travelog 14

Baja Short Stories 2

Mexican Roads

Good maps are the be-all and end-all of the Baja peninsula. You absolutely need the AAA map and the Baja Almanac for Baja Norte and Baja Sur. But also the best maps can not always be updated after heavy rainfalls, mudslides etc. Still the safest way is to ask the people from the ranchos and nearby pueblos.

Only the Mex 1 highway from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas, which was not completed until 1976, is paved. There are some other smaller paved roads but very often they only consist of potholes or their pavement is already broken to pieces. All the other tracks are bad washboard, rocky, sandy, narrow, bendy in the mountains, either not maintained for years or repaired with the simplest methods. Following the motto: as long as somebody can pass, it's not necessary to do anything.

Ragged tires, torn off mufflers, rusty cars dismantled to the last screw are permanent companions. Routes marked on the map as passable with every kind of vehicle suddenly lead for many miles through deep sand where one gets stuck without 4x4.

If it really rains, all the dry river beds change into torrential streams washing away every road. If Mexicans tell you only bad things about a track you had better believe them. If not you have (as we did) some action for free because the road is not better than a cow track and it gets really tilted and in the curve you are very close to the point where you put your vehicle on one side.

But most of the time we feel very over-equipped with our Unimog because the Mexicans drive even the worst tracks and over the steepest passes with their oldest pickups and rickety boneshakers.

Interesting Encounters

If you are on your way by foot, especially in the evening when the sun is less brutal or if you sometimes make your own campfire and collect firewood you can make some interesting encounters.

The tarantula hawks, a giant, sometimes very aggressive wasp with blue-black body and orange wings, should be avoided. It's very suspicious if this animal doesn't attack you but is otherwise busy. Suddenly you realize that she found a victim, a big hairy tarantula which the wasp paralyzes with a sting. Then she drags along the much bigger and heavier spider up hill and down dale. She even gets easily over steep cliffs (for us these are only big rocks) with the spider who seems to be dead. She leaves her victim repeatedly and searches for a suitable hole. Without any problems she always finds her way back to the spider and carries it on. When she finally finds a hole she transports the tarantula into it, lays one egg on the spider and then buries it in that "grave" and disappears. The larvae feeds on the paralyzed spider and develops hopefully to another tarantula hawk which starts the search for a spider and takes care for another wasp offspring.

You can find a totally different animal under rocks and in firewood. These are Centruroides- species, nice little scorpions. The little tiny ones are said to be very poisonous and these are also the ones you don't discover very well. A scorpion hides perfectly in a crack in the wood where he seeks shelter from the deadly sun. If you move the wood he even crawls deeper into the crack or he looks for another hiding place. With a stick you can provoke him a little bit and bring the scorpion into a more photogenic position. Unfortunately he soon disappears under the next rock. Making your own campfire it can easily happen that you encounter under 3 out of 8 rocks a scorpion, also one of the real tiny and poisonous kind. Therefore the motto has to be: always wear your gloves when collecting rocks or firewood!

April 1999

Julia Etter & Martin Kristen