….It’s Who You Know: (Family) Travel & Community

We’re nearing the end of our first extended trip as a family — Ryan returns home by plane to attend some meetings, and Eliza and I will drive north, enjoying spring in the Baja and the pace of travel with two dogs. Gran Sueno

With the exception of a couple overnights, we’ve been parked these past five weeks(!) in the same spot — La Ventana, a pueblo about an hour south of La Paz on the Sea of Cortez. Our road to discovering our place here felt long and bumpy, but it turns out our reasons for stasis are simple: we need community and routine to thrive.

Driving south out of the cold last February, we put in long days on the road, which made it hard to get out of each other’s space or unpack our books, laptops, art supplies, wetsuits — our ‘comfort sprawl’ that makes life rich and easy. And while we met cool people at virtually every stop — in fact, we’ve been following other travelers’ recommendations the whole trip — we were missing the depth of conversation beyond small talk.

In La Ventana, we met the kiteboarding community — devotees of el viento 6-30 knots. Many have been wintering here for decades, riding the wind on whatever equipment best harnesses its personality — billowy foil kites when the breeze floats butterflies; sturdy, twitchy front-edge inflatables when it’s dangerously daring. Many also have windsurf boards, with a sail and boom. These are people who look to the sea for companionship, who don’t care how the wind rakes dust through their hair or hurls sand, rasping against their skin.

This community is made mostly of gringos — true — from Canada and the Northwest US, where outdoor sport is a common language. Some, like Don and Laurie from Tahoe, raised their kids on the beach, taking them out of school or homeschooling for weeks or months each year, defying the judgement of family and school administrators alike.

Some are young, like Dave, Lane and Sara, making a career of seasonal sport employment in some of the most beautiful destinations on Earth. Still others are long retired, their octogenarian bodies blending with the other rippling wetsuits edging into the water, still muscled and capable.

These are people who understand that if you’re here, you’ve made some sacrifice. You’ve traded some amount of the known, sure thing for want of more. You might get hurt. You’re definitely at greater risk of skin cancer. You might change in ways that make it impossible to go ‘back.’ But, you’ve made it happen. These little bonds make them easy to talk to, share a meal with, brush teeth beside and spit around the same sink.

We’ve also found that families traveling with young kids are both rare and special, probably for all the added chaos and compassion that comes with having your child under your care all day, every day.

With meet-ups so fleeting, we rush right in, introducing ourselves to youngsters on the street and in restaurants, even before their parents arrive on the scene. We’ve arranged one-time playdates with kids we may never see again — both families glad for that small respite from same-ness. Thank you, Mateo, Tovah, Claire, Anna, Talon and Tinsley!

Eliza has made another connection on her own that we are especially proud of — invitations to play at the home of a local Mexican family. After weeks of palling around before school started each day, Eliza and Melissa, a kindergartener, hatched the play plan and approached Melissa’s mother, who manages our camp facility. Three days in a row, Eliza spent 4+ hours with Melissa and her cousins and neighbors, jumping on a trampoline and scrounging up snacks, all without a common language.

At trail’s end, we’ve all earned a certain valuable awareness of what traveling does to a person: you’re forced to be your most real, best self much more of the time. Or you will miss out.

This might sound stupidly simple and obvious — and something all of us should do all the time, but until you feel yourself rising to the challenge, you can’t appreciate what it might mean for your body and mind.

We’re glad we came. We’re happy to take what we’ve learned home. And we’re ready to do it again.

 

The Trip So Far….

Here’s what’s been hiding in our Google Map, which appears in the sidebar of the blog. Going forward, I’ll send these place-based notes once a week.

Thanks!

LINCOLN, NE, USA
Hotel stop-over due to cold! Our rig isn’t outfitted for winter temps. NOTE: StayBridge Suites, at least in the Midwest, are pet-friendly, have excellent hot breakfasts, and offer laundry facilities.
DILLON, CO, US
A day of ski culture! Our La Quinta Inn had a ski repair room at the end of the first-floor corridor. We watched a teen with a Scandinavian accent strip wax for a few minutes.
CEDAR CITY, UT, USA

This is Ghost Rock Canyon, located along the 110-mile stretch of I-70 known geologically as the San Raphael Swell, which contains no modern ‘services’ or noticeable civilization, save some fences.

Approaching the junction of I-70 and I-15 from the east, you’ll see directional signs: “Salt Lake City – Stay right” and “Las Vegas – Left Exit”      Ryan: “Heaven, or Hell. Better choose now.

CULVER CITY, CA, USA
Space Shuttle Endeavor @ California Science Center

Space Shuttle Endeavor

Kelp Forest Exhibit @ California Science Center

Kelp Forest Exhibit @ California Science Center

Much-anticipated stay with high school friends with kids Eliza’s age and as big a soft spot for dogs.
Thanks, Ann, Matt, Quinn, Riley and Bessie!
LAGUNA BEACH, CA, USA
Met up with Decorah friends who’ve been modeling this work-from-the-road-with-kids business for a few years now. Thanks for showing us the Slow Hustle, Awad family!
TIJUANA BORDER CROSSING

One of the busiest border zones in the world, Tijuana’s traffic moves swiftly in the southbound direction; the northbound lanes may require the 2+ hour wait indicated on the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) website.

Note that Mexican customs and immigration are not located in the traffic zone. To get your tourist card (or have it stamped, if you printed it online beforehand) or register your vehicle for temporary import, you’ll have to look for the offices, on the righthand side, past the main glut of lanes crossing the border.

LA JOLLA BEACH RV (near LA BUFADORA, south of ENSENADA on the Pacific coast)
Beachfront camp spots/hot showers/interesting mix of residents, pro beach bums and other gringos like us!
MIKE’S SKY RANCHO
Turnoff to Mike's Sky Rancho

Turnoff to Mike’s Sky Rancho

This WAY out of the way hotel is a major stopover on all the Baja dirt bike races, though it was empty other than one private dune buggy party when we rumbled in (after dark). Price is steep by Mexican standards — $70/person for a basico room, steak dinner and trad breakfast of beans, eggs & chorizo. Definitely worth the trip, if mountain treks are your thing — the views are unbeatable.
Old Dog Daily: Roubin, our 14-year-old Vizsla, walked into the deep end of the courtyard swimming pool on accident! Ryan heard the splash and fished him out by his collar.
PUERTECITOS (on the Sea of Cortez)

This development-gone-South was built up around a natural hot spring right at the water’s edge. Soak in the pools at mid-tide for 20 pesos/person (I think). We loved it, as we are warm-water junkies.

Camping includes a palapa, table and power for around $17US. However, power is off overnight and late into the morning, if not mid-afternoon. The bath house, half-finished and in disrepair, has flush toilets only. Cold showers are gravity-fed from a catch barrel at your palapa (not potable).

The area has several residences, though the only people we saw were gatekeepers and other transients who were widely knowledgeable about other curiosities up and down Baja. Thanks, Warren!

Located seven miles north of town, just inside the Area Especial (protected area/park), this pebble beach offers tranquil rustic camping.

We loved the views (seals and birds just off-shore) and other campers we found there, including a family from Colorado, a ‘sub-30’ (person under age 30) who’d been on the road on his  3-horsepower Honda motorcycle for three years, and two vanfuls of surfers who snorkeled in many layers of neoprene (the water is COLD this time of year).

HOTEL LAS CARACOLES, GUERRERO NEGRO

Arriving late afternoon, we drove out to the lighthouse, across the salt flats that provide this town’s principal industry, met a couple inebriated watchmen, there obstensibly for security, and decided instead to stay under a palapa at Restaurant Lala, also near Puerto Viejo, or the old port.

We pushed the button to pop up Eliza’s bed in the camper and….nothing. Turns out the circuit board is blown, but we wouldn’t know that for another few days, after several calls to the shop that built it. Instead, we checked in after dark at Hotel Caracoles right on the main street in town.

NOTE: It’s common for hotels that appear on the Internet (Priceline, Booking.com, Hotels.com, TripAdvisor, etc) to say they’re pet friendly, then outright deny pets on-site or charge $20-$40/night per pet, regardless of whether this was indicated in their fine print.

This stems from a cultural discrepancy between the US, where pets are considered family, and Mexico, where pets, especially dogs, serve dual purpose as companions and guardians of property.

Pets that spend most of their time outdoors, by default, are considered too dirty to be indoors with their human owners.

Our 14-year-old Vizsla, Roubin, and year-old fox terrier, Sylvie, are total anomalies here, though Sylvie does bark reliably to announce the approach of anyone she doesn’t know or trust.

We followed AirBNB recommendations to a rental, Casa Rio, in the expat neighborhood of Rio Oasis for two nights to regroup.

This art-infused town has several handy amenities, including grocers that carry real butter and Johnsonville cheddarwurst, for example, when you’re craving Midwestern dairy.

LODGING FAIL A LA PAZ

We had our first AirBNB fail here in La Paz — because we tried to book late in the day, for that very night. It’s not easy for property managers to ferry details in a second language (on either end) when they have day jobs and multiple homes to manage.

The issue was the parking. The neighborhood in which our rental was located, bordering the Malecon, or boardwalk in downtown La Paz, is rapidly being reclaimed, which is awesome.

However, the street parking felt a little too sketch for a full-size Mercedes Sprinter van, and the interior gated parking felt a little too tight. So, we Priceline-d the Hyatt out by the very gringo-ed marina — only to go without water for 1.5 days (water pump repair). Part of the adventure, no?

TRAVELING COMPANIONS!
Art&Beer Gallery (drink purchase or admission required!)

Art&Beer Gallery (drink purchase or admission required!)

We picked up Ryan’s folks, Marv and Karen, from the airport in trendy Cabo San Lucas, then spent two days in a hotel a few blocks from the hoppin’ beach. Too much civilization for us!

We did love Amber’s Market, the only gluten-free restaurant/smoothie bar in Cabo, which happened to be next to our hotel. And we liked adding other personalities to our small travel orbit.

Marv and Karen also carried very precious cargo — the original title to our van, which we didn’t think to bring (we had only copies) but which is necessary to board the ferry to mainland Mexico — or get back into the US, for that matter.

TURTLES IN TODOS SANTOS

Driving out to a beach we had stumbled upon five years ago, on our first trip to Baja, we found an encampment of conservationists carefully tending a greenhouse.

Inside were wooden stakes in the sand marking leatherback sea turtle nests that they had dug up by hand along the 22-miles of beach and relocated to the greenhouse for safe hatching.

In this part of Baja, the sand temperature is just cold enough this time of year that the eggs would not have survived otherwise. When the turtles emerge, volunteers release them after sunset, giving them a greater chance of navigating their watery new home without being illuminated/casting shadows, making them easy pickings for birds and other predators.

This method also protects the hatchlings from ATVs, domestic dogs and other hazards in the modern age of reptilian reproduction.

CABO PULMO

A beach village with a national marine preserve off its coast, Cabo Pulmo is an off-grid mecca for scuba diving, snorkeling and general beach living.

Established originally by three Mexican families, the community includes several American residents who’ve been slowly adding amenities and building out private (sometimes rentable) residences since the 1970s.

We had high winds and some turbidity, so our diving wasn’t spectacular, but Jacques Cousteau called the reef off-shore (in the Sea of Cortez, the northernmost live specimen in Central America) ‘the world’s aquarium.’ If you’re hell-bent on seeing it this time of year, be prepared to wear many mils of Neoprene — it’s the cold water that keeps people modest about its exploitation.

GALLERY DISTRICT OF SAN JOSE DEL CABO

Located on the northeast side of the city center, the Gallery District is indeed home to many high-end artisan galleries, featuring especially silver and precious-stone jewelry, embroidered handcrafts, bright pottery and stoneware, sculpture, and paintings.

Restaurants are also recommendable here — we liked Baja Brewing Co.‘s mesquite-fired thin-crust pizza (super Mex, I know), and La Casita’s courtyard ambiance. Baked goods your thing? Check out French Riviera Bakery & Cafe. Also good but untested by our group: Lolita Cafe.

GO AIRBNB! LA VENTANA

South of the US border, we’ve found that AirBNB reliably guides us to communities that have amenities we like: enterprising home and business owners who reach out to visitors (by listing their amazing homes/rentals), reasonable cell/Internet, and local activities that warrant travel off the beaten path.

In La Ventana, it’s wind sports, specifically kiteboarding and windsurfing. The local campgrounds are full of devotees, many of whom have been coming for decades and who camp out for months at a time, their rigs bristling with solar arrays. We rented a home made of upcycled shipping containers — a take on the ‘small house’ theme that we’d like to model ourselves, someday.

We’re currently encamped at Casa Verde, a boutique hotel and small RV campground. We’re the only ones here, as it’s the end of the official ‘kite season,’ and have full access to the camp’s outdoor kitchen, shade palapas, and restrooms/showers. We feel pretty lucky to have stumbled upon a spot that offers hot and potable water, TP in the restrooms, and very clean facilities (thanks, Phil, Monica and staff!)