Sunday 18th June – Flotabilidad Y Tiburones Ballena (Buoyancy and Whale Sharks)

I woke up pretty early as usual, but the sun was rising behind us over the mountains, so I didn’t get myself out of bed in a hurry. Dan made pancakes, bacon and eggs for breakfast and we ate on the side step looking out at the ocean. No surf this morning, the waves that had been maybe surfable yesterday had diminished into nothing so we didn’t feel the need to stick around, we were keen to find this salt lagoon!

Thinking it was a lagoon mentioned in the Moon book, I navigated us to Estero Coyote, which was a salt water marine refuge. We drove along another air strip to get there and soon enough discovered we were in the wrong place since there were no humans allowed anywhere near the refuge. We knew we were close though because beside the road were plenty of puddles of dried salt, suggesting that there could be a salt water aquifer nearby. We drove back out to the highway and decided we’d just have to keep our eyes peeled as we drove away from Punta Abreojos.

Charlie had said that you’d have to keep your eyes peeled and that it was 5-10 minutes away from town. We felt like we were already well past that so we were losing hope. I scanned the plains to my right diligently as Dan scanned to the left. A few hundred meters past the earth, there were mirages all round, tempting us with water that didn’t exist. I got a little excited when I saw a small dried up salt puddle on my side of the road. Moments later, we saw it, a bright, turquoise lagoon stretching out right by the road. We had no idea how we could have missed it on our way in, I just guessed we mustn’t have been looking for it early enough.

Dan managed a u-turn on the shoulder-less road and parked on the opposite side of the road. We got into our swimmers and crossed the not-too-busy road to the lagoon. Dan let me go first since he’d had a shower earlier and wasn’t going to get himself unnecessarily salty if the experience wasn’t anything much.

The dirt around the lagoon was muddy and at the edge of the water was crusty salt. Standing at the edge, the thin crystals of salt crunched beneath my feet but held my weight. I picked up a handful of the crystals and rubbed the pure white material between my fingers. Though wet, it felt like normal flakes of salt. Touching my finger to my lips, I was overwhelmed by the saltiness and spat it all out.

I slowly crept into the water, Dan watching to see my reaction while Cleo chased around in the surrounding bushes for lizards. As I walked down the corner of the lagoon, everything felt normal except for the dry saltiness of the water. The water was cool but by no means cold and it was perfectly clear despite the bright green colour. By the time I got to my waist, it felt different to swimming in a normal pool. I was hysterical at the feeling of such buoyancy, I couldn’t have let my head go under water if I tried.

I bobbed around, floating like an astronaut in space and immediately told Dan that he would have to get in to feel this. The pool was deep enough that I couldn’t touch the bottom, not that I’d have been able to touch the bottom anyway. It was hard to swim because my body was so buoyant. Lying on my back, I could raise my arms and legs and out of the water and still be well and truly floating.

I wanted to see if I could swim below the surface and so took a deep breath and swam down. I couldn’t even get my legs underwater and probably managed to keep my head under for only a few seconds. I probably shouldn’t have done that, as soon as I came to the surface, my eyes burned from the salt and I felt like a bunch of water had gone up my nose. Thankfully Dan was still dry so I felt my way to the edge with my eyes firmly shut and he helped me out then gave me his pants to rub my eyes. A lot of stinging and some moaning, I eventually came good. My hair dried almost instantly and felt gross sitting on top of my head with so much salt.

I took a few photos of Dan as he went through the same weird feelings I had and twisted his body into different poses to test out his floatiness. This was something neither of us had experienced before and we couldn’t believe it was just sitting by the side of the road! People would pay to experience this sort of thing!

The thing was man made since it was a long narrow pool, probably 5m by 50m and there were banks of dirt piled either side that had obviously been dug out. But why was it here? I don’t think it was being used for salt harvest anymore, so it was just for our enjoyment! I got back in the water and we played around a little more, unable to believe this feeling of being anti-gravity. We were probably in the water for a good half hour before our skin started feeling a bit weird so we figured playtime was up.

By the time we walked back across the road to the car we were dry and our skin sparkled with tiny grains of salt. We had a thorough rinse off using Dan’s alternative solution to the bottle shower. My trusty bottle had gone missing so he poked a few holes in a plastic bottle and we were set. We rubbed each other down trying to get all the salt off and while I don’t think we were 100% successful, we felt clean enough. We hung our swimmers up to dry on the inside clothesline and drove back onto the highway.

Next stop Guerrero Negro (Negro Town, remember?). Once we got onto highway 1, the trip was the same as what we’d done coming south, so I had myself a wee nap in the passenger’s seat and woke up when we rolled into town. Still groggy, Dan pulled into the familiar servo where I filled up our water while the fuel was going in. Cleo also got a cool off under the spigot.

Per our usual Negro Town habits, we drove down the main street to get to the ATM. We only had about 120 Pesos ($6) to our name so it was an essential stop. The town was quiet since it was a Sunday with most of the taco stands closed. We kept an eye out for fish tacos on our way down main street but didn’t have any luck. Cash in hand, we drove back down main street and stopped at a birria taco place since it was packed with people. We figured if it was popular, it must be good. The tables were occupied by families having their Sunday lunch. We ordered our usual four tacos with a Coke and they brought out all the fixings. The pulled pork was delicious, nearly better than fish tacos, but not quite.

Next on our agenda was a supermarket, which we had assumed would be easy in such a big town but this was not the case. We knew we’d be out in small towns for the next few days so we wanted to make sure we had enough to sustain ourselves with things like eggs and some vegetables. The first mini market we tried, the old lady who owned it sat outside in a chair asleep. She stirred when we got out of the car and followed us inside the tiny shop. It didn’t have a thing that we needed, so we tried asking where we could find a supermarket and she pointed us down the road. Outside, we saw puppies roaming the sidewalk with their old and tired looking mother with tits hanging down almost to the ground. If one of the puppies had come up to me and brushed against my leg, for sure I would have taken him with me, but instead we just admired their cuteness. They were probably only a few weeks old.

Further down the road we found another mini market which had a lot of chips and soft drinks, but no vegetables. We asked here for more directions and they sent us further still down the road. We did one more u-turn in which our bottled water flew out of the passenger door which wasn’t shut before finally finding a supermarket that had everything we needed. No prices on anything, we grabbed some eggs, tomatoes, onion, chicken, bacon, pasta, rice, cereal, dog food and tortillas. The whole lot cost us about 350 Pesos ($16). We’d been in Baja three weeks and we still found it hard to believe how cheap everything is.

Finally all of our errands done, we left Guerrero Negro for the last time. Dan kept driving, taking us through the desert. Up until this point, we’d been pleasantly surprised at the cool weather since we were away from the two coasts, but it wasn’t to last. Soon enough, we were in the sweltering heat. Both of us were sure it was hotter than it had been when we drove down. Since we’d finished the Elon book and didn’t have any internet to conjure up another form of entertainment, we listened to music and talked as we drove through the fields of cactus that seemed so familiar.

We were both happy to see the turn off to Laguna Chapala, the place we’d camped with the owl in the well weeks before. From here, it was new territory, we were heading over to the east coast where we could go straight up to Yuma back into America instead of going all the way to San Diego.

Highway 5 was rumoured to be in all sorts of conditions, from virtually impassable with a 4WD to mostly paved since recent government work. We were happy to take our time so were risking the reviews on the road anyway. We drove about 40km on dirt and while it was bumpy and loud going, it was nothing the Cabana couldn’t handle. We passed trucks and cars carrying trailers and felt for them going about 5 mph while we were managing at least 40. The road was being worked on which meant there were multiple service roads leading everywhere around the actual road so it was all a game of picking the best road. There were even points where we could sneak onto the small sections of tarmac that had been completed, though we were sure we weren’t supposed to. Along the way, we saw temporary worker camps that comprised of makeshift shacks, caravans, some broken down looking cars and absolutely no shade. Whatever the roadworkers were getting paid, it wasn’t enough.

The heat was starting to get to everyone and everything now. My phone stopped working so I wasn’t able to take any photos of this crazy road, the inverter wasn’t able to support powering the fridge any longer and Cleo was panting like a crazy dog. We stopped in a small patch of shade to cool the perro down and quickly discovered we’d managed to stop right by a bee community so after a quick splash in the water, we continued on.

After about an hour of driving, we snuck onto a completed piece of tarmac thinking ourselves very clever and discovered that the dirt road was over! We sat in silence, just enjoying the quiet of Cabana’s tyres rolling over a smooth surface. Cleo even seemed to calm down a bit as well. Not longer after hitting the finished road, we shouted “El mar!” (the ocean) when we saw the blue water come into view. We didn’t have to go much further until we were at Alfonsina, a beach resort across from San Luis Gonzaga. It was a gorgeous bay that looked out across a few islands. They’d be the last islands we’d see along the east coast.

It was near sunset and we were well overdue for a swim so we just wanted to find a place to camp and get out of the car. As we drove into Alfonsina, we found we couldn’t drive over to the town, only able to get to the twenty or so shacks that lined the beach. There were a few people camped at them, but it was obviously something you had to pay for. Keen for a free camp, Dan didn’t stop and drove right to the end of the row of shacks and parked on the far side so we were hidden. We knew we’d have to move, but right now, we just wanted to take advantage of the shack’s shade and went straight into the water. We struggled to put our swimmers on since they had gone crusty from being in the salt lagoon, but as soon as we got into the water, they went back to normal. It was hard work swimming in water of normal density again!

The water was typical of the Sea of Cortez, not cold, but refreshing enough to cool our bodies down. Cleo was almost happy to get in for a quick dip before taking up her position underneath the shack to watch for intruders. We’d gotten in pretty late so we were keen for dinner as soon as we were done swimming. With all the new ingredients we had, we wanted something quick and dirty so I cooked up some chicken and added it to our rice leftovers and put everything into a few burritos.

When I was halfway done cooking, Dan was at the side door and pointed out to the ocean saying “That’s a fucking shark!” I got straight out of the car to look and sure enough, there was a body fin and tail fin swimming around slowly just underneath the surface of the water. Ahhh! We’d just been swimming in that water and he wasn’t that far out either! After watching for a bit, I went back to cooking and Dan continued watching. The shark was on the hunt, perusing the bay for his dinner, moving slowly. At every moment, we expected him to flick his tail and make a move at something, but he just continued meandering around at the water’s surface.

We ate dinner in our chairs under the shack as the sun began to set. We continued watching the shark and we started becoming sceptical that it was a normal shark because it wasn’t behaving like one. When I remembered what I’d read in the Moon book about tourists coming here to swim with whale sharks, we decided that’s what we were looking at. It was bloody huge, probably at least 15 meters long judging by the distance between the wake from its head, its body fin and its tail fin.

It was a beautiful night to sit out and watch the whale sharks with the sun going down. There was a single boat out in the bay that looked like military that put its lights on just as the sky started changing colour. We saw a drone fly out over the water to get a better look at the second whale shark that had popped up and soon after, a group of people in a small boat went out to get up close and personal. We saw that one person had their legs hanging over the side so that made us sure they were whale sharks and not actual sharks. In the end, there were three of the massive creatures swimming around catching their dinner.

The sunset was one of the most beautiful either of us had ever seen. The sun set behind us, but it transformed the colour of the sky and the water in a way I’d never seen before. Just before dark, everything was such a deep blue you couldn’t tell where the ocean ended and the sky began. The mountains lit up red and the water in the bay became purple and reflective. Considering this was likely to be one of our last days in Baja, this felt like a good send off.

Just before it was proper dark, a couple of locals walked by and Dan tried asking them about the whale sharks, using mostly hand signals. I was off using the bathroom at the time but I caught the end of the conversation when Dan asked how much something was and the man replied that it was free. I joined them just as they shook hands and half-hugged before the man walked off. Dan had a huge smile on his face and presented two buds of weed in his hand. The man had given them to him for free! I was sceptical, wondering why he’d have done that and Dan wondered too, but he hadn’t smoked any weed in weeks so was excited to try it, even though he knew Mexican weed was typically shitty.

He fashioned a pipe out of a beer can (very ingenious) and lit up, trying to pay attention to any weird feelings he might get from the free weed. There was no problems with it except that it wasn’t very strong. By the time he’d smoked half of it, the sun was well and truly past the horizon and it was dark.

We contemplated moving the car so we didn’t get nabbed with paying for the camp, but we decided to just stay where we were. We’d seen another guy let some air out of his tyres and drive along the sand beyond the resort but he mustn’t have found anything because he came right back and parked a few shacks down. That meant that if anyone came to collect money, they’d reach him first giving us time to get away.

We crawled into the van and slept with the doors open to cool the place down a bit. There were a few bugs around but none of them were the biting kind so we had no trouble getting to sleep.

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