A failed mountain expedition

The next morning it wasn’t too long before we were ready to head off to the hot springs. This is only a short drive down the main road from Los Barilles, before you turn west into the mountains on a dirt road. It’s a fair drive from here, bumpy washboard limits your speed and stretches out the drive far beyond the time that google estimates. Still, it’s a pretty drive through the mountains, it was nice to be in a different landscape, driving through orchards in the bright sunshine. We passed through several small mountains villages, before eventually reaching our destination, El Churro. As we pulled up at the entrance, we shouldn’t have been surprised to see the sign on the closed gates that read “Due to COVID19 the campsite is shut until the 6th of April”. We sat in the van and re-evaluated the situation.

There are two other hot springs here, Santa Rita to the north and Rancho de Sol Mayo even further north. We had decided to come to El Churro as it was the cheapest, and also seemed to be more pet friendly. As the crow flies, the other springs aren’t that far, literally in the next valley. However, due to the road layouts, you have to drive all the way back out to Santiago, before picking up another road to head back into the mountains, a good hour drive. We judged that if one campsite is shut, then the likelihood is that so are the others. As pretty as it was up here, we didn’t fancy driving another hour to another dead end. It would also mean that we would be even further away from another campsite if it was closed. We decided to head south instead, iOverlander reckoned there was parking at a trailhead, and as it wasn’t a designated campsite it seemed unlikely to be shut. The other bonus was that we could cut across the mountain a little further down and that meant a shorter drive. Following maps.me, we set off.

It probably still took us 45 minutes, before we drove through the village and the sat nav announced we had arrived. This seemed doubtful as we had arrived outside someone’s house in a small dirt lay by at the side of the road. It was not a spot I wanted to spend the night. Fortunately, we now had signal, so a quick check on google revealed that we were in completely the wrong place. No surprise there, with my dislike of maps.me renewed, we set back out of the village. Looking at the satellite, we realised we could cut through the river bed and less than half our journey time to get to the right spot, no problem. As we pulled up at the turn off there it was again. A massive sign announcing the area was closed due to COVID19, and a rope barrier across the road. The other side of the river was an activity centre, and after much debate, Lee persuaded me that we should drive through the barrier as we were parking much further up the dirt road in the mountains anyway. I wasn’t so convinced, it didn’t feel like this was the time to piss off the local police and it was clearly somewhere we shouldn’t be going. In the end, as I couldn’t come up with a better solution, Lee won. He opened up the barrier and I drove down. The other side, two guys in the closed down activity centre watched with interest as we appeared. I panicked slightly, and set off trying to escape down the dirt road, sure that any moment I would see them follow us. But they didn’t. We arrived at the end of the track and it seemed like a pleasant enough spot.

It was definitely hotter up here in the mountains, but in the valley just below us had running water, a massive bonus. I tried to relax, but was pretty sure that the police would appear any minute. Lee, who is not concerned about these things, set about drinking the beer supplies. Cows wandered around us unconcerned, flicking flies in the afternoon heat.

A little later on, two guys on horseback came down the track to let their horses drink at the river. When dusk fell and we were still alone I began to think we might just have got away with it…

I had assumed that the cows would stop eating at night. The incessant jangling of their bells was fine in the day, but they really were not bothered about our presence. This meant they were right next to the van, to the point we had to move our solar panels in case they stood on them. This was kinda loud from the pop top. Not for the first time, I was wrong. Thinking they would lie down in the dark is not apparently something that cows need to do. They kept it up all night strolling around the van, at a leisurely pace. Scratching themselves on the tree we were parked under causing it to rattle in time to the bells. The positive side was that at least we had made it to the night time undiscovered.

The morning brought another bright and sunny day and a local in a truck who arrived very early. Maybe he was coming to check on his flock, but by the time we had surface from bed he had gone. Today we planned to hike up into the mountains alongside the river. The first time we’ve got to go on a hike for a while, I was looking forward to it. I started getting ready; suncream, water, first aid kit – it’s almost like we’re getting more responsible as we get older. I saw it first as I looked up from rummaging in the cupboard, the blue and red lights of the approaching police car, and my heart sank. It looks like we got reported after all.

The police, to their credit, were friendly enough. They didn’t give us a hard time about going through the barrier, like I thought they might and simply explained, a little apologetically, that we needed to leave. They knew we had nowhere to go, and we knew they were just carrying out their orders but it was frustrating none the less. They suggested a spot we could camp at in Santiago, but it was by a main road and we decided that wasn’t really any good for us. They left us to pack away, and soon enough we headed out on the more minor road through the mountains. The track was pretty small and winding and we had an unfortunate incident where Lee hit a big rock and cracked the sliding door step. Apart from that, we eventually were back on a tarmac road. Deciding we had had enough of trying to explore the mountains, we gave up.

This was the time that it was announced that Baja was shutting down all of its beaches. This became evident when we had tried to camp at Tecolote before, and it was now starting to be enforced across all of the beaches after we had left Los Barilles. We had been speaking to Shane, who was still camped up on San Pedrito when we had left, who had filled us in on what was going on there. He told us that some medical officers had turned up and told them to leave, then they changed their minds and told them to stay when they heard how long they’d already been camped. This all sounded pretty good, and Shane reckoned we might even be able to swing getting back onto the beach. Happy that we might still have a viable beach option, we decided to stock up in Costco and Walmart, as we were driving back through Cabo anyway.

Jen and Rob had also put a message on the Todos Santos newsfeed asking if anyone had a space we could park in or some free land. With these options ticking away in the background, we set out on our drive south. After ending up on a toll road and having to pay for a diversion we didn’t want, we arrived in Cabo.

Costco now was a little different to last time. The assistants at the door checked out ID cards and then handed us a trolley that had been thoroughly disinfected. The shop had hardly anyone in, and it was sad but no surprise that they were no longer giving out free samples. After getting a few bulk bits, we headed onto Walmart and then started the drive back up towards Todos Santos. In the meantime, Shane had messaged us and said that actually the police had come and kicked everyone off the beach. He wasn’t sure where to stay and neither were we. A few people had offered a plot of land on Facebook, but the only one who replied to us turned out to be in La Paz.

About 40 minutes later, we pulled up in Baja Beans where Shane was, and lamented our situation. He had been told that you could rent one of the palapas here for $150 a month. Normally I think of a palapa as a glorified umbrella, but these were more like small villas or casitas. They had their own shower and toilet, in a single room with a bed. Nothing glamorous, but for the price it was pretty good. We didn’t really fancy being tied down for a month though, even with everything that was going on. On the other hand, we had nowhere to stay that night so we asked the owner if we could camp outside in the garden. He was happy enough to let us for a “propina”, a tip, and we gave him 150mxp for the both of us.

The garden was clearly well maintained. It was immaculate, not even an errant leaf being permitted on the floor.

We were particularly pleased to see that it had a hose pipe , a proper flushing toilet and also a plug socket.

We decided to give our batteries another go on the repair cycle, and make the most of hook up. I had no jump leads this time to extended the charger cable, and had to come up with an ‘interesting solution’…

That night we cooked our huge Costco pizza over the outside barbeque, and enjoyed a couple of beers while we contemplated our next move.

The next day we were no closer to making a decision, and we asked to park for another night. The owner was clearly not impressed that we had made use of his water and electric, and said we could but for 350mxp that night. Still on balance it didn’t work out at too much for all the facilities. We made good use of the hose that day, scrubbing out our compost toilet and bleaching it, washing the solar panels, cleaning the air filter even some of the floor mats. We definitely go our monies worth. Baja is not kind to cars.

We also discovered that part of the reason our toilet smelt so bad was that the fan had burnt out and broken, no doubt that would be fun trying to source down here…

In the meantime, Aimee enjoyed climbing the trees.

That evening, we invited our friends, Rob, Jen and their kids around for a game night. We barbecued fish over the fire and then learnt how to play Catan, which I’m pleased to say I came close to winning after being utterly bemused at the start.

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