In Mazatlan, a port city, we take the old mountain road to Durango which used to be called the 'Espinazo del Diablo' (= backbone of the devil, and known as dangerous road). The views are beautiful but so hard to capture in photos. Since 2013, there is also a four-lane toll road used by professional traffic. As a result, almost all the economic activity along the old road has disappeared; the vacancy presents a sad picture.
The clear blue sky and semi desert landscape make Durango a prime spot for Western movies. John Wayne, Kirk Douglas, Anthony Quinn and Jack Nicholson have been featured here, and the sets left behind can still be seen in several places.
In Hidalgo, we take a different (smaller) route than our collection of GPSs suggests. (Garmin, Google,
Maps.me and Apple think longer distance with less time makes more sense). We have one tourist road map of
Mexico at 1/2,250,000 scale that doesn't make it clear what kind of smaller roads they are. We arrive
after a few days in the town of Creels, near the Barranca del Cobre (Copper Valley), at more than 2,000
meters elevation. It is the largest canyon in the world. Many take the train here that runs through the
canyon to the coast but we let 'The Beast' do the heavy lifting. An unforgettable ride because:
- The views are stunning.
- We pick out our sleeping spots by the end of the day. In one place we wake up very early in the morning because of the cold. Outside, the temperature appears to be only 1 degree. I am happy with my Belgian hot water bottle for cold nights + fully wrapped in merino wool clothes + 2 sleeping bags. Really sexy.
- We find a thermal bath somewhere in the canyon. Admittedly, we have to descend a few kilometers for it but we enjoy a lovely hot bath at the bottom of the canyon in solitude at night and in the morning.
- The average speed is 20 kilometers per hour. We don't encounter any oncoming traffic, only large dump trucks all driving in the same direction. They create a lot of dust. People are digging down whole mountains because gold has been found there.
After the canyon we descend to sea level again. Because I copy one digit wrong when entering coordinates on the Garmin GPS, we end up in the middle of the bed of an almost dry river. It's an adjustment for our bodies because it's suddenly 35 degrees and there are lots of insects. But we slept there peacefully.
This brings us back to the west coast and we book a night boat to Baja California, the peninsula of Mexico. There are no more sleeping cabins so it becomes Mexican travel: we spend the night in a less comfortable seat. Many truckers have a folding mattress and lay down on the floor in the common areas where they immediately fall asleep (after the movie Papillon, in which Steve McQueen suddenly speaks Spanish :). And I thought Adrian makes a lot of noise while he sleeps....
Mexican culture is far from the norm on the peninsula. Because of the pleasant temperature and the presence of the sea, the island is overrun by 'snowbirds' (Canadians and Americans who come here to spend the winter) and 'surferboys': it's like the USA here.
On our way to the beach we drive through the town of 'Todos Santos' where a road suddenly changes to a one-way street after a bend, with no place to turn or anything. We drive in the wrong direction and are stopped by the police. They are willing to settle this for 500 pesos, but Adriaan wants a ticket. That is not possible (of course), and so we have to go to the police station, to the commissioner. He turns out to be just as corrupt as his officers, but Adriaan refuses to participate in corruption. His license is confiscated, and in 24 hours it can be picked up in La Paz, 80 kilometers away, against payment.
We drive on without a license (but with a receipt showing where the license is) to the lonely beach where Adriaan almost immediately gets stuck in deep sand. A local fisherman helps him by letting some air out of the tires, and so we manage to ride on, find a place to stay, and stay for two days.
Due to the amount of dust from the past two years, the zipper of the tent's cover has broken. Fortunately, the tarpaulin is also secured with two straps, and so we have been leaving the zipper open since the Copper Valley. Sunday we make a plan to ride a large distance north, straight into the strong wind. Adriaan says at one point that he sees something flying in the mirrors. Possibly the bag of charcoal, which must have fallen apart. Whatever it was, it won't be important.' And so we drive on. About 100 kilometers further on I see that the tarpaulin has gone flying and an essential part of our ladder has been blown away. We drive back, see a lot of garbage but are also rewarded by finding the ladder so we can get into our tent without any further hassle.
We stay two days at the coast where we (once again) make a delicious meal of fresh fish from Juan the fisherman. Some fishermen live here together in miserable conditions.
Looking for whales in the bay where many young are born every year, we finally find a place where 'elephant seals' are lying in the sun and sea. It is very nice to see these animals in their natural habitat. The mother whales and their calves have already started their migration northward.
Our last camping spot in Mexico is a National Park in a forest at 2200 meters altitude. We camp for 2 days all alone in a large forest. Or not really alone: there are some coyotes, lots of squirrels, birds and ants.
But we have to keep going....
After a night in Tijuana for car maintenance, a consultation at a dentist for Adriaan, groceries and fuel, we say goodbye to Mexico - rather impulsively - and we are at the border control around 7 pm. Every border crossing is a bit of a surprise, but this one is the easiest we've experienced this trip. Granted, we have to go back into Mexico because of our own stupidity (to be stamped of out Mexico) but the Americans don't make much of a fuss. We could have smuggled in anything, no one checking our car. We found a campsite in the dark and woke up the next day in another country, in a new world.
After 630 days in South and Central America and Mexico, I am speechless the first day. Everything is suddenly super organized, clean, big, and much more expensive than we've been used to for the last few years of travel. The American flag is flying everywhere. In some places there is even a flag for 'Trump 2024' already hanging there. We drive to El Centro because the consultation at the dentist in Mexico did not really help Adriaan. He finds someone who charges 400 dollars for restoring a tooth, a bargain :).
The region is experiencing its first heat wave: the temperature rises to almost 40 degrees. We take refuge in an air-conditioned hotel. Our first breakfast is at Denny's: a restaurant chain. People queue for a table, but we choose to eat at the bar (without waiting). Here they serve lots and lots of greasy food. We would call it unhealthy food in Europe. With each dish there is still tax to be counted plus a percentage (preferably as high as possible) tip.
We decide to go to Joshua Tree National Park, camp (wild) just outside it and visit the park. The park is named after the Joshua tree - unique to this region. The park is a desert that, in addition to its specific trees, is also known for its rock formations. As such, we see several mountaineers during our hike. We buy a pass that allows us to visit all national parks in the US for a year. They are very well maintained but also subject to rules.
After visiting the park we drive to Big Bear Lake where there is still snow. Therefore, many roads to (wild) camping places are still closed. Because it is the weekend, all the campgrounds are fully booked. Thanks to the 4x4 skills of The Beast we find a spot high above the lake in the mountains where the huge mobile homes and caravans cannot go. Ryan, who is in the same spot with us with his camper, brings us delicious tacos on Sunday morning just like that.
We drive to Los Angeles where I book a room at the hotel where Floris is staying. (A whole group of guys from Hasselt, Belgium, where they grew up together, are here for the Coachella music festival, next week.) He obviously wasn't expecting me. It was a happy reunion. We had lunch together, took a stroll on the 'Walk Of Fame' in Hollywood, and the next morning had breakfast at Denny's again, because Floris absolutely wanted to have breakfast at a place where people came to have coffee refills. That went completely wrong: for reasons of hygiene we got a new cup of coffee every time - Floris had three in front of him at once! Floris and Cédric are going to watch a volleyball match and we go back to the Walk Of Fame to look for the star of Adriaan's favorite actor. Besides the stars there are remarkably many homeless people. Not much 'fame' in that.
We decide to head towards San Francisco via the (narrow) Pacific Coast Highway (HWY 1). There are so many stops to enjoy this unspoiled nature. The Americans have done this well. It is beautiful. The tourist season has started and finding a place to sleep is not as easy as in previous months. The government has banned wild camping because too many fires are started by campers. We manage to find a place to sleep in a protected forest. Basic (no water, a latrine, a safe fire place and a BBQ), well maintained and very busy.
In San Francisco, we stick to the obligatory tourist items: The Golden Gate bridge, Alcatraz and a ride on the cable car through the steep streets. A visit of a few days to this city is definitely worthwhile.
Our last week is upon us and we are staying a few days at a KOA (Campgrounds of America) campground surrounded by trailers as big as houses. The Beast is a midget with all the others that are here. It is unbelievable what Americans drag along: behind the mobile home, as big as a city bus, hangs a car. With a huge BBQ on the back of it. In most trailers I see bigger flatscreens than we have in our home. We attract attention and Americans chat. This makes it clear once again what we already knew: the polarization in this country is so great that it even divides families. It is white or black, gray does not exist. I listen and smile.
We clean, wash, order what was lost or broken and pack our bags. We drive back to Los Angeles where we will park the car. The number of cars driving here on four, six or eight lane roads is incredible. There is a special left-hand lane here for carpools. That is, there must be at least two people in the car. The two of us drive on the left-hand lane, the many other cars carry only one person.
The day after tomorrow we will fly to Belgium and leave this country and The Beast behind for 6 weeks.