Sunday, 8 April 2018

California Wine Country

We’re now north of San Fran in Sonoma County and the heavy coats are back out. High teen highs during the day and below 10 at night. Andrew is shivering but I’m enjoying the welcome break of not feeling overheated and sweaty. 

California is EXPENSIVE! Our first few nights here we stayed at Sugarloaf Ridge State Park - $35/night with no campsite amenities, plus extra for firewood and 25 cent a minute showers. And the wine tasting fees are outrageous - $25-35 dollars for 3-5 sips and you only get that waived if you buy upwards of $100 worth of wine! So we are being very choosy where we are going. 

But that said, it is absolutely beautiful, and as a wine region, there are definitely things the Okanagan could learn from here. Foremost among them is being dog-friendly. The visitor’s guide lists all the wineries that welcome dogs, and they mean it. At Gloria Ferrer, Coco was ushered onto the outdoor tasting patio like royalty and given her own ceramic water bowl. 

There are many outdoor beer and wine gardens, at restaurants and at vineyard estates, where dogs and their owners sit at communal picnic tables over a glass. We really enjoyed Cornerstone near Sonoma - with gardens and artwork, and a clothing/decor store called Nomad Chic that also exists in Todos Santos! I had a great chat with the owner about how much we love Baja and her experiences living there. 

Also, the Barlow in Sebastopol is great! It’s a former fruit processing plant that has been repurposed with markets, craft breweries and wineries and cafes. On Saturday night we enjoyed pints at Crooked Goat Brewery with an eclectic local crowd and then went to the Community Center where they were having a Beatles Sing-Along Party! There were young families, teens, seniors and everyone in between all dancing and laughing and singing their lungs out. What a fun little town! 

I would love to see this kind of spirit in Kelowna. Imagine the Tolko plant redone as a maker marketplace! 

As for nature, the landscape here is much more reminiscent of Ireland than what I would consider a wine area. It’s lushly green with rolling grassy hills and even hand-stacked stone fences like all over Great Britain. 

There is much evidence of the fires that rampaged through here last October. Along the road up to Sugarloaf Ridge, there are blackened stumps and charred home foundations, plus homes that were across the street from destruction. Many signs like “First Responders are our Heroes” remind me of Kelowna in 2003. 

36 hours of our time here was washed out by a deluge of rain. Knowing any campgrounds would turn into mud pits, we blew the budget on two nights at the Motel 6 in Petaluma to stay dry. Wow, have to say it was pretty nice just to sit in bed all day long and watch TV while it poured buckets outside. We had to literally drag poor Coco outside to do her business twice during the day - the only times we left the room! 

But it’s warm and sunny today....on to the Russian River area!

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Palms to Pines

Ironically, we experienced our highest temperatures this trip while driving north. We hit Palm Springs region during a heat wave, with one day registering 35 degrees! 

The whole canyon from Indio to Palm Springs runs southeast to northwest and is trippy beyond belief. From dry scrub desert to the most lush green golf course resorts, from funky retro architecture and posh stores to beautiful natural areas. 

We enjoyed a nice mix of all the region has to offer. The highlight being an overnight visit with our friend Christine Pinette and her family at their amazingly redone 1960s Palm Canyon rancher, previously owned by Jimmy Pattinson. What a tranquil oasis! 

Continuing north we stopped at a favourite watering hole, the Joshua Tree Saloon, but were disappointed that they no longer offered a rueben sandwich on the menu. Back in 2015, it was the best we’d ever tasted. But nothing a few cold brews and patty melt couldn’t fix! 

That night we stayed on BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land, basically just open dust fields for free boondocking. The next day on Hwy 247 we noticed several other BLM sites. Many Americans and Canadians spend their winters roaming through these sites in very large fifth wheels and “toys” such as ATVs and dirtbikes. 

As we climbed in elevation towards Bakersfield, the scenery started to look much more familiar. In fact we could have sworn we were in the Okanagan. Tonight at Tehachapi Mountain Park, we are back amongst pines and wearing light jackets over our Ts. 

For the past month, we’ve noticed sporadic evidence of mice in the truck. We once found a bunch of fluff from torn tissues in the glove box, and the dog food bag chewed through, and one night Coco went nuts barking at the truck engine. 

Even after we removed all food stores from the truck, last night something chewed through a boxed wine carton (no judgement - boxed wine is great for travel!), spilling some of it and probably getting drunk in the process. 

Today Andrew finally decided to put a mouse trap in the passenger side footwell and within an hour we had our culprit! Amazing to think this little critter may have been hitchhiking with us from Baja.

We’re both suckers for all living creatures, and seeing this little fuzzball squished in the trap was a sad sight. Andrew gingerly opened the trap and set the mouse on the picnic table. Then after a minute, like something out of a cartoon, the tiny body “reinflated” and it came back to life! 

He was a cute little desert mouse and was probably wondering where the heck he was. Andrew moved him to a place far from our campsite while I held Coco at bay, and we sprinkled some dog kibble nearby so the mouse would have something to gnaw on and be less likely to take up residence back in the truck. 

Speedy Gonzales is now an American!

Saturday, 31 March 2018

Bay of the Angels and Land of the Free

Bay of the Angels and Land of the Free

Though this is our fourth year travelling Baja, we had never been to Bahia de los Angeles, until now. The famed Bay of Angels sits on the east Sea of Cortez side of the peninsula and can only be accessed by a 66 km road from MX highway 1, so it’s a good 3-hour round trip of driving to visit it. 

This year we decided to give it a go. Not really worth it. Nothing in town. Playa La Gringa for boondocking is another 12 out of town with the last few km being bumpy dirt. The campground is just open rocky beach. 

On the plus side, they are pretty rocks. And you can dig for clams. But it was windy and the water was the coldest we’ve experienced this winter. M’eh. Good we made it here but think we’ll give it a miss in future. 

We left after three nights and decided to trek all through the dirt patch on MX Highway 5. There has been much progress on the paving and we were able to use the new road for a portion of the journey, so it only took 2 hours - except for the stop to have a beer with Coco (the man, not our dog!) at his Corner. 

Then stopped for the night at Papa Fernandez campground at Punta Willard, about 180 km south of San Felipe. It was a very relaxing evening sitting on the salt and pepper sand beach as the sun went down, enjoying the amazing array of wildlife on view. 

At dusk, the shallows came alive with foot-long sleek fish with dorsal fins and tails that stood above the waterline. They did look and move very much like baby sharks. Who knows?  

That night we were buffeted by massive wind gusts that continued through the morning, so we decided to head out. And kept going. And going. Though we had no intention of crossing into the USA that day, we ended up reaching the border at Mexicali by 3:30 PM and got through at 4. 

After the long day’s drive, we were happy to pull into the Walmart in El Centro. A roasted chicken and a salad kit, some wine, and we were set for a lovely evening in the parking lot! 

In the morning we stocked up - as you can’t bring fruits/veggies/meat across from Mexico - and on towards the Coachella/Indio/Palm Springs area. 

At we found a boondocking place off Box Canyon Road just south of Joshua Tree National Park. This place is AMAZING! Wild rock formations and slot canyons, every bit as unique as the national park, and totally deserted! 

Though when we parked, we realized what people like to do in these “wild” areas. The ground was littered with bullet and shotgun casings. Sure enough, within minutes of setting up camp a group of gun enthusiasts showed up with their pistols to target practice at the rocks. The sounds of their shots echoed through the canyon - thank heaven Coco didn’t get freaked out. Welcome to the USA! At least they left after an hour. 

And the rigs!!! Down in Baja most campers are in even smaller units than ours. On this side of the border we look like Lilliputians. A fifth wheel just went by that must have been 45’ long! 

Andrew raked up all the shotgun casings and we are going to have a fire tonight. Our little bit of clean-up of this beautiful place! 

Saturday, 24 March 2018

Unexpected Returns to Rattlesnake Beach and San Ignacio

We left Tecolote with the expectation we would be heading to El Conejo, a beach about 90 km north of La Paz on the Pacific. We’d never been there but heard positive reports from several other campers, mostly surfers. 

When we pulled off MX 1 to the road leading to Conejo, we realized we were looking at another slow 16 km of washboard sand. After crawling along the full 60 km of East Cape dirt, we had little interest in tackling another two hours of bumpy driving to reach a place we didn’t even know whether we’d like. 

It was already 2 PM and there was nothing further north for a long stretch. But we just decided to keep going. Within three hours we had again traversed to the east side of the peninsula and were heading down the appropriately-named mountains - The Giganticas. 

This ridge is one of the most spectacular, awe-striking spines on the Baja, or anywhere. Horizontal bands of different coloured rock are clearly visible on the jagged towers, topped with lime greenery, looking like they belong in Jurassic Park. 

We decided to pull into Rattlesnake Beach, a place we’d visited in 2015 and skipped last year, and had planned to skip this year as well. But it was already well after 5 PM and Coco was antsy for dinner. 

The boondocking spot didn’t impress us in 2015 due to its dark, rocky, seaweed-strewn beach. However, back here again we now realize it has wonderful merits too. There must be reasons that flocks of snowbirds park here the entire winter! 

About 35 km south of Loreto, this area is protected on all sides from the notorious El Norte winds by headlands and offshore islands. Therefore its calm waters are great for kayaking and fishing. 

There is a large hill at the north end of the beach that we climbed in 2015. We were delighted to find that some industrious campers (apparently fellow BCers) hugely expanded the hiking trails to network all over the hill and offer wonderful views of the Giganticas and coastline. 

We quickly ran into Mike from Thunder Bay who we’d met on our first trip, and then enjoyed happy hour with many of the permanent winter residents, most from Vancouver Island and one couple from West Kelowna. They gave us a ton of great information about other hikes and sights around the area which we’ll enjoy next year. 

The next morning was cool and cloudy, and I couldn’t believe how much I enjoyed it! Clearly I’d had enough of sun and heat and sweating - it was so nice just to relax outside and read without sunglasses. 

On the road again the next morning and stopped at a restaurant on Buenaventura Beach in Bahia Concepcion for lunch. This place is owned by a fellow, Mark originally from Ohio, that we met on our first trip, and we enjoyed their Taco Tuesday on the way down this time. 

Being the day after St. Paddy’s, they had leftover corned beef and Guinness stew, and we chowed down on a delicious pastrami and rye sandwich complete with scalloped potatoes. Too bad we weren’t thinking to be there on March would have been a great party! Mark always creates unique and thoughtful fare for the winter crowd.  

With a recommendation from Thunder Bay Mike, we pulled into Don Chon campsite in San Ignacio for the night. This small town was not our radar as a stop because during our 2014-15 trip we hated the RV spot here. But thanks to Mike we found a new campground and have enjoyed two nights at a tiny boondocking site right on a freshwater lagoon. 

The calm waters are great for swimming and kayaking (well, Andrew and Coco swim...I won’t go in the water so full of mud and little fish). And there are bullfrogs hidden in the rushes that croak so low and loud they sound like grunting pigs! 

Here we met Fabian and Isabella, young Europeans with a massive German-made all-terrain RV. They are traveling the world in this huge Mercedes diesel 4X4 rig that cost $300K+!!! It looks like something that would roam around the moon! They have a website at that we’ll keep an eye on. It was an inspiration...maybe giving us too many ideas ;-)

Tomorrow we will head to Bahia de los Angeles, a bay on the Sea of Cortez in the northern part of Baja. It will be our last taste of Mexican beach for the year, though the forecast is calling for chilly 16-18 degree highs all week. Which is fine with me! 

Coco continues to enjoy the trip and making friends everywhere she goes. She has developed a new morning habit...each day after breakfast she sits at the back of the truck and yelps. This means “I want my toy box!”, which we keep in the truck bed. 

So we get the little cardboard box that holds her balls and stuffies and put it down so she can root through and choose what she wants to play with that day. It’s kind of adorable, except when we haven’t even had a chance to have morning coffee yet and she’s in play mode! 

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Pitying the Pit Bulls

Tecolote is as charming as ever. We found a window of days on that were forecast to be calm - this is not an enjoyable place during its typical El Norte wind blasts - and settled into a site between dunes on the west side of the beach. 

This site is unique in that it is a popular spot for both boondocking snowbirds and local La Paz residents. There is a gringo bar alongside Mexican families playing their crazy tuba music. And it is next to Balandra Bay - one of the most stunning beaches ANYWHERE. 

Within hours of finding our spot, we met the most adorable neighbours - a pair of very young pit bull puppies. Their “dad” was 73-year-old Enrique, originally from Chile but living the past 50 years in Bar Harbor, Maine. They instantly took to Coco and engaged in rough-and-tumble puppy play. 

Enrique explained how buying the puppies was the realization of a 3-year dream. My first thought was...”what, someone actually PAYS for dogs here, when there are so many needing rescued?”. 

There was no denying the pups were absolutely, heart-meltingly gorgeous. They were full on in that awkward puppy stage when they walked like drunken sailors (no disrespect to sober sailers or other kinds of drunken walkers!) and their short hair felt like the finest velvet. 

Rosita was apparently born on Jan 2, making her 10 weeks old, and Pepita was younger. I couldn’t believe either was older than 6 weeks with their floppy movements and barely-there teeth. 

Pepita was especially adorable (though it always feels like a betrayal to pick one over the other) with her stocky body, blue/grey fur with white feet, and blue eyes. 

Then Enrique talked about how he looked forward to breeding her, and my heart sank. I’ve seen the documentary “Champions” about Michael Vick’s fighting pit bulls, about how they are so prevalent in shelters because public opinion is so against them as a breed, and had to speak up. 

“Please at least make sure you have families lined up beforehand - too many pitties end up being euthanized.” 

He shrugged it off with talk that he was going to give the pups away to everyone in Bar Harbor and make it a sanctuary for the breed. At least he didn’t seem financially motivated. 

The next day the pack was clearly the darlings of the beach. Every gringo and Mexican group greeted the little stumbling pups and took hundreds of photos. 

They wandered. They clawed with never-cut nails. They didn’t listen to calls to come. It was clear Enrique had no idea what he had gotten himself into. 

I showed him Coco’s nail clippers and offered to trim their nails while he held them. “It’s important to get them used to getting their paws handled at this age.” He was grateful. 

Still I’m feeling sad. It’s clear he loves these pups very much. But he has no clue about the realities of raising puppies, much less pit bulls and the implications of breeding them. Though well-meaning, he is the exact type of owner who is only going to bring more disrepute to their breed

After watching “Champions” and doing research on breed discrimination, I’m a believer that pit bulls and related breeds have gotten a bad rap in our society. 

Yes, they are incredibly strong and capable of causing serious damage to other living creatures, but in each case you can trace the viciousness back to the way they were raised. The same is capable of German shepherds and Labs and many others depending on their background. 

I can only hope Pepita, Rosita and Enrique have many wonderful years together, without bringing any more unwanted dogs into the world. 


Friday, 9 March 2018

Adios Pescadero and Hola Cabo Este

We’d been hemming and hawing when to pick up stakes from San Pedrito beach, and finally decided on March 2, the day after our dentist appointments. Who really thinks about dental cleanings while laying around paradise? But it’s so worth it...both of us got great cleanings in half the time the Canadian hygienists take and paid about $100 Cdn total! As we don’t have any extended medical coverage, this is a huge savings for us.

Anyhoo, Pescadero really brought out all the stops for our last day. After 10 cooler days of winds and clouds, March 1 was brilliantly bright and warm. We enjoyed our favourite roadside pork tacos one last lunch, then settled back at the beach to savour the afternoon sun. 

At low tide we took our beach chairs down to the surf with a few cervezas and Coco’s ball flinger. Buddy, a large old black lab from a neighbouring camp, decided to join in the fun. Coco was VERY perturbed to have to compete with another dog for her ball and vocally let us know! 

It was an idyllic last day and made us ponder staying longer. We made such cool friends at the beach - 70-some-year-old Nick, the Catholic-turned-spiritualist nomad from New Mexico, young Tim from Oregon and his meximutt Tecate who became Coco’s main wrestling partner, BC forest fighter Ben who disassembled his elaborate camp and left the day before. But all good things must come to an end as there are more places to experience...

So on Friday morning we re-packed the trailer and set our course. Although our destination was only 100 km away, the journey took all day with stops at Costco and Walmart in Cabo San Lucas to stock up on supplies. 

The East Cape, or Cabo del Este, is accessible via a 60-km long dirt road that hugs the coastline east of San Jose del Cabo north to La Riberia, almost directly east of Todos Santos on the other side of the peninsula. Here there are remote gorgeous beaches, amazing oceanfront estates, and Cabo Pulmo National Marine Park. But no stores. So our truck and trailer laboured to pull an extra 500+ pounds of food, water, and propane to last us at least 2 weeks before we reach civilization again. 

We made our first camp at Shipwrecks beach, apparently named after a popular sunken boat snorkelling spot. It was a big change after San Pedrito; it’s a small arroyo enclosed by sand dunes with only two other campers. And the silence is deafening! The surf where we’ve been the past two and a half months created a constant boom...sometimes I’d wake up in the night thinking a Boeing 747 was doing a low fly-by or that a thunderstorm was clapping...but nope, it was just the waves. Here, on the Sea of Cortez there is only a tiny little shush of a wave. 

The water is stunningly clear and the sand goes on for miles in both directions. It is one of the most gorgeous spots we’ve seen in Baja, and again, totally free to camp. Besides a few other campers and day trippers, our only visitors were a donkey and a small herd of cattle. 

After four days at Shipwrecks, we packed up super-securely to tackle the 30-km section of dirt road to Cabo Frailles. It took us 2.5 hours to complete the journey, at some points going only a crawl thanks to nasty washboard. 

We’d spent a few weeks at Cabo Frailles last year...despite the East Cape winds it’s a beautiful bay with calm waters and a big mountain for hikes. However we’d heard from other travellers that it was decimated by Hurricane Lidia in August 2017. 

Wow, they were right! It’s unbelievable to imagine the force of the torrents of water that completely denuded this arroyo, even knocking down a section of 6’ high X 2’ wide rock wall. There are no more bushes or shrubs to provide shelter or privacy - just clumps of uprooted debris. 

However it’s still a popular place with fishermen and snorkelers. Within minutes of setting up camp, we ran into two friends from last year. Ironically it was Del’s (an older fellow from Hudson’s Hope) last day here and we just caught him packing up, so were the the recipients of all the food he couldn’t carry including about 5 pounds of grouper he’d caught! 

Sadly it was also the last day for one unfortunate tourist - a 64-year-old man who had a heart attack and died down on the beach. Many campers tried to help with CPR but to no avail. 

And then we caught up with Alice and Michael from Comox. “Saint Alice” helped us last year when Coco was just a pup and was having many digestive problems; thanks to their advice and a box of dehydrated raw dog food they were able to sell us, Coco thrived from that point on! It was adorable to see Coco reunite with her - she definitely remembered Alice! 

Yesterday we came to Cabo Pulmo, a quaint little village in the middle of the national marine park. Here the coral and reefs are protected and provide excellent snorkelling...that is when the winds die down enough so the water is clear. At least the camp spots are protected by bushes. The beach is rocky but the rocks are an amazing assortment of colours and patterns, all worn smooth from the relentless surf. 

The thing I love most about Pulmo though isn’t in the water - it’s the extensive and well-marked trail network through the nearby hills. I have no idea who or what, in such a tiny town, could construct and maintain these miles of trails through cactus scrub and around fascinating rock formations. But I sure enjoy it! 

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Of Finance, Fitness and Flies...

Been here at San Pedrito Beach for over two months now and have been thoroughly lulled into a lazy routine. I had such ambitious plans for this period of the winter. I figured I’d be bored with endless days in the sun and could direct energy to contemplating the next phase of my “career”. Would I finally start writing (or rather, finishing) that novel I’ve always talked about? Would I decide to actively pursue something in fashion or design? Would I do a business plan for my own consulting company? 

Nada! I’ve spent all of twenty minutes thinking about these things. Guess I’m just not ready and must accept it will come when it comes. Or I’m financially forced too. 

At least I’ve harnessed the motivation to get back into fitness over the past month. After weeks of gorging on delicious tacos and cerveza with only the occasional beach walk as exercise, I had to face facts that my waist had almost disappeared. That’s the wake-up for me! I created a strength routine using body weight, heavy rocks from the beach and the elastic bands we brought, wrote it down above the door of the trailer and signed it, and told Andrew and other friends on the beach they had hold me accountable to doing it each morning. 

I can already notice the difference and actually now look forward to it. I find fitness has its own inertia - once it wanes, it really drops, and conversely once it gets going, it picks up steam. Feeling strong then encourages me to go for more walks and runs, helps me choose salad over fries, and say “no” to that extra bloating Pacifico. 

The only problem with my morning work-outs occur when there is no wind. I don’t recall sand flies being a problem on this beach before, but egad, even dousing myself with Deet doesn’t seem to help when they’re in the nipping mood. My lower legs have never been more covered with maddeningly itchy spots. 

As I write, they are in all stages of blossoming and healing. New bites just showing as pink bumps, scabs that are covered or uncovered for the umpteenth time from scratching, and purple hyperpigmentation spots from previous scabs. Andrew says, and I have to agree, I look like a meth addict from the knees down. Of course, the gnats don’t seem to bother him....guess I must be tastier!