Arriving in Mazatlán - a big-time tourist mecca - was quite a shock. We are still finding it difficult to get accustomed to the huge numbers of North Americans vacationing in Central America and Mexico for the winter, and definitely prefer the quieter towns and villages of the rural areas where the traditional culture is still very strong, barely touched by 'recreational colonization'. At the campsite the next morning we watched as a convoy of RVs moved out like a plague of locusts. Forty two of these monster mobile homes were being shepherded out on to the highway with military precision - inevitably with some combination of SUV, car, motorbike, four-wheeler or boat in tow. It was quite a spectacle and it made us feel rather embarrassed about the rampant consumerism inherent in our society. After getting a few chores done we headed to a quiet beach north of town, and sat in the silky-soft white sand watching the sunset and admiring the precision of the pelicans flying in line-astern formation along the crests of the waves.
The ferry from Mazatlán to La Paz on the south-eastern coast of Baja California was very well organized - making a welcome change from some of our previous shipping experiences. It was a sixteen hour overnight trip and we were able to sleep in the van. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but we spent a restless night dealing with the deep throb of the motors and smell of diesel exhaust fumes. We were within sight of the ferry terminal just north of La Paz as the sun was rising over the Sea of Cortez, and within an hour we had docked and were disembarking. Heading up around the point we thought we had gone far enough on the dirt road to find ourselves an isolated spot for wild camping. However, we had forgotten that it was Sunday, and before long we were surrounded by families out to enjoy a day at the beach. This provided quite a bit of entertainment as some of the younger macho guys didn't seem to think they needed four-wheel-drive to tear up the sand, and the tide threatened to confiscate a car or two. Monday morning brought us peace and quiet and we were able to take long walks along the beach, enjoying the antics of the gulls and marvelling at the azure blue sea.
The long desert road up through the southern part of the peninsula was very dry and desolate, filled with huge 'cardón' cacti and a variety of gorgeous desert bush flowers. We reached the coast again after crossing the picturesque Sierra de la Gigante, and were soon exploring the coves scalloped out along Bahía Concepción south of Mulegé. We managed to find a quiet spot for the night and were just setting up camp when we suddenly noticed a flock of pelicans frantically diving and fishing out in the bay. A more careful inspection with the field glasses revealed that a huge number of dolphins were also enjoying a feast, leaping and cavorting sleekly out of the water. We spent the rest of the evening relaxing around a campfire in the bright moonlight, bundled up warmly against the rapidly cooling desert air.
High winds plagued the next day's trip northwest on the Transpeninsular Highway through the Sierra de San Francisco and across the El Vizcaino Biosphere Reserve, and it proved quite difficult to keep DC3 - aerodynamic brick that she is - on a straight track. This would not have been too much of a problem except that the huge articulated trucks barrelling towards us had the same problem and the narrow ribbon of tarmac left only a few inches to spare.
Compensating for this rather nerve-wracking drive was the fact that halfway across the Vizcaino Desert we were suddenly greeted by a flowering carpet as far as the eye could see. A spectacular sight that we had not seen since the Atacama Desert in northern Chile. Arriving in the dusty settlement of Guerrero Negro we hoped we would be in time to spend a day watching the gray whales before they start back on their long migration up to the Arctic Ocean. Stay tuned!
Following Highway 15 through the parched rugged hills of the western central highlands we bypassed Guadalajara, Mexico's second largest city, and then started the long slow descent to the coast. We stayed on the old 'libre' road, as at 10 cents/km the new 'cuota' toll roads tend to get quite expensive in a country the size of Mexico. It seems that hardly anyone else is able to afford the new highways either - except the long distance buses with a tight schedule to keep - so the big trucks and cars kept us company on the long, winding road. The large fields of blue agave - source of Mexico's famous fiery tequila - eventually gave way to sugarcane plantations and finally sorghum as the climate became even drier near the Pacific Ocean. Once in the coastal lowlands we were surrounded by large irrigated plantations of mango trees, which provided welcome swathes of green after the arid dusty browns of the sierra.