Looking back on the past 9 weeks of awesomeness that have been this trip, I realize that we have had some really great times that we never could have planned for; spending our first night on the road
at the gas station, facing down a ferocious T-rex
, being stampeded by bison
and nearly eaten by bears
, seeing the world’s only folding catamaran
in a ski town, double rainbows
, Feldner Fest (part 1
, part 2
, and part 3
), discovering the Wet Westies
, meeting Jim Henson
, scuffles with the law
, finding Purdue grads in wine country
, falling in love with SLO
, exploring electric cars and old Porches
, and so much more! If we had started this trip with a concrete plan or itinerary, I doubt we would have experienced half of those things.
This past week has been a true testament to the “go-with-the-flow” style of our travels. From San Luis Obispo we drove south in the direction of LA. Our “plan” was to head to Joshua Tree for some rock climbing and camping. We had both really been looking forward to climbing ever since we left Smith Rock in Oregon. That evening we stopped off for about an hour in Los Angeles to drive through Hollywood and see some of the sights. I know a lot of people who l-o-v-e love LA, but I don’t think it’s for me. Just being there stressed me out, so we headed a little further before camping for the night just outside of Palm Springs, CA.
That night and the next morning it poured down rain. For anyone who has ever walked on slick, wet rocks, climbing and rain do not mix well. The forecast was for at least 2 days of rain, after which the rock would need even more time to dry out before we could think about climbing. Being the spontaneous, flexible people we are, we decided to scrap the Joshua Tree plan for now and explore the area we were in. Palm Springs used to be a hopping place, but it seemed to be suffering the effects of the recession more than other places. We headed a little farther south to the Salton Sea.
The Salton Sea is the result of poorly planned irrigation systems in the early 20th century. The “sea” is almost 250 ft below sea level, and when a dam broke during a flood, a basin surrounded by higher ground filled, creating the Salton Sea. Given the mineral deposits in the area, it is 30% saltier than the Pacific. During the 50s, real estate developers created resort towns around the Sea, calling it Palm-Springs-On-the-Sea. Movie stars and politicians frequented the resorts on the shores and thousands of people purchased residential property. Unfortunately, the Sea started to dry up a bit in the desert and the fish started dying off, leaving the stench of rotting fish throughout the area. The resorts and neighborhoods are now pretty cool ghost towns, with only a handful of hardcore residents remaining. It’s also a huge destination for bird-watchers given that many species stop over during migration and some are only found in that location.
Ghost town at the Salton Sea today
After a morning of exploring both past and current recession cities, we had built up quite the appetite. Tom suggested that we head down to the border and get some lunch in Mexico! We were only 90 minutes from Calexico (“Cal” ifornia + M ”exico” = Calexico) which is right on the Baja California border. The Mexican sister-city is called Mexicali (I’ll let you work out that one on your own). The border is similar to crossing into Canada, you can even walk across and back without trouble. As we rolled into Calexico, the Westy started making a horrible screaming noise. I should note that she was running beautifully since we had work done in SLO. This noise was concerning, so we rolled into a gas station to investigate. Tom took one look at the engine and saw that the water pump was at an unfortunate angle. It would need to be replaced before we could drive anywhere else. After much searching he found a mechanic shop nearby that was willing to tend to our wounded baby. (The mechanics spoke only Spanish, I speak next to none and Tom speaks a little - there was a lot of gesturing and talk of the "agua pumpo"). The part that they needed to order would not be available until Tuesday, we were stuck for the weekend in Calexico!
There isn’t much in Calexico - lots of fast food, Mexican car insurance shops, and auto dealers. We walked across to Mexicali for dinner and stopped at a roadside ceviche stand. It was delicious - shrimp and octopus - and the two men working there were hysterical. I guess it was a risk to eat semi-raw seafood served from a bucket on the side of the road in Mexico, but SO worth it.
We then decided it was worth renting a car to get out of town for the weekend. We decided to take the 5-hour drive over to Tucson, where Tom’s parents were staying for 2 weeks at their winter house and surprise them! We knew that they were in town that weekend and were pretty sure they wouldn’t mind a visit. We showed up around 10pm at their door and shocked their socks off. They were super excited to see us and we had an awesome weekend hiking in Sabino Canyon and hanging out with their Tucson friends (they have quite the social calendar!).
Tuesday morning we headed back to Calexico to see about getting the car fixed now that the part had arrived. We called ahead to let the mechanic know where the spare key was hidden, which involved a lot of googling of spanish phrases and names of car parts. When we got there, the wrong part had been delivered. The correct part would be there the next morning. We decided to head back to Mexicali and stay at a hotel there. Tom found an awesome place online in a nice part of town. The garage owner gave us a ride to the border where we crossed over and jumped in a taxi to our hotel. The Hoteles Lucerna
was amazing! It had two fantastic pools and a great view from our balcony. We got a recommendation for a place for dinner and split the largest plate of meat I’ve ever seen in my life. After dinner we headed to the brand new casino across the street. The casino only had slot machines, which are surprisingly difficult to operate when in a foreign language! We both thought it was totally fun and awesome that almost no one spoke ANY english. Most people spoke as much english as we spoke spanish which was not much at all. It made everything that much more interesting, from getting around town to ordering dinner.
This morning we had brunch and laid out by the pool in the sunshine before heading back to Calexico and the Westy. They say that the van will be done tomorrow and hopefully that’s true. We’d love to see a few more places before this part of the trip is over. We spend Thanksgiving in Boston and then head to Costa Rica for the last week before heading back to Chicago. But, like we said, we don’t have a plan, and we’re sticking to it!