Last week, I purchased flights from my home in Spokane, WA to Cape Town, South Africa, and then returning from Brussels, Belgium back to Spokane – 5 months later. To get from Cape Town (the Southernmost point in Africa) to Brussels, Benjamin and I plan to drive along the West Coast of Africa to Tunis, Tunisia (the Northernmost point in Africa), through 20-28 countries, across two deserts and numerous areas of unrest/conflict along with many other challenges.
Lest you think the route is more defined than it is. My initial route was a printed-out map of Africa that I drew a line on along the coast. For the updated version above, I asked Google to map a route from Cape Town to Tunis and then dragged the route around to avoid areas where I know there is conflict, the route is impassable, or based on my intuition of what I thought might be “interesting.”
Why you might ask? Well, my son (Benjamin) just graduated from college, and before he does something responsible (like get a job) or irresponsible (I’ll let you come up with your own examples), he suggested we go on an adventure. Driving across Africa seems like a good example of such an adventure, so that is what we are planning.
Hanna and I flew to the Southern Tip of Baja California Sur, Mexico this week to continue learning to kiteboard. Last year, at the same time, we went to Punta Chame, Peru for the same. We arrived Sunday evening with the plan to start sailing Monday but there was no wind. We settled instead for a beautiful sunrise and a slack line. The latter seemed like a good practice for balancing on a kiteboard.
Hanna (of course), made it across. I was less astute at the task. Regardless, given no wind, we decided to go exploring West, on the Pacific coast side of the peninsula.
We parked just above Playa Bonita, near the construction of a new resort (The Palm) and I was surprised at how deserted the beach was. It stretched for miles but there were only a few cars and accompanying visitors. From there we hiked North along the coast for less than 2 miles, up and over the rocks looking down on Playa Las Tinajas. Remarkably, there was no one there. Literally, in the entire time we hiked, we only saw one family at the start and then no one. (It’s not like we were on the Eastern Coast of Madagascar or something.)
There were pelicans and seals a little way out from the beach – having a good little laugh at the joy of beach life I expect.
When we returned back to the car we drove to Playa Los Cerritos and stayed a little way out of the new construction area at Cerritos Beach Inn. We chose this location to be the night we splurged for accommodations with an ocean view room. (In hindsight, there wasn’t much point because we loved sitting downstairs overlooking the beach so basically only used the room for sleeping. We appreciated it nonetheless.)
In the morning, a father and son walked along the beach for 40 minutes to the hotel to have breakfast. Upon calling the rest of the family to drive over and join them, the dad realized he had the keys. Whoops! I offered to drive him back, picking up gasoline on my return to the hotel.
We left the hotel around 11:30 heading to Pozas Budistas (translated Buddhist Pools). This was casually recommended by the Kartchner’s – who neglected to mention details like, it’s a 4-wheel drive road, be sure you have a full tank of gas, don’t forget to take lots of water as you are going to be in the high desert for several hours, and oh… by the way, when you get there you won’t find any signs. (Admittedly, they told us to count the 11 water crossings but we missed this detail.) All this to say, the drive was wonderful, but not exactly a paved road.
Not only was the drive an adventure, but the pools themselves were (mostly) great as well. We hike in at one of the upper pools (rather than from the bottom), and so the first pool was a slide. Awesome! That is except for the fact that I took the first slide and when I emerged I was freckled with baby leeches. Yes, really!! What? Who recommends this to their friends I wonder? (The rattlesnake wasn’t a big deal because although we wore sandals on our hike, we didn’t see the rattler until we were back in the car.)
Regardless, not to be deterred, we hiked down the creek jumping along the giant boulders until we reached the main pool. And, since it was hot, Hanna volunteered that I test this pool for leeches as well. It was clean, refreshing, and cool. We swam. We were in a high desert and swimming. It was wonderful.
Zorro Falls…. wait what? A waterfall and freshwater swimming hole in the middle of the desert? Really? Yes, really! It was stupendous.
In the evening (Wednesday night) we stayed in the ecolodge, Rancho Ecologico Sol De Mayo, just above the falls. Internet was only available at the entrance, not at our cabins, and there was no cell service. They do have a restaurant, but it was closed while we were there. If you visit, bring your own food though, as they have a great cooking setup with a grill (they provide the charcoal) and a kitchen with dishes. Rather than staying in the cabin, in fact, you can camp. In addition, they have a host of animals from peacocks to pigeons, and rabbits to horses (no relation to dinner). I loved the atmosphere of the ecolodge and, best of all, it allowed you to access the waterfalls after hours. When we went down in the evening, and had it entirely to ourselves. In the morning, I visited as well and took a glorious swim while the sun came up and shone into the pools. It was stupendous.
The wind was forecast back at La Ventana by 11 AM Thursday morning, so we headed out, a 1.5-hour drive. Unfortunately, wind is not as reliable as that and, while Hanna got out, I didn’t. Furthermore, Hanna spent the morning in the water as there wasn’t quite enough wind and she wasn’t able to actually get up on the board – though it was exhausting nonetheless. In the afternoon we headed back to the hotel for a nap and to catch up on work.
Astoundingly… Friday it was too windy. Wow… this sport is picky about the conditions – at least for beginners like us. Not to be bored, however, we took the opportunity to drive to Playa Balandra – which was beautiful. Unless you hike in, it is only open for entry at 8 AM and 1 PM and we timed it just right to make the 1 PM entry. (We were towards the back of the queue but we still made it into the park.) There is an overlook from which you can see both the inlet and the beach of this epic location. Down in the water, you can walk the entire area with the water below your waist. (I expect the sunrise is spectacular and I’d like to hike in early one morning if I’m ever back in the area.)
Back in La Ventana, we stopped by the natural hot springs at El Sargento. The timing was great because the tide was still coming in so we made a pool in the hot springs (which were too hot to start), and then waited for the tide to come in to cool it down.
Afterward, we headed to dinner. The restaurant was empty and the owner informed us that the menu didn’t correspond with the food available. We told him that suited us, and we welcomed him to make us something great – just not anything Hanna is allergic to. We both enjoyed our dishes and then switched so we could sample each other’s. Unfortunately, after switching, Hanna’s dish now had some unknown substance that triggered a significant allergic reaction. She took the necessary immunotherapy but it’s especially disconcerting when you are so far from significant medical facilities. Furthermore, while the medicine is life-saving, the after-effects are an unpleasant experience, to say the least.
On Saturday, we finally had wind, not too much and not too little. It’s about time! We watched the usual sunrise from our bedroom window – yes, it was like that every morning we stayed in La Ventana. And, around 10 AM, we watched as the wind blew in from the North. You could see it in the water. And, by 10:30 AM, it was time to sail.
We sailed from the Elevation Kiteboarding School and took the jet ski option – which meant they took us upwind via jet ski and then instructed us as we sailed (or struggled to sail) around the bay.
After the morning session Hanna was exhausted while I decided I deserved another afternoon of the sun in my eyes, water up my nostrils, and saltwater “hydration.” And, since we couldn’t catch an early flight out in the morning on Sunday, we may as well try again in the morning before rushing out for the 2-hour drive back to the airport.
Needless to say, we are close, but at the end of a second week (18 hours in total for me and 12.5 hours for Hanna) we still aren’t quite independent kiteboarders yet. I expect next time, but that’s what I thought last year so….
This weekend some friends and I took an off-road trip on the Washington Back Country Discovery Route (WABDR). We debated all winter on where to go and what route to take but, with all the recent snow, and some logistics around a couple of participants wanting to leave a day early, we settled on starting in Ellensburg and heading South and then North.
There were seven of us in all:
Eric Edmonds and Josh Dahlstrom driving a 2020 Tundra
Albert Merkel with his daughter driving Mitsubishi Montero
Michael Stokesbary driving a Jeep Wrangler, and
Benjamin and I taking up the rear in a diesel 1996 Toyota Land Cruiser (HDJ80L)
The main purpose of the trip was to test-drive the Land Cruiser which, thanks to Albert’s help, has undergone some major improvements including regearing the differential, upgrading to bead-locked wheels, rebuilding the brake system, installing rear differential lockers, re-doing the auxiliary power, replacing the auxiliary fuel tank with a 42-gallon tank, and installing new storage draws in the rear.
Our drive to Ellensburg was flawless and we filled up the auxiliary fuel tank with 18 gallons of diesel there. We then took the circuitous route (I think we turned around four times), before arriving at the start of the rugged version of the WABDR. We initially started on the route via Umptanum dirt Rd. within a few meters, Albert decided to take the more “rugged” route so we turned around one more time and began our adventure. The road wound around and down into the valley at Durr Road Campsite but this was not for us. We started up the other side which was quickly covered in snow. We all down-shifted to 4×4 low and headed up with Albert in the lead and Stokesbary taking up the rear.
Unfortunately, after about 15 miles, Eric radios us that the Tundra is stuck. Hmmm… We wait at the top as attempts are made to continue. Eventually, Mike makes his way around Josh and joins us at the summit and the Land Cruiser (which needs a name – suggestions welcome) heads down to try to help. After a couple of attempts, however, and the interruption of another car (not in our party) descending, Josh and Eric give up and start heading back to Ellensburg to purchase some chains.
On the way back, however, they radio us and suggest we camp at the Durr Road Campsite. This works for the rest of us and we head back down to the campsite for the night.
We set up camp and Benjamin, with Josh’s guidance, cooked a stew for dinner in the Afghan pot. Excellent!!
We awoke with a beautiful sunrise and Benjamin’s, again with Josh’s guidance, cooked an egg souffle – albeit this time in the dutch oven. Mmmm!
Rather than head back South, we decide to drive through Ellensburg, pick up chains for the Tundra, and then drive over to Cashmere – to try our luck traveling North on the WABDR. Alas, it was closed for exclusive snowmobiler access, so Albert lead us to a different trail. We started out on dirt with a caution sign – what we assumed was just a suggestion – and then progressed to mud.
At this point, we all aired down. (I took the Land Cruiser down to 9.5 PSI thanks to the fancy new bead-locked wheels that Albert installed.) However, the mud didn’t last for long as we were shortly driving on three to four feet of hardened snow. I was impressed with the lack of concern, but everyone seemed undeterred, so we continued up the mountain. In spite of the newly acquired chains, the Tundra got stuck, but Josh successfully was able to get it moving again on his own.
It was this next stretch, however, where the adventure really started – and we stopped. Albert was in the lead, Stokes and Josh next, while Benjamin and I took up the rear. Josh gets stuck. Yay! It’s about 3:30 PM. Time to pull out the winch, shovels, and recovery boards.
Overhead on the radio, “I think we have reached the end”, says Albert. “Yup, we are a little stuck.” Mike and I are going to go radio silent for a while as we figure this out.
We pull out the winch and start helping Josh. No, go! We tried angling (pun intended) off a tree but the Tundra would not budge. Recovery boards… nope. Shovels are out and we start digging. The Land Cruiser, while not stuck, didn’t have sufficient traction to pull Josh out. Thanks to suggestions, we anchor it to a tree. More pushing, shoving, digging, etc. Still no luck. It is starting to get dark. Benjamin volunteers to cook dinner.
There were a few less-than-ideal details:
Josh doesn’t have the correct fitting to undo his spare tire.
The Land Cruiser was missing the handle for the bottle jack (details).
The connection on the winch controller was failing and the winch was failing to activate.
It was getting really icy as the evening went on.
The Tundra was so close to the cliff side that you couldn’t enter/exit from the passenger side as the door couldn’t open.
The Montero blew a fuse so Albert had to jerry rig it directly to the battery (fuses just require replacing anyway).
In an attempt to descend, the Jeep skids perpendicular to the trail.
The Montero is high-centered and there are no nearby trees to anchor to.
Focusing on the Tundra, and in desperation we allow the winch to pull the Tundra to the side with a little extra vigor and the beading gives out and its tire goes flat. Stink! This truck is completely high-centered to the point that even taking out his spare tire from under the vehicle is challenging. (Benjamin continues cooking dinner with Eric’s accompanying conversation.)
After some humming and hawing, Josh decides to attempt to reseat the wheel with gasoline and a lighter. Yes… this is the time for Macgyver-type measures. And, what do you know, it works the first time. Wow!!
Yeah… it’s been 4.5 hours and we finally have the first car unstuck.
Josh and I reverse down to a “passing” spot, Josh stays on the trail and the Land Cruiser passes by off-trail. No getting stuck. we head up to the next rig. Here we find Mike’s Jeep rotated 90 degrees on the road. And after pulling his rig out (another few hours), we again switch spots and the Land Cruiser heads to the top to find Albert’s Montero. We tried with the winches (the Montero also had a winch), and some raw pulling. Regardless, the Montero didn’t budge. To reduce the likelihood of the Land Cruiser getting stuck, we drop the air pressure down to 4.5 PSI. And, while it came close, it was always able to self-rescue. Yes!!!
Eventually, we take to digging, rotating, and digging some more, slowly pulling the vehicle around.
At 3:30 AM, 12 hours later, all cars are unstuck and we head down to Josh and Mike’s car to camp for the night.
In the morning we wake up fresh and ready for a new day. It doesn’t take long, though, before we all decide to head home. We’ve had all the practice we need for this trip, all concentrated into a single 12-hour block. Although the Tundra got stuck one more time, we all knew the digging drill and were able to rescue it without much ado.
Once off the trail, we head to Cashmere Riverside Park for a picnic. Josh whips up dessert in the dutch oven (yes, really… it was wonderful). A great finish to an adventurous trip!!
I have really enjoyed them not only because the writing is good, but also because there are a remarkable number of thoughtful lines that emerge from the books. Backman does an amazing job at observing life and pointing out what is obvious once you are told, but invisible before that.
Examples from his latest novel, Winning:
The most unbearable thing about death is that the world just goes on.
She never let him be less than what he was capable of.
We fool ourselves that we can protect the people we love, because if we accepted the truth we’d never let them out of our sight.
Our children never warn us that they’re thinking of growing up, one day they’re just too big to want to hold our hand, it’s just as well we never know when the last time is going to be or we’d never let go.
Being married is easy, she usually thinks. You just pick an argument you’re really good at, then repeat it at least once a week for all eternity.
(The author is Swedish and these were translated into English, which immediately gives it a little credence for me.)
Note: I rarely read fiction so anything on the topic should be considered with a grain of salt as I am not an expert and don’t really know what I’m talking about. All I’m saying is that I appreciated these books. I’ve also read several other books by Fredrick Backman that were also good. I’m mentioning these because they were my favorite.
Benjamin and I arrived at San Salvador, El Salvador at 6 AM, giving us plenty of time for a full day upon arrival. I decided to take an Uber to our accommodations (31 USD) and then make plans from there. (While I found the accommodations on AirBnb, I decided against making the reservation there and instead just showed up since the AirBnb host name was Hostal Punta El Zonte – Dorm Room and a search resulted in the location on Google Maps.) The hostel was a surfing hostel located right on the beach. The waves came all the way up to the deck when the tide was up. You could also sit and watch the surfers right from the hostel and listen to the waves all night. Cool!!
While T-Mobile is great in that it connects in almost any country at no extra cost. It limits connectivity to 2G, which is relatively painful when you are trying to research travel. Fortunately, our Uber driver was willing to pull over at a local stand and help me get connected with Tig0 at a cost of 5 USD. What I especially appreciated was his willingness to enter his El Salvador Identity card when signing up my account. (He did ask me to destroy the card when I left, but it was entirely an act of trust – which I much appreciated.) Feel free to reach out to our driver, Melvin Mena on WhatsApp at +503-7130-5297, if you are ever in the area and need a driver:
We relaxed for a few hours and caught up on emails and work before heading out for a hike in the afternoon. We started out walking up the creek right from hostel beach. It was very muddy to start but nothing to worry about as it was a short while before we were wading in the creek itself. We walk to the main road and then continued North along the road. Along the way we saw women washing clothes in the stream along with children bathing. On the road there were stalls selling fruits, especially near the bus stop. It was hot after only a mile or so, we navigated back toward the beach at the next village. Unfortunately, we couldn’t traverse all the way back to our hostel because the tide was in and we couldn’t navigate around the rocks without getting soaked (admittedly I got soaked by a surprise wave, but even so, we scrambled up the rocks to a private house, got scolded for being on private property, and then allowed to exit via the gate rather than going back the way we came. 😊
Back at the hostel, the owner suggested we rent scooters and go exploring. They were 25 USD each and we headed out to see Lake Ilopango, navigating through San Salvador. Unfortunately, San Salvador is 2,000 ft. above sea level, and by the time we reached there, a storm was brewing and it was considerably colder. Scratch that, it started to pour. We took refuge under a bridge for an hour before venturing out again only to encounter even heavier rain within 15 minutes. Bummer! We scrapped plans for the lake and looked for food and shelter. We selected a local pizza joint and headed there until the rain mostly subsided. Upon finishing our afternoon pizza snack, we decided to head back to the beach as fast as we could in the hopes of minimizing the time in the rain. We still got wet, but it warmed up as we approached the coast and wasn’t that bad. Of course, riding a scooter in the rain is a little precarious so we were relieved when we arrived without incident. We had dinner at the hostel before heading to bed. Admittedly, while we didn’t reach our destination, we enjoyed the journey and overall had an enjoyable day.