ANGELS IN MEXICO – OUR BAJA TRIP

This entry is part 1 of 4 in the seriesBaja California

By Barry Zander, Edited by Monique Zander, the Never-Bored RVers

Our drive down Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula took us along Hwy. 1, a very narrow and winding passage with no room to move off the blacktop.  Through desert and rocky hills, it passes scarce outposts of civilization where few people, if any, speak English.

POW!  We heard the blowout on a trailer tire.  I looked to the right and realized we were

POW!

POW!

10 feet from a Pemex gas station, the Mexican-owned system of fueling stops with mini-markets.  I pulled in just enough to get us out of the road.  Ten minutes later the “Green Angels” arrived to change my tire.

The Green Angels is a posse of government-sponsored multi-talented people, ready to help and

Our Angels -- Tony and Isaiah

Our Angels — Tony and Isaiah

protect tourists plying the remote spaces of Mexico.  Fantasy RV Tours, with whom we were traveling, had hired them to escort our RV caravan for the entire trip, and, I assure you, no members of our troupe were as thankful to have them along as Monique and I.

I have often written and spoken about how RV caravans are not journeys where rigs all travel in a queue.  That’s obviously not always true, because on our 1,200-mile round-trip, our 14 rigs mostly stayed together, almost always in sight of the rig in front of us.  It’s not a command, but it seemed like the best way to travel these precarious roads.

When one travel trailer in our band tried to leave room for a motorhome to exit first from a

Stuck

A tough spot to be in when the caravan is ready to move on.

resort RV park, the truck and then the trailer sunk down into sand about a-foot-and-a-half.  It was the Green Angels that dug that rig out.   [Since we were the only travel trailer in the 14-unit caravan, I’m forced to admit it was I who got into that mess.]

Driving back toward the U.S. through the mountains in an isolated area, we saw a Green Angel on patrol providing water to a car that had obviously overheated in the 88-degree temps.  That wasn’t us.

But, going through the congested Town of Tecate near the border, a local motorcycle policia stopped me for going through one of the dozens of stop signs (which neither of us saw).  He didn’t speak English; we don’t speak Spanish, so we couldn’t explain our side of the story to let him know that we had to stay with our group going through the border crossing.  He demanded that we follow him to the police office, something we did not want to do, knowing that it could be two days before being allowed to leave.

It was the Green Angels who talked it over with him and retrieved my driver’s license.  He waved us onward to U.S. Customs.

The tail or "fluke" of a Finwhale thrills our crew in Bahia de los Angeles on the Sea of Cortez

The tail or “fluke” of a Finwhale thrills our crew in Bahia de los Angeles on the Sea of Cortez

Read on in my two-part blogs for details about petting baby grey whales and lots of other great memories, but I first wanted to share with you a very powerful reason for entering Baja Mexico as part of a caravan. Having gone with Fantasy RV Tours & Creative World Travel, which may be the only company currently scheduled to go onto the peninsula, we certainly can recommend the tour.

But, mainly, I want to say that thanks to the “Angeles Verdes,” the Green Angels, there was never a time when we were concerned for our safety.  Tony and Isaiah kept their professional distance, but melded well with the entire group, joining us for a few of the

Traveling down the road, through desert and rocky hills, the Baja Whale-Watching RV Caravan Tour was a positive memory

Traveling down the road, through desert and rocky hills, the Baja Whale-Watching RV Caravan Tour was a positive memory

Fantasy-prepared casual dinners.

From the “Never-Bored RVers,” We’ll see you on down the road.

© All photos by Barry Zander.   All rights reserved

COMMENTS FROM OUR READERS:

FROM JULIE IN WASHINGTON STATE — I, too had assistance from the Green Angels while traveling in Mexico. The “caravan” consisted of my motorhome and my aunt&uncle with their 5th wheel. And none of us spoke Spanish. My serpentine belt broke, and of course narrow road out of Sonoyta. The Angels showed up within 5 minutes, got the belt removed.  My uncle had all my manuals, they took him back to the town, to two stores and found the belt that would work. I has a gasser at the time, one Angel took off the doghouse cover inside, and had to lay on his belly, (and I could see holes in the soles of his shoes), while the other worked from the outside. They got it on and we were once again ready to drive within an hour. They did not charge me, but I have them each $50, and Hershey chocolate bars. They seemed more excited over the candy!!

They were so nice and polite.  We have travelled as far south as Puerto Vallarta many times and always have had very pleasant and friendly encounters with locals.  When driving thru small villages the people wave and smile.

I am Julie from Washington state. I have really enjoyed the posts you do, and followed your Alaskan adventures with envy.

 

WHALE-WATCHING IN BAJA – A WOW!

This entry is part 2 of 4 in the seriesBaja California

By Barry Zander, Edited by Monique Zander, the Never-Bored RVers

You can read in magazine articles or see programs on TV about how whales can communicate with humans, but being among them brings it home!  It qualifies as a lifelong memory.

Members of the Fantasy Tours caravan celebrated  their chance to pet the grey whale calf hoisted to the boat by Mama.

Members of the Fantasy Tours caravan celebrated their chance to pet the grey whale calf hoisted to the boat by Mama.

Driving down to Scammon’s Lagoon, where the massive grey whales breed, give birth and play, is … well, let’s just say “an adventure.”  To negotiate “the much-improved roads” for 600 miles from San Diego, California, takes patience and constant alertness.  More on the ride down in a moment, but we are here to pet whales, and that’s what we did.

A whale-watching launch (the locals call them “Panga”) holds eight tourists in seats along

Mother and baby coming toward the boat can be daunting, but none of these massive mammals touched the boats.

Mother and baby coming toward the boat can be daunting, but none of these massive mammals touched the boats.

the sides and three in the middle.  For those on the sides, there is a better opportunity to touch or even pet the newly born calves.  I set my cameras down long enough to stick my hand out and feel the skin on the nose.  Each of our crew who had the experience described it differently, but I didn’t hear anyone say anything other than it was a thrill.

Grey whales are incredibly large beasts.  When the mothers swim past the boat laterally, they just keep going, something like when those 18-wheelers whiz past your RV on an interstate – seems to never end.  The word for them is “mammoth.”   These sleek leviathans can be identified by unique spots that have formed from years of having barnacles on their backs.

I don’t want to spoil the moment for you when you get down here, so I won’t go into further detail about what you might see and feel.  I will dwell a bit on the sensation of realizing that you’re among mammals that seem to enjoy the chance to show off their calves to the travellers.  Mammals, like your dog or cat, interact with humans.  What may be hard to imagine is that these huge creatures of the sea are mammals just like us and relate to us.

Spectacular moment.  Mama Whale breaches (lifts out of the ocean), while Baby spouts approval.  One of my all-time favorite photos.

Spectacular moment. Mama Whale breaches (lifts out of the ocean), while Baby spouts approval. One of my all-time favorite photos.

The protected preserve in the vicinity of Guerrero Negro may be a one-of-a-kind town.  There are whale-watching tours throughout the world, but nowhere else that I know of provides an opportunity for people above the surface of the ocean to interact with these heroic-sized mammals.

Cirio and Cordon cacti surrounded us on much of the trip through the desert.  This area is called "The Rock Garden."

Cirio and cordon cacti surrounded us on much of the trip through the desert. This area is called “The Rock Garden.”

It’s a special experience, in which we are participating as members of a Fantasy RV Tours & Creative World Tours caravan.  As I sit in the lobby of a hotel/RV park writing this, I hear dozens of arriving travelers asking for parking sites and rooms no longer available.  I’m thankful that our part of the trip is to drive, eat and enjoy.  No problemo!

Most of the roads are narrow.  Making it more of a challenge is the lack of shoulders: veer

Driving through desert and rocky hills makes for a tedious journey, but worth it when we got out into the boats.

Driving through desert and rocky hills makes for a tedious journey, but worth it when we got out into the boats.

too far to the right and you’re struggling to get back on the blacktop.  Making the trip more interesting are military inspections and fruit inspection, none of which, for our group, was an actual inspection; it was simply a minor delay.  Two other delays were tolls and pest control spraying:  again, no big deal, but we shelled out pesos for the privilege.

A few bad spots in the road, lots of potholes to look out for, and miles of steep grades all made the drive interesting.  Easing the concern over safety and roadside problems were two Angeles Verdes, “the Green Angels,” a team of Mexican tourist department agents who stay with the caravan to keep us out of

Our Green Angels escorted and protected us all along the 1,100-mile trek.

Our Green Angels escorted and protected us all along the 1,100-mile trek.

trouble.  They are there to get us through traffic situations and make minor repairs along the way.  We have enjoyed their participation in some of the group functions.

There is lots to see on the route, from the unique vegetation like cardon cactus and cirios or boojum plants; the rock garden; the shanty towns; the ocean.  Since it is slow-going on the roads, we had plenty of time to get to know the landscape.

One other stop while in Guerrero Negro was the salt mines, actually the 42,000 acres of ponds and salt refining – largest facility of its kind in the world.  Definitely an educational experience only a short trip from where our whale-watching boats docked.

Looking ahead to the next chapter in this trip, we turn to the northeast of the Baja California Peninsula, pushing our rigs toward the Sea of Cortez, with the experience of seeing the grey whales in their southern habitat before they begin heir 6,000-mile swim northward.

Many evenings during our 14-day caravan ended with social get-togethers.

Many evenings during our 14-day caravan ended with social get-togethers.

From the “Never-Bored RVers,” We’ll see you on down the road.

© All photos by Barry Zander.   All rights reserved

 

CONFESSIONS OF CONTENTED TOURISTS

This entry is part 1 of 16 in the seriesThe Canadian Atlantic Provinces

By Barry Zander, Edited by Monique Zander, the Never-Bored RVers

We are one of 22 RVs that met near Bar Harbor, Maine, and are now on Atlantic Time in New Brunswick, Canada.  Welcome to our caravan [don’t forget to set your clocks ahead one hour to Atlantic Daylight Time].

After our orientation social, the planned tour began in earnest with a bus expedition to one of America’s most renowned national parks – the only one on the East Coast – Acadia in Maine.  Acadia National Park is representative of the Maine coastal areas, heavily forested and featuring views of beautiful harbors.  While not a great deal different than what we saw along the Maine coast for the past few weeks,, we were taken by the ingenious road system.

What I personally most appreciated was the tour bus ride through the park with narrative by Heather, a very involved and cheerful local resident, who not only filled us in with tales of historic significance but included less-than-vital information that made the two-hour outing entertaining.

For those of you who may say, “Bah, I’d rather do it on my own,” I’d like to share one of “the Never-Bored RVers” recommendations.  Take tours!

HOP ON THE BUS, GUS

View from atop Cadillac Mountain

View from atop Cadillac Mountain

In almost every metropolitan area we visit we look for a bus tour.  We’ve done dozens and only found one that wasn’t worth the cost – and that was because we chose a small company with a small van that restricted our viewing.  The information recited by guides on these excursions is usually fascinating, peppered with behind-the-scenes yarns and legends that increase our appreciation for the town.

For instance, I wasn’t expecting much in Chicago, but the boat trip on the Chicago River led by a member of the American Institute of Architects was memorable.  In Washington, D.C., we took the “D.C. after Dark” tour.  In New Orleans, we visited many of the innumerable landmarks getting filled in on the Crescent City’s rich history (my hometown, and I still learned).  Acadia came more alive when we boarded the tour bus.

What we remember from these tours six months down the road may be very little, but we leave having a good overview of each place, its character and virtues.

Acadia National Park:  the only national park formed from parcels donated by private landowners (including the Rockefellers, the Macys, the Astors and many more, whose names we have already forgotten); the longest stone bridge in America; 50 miles of carriage trails restricted to non-motorized uses; originally Lafayette National Park; a view of five “porcupine islands” just off the coast of Mt. Desert Island; and the highest peak, Cadillac Mountain, which is named for the same man who created the family crest that is emblazoned on the cars named after him – lots of information that enriched our visit there.

Speaking of ANP, it’s located on Mt. Desert Island, pronounced by locals as “Mt. Dessert,” which is closer to the original French, and named that because the hill tops are bald … or deserted … a result of scouring by glaciers and the fact that soil doesn’t stay on granite peaks.

Acadia is adjacent to Bar Harbor, where many visitors walk the land bridge to Bar Island across from Bar Harbor, but only at low tide.  Miss the tide change and you’re on the island for 12 hours until the next low tide.

IN THE PROVINCES

A perfect spot for a bit of rest -- in a Kingsbrae Garden art piece

A perfect spot for a bit of rest — in a Kingsbrae Garden art piece

Here’s an interesting tidbit learned on today’s tour of St. Andrews by the Sea.  The New Brunswick Province saw its population grow dramatically when Massachusetts’ residents loyal to the British king left the newly independent America.   Our tour today included a stop at the local courthouse, where portraits of King George and his family grace a wall opposite that of a huge portrait of Queen Victoria.  Queen Elizabeth’s continence hangs above the judge’s bench, a symbol of her ultimate authority.

Our group began the day with a bus tour of the picturesque small town with plentiful history before having lunch at Kingsbrae Gardens.  We followed that up by walking through the 27-acre grounds featuring clever sculptures and more than 2,500 varieties of trees, scrubs and plants set in a landscape of resplendent colorful arrays.

Built before 1810, this is one of the historic homes along Water Street in St. Andrews by the Sea.

Built before 1810, this is one of the historic homes along Water Street in St. Andrews by the Sea.

While most of our group returned to the oceanside campground to spend the afternoon as they wished, Monique and I chose to take an additional hour exploring the gardens before walking about five blocks into the downtown area to tap an ATM for Canadian dollars and to experience the local hospitality.  We were not disappointed.

One often-asked question is about crossing the border.  We were questioned at the Canadian Customs Station for less than two minutes and sent on our way.  As far as I know, none of our 21 fellow travellers had their rigs searched.  I wrote about Canadian currency on our 2010 trip through western Canada on our way to Alaska.  I’ll probably touch on that topic and metric speed limits again as we continue on our 48-day journey through the Canadian Maritime (or Atlantic) provinces with Fantasy RV Tours.

Kingsbrae Gardens was at its best for our visit

Kingsbrae Gardens was at its best for our visit

Tuesday had been one of bright sun with oppressive heat.  We returned to our trailer just as monstrous gray clouds that followed us from town erupted in bolts of lightening with rolling thunder.

We’re definitely the “Never-Bored RVers.” Wednesday is a travel day.  We’ll see you on down the road.

© All photos by Barry Zander.   All rights reserved