With a tequila sign squeaking above our heads, the wind blowing the blanket curtain open, and the smell of the ocean flowing through the wooden structure that we called our shower, we took our first real shower in over a week. Through the cracks in the wooden walls you could see the rich teal water of the Bahía de Concepción and the white sand beach, it was pure bliss. It was also in that moment that the lesson from our Baja adventure started to sink in.
When we started talking about spending a month in Baja we had a mix of excited and worried responses. This wasn’t a new conversation as I have had that mixed questioning response to many of my adventure plans. But, we had done our research, we had connected with travelers who had embarked on the journey before, and we listened to the safety tips. Now it was our time to listen to our gut and head south.
So, we made a rough plan of our trip and started driving. Before we crossed the border we got all of our paperwork in order, our passports ready, shot recorders for Rhodie, special Baja insurance, we had it all. It might have all been overkill, but it gave us a sense of security. We got to the border, there was no wait, they briefly opened the door to the van, asked for our van registration, never checked our passports and let us go on our merry way. We left slightly confused, and tried to identify our gut feeling as either fear or excitement, it was a mix of both.
Our first stop was Valle de Guadalupe, an unexpected wine sanctuary in Baja California. We had our eyes set on a few wine tasting spots and we had heard about a ‘hot springs’ that we could camp at in the mountains. I realized quickly that my Spanish was pure shit and was extremely thankful Ira had his shit together. We enjoyed some wine and with plenty of time went to find our campsite. One of the safety tips given to us was to never drive at night, so we were extra careful with our timing. Glad we did, because we definitely got lost on the backroads. We finally made our way to a house that seemed like the end of the road. Although, a sweet women walked out, asked for our money and opened a gate to let us continue on the road to the hot spring. The land was beautiful and we were tucked away in this beautiful valley. We enjoyed a gourmet dinner, mac and cheese, and went to bed early with goals for an early morning hike into the hot springs. We followed the trail, and definitely found the hot springs, they were just about the size of my big toe. So, we enjoyed the hike, made our way back to the van and continued our way south.
We had three days to make it from the US boarder to Mulegé, which lays on the Bahía de Concepción. We had rented a AirBnb in Mulegé so we would have access to internet through the week as we both were working remotely the whole trip and internet was our greatest concern. We made it about an hour outside of Mulegé the night before we were to check-in to our sweet little retreat and had been given beta on where to park the van for the night right on the beach, so we decided to stay there for the night. Another safety tip shared with us before our trip was to always be aware of the sand and tides. This piece of advice was quickly remembered as we pulled into our dreamy little beach front property for the night and we felt the van sink deep into the sand. See, Charlene (my van), is not 4-wheel-drive, she isn’t even all-wheel drive, and she was very stuck. Ira and I quickly realized we were not in a great place.
We tried to get out, and as you know if you have been stuck in the sand or snow before, the more you try the deeper you go. We were stuck, we had no clue where we were, and we had an early morning to get signed into work by 9 am the next day. Panic set in as the sun was setting and we knew we weren’t moving for the night. Which, had two layers of worry: one, we needed to be up early and online for work, two, we had no idea where we were or what our surroundings were and we only had our feet to get out of a bad situation if one were to arise.
I called the insurance company we purchased Baja insurance from and learned that the fine print stated we had to be on a highway to get a tow-truck. Google didn’t have many answers for us either. We were in the outskirts of a small town, but it would be a long walk. Instead of we started diving into options online. I searched for auto stores and searched Instagram to see if any other van lifers had posted pictures and were nearby to help us. That night we were in too deep and we were not going to find the answer, so more drinks were poured and we wished for the best.
The second the sun came up the next morning we started calling any and every shop we could find a number to in the neighboring town. We called Baja emergency. We called the insurance company again. And finally, we finally got ahold of someone and we started asking for help thanks to Google translate. We shared our story and they hung up. Then randomly another number finally called us back and said they were sending a tow truck. We poured ourselves a morning cocktail to relieve some of the stress, told our offices we were going to be late to work, and waited… and waited.. and waited. About an hour or so later a tow truck finally found us, looked at Charlene and said they would be back and just drove away. Ira and I looked at each other and just laughed, no way are they coming back! But, we decided to trust it, we waited. Another round of fresh squeezed oranges with tequila helped us stay positive. We started discussing what to do next when they didn’t come back. But, without expectation, the kid was back with a much larger truck. They connected chains to Charlene and winched her out of the deep hole we had dug her into.
Traveling to another country is always filled with questioning what is safe, what is seen as normal, and what is culturally acceptable. It usually takes me a few days to get my bearings, and we were definitely thrown into the thick of this experience right away. But, we laughed our way thru it, we didn’t blame one another for the situation we were in, and we used our knowledge and skills to get ourselves out of a tough spot. We were also extremely relieved to be heading to an AirBnb and to feel a bit of the stress melt away for a few days.
Mulegé was absolutely amazing. Our days consisted of early morning walks to a private beach with Rhodie, working by the pool at our AirBnb and then walking down to the beach at night for fish tacos and a beautiful sunset. It felt like a retreat, and it was a nice reprieve from the stress of finding a place to sleep every night that we would potentially sink into.
After our week in Mulegé we were making a big push to head to Cabo to meet up with friends and stay with them for a few days. The difference in scenery along the Baja peninsula is incredible, from tropical beaches, to rocky mountains, to some of the wildest cactus fields, we were in awe the whole drive down. We pinned spots we wanted to explore on our way north and meandered through the roads of Baja.
We arrived in Cabo and were immediately overwhelmed. After days in smaller unknown towns along the Baja Peninsula we were inundated with American culture again. We met our friends at a fancy beach bar to find them lounging with bottles of champagne. We walked in unshowered and with Rhodie in tow, who then proceeded to poop right next to some lovely folks enjoying a beer and sunbathing. You know that feeling of not belonging, this was it for us. But, we embraced it poured ourselves a glass of champagne and then jumped on a boat to finish our journey to the southern most point of the Baja Peninsula.
After a few days of spending too much money and spoiling ourselves in Cabo, we headed up towards Todo Santos to spend the week. If you haven’t been to Todo Santos, I highly recommend it, the streets are filled with local makers, fresh juice, delicious coffee, and wonderful people. We found a beach, where the sand was not too soft, to call home for the week with probably about 20 of our new found overlanding friends. It was on this beach that Rhodie fell deeply in love at sunset with his sweet new friend Pancho. That is a whole other hilarious story that I will save for a later post! But seriously, look at that face, he had never been more stoked!
It was in Todo Santos that we finally felt like we were getting the hang of this adventure. We felt like we understood the customs, the lifestyle and we felt like we belonged! We would wake up, workout on the beach, take Rhodie on a run, work from the van until our computers were dead, head to town for lunch and electricity, and then would head back to the beach for sunset where we would meet new friends and enjoy the simplicity of Baja beach life. The stress of travel melted away on that beach in Todo Santos and it quickly became our home. It allowed us to refill our energy before making our trip back north.
We left Todo Santos and sadly had to take Rhodie away from his new love, but we had places to be. We headed towards La Paz, staying at the most beautiful beach. Then continued north to Loretto where we once again got stuck in some sand (but we were able to get ourselves out on our own this time), then to our own private beach for a beautiful night in Bahía de Concepción and made our way to highway 5 to find Coco’s Corner.
We heard Coco’s Corner was a must, so we took the long way home to go through Coco’s Corner and it was worth it. I don’t want to give away any details here, it is something you have to experience for yourself if you have the opportunity! We found ourselves among cactus fields and massive boulders on a ‘highway’ that is currently getting a facelift, but when we experienced it, it was dirt and slow moving. We quickly understood why caravanning this Highway 5 is recommended, as the possibility of breaking down is high and you are far away from any sort of help.
We made it through, made our way up to San Felipe for one last night on the beach before heading back to the states.
Even through all the travel stress at the beginning of our trip, the one thing we learned while in Baja was that life can be much more simplistic than what we make it. We don’t need to live with as much clutter as we think we do. We appreciated the side of the highway stores with only fresh produce from the neighboring farms, we couldn’t get enough of the fresh made tortillas at gas stations, and the ease of cheap Tecate. We enjoyed the slower pace of Baja and meandering through backroads with only a rough plan. Baja taught us to build simplicity into our every day, even when surrounded by the hustle and bustle of our society.
Folks put a fear inside of us as we entered this adventure. We feared military stops, the roads, finding places to sleep, and trusty Wi-Fi. But really, none of those fears were reality. The military check-points were there, usually blasting music and having a grand old time while they sweetly greeted Rhodie and did a quick check of the van. The roads were pure shit, that is true, but drive during the day and you are fine. We could fill the map of Baja with little starts noting places to call home, just check the sand first. And even though we had a few mishaps with Wi-Fi, it never hindered us from getting our work done. We found ourselves productive and managing our time affectively while still taking time to enjoy the beauty of Baja and the simplicity of the lifestyle.
I will forever dream of that beautiful shower on the beach on Bahía de Concepción. I will laugh at our humility of being stuck deep in the sand outside of Santa Maria. I will forever remember Rhodie’s love, Pancho, and cry laughing thinking of those poor tourists faces when Rhodie pooped right next to them. I will remember the cafes that we worked at all day and the beaches that became our home. While the trip had its moments of fear and uncertainty, it was so damn worth it! It was a trip that was filled with reminders to live a bit more simply and to not let other people’s fear control your choices.
Cheers to listening to your gut and living with simplicity in mind!