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Saturday, April 23, 2011

Baja California, Mexico

Baja Mexico – highlines and car troubles

Mexico Trip [Trailer] from jordan tybon on Vimeo.

Talk of going to Baja began last year, and this year the conversation sprung up again as the appeal of white beaches, blue water and Mexican beer grew during our cold stay in Joshua Tree. Our new friends from Canada, Thomas Sloss and Charlie Long, had plans to drive from San Diego all the way to Baja and further. We finally arranged to drive with them; however plans changed when they figured that driving back up to the border was quite out of their way. Our car, Rambo, had been doing great besides minor repairs, until we received the big blow; he needed his engine rebuilt. We stayed in LA bothering Ric for another week in order to work a bit and raise the money, thanks to Ric and to Prana for their contribution and to the loan from Jordan’s girlfriend, Annelena; we were able to pay the $1300 repair.

The mechanic told us he needed to torque and tweak the engine after we drove it 500 miles, so naturally we headed off on our 1000 mile + trip to Baja, crossing our fingers that little Rambo would make it. In San Diego we met the Canadians, stayed one night with a friend, and then departed quite late the next day for Tecate. We chose this alternate border hoping it had fewer lines and would take less time. The drive was scenic, and when we finally reached an official looking building, we just drove right through. There were no machine guns, no dogs, just some very bumpy yellow bumps. The process to gain our tourist visas took about 3 hours due to a never ending line at the bank in Tecate. Once finally on the road, we decided to drive as far away from the border as possible before nightfall.

This took us to Ensenada, a coastal town a bit south. We followed the Canadians to Campo Cinco; it was night by then so we pulled in the patch of rocky dirt with one small house, an outhouse and a semi circle of fireplaces. It was on a plateau of a steep hill, and we could see a faint path leading down. We could just make out the ocean in its dark expanse and the tall hills next to it.

Upon awakening the sight was beautiful. The bay was stretched out in view, dark blue with small rocky islands and a rocky cove below us. We hiked down to the water, a steep descent. I shed my pants and walked barefoot over the grainy-sharp rocks, formed long ago by changing waters. There was no sand, only deep crevasses in which the tide flowed in – crashing together in a bubbling spray of white foam.

We hiked back up the trail a bit later, which was strewn with broken bottles, plastic waste and more, which was a sad sight evoking the feeling that humans have lost their empathy and imagination. The campsite was nice besides the shower, which cost $4 extra (had we known we would have stayed dirty.)

When we left, the car died several times while driving. It was strange, since it failed to come to a halt, but continued coasting without the engine on. It was disappointing and frustrating, after so many troubles before. In the Calimax parking lot, the car would turn on but die immediately, and my initial fear was that it was the newly rebuilt engine. As we stood with the Canadians looking clueless, a young guy walked up and asked in well spoken English if we needed help. He offered to translate for his uncle who knew something about cars. His uncle was a dark, leathery skinned man with a mustache, cowboy hat, and wranglers with a leather belt. He kindly dirtied his hands as he scoped out the innards of Rambo (our car) his uncle suggested that it was the fuel filter, and they directed us to a mechanic they knew down the road. We used our highline gear effectively for towing Rambo behind the Canadians car.

photo by Jordan Tybon

We arrived, had the oil filter changed for $10 USD, and then discovered that the problem was in fact electrical. The day was ending, so we headed back to our campsite from the night before.

The next morning we drove with the streetless directions through Ensenada, off the paved road into the dusty side streets, searching for Taller Electrico Guerrero. A nice young guy who spoke perfect English saw us searching and went jogging through the neighborhoods to find it for us as some of the dirt roads were completely gutted from recent rains. When we arrived, the young man translated for us, they estimated that for shipping the new ignition switch and replacing it would cost about $300! Dirtbags nightmare. We couldn’t afford it. The owner was there, and he told us that they could do what they called a “Mexican job” on the car, secure some wiring, and hopefully it would work, the next day. We were able to drive back to the camping, however we had to hold the key in one spot continuously or else the ignition would turn off. So, with my hand cramping I drove to Camp Cinco.

The next morning we waited as they dismantled the steering wheel to expose the wiring. Within an hour the car was done. After the fix we met with the Canadians and began driving South towards Parque National de Constitution; a hopeful highline spot.

The road winded through dusty landscape, with scattered half-built brick buildings bearing faded Tecate advertisements and hollow windows. It seems impossible to tell how long these buildings have sat vacant since the ones that are in business look the same but with window panes.

In San Quentin we stopped at a recommended taco shack, open air with mismatched paintings and plastic patio furniture.

The tacos were amazing, for 12 pesos each, lightly fried fish and an array of toppings---cilantro, onions, various salsas, mayonnaise, tomatoes, lime, they were so delicious that even after your stomach is screaming to stop your taste buds are begging for more.

As we grew closer to the park, the road began getting steeper and steeper, the curves turning sharper, and I began to think whichever company produces those yellow arrow signs made a killing in Baja.

As the day faded and the sun dipped behind, we pushed Rambo further and further, while the Canadians got far ahead. Then, the shit hit the fan. I glanced at the temperature gauge, it was on red, and I could hear the steam pressing against the hood. Some profanities ensued as I pulled over to open the hood. Steam bubbled out of the radiator, and it was apparent our car had overheated.

We would later give up on reaching the top, and two hours later the Canadians would finally come down from the top, and we would park off the road on a ranch to camp for the night.

All ended well, we figured out that the fuse for the radiator fan had blown, overheating the car. The Canadians had an extra little blue fuse; we replaced it and hoped for the best. The camp we made was perfect; surrounded by dry brush which we quickly gathered for a raging fire.

The next morning we drove a bit up the road to a ravine which was sprinkled with huge boulders, almost like Joshua tree. Thomas and Charlie had spotted the place the day before, so we parked and scrambled up to find two boulders sitting level across from each other. When we located the spot, we all assumed it was a 30 meter gap. We took turns bolting, with four on each side, and then the line was rigged.

Thomas went for the FA, though the line was big, much bigger than we expected. He gave some good tries, walking over half of the line, but eventually deciding to take a break.

Jordan walked next, making it one direction on his second try. Janek fought his way across as well, but when I took a turn I fell a few times and decided to wait for the next day.

The next day we returned, refreshed. I was first in line, so I put on some tunes and prepared myself for the battle. The first half was bearable, though my heavy breathing was one sign of the difficulty. Next half was harder, and I was shaking as I felt the line wobble and snap back. I finally stepped onto the boulder on the other side, taking a long break to sit in the sun. Completing the full man would be a greater challenge, as the sun sat directly in front of the line. This walk was a physical feat for me, shaking and bending at my waist as I tried to stay straight.

Photo by Jordan Tybon

By the time I neared the other anchor, I was screaming at myself to keep going, I could see Janek there with the gopro and I almost ran the last few steps, letting out an exasperated cry of relief! By full manning the line, I inadvertently had the First Ascent as well. We all agreed to name the line “Car Misfortune” in Spanish, and so the line was called “La Desgracia de Coches.” Jordan and Janek fought hard to complete their full man walks, however the sun had dipped lower and beat into their eyes, which makes focusing on the anchor almost impossible.

Charlie also took some turns and made a great breakthrough, standing up and taking some steps.

The next morning the owner of the ranch pulled in to see 5 dirtbags making breakfast on the ground next to two dusty cars. He was a plump Mexican guy in a small red truck, and Charlie spoke to him in Spanish asking him if it was ok if we camped there. The owner said no problem, just to avoid going further on the road because it was bad quality.

We packed up that day and headed for the beach, our main goal on the trip (or mine at least.) San Quentin had beaches so we headed there. We stopped at a large green supermarket, where around the dusty parking lot hobbled a man with a wooden leg who offered to wipe down everyone’s dusty cars for some pesos. We all took baskets and navigated the aisles, filling them with pasta, tuna, milk and other dirtbag delicacies.

The road to the beach was bumpy and sandy, finally curving around a vacant looking campsite with one old camper. The place was like a ghost town; it seemed that no one had been there for years. A young man came out of the camper to our window and informed us that in fact the campsite had been closed for over a year, and directed us to another site farther down the road. We ended up at Fidel’s, a funny little camping place on the black and gray sands of San Quentin. Our arrival was marked by 5 dogs chasing and barking at the cars, all raggedy and mutt looking.

The place was dark, and we drove along the sand and chose one palm- thatched roof gazebo, parked our cars and began a fire with the wood we had collected previously.

Clinking beers together, watching as the sun set behind the ocean, it was paradise after months on the road.

An hour later a truck pulled up with a fat, round faced man behind the wheel named Fidel.

photo by Jordan Tybon

The camping was $5 per night per head, which was steep for us, however we had settled in already. Janek and I slept in our bivy sack, safe from the salty spray.

The next day was spent frolicking on the less than warm beach, enjoying the waves, the sand, and the rest. Sand dollars were littered everywhere, more than I’d ever seen before. I collected all the whole sand dollars I could find.

Later we set up a slackline between our cars, and tricklined as much as possible, constantly re tensioning as the wheels moved in the sand.

photo by Jordan Tybon

We stayed another night, and in the morning Thomas hit his head with the borrowed surfboard, we ate chorizo and egg burritos, packed up and moved on southward to Catavina.

The landscape changed as the road grew windier; the cactus seemed to be doubling their size, and the day passed slowly. On one uphill slope we passed three ladies standing around a jeep with an open hood. We agreed to stop and see if we could help. Their radiator appeared to have a hole in it, so we offered to drive them to Catavina. The older woman rode with the Canadians, talking to Charlie along the way. We arrived in the night, driving past huge white boulders and cactus the size of trees. The woman directed us to a small café, its walls lined with the porous wood from the cactus and the ceiling roofed with palm fronds. It seemed to be a family run café, and the woman gave us coffees and introduced us to her nephew, a college student and photographer. His name was Nathan, and he turned out to be our guide for the area while we stayed. He showed us beautiful photos he had taken over a period of three months; by setting up his camera with a sensor, he had night photos of pumas, snakes, rabbits, birds and other animals of the night. They allowed us to camp on their property, amongst a graveyard of auto parts and broken tractors.

Some of the cars look as if they have been baking in the sun since 1945. Here, it is possible. We gathered brush amongst broken glass and old rubber tires.

The next day we began our search for highline spots. The area resembled Joshua Tree, CA so much it was striking. The biggest difference was the tree-sized cactus everywhere. It was a wonderland.

Nathan took us to see some petroglyphs, hidden in a boulder. Only the residents knew about them, and they were so hard to find I am surprised anyone remembers.

Nathan informed us that it gets up to 42 C in Summer there, but they have no air conditioners like the USA.

Jordan found a spot to highline, not extremely high but exposed and beautiful. It was about 28 meters long. I walked it OS FM with an ankle leash.

photo by Jordan Tybon

Everyone else walked it as well, some even multiple times. Jordan came up with the name, and Janek the first ascent: Robots vs. Dinosaurs.

Charlie sent his biggest highline of the time, and Janek even free soloed.

I grabbed a crash pad and searched for some non-chossy rock to make a few boulder problems. Catavina is just waiting for some dedication; if a determined group of climbers came here they could clean so many boulders to make some awesome J.Tree style problems.

Our nights were spent debating politics and ethics, arguing about putting beans in the pasta, drinking Tecate, and chasing off the many stray dogs.

On our last day in Catavina we set up tricklines on the old Petrol Station, which seems to be out of commission for some time.

photo by Jordan Tybon

Soon Nathans whole family was there trying to slackline with us. There was one drunk Caballero who stumbled around in his boots, jeans and tucked in shirt babbling in a mix of Spanish and English, constantly coming up to me to say “Baby! Baby! You Booteeful.” He was annoying but seemed to be part of the scene.

Finally, it was time for the somewhereelseland crew to head back to LA. We bade farewell to Nathan and his family, sad to leave them, and sad to leave the rocky landscape and hospitality. Hopefully in a couple years we will pass through Catavina again, and meet the friends we made.

In one push we drove to LA. Driving through Baja was the easy part, besides not having a map and getting lost in Ensenada at night for a couple hours.

We passed through the US border easily, surprisingly, and happily drove on the well paved roads in southern California. Then, there was the second border patrol. Here they stopped us for extra searching. We chatted with the agents while they took a K9 through our entire car, naturally. We continued on towards LA, back in the spinning world of fast food, bright lights and SUV’s. Between San Diego and LA the car was getting hot again, and we stopped to add some water. Jordan had taken the wheel since I had done the last twelve hours, and as he pulled onto the highway a cop flagged us over. Confused, we pulled over and the officer walked slowly to our car with a bright beaming light. He proceeded to grill us on whether any of us had been arrested in the US, took Jordan and my ID’s for twenty minutes, then returned to tell us that my bike rack slightly covered a letter of my license plate. You have to be kidding! He told us to be careful and sent us on our way. Jordan turned the key, but our battery was dead. He jumped out of the car and asked the officer to jumpstart Rambo, which he did.

The adventure never ends.

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