Leaving Baja – 267 days late

It was nothing new to awake at San Pedrito that morning, a beach we have stayed at countless times over the last eight months. What was new, was that for the first time in three weeks we had arrived somewhere under our own power. The camper was a tip, tools and boxes everywhere which we hadn’t had time to sort out since our late departure from the garage the day before. We spent the morning reorganising, the only thing that was left out was the toolkits, I still didn’t quite believe that we wouldn’t need to bleed the engine again. Normally Ruby takes between four to five goes to get the air out, one seemed too lucky. We had some time to kill anyway, as we decided tonight would be a good night to celebrate at Todos Santos Brewery. Recently reopened for the first time since March, there would be some live music and the chance to enjoy some nice beers on site. Liz, the owner, has reserved us a table and we planned to meet Clem and Emilie there, bringing our party up to seven people. 

Towards the end of the afternoon we packed up and headed into town. Ruby behaved fairly well, we didn’t have any issues with cooling, but we still weren’t quite running right yet. Often on deceleration when the clutch was depressed the engine would cut out. The oil light too was coming on when the clutch was pressed. We made it to town fine, but I wasn’t fully happy with the drive. Clearly something else was not quite right. Having dropped off our filthy work clothes at the lavenderia, we parked up outside the brewery. 

We sat at a large table outside, where the live act was getting her set ready.

We ordered some flights of beer to remind ourselves of the menu choices. Soon Jaro joined us and ordered a flight too, he looked a little mystified by the names of the beers and unlike us, hadn’t had months of sampling them to know what he wanted. Liz came over to say hi, commenting how it was fitting that we were here on one of the first nights, as we were some of the last people to have visited before it shut. Then, Clem and Emilie arrived. 

It was nice to sit in a bar with some live music, something that was a regular event for us back in America, but that was almost a year ago. We enjoyed our beers and the slightly cooler night air. The singer was very good. The only downside was that by 9pm, the bar was shutting. As the various groups filtered out, a few people came over to talk to us. “So you’re the expedition party!” Someone exclaimed. “Welcome to Todos Santos!” The irony. We did represent a large portion of Europe, sat around our table. English, French, German and Swiss, this caused a lot of excitement with the local gringos. They seemed a mixture of horrified and thrilled that we planned to stay outside in our vans, and had been throwing surreptitious glancing our way all night while clearly discussing ‘the tourists’. While campers here is usual the norm, we are definitely in the minority at the moment. 

Soon, everyone else had gone, but we weren’t really done yet so we filled our growlers to go and decided that we would drive a few minutes to La Esquina and park there for the night. It was a little better than sleeping directly on the road outside. We sat around the campers outside and had a few more drinks before calling it a night. I still had some sleep to catch up on from two long days in the garage. 

It’s not the quietest spot to park, so I reluctantly rolled out of bed in the morning partially due to heat and partially noise. We had seen some welding that needed doing on the camper and thought that after the engine mount incident it would be better to be proactive. We decided to drive to Pescadero and find a welding shop, we also needed to pick up our bikes which we had left in the garage. Hanno and Kikki joined us as there as they were also after some welding, and we set off despite the fact that it was the last thing I felt like doing that morning. 

We picked up our bikes and waved across the garage to Aaron. We then had had no luck finding the welding shop. After filling up with some water, we decided to call it a day and head back to La Pastora for the night. Ruby was still having some issues with stalling and we must have needed to restart the engine at least five times on the half hour drive to the beach. 

La Pastora is probably my favourite beach to stay at in the local area. It’s just so quiet. It’s large enough that anyone visiting the beach for the day doesn’t actually come anywhere near you, unless they’re just doing it to be nosy. As we sat outside in our chairs we watched the majority of people who drive in, take the right hand longer fork in the road so that they can drive past us and have a look. That’s harmless enough though and at night, we can settle somewhere on the side and enjoy the silence. 

Shortly before we had left Cerritos, someone had sold us a kilo of Dorado out the back of their car. It had resided in the freezer until this point, as we had not cooked for a few days. Here on the beach seemed the perfect time for another taco night and with the more recent storms it was also possible to find enough decent wood for a fire. For this first time in a long time, we sat around a campfire and enjoyed it’s warmth. We had often lit fires on the ranch, but mainly for the purpose of keeping away bugs. Then we sat well back, away from the heat of the flames, but now the nights were cooling noticeably and it was a pleasant change. The beach was deserted.

The following morning we sprayed WD40 over all the parts of the clutch we could get too and also checked in the engine bay of any signs of an air leak that might be the cause of our stalling problem. I had the feeling the clutch was sticking as the oil light would come on a flicker before the engine died, much like when you stall from being in the incorrect gear. Lee found a small pipe that hadn’t been tightened up on the back of the throttle body, so we refitted this and then set off for a test drive to see if had fixed the problem. We managed the drive into town and back with the engine only cutting out once, and that may have been partially due to me. It seemed much improved and I was a bit happier. Maybe we could actually leave soon!

I did notice one problem however, when checking the engine. The crank pulley was rubbing on the plastic casing behind and you could see where it was now touching the tensioner. Taking the cover off revealed that the tensioner bolt was loose, allowing the pulley to push forward at an angle and press on the cover. That bolt that I wasn’t happy with at the garage was clearly not good enough. I didn’t really want to risk driving any further, because we could be looking at some serious damage, so Hanno and Kikki drove me back to the garage with the tensioner in hand so that I could find a solution and fix Ruby where she was. We would either need to find some helicoils to replace the damaged thread or drill and tap in a larger bolt. This wasn’t easy through as we would also have to drill out the sleeve in the tensioned, several inches thick. 

Arriving at the garage, we found the gates to be shut. They were closed. Fortunately for us, Aaron saw us and walked over. I showed him the problem and he opened the gate and waved us in. Bruno came in too as they wanted to take a look at the diff. Aaron then pointed out to me that I could actually unbolt the whole section of engine with the bad thread and swap it for the one of the old engine. For some reason this whole section comes away, held on by only three bolts it was an incredibly easy fix. No drilling or tapping required. I phoned Lee to let him know as he was back at the van retiming the engine. Hanno and Kikki set about draining their diff oil, while I reset the tensioner. The whole trip only took an hour or so, and Bruno was soon set to go. We said goodbye to Aaron again, hopefully for the last time!

Back on the beach, the tensioner was refitted and correctly torqued. The belt went back on, followed by the covers. Everything looked much better. Now, fairly happy that we were running ok we made our exit plan. We decided we would leave the following day, Thursday, and head for La Paz. We could then catch the ferry on Friday. 

Alejandro and his girlfriend were in town, so they stopped by for a few hours to say goodbye and have a few beers with us. Clem and Emilie were supposed to join, but as they are planning to cross over too in a few weeks, Clem was swamped with the final parts of tying up work. We didn’t really need to say goodbye, as we would be seeing each other again soon. Jaro planned to head up to Scorpion Bay, a particularly good surf beach, but then he too was now thinking of catch the ferry with Clem and Emilie and from there we would travel some of mainland together again. Still, we said goodbye the next morning and set off. 

Alejandro sporting the most entertaining face mask so far

It was odd to feel like this was it. We had planned to go so many times, always unsuccessfully, that it seemed odd to be finally doing it. This would be the first long distance drive with the new engine, as we headed to La Paz. La Paz itself has an abundance of stops signs and lights, like any city, meaning we would really know if our engine was working better now.

Especially after a long hot drive. I wanted to buy a new clutch, ours was making a slightly unhealthy whining noise, so when we arrived we headed to Autozone. The good news was that we made it to the shop without incident, just a flashing oil light at low rpm. The bad news was that Autozone doesn’t sell that pressure plate, bearing in mind this is just a standard Subaru part, and the release bearing had a ten day wait. I was unimpressed, we would try to order online somewhere and send it ahead. 

This was met by more bad news, as when we went to leave the car park, Lee reversed back into one of the employees cars. A friend, I assume, came over and took charge. He phoned someone, and then told us we should pay 5,000pesos. The damage was minimal, a bit of a scratch to the bumper. we declined and said we would go through the insurance. The girl whose car it was immediately changed her mind, accidents happen, she said. Don’t worry about it. Whatever it was, she didn’t want the police to come. We gave her a smaller amount of money as a contribution, it was our fault after all and the left the car park before she could change her mind.

The next stop was to see Ricardo again, he was the person who welded our sliding door for us properly last time. We hoped he would weld the bits of our chassis that needed it. It turns out he has been following our journey ever since, and had even asked around locally if anyone could help us with our engine problem, which was kind. He had a look at the rust and declared it not too bad. He told us that she needed a wash though, and pointed out a part of the chassis where the metal had been ripped off. Now I think of it, it must have been from when the tow truck winched us on. We decided to wait until mainland to get the welding done, he told us he knew someone there we could ask. It was nice to catch up again before we left, having good contacts is always useful!

The final stop for us was at the ferry port to get our vehicle Banjercito. This is the customs paperwork for Ruby, which is not necessary for Baja and therefore not something we have as we never planned to go anywhere else. However, in order to get the ferry we need it, and having heard different stories of how difficult or easy it is to obtain retrospectively, we decided to sort it the day before the ferry to avoid any stress the following day.

Once we arrived at the port, we found the office. I knew from speaking to Kikki that it was very important that we were classified as a ‘casa rodante’ or camper as being put through as a regular car required a $200 deposit as well as the $60 fee. Campers however are just $60. I spoke to the lady in the office and showed her our documents. She said we were not a camper. Our paperwork says ‘motor caravan’ not ‘motorhome’. She wanted us to pay the extra money. We argued for sometime. In the end she gave us a sheet and set us across to another office for an inspection to determine whether we really were a camper. 

In the other car park, another guy came over to inspect us. He had a look inside, we showed him that we had a toilet, a cooker and a sink. Definitely camper things. He asked us where we slept and we showed him pictures with the roof up and explained. He was happy enough to stamp our paperwork and declare us a camper, a step in the right direction. Back at the office, we got our paperwork processed after a short wait and lots of questions. Our English address and renewed visa both being sticking points. Eventually we then paid the fee. The whole process had taken us an hour and a half, so I’m glad we did it early. It wold have been stressful trying to sort it the day of departure. Happy to have got our own way and be ready for tomorrows ferry, we headed off to find a spot for the night.

Hanno and Kikki had waited for us just down the road, so after collecting them we headed north towards Playa Pilitas. We planned to stay here for the night, as the police at the moment are checking Tecolote. Pilitas is just around the corner, but out of sight and a lot quieter. We thought we could get away with a night here before getting up early to visit Balandra in the morning. 

Sure enough, we were left alone throughout the evening and had an early night with our alarm set for 5.30am. We needed to be gone by 6am in order to get in the queue for the beach. These days, it is an odd experience to wake up in the dark and a practically unheard of occurrence twice a week. The days of working in the winter and leaving and returning home in the dark seem a long way away. It’s not I something miss. 

The drive to Balandra is only around ten minutes, and by the time we got there there were already fifteen cars in front of us in the queue. We had our morning coffee and took the cats for a walk while we waited. Just before 8am, they let us through and down the rest of the road to the car park.

Lee and Kikki jumped out at the entrance and ran to reserve us a palapa. Hanno and I parked up close behind. The beach was fairly busy, even with the imposed restrictions, but having visited before I know this is nothing like normal. This is normally the kind of beach where you can’t see the sand or the sea for bodies, it’s no wonder the numbers are currently restricted. 

We stayed here for a few hours, until midday. The sea was so shallow it was pretty much impossible to swim, walking out several hundred yards still only rewarded you with water up to your knees. 

We walked up the cliff to take in the view.

It is certainly a picturesque spot. 

An aerial view of ‘the hongo’, a rock formation that looks a bit like a mushroom. Very popular photo opportunity with the locals.

At around 12.30pm, we packed up and left. The port is not far away and soon enough we were in a queue. We went through the inspection station with a quick check of our vehicle. Then we queued for the weigh station. Here you are given a ticket with the vehicles weight and length which you have to take to the office to purchase the correct ticket. We left the campers and headed to the ticket office. We were lucky enough to get the cheapest rate, every now and again having a tiny camper is useful. Bruno was not as lucky though and got charged a bit more for being a bit bigger and a lot heavier. Still, even though Kikki was unimpressed, it was a lot better than being charged the motorhome rate, nearly three times as much. With our tickets we were told that the boat was called the San Jorge and boarding would be at 3pm. 

We wandered around the port looking for the San Jorge, without much luck. Closer to 3pm, we drove down the port and discovered that it was behind another ferry out of sight.

Lee and Hanno were allowed to drive on with the campers, while Kikki and I had to get out and wait in the terminal. We didn’t really understand what was happening as we got set into the building through security, backwards. We waited for a bit before decided to try and walk down, then we saw Hanno and Lee going the other way. We were all confused. Back in the terminal they told the boys to go back to the campers, and that we had to wait till 4pm. We went upstairs and sat there but apparently that was’t allowed either. Then we had to stand outside the building for twenty minutes for no apparent reason. Maybe the security were just enjoying seeing what they could make two confused tourists do. There appeared to maybe be another six people who wanted the same boat, hardly busy. Finally at 4pm we were allowed to walk down, out of the building. From here we got onto a minibus which drove us very short distance to the boat. We waved at the boys as we passed, still sat by the campers at the side. Then as we were about to get on the boat we were told to go back and wait at the campers. The whole thing was probably the most pointless thing I’ve done for a while. 

We waited a bit more, before one of the people loading the ferry came and asked us if we wanted to park on top. We said yes and he waved us on. We were one row in from the edge, meaning that we had a nice sheltered spot from the wind and that we would even be able to sleep in the pop top, something I had been unsure of.

Once loaded, we went to the top deck and watched the remaining lorries come on board.

It is definitely an art form to reverse an articulated lorry backwards, uphill onto the deck of a boat and park it with a matter of inches to spare. The process took a while, and it was just after 7 pm when the engines shuddered and the water below us churned into life. We were moving. On the top deck we popped a bottle of champagne and toasted leaving Baja, a mere eight months later than planned and to a completely different place as well

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