Cops, Beheadings, and Veeps

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[Photo by Jason Knoll]

Wake up, swim in the Sea of Cortez, hit the road. We could get used to this.

No one in the group really had any must-sees for the next portion of the trip so we just picked a place on the map and headed in that direction. Jason and Kara were both looking to surf, so we headed to the pacific. The spot we picked was Adolfo Lopez Mateo. This town was apparently, at one point, a tourist destination for whale watching and eco tours. As we rolled in at sunset, we could see that this was no longer the case. Most of the shops were boarded up, and the ones that weren’t had the windows busted out. We wanted to believe that this was a result of the recent hurricane, but it looked as though things had been this way for years.

In Mexico, the beaches belong to the people, and camping is welcome and free on almost all of them. So, we headed to the beach in search of camping. After about an hour of driving around, we still hadn’t found any beaches with vehicle access. It was getting late, and we were getting desperate. On the outskirts of town, we had seen a neighborhood with some really nice houses and a fancy looking hotel called Habitat Hotel. We figured we could camp near the hotel without too much hassle.

Brian, TJ and Joey stopped at the hotel to ask if anyone had suggestions for camping, and it was immediately obvious that the hotel was no longer in operation and was being squatted by some shady looking characters. Trash everywhere, mangy dogs, and makeshift toilets. One of the squatters was friendly enough, but also looked nervous that maybe we were there to tell him we owned the place. We’ll pass. We continued down to the end of the road and asked a couple if we could camp on the beach near their property. They were very friendly and offered to let us stay in their yard, but we declined and instead stayed about 50 yards down the road on a sort of beach next to a large pile of trash.

None of us felt too comfortable with our campsite, but we didn’t have any other options. It was now dark, and we were hours from any other towns. Just as we started making dinner, a police truck with lights flashing bounded down the dirt road, aiming right for our camp. What now? Bribes, arrest, something worse? Brian approached the police cruiser and hoped for the best.

The officer in the passenger seat immediately stuck out his hand for a handshake, and assured us that there would be no problems where we were camped and that they would be doing several patrols of the area that night. Should this make us comfortable that the cops would be keeping an eye on things, or worried that they felt the need to keep an eye on things? Oh well, we all decided to go to sleep early and get up at sunrise and hit the road.

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Another foggy morning made the drive out of town seem eerie and misplaced. The destination for the day was Todos Santos, with stops in Constitution (drive slow and stop at ALL stop signs, even if no one else does. No one else will) for coffee and La Paz for gas. We were all feeling a bit nervous, as we had just received news two days prior that there had been some midday beheadings in the tourist zone in La Paz. Apparently, over the last two months there had been 28 murders there, and there was talk of a curfew. Little of this had made the mainstream news and much of it was being kept hush-hush due to the already low tourism from the hurricane.

(Side note: these stories were mostly half-truths and we never once felt the least bit unsafe in La Paz. None of the crimes were directed at, or in anyway involved, any tourists. If we wouldn’t have had insider info, we would have had no clue that any of that had happened)

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When we got to La Paz, we stopped at the first Pemex station we saw. We were all a bit hungry but were unsure if we should venture into town for food, or move on to Todos Santos. Brian decided to chat up a cop in the gas station parking lot to try to get a feel for how safe/unsafe it would be. The cop showed Brian the day’s newspaper proclaiming that the murderers had been caught, and assured us that we would be fine. Then he insisted that we follow him to a good restaurant, but only after he moved his assault rifle from his rear seat to his front seat (was he planning on needing it?!) Brian’s poor Spanish and the officers poor English, made for an interesting conversation that resulted in a police escort (complete with flashing lights) for our entire caravan to some place he called “Veeps”. What is Veeps? Did he say something about Applebees? We were very confused, but we knew that we were to follow him through town to one of his favorite spots, that in reality ended up being a chain restaurant called Peter Piper Pizza. Oh well, today we dine on Chuck E Cheese style pizza. After running a few errands (Home Depot, walmart, etc.) we were back on the road. Onward to Todos Santos!

(Side note: Veeps turned out to be VIPs – as in Very Important People – a popular fast food chain in Mexico)

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Finding good camping at Todos Santos should have been easy. It is a fairly quiet tourist town, big in the surfer community. However, since the hurricane swept through, damage to the town was still being repaired and the beaches were left flooded with what smelled like human waste and littered with debris.

Parts of it were still attractive, though, and we were all dying to get in the water, so we drove out as close to the high tide line as we could get. Then, TJ got stuck in deep sand. Now, before we go on, we should mention that the jeep is loaded down with nearly every piece of recovery gear imaginable. Be prepared! But it was hot, and it didn’t seem like it would be too much of a struggle to get TJ unstuck. So we pushed and dug sand out from under his Transit. After about 10 minutes, we realized that he was more stuck than we thought. Then a nice older man who lived in one of the giant houses lining the beach drove his truck down and, with a very “I’m saving the day” kind of attitude, pulled TJ out with just a tow strap.

We drove out to a place called Cerritos Surf Camp, which turned out to be the cleanest, yet most exclusive beach in town. They wouldn’t even let us park in their lot. It was getting late, and, as we drove through town, we noticed that the infamous Hotel California looked quite empty, so we all reluctantly agreed to pop in and see if we could play “Let’s Make a Deal!” (It should be noted that Carley was in no way reluctant. Hotel California has been on her radar since she was about 12 years old. Huge Eagles nerd)

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Typically, a basic room is just over $100 per night, but TJ and Joey worked some serious magic and got three rooms for $60 each! We all took showers and got dressed up for a night on the town! Dinner and 13-year-old-tequila shots, then drinks at a “locals” bar where several of the locals attempted to assist Carley in learning Spanish, also where we saw a Denver license plate and got a little homesick, and finally, back at the Hotel California for smokes and drinks poolside. We were drunk and high (on life!) and, let’s just say it’s lucky that we were the only ones in the hotel. It was a total gigglefest. Easily one of the best nights of the entire trip. Definitely on the list of best nights of ever.

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Checked out in the morning and, uh-oh! Something we ate the night before was not agreeing with Carley, so we spent the day in town waiting for things to clear up. We walked around town, through all the tourist shops, cafes and bookstores. Picked up a set of Spanish flash cards and a Lonely Planet Spanish conversation book. Had a light lunch at a coffee shop.

Camped that night on a buggy beach near town. Spent the next day in town retracing the prior day’s steps, attempting to update the blog, but not finding the inspiration. It’s hard to hunker down and write when you’ve got good times staring you in the face. Around midday, we started looking for a place to camp for the night. Ended up at a placed called Surf Camp on the other side of the highway. This place seemed abandoned, no one at the office, no one to call, but the pool was perfectly clean and a sign near the office read “grab a room” with a price list. Joey and TJ picked their room and Briand and I and Jason popped our tops in the parking lot (really just a dirt patch outside of the entrance). We hopped in the pool to cool off and had yet another excellent (giggly) night.

Got up early and headed to the coffee shop in Todos Santos to make plans for the day. Back to La Paz to pick up supplies (beer, mostly) and then on to Playa Tecolote, just north east of La Paz. Jason’s birthday was the following day, so we made arrangements with a guide to rent a boat that would take us to Isla de Espiritu Santo – an island off the coast of La Paz where the Sea Lions (or Sea Wolves, as they’re called in Mexico) congregate each year.

That night, we took it easy so as to not feel like garbage the next day. It was a good move. The boat ride out to the island was rough, but fun and Carley was laughing like a child on an amusement park ride the entire time. We went through caves and arches and saw some pretty impressive rock formations. When it was time to get in the water, we didn’t hesitate to pop on our “kit de snork” and jump in. A few yards from the boat, about 5 or 6 sea lions were congregating in the water. Carley dove down to see what they were up to and nearly lost her s&%t when she saw that there were baby sea lions swimming around beneath them. One swam right up to her, checked her out and then darted in the opposite direction. Playful little fellas.

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[We didn't take any pictures because our camera doesn't go under water. So here's a sea lion drawing. Enjoy!]

After about 30-45 minutes of Carley screaming “HOLY S&%T!!” into her snorkel, our captain called us back to the boat. It was time to head back. A quick stop on a beach, tucked away and looking like something you see in a “Beaches” commercial, for lunch and beverages, we headed back to Tecolote for dinner and drinks to celebrate Jason’s birthday. That night we sat around a table at camp and placed a game called Munchkin. It’s basically a poke at DND, with zombies and monsters. Nerd fun! This would be TJ and Joey’s last night in Baja, they were L.A. bound first thing in the morning. We miss you guys!