Part 1: Bahia Tortugas
We left Mexico Highway 1 behind at the Viscaino junction and
headed more or less west toward one of the more remote parts of
Baja California. The road was paved for the first ten miles or
so; we weren't in the business of checking odometers. We
passed through many acres of citrus trees and then groves of
figs. Somewhere near where the cultivated agriculture ceased so
did the pavement. The dirt at first was heavily washboard and
our two 4WD SUV's handled it well but what was the rush? We
had no firm schedule except to be back in Bahia de Los Angeles
by the end of the week, several days away.
I had been to the Viscaino peninsula before, but the road from
the village of the same name was new to me. In the late
'60's I had made a trip to Bahia Tortugas, Punta
Eugenia and Malarrimo, but the road was almost non-existent back
in those years - we had had to cross the elevated dykes of
the Guerrero Negro salt works and then hug the eastern and
southern flats bordering Scammon's Lagoon before heading
west where there were only miles of deep sand and we had
followed the few tracks of other adventurers. We had had no
compass and traveling at night we gazed through our two
windshields at the half-full moon. We theorized that, if we
bisected the arc of the moon, chasing the long set sun, we would
be heading west. It took us three days back then to get to Bahia
Tortugas. While today's trip was a longer drive it took us
only four hours.
The current road smoothed out after an hour's slow driving
before the washboard eased somewhat and our speed increased. We
were passing through a significant part of the Viscaino desert,
never known for its exciting flora and fauna, but the road
passed for miles along salt pans and low but jagged ranges of
hills that were interesting themselves. The road remained wide
enough for two opposing vehicles to pass easily. That was a good
thing as the vast majority of folks that drive that road do it
so often that they cover our four hour trip in half that. A
number of miles before Tortugas the road was paved again. Smooth
as glass after all the dirt driving.
We arrived in Tortugas mid-afternoon, surveyed the hotels in the
town, selected one, and unloaded our gear. We discovered that
there were two hotels in town and the prices were quite low. The
one we selected was $20/night and allowed dogs. It was good that
they did as we had four of them with us. What a zoo!
We toured the dusty town and learned our way around and asked
about the route to Punta Eugenia. It was an easy going
oft-graded track that wound up the Viscaino's arm, hanging
out into the Pacific and would take us about an hour. We
returned to eat dinner at the hotel. From their vantage point,
on a hill adjacent to the Pemex station, we could see the pier
jutting out into the waters of the bay and a few sailing ships
and fishing boats nearby. The cooler air was refreshing after
being in Bahia de Los Angeles for so long and then crossing to
the west coast through the central desert. During dinner the
town's generator gasped and quit and the town's lights
faded, went out. The owner of the restaurant immediately
supplied a candle for our table; we were the only people dining
there. Looking out the windows we could see that the entire town
was dark. But sooner rather than later a personal generator
fired up and then another and another and before long every
family that wanted "luz" had it. It was a testimony to
the rugged Baja dwellers that they were prepared for just about
Our traveling partners, including baby Brisa,
and Mary Ann and I situated ourselves on a small patio looking
north-west. The town was filled with activity, headlights
working down dusty irregular streets, children riding bicycles,
pedestrians wandering and talking in the late evening. The
tranquility of the moment was touching and we sat listening to
the activities. Soon the town generator was restored and the
entire set of rolling hills that comprise the village lit up.
As we prepared for bed we found that electricity to our rooms,
which had been circuited off earlier in the day, was now
working. The single light socket in the middle of our ceiling
had been provided with a bulb and turned on for our convenience.
The towels we had requested earlier had now been provided for
morning utility. Dog Dito joined us on his rug between our two
small beds. Our friends put two of their three dogs in the back
of their camper shell; the third slept in their room. It was a
very comfortable night. In our room, adjacent to our friends,
Mary Ann and I talked for a bit and then lay down to read.
Within a few minutes we were both fading and turned out the
light. My head, resting on the difficult pillow, worked over the
sounds coming from the street below. It had been a wonderful
day. I fell asleep listening to the bubbling laughter of
children and women walking the dusty path beneath our simple
accommodations. All over town the dogs were barking but they
only added to the simple serenade running through my mind.
During dinner we discussed making the trek to Punta Eugenia. It
had been almost forty years since I had been there.
Part 2: Punta Eugenia
(I hope this doesn't confuse folks - it is from a trip taken
several weeks back but I merge alot of memories from a trip ~ 1969.)
As we had gone to sleep the night before, we woke to dogs
barking. They were everywhere in the town. I dressed and stood
looking over the village from our vantage point on the hillock.
The twisting streets loosely defined small quadrants of houses
and business. I had always appreciated how the small villages
have most of the houses attached or adjacent to the businesses
the dwellers operated, providing security and proximity the ever
present and growing family. The streets are almost all small and
narrow and dirt. Whenever a vehicle passed there a cloud was
sure to follow. This accounted for the fact that many owners of
homes or businesses were flinging water from pans and buckets
across the earth.
It had been so many years since I'd been here it was
impossible for me to say what was new and what had existed with
my visit in the '60's. I was certain the village had a
new church, near the water and at the end of what appeared to be
a primary street. The villagers were friendly and quickly
offered us whatever instructions we needed. The stores of the
town were filled with items unavailable anywhere else in the
central desert except Guerrero Negro. We paid our bill, gathered
up and organized the dogs, piling into the rear of our vehicles.
We were off for Punta Eugenia.
The road heads north from the village. It is wide and
occasionally graded. I was thinking while upgraded from decades
before it still followed the approximate route it had so many
years back. While the Vizcaino - Tortugas road is certainly
faster, it by-passes the parts of the malarrimo arm that I had
once shared with others. We had then passed, well into the
desert, a sign for the old Rancho San Jose del Castro. So many
years Castro was a focal point for the entire area. En route to
Malarrimo we'd pull off there to share a meal or a
night's sleep at that ranch. We had siphoned gas from oil
drums there. After all the miles of deep loose sand we had
traveled it was always a welcome sight, San Jose del Castro.
From Bahia Tortugas to Punta Eugenia took us about an hour.
It's something over twenty kilometers. It is in good
condition the entire stretch, winding through some relatively
steep then plunging hills and valleys. Several turnoffs on
smaller roads to the west led to what I assumed to be tiny
fishing villages. The drive just for the sake of the drive is
worth the effort. We dropped into the final washout and climbed
to a small plateau. A few village outbuildings extended toward
the Pacific and several houses had been built there. We were
approaching the village and everything felt familiar without
specific recollections from years passed. I looked for the old
desalination plant that had existed on a small hill west of
town. I couldn't spot it; assumed it was long gone as the
government had installed it but never trained anyone to maintain
it, at least that was what I'd been told back then.
I was in the lead of our two vehicles and wasn't certain
where to go. There were certainly more buildings now then my
last visit. But I kept to the road and we soon dropped down into
a small arroyo that I recognized. In fact I spotted an old
building that might well have been where I had sat and watched
children playing 40 years before. We pulled to the side of the
road and shut off the engines. The dust settled. We unloaded
ourselves and the dogs from the trucks. Baby Brisa had her
bottle of mile in hand. She was walking now and quite secure on
her feet, even on this slope that dropped gently toward the bay
that served as the village launch ramp. We must have appeared a
ragged band by those who'd spent their extended days in
this hamlet by the sea. There were a number of young girls
standing nearby. When we released the dogs the girls were
terrified. Our friends retrieved the dogs and told the girls
that they all friendly, which they were. But they did enjoy a
good bark. Baby Brisa, mom and dad walked down to the edge of
the water and sandy beach. Many pangas bobbed just off shore. A
small opening in the lava that surrounded the beach formed a
bay. A group of young fishermen were pulling onto the beach,
unloading their cargo. We walked down to visit. They had caught
many Bonita, large sierra and a good number of Yellowtail in the
15 - 20 pound range.
"There are many fishes here." One of the men said in
broken English. We spoke Spanish in response, lauding their
catch. They were offloading into a sand-parked 2WD pickup but
the men knew the beach and had no trouble pulling the loaded
truck up to the small building, open on two sides and intended
for cleaning fish. In looking at the building I recognized the
cinderblock walls and tin roof, was a reconstruction over the
site where I had watched the village, during the proper season,
haul in their lobster traps by the hundreds. So long ago I had
arrived at that magical moment and was encouraged to join in
with the process. Each aged wooden trap measured about three
feet by two feet by 18 inches. They were all filled with
lobster. The traps were individually positioned in the old
building. There were several officials who picked up individual
lobsters and placed them atop a very old measuring device.
Depending of the length of the lobster, it was placed in another
container with others of its size. Work had proceeded throughout
the afternoon. At one point a very large lobster was pulled from
a trap. He was at least twice the size of even the biggest of
all the others. As this was unfolding a young man asked if I had
a camera. I handed it to him. He asked if I would like my
picture taken with the giant lobster and waved me forward. One
of the men told me to hold my hand out and put the beast in it.
The boy stepped back a few feet and snapped my camera shutter. I
On our current trip the old building was gone but the new one
built exactly where I remembered the original. By now the girls
that had been standing nearby were playing lovingly with tiny
Brisa, who knew very well she was the center of attention. My
friend and I were asking about the village; one of the fishermen
invited us to lunch on his catch. I noticed an older man, about
my age or older. He was sitting on a curb in the fishing hut.
"Have you lived here long?" I asked him.
"Fifty-five years." He said. He had lived here when I
came for my first visit. I noted how the village had grown. He agreed.
"Do you remember the desalination plant that they used to
have on the hill entering town?" I asked.
"It's still there, but a building now covers the equipment."
"Are there still plenty of lobster?"
"Yes, but they're not in season now. The time to trap
lobster is fall and spring." He named the months.
It was mid day. The towns and our dogs had integrated, the
children were adoring Brisa and she them in return. We were
obliged to decline the young mans offer of lunch at his family
home. I have taken up folks on these offers before and it is
always wonderful to experience the warmth and generosity offered
to me so far into the outback. But it was getting to the point
of spending another night in Bahia Tortugas or heading back to
Guerrero Negro where we wanted to do food shopping the next day.
Regretfully, we piled back into our vehicles, turned them
around, did a lot of waving and were gone. But I was majorly
rewarded to have met the gentleman that had lived here most of
his life. I wondered if I had met him on the '60's
trip. We returned to Bahia Tortugas, drove through the town one
last time for this vacation, and headed back toward Viscaino. I
was sad to leave after only two hours but the stability of Punta
Eugenia over the decades and the friendly folks there will
remain with me forever.
Part 3: Return to Bahia de Los Angeles
It was sad leaving Punta Eugenia so far out on the Malarrimo
peninsula. The old man had warmed me with a feeling of
continuity at a time when the States seemed to be either at war
or irritating the rest of the world. Here, a tiny hamlet at the
end of all roads offered a stability to the few that lived here
and warmth to those few visitors who cared to travel that far.
My new friend had lived and loved here most of his life and I
We returned to Bahia Tortugas. I bought gas from the Pemex and
we were off heading east over the roads we had traveled two days
before. I would have liked to explore all the side roads we
encountered but, alas, schedules put the skids on that. Maybe
next time. Knowing what to expect this leg of the trip I had
only to reflect on so many years ago and the "roads"
that more or less converged at San Jose de Castro. For the
moment I could only add that ranch as one of my destinations for
the next trip. Three days was not enough. And I'd like to
take the road south to Bahia Asuncion and points south. On my
1969 trip, I had come north from that direction. As I remember
there are some wonderful hills not far inland and I wanted to
revisit them too. There are so many natural and sociological
interests in Baja. Most of us from the States are going so fast
on a one- or two-week vacation that we don't have time to
stop and listen to the bees and smell the wildflowers of spring,
to look for interesting trails, to follow endless roads that led
nowhere. I asked myself why someone would go to the trouble to
start a road that led nowhere. But I knew plans could change.
We encountered the pavement of Highway 1 well before dusk and
continued on into Guerrero Negro. With four dogs we had a little
trouble finding a hotel that would accept them but eventually
prevailed. We unpacked the needs of a single night and carried
them to our rooms. Brisa had been bouncing in the backseat of
our friend's truck and was ready to romp. She had made many
new friends at Punta Eugenia; I wondered if she was too young to
even think about them now, let alone remember her warming
experiences for life, something to carry her through the rough
spots she would later encounter along her way.
We ate dinner at the Malarrimo hotel and restaurant. The food
was, as I have always found it, excellent and the service is
even better if that's possible. We slept early that night
after all the dirt driving.
Guerrero Negro is the primary "supply" town in the
central peninsula. The morning found us seeking out a small CD
player and a number of music CD's. A group our friends had
introduced us to at their house in Bahia de Los Angeles, just
down the sand from our place, was the Elefantes, very mellow
stuff. Then we stopped at a hardware store which had everything
we needed for home improvements on a small scale. Then we
shopped at Tanguis market and found a great supply of foods.
While Bahia de Los Angeles carries a lot more than a few years
ago, it is so small there isn't need for much. At Tanguis
we stocked up in bulk before we headed north
The pavement between Guerrero Negro and the turn off is well
paved and the countryside not spectacular. It allowed my mind to
wander. We'd seen most of the points of interest near the
bay. We had many times made the La Paz - Cabo - loop.
It's just too developed for my tastes these days; maybe
when I was younger?
Once we hit the turn off the desert is filled with a rich
assortment of Cordon, Cirio and many, so many Elephant Trees all
catching the water vapors climbing up from the bay nightly.
So now, I'm thinking, maybe more trips into the central
desert outback. There are so many places I haven't seen,
ever or recently. There is so much warmth to appreciate, most
notably the local folks. On this trip I had seen that the
smaller more remote villages are touched by the
"civilization" that's closing in. I know what
interests me but the peninsula is bound to change. I think about
what many of us call poverty. These locals are not poor. Not
having an abundance of money doesn't make poverty.
Depravity will certainly add to it, but everywhere we visited in
our too-short trip we encountered acceptance, smiles and
greetings, and helpful support of those who knew better than we
did. I hope the changes hanging on the horizon like water-laden
cumulous clouds will benefit those families that settle here and
there in the outback. While progress is necessary and
inevitable, I wish they could avoid the extremes regardless of
from where they emanate. But in my heart I know they will;
they'll carry their values of honor, family, helpfulness
forward to whatever generation is waiting patiently.
When they win, I will too.