Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Finally on the beach -- Playa Tecolote, north of La Paz

We are finally in Baja California Sur, with much to report since my last post.  We are parked more or less right on the beach, at Playa Tecolote (map).  Most of the rigs are parked on the sand -- we opted to keep our drivers on the little bit of pavement that's here.  But our picture window is overlooking the beach, with the water just a couple dozen yards away.

The big news, of course, is that Hurricane Paul is once again Tropical Storm Paul, and will most likely pass (well, what's left of it, anyway) quite a bit south of us.  It's overcast and a bit rainy here, but that is probably the worst of it for us.

Backing up to my last post:  we did, finally, make it to the beach in Mazatlan.  It was a short walk from the campground, and actually quite nice.  We walked down there with Opal Saturday afternoon, not long after I posted, to watch the sunset.  We resolved to come back during the day Sunday for a swim in the fairly impressive waves, and maybe to have a cocktail under a friendly palapa at the adjacent hotel.

We never made it -- Saturday night I came down with a second round of la turista, and by Sunday morning Louise was also feeling the effects.  Several other folks were also under the weather, so we are guessing that this particular bug came from Daniel's restaurant in Copala.  I neglected to report it, but we spent Saturday morning on yet another bus tour, this one into the Sierra Madre to the town of Copala, where mostly what we did was eat lunch at the aforementioned restaurant, famous for its coconut cream pies.  Along the way we made stops to see bricks being made by hand, furniture being made by hand, cement tiles being made by hand, and bread being made by hand (do you sense a theme here).  These latter two items were in the little village of  Malpica.  Of course, plenty of opportunities to be hawked goods at all stops.

In any case, I was flat on my back all day Sunday, so we never made it back to the beach, or anywhere else.  First thing yesterday morning, we cleared out of Mazatlan, and began the long drive back to Los Mochis and on to Topolobampo.  We did take a partially different route, involving the libre road from Mazatlan to Culiacan, which was quite beautiful.  I was in pretty good shape to drive, probably because the ciprofloxacin was still in play and helped me through this second bout.  Louise was uncomfortable all day.

A small drama unfolded at our first rest stop -- a wheel caught fire on the toad on one of the other rigs.  It turns out that some kind of malfunction in the toad braking system, possibly the break-away system engaging prematurely, had applied the front brakes and they had dragged for quite some distance.  The fire was quickly extinguished, but the damage was done -- the front wheels, tires, rotors, calipers, and even the tie rod ends were all cooked.  My infrared thermometer only goes up to around 550 Fahrenheit, and the wheels were hotter than that.  One of the tires went flat while we were all looking at it, so we ended up with an hour-long stop dealing with all the issues.  It made our problems look small in comparison.  On the bright side, at least he did not lose the car.

As we threaded our way through Los Mochis, we drove right past the rail yard, where another piggyback had just arrived, for Tracks to Adventure.  They were using the same CB channel as we were, so there was some brief confusion as we passed, but it allowed the wagonmasters to exchange greetings.  I'm sure they were heading down to Mazatlan, where, it turns out, the campground managed to get the pool filtration working and a guy out to clean it all up, just as we were pulling out.  Clearly, Tracks has more pull -- another gripe for Fantasy.

After a very long day of driving, we arrived at the ferry terminal in Topolobampo right around 8.  Too late for the planned rig-side margarita party, but in enough time to get staged out on the dock (map), get the dish up, and check the weather reports.  We also had a snack, since dinner aboard ship would be close to midnight.

Around 9:30 or so the ferry California Star arrived.  This is a huge vessel, 186 meters long and 25,000 Gross Tons.  Then we watched in horror as she unloaded.  The ramp turns out to be much steeper than we anticipated, with an inflection mid-ramp.  Making matters worse, we were expected to transition to another ramp inside, to ascend to the next deck.  Our tension mounted as loading time approached.

The loaders were very professional, and, by directing us in at an extreme angle, we were able to make the main ramp.  We could not, however, make the second ramp to the upper deck.  The loaders wisely decided to put us on the lower deck, where we were first on, and where our company later would be tractor-trailers of all stripes, as well as quite a few tractorless trailers dropped there by spotters.

After a tense hour or so, we finally made it to the restaurant deck, where we had a group buffet dinner and a cocktail before turning in to our stateroom.  The California Star is an Italian vessel with an Italian bridge crew, and the dapper captain invited us for a tour of the navigation bridge, which rivaled anything on a modern cruise ship.  Our stateroom was also cruise-ship comfortable, if a bit spartan, with four bunks (we used the two lowers, and left the uppers folded in) and a full bath.

We turned in before departure, so we did not notice some other vehicle (not in our group) apparently get stuck on the self-same loading ramp, delaying our departure for several hours.  So we were a bit surprised to still be in open water this morning at 7:30 when we showed up in the restaurant for breakfast.  We ended up docking around 9, and were unloaded soon after.

Unloading proved more of a challenge than loading, and we did end up grounding the tail on the ramp.  Normally, we land on the skids, with no damage, but since we were debarking at such an extreme angle, we landed on the bodywork.  The sharp metal tread lines welded onto the ramp made short work of some of our body filler and paint, so we have some touch-up ahead of us.  It's not really visible, though, unless you bend down to look.

We've had a relaxing afternoon here on the beach, though Louise is still sick.  I will walk over to the little palapa restaurant shortly to get myself some dinner, and I hope we are both back in fighting trim in the morning.


  1. I live in Phoenix and have been thinking of taking a motorcycle tour through this area - including the ferry from Los Mochis to La Paz.

    Are fuel stations plentiful through this area? I only get about 150 miles to a tank and I am concerned with the availability of fuel.

    I would like to come down from Phoenix on the mainland side, cross to La Paz and then go up Baja on the way back - or the other way around.

    Any suggestions?

  2. Do you know what the charge was to take your coach on the ferry?


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