Saturday, February 27, 2016

Adventures in Mexican canned goods: La Costeña frijoles bayos refritos

How do Mexican canned refried beans compare to the ones we can get in the US? There was a whole shelf of La Costeña brand, so I took that to mean they're popular and satisfy a sufficient percentage of natives. And the gold ribbon says they're free of preservatives.

The ingredients are water, bayo beans (a variety of pintos), soybean oil, onion, iodized salt, lard, jalapeno pepper, monosodium glutamate, and spices containing monosodium glutamate. Mmmm, lard! Can't make good refried beans without it.

Canned refritos, no matter who makes them, never look that appetizing. Sort of like dog food. With a puddle of lard. Mmmm, lard!

They don't look much better out of the can. But heat them up and they start to look familiar. I'm glad they aren't the runny variety. I added some chunks of chicken for a one-pot dinner.

The verdict? Perfectly okay. A wee bit bland, though, for my tastes. I'm talking about flavor, not spiciness. A pinch more salt would have helped. They'll usually be a side dish to something more flavorful, so they serve their purpose as they are. I'd have them again.

Meet Zorro the Wonderdog

Since Chet is in custody, with little hope of him ever being a free man again (one does not mess with the CIA director's personal washroom), his traveling companion duties will be assumed by Zorro. He's noble, loyal and a little less likely to end up in jail.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Chet got busted at the border

Not only did Chet have a kilo of heroin in his fez, but also, to my surprise, he was a federal fugitive. Something about hacking the key pad to the CIA director's personal washroom.

Now I know why he insisted upon walking through the port of entry instead of riding with me. So considerate of him.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Something different each time

What should you expect when you stop at military checkpoint in Baja California? It varies.

There could be anywhere from two to a dozen young soldiers, some armed, some not, some who know a little English, most who don't. They might simply wave you through. They might ask you where you're coming from (¿De donde vienes?) and where you're going (¿A dónde va?) They might ask you to step out of your vehicle. They might take a quick look in your rig, or they might poke around a bit.

At my most thorough stop, one soldier asked for my passport (a first for me); another with a clipboard asked me several questions, like my home town, age and vehicle type; two climbed around in the van, tapping on the ceiling and walls; and another took photos. Maybe all this was because a superior officer was on duty, with eight soldiers at parade rest by the checkpoint. Can't slack off with the boss around. They didn't give me a hard time. Mostly we just struggled to understand each other.

No doubt military checkpoints are a bigger deal in other parts of Mexico, with everyone getting a complete going over. That wasn't my experience in Baja. This time, anyway. Maybe things would have been different if I looked more like a nervous smuggler instead of a dimwitted old tourist.

Mixed parentage

Bolt three quarters of a VW Westfalia to a Mercedes Unimog and go just about anywhere. But not very quickly. More info here. Hey, it's for sale.

Down to the sea in ships

Maybe I should put my name on it

I'm wrapping up my Baja trip back in San Felipe, back at La Palapa RV park, back in the same slot. However, this time there's an invasion of flies. I blame it on the guys who're in town for the San Felipe 500 offroad race. Or the full moon.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Home of the spider palapas

There's no single palapa design. Some have one center post, some are square and I've been at ones with six, seven and eight sides. The ones at Campo Beluga (south of Casa Grande and Alfonsina's) have eight diagonal struts that make them look spidery. I suspect these palapas started out with just the center post and the struts were added later for strength.

Anyway, surrounded by dunes, Campo Beluga has a pleasant, cozy, funkiness about it. Only a dozen palapas, some rental cabins and—surprise—flush toilets and running water (cold only, though). The beach is rockier than Casa Grande (whose sandy beach might be manmade) but the view is just as fine.

The day was windier, the sea slightly less placid, the sky cloudier. I could see the contrails of flights headed to Los Cabos. But it was still an excellent day.

At one point a bunch of gulls gathered in a line on the beach. After a while, they decided all together to go float on the water. Swim time. How are these things decided?

I can't spend all day staring at the water, though. Sometimes I need to turn and enjoy the sunset. Life is so hard.

You gotta go through hell before you get to heaven

The unpaved section of Highway 5 between Laguna Chapala and Bahia San Luis Gonzaga is awful. Some of it is really awful. Some of it is less awful. Short sections are quite good for dirt. But overall, it something only off-roaders would look forward to. It's doable, though. It's even possible in a sedan. Two cars passed me going the other way. It's very slow going, and things rattled around in the Rolling Steel Tent, but nothing broke.

The previous time I was at Gonzaga Bay, I stayed at Papa Fernandez's and scoffed at the price they wanted at Alfonsina's. But, darn it, I deserved a palapa on the beach after driving the hell road. Last time, a guy in an RV told me it was $25 a night. But he must have been using the way-out-of-date currency conversion guideline of one dollar equals ten pesos. (Drop the zero for no-brainer conversion.) These days, it's seventeen pesos to the dollar, so the 250 pesos I paid were more like $15. Still a bit steep, but not all that bad.

When the guy at the market across the highway gave me my receipt and hang tag, I learned the palapas south of the airstrip are called Casa Grande. Casa Grande is all about the sandy beach and your view of the bay. Otherwise, it's a compacted dirt patch with all the charm of the airstrip. I suspect it was built by the same crew. There are a lot of outhouses, though.

I was able to ignore the less idilic aspects and just enjoy the view and the weather. Thanks to a gentle breeze, the water was almost glassy. Fish about the size of large cucumbers were jumping about twenty yards from shore. Seabirds were plentiful. A pod of porpoises cruised by, then did their fish corralling thing. A Sea Shepherd ship anchored in the bay. Haze on the horizon made the sea and sky appear to be one continuous piece.

It was also the night of the full moon. First there was just an orange slice on the horizon. Then the band of light on the smooth water, like a golden path inviting you into the sea. Somewhere someone lightly played a ceremonial drum. Toom-a-toom-toom-a-toom... Only for a moment—enough to mark the moment without devolving into an annoyance. I sat and watched and breathed the algae-scented air as the moon continued to rise and the sky darkened. Heaven.

Come the morning, I took a walk along the low tide line and contemplated whether to stay longer or move on. I could see a different set of palapas about a half mile down the beach. Since there was little chance of repeating the previous day's experience, I decided to give the other place a try.

Sometimes you just discover things

I figured Guerrero Negro would be the next place to stop, but I had no idea where I would stay. Well, I'd had an idea—a spot I saw at Campendium—but once again, I couldn't get net access when I needed it. (Tip: if you see useful/critical information online, at least get a screen grab before you head into a no-internet zone.) So I crossed into Baja California Sur, waved at the gigantic flag, got the Rolling Steel Tent's undercarriage sprayed with insecticide, then turned off the highway and cruised down the main street, looking for a clue.

I came to what looked like the end of the street, with governmental-looking installations ahead and to the left. So I turned right. A sign said something about an old lighthouse. Okay, I thought, I'll kill some time that way.

The pavement ended and turned into a levee through wetlands. La-la-la-la-la, I kept driving. A couple of cars passed the other way, so it wasn't like I was driving way out to nowhere, even though it looked like it. Nice wetlands, though. Oh look, an osprey with a fish.

Then, on my left, I saw a ratty old sign for a restaurant and...palapas! I turned. The road got funkier and all along the way were piles of shells. Billions and billions of shells. I pulled into the yard and was greeted by yapping Chihuahuas. Of course. There were five palapas right by the water, all unoccupied. My kind of place!

It ain't fancy, but it's purple, and has electricity

My first furnished palapa

Too bad I'm not into oysters

It was a gorgeous day. The tide went out, exposing oyster beds. Late in the afternoon people started showing up at the restaurant. If they'd drive all the way out here to eat, it must be a good place. It was. I had great camarones al mojo de ajo. Yum.

I could've stayed longer—should've stayed longer—but thick fog set in that night. It was uncomfortable. While I struggled to sleep, I formulated a plan. North. I'd head back north, but with as little Highway 1 as possible. I would gut it out and do the 20+ miles of unpaved Highway 5 I'd avoided before. Somehow that seemed less traumatic than taking Highway 1 all the way back to the border.

Sunrise on Bahia de los Angeles



What a strange, strange bird is the pelican

An angler arrives at the fish cleaning station and, within seconds, a flock of pelicans arrives to wait for handouts. They're patient. And it means I can get close enough for some good shots.

When last we met...

...I was in Ensenada, with 'net access. But I headed south to places where I didn't even have cell service. Oooo, web withdrawal. But I'm back where I can get at least a 3G signal, so here's an update.

Highway 1 is the main artery through the Baja peninsula. While sections of it are relatively new and built to modern specifications, a lot of it is old and beat up. Really beat up. It can be draining to drive. When I pulled out of Ensenada I expected to get to Bahia de los Angeles that day. But just past Cataviña I hit a mental wall. I saw a sign for a restaurant with RV camping and pulled in. (Lou had emailed me with a recommended spot in Cataviña, but I couldn't access email in that area. Besides, I had still been feeling somewhat energetic at the time.)

The campground was nothing fancy, but it was in the middle of the Area Natural Protegida Valle de los Cirios. The cirio (or boojum) tree is related to the ocotillo and can grow up to 70 feet tall. Like cacti, sometimes they grow as single stalks, looking like candles (cirio is Spanish for candle) and sometimes they grow multiple arms and get all twisty.

I went to the restaurant for dinner. Menu and beverage selections were very limited. I was hoping for something more regional and unusual, but the machaca burrito was good. And I slept like a log.

Bahia de los Angeles was an easy drive from there. I had a map (though I didn't know how current it was) of all the campgrounds there. One thing new was the freshly paved road on the north side of town. After checking out all the campgrounds (one of which looked abandoned and a couple of which were on the ugly side of "quaint") I picked on Dagget's. I spent several days, kicking back, staring at the sea, watching wildlife. Then three large RVs moved in, figuratively and literally cramping my style, so I moved on.

To be continued.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Back in Baja

Lou's health has improved, so I bid him farewell and hit the road. I decided to to enter Mexico at Tecate this time and take Highway 3 to Ensenada and points south. There's no convenient way to get to Tecate from California. You need to take a winding two-lane road through the mountains. But that's okay. I wasn't in any hurry and the scenery is much greener than the desert.

The crossing was no problem except for traffic and road construction in town. Once outside the city, the road was excellent. About halfway to Ensenada, it narrows and is like a typical mountain road in the US. After the summit and through the Baja wine country the road widens again. However, there was a roadblock and detour about twenty miles from Ensenada. The officer gave me directions in rapid-fire Spanish. I didn't understand any of it, but the gestures made it semi-clear. Besides, I just followed the other vehicles and checked my GPS. Ah ha, we're going to connect with the old non-toll Highway 1. And there were directional signs. No problem. Traffic in Ensenada was poky, but I stayed relaxed and went with the flow. Or lack thereof.

My goal for the day was a touristy spot, La Bufadora—a blow hole at the end of a peninsula just south of Ensenada. Thanks to a blog entry I discovered, I learned there's camping area overlooking the Pacific. I figured it would be a good stopping point after the long drive. Well "camping" might be stretching the definition a bit. It's more like a dirt parking lot behind a restaurant. But I'm the only one there. And the view is sweet.

The blow hole was blowing

You need to pass through a three-block gauntlet of souvenir shops, taco stands and bars in order to get to the actual blow hole. But nature doesn't care. It keeps doing its thing like no one's there.

Time for a shower

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Back to making noise

Back in the autumn of 2014 the Rolling Steel Tent's audio system stopped working. I put up with the lack of driving music for a while, but I finally decided to do something about it. The simple thing would be a bad fuse. After struggling to get the badly designed and horribly located cover off the fuse panel (GM engineers probably never tried accessing the fuses themselves) I pulled out the fuse and... it was fine. I put it back and, presto, music. Yay!

The audio system stopped working again last month and I avoided wrestling with the fuse panel cover again. Then, when a boneheaded driver made a stupid move, I discovered the horn wasn't working either. Okay okay, time to fight bad engineering again. The audio fuse was fine. The horn fuse was fine. Once again, just removing and replacing the fuses solved the problem. I can rock out down the road and express my anger at bad drivers once more. Life is good. And loud.