days to kill in a major population center where there must be lots of mechanics to choose from. I hatched a scheme to interview the local taxi drivers around the marina until I found one with the right kinds of answers on the subject of mechanics, transmissions, electrical systems and the like. Having arrived back in the marina and discharged my passengers I walked into the city talking to cabbies as I went. My prize turned out to be Gaspar, who speaks English with an Italian accent, though he’s never left La Paz. His response to the scheme was quick and positive and he seemed very sure of his mechanic friends. We settled on a price ($100 pesos) to haul me to the bank to change money, back to the marina to get my truck, to a shop specializing in automatic transmissions and thence to the general mechanic’s shop, where, perhaps I would leave the truck and he would then drive me back to the marina. Without going into painful detail, that’s precisely what we did and the results were excellent. Three days later (during which it rained an inch one night, the overcast never lifted and the wind never dropped below 25 knots, hitting 37 to 40 at times depending on whose anemometer you trusted),the truck had new oil, filter and grease, automatic transmission serviced, new starter solenoid, new engine and transmission mounts, and scrubbed spotless inside and out, she started ran and sounded like a new car. Total for all the repairs on the trip, including the muffler in Santa Rosalia, came to just under $285 including Gaspar’s fees.
Having driven down to Los Cabos and met my Lady Love at the airport and back to La Paz in one day, we pulled the boat out next morning, rinsed her off, said goodbyes in Marina La Paz and headed North again. At Ciudad Constitucion, only 30 miles from the Pacific Coast, we decided to detour to Bahia Magdalena to look into the whale watching possibilities with the P-19 there. The road from Ciudad Constitucion to Puerto San Carlos is wide, well paved and nearly straight, running over a flat coastal plain. We found the Port Captain’s office easily and had a very pleasant visit. He didn’t want us to bother with any paperwork at all, just “. . .launch your boat, go watch whales, no problems!” He directed us precisely to the concrete boat launch ramp and things were starting to look pretty promising. Then I scouted the ramp. It’s very short, not very steep, and launches you out into a very shallow bay. H’mm. There was no question of launching at anything other than top of high tide and. . .that wouldn’t be until 3:00 in the morning, if it would work at all. Conversations with Panga captains convinced me that they mostly launch over the sand on the point beyond the concrete ramp. Their trailers are all locally made and show the influence of the flat sandy terrain. They use large truck tires, offset axles that all but drag the ground, no bunks to speak of for the boats and very long tongues, all calculated to get the long flat panga out into the water and floated off the trailer in the shallowest possible water. Their cars and trucks were only 2 wheel drive (the choices are “quarto pro quarto” or “normal”, which is said “nore-MAL”) but all the rigs were heavily rusted. I compared the Garges Baja trailer with the P-19 and it was obvious that the P-19 sat much higher above the road than their Pangas and her much shorter overall length meant she’d be much farther into the water before she floated off. Maybe with the tongue extension I haven’t built yet. . .but realistically, no, this was not a place to launch. There was no other choice, other than the big ship port. I visited briefly with the Port Operations Manager, a delightful and thoughtful man. They have an 18 ton hydraulic crane and rigging that could have easily set us in the water next to the ship dock, but the rate was fixed at $80 US per hour and he was sure it would be an hour each way. Having spent any spare money on truck repairs I was suddenly worried about having enough cash to drive the rig to the border again, paying for Mexican gasoline. We camped the night on the trailer and returned to the highway next morning, having seen no whales. People with P-15’s or Pelicans or similar boats might want to think this one over again. A Potter 15, with the swing up centerboard and rudder would be right at home in the shallow water and might be pretty easy to launch over the short little ramp at a high tide.
There is no Pemex station in Puerto San Carlos at this moment, though one is under construction and could be operational soon. For the time being there are two homes in town with gasoline for sale from 20 liter jugs, and not a lot more expensive than from Pemex. I had counted on Pemex, so bought one jug. It was clean and the truck didn’t seem to notice at all. Ask anybody you see driving. They will probably end up leading you to the spot since the layout of town is a little confusing.