15.1 mi / 9.2 mph / 799 ft. climbing
Home: Playa Santispac beachfront tent spot
Rett set a pre-sunrise alarm so that we could take a short walk back to the mission and its viewpoint rock to observe the jungle waking from dark into light. The river valley is well-protected by hills, so it was a surprisingly long time before the sun’s rays could stream directly to our vantage point, but in the meantime we saw a huge variety of avian life (including maybe even an owl) streaming down the liquid highway on their morning commutes. Somehow we never quite saw any (terrestrial) dinosaurs emerging from the trees, but they surely were in there, waiting, watching.
Back to our house, we cooked up some breakfast, which still took some effort for me to eat. But finally after four days in Mulege, my stomach felt well enough to move on. It would be a short day, so we did our usual dally until checkout time (11am), handed over the keys to the caretaker who arrived on schedule, and were on our way south again.
There was a line of abarrotes along the highway a couple miles south of town, where we filled up the 10 liter water bag and got some final supplies for our unknown and undefined stay at the off-grid beaches along Bahia Concepción. The ride to the first beach, Santispac, was less than 15 miles, but it was surprisingly tough for all the same reasons as before: hills, a hot late start, heavier-than-normal traffic, and, maybe just the expectation that it would be a super-short easy day. Also, my body, which had felt pretty good walking out the door, began voicing more objections when pedaling my ~150 lb. bike with its sloshing 22 lbs. of water strapped high on my rear rack.
Our first views of Bahia Concepción were just as advertised, with the turquoise waters setting off the bright beaches. Santispac looked crowded, and at the entrance rope, we were crestfallen to learn there were no palapas (simple wood-and-palm-frond structures that would provide sun and wind protection) available. Ugh. Suddenly our expectation for a relaxed and simple beach vacation turned into deflation and stress and indecision.
Should we look for a spot to set up without a palapa? It was really windy and really hot in the sun, so that sounded very uncomfortable. Should we wait and hope that some day-users clear out? That seemed like a gamble where we had no knowledge of the odds (and our frustratingly poor Spanish prevented us from learning more from the gate attendants). Should we move on to the next beach? It was only a couple miles further, but what if the situation is the same (or worse) there? Should we just cancel the whole beach-camping idea and retreat back to Mulege? That would have been a terrible idea, but as proof of our upside-down mood, it was one that Rett actually voiced.
In the end we decided on an indecisive middle-ground. We would find a spot to half-set-up on the beach, pretend we were just doing an afternoon beach-stop, and as the hours moved toward evening, re-assess and determine our next move.
We found a relatively-open space between two parallel-to-the-water RVs that were set up for the long-term, with expansive canopied “porches” and decorated “front yards”. Roger and his wife (from Canada) were to the west, and Val (with Washington plates) was to the east. Both had helpful advice and knowledge to assist newbies like us learning the ropes of this beach-camping thing. That’s how we learned that it was a Mexican holiday weekend, making the beach more-crowded than usual, and they did not think the odds of a palapa opening up were favorable.
So in order to at least relax a little, we got to setting up our tent’s rainfly to use as a shade canopy. Shortly before we had packed my sewing machine away in Redmond, I had sewed up a custom-sized fabric “footprint” to use under the tent to replace the plastic sheet we’d previously used. The big (theoretical) advantage was that it had grommets that could hold the tent poles in place, allowing the rainfly to be set up without the tent. We had used that feature once or twice way up north to take down and set up the tent while keeping it somewhat sheltered from rain, but this would be our first time using it for a static setup.
And it was quite a challenge, not because I had constructed it incorrectly, but because the stiff wind constantly threatened to blow the whole contraption down the beach. Luckily there were a bunch of rocks around, and combined with random weights pulled off our bikes, and Rett holding the pieces in place as best she could while I got them staked down, we eventually arrived at a relatively-stable setup. It’s the first time I’ve guyed-out this tent (using four extra ropes and stakes to anchor the frame in place against the wind), which was completely necessary to keep the poles from bending and folding, even with both doors wide open to let the wind pass through.
But once we had that all stable, we could actually relax a bit. Of course the first order of post-business fun was getting into the water! I’ve never been in water anything like this, where the shallow white sand melds with the blue water above it to create that robin’s-egg color I’ve only seen in tourist brochures. Cool enough that lowering yourself into takes some guts, but once inside it was comfortable and exactly the sort of cooling we needed in the hot sun.
One of the reasons this beach is so popular is that it has two rustic restaurants on it, the second of which, Ana’s, also has a small set of groceries. So after our swim I grabbed us a couple of cold Tecates for MX$25 apiece, which we drank as we dried out in the sun-shade of our now-impressive and comfortable beach-home setup. Yeah, it would have been really stupid to turn around and skip all this.
So as the sun got lower, we decided that a palapa wouldn’t buy us much additional comfort (especially since none of the palapas here that might open up had any wind-blocking walls on them), and that camping right where we sat should work out just fine. I was able to then erect the tent inside the already-standing rainfly, fill it with our stuff, and later peel back half of the rainfly for a view of the sea and sky.
We walked down to the other restaurant, Armando’s, for some seafood dinner, and even were able to use a little bit of WiFi in this no-cellular region. We took our chairs right down to the water’s edge to stare up at the bowl of stars and eat our desserts (I was able to stomach a small bit of sweet stuff for the first time in days, a good sign). Despite all the people staying on the beach, the night was quiet and peaceful by the time darkness fell.
Once our eyes had adjusted to that darkness, it was time to check if we’d be lucky enough to see something we’d been hoping to experience on these beaches: bioluminescence. Though the moon was still nearly-full, our timing was perfect, with moonrise at 10:30pm tonight, and getting later as the days went on. So with the stars and sailboats moored in the bay as the only light, we swished our hands in the water, and…created hundreds of new lights! Little sparks flashing with every disturbance of the water, trailing our hands as we swept back and forth. Did I already mention how stupid it would have been to skip these beaches?
After spending twenty minutes fascinated by the water-fairies, we walked back up the beach for our pre-bed toilet run. This beach has small rooms with normal toilets in them, but no running water, so in order to flush them, you fetch a bucket of water from a barrel outside, and dump it down the toilet.
Well, apparently they use sea-water for these barrels, because when I lowered the bucket into the barrel to let the water flow in, the entire bucket filled with a bright glow! Thousands more bioluminescent algae all firing at once as they poured into the bucket! Dump the bucket back in, and you can see a column of light fill the barrel as the water thrusts down. Amazing!
And I think that perfectly sums up where we are: a place where you need to fetch a bucket of water to flush the toilet, but where fetching that water magically sets the whole bucket aglow. A place we definitely want to stay!