Sunrise over the Bahía Concepción.
March 20 – March 27, 2018.
We ducked through the diminutive doorway, what could almost be describe as a hole-in-the-wall, underneath the San Ignacio Mission and descended a few steps. A friendly guy greeted us. We fumbled a bit in Spanish and determined we were in the right place, the INAH (Mexican department of History and Anthropology) office. Usually at this point, if who ever we are speaking with knows English they will switch languages, but our history guy continued in Spanish. We were looking for information on a tour of rock paintings. Feeling more confident in our Spanish as we continued with the conversation, we learned there were two tours, how much the guide cost, how we got to the site and arranged the guide, which was the better tour, and when to come back to get our free permits.
I left energized, not as much about the tour as the conversation. After 4 years of studying Spanish, I had just had my first real conversation in Español that was more than just exchanging pleasantries. I hope our tour guide doesn’t speak any English, either, I thought to myself!
Before I go on, I need to tell you how we got here. After leaving the grey whales in Ojo de Liebre we headed towards the east coast of Baja California Sur to Santa Rosalía, where we started heading south along the Sea of Cortez, stopping briefly in Mulegé before continuing on to Bahía Concepción where we camped on the beach for 3 nights.
At Bahía Concepción we met and talked to many nice travelers, mostly Canadians heading home. In one of those conversations visiting the cave paintings of Sierra de San Francisco came up as something worthy of doing. I knew a little bit about these cave paintings from my iOverlander app (a crowd sourced camping/traveling guide which was pretty much our only source of information about anything in Baja), but the details of how to find or arrange a tour weren’t clear. By this time we had already decided to turn around and head back to the USA, so after we got tired of the beach we headed back up to Mulegé to find some Internet and do a little research on how to find and arrange a tour, which led us to the little “hole-in-the-wall” under the mission in San Ignacio…
We were told to meet at the INAH office at 8 am the next morning where we found a different guy manning the desk. He sized up our broken Spanish and quickly switched to talking to us in English while we filled out permits and he lined up our tour guide.
After a very long and interesting trek in Ballena Blanca we finally met our guide, Armando. He was young and pleasant and didn’t seem to know any or much English. Unfortunately, he didn’t chew our ears off in Spanish either. I did get to say things to him when we were hiking straight up a cliff like, “Necesito descansar” (“I need to rest”) or when my heart finally stopped pounding 5 minutes after we reached the top, “Creo que voy a vivir” (“I think I’m going to live”).
The paintings were special. Are they graffiti, were they a way for the Cochimí Indians to talk to each other or to tell a story? Whichever, I’m not sure any of us understood what the paintings were trying to communicate. I pointed to one of the figures, “Qué es?” “Coyote,” Armando replied. Remembering one our guided National Park tours, I wanted to say, “Oh, yes, we’ve heard folk lore about the mischievous Coyote,” but I didn’t have the Spanish words to say it. Instead, I just replied, “Oh, coyote,” in a sort knowing way. Armando smiled. Who needs a lot of fancy words to communicate, anyways?
Right now, this very minute,
we are back in the very nice library in La Quinta, California. This library has amazing artwork, like this piece here named “Patent Pending.” Click the thumbnail to see the whole thing.
We crossed back over the border into the US this past Friday. After a day of resupplying in El Centro we moved to Box Canyon where we have been working on some new blog posts and plotting new adventures.
* All pics are click to enlarge.
On the way to the east coast. This is our first glimpse of the Sea of Cortez.
We stopped in Santa Rosalía and picked up some groceries. We thought we might spend the night in there. IOverlander told us about a spot by the library where we could stealth camp. But the city was hot and crowded, there were flies in the van and Duwan didn’t feel comfortable opening up all the doors, so we headed on down the road to a pay campground, Playa Dos Amigos RV Park. Dos Amigos was full of long term snow birds – many with structures added on to their RVs. There was a hot shower – and even though it had a strange smell and wasn’t the cleanest, Duwan took advantage of it twice.
Mulegé was more our kind of town. Small and cozy. Named by the Cochimí Indians, Mulegé means “great sandbar of the white mouth.”
Misión de Nuestra Señora de Santa Rosalía de Mulegé. This mission was founded by father Juan Manuel Basaldúa in 1705. Construction was started in 1754 and completed in 1766.
After visiting the mission, we followed a path behind the building to this amazing river overlook.
Water, palm trees and mountains.
We decided to treat ourselves while we were in Mulegé and had dinner out at the family owned, Restaraunte Pancho Villa. After asking if they had anything vegetarian, they cooked Duwan a Chili Relleno with onions and black olives. Amazing.
The restaraunt lets travelers camp in their parking lot (which we did) if they eat there. The atmosphere is totally casual, with a book exchange, lounging area, and a couple of friendly, lazy dogs.
There are lots of different camping options at Bahía Concepción. The highway runs above the beaches so as you drive you can see your options. We made a couple of runs up and down the highway checking sites off our list before we settled on Playa El Requeson.
Besides all the friendly Canadians, we also met Mike. Mike is from Bend Oregan. He has his own business and has structured it so he can take extended vacations. He was hanging out in Baja for a while in his converted Astro Van with his 1950 power boat he recieved free for buying an outboard engine. Within minutes of meeting him, we were set to go on a sunset cruise. Unfortunately there was some trouble with the engine, so we just had him over to Ballena Blanca for chili instead.
Morning hike, overlooking the bay, with saguaros and mangroves living side by side.
Mike also had a couple of kayaks. A couple of Mike’s friends flew into Baja Sur to join him for the week, so while they went out exploring on the power boat, Mike let us use the kayaks.
Duwan loves kayaking! And it was lots of fun stalking the Yellow-Crowned Night-Heron that hungout in the mangroves that lined the bay.
Stalking more birds from the kayak.
Kayaking back to shore where Ballena Blanca awaits.
Back in Mulegé we spent the night by the rocky shore of the Sea of Cortez. We were close enough to Restaraunt Pancho Villa to be able to use their WiFi to do some research on the Cave Paintings and make a few blog posts.
This picture is actually from the first time we came to Mulegé. The night we stayed here was the first night of Semana Santa, a week long holiday leading up to Easter. The palapas were full of locals and the beach was crowed with families eating and drinking. Luckily for us they all eventuallly cleared out and left us and a couple of Greman overlanders with a peaceful night.
View looking west from the rockiy shore in Mulegé.
Square at San Ignacio. The square gets lively in the eveing with kids on skate boards, cheer leaders practicing their routines and couples just hanging out.
Happy hour at a restaurant by the square. Ballena Blanca is across the street. We parked two nights on the square. Once all the cheerleading ended it was pretty quiet. Beyond BB is the mission.
Missión San Ignacio Kadakaamán.
Inside the mission at San Ignacio.
Restaurant in San Ignacio. Tables have been placed on the street in front. It’s ready for the evening rush.
INAH office in San Ignacio (with VHF radio antenna over doorway). The cave paintings scattered all around this area are protected by locked fences. There is no decent cell phone service. The INAH radios people near the cave sites to let them know visitors are coming.
Going down the 26 mile dirt road to our cave. While researching how to get a permit and a guide to visit the cave paintings, Duwan ran across information about doing a longer overnight 3 or 4 day trip to see multiple sites in the area. The website stated that you need to cancel in advance if you are not going to make it because the guide will have to spend time rounding up burros to carry supplies (and maybe even people) for the trip. Duwan, of course, envisioned these burros in a pen and never considered that the guide would actually have to go out into the desert and find burros roaming free.
Ballena Blanca sways far to the right and left on these rocky roads. We can go between 5 and 25 MPH without hurling all our stuff around. On this trip we broke a bolt that holds the house batteries in place (and bent another). But it was much cheaper than hiring a guide to drive us out.
After a couple of hours on the unpaved road we drive through this ranchero. We see the farmer and his daughter as we pass by. This is the only home we see until we get to the end of the road. Amost there!
We finally arrived at a house at the end of a road where a woman’s motions indicated that we were in the right place. We handed in our permit, paid for our tickets (70 pesos each,) and picked up our guide, Armando, who rode with us to where the trail starts, then led us on a 2 1/2 mile trek up to the cave paintings. We hiked part way up the cliff on the left.
The tall, shallow cave does not disappoint. The walls are covered with figures. So many at the bottom it’s hard to distinguish one from another. The people appear stocky, with males wearing dark pants and top knots, and females wearing striped dresses and some headdresses. Most are holding their hands up palms out (showing off a difference between them and the animals?).
Here is a liebre (hare).
There is some controversy about the age of the paintings in this area. Some experts say they are 7,500 years old. Some say they could be 10,000 years.
Man and woman with hare between them.
Figure on the right is a ballena (whale).
We’re looking down from the cave. There is a thin white line at the bottom of a hill. The line is two thirds of the way up in the frame. and one third of the way from the right edge. That’s where the van is parked. The whole day with getting our permits, driving to meet our guide, driving to the site, hiking to the paintings, taking Armando back home (who we pay 250 pesos plus a 75 peso tip) and driving back to San Ignacio took 10 hours.