Monthly Archives: March 2017

Beautiful Baja Part 2

The town of Loreto was next for a restock and it was a lovely historic town! Sundays see the locals out in force to enjoy “Carnitas” – a once a week pork cook-up served with corn tortillas – Yum!!

As usual, if there is a cue of locals then you’re guaranteed to be in the right spot for a tasty treat.

The Carnita's Cooking

The Carnita’s Cooking

Buying Carnita's with the locals

Buying Carnita’s with the locals

Loreto's Historic Mission built in 1697

Loreto’s Historic Mission built in 1697

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Travelling in a smart car!!!

Travelling Overland in a smart car!!!

Who wouldn't want to beat this guy with a stick!!!

U – huh!!!

We caught up with some Canadians that we had met earlier at La Gringa and camped with them just south of the town behind the beach where we managed to find a really protected although rather feral camping area. The wind was howling so we were quite pleased to find some shelter.

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Jason and Michelle

Diesel Had me all figured out...

Diesel had me all figured out…

Headaches the following morning – what else do you do when you meet other travellers…

West toward the Pacific and away from the Sea of Cortez for a spell, we drove via the village of San Javier and it’s lovely 1699 Mission. We then continued onto a less used track which made the journey much slower and more interesting.

IMG_7460 IMG_7471 IMG_7484Dramatic would be the most apt description when trying to describe the differences between the east and west sides of the Baja Peninsula. Stunning beaches and a mountain crossing the previous day, we now find it’s as flat as a pancake on the west side. We picked our way south along the coast on waterlogged salty tracks between mangroves, which quickly became rather tiring but it’s all part of the adventure I guess!

Vastly different Scenery on the west

Vastly different scenery on the west

Lots of animal tracks surrounded our campsites most evenings.  On two occasions, we even spotted a bobcat as we made our way along the backroads.  Their stealthy nature though makes them difficult to photograph unfortunately, but I do have a great photo of one courtesy of “Laurie the cat lady”

Yukon Bobcat

Yukon Bobcat

A really large bugbear for me, and it’s been a bugbear numerous times in numerous countries, is rubbish!

People, you don’t have to be wealthy to dispose of your garbage rather than live amongst it. Now I’m guessing there isn’t much in the way of refuse collection provided by the powers that be, but that excuse wears thin after a while! Clean it up and take some pride in your country and it’s wonderful landscape. Anyway I wont mention it again but I just had to get that out as it’s been annoying me for some time.

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But with every down, there is always an up and after the dismal mangroves, we made our way out to Punta Conejo. It may help geographically to know that we are a little more than half way down the Peninsula at this point.

Most travellers seem to congregate in one area at the end of the main track – the area able to be reached by 4×2 vehicles. We opted to leave the crowds behind and found a stunning campsite only a few km south all on our own!

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Had to let down the tyres for the last 50mtrs but it was worth it!

Had to let down the tyres for the last 50mtrs but it was worth it!

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The serenading of Coyotes in the wee small hours added to the campsite’s appeal. A pack obviously did the rounds of the beach and camper as was noted by the tracks the following morning. It’s really nice hearing them singing to each other unless you’re a meal hiding in the grass I suppose!

La Paz was next and we were guaranteed to spot other travellers here as La Paz is the ferry-crossing terminal should you be crossing with your vehicle to mainland Mexico.  La Paz doesn’t get the best write up but we thought it was nice enough…

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Kurt and Ingrid from Belgium – www.nomadfootprints.com

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European Adventure Wagons

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Welcome to La Paz

La Paz Waterfront

La Paz Waterfront

Back on the east coast now, we were once again reminded of the difference between how a road is denoted on a Mexican map and what it’s like in reality! Expecting a relatively short 50km drive and a beach camp by mid afternoon, we ended up arriving at a suitable camp going on dusk! The track although marked as a good road was actually a rather challenging 4×4 track.

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Checking out the track ahead…

The coastal section

The coastal section

It’s true that we had the opportunity to retreat prior to committing to the drive, but this type of track is exactly what we like. I have to admit that I considered bailing at one stage as the possibility of finding somewhere to turn around further up the track looked slim if not impossible and reversing down the track, should it become any worse, was not appealing but we persevered and thoroughly enjoyed the drive! Quite challenging and the odd steep drop off into the sea! Who wouldn’t like that?

The reward after a challenging drive

The reward after a challenging drive

We met Christian and Chelsea at the beach. They had driven the same trail in a 6×6 Pinz Gauer with a full height camper body. I was impressed as that would have been pretty exciting! Turned out it was more terrifying and at one stage, Chelsea exited the vehicle with concern it was going to end up in the ocean on its lid! She suggested it’d be better if one of them could still use a phone and call for help! Her words exactly…

Christian and Chelsea

Chelsea and Christian

Their Pinz Gauer

Their Pinz Gauer

With their travelling cat Lulu

With their travelling cat Lulu

More beaches, more great camping and more corrugations were in order as we approached the bottom of the Peninsula. The coastal whale watching was incredible!

View from Camp

View from Camp

Another couple of avid travellers we’d met way back at Overland Expo were also in the process of wandering Baja! We’d been “whats-app”ing these guys which was becoming pretty amusing due to the lack of phone coverage. When we did get a message, they had always just moved on or we’d missed them by a day or 2! We often ran into other travellers that had met up with them and on a couple of occasions, these other travellers even knew that we were the Australians that couldn’t catch up!

We did finally run into them although we were now travelling around the bottom of the Peninsula in opposite directions! It was great seeing these guys again. Once more you feel a little bit more like you’re part of a travelling community rather than a solo wanderers.

Us with Kevin and Dani

Us with Kevin and Dani

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Kevin and Dani’s Iveco RIg

Baja’s Tourism Capital of Cabo San Lucas is the most southerly point on the Baja Peninsula so it seemed appropriate to visit “Lands End”. Looking more like the south of France with it’s luxury yachts and tourist kitsch, we enjoyed the quick stop.

"Lands End" at Cabo San Lucas

“Lands End” at Cabo San Lucas

Playground for the wealthy if you can't get to Monaco...

Playground for the wealthy if you can’t get to Monaco…

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“Good travels”

Time now to wander north with the intention of ticking off a few places on the west coast that we’d missed on our descent. The temperature was really getting up there too, 39 degrees C on our wander north at one stage – toasty!

Todos Santos was one of our favourite towns in Baja (Loreto being the other), a relaxed atmosphere with interesting buildings!

Todos Santos

Todos Santos

Hotel California

Hotel California – no relation to the song apparently…

The elusive Tropic of Cancer

The elusive Tropic of Cancer

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Wildlife and birdlife are abundant on this peninsula and as we made our way north where we spotted many examples…

An Osprey keeping close watch

An Osprey keeping close watch

Crested Caracara also known as a Mexican Eagle

Crested Caracara also known as a Mexican Eagle

Seals on the coast

Seals on the coast

Caution

Caution

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Ojo de Liebre, south of Guererro Negro, is an inlet by the sea and has become world famous for whale watching. It’s estimated that 2000+ California Grey Whales spend their winter months here calving, mating and preparing for the journey north. It really is a spectacle with spurts of misty water in every direction giving credence to the numbers of whales here.

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Heading out for some whale watching

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They passed right under the boat several times

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More awesome travellers...

More of the travellers we’ve met…

Heading north along the west coast, we were engulfed in sea fog regularly and often several times a day! Really strange for us, we would watch the wall of gloom wandering in from the sea and then find ourselves completely enveloped in mist! Obviously the warm weather and humidity are in just the right proportions to create this weird atmospheric event.

Sea mist rolling in

Sea fog rolling in

The intention was to stick more to the west coast on our return north giving us a real feel for the differences between east and west along the long Peninsula. Frequent fishing villages and the odd historic building were dotted along the journey.

Fishing Communities

Fishing Communities

Mission in San Ignacio

Mission in San Ignacio

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Further north, California was in the midst of being hammered by the heaviest rainfall in history as we were planning our exit from Baja. We’d intended returning to the US via Tecate but with the edge of LA’s nasty little weather system beginning to make our lives rather unpleasant, even a couple of hundred km’s south, we had to rethink our plans.

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Hmmm… “There is a road marked on the map up and over the mountains” says Jen “and its not raining at the moment! How about we go east and up through Mexicali instead?” OK… Mexican maps have proved so very accurate to date so that’s a great idea!

Well fortunately it didn’t rain that day for the road we chose deteriorated considerably with heavy erosion in sections and the usual slide to your death if you misplace a wheel! All in all it was an excellent and straightforward drive with only the odd low range section due in no small part to the lack of precipitation at the time.

Rugged mountain trails

Rugged mountain trails

After cresting the mountain passes, the map indicated flat contours and no real steep terrain to contend with, so we decided to camp for the night. We felt a bit more relaxed as we really didn’t want to be on the steep passes should it bucket down.

Finding a camp was tricky and took a bit of effort. We ended up parking in an arroyo (shallow creek bed) and no we didn’t get washed away but we might have.

Campsite hunting

Campsite hunting

In came the torrential rain and howling wind, abysmal conditions and they persisted all night. The following day was more akin to driving the Amazon than how we had found travelling Baja to date. Silly me hadn’t put a lot of thought into the fact that the map contours had eased apart reducing the possibility of slippery mountain passes only to be replaced by flat ground perfect for water to pool in.

I was just happy to be past the mountain terrain before camping and now we found ourselves in sloppy mud with bulbar deep pools of water to contend with. Normally I’d be overcome with joy at the sight of slimy tracks but, on this occasion, I was not enthralled. I just wanted to get to the highway and a U-turn after a rather bad section reduced the chatter in the cab considerably!

Mud Glorious Mud!

Mud Glorious Mud!

Back on the tarmac, we were pushing along a little now, wanting to be back in the US by late afternoon to avoid camping near the border on the Mexican side.

Great little Taco Stand

Great little Taco Stand

Our Mexican Chef!

Our Mexican Chef!

Crash test dummy aircraft just south of mexicali

Crash test dummy aircraft just south of Mexicali

Mexicali, a busy Border crossing without doubt! The road north terminates at the current border wall before turning west where you drive along said wall for a few kms to the actual crossing. Well you idle along in the queue really, whilst locals walk the gaps between cars selling all sorts of refreshments, snacks and anything else really.

The Wall

The Wall

Everything for sale - they have a wall to pay for!!

Everything for sale – they have a new wall to pay for!!

It was an odd experience, from an Australian perspective with ours being a country without shared land borders.

I think the last time that I saw an actual border wall was along China’s territorial boundary with Tajikistan albeit a ring lock fence suffering disrepair in places.

Prior to that it was Russia’s border with Mongolia where a fence only exists in sections! So I guess there are a few walls around the globe, not forgetting the infamous Berlin Wall and the Great Wall, although that didn’t keep Ghengis out for long!

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I find the whole complex situation is made even harder to unwrap given the thousands of Mexicans that are bussed back and forth across the border daily, finding work on the massive acreage of farms along Southern California that need pickers. I guess someone has to pick those veggies for Walmart and Costco… haha

Our turn eventually arrived and given our previous experience crossing in from Canada, I’d have to say that we weren’t looking forward to the crossing even remotely. I’m happy to report however that our faith was renewed and our crossing fast and very efficient – possibly helped by the fact that we were still on an active 6-month entry and not requesting a new one.

We were quite sad to leave Mexico as we’d thoroughly enjoyed our time in Baja. The whole experience made so nice by the lovely locals and travellers we’d met along the way and I know I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again – a great part of the whole journey and how it’s enriched our lives has been a reflection of the hospitality shown to us and the friendships forged during our adventure.

It was early evening by the time we found ourselves a nice campsite on BLM land. As is common in the US, it was a haven for ATV and motorbike riders with the area loaded with 5th wheels and campers. They even have their own little fenced off areas, sort of like private little RV communes I guess. Mexico was still readily in sight…

The big indicator for us that we’d returned to the USA however, was the moment I turned off the Patrol at our chosen campsite the first thing I heard was the sound of rifle fire! That really had us laughing and shaking our heads a little… We didn’t need an alarm clock the following morning either as a shortage of ammo wasn’t an issue for the locals– eyes open and safety off!

A big change of plans, a voyage and a volcano next up on Globatrol’s travels.

Cheers Justin.

 

Beautiful Baja Part 1

Other than our GPS counting down the kms to the Mexican border, the only other indicator that you’re almost at the edge of US Sovereign Territory is the snaking cue of snowbirds eagerly waiting their turn to enter the Badlands! Why would that be I hear you ask? Well Mexico may have it’s failings but affordable health care is not one of them provided you’re not surviving on Peso’s that is… I guess the border will be a little more obvious once Mexico pays for the sections of new wall between the existing parts!

Crossing into the town of Los Algodones, you’re immediately met by dentists, opticians, plastic surgeons and pharmacies all in large numbers and all appear to being doing a roaring trade. No surprise given prices are so much more relaxed than those just 200 metres to the north. Why not cross the border for a day when you can save so much money, returning that afternoon for a meal at the Cracker Barrel (Australians translation – “Sizzler”) where you can now read the menu clearly and try out your new choppers…

Colourful Markets

Colourful Markets

After obtaining our FMT cards from the Mexican Aduana (customs), which you require in order to descend further south or stay more than 72 hours in Mexico, we stocked up with the essentials (beer) and hit the road.

A first observation other than those cynical ones characterised above is the immediate slide backward in living standards and infrastructure!

Honestly I thought I was back in Bulgaria (no offence to Bulgarians intended). The similarities were quite astounding with heavily potholed roads, dusty streets hemmed with disheveled homes, completely un-roadworthy cars and a general drop in standards that seems to go hand in hand with government corruption and a struggling economy. It’s certainly easy to see why a career change involving a stroll in the dark across the arid lands of Arizona might have an appeal to it!

Continuing south through the town of San Felipe and with the day trickling away we began the all too familiar task of acquainting ourselves with a new country and its intricacies. Finding groceries, a sim card for the phone and buying fuel are always new experiences when you cross a fresh border. Our Spanish is rather abysmal – well mine at least! Jen has once again made the effort to learn some of the local lingo making the task a little easier but we do need to rely on the locals at times to help us through our language inadequacies!

San Felipe

San Felipe

Our first interactions with the people of Mexico had been wandering the streets of Los Algodones where English is very common, but now, a 100 plus km south of the border, you’re a little more likely to need some Spanish!

Friendly and helpful, just as we’ve found all the people of the world to be, is probably the best description. Going out of their way to try and help us through the language barrier! We both felt invigorated and welcome immediately and enjoy the challenge of tackling foreign languages and cultures – it wakens the senses and again Planet Earth seems to have become smaller than it was only hours earlier!

Finding a home for the night was our next priority! The north east coast along the Sea of Cortez was a hub for tourism some decades ago with a plethora of resort style RV parks developed along the lovely coastline. Eventually though, they fell out of favour as highway infrastructure increased and the tourists migrated further south leaving much of the north east coast a tourist wasteland. Grandiose plans for capturing the tourist dollar are obvious, with various facades left in ruin along the coastal drive south. Seems a common theme to start with an extravagant portico designed to welcome your visitors before, for whatever reason, forgetting the whole idea and walking away.

We settled on a long since abandoned RV Park, but the pool was pretty nice and we had the whole long forgotten establishment to ourselves!

Abandoned RV Park

Abandoned RV Park

Alcohol still in the bar...

Alcohol still in the bar…

The pool bar!

The pool bar!

La Gringa Nature Reserve near Bahia de Los Angeles was to be where we enjoyed our first real interaction with other travellers in Baja!

Danish family with 3 kids travelling the world woth 2 roof top tents

Danish family with 3 kids travelling the world with 2 roof top tents

Sunrise La Gringa

Sunrise La Gringa

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Sunset La Gringa

Sunset La Gringa

Canadians Jason and Michelle and dogs Rookie and big sook Diesel who really doesn't like camping

Canadians Jason and Michelle and dogs Rookie and big sook Diesel who really doesn’t like camping. Guess which one is which…

In Bahia de Los Angeles

In Bahia de Los Angeles

The waters down here are truly alive with sea life with Humpbacks and California Grey whales being the most notable but also dolphins and seals. Hours passed easily under sunny skies as we watched them. In the silence of our isolated camp, the blow from these giant creatures followed by the almost musical note as they inhale was a first for us and the sound of whales breathing became the wonderful backdrop to this campsite.

Dolphins at play

Dolphins at play

Dolphins just off shore

Dolphins just off shore

We knew that a maze of off-roading lay ahead for us should we wish to avoid the highways and if you’ve been following our travels then you know back roads are our preference!

A very slow drive presented itself as we elected to continue along the coast from Bahia de Los Angeles rather than follow the Highway inland and south. Slow only because the gravel road was heavily corrugated, another theme that would continue throughout our time here!

Look Bec... More Cactus!!!

Look Bec… More Cactus!!!

A real Road Runner!!

A real Road Runner!!

Beach Camping

Beach Camping

Octopus in the shallows

Octopus in the shallows

Whilst in the States we had purchased a UV light torch which had been advertised as great for spotting bark scorpions which would glow in the dark.  To no avail we searched for scorpions in the states but here we finally found them…

With normal torch light...

With normal torch light…

UV light!!!

UV light!!!

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More run down tourism infrastructure

More run down tourism infrastructure

It was quite a long transit back out to the highway along our chosen route but we managed to find an excellent campsite with a series of ancient rock paintings!

Burro's

Burro’s

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Close up cactus

The skies had been a little ominous for a spell and open up that night they certainly did. Fortunately it eased in the morning for I don’t think it would have taken a lot more rain to make driving a tad difficult. As it was, a slimy and slippery surface was the result making sure the Patrol received a nice coating of mud on every underneath surface!

Ominous weather

Ominous weather

One oddity that we observed quite early on was the lack of traffic on the highways between towns! The towns themselves are bustling hubs of activity; markets, shopping of all kinds, workshops and so on but a definite and distinct lack of movement observed between these towns! Our only conclusion is that the price of fuel, which has just been raised in Mexico and is now more expensive than in the US, is just beyond the average Mexican families budget.

Empty Highways

Empty Highways

Getting water

Getting water

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Hummingbirds at Santa Ines

Hummingbirds at Santa Ines

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A face only a mother could love!

A face only a mother could love!

The town of Mulegé proved to be the start of one of the nicest sections of Baja and the town we enjoyed our first Mexican meal and Margherita’s

The family run restaurant

The family run restaurant

Enchiladas

Enchiladas

Margheritas

Margheritas

Fellow West Aussies Colby and Beck

Fellow West Aussies Colby and Beck

Further south, a large spit of land runs parallel to the coast creating the beautiful bay known as Bahia de Concepcion. With protected waters, the area is known for it’s population of Whale Sharks and it provides truly lovely snorkelling, paddling, fishing and boating, all pursuits high on the tourist agenda!

Snorkelling at Playa Escondido

Snorkelling at Playa Escondido

Jen

Jen’s Selfie

Speaking of tourists – well, we’d found them! We knew they were here but we weren’t quite sure where they all were until now!

A-Class motorhomes and huge 5th wheel caravans wall to wall, bay after bay! No – I’m not kidding! They number in the hundreds, every floating toy that you can buy jammed in trailers and on roof racks, sunbathing Canadians glistening in the sun whilst back in their home land the temperature dips to minus double digits – brrrrhhhh!

Not hard to see why they make for Mexico.

RV Paradise

RV Paradise

I’d heard that much the population of British Columbia could be found in Baja over the winter, maybe it’s more like most of Canada! Even whole bays temporarily named after their Canadian migrating tenants.

Playa Escondido

Playa Escondido

Americans make up a reasonable contingent as well, I might add, although Canadians seemed to have the numbers on the face of it! We represented the contingent of foreign travellers from other corners of the Globe.

Sally, Gary from Oregon Juan and ourselves

Sally and Gary from Oregon, Juan and ourselves

Ingo and Elly from Switzerland

Ingo and Elly from Germany and Switzerland

From right - Wolfgang and Anni from Austria and another American (sorry forgot his name

From right – Wolfgang and Anni from Austria and another American (sorry forgot his name)

Enterprising locals arrived every morning with a beep of their car horn – fresh caught fish and prawns, banana cakes and lovely hot tamales for sale. We couldn’t resist these home cooked treats and made our way through quite a few of them.

Water, firewood, souvenirs and whatever else you may need were also available from these enterprising people as they catered to the needs of the tourists, many of whom stay in the one bay for months on end, returning to their little patch year after year.

Jumping aboard a local Panga (small boat) with a few other tourists we spent an afternoon looking for whale sharks! Although we were out of luck on the whale shark front, we had a great time just relaxing as we idled from bay to bay! I must admit, the fuel hose in the open jerry can with a rag around it and a cigarette in the captains mouth had me looking for a bucket of “savlon” should it all go bad! Fortunately the wind kept the sparks out of the fuel and we didn’t need the fire extinguisher that wasn’t there or the life jackets that didn’t exist should we have blown up!

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Cigarette just out of view…

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Beautiful Bays

Our next area of interest was San Basilio! A truly stunning bay and probably the best beach camp of the many that we enjoyed! About an hours drive from the highway, it’s just far enough to keep out most of the tourists but for those that make the effort the reward is there.

Our San Basilio camp - stunning

Our San Basilio camp – stunning

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Another perspective…

Sunset

Sunset

Sunrise

Sunrise

Brown Pelicans

Brown Pelicans

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Others camped at San Basilio - Mike, Lance, Celine, Jeannie and Bruce

Others camped at San Basilio – Mike, Lance, Celine, Jeannie and Bruce

A lovely natural harbour, it wasn’t hard to see why there were quite a few sailboats moored close in enjoying the calm anchorage. Wandering along the beach we ran into Paul and Frances. They had come ashore from their lovely yacht christened “Monkey Fist”! All the way from Darwin these Aussies have spent the last 9 years sailing the world in there 43 foot Jeanneau yacht. Along the way they provide eye correction glasses to those in need around the world donated by the Lions Club.

Monkey Fist

Monkey Fist

These amazing travellers extended us an invitation to join them aboard that evening for a few beverages and a tour of their floating home. Paul picked us up in the Zodiac and we had a terrific time with them. I asked a million questions about the challenges of sailing the world and found their whole journey quite inspirational. The only downside of the evening was the company was so good that we never picked up the camera to record the event and as such only a couple of dodgy pics tell the tale.

Justin and Paul

Justin and Paul

It was Australia Day! What an appropriate way to spend it…

Leaving San Basilio

Leaving San Basilio at low tide for some more exploring!

Cheers

Justin