By Graham Mackintosh
It took me three weeks to paddle my sit-on-top kayak from Bahía de los Ángeles to Bahía Concepción. Life was wonderfully simple… if the wind cooperated I’d just climb aboard and head south, enjoying surprise and splendor all about.
At the end of the trip I needed to return to my vehicle back in Bahía de los Ángeles. I sold my kayak, paddle, lifejacket and other bulky gear, gave away most of the rest, then posted that I needed a ride on forums like Bajanomad and Facebook’s Talk Baja. I did get two offers but unfortunately they arrived the day after I had left.
The obvious way back was to catch the bus in Mulegé and get off at the LA Bay turnoff and attempt to get a ride in from there. I hadn’t ridden the bus or hitched in Baja for twenty years or more so I wasn’t sure how it would work out.
First problem, at the terminal and shipping office at the entrance to town I was informed buses going north departed Mulegé at 3 and 9 PM, which meant I’d be dropped at the LA Bay junction at either 10:25 PM or 4:10 AM. I wasn’t keen on either prospect, and unsure how reliable the service was I decided to first try hitching north from Mulegé earlier in the day. If I didn’t get a ride by 3 PM, I’d catch the bus.
I had four bags of camping gear and essentials – including a tent and sleeping bag. I got my first ride in about thirty minutes… a couple heading to Punta Chivato. When I introduced myself as Graham they said, “You’re not Graham Mackintosh, are you?” So that went well, but I resisted the kind offer to spend the night with them in Punta Chivato. I needed to be back in San Diego in a few days.
They dropped me off at one of those white concrete, roofed bus stops in the little pueblo of Palo Verde. There was a small store close by so I could buy a cold soda. I continued hitching. A friendly local police officer stopped, giving me advice about the buses and asking if I needed anything. Then minutes later a Mexican exiting Punta Chivato – in fact, he ran a hotel and restaurant in the community – picked me up and dropped me by the harbor in Santa Rosalía.
Just over a week earlier I’d paddled into the harbor and walked to a nearby Pemex to buy water and beer.
I was getting a better understanding of the buses. The 3 and 9 PM buses from Mulege were those of just one bus company – Aguila. There were in fact other buses… belonging to ABC. They had separate offices in Santa Rosalia, and presumably in Mulegé.
Now afternoon, and realizing that hitching out of the long sprawl of Santa Rosalía wouldn’t be as easy as hitching north from Mulegé, I decided to catch the next bus. After visiting both bus ticket offices near the harbor I bought a ticket on the Aguila bus which was scheduled to depart at 4:45 PM. Price 610 pesos, about $30 US.
With three hours to wait, I left my bags with the security guard at the combined bus and ferry terminal and walked into town for lunch and to check out the prices of nearby hotels… just in case!
I found three small but clean hotels in easy walking distance from the harbor, at the entrance to town. The rooms shown were reasonable… and all in the $20-25 a night range for a single.
The Hotel Industrial has the most parking but its rooms are small and the least impressive and it charges the most at $25. The friendly Hotel del Real at the main entrance to town has comfortable, modern, high-ceiling rooms and is a bargain for under $25 if you don’t mind parking nose-in, in front of the hotel, but parking is limited. The other hotel was the Olvera which was the cheapest at $20, but again parking is limited.
Back at the terminal I picked up my bags and joined the other passengers waiting. The bus was over an hour late. No one seemed surprised. As I was getting aboard I informed the driver I wanted to exit at the LA Bay junction. He already knew and assured me that was no problem.
Inside the bus, which was ¾ full, I was apparently the only Gringo. I had a confirmed seat. The seats were comfortable, the bathroom was clean, and we had TV screens staggered throughout the bus playing continuous movies. The drivers seemed very professional and courteous, and headed north safely and sensibly.
The journey took six hours and perhaps because of the novelty, seemed to fly by. Heading up the steep climb out of Santa Rosalía we had to crawl around a semi-truck that had overturned coming down the hill. Fortunately for the driver it came to rest partially on the pavement and hadn’t plunged deep into the adjacent canyon. Its cargo was still scattered along both sides of the road.
The bus stopped for breaks at little depots and cafes in San Ignacio, Vizcaíno, Guerrero Negro, Jesus Maria, and Punta Prieta.
I was surprised how thorough the military inspections were, especially the one at San Ignacio. It seemed like every item on the bus needed to be offloaded and examined. It was tedious and time-consuming, more so than any inspection I’d ever experienced as a tourist.
It was midnight when the bus stopped to let me off at the LA Bay turnoff. The driver and co-driver looked concerned and pointed out an all-night, truck stop, coffee shop and restaurant.
However, I picked up my bags, walked ¼ mile along the road to Bahía and then into the wonderful surrounding desert, with its stately cardóns and cirios reaching for the stars, to find a cholla-free space to put up my tent and sleep till dawn.
I slept wonderfully well. Refreshed, I packed away my camping gear and walked over to a suitable spot on the road and began hitching. I recalled vividly standing at the same spot back in 1981 with my English girlfriend. We got a ride into Bahía with a jolly crew of road workers in the back of a “lorry” with all their tar, buckets, and shovels. Many Baja adventures, and the writing of four books, lay ahead.
I was still there with my memories an hour later. Not a single vehicle passed heading to Bahía. Then I noticed at the junction an Aguila bus stopped, heading south. Two people exited with large packs. Eventually they wandered over and joined me… a young man from Italy and his girlfriend from Spain. So now there were three of us with all our gear! It was hard to imagine anyone stopping.
In the end we approached one of the vendors of gasoline at the junction and negotiated a ride into Bahía de los Ángeles for $10 US each. So with barrels of gas in the truck bed, we all squeezed into the extended cab and headed for town. The west wind was gusting wildly when we arrived. I was back to my vehicle by 9 AM.
I’m always amazed how much living can be packed into a day in Baja, or a month. I could certainly look back on a wonderful month since I had dragged my overloaded kayak into the warm water and paddled across the bay into the sunrise.
Graham Mackintosh is a Baja author and adventurer. He has written four books on Baja: “Into A Desert Place,” which recounts the tale of his two-year, 3,000-mile hike around the coastline of the Baja California peninsula; “Journey with a Baja Burro,” his tale of hiking the rugged mountainous interior of Baja; “Nearer My Dog to Thee,” where he spends four months with his dogs in the Sierra de San Pedro Mártir; and “Marooned with Very Little Beer,” recounting his two months kayaking and hiking Isla Angel de la Guarda, the second-largest island in the Sea of Cortez.