Friday, December 25

Bahia Kino and wonderings

     The problem with finding a perfectly magical spot right off the bat is that you expect everything thereafter to be magical and perfect and easy too.  Bahia Kino may be like that for us on this trip.  We pulled in, backed up to the beach, got out, and were peaceful and happy.  Just like that.  I walked the dogs and they were so happy.  Robert in particular kept turning his head on that first walk to look back with a look that said, "Really?  After all that driving, a week in the car, you really brought me here?!  This is so awesome!"  It was like he couldn't believe I was so creative. 

     After pulling in on the night we crossed the border, we spent the following entire day in Bahia Kino just resting.  Nicholas wandered into the town area while I alternately sat or laid on the beach with the dogs and a book.  The weather was great, I could do with even more heat but it is good for Joe to be able to acclimate slowly.  Being black, he gets hotter more quickly than the rest of us.  Robert loved the sun as much as I did and he stayed with me on the beach all day, even after Joe and Carrie retired to the van for their afternoon nap in the shade.

     There wasn't much going on in Bahia Kino though, so we didn't stay for another day of relaxation in the sun.  I think I may look at these pictures and wonder why not:

Dec. 22--First day Mexico!

     We had a destination in mind for our first campground, a small town called Magdalena.  But when we got there, we could not find the campground, and the town was very small, inland, dusty, and generally not offering what we hoped for.  We had gotten an early start that morning in Tucson, so we decided to drive further to a coastal town on the Gulf of California called Bahia Kino (Kino Bay).  We did, however, stop and walk the dogs in a town called San Miguel de Allende.  It was the first time for Joe, Carrie and Robert to set foot on Mexican soil and they were happy and also, apparently, attention-getting!  These two girls stopped and asked me something, they were pointing at Joe and smiling.  Another small boy with his father were also enthralled with the dogs.  I don't know why, there are loads of dogs in Mexico, most in need of a nice home and some food.  But maybe because Joe is a racing dog, or because Carrie and Robert have such cute red harnesses, or maybe just because they all just look so well-loved and pretty!
     Anyway, here is a picture Nicholas took from the van:

     We piled back in the van and continued to drive to the coast.  Here is what the dogs look like most of the time when we are driving:

    We got to Bahia Kino a little while before dark (one of our hard and fast rules is never to drive in Mexico after dark, on this all the guidebooks agree).  We had several campgrounds from which to choose and drove past one, the second looked pretty darn good, and the third, which was the one I expected to be the best was crowded and uninviting.  We turned around the choice number 2 and were the only inhabitants and this beachfront wonder:

Here is one I took with my iPhone the next morning.  This place was just breathtaking:

Dec. 22--Crossing the border

We spent a final USA night on December 21 in Tucson in Catalina campground, the same one where we had stayed the night before.  It is northwest Tucson and quiet and comfortable.  From there, we drove through Tucson on Hwy 77 which led us eventually to Interstate 10.  Just a few days later, this Interstate between Tucson and Phoenix had such high winds that a dust-storm formed and caused a serious pileup.  Luckily, we were headed the other way and encountered no such disaster.
From I-10, we split off and took Hwy 19 to Nogales.  I selected this border crossing because it is very high volume, was recommended in my book on Camping Mexico in an RV, and has a major Mexican highway leading from it down the west mainland coast.
As we left I-10, a few interesting things happened.  First, the mileposts converted to Kilometers almost immediately.  The exit numbers corresponded to these kilometers as well.  Second, the road was nearly completely void of all business, advertisements, basically anything familiarly American.  It felt like Mexico already.  We even saw some border agents hanging around one of the exits we took insearch of gas, a place to walk the dogs one last time, and a driver-passenger switch.
This was the only sign of life at this exit: a rather deserted US Post Office:

 We ended up finding a last Chevron a few kilometers later and completing these tasks.
Nerves were high for both me and Nicholas as we approached the border.  I had done a ton of work in the past two months to prepare for this: New car insurance, special vaccines and meds for the dogs and for me, all the work on Bussy, lots of maps and planning.  I also brought with me lots of necessary documents for the border crossing.  I had spoken to the USDA on several occasions to make sure the dogs were properly documented, I spoke to several car insurance companies about driving in Mexico and I had consulted lots of books offering advice, travel tips, warnings, and also encouragements.  All in all, I was READY.
When we got to Nogales, a mere 65 miles south of Tucson, this is what we saw:

We followed these very clear signs, following all sorts of american license plates, trucks, RV's, basically the same mush of cars you'd see at any ferry terminal in Washington.  When it was our turn at the toll booth crossing, there were 4 or 5 men dressed in dark uniforms, some of them had black neck-warmer type things partially hiding their faces, which was weird and a little scary,  It also made it hard to understand the man when he spoke.  All he asked was: "Do you have more than $10,000 with you?" We said no and that was it.  The dogs did not bark, no one asked for any papers, passports, nothing.  We drove on!
Next to encounter was the checkpoint where we had to stop to buy the vehicle permit.  Here, Nicholas was able to stay in the car with the dogs and I went in to take care of this.  I waited in one line, filled out an immigration card similar to the cards on the airplane, then went to the booth operated by the national bank of some sort and presented my registration, driver's license, and passport.  She asked me if I had Mexican insurance and I was prompt with saying yes and providing her the papers.  She sort fo laughed at my over-preparedness and said she didn't need to see it.  She stamped everything and gave me the permit, which is taped onto the windshield next to the rear view mirror.

And then we just drove.  We saw beautiful countryside and after another hour, we became more calm and relaxed.  Here is what the land looked like:


December 19 and 20—Yuma, The Physics of the Pop Top, and Home Depot

At the Go Westy van shop, in addition to having the lift and level, I also had them install a roof rack.  This is drilled directly into the pop top using tracks which serve to spread out the load along their length rather than bolting into only four spots.  That first night after the rack was installed, the pop top felt a lot heavier and was disinclined to stay “popped” initially.  With some persuasion, I managed to make it stay up for the night.

Let me explain a bit about Campervan dynamics: the hinge for the poptop is at the rear of the van, so that the greatest headroom when it is popped is close to the cab, which is where the stove is.  I always felt that the poptop was relatively light, and just sort of popped up with little effort.  Well, it turns out that I felt this because of the assistance of two devices, one on either side inside the van, which serve to push it up and keep it up.  These devices are a bit like shocks on the bottom of a car.  They are spring-loaded, or more precisely gas-loaded, so that they want to push apart.  When the top is lowered, the shocks are fully compressed.  When the top is up, they are at full extension.  Not only this but the power they generate is greatest when near full extension.  So when I am lowering the top down, the shocks offer the most resistance in the first few inches; as the top is close to being latched, the shocks offer little resistance and allow the top to close easily.

Well, the shocks on Bussy most likely date back to its birthday in 1997.  They were worn out.  With the difficulty of lifting the top with the bare roofrack, I did exercise what can only be described as a stroke of genius forethought.  I bought two new shocks, and the new way that these are made now includes a locking mechanism on one of them.  “Why not get two locking ones?”  The answer is that both are strong, even the non-locking one, and if I installed two locking ones, I run the risk of not being able to lower the top by myself.  I took the qualified and dependable advice of Go Westy and bought the set with one locking.  Nicholas looked at how they connected to the van and decided he could install them, “easily” was, I believe the adverb used. 

On December 19, after we left Go Westy, we went to San Diego and picked up the loaner surfboard from Geoff and then purchased a new one in Ocean Beach.  That night, we drove east toward the border of California, Arizona and very near the Mexican border, to Yuma.  Yuma has nothing to recommend it other than the fact that we did eventually leave!

We could not find a suitable campground, the choices were either driving 18 miles on a dirt road or camping in a state park comprised of dunes and, you guessed it, dune buggies.  Having no desire for either of these off-road adventures nor the persons who would come with such places, we decided our best bet was to find a nice neighborhood in Yuma and camp there.  “Nice” does not come easily in Yuma, but we did find a neighborhood that offered Christmas lights at many of the homes and we decided this would be our safest and best bet. 

Once satisfactorily parked, Nicholas got out to retrieve something from the back.  I unlocked the top and began to push up.  “I can’t budge this thing!  I need help!”  Even with two of us, the pop top with the rack and now loaded with two surfboards was simply not going up easily.  What to do?  With both of us pushing with all our might, we were able to raise the top.  Nicholas retrieved the new shocks and we began to try to install.

I’m going to spare you all the strenuous details of our philandering with these things.  Suffice to say that two hours later, we still had not succeeded in even replacing one of the shocks.  We could not compress the new shocks with our bare hands, we could not remove the old ones without unbolting the entire device from the top, the top was heavy, the space small, the night late, and our patience at an end. 

So we slept.  Poor Nicholas had to sleep in the reclined front passenger seat.  The highlight of the night was the banging, thumping, tinny, and generally awful music system installed in a car that came to rest, for several hours, right up the street.  It was like being at a mind-numbing disco in an awful part of a city in Europe.  

But morning eventually came.  I walked the dogs around the grass-less area.  Some cooped up pit bulls started fighting with each other because they were unable to get out and attack us (thankfully).  It was not the most progressive place in America, to say the least.

Not that we were leaving fine Yuma!  No, we went to the nearest Home Depot and Nicholas went in search of two-by-fours and other tools to work on the roof.  I remained in the van with the dogs and prepared oatmeal and brown sugar for the humans.  The dogs had already eaten. 

We used a phone charging cord to measure the length of the boards we needed to prop up the top.  Nicholas was able to find a board at the steep price of $0.51 and cut it to fit.  He also found, just lying on the street in Yuma near where we had slept, a few pieces of rusty baling wire, which completed our needs. 

After several tries, and with Abigail saying things like, “This is never going to work!”  and “what an terrible idea!” Nicholas was able to compress the shocks, Abigail wired them tight in this compressed state, and we cooperated in some fashion to remove the old shocks and install the new ones.  We did each one separately.  It was touch and go there for a while, what with the new shocks trying desperately to re-expand, and the bolts being difficult to install cleanly and directly.  But we managed one and then the other! 

I was not the only one skeptical of this plan, Nicholas was doubtful too but he doubted that the new shocks would be strong enough to hold up the roof with the rack and boards.  I felt pretty sure that if we somehow managed the incredible feat of installing the impossible shocks, they would hold the roof.  Well, the good news is the shocks are more than strong enough.  We could probably put a mobile home up on top and still raise the roof!

After we were done, we went to the nearest Starbucks and I had a much needed (and I dare say, deserved! Soy latte!!

Here are some pictures of this project:

Monday, December 21

December 19: San Diego, Dog Beach, Ocean Beach, and Robert August

After picking up the loaner board from Dan’s friend Geoff, who lives moments from some great surf in Del Mar, we wandered to my favorite spot from my time in SD, Ocean Beach. I took Joe, Carrie and Robert to Dog Beach so they could run around in the sand and surf with some California dogs (Carrie and Robert are both rescued from shelters in California, so maybe it felt familiar to them, who knows?)  After running around for a while, this is what they did:

Ocean Beach is not fancy at all, but offers everything you need or want at the beach in southern California. I have always preferred it to the glamour and boardwalks of Pacific Beach, and certainly over the pretentiousness of La Jolla. Ocean Beach is bare bones, but feels authentic and real. They do have a Starbucks now, which is probably something that should bother me, but the Seattle side of me is grateful for a little piece of home so I went in and had a grande coffee.

After some vegan tamales, and with the dogs were safely and coolly parked in the shade, Abigail was revved on caffeine and we made another push for the surfboard. We were about to head east to Tucson, so there would not be another surf town until Mazatlan so it was the best time to make the final push for a board.

The third shop had the Robert August “What I Ride,” the board that Mr. August calls his “If I could only have one board board.” It was beautiful with stripes down the length in red and yellow and white. Not only that, but the price was much cheaper than the little shop in Morro Bay. We talked them down $100 and then took the plunge! The board is epoxy, more durable that the fiberglass, and easy to handle in the surf.

Bussy’s license plates are the ski plates offered by Washington and say: “Washington: Big Mountains, Real Snow.” Bussy seems just as cool (possibly more so) in her beach outfit with two surfboards on top. Here are the pics you’ve all been waiting for:

First, it took us a while to figure out how to strap two boards on top.  By the time the boards are side by side, there isn't any room for a person to be up on top.  

We figured it out though!

December 18—Real Food Daily, Beverly Hills, and the LA Freeways

I acquired the Real Rood Daily (RFD) cookbook several years ago and have loved every dish that I have attempted out of it.  It is real food, hearty, filling, rich, flavorful and all vegan.  The restaurant behind the cookbook exists only in LA and has been something of a Mecca for me.  As we approached LA Friday evening, having a pleasant stop just north of the city where the dogs had dinner beneath the Pacific sunset, and having a night to spend before getting to San Diego, the time seemed right for the dinner of my dreams. 

Here are some pictures of the camp where the dogs dined:

I’ve never really been to LA, traveling to Long Beach for an erg test or through LAX does not count, and even though I have been to big cities before, I was like the country bumpkin come to the bright lights of the big city.  Comments blurted included such things as: “Oh, look!  Wilshire Boulevard!” 

And “Oh wow, look at that Ferrari!”  And of course, since it’s LA: “Oh look, another Ferrari!”

We drove down Rodeo Drive where I must admit Pretty Woman quotes filled my head.

  And now, dinner.  Friday night at RFD in West Hollywood…would we be able to park and leave the dogs?  We decided to go to the restaurant and see what we found.  Driving, driving driving, cars weaving in and out, speeding around us and other cars, it is like a video game.  Then, aha!  On the right, RFD! 

 We pulled over in the valet area (I guess in LA, even the vegan places have valet parking….)  I explained that I wanted to park nearby the restaurant but couldn’t do valet because of the dogs.  The nice man said, “If you pay $4.50, back up and park right here.”  What a thrill!  We could see the van from where we sat for dinner.  Here is a view of bussy from where I sat!

And now the food!  First course was fresh corn bread with cumin spread.  Next came the nachos: tortilla chips with guacamole, vegan sour cream (which is much better than regular sour cream ever was, in my opinion), spicy cashew jalapeno cheese, black beans, and tomatoes.  And these nachos were not just a few chips with some toppings; the full plate of chips was covered with the toppings in layers so that a bare chip was not to be found! 

Now to the main courses: We ordered the Fettuccini Alfredo which came with fresh broccoli, red peppers, pins nuts and spinach noodles with a lovely sauce.  It fulfilled our need for comfort food.  We also ordered the TV Dinner.  Once I got past the name, which took me a minute, I realized that this dish could be a gold mine: Tempeh Loaf (similar to meat loaf but very tender and a wonderful flavor with carrots and other veggies mixed in) with mashed potatoes, gravy and Caesar salad.  Sometimes, simple things like mashed potatoes and gravy, with a little pepper, are just amazing.  This dish was like that.  Nicholas and I continued to strategically plan the space in our stomachs.  After I was full, and returning in the munch on the nachos once again, Nick said, “Do you think they have dessert?”  I put my fork down at once!

The nice server boxed up all our leftovers neatly into separate boxes (I had told her about how excited I was to finally come to RFD and the enthusiasm was welcomed!) she brought us the dessert menu.  So many wonderful things to choose from, and only two people who were now very full.  We settled on a chocolate cake and chocolate pudding.  The pudding was the winner, so smooth and chocolaty.  I will certainly return to try out the Sticky Ginger Toffee Pudding Cake, which I will merely dream of until then.

Here's Nicholas with our multitude of leftovers:

 From RFD, we took a driving tour of Rodeo Drive, Sunset Blvd and the mansions of Beverly Hills.  We got out to walk (er…roll, since we were SO FULL!) in Greystone Park, which presented a fantastic view back towards the city.  Quiet and dark and peaceful, I can see why all those wealthy people want to live in 90210.

On departing LA, I once again took the driver’s seat and slalomed my way across way too many lanes of travel onto the correct freeway so that we arrived safely in San Pedro for the night.  We camped out front of Nicholas’s cousin Jeremy’s house and made our escape to San Diego the next morning.