San Carlos

San Carlos is an interesting town. I would say that it is pretty typical of most of the smaller towns in Baja, maybe one or two paved roads, a market, a hardware store and a few other stores. Pretty basic, just the things one would need to live. Most people that come through here don’t see much, no real beauty. I totally disagree.

The town is alive with people, on the streets and enjoying their surroundings. Maybe it’s because I have been to small towns in the US, and can compare the two. People seem to be far more community oriented here, it really makes me realize how isolated people in the US can be, with out even noticing it.

We had a bit of a scare from the tsunami set off by the Earthquake in Chile yesterday. There was much speak of the possibilities, we got ourselves pretty worked up about it. when the time came it ended up being nothing. The waves where nothing different than we would experience on any other day. Oh, well. It was fun to think about for a while.

I have some family headed over to Hawaii next week, and I want to wish them safe travels! My Grandparents, Mom and Step Dad are headed over. Surely they will have a great time.

My friend Tim and his wife are going over the week after that on a totally seperate trip. I’m hoping to get a hold of a friend over there to help them find some extra cool things to do, but haven’t been able to get a hold of him yet. I will though…. I didn’t forget.

I’m jealous. Maybe I’ll get to head over soon.

Whale watching in La Entrada

I got to go out on a Ponga ride yesterday, for the first time. I don’t think that I’ve talked about Ponga’s here yet, so let me give you some info on them. Ponga is a type of boat used mostly by fisherman, but fisherman who offer whale watching trips in Mag Bay use them as well. A Ponga is a fiberglass boat made in La Paz with varying lengths from 8 feet up to 18 feet painted white with a light blue trim. These boats are the standard out here, they handle the conditions very well and are long lasting. A “Pongero” is the pilot of the Ponga.

We headed out and quickly came up on a cow and calf that were being chased by a bull. The calf was very young, our Pongero says probably only weeks or a month old, and the bull was hoping to mate with the cow. We hung out with them as he chased them around in circles for an hour, we were essentially baby sitting while this was going on. The calf would come over and want to play with us, then the cow would get side tracked for a while, but after a little bit she would come over and get the baby. The bull would follow closely behind her.

No one on our boat got to touch them, but a couple people got to touch the cow from a zodiac right next to us. I did get some decent pictures, though.

It appears that we won’t be headed up to La Boca for a few trips. I’m OK with this, the whales down here in the La Entrada seem to be quite a bit more active. We have to go where the whales are!

It’s finally caught up with me

Going all of these places where there is literally a treasure trove of pictures to be taken, has finally gotten to me. I know that with the things I’ve seen and the people I know I can turn out some decent pictures, if only I try. Up to this point the limiting factor has been myself, but now it’s the camera I own. The point and shoot is good for some things, some times, but I’ve moved past it now. It didn’t take long.

At this point I’m leaning heavily toward purchasing a Nikon D40, after reading review after review and many conversations. Nikon versus Canon seems to be a Ford versus Chevy conundrum of a debate, but from what I’ve read and the camera’s I’ve actually picked up with my own two hands the Nikon’s have felt like the better choice.

By unanimous opinion from my mentors and friends it looks like spending money on a really good lens or maybe two is the way to go, while money spent on a really good body is not as important. At first I was concerned with MegaPixels, but after a couple really good conversations I understood that the MegaPixels isn’t nearly as important as it may seem. For some one like me, who doesn’t need to have a super sized picture with stupid high resolution, money spent on a high MegaPixel camera would better be spent on lenses that would help get a clear, crisp picture.

Since I’ll be mostly putting my pics here, with the possibility of maybe (hopefully!) being able to sell small prints at some point in the future I should be OK with a fairly low budget set up.

Thanks to my buddy Justin for letting my pick his brain repeatedly. Please take a look at his great website!

Also, thanks to Alberto, Ryder, Sharon and Israel. I hope I didn’t bother you all too much.

Last night we got hit pretty hard!

Coming up around Cabo on to the Pacific side of the peninsula got rough. As rough as we can put guests through, anyways. The winds were blowing at 50 mph with an eight foot swell and we were rocking and rolling pretty good. Most of the guests took their sea sickness pills and did all right, I know that there were a few that didn’t fair so well. Most of the crew was feeling it as well. It’s an experience for most people that they will never get again, which could be good, could be bad.

I always enjoy it when we get into some seas. It makes an otherwise normal trip a little bit interesting. Plus I always sleep so good, it’s like being in a craddle. Rocked to sleep!

Today we head into Mag bay. I sure hope that the whales are a little more active up here this time around. I hear that they are better, but who knows!

National Geographic Photography Field Guide: Travel

By Robert Caputo

After spending so much time in beautiful places taking horrible pictures I decided that I better do something about it. After all, I spend half of my life working with world class photographers, you would think that something would rub off. After talking to master photo journalist Flip Nicklen for a while, he recommended some reading that was available on the ship here. Of those he recommended one has really stood out above the rest. National Geographic Photography Field Guide: Travel by Robert Caputo was easy to read and full of great information.

Photography is such a complex subject, it takes lots of time and effort, as well as good camera gear to produce quality photo’s. This Nat Geo guide has opened my eyes to some key points, and my photo’s have gotten quite a bit better because of it. The section on the “Rule of Three’s” helped me understand placement of subjects in the frame of the photo, making pictures much more appealing. He also has some great ideas for lighting and use of lines to draw the attention of the viewers eye towards objects that the photographer wants to show off.

On top of these lessons, there are also some great pictures used to show the differences between good and bad photo’s. It makes a big difference to me to be able to see what he’s talking about, with pictures of examples. I appreciate the hard work and thought put into the book.

If you are a novice photographer, just getting into taking pictures seriously, this is a great place to start. There are other books in the series, I have yet to read, but I have a feeling that they will be just as well written. For now, get this book. You will enjoy the read.


Lots of whales in Gorda Banks!

Gorda Banks, just west of Cabo has been a hot bed of Humpback activity the last couple of weeks. This morning we had whales jumping out of the water all around the boat. We just stood there in awe as whales were playing in every direction. This made the pictures come pretty easy. I’m also getting a bit more used to the camera I have now, so that helps. Enjoy these couple of shots!

My visions for the Van

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about all of the good things I can do to my latest project, and the list is coming along nicely. Going through the process of a build up before hand in your mind and on paper is the best way. It keeps the project on track and gives it direction. Most vehicle builds take months or years, and sometimes it’s easy to sway from the original idea. This can be an OK thing if something pops up in the middle, like a better part comes along, but generally it’s best to have a game plan and stick to it.

Considering the fact that I have yet to take this vehicle out on any type of trip, I will keep my thoughts here vague and open, but the meat of it shouldn’t be too far off. The van is going to need to have certain things, no matter what, to meet the criteria of an “expedition van”.

Since the engine, tranny and transfer case are all pretty fresh, I won’t need to do much in the way of fixing them up. Stock is simple and simple is good for an expedition rig. I haven’t seen to many American made vans with a snorkel kit installed, but overseas there are plenty of Japanese vans with them. Though I would hope to never have to drive through water as deep as the hood of the van, one never knows. Snorkels also serve another purpose. Having the air intake up high ensures that while driving down dusty roads the engine is breathing fresh air above the dust kicked up by the tires. This is an important feature I feel will be needed across the deserts of the southwest and Mexico.

The stock transmission cooler may need an upgrade, so as I add extra weight to the van I’ll keep an eye on transmission temperatures. If things start to get hot, I’ll add an extra tranny cooler in the line.
Rather than just installing the typical dual battery system one may find on an expedition vehicle, I want to go a step farther. I’ll go with a deep cycle Optima type battery for starting and normal engine needs, and then go with a set of golf car batteries mounted in the back of the van for use as electrical supply to the camper area and accessories. A solar panel mounted on the roof will help to keep these extra batteries charged up while parked with the engine off, and a 1500 watt power inverter will provide 110 volts for goodies in the camper. While I’m not sure of the exact output of the alternator, I will go ahead and install a high output version. Preferably one from premier power welder with a complete welding set up as well.

The van already has a great cat-back exhaust system with magna flow mufflers, so no need for upgrades here. Staying with stock exhaust manifolds means less hassle when it’s time to smog.

Not really knowing what the van will be like to four-wheel, it’s hard to say what modifications will need to be done to the transfer case. It is a NP205 heavy duty version, so it could get many modifications, in theory. With the automatic transmission final drive ratio is not as important, and since this will in no way be a rock crawler I’m not too worried about it. One thing that I would like to do is install a twin stick shifter. One shifter is for two to four wheel drive selection as well as front wheel drive and the other is for high or low range. I can see a real advantage to being able to shift into low rear wheel drive while maneuvering in places with good traction. An even bigger advantage is the ability to shift into front wheel drive. Maneuvering around tight corners can be much easier in front wheel drive only, plus there is the added benefit of being able to shift to the front axle only if there is a problem with the rear end in any way. This could be a huge advantage off the beaten path.

Some type of air compressor system will be installed. There’s not much room under the hood, so a 12 volt compressor may have to work. I’ll install an air tank under the cab and run air fittings to both ends of the van. Airing up tires and rafts will be a snap.

The axles on the van are pretty stout to begin with. It’s equipped with the venerable combination of the Dana 44 front axle and the GM 14 bolt full floating rear axle. Other than a disk brake swap for the rear axle and some selectable lockers, I don’t know what else I could do to beef them up. Maybe a truss and some quality differential covers would be nice.

The van is rolling on 35” tires right now, with nice aluminum wheels. I’m not sure I’ll want to keep the wheels, though. I have a deep down desire to see the van with a nice set of Humvee wheels, but I’m not sure they will fit. If they do, I’m not sure about the run flats that go with them, maybe I could take them out so I can use the 35” tire instead of the 37”? I’ll have to look into it a bit more. Either way, a good set of bead locks could be a great upgrade for a really heavy vehicle that will undoubtedly see lots of time with aired down tires.

Body protection for a big old rig like this is going to be an interesting feat. The idea that I have in my mind is to keep it simple, yet functional. The front bumper I plan on making myself, I doubt that there is a pre-fab unit in existence. Even if there was I doubt I’d like it. All of the ones I’ve seen to date have been way too big and bulky, as well as looking quite out of place. I’ll just start with a winch mount and move out from there, protecting the grille and head lights where I can and providing a good mounting point for lights. Most likely two HID driving lights or Lightforce brand lights.

The rear bumper will need to have a modular rack system of some sort. I’d like to model it after some of the land cruiser bumpers I’ve seen with mounts for the spare tire, gas cans, back-up lighting, a jack and a shovel. Simple rocker panel protection with some type of step built in will be fabricated as well.

Taking a canoe will be a huge source of entertainment, so adding a roof rack that can hold it is important to me. I’ll go with a Thule or Yakima set up, maybe with a basket for some extra storage as well. I’d like to make up, or possibly purchase an awning to mount on the rack as well, so that I can get some good shade in camp.

Moving to the interior, the seating arrangement is pretty good already. Four captain’s chairs are nice and comfortable, and should be well suited to long days on the road. Adding a nice stereo with a good speaker system and a connection for my I-pod will be great for both the road and in camp. I will also add my usual CB radio and Ham radio, with ½ wave antenna’s mounted on the roof rack.

Since I plan on keeping the important gear inside, where it’s safe and easy to get to, I’ll build a rack system for the rear portion of the van. An elevated sleeping platform will give us the ability to sleep in comfort. I’ll add some padding in as well. Under the sleeping platform I have a vision of three drawers facing forward for clothes and goods that are 18” to 24” deep. On the other end will be two sliding pulls that will make access to goods easy as well as double as a table for cooking or what not in camp.

I’ve been looking into water tanks that will fit under the van, because it would be great to have on long trips. If there’s room, I’ll plumb the tank both through a small pump and also through a heat exchanger on the engine to provide hot water for showers. I’ll valve the water to the heat exchanger so it can either draw water from the tank or an external source like a river or lake. The tank may or may not stay clean, for potable water. I’m not sure at this point if it would be better or not.

Loreto Marine Park

This is my favorite place in all of Baja. With out a doubt. If I could come down here on a solo adventure that only had time to visit one place, this would be it. Loreto and the area around it…….I have no words to describe it. How about some pictures?

Van Spares & Equipment

With the new van I’ll need to put together a bunch of items to have handy while on my journeys. Part of the appeal of having the van is that I can load it up with just about everything that I might need in any situation. Having the whole back area open means that the hardest part will be making up storage bins for all the stuff, but that’s part of the fun! Most likely, I’ll build a sleeping box in back section right by the rear doors that are elevated 24” or so off the deck. Then I can add sliding shelves that are portioned and can give me space for all the goods. Look for a full write up on this when In the future.
Here’s my list, for what I hope to carry while I’m on the road.

Parts:
2 spare wheels and tires
Complete set of drive belts
Top and bottom radiator hoses
Heater hose
Fuel pump
Water pump
Alternator
Voltage regulator
Spare driveshaft and knuckle u-joints
Full set of light bulbs
Wiper blades (fit new ones before leaving as well)
Spare radiator cap
Spare thermostat
Spare lockable fuel and water caps
Spare set of wheel nuts
Gasket set
Temporary windscreen
Oil filters
Fuel filters
Set of spark plug wires
Set of spark plugs
Brake fluid
Engine oil (enough for 1 service -buy more en route)
Transmission fluid
Grease
Big roll of tank (canvas) tape
Nylon cable ties
Good lengths of electrical wire for emergency repairs
Insulating /masking tape
String / garden wire
Steel Core plastic tubing
Fuel pipe
Various hose clamps
WD40
Wind shield washer fluid
Antifreeze
Radiator welding fluid
Gasket leak ditto
Exhaust bandage/repair kit

Tools etc:
2 large flashlights
12 volt drop light
Warning triangle with CE mark
Tow Strap
Tree saver strap
Heavy duty jumper cables
Funnel
Heavy duty bottle jack
Hi-Lift Jack
Strong piece of wood for putting jack on
Axle stands
12 volt Air compressor
Strong plastic sheet or equivalent for lying under van
Spanners wrench for wheel bearings
socket set
screw drivers
pliers
snips
Allen keys
Torx drives
feeler gauges
adjustable spanners
sharp knife
cordless electric
drill hacksaw
Tyre Plyers
Magnet on flexible stalk
Spare nuts, bolts, washers
Bungee straps
Ratchet straps
Emery paper
Leather/cloth for cleaning screen
Araldite/Superglue/Plastic padding
De-icer and scraper
Owners manual and workshop manual

La Paz, BCS

We had a pretty good day in La Paz yesterday. The weather was great, and town was pretty crowded. Carnival is going on right now so they have rides and music and all kinds of cool things going on all along the Malecon. The Malecon is the main strip along the water front in town. It’s Called “Centro” but it’s not really the town center. I’d guess that it’s more the tourist center than anything.

The town just recently got a Sears store, so I was pretty happy to hear that I might be able to get some tools that are worth something down here. I’m not sure that I said it before, but I haven’t found any good tools down here. even at Home Depot over in Cabo, the Husky brand is even worse than they are in the States. Anyways, I headed over to Sears yesterday to scope out the tools, and sure enough, they did have some Craftsman brand tools! I wanted to get a set of 1/4″ drive sockets and a ratchet, and they had it in stock. The only bummer was that it was EXPENSIVE!!! 299 pesos for the sockets and 249 pesos for the ratchet. At a 13 to one exchange rate that would be $23 USD for the sockets and $19 USD for the ratchet! That’s probably more than a set from Snap-On. I decided to wait till I got back to the US. At least it’s getting better down here.

We are heading up into Loreto Marine park today. I hope to have some good pictures for the blog tomorrow. It’s so beautiful up there. Like the Grand Canyon next to the ocean.