As my wheels were spinning in the soft sand of a forgettable beach, not really making me move forward at all, and I was looking at an upwards trail that would have made any 4×4 take pause, I made Saint Christopher a promise. Get me out of here and I will make you an offering of your choice. Turns out Saint Christopher wanted a blog post.
From the outset, I had an inkling this would not be your usual black-top-one-thousand-miles-a-day road trip. Mostly because according to google maps, the road we had selected from La Paz to Cabo Pulmo was about 100 miles long (or short) but took about 3 hours. Nonsense I thought, I shall put the pedal to the metal and make a laughingstock of that estimate. Not so much it turns out.
Also our indications from the owner of the kick ass house we rented in Cabo Pulmo stressed it was “very strongly recommended” to arrive before dark. I was intrigued. There are two ways to get into Pulmo, one with more asphalt and less beauty and one with more dirt, hurt and wonder. You can guess which one we chose.
Getting out of La Paz was easy, we only met one police check point, and the bored looking officer just waived us through.
Sidebar: Don’t go thinking Mexico has gone all fluffy, we also met a police pick-up truck with a .50 cal machine gun mounted on it. Yes, it was manned, and had the metal protective side plates. Not something I’ve seen on our army trucks, never mind our cops. Clearly stuff is going on or can happen. So keep your wits about you, and all travel best practices in effect. Don’t be a dumbass.
We rapidly left the main highway (the 1) to go through a bunch of small towns and pretty breathtaking scenery. I was expecting a two way road, which it was, with the occasional slow truck you can’t pass, which happened, and some nice twists and turns through the mountains (check). A fabulous drive.
What I did not expect were the cows. Lots, and lots, and lots of cows. On the road, on the side of the road, thinking about crossing the road and just standing in the middle of the road. The guy at the rental place (I’m pretty sure he tried hitting on my wife, I can’t really blame him though) warned us, the danger at night is cows (and the topes, speed bumps, bad enough in the daylight, killer at night, not always announced or painted, so keep your eyes peeled), and he was not kidding. When you go through a turn (at legal speeds) and see a cow on the road in front of you, your stress level goes up. We also encountered the occasional horses, skipping deers, donkeys, big eared rabbits and a tarantula. Yes a tarantula.
Why did the tarantula cross the road? Because it’s her hood, and she will do as she pleases, and you better be careful gringo and do stay in your car. Hence the fuzzy picture.
No, I’m not kidding and locals confirmed it: tarantulas. They also recommended shaking out your bed sheets and your towels before using them. Good advice. I would add shake out your shoes before putting them on as well. It might not be a tarantula, but gecko toe butter is nobody’s friend, plus the gecko really didn’t deserve it. He just liked your warm stinky shoes, which is probably more than your travelling buddies can say.
Another thing I did not expect was how bad the unpaved roads could get. Especially when you’re rocking a Nissan Sentra.
BTW, shout out to that little car, it performed admirably well and did things I thought would not have been possible. Though seriously, if you can afford it and plan going off the tarmac, get a truck. Yeah, the odds are mostly in the favour that you’ll make it in a smaller car, but there’s a lot of places and beaches i just went : “yeah, no way, sorry folks”, and a few I wish I had.
You see, there is a big stretch of unpaved road leading into Cabo Pulmo from La Paz, in many ways that is the town’s protection, it makes it difficult to get to, and it seems (knock on wood) to keep the big developers at bay and away. We certainly hope they never pave over that dirt. A gentleman we spoke to said he’s been coming/living in Pulmo for about 30 years. I asked him: “it must have been a pretty good place to disappear back then”. He looked away for a little, his eyes seemed to focus on the past, and then straight at me and said slowly “still kind of is…” It is that kind of a place. Where roosters will wake you before the sun is up, where doors are never locked, where you basically sleep outside, and where you can get the only “store” to open for you after hours if perchance you have been diving with the owner’s niece. It is still the wild west, and it certainly feels like it.
Back to the road however. Apparently tropical storm Lidia tore through the region a little while back (September) and dumped about as much rain as they see all year. Because of that, many of the cacti were in bloom and the greens were surprisingly lush, but it also meant that the road had been severely flooded, and that some chunks of it had been washed away while others got covered in soft sand. Front wheel drive cars like neither soft sand nor roads made 4 feet wide because of mini ravines. Thank you Saint Christopher.
BTW, do you know the story of St-Christopher? No? Quickly then. A very popular saint in “folk catholicism” he was struck from the official saints’ list during Vatican 2, when the church decided to modernize, switch from Latin to common languages and make sure most of their saints had some basis in history, a mistake if you ask me but what do I know. So Saint-C, being as he was a giant from Palestine who ferried people across a river on his back, did not make the cut (the ferrying people is why he’s associated with travel and motoring). His story (from memory, I am on a plane right now, I will get some details wrong, don’t wager anything more than a pint of beer on the following), is that he wanted to serve a powerful master, a master without fear, so he went to serve king Solomon, but eventually he found out the king was afraid of the devil. So he went to serve the devil, but eventually he found out that the devil was afraid of God. However, the not yet Saint-Christopher could not find God (don’t even get me started) so instead, very zen monk like, he stood by a river and carried people on his back that wanted to cross (being a giant an all). One day a child comes to him, and St-C readily agrees to take him across, thinking such a slender burden shall be no toil at all. Yet as he hoists the child unto his shoulders, it is all he can do to keep standing such is the weight. As he wades into the river, familiar rocks roll under his feet, his knees buckle and his feet keep on slipping. Finally, at great cost, he puts the child down on the other bank and he collapses (I’m embroidering a little and will use a touch more artistic licence in the coming scene). The child then speaks: “You will be Christopher from now on, for your bore the weight of the whole world on your shoulders”, (Christopher from the Greek “Christ-bearer”), and so Saint-C found his way into the employ of God. When I got my driver’s licence, it was a while back, my mom gave me a medallion of Saint Christopher to put on my key ring, I gave it to my sister when she got her licence, but I still keep one.
The washed in and washed out dirt road made for very interesting driving. All my Paris-Dakar fantasies got fulfilled. The cloud of dust we generated was so intense, people in Pulmo must have seen us coming 20 miles away. Also the inside if the trunk, the luggage, as well as the rest of the car, was covered in a fine layer of desert dust. I hoped Avis wouldn’t charge us the extra cleaning fee… they did. Though some parts were a little bit hairy, the road was on the whole rather passable, just not quickly.
The first real challenge came on the way back from Arbolito beach (really not worth it in October 2017, the place was litter strewn and decrepit, why the owner charged for access was really unclear). The weather was the usual butter melting hot, and we picked up some Alaskan hitchhikers going to the same beach. One of them was a pasty white redhead, and leaving him out on the road would have been criminal. We passed our buddy who had originally insisted on going on foot, 5 km under the desert sun (where he got bullied by cows and intimidated by horses), and he declined riding the rest of the way with us, wanting to finish his ordeal.
I knew I was in trouble on the way down to the beach. The smooth rocks were large and steep, with a tight turn and many bumps between them. The way down was “easy” because gravity, but I feared for the way up. Once at the bottom of the slope I felt the wheels sink into soft sand (rookie move, I should have left the car on top of the hill) and it took all my winter driving expertise not to get stuck. You know that very fine balance between spinning your wheels and digging yourself in? That.
The way up was much more of a challenge. After rehydrating our friend and ourselves with beer we devised a plan. I would be alone in the car to minimize weight and maximize power, and my compadres would be on top of the hill making sure no one came down while I was trying to go up, because there would be no stopping on that hill without getting stuck, I needed momentum. That’s when I made my vow to Saint-Christopher and the reason you are reading this. I came as close as I could to gunning the engine to build up speed, and aimed for the part of the slope that seemed to make most sense. I would need to keep the front axle clear of the larger rocky bumps and avoid the holes. It would be days before a tow truck could show up in Pulmo if I cocked it up.
But St-C came through and it went like a charm. An actual charm.
This entry is already overlong (I’ve been chastised for writing more than people can bare), but you really need to know how bad the dirt road (but how stunningly beautiful) was afterwards from Pulmo down to San Jose Del Cabo. We’re talking hairpin turns without any guard rails that made my navigator scream, and one part of the road, maybe sixty feet up, where a huge chunk of it was missing, and what was left was barely wide enough for the car. I laughed out loud at that moment, nerves, thrills, absurdity, all of the above. There was a lot more sand traps of course. Honestly, in some parts I really wasn’t sure we would make it (as in across the road, not as in die obviously, well maybe for the bit where I cackled like a maniac).
All through the trip we kept Saint-Christopher very, very busy. and he came through. Thanks buddy.