Southbound, hammer down
We and our new friends the Wolfs left Campo Touristico #1 traveling together. We'd spent two weeks relaxing, exploring, laughing, and trying out Baja's famous fish tacos for the first time. Our first stop on our route to Bahía de los Ángeles was the appropriately-named Valle de los Gigantes Park. The park is an amazing forest of huge cardón cacti. The cardón are the tallest cactus in the world. They are slow-growing, can reach over 60 feet tall, can weigh over 25 tons, and live as long as 300 years! In other words, they are old, humungous, and very impressive. An added bonus was the numerous wildflowers that had recently begun to bloom and show off their colors. We'd see many more on our trip south.
Big cactus, tiny wife
Truck big, cactus bigger
We tend to drive a bit faster than the Wolfs, but we knew where we were going so we could meet up later in the day. Using our indispensable travel app iOverlander, and our Traveler’s Guide to Camping Mexico’s Baja book, we were able to pinpoint exactly where our next destination was located. Our next overnight spot would be Bahía San Luís Gonzaga on the shore of the Sea of Cortéz (Gulf of California).
On the way to Gonzaga Bay, we made a stop in a quaint place on the beach in the small, sleepy fishing village of Puertecitos for lunch. We arrived a little bit before the Wolfs, but enjoyed some nice Mexican seafood once they arrived. We can’t always tell if restaurants are open in Baja, but they are always happy to prepare a meal. We were the only ones in the place.
Before leaving our home in the U.S. we had read about the newly upgraded Mexican Federal Highway 5 (MX-5) that stretched along the northeastern portion of Baja. We also heard about the damage caused by Hurricane Rosa in early October 2018 that roared through just weeks before we left home, leaving MX-5 in tatters. We could tell how nice the highway had been, but now major portions of it were totally washed away. There were places where we had to detour down into deep arroyos and back up again after bridges were destroyed or damaged. It was not too difficult for our rig, but the heavy semi-trucks had a tough time navigating some of the steep climbs back out of the arroyos. The damage was really heartbreaking. There was one spot on a bridge where the detour wasn’t marked very well. Really, the yellow caution tape had blown away. We started to drive across it, when Dennis had a not-so-good feeling. Luckily, he stopped and got out to survey the road up ahead. The bridge had a huge chunk that was missing. Yikes! We backed up and went down into yet another arroyo. We took many more pictures of the hurricane damage on our way north in 2019 so check back later for that post.
Arriving in Gonzaga Bay, as we turned off Highway 5 to head to the beach campground, there was a small store where we were able to stock up on a few groceries and beer, and fill our fresh water tank. Here we were, total rookies in Baja, and so far, we’re speaking enough Español to figure these things out . . . barely.
At Rancho Grande Campground, the bay and sand were nice for morning walks, with a large palapa at each camp sight, but the pit toilets were nasty, being simple plywood shacks over a hole in the ground, with no toilet seats and doors that tended to blow open at the most inopportune times. We’d later come to learn this is common in Mexico. The palapas at each site were also in rough shape and the garbage cans hadn’t been emptied for a while and were also filled with water. Besides our two rigs, there was a family in an RV with several very well-behaved home-schooled kids. They knocked on our door one afternoon to see if we wanted to buy some artwork that each one of them had drawn. We would have liked to buy one from each child, but with our limited space, we chose one from the youngest child. I think it was less than $1 US. The drawing hung on our fridge for a long time.
Bahía San Luís Gonzaga (Gonzaga Bay)
After two nights in Gonzaga Bay, it was time to continue making our way south to Bahía de los Ángeles. But first, we wanted to make a stop at the famous Coco’s Corner to meet the legendary Coco himself. Before the recent realignment and improvements on MX-5 the highway passed directly by Coco’s place. The intersection was a common stop and gathering spot on the Baja 1000 off-road race and Coco got by on the revenue generated by visitors and race teams. Coco has to be at least 80 years old and has been hosting travelers for over 25 years. Donated photos, stickers, license plates, and lingerie decorate the walls and ceiling of his modest dwelling. Outside is also pretty interesting, with a boat, desert artifacts, crushed beer cans hanging from trees on wires, signs and dilapidated camper shells littering his property. Coco lost his legs to diabetes many years ago, but he gets around very well in his wheelchair. He is quite the character who loves to have folks drop by and say hello and still makes his living off selling beer, soft drinks, and donations. Dennis had brought one of his old motorcycle license plates (MENNIS, a play on his name) to donate to the wall and Coco was happy to provide screws, a battery-powered drill and direction on where he wanted us to hang it. Unfortunately, traffic passing by Coco’s has slowed to a crawl after the recent highway realignment, so times are hard. So, if you are traveling in Baja and want to meet Coco, you may have to drive a few extra miles out of your way. And well you should, it’s worth the visit! After hanging the plate, finishing our drinks and saying our goodbyes it was time again to move south.
The legendary Coco