01-Dec-2003 -- Baja Search and Rescue Confluence Expedition
After discussing the logistics of our expedition with Jose over the campfire the night before, I thought I was packed and ready to go when he arrived with his stuffed backpack in the morning. He said he had talked to some people after leaving me and I had better bring the stove and more supplies. This only embellished the adventure.
We headed to one of his cousins ranchos (Izekiel) and had some 'ate de guayaba' (guava candy) and coffee and then headed into the wilds . Everyone Jose had talked to said it was possible to get to Corral Viejo with a 4WD. I didn’t but that has never stopped me before. Izekiel knew the area somewhat from hunting trips so he joined our expedition as guide number 2.
It was unbelievable to me that he knew where to turn on so many dirt roads in that country that I lost track. I am informed that I am the first white guy that has been to this area and even the Leñeros don’t come out here because the roads are so bad. Only Mexican hunters, a few remote and self sufficient ranchos and perhaps a few discreet gardeners. We didn’t run into any of them but did hear a shot which sent Andi flying into the van. This area is apparently full of deer as there is basically no one to disturb them. Except for the Pumas. Everyone was happy about both dogs being along because there have been some encounters. It is not particularly a vehicle friendly area either.
After a full days drive, my GPS says we are 31 miles from where we started at the Mission. We arrive at an intersection of a “main” road. “Main” meaning getting up to hair raising speeds of about 30 in the good spots.
Izekiel has me pull into the first rancho we have seen to inquire about road conditions. Neither of my guides have been to this area before so we needed info. whenever possible. Not only did we get the info. but invited to dinner and spend the night there. Some of the info. we received included the road ahead not being the place to drive at night. But, probably passable since we had made it this far.
Dinner of venado (venison) 'machaca', great stories and live music from Rafaels son as well as the thrill of adventure now being in the air. Rafael will be joining us as he has never been out to that area before either but has heard of a couple ranchos out there. Great evening and food of course. I had never seen a 4” Tarantula before but when this one crawled out from under Jose’s bench at the fire, Rafael said it was a small one before throwing it in the fire. He said they can be worse than a rattle snake so other than my nervousness about that sucker exploding all over us from the fire, my feet were fine up on the bench.
After rice, cheese, potatoes and coffee for breakfast, the expedition now consisting of the four of us and 2 dogs head in the direction of 25.00 N and 111 W. The road was OK except for the fact that most of it wasn’t there because of the rains. Water crossings up to the doors and hitch marks left at many arroyos. I’m pretty sure the guys riding in the back have shorter spines now but not a word of complaint. We made it as far as possible without dynamite and more road building. This is another area where I discovered the laziness of cartographers. I was the first white guy into this area according to them and so how did those map guys find the details? Obviously they didn’t because according to the locals and the terrain itself, there has never been a road where all of my maps show one.
There was a rancho where the road really ends and we got further instructions from these guys. They say it’s about half hour to the next and last ranch and then, nobody knows what’s after that. So, the four of us and dog security put on our backpacks and head into the east. The half hour turned into one and one half hours probably because of my stopping every hundred yards or so to take pictures. Beautiful country with lots of streams and mesas.
We arrive at Coral Viejo and introduce ourselves to the rancho owner. Señor Higuera and his wife. This is probably the most remote rancho in Baja. There is only one way in and it can’t be driven. They have never seen a white guy out there before and were rather surprised at our arrival. The dogs make friends but under the constant supervision of the cutest little cocker spaniel. Pretty funny hearing the little guy growl at dogs 3 times the size of him.
They serve us coffee, cheese and the sweetest oranges I have ever tasted. Señor Higuera and his wife are probably the most remote people in Baja. There is no possible way to drive there and never has been. It is some serious off road just to get to within a few miles of their place. And the rest of the hike involves rock climbing and stream crossings. Any supplies from the outside are brought in by burro and not during the rainy season. He is 54 years old. He tans hides from animals he either raises or shoots and trades his cheeses to other ranchos in the hills. He has had an infection in his foot from a cactus spine for over a month and he is limping. He also has lost the vision in one eye from a splinter flying into it when he was cutting wood a year ago.
I told him that I have medicine in the van and will get one of the rancheros to bring it out to him when we return from the confluence. I also showed him about using aloe vera which grows everywhere out there. They had only used it for ingestion before as it is also great for yer innards.
We then head off in the direction Sr. Higuera pointed us in. We were lucky and had deer trails to follow until we came to an arroyo which headed in the general direction of the confluence but not quite. It is very rough hiking out there and even with the deer trails, our arms and legs were bloody from cactus. Which is why I was so surprised when Sr. Higuera caught up to us in sandals and bare feet to inform us we were going the wrong way. I don’t have any idea how these mountain folks know what they do but this isn’t the first time I have dealt with this sort of thing here in the mountains.
Anyway, he got us on another deer trail which eventually led us to within about 150 yards of uphill cactus climbing with no trail. Sr. Higuera naturally led the way clearing somewhat of a path for the rest of us. I accused him of being part Venado as even with a path cleared, we could barely keep up with him.
Arrived at the confluence and celebrated with cheese, fruit and drinks. Took the required photos, enjoyed the view and headed back to Coral Viejo. Señora Higuera had prepared us another meal of deer meat, cheese, coffee and chilis. Fortunately, I wasn’t the only one to lose the little sweat left in me to the powers of the fresh chilis. La Señora after serving us brought out her version of my modern gadgetry. A hand cranked phonograph complete with a collection of Mexican 45’s. This is too awesome. We hear a bunch of music with the group singing along while the Señora cranks and adjusts the speed of the record. This would be Mexico !
We say our good byes and exchange some gifts and put on our packs. We are ready to go when Sr. Higuera informs us he will jopin us on the hike to the van so he can get the medicine. 54 years old, infected foot, blind in one eye, just hiked about 4 miles and now wants to go another eight. He was of course in the lead position the entire trip out and had to stop and wait for us on more than one occasion. Mexican oranges and deer meat seem to be somewhat of a healthy diet.