Baja – San Felipe 20 years later

Leaving Sonora this week was a far different leave-taking from driving away from my favorite campsite near San Carlos, when that departure made me cry. Fortunately when arriving in Puerto Penasco I was happy I could set up house at my usual spot on the beach, and to say hello to my friends who spend winters there. But very soon more RVs arrived, and for some reason they chose to crowd close to my space, and then many nights were noisy with the booming bass of nearby music joints, the weather was chilly, too often cloudy, windy and even rainy. It was obvious that I’d rather be further south. I think it’s a blessing that most Americans are afraid of travel in Mexico, and if they do brave the trip south, they often stay within a couple hours’ drive from the border. I’m glad I learned the town so it feels familiar, and now I know a few local people, but I don’t expect to spend much time there in future years.

My purpose in returning was to get the car repaired and repainted, and it couldn’t have worked out better. Before I left in December, I received a bid to remove all the dents, old rust, and repaint the Acura the original factory color for under $1000. Needless to say I was skeptical, but the sun-damaged paint was too awful to see, and I simply couldn’t keep driving a poor car that looked so neglected. It’s hard to invest in a 24-year old car, but I have always loved my Legend and it keeps running, so maybe it will stay alive for a few years. It tows like a dream behind my motor home and performs like a champ, so really does deserve better treatment. It was picked up the day after I arrived, and I didn’t see it again for a week. Cheyenne and I put in a lot of long walking days, away from the beach campers. I often baked treats to give away, met some new friends, and was glad that I had good Mexican internet. I never heard from my kids, but I got lots of emails from my dearest friends to keep me connected to my “real” life. Finally when I saw my car driving across the sand toward me, I was first happy and then truly shocked. It looks like a brand new car, right off the showroom floor! They did an unbelievable job, especially the body guy. I couldn’t be more thrilled. Now I’ll be scared to scratch it or even leave it dirty, so my poor habits of tossing trash on the floor and not caring about all the dog hair in the back must change! Now if I could only find another way to store the big airline dog crate, instead of having it take up most of the back seat.

Here’s the old –

P1020643 old side (Large) P1020641 old front (Large)

And the new –

P1030949 new side (Large) P1030950 new front (Large)

(Since the Acura taillight costs about $1000, it’s gonna just get some sort of plastic rigged covering, eventually – but fortunately it works fine!)

I stayed two more nights and then hooked up to head west to Baja. Unsurprisingly the other campers acted like vultures to claim and move in to my spot on the beach. The freshwater tank had been filled with purified water, and I spent time thoroughly cleaning out the holding tanks. Since the hydroflush isn’t effective with such low water pressure, I took time using the old “hose through the bathroom window” method to refill and flush the black tank two extra times to be sure it ran clear. On the way out of town I stopped for gas at the Pemex station where I could thank the lovely attendant Dora who had helped me more than a month ago figure out how to get to the Coastal Highway for my unforgetable driving adventure south to Kino Bay.

Since I’m a member of Bookdockers Welcome, but had never used it myself, I connected with a couple who live on the beach just north of San Felipe who offered a place to park. They were very welcoming and would be expecting me before sunset, barring problems or breakdowns on the almost 300 mile trip. It was a long day of driving, but mostly uneventful. The eroded canyons along the highway toward El Golfo were stunning, and I probably should have stopped to take pictures, but just kept chugging on. I was surprised that the toll charge was 219 pesos, nearly $20! Then I got onto the highway across to Mexicali, drove straight through San Luis and headed to Mexicali. Leaving Sonora and entering Baja there were signs that I didn’t get photos of, either. The toll for this road was only 25 pesos!

But getting off at the exit to head south on Hwy 5 to San Felipe was one of the most heart-stopping of my motor home driving experiences. At least it ranks right up there toward the top. There is a well-marked small one-lane exit ramp that ends at another toll booth (34 pesos). But the only turn goes to the right, the wrong direction! The toll-girl said I would have to make an immediate U-turn to get onto the highway south. (She and most others along the way could speak not a word of English, so you have to imagine the conversations. My Spanish has deteriorated since learning Romanian in the Peace Corps, already seven years ago, so I stumble often when I substitute the wrong language.) There was no “Retorno” to make a U-turn, so finally I had to take a chance where there just might be enough room for a sharp turnabout. This is always chancy, because when towing a car I can’t back up without causing damage. Unfortunately there was some sort of gathering and a lot of cars were parked for something like an auction, and one of them parked right in the roadway so I couldn’t quite make the turn. I stopped in the road, horrified and not knowing what to do. I honked, hoping the owner would just move the car, but of course that didn’t happen. The bystanders didn’t seem to care at all, which I found unusual since most of the time everyone in Mexico tries to offer advice and assistance. A delivery truck was waiting for me to move and traffic was backing up, so I held my breath and decided to try backing up just a couple of feet then turning sharper. It took three times, watching my newly-repaired Acura tires turning the wrong way until I felt resistance, then trying again. Finally a young boy ran over waving his arms to let me know I could clear the car and get going again. I knew I had over 100 miles to drive to my destination, but at least I was on the right road, and going the right way. My car seemed to track behind okay, but I worried the whole way that I had done damage to the suspension or front end. I figured I might as well keep going, and just find out later.

I found the right driveway and crept a mile through the sand road toward the sea. After I was parked and settled at Walt and Judy’s place, my relief was overwhelming. He is officially Sacramento’s Santa Claus, and looks like the real thing! He even wears a red t-shirt with S. Claus embroidered above his heart, and is a good-hearted kind man. He apparently had a long police career and retired some 15 years ago to live full-time in a big RV with his wife. They have a ten-year lease at this beachside “campo” and offer free boondocking, although they say I am only the third traveler who took them up on the offer over the past two years! Most Americans are truly scared of getting off the highways, and the long driveway is just sand. There are also places for RVs or other campers to rent space on the beach.  I met a lovely 84-year-old woman who has a house here, she’s originally from England but moved here more than 15 years ago and adores this place. She’s been to Alaska, and is planning to go up to see Barrow this year! She’s a fun lady, Theresa, old, somewhat bent but incredibly lively. My car seems fine, the view of the Sea of Cortez is stunning, there are yet unknown friends to meet and new adventures to share. This morning after a good night’s sleep, without noisy neighbors and loud music, I woke to a beautiful sunrise and feel ready to explore the area.

P1040159 Morning 4 SFP1030978 (Large) P1030974 (Large)P1030983 (Large)

Here are Walt and Judy, Mr. and Mrs. S. Claus –  (

P1040120 Walt and Judy - San Felipe (Large)P1040123 Walt and Judy - Santa Claus Sacramento (Large)

I’ll never be a desert rat, but at least there are some trees here. I also prefer having the sun set toward the ocean, always have. Here it rises from the sea instead of setting there. I remember these east coast bays and waterfront areas as being absolutely beautiful when I was sailing, more than 20 years ago, so I’d like to see some of them again.

My last message from my friends Candy and Jim was that they are still planning to drive down from Seattle with their 5th wheel to join me in Baja. Our forecast is for sun, sun, sun, and warming temps, but I guess it’s dreary and wet in Seattle and most of the way through California, hopefully it’ll keep improving as they come south. They hope to be here by Feb 11th, so I said I’d stay around here and wait for them, so I’ll be here for ten days or so but I can use the rest and recuperation time. I didn’t realize I was stressed out in Puerto Penasco with all the other RVers, noise and people pressure, and with no car. . There’s a Rotary Club here, so I’ll attend one of their early morning meetings. And there’s a laundromat, mail service, and even stores with supplies from America. This is mostly an American suburb, to tell the truth.  But as always, I enjoy learning about a new area, finding local grocery stores, good bakeries, nice restaurants, or places to watch the sunset or take walks.  I never get tired of new adventures.  And maybe, finally, I can get my accumulated mail from Alaska after almost three months, and even receive a small order from Amazon.

Another Moonrise and another beautiful Sunrise — both from my doorway!

P1040139 Moonrise revP1040156 Sunrise

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