After an annoying year – I guess we all felt that way – in which almost nothing worked out as I had imagined, it was finally time for a new adventure.
With Covid continuing to cause so many problems world-wide: travel possibilities were nearly nil. The easiest thing to do after my USA visa expired was to cross the border into Mexico once again. One of the very few borders that is officially closed, but unofficially open to all nations since the pandemic began.
Plan is to take my new trailer – a Benpacker (THANK YOU Ben for sponsoring) – for a stroll through the beautiful Baja California peninsula. Or to put it another way, I am currently walking the 1500-kilometer-long peninsula of Lower California, pulling the Benpacker behind me.
Whether we will make it or not doesn’t really matter for the time being. Just having fun is much more important than any goals I might set. Of course, I am always ambitious and hope that it will work out.
Before really getting started, Butch and I needed to test to what extent we could cope with our new travel style. This meant I picked a relatively easy but remote route, to see how we would get on.
Also unfortunately, Butch had picked up Giardia in the USA, which we had to treat with antibiotics before really getting going. A forced break, no big deal.
Heat is a problem for Butch, pulling the Benpacker through deep sand is a factor not to be underestimated for me. There is a lot of both here in the Baja.
Daily temps were still averaging thirty degrees Celsius at the end of October, we had to get out early and use the morning hours to get in kilometers.
The landscape was sensational as always. I forever love the lonely areas the most, but the Baja has a certain extra something that many other areas can’t offer. The remoteness, the extremely low population density, and the adventure factor are more impressive than elsewhere.
The variety of plant life is magnificent. Last but not least, the sunsets are absolutely super. Of course, I can’t miss out on my campfires, which are really not difficult to realize here. In short, the Baja is exactly my THING.
Butch was a bit reserved at first when he saw all the sand and especially all the thorns around him, but over time he began to get used to his new environment. After all, the Baja is his home, as it’s where I adopted him from a farm near San Quintin at the Pacific Ocean.
Since Butch is still a young pup, I naturally make sure that he doesn’t have to walk too many miles a day. So, we tried for an average of 10 – 15 kilometers, which is not a great distance, but again, it’s not about breaking records, but about enjoying life.
Finding remote, north to south tracks to hike was my plan from the beginning. I also bike-packed the Baja Divide route back in 2017, so I wanted to avoid redoing that. It is boring to do things twice.
The Benpacker is the ideal travel partner for this adventure. At first, I was a bit skeptical, but it didn’t take long before it was apparent how well suited the cart actually is for this sort of journey.
It can be loaded up to 40 kg, which allows me to carry about 20 l of water, 6 – 8 kg of food, as well as my equipment.
So, the first few weeks we took it slow and easy, I enjoyed every moment. I was so happy to be far away from civilization again. Isolated from everything negative that seems to intrude on our everyday life more and more all over the world.
My great campsites offer daily pleasures, and I have the feeling Butch is enjoying himself.
He likes to chase rabbits or dig for lizards. Run after bugs or play boss when he sees cows. We are always outside and always together, which is certainly a big plus in his doggy life.
We were both in good spirits. I finally had my sense of freedom back and was again enjoying my way of experiencing the world.
It soon became clear that it was still too hot in early November to walk the route I had originally planned.
But as we all know, many roads lead to Rome and so there was a change of plans that brought us to about 1200m. The place was called Rumorosa and from there our journey took off.
The route leads to the National Park Laguna Hanson, famous for its huge boulders – stacked on top of each other, decorating the landscape, with cacti and scrub filling the gaps.
Hiding at night was no problem at all. Just quickly leave the track and pitch your tent cross-country between all the vegetation – no one will ever find you.
Traffic was not an issue – I guess not more than 3 cars passed us in a day. But unfortunately, people here are crazy about car racing – the Baja 1000 is the racing highlight of the year. So, some drive way too fast, which always makes me nervous, especially since I have Butch.
One night I heard gunshots. We were already in the tent, and I didn’t want to turn on any lights giving away our location. I guessed we were okay since it seemed the shots were coming from a good distance away.
But really, what idiot is shooting around out here at night? It always makes me worried.
The next night I pitched the tent without an outer tent fly as it was warm enough at night to enjoy the moonlight. Around 4:30 in the morning, Butch started barking. “Butch – what’s wrong?” He barked and didn’t stop. Then I spotted a fox in the moonlight creeping curiously toward the tent. If not for Butch, I would have slept through it.
The following night we hid again amongst thickets. We were already in the tent, because unfortunately it is now pitch dark at 5 p.m. – that means about 13-hour nights, which can be quite long if you share the tent with a lively dog.
We had not seen a car for two days. No farms, no humans, nothing.
Suddenly we heard a car, it slowed down and stopped exactly opposite of our camp. Shortly after, the engine was turned off. I looked at Butch seriously: don’t get the idea to bark now! He was calm – as was I. The car couldn’t have been more than 10 or 15 meters away from us. What did this guy want? Did he spot the Benpacker tire tracks? Why didn’t he drive on?
Another car came past – but this one kept going.
I breathed softly, not wanting to change position because my sleeping pad is so noisy when I move on it.
Nothing happened. Nobody got out of the car. Not a sound.
Did I hear wrong? Did he drive on after all?
We were both so tired from walking so long that day that we quickly fell asleep despite everything.
At 6 AM suddenly the car engine came to life again and the guy drove off. So, he spent the night right there in the car where we camped. What a mega coincidence, considering how remote we were.
We frequently encountered a lot of sand, which makes pulling the Benpacker really exhausting, but most of the tracks so far were absolutely doable and fun to walk.
The cacti and thorns are a problem for Butch, he can’t get away from having thorns in his paws, but he doesn’t want to wear his “booties” – stubborn as he is, he is too Macho for that.
I’ve had a few flat tires, too, because rolling cross-country through the cactus world naturally brings that with it, even though I use Schwalbe Marathon tires, no matter, there are more thorns here than grass and stones.
At a ranch we asked for directions. In fluent English I was greeted, and the way explained to me. We had to climb over two locked gates, which was not so easy with the Benpacker.
Coyotes here are particularly brazen – far less shy than in the US. Is Butch attracting them? Are they not hunted here? Every evening we hear their howling and I often have the feeling they are barely 50m away from us – but we haven’t seen one yet.
We bumped into a huge tarantula the biggest I’ve seen, Butch was pretty much nose to nose with it, but I was too slow to capture a photo of the monster. Scorpions are almost a nightly thing.
A surprise from the beginning was that once again I was having little contact with locals. For whatever reason this has been a reoccurring problem during my travels in Mexico. So, at first, I had hoped Butch might open a few more doors for me, but as time went on it seemed the opposite might be the case. Time will tell.
I might be wrong. On one hand, dogs are everywhere here, guarding houses, and ranches, chained up or behind the fences, chasing cars on the road, wandering the streets or cleaning up around the taco stands. One might think dogs are liked here, but on the other hand it seems they are only used, and not many of them are loved and cuddled as pets are elsewhere. Mostly just guards, noise makers!
I guess that’s why many Mexicans think that I have Butch by my side as a protector and that he could be dangerous, rather than that Butch is a sweet guy who won’t hurt a fly.
This, of course, is exactly the opposite of what I would like. Because I travel to meet people and not to hide from them or to be protected by my dog. I am not afraid of them, at least not most of the time.
Nevertheless, the encounters we had were very friendly, but I am hoping for more.
Villages are not very numerous on the Baja, but when there is a village or an estate, it is an important place for us to go to get water or food. This means that we are often besieged by many dogs. In the past on the bike dogs annoyed and chased me, now with Butch they direct all the attention to him.
Some of the dogs look anything but healthy, and I don’t want Butch to catch any diseases, and of course I don’t want him get bitten in a fight.
Some gates are locked, but the dogs seem to always know exactly where the fence has a hole and so one or the other slips under the wire and suddenly stands in front of us. If there are five or more in the end, we start to sweat.
It’s no fun, especially since I feel sorry for Butch, who was used to playing with so many dogs in the USA. Here he now gets to know the other side of life, namely, that he is constantly attacked. I hope it doesn’t change his good-natured character, because at the moment it is still the case that he prefers to be bitten than to bite back.
My photography is suffering. Taking pictures of people at a taco stand while a street dog surrounds my Butch? That is a problem too.
Where do I leave Butch when I go shopping? Do I leash him up at the Benpacker and then leave him alone outside?
How I will solve this in the future, I do not know. Surely, I will have to go to a hotel more often so that I can leave him in the room and then comfortably explore the village world.
All over Latin America I will have this problem, so it’s time to come to terms with it!
I continue to be fascinated by the Baja. Although we haven’t gotten very far yet, I’m sure the peninsula still has many surprises in store for us. At the moment I hope that we can meet some more people and maybe have some interesting animal encounters.
So far it has been just totally great!
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