Eggs taste best when scrambled, sprinkled with manchego cheese, and rolled into a tortilla brushed with oil and griddled to a satisfyingly chewy texture. Outdoor cooking is required, as is eating them while crouched on the steps of the van you slept in the night before. Coffee is an absolute must for this squinty, bleary eyed state. And don’t forget the hot sauce.
It’s Friday morning, and the sun is burning through Baja’s early haze. Influenced by a cocktail of road-weariness, nostalgia and raicilla, we made revised and abbreviated plans last night to hightail it back to the U.S. The motivation: a call that Hobbs's next construction project has been fast-tracked to begin April 1. With bellies full and Todos Santos in our rear view mirror, we rumble through the rocky and barren interior of BCS to La Paz. There, we spend a nostril-flaring two hours searching the city for propane.
From La Paz, we head northwest toward Ciudad Constitution on the Transpeninsular Highway, a straight stretch of shoulderless blacktop that leaves no room for error as it ferries drivers through Baja’s parched and gritty landscape. At one point we pull over, smelling the sharp warning of gasoline, only to discover that it’s sprayed all over the road, the likely culprit a leaking gas truck from hours or days past.
Military checkpoints are the norm in Baja, especially when heading north, and we pass through three in one day. With their desert camo, high-powered rifles, and clenched jaws, the Mexican soldiers are all business, although a smile and a hello are usually returned. We have the drill down: take off sunglasses, turn off van, exit van, open doors to van when prompted, show proof of U.S. citizenship, answer questions (“Where are you going?,” “Where do you live?,” “Does your dog bite?”), and get back on the road with a wave and a “gracias!” In Mexico, every male citizen is required to serve in the military. A closer look at the soldiers and you’ll see doughy cheeked, fuzzy mustachioed young men who are more bored than empowered, automatic rifle notwithstanding.
After a caffeine refuel in Ciudad Insurgentes, we head east into the foothills of the Sierra de la Giganta, the desolation giving way to rolling hills followed by lumpy, striated mountains that hold true to Baja's lunar ambiance. We spend the night on the rocky shores of Juncalito, a placid bay on the Sea of Cortez, the looming Giganta offering Jurassic Park-like scenery as a backdrop. Amenities for the evening include exploding fire pit rocks, friendly Montana neighbors, and plenty of well-hidden bushes to serve as the powder room.
The next day is long. We whiz through the twists and turns that hug the Bahia de Concepcion, an idyllic bay-within-a-bay that offers low-maintenance fun and sun for snowbirding RVers, before heading inland at Santa Rosalia and climbing hills that lift us back into Baja’s sere interior. Rare flora and fauna have made this area, El Vizcaino, a federally funded biosphere reserve. With over 9,625 square miles of protected landmass, this is Mexico’s largest wildlife refuge.
Day turns into evening as we continue up the slender ribbon of black asphalt. A few nights prior, a fellow camper highly recommended a stay at Coco’s Corner, an inexplicable ramshackle of a roadhouse that doubles as an in-a-pinch campground. The isolated refuge is run by the one and only Coco, a double amputee diabetic who walks on leather-padded stumps and uses an ATV as a wheelchair. We'd been warned that the road to Coco’s Corner is remote and rough - 20 miles of narrow washboard with plenty of boulders and drop-offs for good measure - taking travelers deeper into nowhere.
The long day turning even longer, we meet Baja’s brutal environs with perseverance, climbing the slow and jarring 20 miles to Coco’s well after the sun ducked into the Pacific. Along the way, we encounter a jack-knifed semi carrying an impossibly large load of full-grown palm trees, the driver clumsily smiling and waving as we squeeze our van past his crippled rig.
Just as our second-guesses were peaking, our headlights begin to reveal “COCO” scrawled in spray paint on random road-hugging boulders. Within 15 minutes, we’re idling outside Coco’s compound. A disinterested caballero with a cigarette dangling from his lips lifts two boards serving as a haphazard gate to allow us entry. Close by, we see a flashlight waving wildly through the window of a tin-sized trailer. This, we soon learn, is Coco's greeting to us.
Next time, I'll introduce you to the strange and description-defying Coco, and his even stranger Corner.