From San Juanico to Ciudad Constitucion
Can we get a break? On Wednesday June 27, we had a wonderful breakfast at El Burro restaurant. The restaurant is complete with surfboards hanging on the walls, and a lush garden of potted plants, under a cool palapa. A relaxing oasis atmosphere we had enjoyed two days prior. Once again we enjoyed a great conversation with our new good friend Tim Sanchez, along with the Omelet de Papas, which is a crispy omelet of hash browns stuffed, in my case, with bacon, avocado and eggs. It is Awesome.
When we had completed our breakfast, Tim said his goodbyes, climbed into his massive Dodge diesel truck, and drove back to John Beck’s house to prepare for his return to the United States. Rachel and I paid and while Rachel completed a couple of tasks on the restaurants computers, in their Internet Café area, I browsed their display counter of miscellaneous trinkets and local merchandise.
When we went out to Mad Max, we were both upset to find that our carts front left tire was completely flat. We had noticed it was low when we had pulled it to the restaurant, but had only thought it needed a little air. Rachel suggested we head back to John’s house, but I told her that now that Tim had left, we were once again on our own and need to deal with it ourselves.
John and Seth Beck had given us a little C02 compressed air gun, to fill a tire in case of a flat. It was the first time I had seen such a device, but was familiar with C02 from owning pellet guns as a kid. However, that previous experience was not any help in this case. I inserted the C02 cartridge and screwed on the handle and immediately the device started to blow cold air. I knew it wouldn’t last long and panicked. I tried and to get the device to the tire, but when that failed I attempted to plug it with my thumb. All my efforts got me was an empty C02 cartridge and a cold burn on my thumb from trying to plug the frozen air escaping the cartridge.
Fortunately, we had another spare and as we had done many times in the past, we quickly changed the tire and were ready to roll in only a few minutes. The problem was we were now leaving town with no available spare tires. As we were fixing the tire, a local gringo Coyote Steve pulled up. We told him of our situation and he suggested we stop by Antonio’s the local llantera (tire shop). He gave us directions and we were on our way.
Antonio’s was easy to spot from the old tires lying about the tin covered garage area, dispersed and stacked between a dead generator or two, a bench seat that was removed from a car many years back, and sits exactly in the same place it was first placed (view image). The first person to come out to greet us was Antonio’s son. We explained how we wanted to get three of our tires working. I gave him the first tire and he walked off, and we didn’t see him again for about 10 minutes, until Antonio himself came out of his house located towards the back of the property. He emerged half-dressed, and was pulling over his shirt and buttoning his pants as he neared. His son appeared from a place beyond the house carrying our tire, exactly in the same condition I had given it to him.
After a few minutes of searching for tools, Antonio settled on a socket without the wrench to remove the wheel bolts. But, before trying to remove the bolts, he meticulously marked the location of the value stems on each of the tires with a white wax pencil. I thought this man really wants to be precise. He quickly realized he needed the wrench that goes with the socket to get the bolts removed, and after another search about the garage; moving tools from one location to another and back again, he found the wrench and went to work removing the well-marked tires from all the wheels.
While Antonio worked on our tires, our friend Tim Sanchez, had driven his car to the edge of town, which gave him a view of Antonio’s garage, and of course Rachel and I sitting there waiting. He came over and couldn’t believe we had not left yet, and were sitting at the tire shop. Moments later John and Seth Beck pulled up, equally surprised to see us. After a quick hello, and Tim replacing a bungee cord we had lost, we all once again said goodbye.
Antonio had us ready to go, and after $100 pesos, we now had four working tires on the cart and two spares. However, I did notice that he had exchanged the tires and the rims, mixing them up, so much for needing the wax pencil or being precise. I strapped on my harness, and we started again walking south. It was now 11AM and the sun was almost directly above, and unlike the previous two days in san Juanico, there was absolutely no breeze and it was hot.
We had been told that we would be hugging the Pacific coast between San Juanico and Las Barrancas; however, it wasn’t long after leaving town that the road moved inland just far enough that we could no longer see the coast, and it would be a long time before we saw it again. The road began to rise and fall, as the arroyos of the mountains made their way to the sea, not dissimilar to a roller coaster. We were either climbing a hill or descending one. On the largest of these climbs, Rachel and I were pulling and pushing in the heat, encouraging each other, by reminding the other, we were nearing the top, and just as we crested the top, I could hear the tires on the road more than usual and looked back to see the front left tire was completely flat. The same tire Antonio had fixed just 6 kilometers earlier. We replaced the flat tire with our second to last spare and started walking again.
It was our first day out of San Juanico and although we left late, we were able to push ourselves to about 23 kilometers (14 miles) and made camp in a clearing in the desert, something we were lucky to find. Small thorns covered the ground and required sweeping. So, using the head of an actual kitchen broom we carry specifically for that purpose, Rachel swept away a space for the tent. A great tip provided by our friend Jerry Freer.
The next morning we were able to get up and out around 7AM, with our goal to get as far as possible, ideally all the way to Las Barrancas. We had not walked long when new San Juanico friend Tony Moats drove up on his way to Ciudad Constitucion to pick up his brother-in-law and his two kids, which were arriving on the bus from San Jose del Cabo. He told us he would be returning later in the evening, between 7-9PM, and asked us if there was anything, we might want for a treat. Of course, my quick reply was Pacifico, and “I have a deposit bottle”. I have been carrying a large deposit bottle for several hundred miles, and had it available for just these opportunities. Rachel couldn’t decide as quickly, and started with the Magnum ice cream bar, then moved to a Snickers bar if they were available. Tony told us he would see what he could do, and wanted to know how he would be able to find us. After a moment, I told him we would create three stacks of rocks, each with 3 rocks and place it next to the road on the right-hand side. He told us he would see us later and drove off.
Throughout the day, we continued to push each other on, counting down the kilometer markers, when they were available and periodically stopping to consult the map when they were not. We decided from the beginning not to bring a GPS and only use the map, and that was before we became prisoners of the road. About midday, the heat became too much, and we equally agreed it was time to find or create some shade. With some heat related bickering, we concluded we needed to create our own shade because we could not find or agree on anything we found. We decided to work on perfecting our shade creating lean-to technique. Using our cart, umbrella, and tarps, we build our shade based on the direction of the sun and the wind. Ideally, we wanted the sun to pass over without moving us out of its shadow, and allowing the breeze to blow through. In almost each case, the umbrella, which was a tip from our friend Jim Green in San Felipe, has been the most important element, usually supporting our tarp roof.
After about 2 hours, a nice nap, some peanut butter and banana sandwiches, a few tortilla chips, it was once again time to walk. Within a few miles, a rancher in a Toyota pickup pulling a horse trailer pulled up and asked if we needed anything (view image). We told him “todo bien”, or “all is good” and he was off. Later in the day, he stopped again heading the opposite direction and wanted to see if our condition had changed. We assured him we were okay, introduced ourselves, and provided him with a printed sheet explaining our walk in Spanish. As in many similar cases, he was pleased and introduced himself as Alberto, the owner of the La carnicería, or meat market in Las Barrancas and told us we were welcome to visit his place, that he had food, water and a place to rest. We confirmed that we would make it to town later in the day and his offer was much appreciated and we would love to visit him.
About an hour later, Rachel yelled for me to stop pulling. “I think we have a problem”, she says “looks like were losing the barring in our tire”. Sure enough, the tires was wobbling side-to-side and was causing the cart to veer left to right, and making Rachel move out into the road. Once again, we unpacked the top of the cart and pulled out the tools to remove the tire. When I remove the tire, sure enough the barring fell out on the road. We were now completely out of spares, and had only been walking two days.
As the day came to end, and Rachel and I could no longer walk because of exhaustion and sore feet, we came to an arroyo that looked as if it would make a good campsite. Rachel checked one side of the road while I checked the other. The right side was the best and since that was the side we told Tony we would place our rock marker, we began stacking our rocks. The problem was that not only had Tony not returned, but also if we waited for Tony we would disappoint Alberto, who might be left waiting for us. It was at that moment that Alberto drove us in his Toyota, this time with two cows, and horse in his trailer. After a short period of trying to explain our situation in our broken Spanish, he understood and we all agreed we would come to his store in the morning. This was perfect for us, because at this point we were down to only 2 gallons and water and no spares, so these had to be addressed before we continued.
After Alberto left we waited until the coast was clear and made our way into the arroyo and set up camp, took a sponge bath, or in our case shower, since it is more of a rinse using a jug of water and scrunchy and shared in making dinner. Just as the sun was dropping and we were readying for bed, Tony and his family arrived, and not only did they have my Pacifico, which was the larger variety than the deposit bottle provided, but also Snickers, a half pint of ice cream and two ice cream cones. Of course, there was no way we could carry ice cream, so that was left in the ice chest for the kids (view image). We gladly accepting the Snickers, a small container of ice cream that Rachel thought she could get through before bed, and of course, the beer that I knew I could get through before bed. As we were standing there, visiting a man in a beat-up car drove past us and up the arroyo, where he turned off his engine once out of our view. This made me a little nervous, but didn’t seem to be noticed by the others.
After a short visit, Tony and his family drove off while we finished our much-appreciated treats then went to bed full, but happy. I sat up for a while listening in the dark, wondering what the man was doing. In an hour or so, I heard to the car start, drive as if he was coming closer than stop dead again. This time, I could hear he was trying to start the car, but it would comply. I again waited, listened and dozed off, later to be awaken by another car. It didn’t take long for me to realize that the second car had come to pull the dead car from the arroyo and after a short time of fussing in the darkness; I saw the two cars pass our camp, leaving the arroyo and us for the rest of the night.
The next morning, we got a late start, not leaving camp until almost 9AM, not wanting to get to town or Alberto’s too early, so we moved through our daily routine slowly, without hurry. I took the time to tear down our tires, and to put together the best combinations I could, and actually got a good spare out of them. The only thing I missed was the air to fill it, which we could no doubt get from the tire shop in town. Once we were ready, we eased onto the highway and moved south the short distance to the town turnoff, a dirt road. Alberto had drawn us a quick map the day before and as small as Las Barrancas was, finding his home and store was easy. It was located at the end of the town’s only main street, directly across from the community center and the Las Barrancas town monument, plus the big bull painted on the business wall helped.
We asked the young kid in the store if Alberto was around, and were told he was gone but would be returning soon and that we could wait for him on the shaded patio. The young man from the store, which we found out, was Alberto’s son opened two large doors at the end of the patio, which appeared to be a garage or barn. Rachel said she wanted to see in the barn and walked down to the open gate as I watched, waiting for Alberto to return. Rachel quickly turned “this is not a barn, it’s a slaughter room”, she said looking back at me with a surprised look on her face. It was about that time Alberto returned in another big commercial work truck with a friend Francisco from San Felipe, and they were carrying a big cow in the back. When the truck was backed up to the “barn” we knew what was next.
We went out to meet Alberto and he walked back to the patio where we all sat around and visited for a while, until they said they had some work to do, and they walked off towards the barn, motioning us to follow. Rachel said she did not want to see it, but I told her I had not seen anything like it and wanted to watch, at least what I could. I grabbed the video camera and with Alberto’s permission started videoing the whole process. I wasn’t sure how I would react, but wanted to see it at least once. The room was very clean, ceiling to floor cement with a small storage area in the back.
The truck was back up close to the large doors, the cow was lassoed and tied, then with an electric prod the cow was forced to jump from the truck, where he was pulled to the ground, in a kneeling position with its head to the floor. Both Alberto and Francisco began laughing at me, as they could see my expression when Alberto handed a rifle to Francisco. Francisco wasting no time, cocking the rifle, placing it near the cows forehead and pulled the trigger. The cow shuddered a moment and drop to the floor, where Francisco immediately punchered the cows chest with a very sharp knife, and cut a whole not much larger than a half dollar coin. Then using a small cooking pot, Francisco captured the blood pouring from the wound and transferred it into a plastic five-gallon bucket. The process was clean, and not what I expected, not really knowing what I expected. When there was no longer blood coming from the wound, he tied the cow’s legs and after a few swipes of his knife blade across a sharpening tool, he began skinning the cow. At this point, I left to check on Rachel, and when I returned a short while later, he was already removing steaks, and pieces of meat I recognized. Although I am glad I got to witness this process at least once, I will be okay with purchasing my meat from a market in the future.
Alberto provided us with some incredible jerky and machaca for us to have on the road, and invited us into his home, where we had a wonderful lunch with his wife and son. We enjoyed a conversation, which consisted a lot of figuring out what the other was trying to say, but it was a great time. And when I pulled out my glasses to try and read some translated Spanish on their son’s hand-held translator, Alfredo tried them on, and was gesturing how well he could see, then turned to his wife and told her how beautiful she was, and gave her a kiss. I was so moved by the gesture that I gave him the glasses to keep. I knew that once we left him, I only had four days before picking up a package from home, that would contain new contacts for me and I wouldn’t need them.
After lunch, we stocked up our water supply and got our spare aired up from Alberto, no longer needing to go to the llantera (tire shop); we took some photos with the family and said our good byes.
Once again, we were leaving late, around noon and the sun was up high in the sky and there was no breeze again, making the walk a little tough, but we both agreed the experience and new friends made it worth it. The road was being worked on, with new segments being added and paved, so pulling was slow, but we got to highway 53, and headed south. At around 2:30PM, we found a nice tree next to the highway, and stopped to rest in the shade, listened to our audio books, ate a peanut butter sandwich, and took a nap (view image). Around 4PM, we started walking again for a couple of hours, until we found an arroyo that we felt provided some good coverage (view image), and by the time we were setup, it was getting dark.
The next morning we got up around 4:30AM, determined to get a good start on the day. The morning was cool, and since we both fell asleep quickly the night before, we felt refreshed and ready to go. Not many kilometers after passing a small community called Francisco Villa, I again notice the cart getting tougher to pull, and found that once again we had another flat tire. This time the hole was from a thorn that punchered the tube, something that was getting easier as the tires tread got thinner and thinner. The problem this time, was we were out of money, not having access to money since Vizcaino, a couple hundred miles earlier, we were out of spare tires, and we were out of batteries for our Spot satellite device, having gone through them since receiving a package of Lithium batteries in Guerrero Negro. We mutually decided to get a ride to Constitucion where we had a package waiting at the bus station, a bank, and new tires. We stuck out our thumb, when the first truck appeared. It was a small pickup truck with a man and women, and the bed only contained an ice chest. The man, Jesus Alonso, help load us in the back of his truck and climbed back into the cab with his wife Iracema.
Rachel and I sat in the back of the truck, trying to stay warm from the wind and cloud cover. We made a couple of stops, so they could pick up a few items at a veterinarian in Zaragoza, use a restroom in Insurgentes, before we drove directly to Banamex to restock up on dinero. We were very grateful, and asked them if we could take them for lunch, so they took us to a great Taquería for fish and shrimp tacos. After lunch and getting to know them better, we learned that he was an administrator, and Iracema had two brothers and a sister, one of which was a teacher in La Paz. After lunch, they asked if there was anywhere, they could take us, so we asked if they knew of a cheap hotel. As luck would have it, they did. As bad luck would have it, they did. But we didn’t find out soon enough, and made the mistake of paying the $230 pesos before looking at the rooms.
The Hotel Reforma is a two-story hotel painted white with orange trim, and has about 25 rooms. The old man at the desk was kind enough to provide us with our requested bottom floor room and even walked us to the room. We dragged out cart inside, and wanted to get our projects done quickly; finding a tire, getting to the bus station, purchasing some supplies, etc. What we found out was the door wouldn’t lock, when we told the old man, he provided us with another key, and again it wouldn’t work. Therefore, he moved us to a new room, only now the room had no key at all, he said to lock it, and he would open it later.
Getting our projects took the rest of the day, and once we got our packages from the bus station and returned them to the room, where the old man still did not have a key and had to open the room for us, we left again to complete the rest of our tasks. We found Raul, (view image) and the best llantera we have ever seen in Baja, clean, impeccably organized, and very friendly. Not only did he fix the tire we had, he sold us a brand new tire, and all for only $150 pesos. The next door to the tire shop, was a bicycle shop, (view image) also part of the family business, where low and behold we found a small, lightweight bike pump and patches, two things we had not had any luck tracking down since leaving.
We also stopped to at the pharmacy to replenish our Ibuprofen, lip balm and to get some consulting on some health issues that first started in Vizcaino. At first, we were scared, but after a little self-diagnosis on Google, we felt better, and I felt better. Then when we got to San Ignacio Lagoon, I had blood in my urine. This again had us nervous, and although a bad policy, we once again self-diagnosed the problem, not really finding the answer, but at least eliminating enough to carry on. Although the blood has not returned, I was starting to have lower back pain, but it didn’t feel the same as muscle soreness. When we left San Juanico, I was feeling 100% better, no pain, no symptoms of any kind. I have been feeling much better, and the back pain is more of a periodic feeling now, than an actual pain, but we thought we might check a consultant anyways. Of course, when we got there, there was a long wait, so after some arguing with Rachel, I got my way, and we didn’t go in and I promised to see a doctor when returning home to San Felipe. Although Rachel didn’t get her way with the doctor, we did get everything else.
We left and returned, having completed most of our tasks, and walking many miles around town, from one end to the other. By the time we returned to the hotel, it was late in the day, and the old man gave us our room key as promised.
When we actually got into the room, we found that it had not only missed the key, but the glass in the window was missing, but fortunately it had thick curtains and heavy bars over it (view image). The bathroom was tiled floor to ceiling, and the showerhead was a pipe sticking out of the wall, and no hot water. The tile was covered in small flies and the room was buzzing with mosquitos, needless to say, we kept the door shut. The room had spider webs in most of the corners, and looked as if it had not been cleaned in a while, if at all. It was dark and there was nowhere to go, so we decided to make the most of it, and actually camped in the room, placing our air mattress on the bed and never pulling back the covers. By the time we got to bed, we knew we needed more time, which meant we had to find another hotel in the morning.
In the morning, we immediately began walking up and down the main roads, and after about two hours, we finally were about to return back, when just two block from the “Bates Motel”, we found Hotel Arborita, a small 18 room hotel, painted in olive green, with small clean rooms, hot water, internet access and very pleasant staff. What a major improvement and it was only $3 pesos more.
Today we packed, showered, and got some things done for the Baja Blues Fest, our own website, and other work, resting up for the start of walking again tomorrow. We have decided not to go back to Francisco Villa, or the place we were picked up and continue from here, not wanting to repeat the nightmare we had in Guerrero Negro. We had promised ourselves we would never to go backwards again. We figure we are missing two days and about 50 miles, and will deal with the loss of those miles, and any penalty points that come with it, but are ready to continue and are prepared to deal the hottest and most difficult part of the walk. We expect to be in La Paz 8 days, on our around July 9, where we hope to rest for at least two days, before continuing to Los Barriles, where we expect to arrive on or near July 14. If things go as planned, we will be in Todos Santos by July 20.