Archive for April, 2011

Malarrimo, Baja California Sur – Latin America’s largest nature preserve

Samstag, April 30th, 2011

It is not recommended to drink tap water in Mexico. Water available on campgrounds is at best suitable for body cleaning, as long as one doesn’t have a filter and disinfection system. But even then brackish water may contain too much salt to be healthy for human beings. Even tap water is often stored in tanks that don’t fulfil our hygienic requirements, and where algae might grow as most harmless variation. One option is to take water from a well when it is sure that it doesn’t contain too much salt, and if there is no agriculture too close. Safer is to buy drinking water in gallons from a purification plant that can be found in each town. There is a deposit fee for the first container, later you change empty to full and just pay the water. Many of these plants have a water meter and hoses with which you can fill your water tank. That is about 25 Cents per gallon.

After lying in stocks we go to the backcountry, the peninsula of El Vizcaíno. The headland is an interesting mix of desert, mountains, and coastal landscape. El Vizcaíno is extremely dry, in some years there is not even one drop of rain. Plants and animals often gain moisture only from the coastal fog that’s so typical for the Pacific coast. The road to Bahía de Tortugas is paved for the greatest part, although not always in excellent condition. We drive into the Vizcaíno biosphere reserve, a desert area that occupies 2.5 million ha from Baja’s west coast to the east coast south of the 28th parallel. It includes the whale sanctuary Laguna Ojo de Liebre and is said to be the most extensive nature preserve in Latin America. The strange elephant trees with their thick stems are starting to bloom in purple colour. Just before reaching Bahía de Tortugas we turn to the north coast of the peninsula to Malarrimo and then along the beach where we find places to camp above the Pacific that roars with the chilly winds.

Guerrero Negro, Baja California Sur – Whales to pet

Donnerstag, April 28th, 2011

After crossing the imaginary border to Baja California Sur and travelling into another time zone, we arrived at the Laguna Ojo de Liebre close to Guerrero Negro where the gray whales meet every year to give birth to their calves or to mate. There are three main bays along the Baja coast, but the northernmost and largest one is at the same time the one with most whales. You can see the whales with binoculars from the coast, but the real experience is from a boat.

We decide to book with a renowned operator with bilingual staff, Mario’s Tours, which also runs a campground and a restaurant. A microbus brings us to the boat mooring on the salt plant area, from where we start with a speed boat into the perfectly calm and sunny morning. There are not many whales left, but that’s not the point. The intense experience is crucial. The experienced boat captain approaches the whales very slowly, and he stops the engine far from the whales. The whales approach the boat if they like. They do, and it is unbelievable. They swim around the boat, they turn to the side to watch us with one eye, the poke their head out of the water, and yes, we can touch and pet them. Dolphins compete for our attention. At least the whales are so polite to keep a distance when jumping out of the water.

During the last years the whales arrived and left a bit later than usual, so now the season lasts from beginning of December to the end of April with its peak in February and March. There is another option to watch grey whales: Go to the salt plant south of Guerrero Negro, pay a little fee, and rent a boat on spot. That might be a little bit more inexpensive, but I’m not sure about professionalism.

Bahia San Francisquito, Baja California Norte – An illustrous past

Dienstag, April 26th, 2011

There are 56 km left to San Francisquito, and we manage them until lunch. The attractive bay at the Sea of Cortez has a nearly four kilometres wide steeply descending beach, framed by rocks, that is a popular turtle breeding ground. Until some years ago a resort was in operation here. It was built in the 60s and hosted such illustrious guests like John Wayne and Kirk Douglas. Like so often in developing countries there was no post-investment and the facility was left to decline. After closing it down a Mexican developer bought the land with the plan to establish a luxury resort. One day. Perhaps.

Still one can camp here or rent one of the scruffy huts. The camping fee is 5 $ per person. There are restrooms, showers, and some sunshades called palapas. Mamacita Rosa cooks for family and guests, and the meals are taken together. So much accommodation with a family where one is treated as a member of the family has its price: 9 $ for breakfast, 10 $ for lunch and 12 $ for dinner. Although the next grocery store is far, the prices shall probably remember the fashionable past.

Bahia de San Rafael, Baja California Norte – Pancho’s hospitality

Sonntag, April 24th, 2011

Exactly one year ago, we started our world trip and flew to London. Today we only stay for a short while on MEX 1, but at least there is an asphalt road to Bahia de los Angeles at the Sea of Cortez. The town in the bay with the same name has seen better days, but at least there is a gas station with diesel as well, some convenience stores, and a supermarket where the majority of the local gringos gather in front of the extensive schnapps shelve. We buy some expensive little something, but at least the fuel has a governmentally determined price, and all gas stations belong to the governmental PEMEX chain. Bahia de los Angeles’ highlight is said to be the turtle research station. It was developed in 1979 out of a turtle fishery. Unfortunately it looks deserted today, the tanks are dry, and the water pipes not connected any more.

We go again after the traces of Baja 1000 rally and follow the rumble track in slow pace for 130 km direction to Bahia San Francisquito. Half the way down south the path touches the shore at Bahia de San Rafael. Some halibut fishermen live in the pretty bay, among them Pancho, who lives here since 26 years. The former shark fisher has most of the time a cold beer for travellers on hand that he sells of for a fair price regarding the remote location; but only, if he finds the key to the door, and if he doesn’t forget in the meantime that he actually wanted to fetch a beer. To call Pancho eccentric is significantly understated. His English is as hard to understand as his Spanish is. One reason might be the constant consumption of Corona, Pacifico, and tequila, that didn’t only cost him the major part of his lower teeth but possibly some completely insignificant areas of brain cells.

The queer bird rummages once more through his solar powered ice box and brings to light something to eat, of which all American travel guides unanimously warn: ceviche. The reason is perfectly obvious: Ceviche usually consists of raw fish or scallops, lime, chilli, and some vegetables and spices. Pancho’s version is somewhat improvised, and he brings one bowl and one spoon. He assures us that the spoon is clean, but we shouldn’t attach too much value to this unimportant detail. We eat all from the same bowl with the same spoon. But the lime juice in the ceviche is probably a pretty good disinfectant. I thought it would be very impolite to refuse. We don’t show any signs of food poisoning until the evening.

Pancho offers us to camp for free on his beach. It is pretty much usual on Baja that locals ask for a small fee to camp on the beach, even if it is not their private property. They might keep the beach clean as a service rendered in return. We accept his offer, the beach and the water invite us to swim.

Coco’s Corner, Baja California Norte – Pit stop with cold beer

Samstag, April 23rd, 2011

The road from Puertecitos south to MEX 1 was infamous; so notorious that few stalwarts took the efforts to rumble along the catastrophic trail at a snail’s pace. Today the Mexican government works flat out on many road projects. The MEX 5 is paved now until few kilometres behind Campo Cinqo Islas. What comes after is exacting to tyres, suspension, and damping, as well as to the driver’s patience. There is some good sections in-between, but the 92 km altogether are very slow.

A break just comes in time, for example at Bahia San Luis Gonzaga. The extensive bay has a beach, some tiny settlements, a PEMEX gas station with gas but without diesel, and a minimart where you can get anything, especially beer, a restaurant, and a simple campground at the beach. There is a landing strip where the gringo owners of the rustic beach homes can fly in with their own propeller-driven planes. We keep on struggling along the track that’s used by the Baja 1000 rally as well. It takes part in November every other year, the last one in November 2010.

Like the race participants we make a pit stop at Coco’s Corner that’s even mentioned in most maps. The café became an institution, the owner a legend. Since Coco lost one leg in 1990 following an accident, he withdrew into the desert and offers since drained travellers cold beer, sodas, sometimes burritos, and a place to overnight. From a distance thousands of beer cans glitter and clatter, which Coco hanged up on the fences along his plot. A while ago his second leg had to be amputated as well, and just now he had an operation from which he is recovering in Ensenada. A friend takes care for the café who makes sure we sign the guestbook. But there are few entries from other globetrotters.

We grab a beer (The beer isn’t too strong, and Mexicans drink all the time while driving) and manage the last 12 km to MEX 1 that cross Parque Natural del Desierto Central. Besides thousands of Saguaro organ pipe cacti, Joshua trees, agave, mesquite, Cholla, the special elephant trees, and cirio grow, several metres high stalks that look like overgrown with facial hair. And there is no entrance fee at all.

Puertecitos, Baja California Norte – Rommel and the cacti

Freitag, April 22nd, 2011

The Valle des los Gigantes is a private nature preserve. Here one finds Saguaros or cardón, how they are called in Mexico, the world’s tallest cacti. These ones are even bigger than those in Arizona. The largest one stands right in the beginning of the cacti field: 18 m high, 12 t heavy, and some hundreds of years old. From here on there is a lot of soft sand and making headway is only possible with a 4WD or on foot. The Mexican government sent in 1992 a cactus almost as big as the one here from this park to the Expo to Spanish Sevilla on the occasion of the world exhibition. The plant continues living in its new home as a symbol for Mexico.

Ocotillos, Palo Verde, mesquite bushes, and Cholla are among the fauna as well. The entrance to the Valle des los Gigantes is 14 km south of San Felipe on the west side of the road. The entrance fee is 10 US $ per vehicle. Those who don’t go further south should visit the park, the others will have the opportunity to see more than enough cacti later on – free of charge, by the way.

Just before we exit, as we shoot a last photo, we finally meet Rommel. No joke, this is really the man’s name, his father was a fan of the German warfare general who still has astonishingly many supporters in foreign countries. A heavy burden rests on him, complains the Mexican, his first Christian name is David, his second Rommel. But he doesn’t seem to be too downcast. Rommel actually lives in Tecate and is a friend of Fritz as well as of Werner and Gabi whom we also met in Tecate. But he spends Easter on his family’s estate Rancho Punto Estrella where the cacti sanctuary is located. What a coincidence that we meet here, I shout. Rommel is happy as well. “But no”, he says melancholically, “there is no coincidence in life”.

And there is something else we find today: The lonely beach at Cinqo Islas where we can camp and swim in the astonishingly tempered water of the Gulf of California. It is the first time after we started our trip that we swim in the sea.

San Felipe, Baja California Norte – The Baja – today peninsula, tomorrow island?

Donnerstag, April 21st, 2011

From Punta Banda at the west coast we go via MEX 3 and 5 to San Felipe at the east coast of Baja California. The peninsula is 1300 km long, measures 193 km in the north at its widest between Tijuana and Mexicali, and 45 km at the narrowest spot in the south between La Paz and the Pacific Ocean. Lower California is part of the Pacific plate and drifts northward away from the mainland, that itself is part of the North American plate. Just 5 million years ago the gap has become big enough to open a strait and fill with water. In the beginning it was called Mar de Cortes (Sea of Cortez) in honour of the legendary Spanish conqueror. Since the Spanish doesn’t possess an unreserved good reputation in Mexico, the government renamed the stretch of water in the beginning of the 20th century to Golfo de California (Gulf of California). Still both names are commonly seen in maps. In the north the Colorado River flows into it, 669 km south the Gulf borders the Pacific right below the Tropic of Cancer. The Baja is 250 km far from the mainland at its most, but will be an island one day. It is covered with desert by 65 %, and altogether 23 mountain ranges rise up more than 3000 m above sea level.

We pass two military checkpoints, the second one at junction MEX 3 / 5 is very thorough and we have to wait for half an hour. The soldier is very interested in our flour can. Aren’t there drugs inside? He can sniff a line, if he wants. Thanks to the upcoming Easter holiday all hell has broken loose in San Felipe. We aren’t keen on another sleepless campground night and strike out to the lonesome desert in the south, where finally are no fences due to the lack of agricultural utilization.

Punta Banda, Baja California Norte – The boiler repair

Mittwoch, April 20th, 2011

Our heater is leaking. Water spurts from a small hole in the boiler, besides it runs from a careless weld seam around a screw. That’s German quality – the device is only one year old. Fortunately Alfredo, the friendly owner of El Refugio campground in Punta Banda where we stopped yesterday, volunteers to drive with us to look for help. That seems to be more difficult than expected. The boiler is made of stainless steel, but so thin that nearly nobody can weld it. We have to go all the way to Ensenada, which is 20 mi / 30 km, to find a workshop. They want to repair it in-between one hour! Alfredo is so kind to go with us to a supermarket during the waiting time so that we can buy some grocery. He doesn’t only explain us the fruits and vegetables that we don’t know yet, but the spiciness of all the different chillies. Besides, the amateur cook gives us a crash course in Mexican cooking. The boiler is ready in time, the special repair done for a reasonable price, and when connecting the heater to the water back on the campground it seems to be watertight again.

Parque Nacional San Pedro Mártir, Baja California Norte – The giant telescope

Dienstag, April 19th, 2011

The Observatorio Astrónomico Nacional lies in the end of the park’s road. Mexico’s largest observatory is said to be on of the best on our planet. Three telescopes with 84 cm, 1.5 m and 2.1 m in diameter stand on a 2830 m high mountain, with no light and air pollution. The Mexican government put up the telescopes in 1975 not only for stellar studies but measures of the sky’s brightness, the state of the atmosphere and a long list of meteorological data. We have to park our truck in front of the locked gate and walk the last 3 km / 2 mi of the road steeply uphill. But there is some wildlife on the way like a coyote that watches us for quite a while before we fall below its safe distance; then it disappears unhurriedly.

The opening hours for the observatory, for which no additional entrance fee is levied, are limited: For the moment, it’s 10 am to 1 pm. A scientist arrives at the biggest and uppermost telescope. When asked he is willing to show us the rooms; he even speaks fairly English. The telescope is none to look through, but a camera receives images of the sky via two mirrors and transfers the data to computers that look as old as the telescope is. The high-performance infrared camera can take photos even in daytime and has to be cooled with liquid nitrogen. The roof above the huge lens is opened and rotated electrically. From the gangway around the roof we have a fantastic view to the Pacific in the west and the Sea of Cortez in the east.

On our way back they turn up after all: the Condors. Single or in small groups they hover majestically in the sky, skilfully using the thermal lift. They are easy to identify on the basis of their widely spread wing feathers, and their wingspan of up to 2.7 metres / 9 ft. The beat of their wings, if they do one at all, is characteristic, since the tips of the wings nearly touch under the breast.

Our plan to go back to the east to MEX 3 via Mike’s Sky Ranch fails. The track was simply washed during the last rainfalls. The park rangers warned us, but we want to be convinced that the road isn’t passable. Mike’s Sky Ranch offers rooms, camping possibilities and a restaurant, and is especially favoured by dirt bikers. Since years the ranch is checkpoint at the Baja 500 and 1000 rallies, but is has a better feeder road from MEX 3. Since we don’t want to drive another time on yesterday’s bumpy dirt road, and since there are few east-west-connectors on the peninsula, we head back to Ensenada.

Parque Nacional San Pedro Mártir, Baja California Norte – Snow in Baja’s mountains

Montag, April 18th, 2011

It is one of the most secluded parks in Mexico: It is probably so rarely visited due to its remote location, even though the 78 km long mountainous road from MEX 1 to Parque Nacional San Pedro Mártir is paved in the meantime. The nature preserve comprises a part of Baja California’s highest mountain chain and its highest peak, the 3095 m high Picacho del Diablo. The park entrance is at 2700 m, even in the middle of April there is still snow in shady depressions. There are several hiking options, but few marked ones. Ambitious hikers should bring a GPS, topographical maps, and a smattering of Spanish to coordinate with the monolingual rangers. The park is known for its endemic San Pedro Mártir cypress, lodgepole pines, and quaking aspen. The rare bighorn sheep lives in the mountains and the Californian Condor, that was extinct here 60 years ago, was settled recently. The park’s entrance fee is 50 MXN per person for 24 hours and includes a night on the primitive campground, which has outhouses, tables and benches as well as some grills or fireplaces.

La Bufadora, Baja California Norte – Hot springs and marine geyser

Sonntag, April 17th, 2011

Rancho San Carlos cuddles to a green valley deep in the mountains. The owner built two big and three small pools with different water temperatures. The concrete tubs aren’t distinctive beauties, but the constantly flowing thermal water is pleasant and smells healthy slightly like sulphur. There are no tourists here these days, but the site more and more fills up with local families. For some of them it’s just a Sunday outing, but many families prepare for Semana Santa, the Holy Week. Easter isn’t only the most important Christian holiday, in Catholic Mexico it is at least as important as Christmas. Mexicans celebrate during the entire Holy Week, and many of them take vacation and come in droves from the mainland over to Baja California to spend a beach holiday.

Back on MEX 1 we turn off to the peninsula Punta Banda not far to the south. The town La Bufadora in the end of the blind alley hosts the world’s second largest blowhole. Incoming surf pushes the waves into an underground canyon and up through a hole in the rocks. Water and spray spurt explosively up to 30 m high. The attraction is free of charge, but there is a parking fee of 20 MXN.

Ensenada, Baja California Norte – Tourist centre and provisions supply

Samstag, April 16th, 2011

We leave Parque Nacional Constitución de 1857 south heading to MEX 3 what is faster than yesterday’s route. On the way to tourist centre Ensenada we pass our second military checkpoint after yesterday. The soldiers look for drugs and weapons. They are quite friendly and it only takes a few minutes. Ensenada is a destination for many vacationers, but we only want to stock up groceries and establish a cell phone and an internet connection. Baja California’s third-largest city has got even a Costco, but its prices can’t compete with the lower Mexican level. I directly ignore Wal-Mart – one of 600 in Mexico – and preferably rummage in the local supermarkets Soriana Super, Calimax, or Comercial Mexicana. Telcel offers the best cell phone coverage in Mexico, and they sell air cards for our laptop in a prepaid system as well. There are also other companies like Movistar.

A tip for the night is Rancho San Carlos, to be reached south of Ensenada on an 18 km long track turning east at the Baja Country Club sign. We have to cross a creek for seven times. Just as we want to give us a slap on our own shoulder how well we’ve done that with our super off-road Unimog, a lowered snow-white Volkswagen Golf and a 60s Chevy thunder past us through the river without even batting an eyelid. The muchachos aren’t such a sissy.

On our way several ranches advertise with more or less trustworthy camping possibilities, but we want to get to the hot springs, Aguacaliente at Rancho San Carlos. Day use is 60 MXN per visitor, camping 90 MXN; this includes the stay until next evening. Camping is somewhat unpretentious at the side of the ranch’s path, but there is no through traffic. Some grills, tables and benches were put up as well.

Parque Nacional Constitución de 1857, Baja California Norte – Camping at Laguna Hanson

Freitag, April 15th, 2011

Laguna Hanson lies together with its smaller sister lake Laguna Chica in the natural preserve Parque Nacional Constitución de 1857 in the sparsely populated triangle between Tecate, Mexicali and Ensenada. The national park is situated on an elevation between 1600 and 1800 m in the Sierra de Juárez that is regarded as an extension of the Californian Sierra Nevada. Of the 145 km from Tecate / MEX 2 120 km are dirt roads in different condition. Sometimes they are relatively good, but partially there are wash-outs from the last weeks’ heavy rainfalls. Several brooks have to be crossed, but the track is suited to regular cars with some higher clearance. It only takes time: We need six hours. Only the last kilometres from the south into the park are a challenge. Some waterholes with a half meter depth might cause drivers of smaller cars quite a headache. In face of those ponds the speed limits to 40 km/h contain some entertainment value.

Laguna Juarez, how the lake is called in Spanish, is located on a subalpine plateau surrounded by Ponderosa pines and round granite boulders. Ten areas around the lake are indicated as campgrounds, equipped with outhouses, garbage containers, and some grills. There are no marked pitches, just park where you like. The counter office at the entrance was not engaged, but only after a few minutes a ranger dashes up with his ATV to collect the fees. Day use is 50 Peso (MXN) per person, or for 65 MXN we can camp. There are no marked hiking trails in the park, instead you can walk around the lake or hike through the forest.

Tecate, Baja California Norte – A cactus to eat

Donnerstag, April 14th, 2011

Fritz has a nearly inexhaustible knowledge about Baja California and the routes we could go. During we eagerly make notes Fressia prepares a typical Mexican meal: Meatballs in chipotle salsa with rice. She serves nopales as a side dish. Those are cacti, they are edible, and scrumptious. Those are the disc-shaped young shoots, the „leaves“ of prickly pear cacti that are – without spines, of course – sliced and steamed. They taste somehow like green beans.

Tecate, Baja California Norte – Border town’s dangers

Dienstag, April 12th, 2011

Fritz drives us with his old Mercedes to Tecate to show us the liquor store, the vegetable market and the modern big supermarket. Here cheese looks like cheese and not like plastic, fruits are allowed to have some spots, and bakery produce seem to be able to go mouldy within an appropriate time. Since according to US citizens it is risky to stay in a Mexican border town we jointly go in search of the dangerous Mexicans. The most dangerous thing we can find is the uniformed schoolgirls with white or black knee-length socks and forbidden short chequered skirts that have to turn their school friends’ heads.

We lick an ice cream that is dangerous to potential addiction: mango with chilli, creamy-fruity instead of greasy-sweet. Later Fressia makes dinner for us: There are pineapples for desert – with chilli, of course. Here they serve everything with chilli: water melons, strawberries, and mango. Fressia makes jams and jellies from their fruits and sells them. Is anybody surprised that she makes chilli jelly as well?

Tecate, Baja California Norte – Illegal in Mexico?

Montag, April 11th, 2011

We thought it might be a brilliant idea to choose a quiet border crossing. But some problems occur. First, there is no frontier guard on US side. But I have to return the visa cards from our passports to an American border officer not to get into trouble when entering the US next time. The nice officer whom I ask for the way to the immigration office kindly takes the cards. Then we drive through the opening barrier and we are in Mexico. Immediately we are in the middle of the city. No control, no border officers, but no stamp in the passport and no import sticker for the car as well. Help, we are illegal! There are some simplified rules for Baja California, but we will later enter the mainland as well.

I see a need for action and induce Joerg to stop. Some chaos arises until the border security clears away some cones to make room for Arminius. But where is the office? Some camouflaged soldiers only speak Spanish and wildly wave around, but eventually I find the entrance. The officer on duty has to turn down the TV’s volume to understand me, but at least he speaks English. He responds to my request for a tourist card with a lack of understanding: “But that’s 23 $!” After insisting he finally issues two papers and sends me to pay at the bank “down the road”. He doesn’t know anything about a temporary import permit for cars, but wants to ask his superior when I will come back. I already know this excuse and forget about the truck. We can complete these formalities in La Paz before shipping to the mainland. I hardly walked one kilometre when I yet find the bank. It is jam-packed on a Monday morning. I have to wait for a whole hour before I can pay the fees. Does Joerg already worry where I got to this time? Perhaps it would have been faster on a more frequented border crossing.

From now on we do everything wrong what we could do wrong in deathly dangerous Mexico. The American who is still brave enough to travel into his southern neighbour country knows two rules. First: Don’t let any Mexican exactly know where you go. Second: Cross the border early morning and make as many miles to the south as you can. We hardly make ten kilometres and we got an exact description to Fritz senior from Fritz junior. Now we drive on a dirt road behind Tecate into lonesome mountains. What if it is a trap? Ridiculous!

Fritz junior with the German name and the Latin appearance spoke to us this morning at the library. Afterwards we met at the bank directly in front of the border crossing where his sister Fressia works who drew a sketch how to find the Rancho Alpino where she and her father live. Fritz the older already waves his hand to welcome us, and here his Unimog 406 waits. Even after decades in the US and in Mexico the German’s Swabian accent is fluent. And so our first day in Mexico ends with a tour round the ten hectare big ranch where there are some potatoes and fruit trees, more dogs and even more wilderness.

Portrero, California – Tiring advices

Sonntag, April 10th, 2011

On a stop in El Centro to do some last errands, we get like always some attention, and the usual questions where from and where to. I’m sorry to say that I really can’t hear it anymore: “You’re going to Mexico?!? That’s DANGEROUS! You have to take CARE!” I know, those people might be right, but I feel it’s tiring. Why does everybody only talk about Mexico and nobody talks about the dangers New York City, or how high the crime rate in Los Angeles is? Which media arranged that brainwash?

We are approaching the border on hwy # 94 over high mountains and winding roads. On the search for a place for the night we bump into a campground that turns out to be a refuge for homeless persons. We quickly slip away and land in Potrero Country Park. We forgot that we are in California, they want 24 US$ a night. We hope the Border Patrol will not pester us too much and stay for our last night in the United States in front of the library, where a very beautiful cactus garden was built.

Bard, California – Johnny’s old-timer museum

Samstag, April 9th, 2011

Steve, Virginia, Travis and his girl-friend Kelly give us the most beautiful surprise. They pay us a farewell visit and especially come over from 220 mi / 350 km far Hemet. Only real friends take such great efforts. We meet in Californian Bard at Steve’s cousin Johnny’s private museum, which is a treasure trove for vintage cars’ fans. John collected more than 120 vehicles from the years 1914 to 1936. Only around 25 are restored, the rest preserves itself in the dry desert air. But all engines run as soon as they get a bit of gas and a battery. That’s Johnny’s passion – he makes them all work: the many Ford models T and A, the Dodges, Grandbrother Trucks, Chevrolets, the Studebaker, Chrysler or REO. No matter if it’s a sedan, roadster or coupé, a truck, tractor or convertible. Besides them, Johnny has collected farming and mining equipment, early household items like wood stoves, a salad chopper and an egg carton crate maker. But the oddest vehicle seems to be an old motorhome that he purchased from his mother’s teachers. There was no light camping equipment in the old days. The RV contains a kitchen gas cooker, and a porcelain toilet bowl is right beside the bed. The teachers drove the camper up to Canada – with a maximum speed of 30 mi/h or 50 km/h. Fortunately teachers have a lot of holidays. For 5 $ entrance fee you can visit Cloud’s Museum in Bard, California, 1398 York Road.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona – Organ pipes with sweet fruit

Freitag, April 8th, 2011

There are some short hiking trails in the park. The best one is the two kilometres long (1.2 mi) Desert View Trail leading up to a hill from where we do not only have a beautiful overview over the cacti landscape but far into Mexico as well. Trailhead is the campground. The saguaros bloom along the 21 mi long Ajo Mountain Drive (gravel, no big RVs), which winds through the desert-like cacti scenery at the edge of the rugged Ajo Mountains. Their cream-white blossoms open at night and are pollinated by bats. They close the nectar filling station only around midday to give bees and birds the opportunity to participate in the pollination. Besides different cacti and bushes there is a pretty arch in the mountains.

Although it is not even in the park the predominant plant species, there are organ pipe cacti everywhere that helped the park to get its name. From a stem at the basis several thick arms grow a few metres high. They develop round purple fruits that ripen in July, which are juicy and edible. Sometimes you can find them in a supermarket called pithaya. Organ pipe cacti grow in the United States only within a radius of 80 mi / 130 km around the national monument; they occur more often in Mexico.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona – A Border Patrol visit

Donnerstag, April 7th, 2011

The Border Patrol visits us. We moved on to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and decided to stay on their campground. The officers patrol here regularly, but Jorge is magnetically attracted to Arminius and the German flag. Of course, also Jorge was once stationed in Germany. He is fascinated, curious, and has got time. He inspects (without ulterior move) technical equipment and cabin, and as a countermove we may have a look around in his official car and the tiny air-conditioned prison cell in the back of the pick-up for eight unlucky Mexicans. Jorge isn’t bashful to be photographed and he finally gives us two challenge coins of his unit as a present. We hope he still has one; otherwise he might be forced to pay for the drinks tonight when challenged by his colleagues. We would really feel sorry for Jorge.

Tucson, Arizona – Nature idyll

Dienstag, April 5th, 2011

Richard owns a 40 acres big plot in the Santa Rita Mountains that he purchased as a young man, and it is just under an hour away from Tucson. He built a cabin onto the hilly area, that’s operated with solar power and rain water. He created a watering place for game and installed each a photo and video camera that are released by motion sensors. Pictures of deer, falcon, owls, javelinas, bobcats or even mountain lions result daily. We hike on Richard’s plot where he made some trails and continue across country on public land into the mountains. After a five and a half hours hike we all deserved the barbecued burgers and salad in the sunset.

Tucson, Arizona – The shortened tie

Montag, April 4th, 2011

Once more we try to sweep the dust off the corners from the past hot windy days. Our diving buddy Richard already awaits us in Tucson. He invites us for dinner to a typical restaurant, where Americans would go with tourists. The whole area is kept in a funny western style. Besides the restaurant there are shooting galleries, souvenir shops, and a complimentary gun stunt show, where some actors dressed up in a manner true to the original are having a fight and shooting around loudly.

Ties are strictly forbidden in the restaurant, and hence it is declared aim to persuade the tourist to wear one. The ties are cut off with a big fuss and are fixed together with the victim’s business card to a wall or beam. The whole thing is good fun, and Joerg shows the appropriate humour. It wasn’t his tie anyway. The restaurant’s food is good and typically south-western. Most guests eat steak or hamburgers or even more typical the slow-cooked meat. Most of the time this is beef that cooks in a smoker for many hours (here it’s said to be 15 hours) until it nearly falls apart. Then it is cut into wafer-thin slices and served as shaved meat or scraped meat. Simply delicious.

Amado, Arizona – The conclusion

Sonntag, April 3rd, 2011

We have to give several interviews – perhaps Arminius is getting famous soon. Lois Pryce already managed to do so. The petite Englishwoman drives her dirt bike alone around the world and writes about her adventures. Her today’s slide show can’t keep up with presentations in Germany – technically-wise. Her photos are impressive, but simple, and the slide technology refreshingly plain. The presentation lives from her personality, she beats most of her mainly male colleagues with her enthusiasm. Her way with words and her self-mockery, which make her books a permanent laugh, gets across live as well – as long as one understands her earthy British accent.

There is a barbecue for all exhibitors and participants of the Expo, although most of them already departed, because they might have to work tomorrow. For us, it was a very fruitful event. We had the opportunity to meet many other travellers and exchange valuable information.

Amado, Arizona – Breaded with dust

Samstag, April 2nd, 2011

The dry and hot desert wind livens up every day around midday. Today it is especially strong. Dust devils sweep over the dusty exhibition site that’s situated in the flood area of a river, and take everything with them that is not chained or too heavy and dump it somewhere else. That includes the dried fine mud what enters our camper cabin, since we don’t want to close the windows due to the heat. The muck clings wonderfully to clothes, hair, and the skin; especially when treated with sticky sunscreen. That gives a pretty tan, that’s washable at the same time. I could make a good schnitzel, I’m already breaded.

Amado, Arizona – The Overland Expo 2011

Freitag, April 1st, 2011

The Overland Expo takes part for the third time at the inventor’s instigation, which is organizer Roseann Hanson. It’s all about off-road travelling. It is at the same time trade fair for vehicles and accessories, meeting point for globetrotters, as well as training and event forum. The program comprises cross-country driving courses, tire and bush mechanics, winching, provisioning and cooking on the go, medical self-support, travelling with kids or dogs. The range is extensive. Some experienced and professional globetrotters offer slide and film shows, among them travel authors Lois Pryce and Chris Scott.

The first day of the Overland Expo 2011 is a day of planned and surprising visits. Simon from Canada shows up, whom we met more than six months ago close to Vancouver. We arranged to meet a Swiss travellers’ couple that started with us in Halifax, Nova Scotia, a year ago. Surprisingly we see Richard again, our hiking buddy from Tuesday. He decided to come over from Tucson straight away. George from the east coast who wrote us months ago flew over here. Martin from Arizona, whom we couldn’t visit due to a lack of time, drops by. Claude and his wife Lynn from Alberta in Canada had to cancel their surprise visit since there was a case of illness in the family.

We are getting a hoarse voice. Not only from talking with old and new friends. But also with interested and curious persons. It is the hottest first of April in southern Arizona since decades. We measure 105° F / 40° C in the shadow.