Off to Yosemite and Beyond
So my driver’s licence did come afterall, in the nick of time, and everything else fell into place. But I still had to hang out at my friends for a few more days arranging and purchasing various things. Not only was I getting increasingly frustrated that I was not on the road already, but I was truly starting to feel like a smelly guest fish well past the third day (I must have been there more than ten days, above my originally expected weekend).
Visited a friend in San Fran, one in Sacramento who convinced me I must take a look at Yosemite,
and then to a third in Lade Tahoe.
I promised them that I would be gone the next day, but then one more problem occurred: my internet was simply not working through the satellite phone I had just rented. I dreaded the idea of extending my stay even further, when it occurred to me that I technically CAN launch my trip. So there I was, “hanging out” in the suburbs of Seattle three more days getting the satellite phone working and buying some more goodies for the road. I would go to “work” every day in the southern part of Seattle, in some gruesome place by the highway where some very large malls and large shopping strips are located, and then driving “home” every day, which is some place I picked out on my detailed map, northwest of Bemmerton(?) in a place called Frenchman’s Cove(?). It looked appealing on the map because the solid line representing a road turned into a dashed line, which should mean that the paved road turned into gravel. But it was a bit more developed than I had expected, and I was surprised to find things a bit different here in America than in the Czech Republic.
I don’t know how it is in other parts of the world, but in the Czech Republic it is not at all difficult to find country roads leading into forests, where it is quite easy to park your vehicle for the evening, and you feel that, even if someone DID stumble on you sleeping there for one evening, it really wouldn’t be a problem.
However, here in America, every road leading off of the public roadways was either blocked off by a gate, a piece of string, some logs piled up in a halfhazzard manner, or some sign such as “Keep out!”, “Private Property”, “No Trespassing” etc.
And a lot of the property along the road was fenced off. It made me think of all the poor sods who had to fight their way aggressively through traffic every day (the kind of driving behaviour which rather stressed me out during my leisurely travels), to and from work, to shave off as many seconds as they could during their stressful day, just to arrive back at their little heavan haven – the couch and their home entertainment system. So, understandably, after muscling their way through the traffic and having to force their way through the rat race an entire day, they wanted to escape back to their sacred retreat and did not want to imagine that some homeless, vagrant and free from responsibility bum could be “sponging” off their hard work. A bit ironic one might think, if they consider how the Americans (or should I say Europeans?) theoretically stole all this property from the Indians in the first place.
Entering Yosemite, after Lake Tahoe.
So this combined with the wild movies depicting the American culture I saw, and advice from my friends, I was rather paranoid about trying my luck.
But I did eventually find a beaten up old gravel road, with a “For Sale” sign at various points, so I felt comfortable enough to set up shop there and make my new home.
I was hence, finally, although only technically, on the road and living a taste of my long sought-after dream.
I managed to get the satellite phone working and arrange some other things which were keeping me in Seattle, and then decided to head out for my next outpost: Port Angeles.
According to the map, it looked like a sweet little town. I even researched about it on the internet and found it to have one internet café with a wifi connection (although they wanted 6$ an hour for this!!).
However, as things often seemed deceiving when interpreting maps while biking through the Czech Republic, this too turned out to be rather deceiving.
It was nothing resembling sweet. Sure enough, if you drive a little ways out of this town, there was wild and beautiful nature; the nature that the native Indians revered. But this town? It was just more parking lots, gas stations, box-like buildings and franchise shops, malls, and fast food joints – except only smaller versions. So this town, unfortunately, only turned out to be a smaller “franchise” version of the concrete monolith I thought I was escaping from.
However, to my initial horror, I discovered that the wifi internet café I was referring to earlier had burned down. Fortunately, there was supposed to be another one in town – a much cheaper and homier place. I hunted that place down but found out it was under reconstruction and that I should look forward until they reopen “soon”. But I did see a sign mentioning internet at the bowling alley just down the street, and paid 4 bucks for an hour of that.
After Lake Tahoe and a few days of skiing, drove through the Death Valley to visit another friend in Las Vegas. A friend of hers highly suggested I check out
Highway 12 in Utah, a better road trip he said than the Grand Canyon.
The next day I went to check out the internet at the library, which I heard existed there as well, and was pleasantly surprised to find that, not only was it free, but I could also plug my own laptop into their network, on a couch in their pleasant environment.
Zion park at the beginning of Highway 12.
So I spent the next few days in franchise town finishing up necessary internet work, doing some minor purchases (such as a shower curtain for my portable shower), and checking out the various pubs and restaurants.
That being completed, I was finally ready to launch myself into the “jungle” as I had described so often to the friends I was emailing with.
But first, perhaps, a noteworthy mention of my new home in franchise town. It was a “D&R” camp, referring to State Development and Resources and was a FREE camp paid for by the state of Washington. This one was called Lyre River and was referred to me by the teller at the Dairy Queen, who also enjoyed camping (trust me, I was not in the market for chemical icecream, but was only asking around for various directions).
But before that it was called something else (forgot, sorry), which was an Indian word meaning “river of music”. The Indians apparently liked to camp at that spot because of the soothing nature sounds of the river, which to them sounded like music and lulled them to sleep. As may be expected, some Englishman later on changed the name to the musical instrument, the Lyre.
So, after buying my important shower curtain (which I also use to cover up the windows when I am sleeping in the van and don’t want people to see in) and other things like that, I left my first romantic and legal camping spot to dive into the jungle.
As I wrote before, I say jungle because there was not even a mobile signal there, only a few dirt-poor Indian villages (so I was told), and hence much of my problems preparing for this trip.
So I set out, finally, full of enthusiasm, into the jungle. I looped around the lake, after being told of the Old Growth forests there, and finally made it to the first Indian reservation.
This was one of the places I bombarded with emails trying to find some kind Indian who might let me use their telephone line to hook up to the internet.
I imagined kind, yet broken, people, who maintained their spirit of reverence for nature, dancing around a fire in the evenings, chanting their songs of reverence to the spirit of nature, and accepting me with genuine and broad smiles, for the fact that I was a nice Czech-Canadian who planted half a million trees in British Colombian (this, at least, seemed to win a lot of favour among the Indians I met up north).
My Czech Indian friend was not responding to me anymore, so I had to do this on my own.
I rolled into the reservation and, delightedly, the condition of the paved highway worsened dramatically. I read the signs along the road and was careful to respect all their requirements. So I went to their museum and paid 7bucks for the right to drive along their beaches for a period of one year.
I asked about parking my van for the evening, and the museum receptionist suggested Cape Flattery, where I made my next “home”. But finding it wasn’t so easy and I ended up driving through the suburbs of this teeny Indian reservation town. But what did it turn out to be? Even a smaller franchise of the horror I thought I was escaping. With the only exception that it was “dry”. Meaning without alcohol. Well, I guess I can understand that to some degree, being an Indian reservation, but ME dry?? In a place without a pub and lacking the ability to drink my favoured beer, I spent my first night parked by the side of a road and did my emailing in the van.
To find how to get to Cape Flattery, I had to ask a few “Indians” for the way, while driving through the suburbs of reservation town. A few of their youngsters were practising skateboarding on ramps they set up on the suburb roads, and who seemed pleased, moving their heads “black” style in rhythm, to the music blaring within my van. So I pulled over next to them and asked them the way there. In the meantime, a vehicle had pulled up behind me, and a police car in front. Apparently, I managed to successfully block the traffic with my big fat van, with the kids and their skateboard ramp blocking the rest. The Indian policeman just rolled his eyes “sheesh” style once I finally left. He didn’t seem like the aggressive police type looking for the typical confrontation, but rather like someone who was oddly put into that position and just worked it humbly in a resigned fashion.
So I followed the kids’ instructions, and was forced to ask at least a couple more Indians on the way to this cape. The way was rather complicated and there was no clear main road there, but it seemed rather strange to me that each of them had used the same method of describing the way: “You know where the jail is?” Couldn’t they say police station? They seemed to use the word “jail” with such familiarity that I had to wonder to what extent did the word “reservation” mean. Did it mean, perhaps, “we [those who have stolen your land] reserve the right to continue f*cking you up the a.ss”???
Anyway, the next day I drove as far south down the coast as I could, to take advantage of my seven dollar permit, and then turned around to loop inland and continue the trip down the coast at another point.
Judging by the distance I accomplished the first day, I chose for a destination [forgot the town]. I arrived there and immediately noticed what looked like a friendly family pub. Home! I went in and asked the waitress the usual questions: where can I park my van for the evening; can I plug in my laptop while I eat some dinner; how late are you open until; how much does the pool tables cost…? So I checked out the place I was suggested to camp for the night (I always try to do this while it is still daylight and before I start drinking), and then went back to my family pub.
And here is where began my travel routine number 1: find where to park my van during daylight, and spend the rest of the evening eating food, answering a lot of emails (offline of course), and my favourite – kicking some local a.ss in pool!!!
So I enjoyed my first evening routine kicking some young hick in pool, while he spat his chewed tobacco in his styrophone cup and hummed along joyfully to the music blaring out of the juke box, country style: “Oh boys, kick some a.ss in Iraq”. Enough to make me shudder. Meanwhile, the big screen TV in the corner showing all the cool quarterback throws in American Football, those American giants of might, interviewed and describing the various nuances of their greatness. In between all that, commercials showing bouncing boobs, beer, and one very savvy ad recruiting for the military. I had to shudder again. Here I was, in bumf*ck hick town: the recruitment ground for George’s war to make his family richer, or his executive puppeteers stronger, while no one really knew what was going on in the world.
But I did manage to talk to the owner of the bar later and he seemed cool. He would reminisce of the days of ol’, when families could go out drinking and where camaraderie would abound. He opened up his family pub on a dream, and now is regularly frequented by the liquor board, constantly looking for a reason to shut him down – or a method how to fill their own coffers.
A thousand dollar fine for ANYONE (even an “old man with a grey long beard and crinkly old hair) who was not carrying ID proving their age, or a ten thousand dollar fine for anyone looking under the age of thirty without ID. (I think I remember it correctly.) He does not dare to serve hard alcohol anymore, and boasts how he manages to stay alive. He is a dying breed here in the boonies. The fact that everyone pounds down the mickies in the parking lot (hard alcohol they can readily buy in the grocery store), polish it off with a few beers (he always offers to drive them home), and the fact that a 16 year old can be sent abroad by the government to fire a missile at a turban head, I guess, is besides the point.
We both agreed and I was off to my next destination the following morning.
But first a quick jog with my video camera through the first Old Growth forest.
Continued driving south and followed some highway, cutting straight into the coast along what the waitress (his wife) assured me was a newly paved and modern highway (this wasn’t clear from the map I was using).
So I wound my way through as much redwood forests my time could afford, taking film clips while driving, and headed towards the next destination: Bandon Washington.
There was waiting yet another youth hostel where I hoped to find some people to come with me down to Baja. I mean, think about it. This is like the Easy Rider dream come true. I’ll pay for the gas. Who wouldn’t be interested?
But it was out of season and most places were pretty empty.
This place didn’t want to let me sleep in my van in their parking lot, even though I was willing to pay them something for it, so I paid the full fair and ended up sleeping in the van anyway (after going to a restaurant and kicking some local ass in pool again – I must say I am getting good at this drinking and driving).
The next day I hugged the coast as usual and ended in Bandon (another youth hostel). There they said I can park anywhere – even by the beach (apparently the “authorities” would only think I was crab fishing). The restaurant confirmed the same. But I didn’t play pool that night as I was too absorbed in planning my route through California, which I studied from a free magazine I picked up on a ferry while still in Seattle.
I had the maps and various information all sprawled out on the table, in this redneck disco bar. Two women actually had to approach me and ask me what the heck I was doing. But California seemed rich in things to visit and I wanted to make my time there effective.
Bandon wasn’t so far from California and I made it there rather quickly the next day. It felt like a great occasion for me to see the state line and cross it for the first time, as if I was entering a famous country.
Drove through as many redwood forests as I could find. Actually managed to pick up my first hitch hiker: someone on the way to court, but who said he was a psychic and envisioned I would pick up a hippy hitch hiker chick in the red woods who would fall in love with me and whose heart I would break once flying back to Prague.
Turned out to be a total crock, as I expected, but it did plant some nice seeds for thought fantasy for the next week of driving (what else would one think about while driving such distances?).
I examined the map and chose for myself my next pit stop: a location close to the shore just south of Capetown California.
Once again, the map was a bit misleading, but the outcome was all the more enjoyable for me: a winding, beat up dirt road leading to nowhere, with hardly a soul in sight. What more could I ask for?
I drove up and down the coast looking for my place to crash, eventually deciding on one. Since there was no pub around, I had to do my emailing in the van again. However, this time, it was by a road driven on fairly frequently. So I did not dare to light my beloved candle – my makeshift fireplace – and had to write my emails in the dark and cold, half closing my laptop as cars passed by just in case they saw some light from within and thought of making an “issue” of it.
It was a full moon and it was the first time I managed to park right by the seashore, which I was longing for the whole trip down.
The next day, the ride back up (into the interior) was just as steep, curvy, pot holey and hairy as the trip down. But fun once again. The usual “No Trespassing!” signs abounded by the roadside, which sparked my imagination that I might run into some hick walking onto the road out of the forest with sickle in hand asking me, “Boy, what the F*CK are you doing over here?” “Uh, I’m driving down to Baha. Is this the right direction?” I would try to mimick their dumb long drawl a bit. But considering the road was winding so much, who knows what south was at any point of it. Then I would expect the response, “I guess so”, with the look on their face like they were ready to blow my head off at any moment.
Fortunately, luck would have it that, just as I reached a certain intersection, in the middle of absolutely nowhere, with no signs pointing the way (the only place along the entire 3 hour trip which I would not have been able to determine which way to go), the SECOND person I saw during that entire stretch drives up in a Ford truck, sees my perplexed expression, and offered me excellent advice how to get back to the highway. He was tickled by my prospect of driving down to Baja, and was quite friendly.
Into the next park, Bryce Canyon.
A view to the right at a stop by the road.
Alas, yet another instance when my paranoia was not satisfied.
So I continued my noodly trip over potholes and streams, stopping for a snack (and my usual two or three beers) while checking the internet (once again, in the middle of nowhere through the satellite phone), and enjoyed the hairy turns, steering with my left hand while occasionally filming the steep embankment with my right hand, until finally reaching the main highway. That was a truly enjoyable detour.
That day I rolled into San Fransisco to visit yet another friend. I drove in at nightfall over the Golden Gate Bridge, to be asked to pay 5 bucks once I got to the other end. Uhh, couldn’t they ask me or inform me of this BEFORE I got onto the bridge?? Apparently they had some financial management problems and needed an upgrade against all the earthquakes.
My friend warned me she lived in a scary and poor part of town. As I approached her place within the centre, more people than I have ever seen stood on the islands between the traffic begging for money and wearing signs indicating they are homeless and starving. I finally found a parking lot, locked everything up securely and went to see my friend.
It turned out she had matured a lot and developed a greater sense of responsibility, but before knowing this I had hesitations as to how things might turn out. Would she even remember I was coming? Would I be robbed of all my belongings, and she pocket some percentage? But partied we did the first night, her friends were all nice, and things just worked out that I slept on their couch. I was a bit paranoid about parking my van on the street, so I tried to park it in their garage. As may be expected though, my van was just too kick ass big to negotiate the turn into their rinky dinky garage, and I resigned to parking it near their flat by a park.
The next day, after being convinced to stay one more evening, I went out to fetch my vehicle to do my day’s errands. Uhh, where the shit is it?
Another kind local, this time a Spanish person, saw my perplexed expression and asked if he could help me. I was still rather intoxicated and just mumbled that I couldn’t find my van. “Probably them black folks over there. You have a van, and they think you have expensive equipment inside.” “But my van is sorta dirty, humble looking, with the lock bar on the steering wheel. Everything expensive looking is under the bed. Why on earth would they choose my van, if there are all these other fancy cars around?” “I don’t know man. Or maybe you parked it past this blue mark on the sidewalk and some gringo living here called the cops and it gets towed away. Here’s a number you can call.”
Okay, I certainly HOPE it was towed away and not stolen. But the thought that it could have been stolen was in my head and for which I had to mentally prepare myself. So there I was. Thank you San Francisco. First day here, visiting this friend of a friend who I thought may inadvertently lead me to doom and look what happens. I’m just the smallest goofball in a big city learning the lesson of life. And I could just imagine God up above saying, “I told you so…”
The view forward.
So I’m going back to her place to use her phone to call the towing company, when I thought, at the last second, “let’s just circle around this park JUST in case it is somewhere else than where I am absolutely certain I left it.” Sure enough, it was on the adjoining street.
The view to the left.
Now THAT was a relief!
The next day I drove down to Santa Cruz, to try yet another youth hostel, then bolted inland to visit an old Prague roommate now living in Sacramento. Crashed overnight in my van parked in his driveway, and the plan for the next day was to visit a friend in Lake Tahoe. But my Sacramento friend convinced me to go to Yosemite first [pronounced “Yoh se mi tee”], and crash overnight there.
Decided for a nice change and crashed at the local Yosemite youth hostel. As usual, posted my ad looking for someone to come with me to Baja, but again nothing. Even tried sparking up a conversation with one of the 25 guests there that evening (it was a long weekend and, the next evening, apparently 140 guests were to be staying there). “So, you guys all visiting from Australia?” Was listening to their gibberish behind me while typing away in front of the fire place – it was definitely a nice change from the norm. “Excuse me? I’m from Oxford!” Guess I insulted her. The bartender thought another table was of Australians. Whatever man. Looks like I’ll never find company.
Off to bed!
Yosemite was nice indeed, being as my friend had described: a winding valley floor surrounded by 4,000 feet high vertical granite cliffs. Filmed a bit of that and off it was to Lake Tahoe.
After Bryce. Not a park but just the standard view by the road, towards the end of the highway.
Fortune would have it that my friend there lived RIGHT across the street from the ski lift, and knew enough people that I got my gear for free and half off the lift ticket. I guess I couldn’t complain, and he convinced me to stay another day as well.
Almost at the end of the highway!
After that drove down to Las Vegas to visit friend number three and crashed at the half way point in the town of [forgot]. There I found my usual family restaurant, this one being Mexican owned. Asked about a place to crash and the owner told me his parking lot was no problem, and even gave me his business card if I were to be questioned by the police. Finally found a good angle how to circumvent my paranoia.
Made it to Las Vegas, but was convinced by people there that I must not dare to miss the Grand Canyon. Spoke to some nature experts and had an excellent two day trip mapped out for me: instructed not to waste my time with the Grand Canyon itself (which would involve driving for hours on a boring highway to make it to one of a few view points crowded by tourists), which is best seen from an airplane tour anyway, but to drive north of it along highway 12. This route is ranked as one of the top ten scenic highways in the US and I highly recommend it. One can only gaze in wonder through the windshield.
Side comment: now I was in Arizona, and confronted with another American anal rule – you are only allowed to have a maximum of three alcoholic drinks with your meal. Okay, whatever man. The head waitress even squirmed with disgust at the thought of me drinking a fourth beer.
Back in Las Vegas two nights later to film my friend give possibly her last dancing performance with a certain company. So my footage was to help her find new work.
Then it was off to LA to visit a bunch of friends,
but first to go through the Mojave Desert.
Missed the famous phone booth though.
And then the next day off to LA. (wow, caught up to the pics!) Drove through the Mojave desert, as usual following the scenic route marked on the tourist map of California I picked up on that ferry back in Seattle, and made it to the city by late afternoon.
Another side comment. One of the things that irritated me the most in America was the pay phones. Were not phones, after all, invented in America? Then why such a backward system? Why do you have to pay when someone calls you to your mobile? And these payphones are ridiculous – owned as they are by different companies. I remember one payphone charging 1 dollar for 3 minutes to anywhere in North America, while the payphone just down the street wanted 4 dollars per minute just to call to the next state!!
So I arrived into what I believed was LA and started to call my friends. But the payphone would not let me call those numbers. It was apparently a long distance call and they simply were not set up for that sort of thing!
So I drove another 150 miles, within the spaghetti plate of LA towards the centre, and called from another payphone there.
Decided to stay at a friend who lived at his parent’s place in San Pedro Hills area. Quite a fancy neighbourhood just south of the centre. They even offered me my own room, but I had to insist on my favoured van.
Spent about four days in LA making final preparations, and even celebrated my birthday with about 5 groups of people I knew from Prague (but who did not know each other very well or at all). My frequent “home” there was a 12 hour free parking area very near to Hermosa beach, another fancy place in town. I actually bounced around the city a bit, staying at different friends, but this location was good as it was next to a big drinking section, a beach, and a good pub with free internet connection.
I would craftily re-orient my van so that the meter maid would not catch me with her chalk marks on my tires, but I overstepped my 12 hour limit at one point and ended up paying a 35$ fine. Not a bad hotel fee for three nights in LA by the beach.
Off to Orange County to visit the last friend, crashed overnight (in my van, of course) after a relaxing evening watching a DVD, and then it was off to Tijuana with him – my first real van guest (he also took a train up to LA two nights before and crashed with me in Hermosa).
We parked on the American side and walked across the border, planning to sleep in the van overnight. Getting to the Mexican side was like entering a jail: you would walk through these revolving gates designed to rotate only in one direction. There were several of those and Voila! You were in Mexico. Didn’t have to show my passport or anything. Truly a bizarre experience.
And finally in Mexico!!!
After being warned a million times not to drink the water there, I couldn’t help but notice that every THIRD store just across the border was a pharmacy.
Everywhere we walked, Mexicans would stand outside their store hollering at us if we wanted this or that, “Please, come in, we have lots of drugs against diarrehea…”. Crossed the bridge into the centre, which one American we met at a bar said she would never do, after hearing that some friends of hers were robbed there, and I felt like little Frodo Hobbins entering the kingdom of Mordor. It amazed me how I could have left such a rich region as California, to cross a thin border and be confronted with such poverty.
My friend escorted me to his frequented joints, where I had to wrestle off greasy hands (I dared not think HOW they got so greasy) longing to hold mine like we were soul mates, their other hand wandering their way to caress my groin area.
Roughly in the middle of Baja,
crossing the peninsula from the west to the east.
In such a refined establishment, I had to hear my friend’s long speech about the “haves” and “have-nots”, and how he was never sure of who was a boy and who was a girl in Thailand (no comment).
We got suitably drunk and staggered our way back to the car, making it effortlessly past the smiling border guard after showing our passes. I guess this is so common it does not require a high level of security.
Anyway, was glad that the rest of Mexico was not as my friend had painted it. People were generally nice and helpful, and not desperate for cash as many would lead you to believe. I generally stayed at RV parks (didn’t mind putting money into the local economy, and preferred not to be exposed by myself on an unguarded and desolate section of some beach), so I felt I was safe the whole way down.
The scenery was fantastic, with no particular event worth reporting, although I must make a comment concerning the only highway leading to the southern tip: a narrow two-laned highway, with essentially NO shoulder. It was just you, a thin white line, and then a steep drop of soft gravel into a ditch, the shrubby countryside, or just a sheer cliff. Or occasionally short wooden posts with thin aluminium railing, serving seemingly to help you do summersaults while flipping over the cliff rather than actually save your life.
It would be rather scary while approaching the oncoming traffic. Especially when it was a semi, or a large trailer home; both of us with our big rear view mirrors jutting out into the centre lane. They would generally roar towards me at high velocities, and it often felt like I was barelling down into a straw.
Getting near to the southern tip, I stayed overnight at one RV park where a woman had explained to me how her truck gave up on her way back home to Oregon. She had apparently been driving a lot on dusty roads here on the Baja tip and clogged up her oil and filter with fine sand. She was about one quarter the way back out of Baja, climbing up a steep and long hillside, when her lack of lubrication caused her motor to seize, the mechanic later showing her a hole the size of a walnut in one of her pistons. So I decided I should heed her advice and get an oil change before heading back to LA.
I agreed to give her and her dog a lift to La Paz, Baja’s capital on the southern tip, where she would fly with her dog back to Oregon, pick up her dad’s truck, drive back down to the southern tip of Baja to pick up her trailer, drive that back to Oregon, and then drive BACK again to haul her old truck with her. She was grateful she didn’t have to take the dreadful Mexican buses and was glad to pay for all my gas the rest of the way. She also gave me lots of good tips, based on which I chose as my final destination La Ventana – a retreat for American windsurfers escaping the winter for some decent wind, sun, and cheap Mexican living. This sounded like the place for me. Never ending beach onto which I could park my vehicle, tons of Americans with whom I could communicate, volleyball every morning before the wind picks up, windsufing all day after that, an electrical socket to plug my van into and hot shower for only 6$ a day, cheap shrimp grilled in garlic across the street and internet for 3$ an hour. I guess I won’t be doing much complaining for the next little while.
At this “camping spot”, met a bunch of old farts all traveling in their own caravans as a tour. Played music around a big fire and couldn’t complain, as usual.
The moon is full over the ocean as I write these last few words, and my van is parked at the perfect angle so that I can gaze over the ocean as I fall asleep in the night time and gaze out over it over breakfast, my legs hanging out the side in the morning. I feel that tomorrow my vacation is truly starting and I look forward to starting a wonderful routine. I managed to extend my plane ticket back to Prague so that I can more enjoy this so cherished part of the trip. I have a feeling I would rather stay…
And yes, it was truly that part of my vacation which I really needed, a routine which worked out pretty well as I mentioned above. La Ventana apparently means “The Wind”, and this stretch of the beach is apparently the best place to windsurf and kite in the world during the months around December, when it is too cold up north. Otherwise, many of those who come here apparently also hang out at the Hood River, running between the states of Washington and Oregon. There the wind is supposed to be consistent as well, as the very wide river runs through the occasional narrow part between mountain ridges.
The wind in La Ventana is consistent because an island off the shore helps direct the wind in a south westerly direction, where inland there is a large desert. As the desert heats up over the day, it creates an updraft, sucking in air from the ocean and creating the consistent wind current. Further down south (within an easy jogging distance), the shoreline swings eastward, creating a perfect catching point for those surfers or kiters with less experience who might, inadvertantly, be blown off into the open ocean to their potential peril.
But it seems the changing global weather patterns have had their affect here as well, and this summer the entire region experienced its wettest season in a long time (ten years I believe). As I was driving down from Santa Rosalia, Tanna was pointing out the fuzzy tops of the cactuses, meaning they were in their growing cycle – something rather rare here. And she said she even saw some cactuses blooming (as I did as well – little yellow flowers facing the sun at the top parts of the cactuses), which only happens once every seven years. So all this moisture meant that the desert was more green than it has been in a long time, meaning less heat was generated, and subsequently less wind for the surfers in general.
Another camping spot, this time on the east coast and where I met the woman from Oregon.
In any case, considering where I was, and the fact that the volleyball gang kept asking me about it, I figured it would be silly not to try one of the two while down there.
Where she left her truck and trailer,
to pick it up later.
I decided against kiting, which was recommended to me as more fun and having a much steeper “learning curve”, because they wanted about 300$ for the lessons. This being necessary because lack of proper training and a slight slip of the wrist could send you as much as 80 feet into the air, barelling you uncontrollably towards the coastline to a very unpleasant landing. Or the strings between you and the kite could accidentally loop around your neck or arms and slice something off.
So, although I only stood on the windsurf board twice in my life before this but never managed to sail, for a hundred bucks at five spurts of 2 hours each, I managed to get to just short of an intermediate level. Not bad, they told me, for a sport which takes years to learn.
The makeup of the English speaking crowd there turned out not to be American but rather 40% American and about 60% Canadian! (I guess they were drawn there for the same reason I was – to escape the cold winter.)
About two years ago, the Mexican government decided to give the land back to the people. Many cashed in, like with the coupon privatisation scheme in the Czech Republic following the fall of communism, and sold their land to their wealthier colleagues to the north. But the plot of land where most of the surfers hung out here in La Ventana remained the community’s. It had no electricity and they charged 4 bucks a day to camp their. In season (which ended just before I arrived), as much as 200 people would be camping on this stretch alone, with three volleyball courts up and running every morning.
Driving down the east coast.
There was the Czech Canadian corner way in the back left, next to the French Canadian strip.
The next “camping” spot. At least this one was free.
Then there was the Hungarian Canadian strip, the Polish Canadian strip, all sprinkled between by a mishmash of Americans. Every night there would be fires on the beach, guitar playing, and most groups would cluster together, with the occasional mingling. And each year certain representatives of each group would race down ahead of the rest to reserve their part of the beach again. It turns out that many of the people here have been coming like this for about the past 10 years. Most of them were in their mid forties, with some older, and all of them looked fantastic – bellies tighter looking than mine, in great shape and with perfect tans.
Many had solar panels on their roofs, keeping their boat battery powered up max, and some even used wind power, so they didn’t need to be plugged in. I truly started getting great ideas for my world trip. Just imagine. I could park for free on some beach, buy shrimp from a local fisherman, cook my dinner myself and live the life of a king for virtually free!
Another nice view from the back door.
I was also impressed by the general friendliness of the Mexicans.
Many of the English folks who had been going here eventually bought a piece of property by the beach, or built up a little rental/hotel business over the years, and the Mexicans seemed glad for the inflow of revenues. Walking back from shrimp dinner/internet and carrying my laptop bag, I’d walk past homes with Mexican music blaring from within. Looking in the large living room window I found a family dancing away, a father holding his young baby and swinging it in his arms to the music. Clusters hanging out on the porch and gabbing in the warm evening. Most importantly, not all glued like morons to the TV. Everywhere I walked or drove people would say “Hola” (hello), and it was standard to gesture hello to the oncoming traffic throughout all of Mexico. Once a little boy on a bicycle would reach out his hand and we’d slap as he rode by, and I got a general feeling of camaraderie and community the whole time I was down there.
I was even amazed to find many places abandoned during the day, with doors left open and tools and surfing gear left unattended (so the poor stealing Mexican did not at all apply here).
Oops, forgot one picture.
This was just before hitting the east coast.
So I got into a good routine of playing volleyball every morning, breakfast in the van with a few more beers after that, perhaps a jog down the beach or some windsurfing, and some internet work over shrimp grilled in garlic dinner and four more beers (all for about 10bucks, not including the internet) to finish off the day.
The internet was set up by one American who works 7 months of the year setting up wireless networks in the US, the remaining 5 surfing the waves down here. It seemed rather sad to me that all of the windsurfing rentals and other businesses set up to service all these people were owned by the English speaking. After two days in the sun, I went to all three grocery stores in town, then to the grocery stores and pharmacy in the larger neighbouring town, and none of these Mexican establishments carried any suntan lotion!!! It seems they just weren’t business minded, or didn’t know what the English folk needed, and I was forced to drive the 50 minutes to the peninsula’s capital to get basic necessities.
So wireless internet was set up, servicing as much as 25 people and running off a 56K connection. Luckily not many people were using it while I was down there. I was therefore fully set up, as I could have done my internet work right by the water, still in range of their signal.
A few days into my stay there I ran into and befriended a French Canadian, who convinced me to drive him to the other side of the peninsula – the Pacific side – so he could do some normal surfing on some real waves. Benito also works as little as he can, saves up his cash and comes down here to enjoy the waves. He managed to find a place up the beach which would only charge him 15$ a week to camp there, so he could stretch his saving as much as possible and remain for about five months.
I was readily willing for the adventure and we ended up staying overnight for free on a stretch of beach. Next to us a large tent was set up by two fellows, who sat in their chairs under their large wind turbine looking for customers willing to rent their temporary home for 5$ a day. On this side of the peninsula there were a lot more younger folks, so we indulged in some chick watching. It was a lot more expensive on this end, there were more tourists, and every where we went, more Canadians and Americans. Worse than Prague it seemed.
And finally at La Ventana!
Benito surfed for two days and then we headed back. I crashed at his plot of land for about four days, and we agreed I’d give him a hundred pesos (about 9$), which he would hand to the owner, once he showed up the occasional Sunday. So now I was only paying 2 bucks a night for a hot shower, outdoor kitchen, and a safe place to park my van. This time though it was high up on a cliff looking over the ocean, and the view was typically breathtaking.
A view to the left from the location above, where all the English speakers set up their homes.
Managed to organise one jam session with my violin, harmonicas and someone’s borrowed bongo, with someone else playing guitar around a fire. This topped off my vacation nicely. I was invited for dinner to another Czech named Karel who had a house up the beach, there were a few parties in between, until the regrettable end to my paradise fell upon me and it was time to head back north to catch my flight out of LA back to Prague.
I was told I could make it there in three days if driving all day.
The first place I aimed for was Santa Rosalia, but decided on Mulege instead, also a beautiful town but lying 30 km south of Santa Rosalia. I hadn’t seen this town yet, it apparently had three internet cafes, and I was told by some, you guessed it, English locals that I could park for free on the beach at the lighthouse just out of town.
I did my internet work and was ready to find where I was going to crash (after having shrimp dinner first, of course) when my favourite Lola (the van) started emitting a horrendous screeching sound every time it moved. I had to stop the vehicle, in ignorant fear that I might make some permanent damage. After more than 6,000 miles of driving and as I was rushing back to LA to catch my flight back to Europe, my first car problem!!
So I parked the van and walked across the street to the taco stand and, in my increasingly less terrible Spanish (“Per fevore, problemo mi carro y lo non comprende problemo. Uh.., uno personne aqui comprende carro problemo?”), managed to determine that half a block down the street was a car repair shop, which should be open at around 8 the next morning. Walked down there, confirmed that no one was there (once again, tools out in the open, no doors..), and walked about 20 more metres down the street to see a sign reading 20 pesos for a shower. That was something I was actually looking forward to that evening.
One can beautify their garden anywhere..
While there met yet another very friendly and helpful English speaking Mexican who told me he worked on or rode a vehicle in some international races and assured me he was an experienced mechanic. He took a look at my vehicle, said I could park it at his joint (hotel) and that he’d go with me to the mechanic tomorrow to make sure I got a good deal on the repair. Unfortunately, the city water supply was shut off that evening and all I was offered was to pour cups of hot water over myself, but he told me the shower should be and running by 10:00 the next morning.
A view to the right of the three pictures above.
I just couldn’t complain!
So stinky me settled for another garlic shrimp dinner in the neighbouring restaurant, overlooking my little van, and we shall see how things work out the next day. Hopefully I will get to LA on schedule, for I still need to arrange many things before flying back to Prague (research the possibility of shipping Lola out there, buy some more hardware and other jubejubes, UPS the rented satellite phone back to Seattle…).
Well, as almost expected, the city’s water wasn’t turned on at 10 in the morning, and it seemed I’d have to wait until 10 in the evening instead. So I forwent yet another shower. I sat talking with my new friend early in the morning until the car repair shop opened up. As usual, he and others around thought it rather odd I started drinking beer this early.
I was asking him about how the property thing with the government was and he explained to me how there were many cases where a small group of people received many acres of ocean-side property and just milked it in any way possible so that they would not have to work at all.
Playing volleyball every morning before the wind gets too strong
and everyone has to, boohoo, surf.
He said that Mexicans, and Latinos in general, were very lazy and nobody would work if they didn’t have to. This confirmed my observations that all the businesses serving the English speaking crowd in La Ventana were owned and operated by the English speaking crowd itself, and that the Mexicans, in general, didn’t catch on to any of the opportunities afforded them, taking minimal part in any business activities. He also explained to me how the Mexicans, in general, were robbed blind during 72 years of the previous government, that the police were “all 100% corrupt, with often coke powder still present around their nostrils while they tried to milk you for another fine”, and that things only started improving over the last three or more years with their latest honest and tough president. So I imagined how the changing tides to a more just system drew in more tourists, more revenues from those who chose to buy property down there, invest and spend their earnings, and how the small and middle sized businessperson were now able to benefit from all this without fear of losing their earnings to corrupt authorities.
Going for a daily jog.
Jogging by some cows.
My friend suggested I not use the services of the car repair shop recommended to me by the taco stand woman, saying that they would probably make up a story my car needed to be in the shop for three days at a total cost of 300 dollars, and instead took me to a friend mechanic of his a little out of town.
Virgin jogging sand ahead [left].
My tank was almost empty and he drove into a gas station to tank up, on the way there. I thought it was rather strange he started heading back after tanking up, but it seems he decided my van was in good enough condition to make it all the way back to LA without a problem, suggesting that I not waste my time with expensive Mexican mechanics. Perhaps he was so nice to me because he noticed how I tipped the window washing dude at the carshop, or because my name was “Carlos”, the same as a close friend of his who recently died, but I heeded his advice and was on my way to the next scheduled destination – albeit even stinkier but still on schedule.
Some weird sea animal washed up dead on the shore.
I barrelled my way northward, much faster than when I was heading south, and eventually made it past Ensenada. This time I chose to make the reverse trip, taking the scenic ocean-side toll highway north of Ensenada to Tijuana and then switching over to the free highway closer to the shore past that – exactly opposite of what I did on the way down. I would suggest this option instead. I was quite surprise to notice all the developed property. It looked exactly like the Californians were investing their way southward, and the wealth of California seemed to encroach southward with them. One person commented they would never consider buying property in Mexico because they fear the government there occasionally “nationalises” everything, but perhaps this time around things could end up more stable, with NAFTA, the inevitable globalisation and all.
I wish I could just dive right into that wave.
The ride past [forgot] was quite enjoyable and I parked by the road many times, diving into all the tourist item shops looking for that iron-wood carved eagle I was hoping as a memorabilia of my Baja travels, but all the shops seemed to focus on helping the Californians fill up their newly purchased homes with furniture etc. and I failed to find my item. Nevertheless, it was interesting perusing all the stores.
Things I saw during my jog.
On one shop owner’s advice, I tried looking among the stores in downtown Rosalita, but traffic there was an almost standstill, I imagined it would only get worse working my way up through Tijuana, that I turned around and paid the toll fee for the rest of the way to the Mexican border.
About an hour before crossing the border, I came upon inching traffic, laced in between by Mexicans carrying the typically useless tourist items they thought, by chance, you might change your mind and buy it now, not before when you had countless opportunity. There were also many beggars, people selling hotdogs and sherbert icecream, moving their little stand up and down among the traffic to wherever demand would call, until the traffic finally sped up at an intersection of highways. There were five lanes, the traffic sped up just as the highway curved under an overpass, and there was little time to read the directional signs hanging overhead at an awkward angle – one directional sign for each of the five lanes. San Diego seemed to refer to the centre lane.
Where I parked at my friend’s “camping” spot, just up the road a bit.
The highway turned under the overpass and soon the arrangement was rather confusing. Half the traffic diverged leftward under another pass, where the directional signs seemed to be pointing to two Mexican towns. Then there was a big road block, about four policemen positioned variously on the open highway, a policecar parked at a certain angle with lights flashing, and one small opening in the road block on the third lane, with very little traffic beyond that. Looking ahead, I could not see any sign indicating the direction to San Diego, but only a sign saying something like “Exclusivo con Federalo”, which I believed meant an exclusive highway for the federal government.
So I slowed down as I was approaching this scene, trying to figure out which way I should go, and not wanting to go the wrong direction lest I’d have to make some incredibly long loop around to get back to where I was right now.
The view from my bed in the back of the van
(doors left open all night, of course)
I slowed down to a crawl, and one of the policemen stared at me like, “What the heck are you doing?” I looked back at him like, “Where the heck is San Diego?” Right after which he flailed his arms directing me to pull over right away by the side of the road. He walked up to me and asked me if I had my tourist permit, my vehicle owner’s registration, and my mandatory travel insurance while down in Mexico. I diligently answered that I did. Then he asked to see my driver’s licence and walked away with it. Came back and told me I was obstructing traffic, meaning a “660 Peso fine”.
Preparing the morning catch for dinner tonight, or for me to buy!
What?!? So it was a mild argumentative discussion. He said I’d have to come back in two days to pay the ticket to get my licence back. I told him I was rushing to catch a flight out of LA by that time. He put his hand to his chest, rolled his eyes, and said “Ooh la la!” I really felt his sympathy for me. So he asked me if I wanted to pay him cash now but without a receipt or to come back in two days to the police station and pay then. Then I started whimpering how it was such a nice vacation, to end this sourly; how I thought the price was way to exorbitant; how it seemed that this was set up on purpose to milk the tourist; how I did not see any sign to San Diego and how can anyone driving this way for the first time think this is nothing else than totally confusing. So he asked me, “Is 350 pesos okay then?” Whatever, I thought, paid the man and continued forward, where the traffic slowed down to a crawl again and more Mexicans were mingling between the traffic trying to peddle their useless items. I noticed at least three large billboards written in English and referring to smiling Mexican lawyers offering their legal services to help you out of any trouble. They looked even more shady than the police crew I had the pleasure of speaking with and I was looking forward to crossing the border.
Back in the US, on a real highway, and spent a few days running errands, shopping and partying. I packed up all my belongings, was sad to have to leave Lola, and realised I must have had almost three times what I came with. Packing everything I had a better idea of all the hardware I purchased while down here. But fortunately the woman at the airline seemed to take a liking to me and did not charge me extra for anything, even though I was WELL over the limit.
This is what the back of my van looks like. Imagine the views above in the background.
Now I’m writing this on the aeroplane back and reflecting back on all the reflecting I did driving those eight and a half thousand miles.
Playing some Mexican drinking game where you try to make the bottle stand using only the ribbon. To the right the Mexican owner of the restaurant was glad we were drinking all his Tequila.
With driving only taking up about 10% of my conscious mind, I often thought about women. But most of the time I reflected on God not wanting me to go forward with this trip, how I went forward anyway, and what was awaiting me back in Prague. I really developed a liking for this sort of lifestyle, a really hoped I could continue the dream once I got back to Prague. But, more than that, I preferred a closer relationship with God than pursuing my indulgent desires, and wanted to follow him where he guided me. Perhaps asking me to abandon my trip at that point was a test similar to asking Isaac to kill his son, but that he will let me go through with my plans anyway. Perhaps he had a better plan for me than my own. Or perhaps it is time for me to abandon my secular and selfish life and get real serious. Who knows. Or maybe, just maybe, the true adventure is only just beginning…
Drinking for lunch, between volleyball and windsurfing (time to check the email too). They call this beer banos, which means whale in Mexican, but also used in reference to these one litre sized beers.
Did I ever say I was complaining?
Some tips I picked up from people and along the way:
- why waste your break pads, and spend more money on gas? You think Mexicans would waste like that? Then just slow down around the stop sign and ooze through the intersection between the crossing cars. Otherwise you’ll probably anger the locals, make them waste their break pads and gas, and draw attention to a police car. Don’t want to irritate the authority gods.
- gasoline was state owned and usually the same price (otherwise people in Baja would probably have to pay an arm and a leg), but the people tending the gas pump (you can’t pour your own – must be state employees) can reset the meter (as they between customers) while you are getting pumped up, allowing them to charge you more. So make sure to let them know you are watching the meter. And give a buck tip, will ya? Nothing like building up good travel carma, and it is the standard there.
- Watch about driving at night. You might ram into a big rock placed there by the locals, ready to ambush all the belongings from your crashed car.
- Mexicans are not the thieves everyone warned me about, leaving gear out in the open etc. Be nice, give them some credit, and they will probably shine their generosity on you.
- Most beaches south of Ensenada (I believe) free to park on. But better to camp with others, if possible. Found lots of places like that as driving south. Otherwise, for a few bucks you can feel more secure in a trailer camp.
- other tips
- garbage bags next to all toilets for shit paper, as you are not allowed to flush paper down the toilet (I guess they got older sewerage systems).
Next – Back to Czech