The new day took us further away from any towns or villages and deeper into the unknown of the Baja Divide Trail. That evening after nearly 120 miles of dirt and endless Cardon Cactus forest, we were airing up our tires and saying goodbye to Natalie’s parents as they turned north towards Guerrero Negro on the Pacific Coast. For the rest of us, we continued south to the inland city of San Ignacio. The long distance of the Baja Divide Trail put us behind schedule, causing us to break our rule of no night driving. Due to the narrow roads and loose livestock, driving at night here can be risky. Fortunately, we only had about 60 miles and one desperately needed fuel stop before we were settled for the night.
Located on Highway 1 in Baja California Sur, San Ignacio is a landlocked city and a true oasis in the middle of the desert. Tucked into a forest of dates palms that were planted by Jesuit missionaries in 1728, San Ignacio is a popular stop, and a cultural reward should you choose to experience this amazing city. Our time there was short and filled with wrenching on the Jeeps. Chris was experiencing an alignment issue that was resolved after adjusting his rear axle nearly an inch. For me, I dove deeper into my misfire issue and trying to source the reason I was suddenly burning coolant. This was becoming a mystery in the making. Before leaving San Ignacio, we explored the old town square and Spanish mission before pushing further south down the Baja peninsula.
Our destination for the night was about 45 minutes south of Mulegé. The drive took us through a variety of features that included some mountain passes, The Tres Virgenes Volcanic complex and the eastern Baja coastline. As we came into the industrial town of Santa Rosalia, my motor gave me a gentle reminder it was thirsty for coolant as we were stopping for fresh drinking water. Once again, I was depressurizing my coolant tank and adding coolant while the group resupplied our drinking water.
Flexibility is the key to keeping your sanity when traveling. This especially applies to beach hopping in Baja. As we arrived at our destination of El Requeson, we found the beach to be packed with countless motorhomes, transit vans and an abundance of generators. It was quickly decided we would backtrack a bit to scout a secluded beach in a quiet cove surrounded by mangroves on one side and a little sliver of sand that connected us to a tiny island on the other. Our five jeeps made quick work of the rocky trail that descended down to our home for the night. It was still early afternoon and with camp set up quickly, it was time to break out the kayaks so we could explore our quiet little Baja cove. With hopes for fresh fish for dinner, I cast a line or two, sadly with no luck.
With everyone back at camp, preparations were started for the night’s dinner. The Tembo Tusk Skottles were heating up. A South African Boerwors was cooking as an appetizer on my skottle while Marco was hard at work preparing the fish, we bought from the fishermen for fish tacos. It was at this Baja beach Joost’ Gladiator became known as the Rhino Tiki Bar. On a remote Mexican beach with a group of like-minded people, we were in our element.
Although we could have stayed at this beach for several days, Marco’s promises of better beaches further south continued. It was time to pack up and move further off-grid. As perfect as the setting was at El Requeson, the promise of the magical beach of Agua Verde lured us beyond the horizon.
Along the way, we stopped in the Mexican resort town of Loreto for groceries, water, fuel and to top off my coolant. Dotted with luxury resorts and golf courses, many American and European expats call Loreto Home. But the pampered lifestyle of resort living was not for us as we continued down Highway 1 in search of a dirt road that would eventually lead us to aqua green waters and white sandy beaches. For the last time on this trip, we left the comfort of the blacktop, aired down our tires and headed down a dirt road with the thought of a beautiful beach waiting for us at the end. Not for the faint of heart, the road descended over 1,200 feet with exposed switchbacks and catastrophic consequences for those with a short attention span. With views that seemed to go on forever, it would be easy for the Sea of Cortez to hypnotize a driver over the cliff’s edge. But for the cautious driver, the rewards that awaited at the end was worth the heart stopping efforts.
As we made the final descent into Agua Verde, our eyes were wide, and jaws dropped as we gazed out over the beach below. With the Sea of Cortez on one side and a calm bay with a dozen anchored yachts on the other, they were separated from each other by a beach no more than 100 meters wide. This was the beach Marco had been promising for the last thousand miles. With our little silver of sand staked out for the next 2 nights, we turned our attention to a late lunch and a bit of exploration. To say Agua Verde was spectacular or amazing would be doing an injustice to this magical beach deep within the Baja Peninsula. The green and blue water that filled the bay was postcard perfect. The rocky outcrop at the end of our little peninsula played host to an abundance of wildlife from seagulls and pelicans to mammals of all shapes and sizes. This beach was truly special and worth the effort and the challenge to get here.
Sadly, all good things must come to an end. We all wanted to extend our time in Baja, but after six nights of beach hopping around the Baja Peninsula, it was time to head back north. Our route back to the United States would take us across many of the same roads we took to south. The plan was to make it to Guerrero Negro where we would stop for the night. With a brief stop in Loreto for fuel and to top off my coolant, we continued north on Highway 1. As we pulled into San Ignacio, the temperature gage on my Jeep once again spiked, forcing a stop. By this time, the process of depressurizing the coolant reservoir had become muscle memory for me. With the coolant topped off and one last fuel stop, we pushed for Guerrero Negro.
We continued north into the town of Guerrero Negro without any further incident…. until the Jeep overheated once again. However, this time, things went from bad to catastrophic with one turn of the ignition. After refilling the coolant, I attempted to start the motor only for it to do nothing. I was dead in the water. My jeep wouldn’t turn over. Our entire crew stepped up from trying to diagnose the problem to sourcing a local mechanic. A short time later, Nestor, the owner of Built Rots Automotive in Guerrero Negro was on scene and running diagnostics via the OBD2 port and checking my electrical. With it being late in the day, we agreed it would be best to pull my Jeep into his shop a few blocks away where he could dive deeper into what the issue was with my motor. My emotions were all over the spectrum, with frustration leading the charge. As my Boreas XT trailer was disconnected from my Jeep and hooked to the Rhino Adventure Gear Gladiator, the feeling of defeat started to settle in.
At Built Rots Automotive, I turned my key fob over to Nestor, hopped into the Gladiator and headed off into the darkness in search of a patch of sand to call home for the night. Several miles outside of town, we found a little island inhabited by a local fishing family who allowed us to camp there for the night. The next morning started out like all the others in Baja. Coffee and tea were made. Breakfast duties were divided and plans for the day’s activities were figured out while we awaited word on the Jeep. Natalie and her mom somehow managed to secure last-minute seats on a whale watching boat for later that morning. With the exception of me, Marco and Chris, the entire group went off for yet another adventure. Meanwhile back at camp, we patiently waited for a phone call from Nestor.
Just before noon, Nestor called and gave us the bad news. I had a blown a head gasket which was causing the excessive burning of coolant. In addition to that, over the last week, small amounts of coolant managed to pool in cylinders 3 and 5, causing the motor to eventually hydro lock. If there was any “good news”, it was that the motor was in good shape and Nestor believed he could temporarily fix it to get me across the border. I was instantly relieved and filled with optimism. This would be just a band-aid and the Jeep really needed extensive work. But in the meantime, Nestor and his team worked through the day tearing down the motor, draining all the fluids and putting everything back together. Instead of coolant, he added water with a sealant solution designed to close the gap in the head gasket. This was going to be a temporary fix so I could drive 7 hours north California. Just after 4pm I got the call my Jeep was ready. Marco, Joost and I went into town to find my Jeep idling and sounding like a new motor. I was ecstatic and anxious to get on the road. But first, I needed to test drive the Jeep.
When I returned from my test drive of a few miles, I was pleased with how my Jeep ran. But things weren’t as good as they seemed. There was a severe leak coming from my water pump. By now, it was late Saturday afternoon and there was no way to source the part until Monday. It was time to make some major decisions. Would I go back to San Diego with the group and wait for the Jeep, or would I stay in Mexico?
On Sunday morning, I checked into a hotel in Guerrero Negro. For the next few days, I would be solo and on foot in this sleepy Mexican fishing village while Marco and the rest of the group returned to the United States. Marco and I believed he could be more help if he were back in San Diego, helping to source the parts I needed to get me back on the road. Come Monday morning, this turned out to be the case as no parts were available anywhere close to me. With help from Shift Autoworx in Escondido, a water pump was located in San Diego. Marco quickly picked up the water pump and drove it to Tijuana where it was placed on a bus heading towards Guerrero Negro. Best case scenario, the part would be in Nestor’s hands the next day and I would be driving Wednesday. I spent my time Tuesday walking the streets of Guerrero Negro and visiting with some new friends. Late in the day, Marco updated me on the tracking of the water pump, telling me it would not arrive until late Tuesday night. I was starting to get a bit concerned.
On Wednesday morning, I walked the mile and half to Built Rots Automotive after breakfast. Nestor’s team was hard at work installing the pump and estimated I would be driving by noon. With everything that had happened thus far, I was cautiously optimistic. I patiently watched the team piece my motor back together. Before I knew it, Nestor was in the driver’s seat ready to start the motor. It was 10:45am. With prayers said and fingers crossed, I was beyond excited to hear my Jeep come back to life. After 30 minutes of watching my Jeep idle and a short test drive, it was time to head north.
I quickly collected my belongings from the hotel, topped off with fuel and pointed my Jeep north on Mexican Highway 1. I cautiously monitored how my motor was running, paying close attention to the coolant and oil temperatures. The two times I had to stop for fuel, I left the motor running and checked the coolant reservoir. Even with the coolant levels coding, I was still very concerned about the temporary repairs Nestor’s team had made. Would the fluids hold? Would the motor continue to run? These questions stayed with me every second of the drive north. With every passing mile, I became more and more confident that I would make it at least to the outskirts of Mexicali. After nearly 7 hours of driving, I was within a mile of the International Crossing with Calexico. After several attempts, I was finally inside No Man’s Land, waiting in the queue to enter the United States.
When the Custom Border Protection Agent took my passport and asked his standard questions regarding my comings and goings, I knew I was good. I was back in the United States. I was within range of AAA and all the goodness that comes with it.
On Thursday morning, I drove from Marco’s house in east San Diego County to Shift Autowerx in Escondido to start the process of a more permanent fix. Over the next several days, Edgar removed the old heads and installed a complete new set with valves, oil pump, both head gaskets, thermostat and a fuse array. He determined the lifters and rockers, and the block were all in great shape. Sometime after lunch on Saturday, Edgar handed me my key fob and wished me safe travels. Unfortunately, my saga did not end there!
After collecting my Boreas XT at Marco’s house, I was back on the road and finally heading home to Texas. The Jeep was running great, like new. And then suddenly, it was not! About 30 miles east of El Centro on Interstate 8, I started to experience a rough misfire. I pulled off the highway and connected my OBD2, and pulled and cleared codes P0303, P0305 and P0365. I was experiencing misfires in cylinders 3 and 5 with a Camshaft Position Sensor code. After attempting to clear these codes several times, I decided to use AAA to pull me back to San Diego.
My first call to AAA was at approximately 8pm on Saturday night. AAA’s only attempt to tow me somewhere safe failed when they sent a tow truck that was not capable of towing my jeep and trailer. 19 hours later, Marco arrived with a truck, a trailer and his Jeep 392. We made quick work of loading my jeep on the trailer and attaching the Boreas Xt to the 392. I was once again headed back to San Diego.
Edgar met us at Shift Autowerx on Sunday night to start the process of diagnosing my Jeep all over again. Needing to catch an international flight, I flew back to Texas leaving my Jeep in the trusted hands of Edgar, Jerry and the entire team at Shift Autowerx. Over the next week, they opened up the motor and found a broken intake camshaft. By some small miracle, there was no other damage to the motor. During the original repair, there was no way Edgar could have predicted the camshaft was going to fail. This was just the worst case of Murphy’s Law.
As I write these words from an entirely different coastline in the southern hemisphere, I can’t help but reflect on how blessed I was to be surrounded by the group of amazing people who were with me from when things started going south in Baja California right up to the end with Marco and the team at Shirt Autowerx going above and beyond. Every one of them brought a unique gift to the table to make my ordeal a bit more bearable. What was even more impressive was the global outreach from the overlanding and off-road community offering to help. People in California, Florida, the Middle East and even as far as the African continent reached out and were willing to do what they could to help get me out of Mexico and back to the United States.
In the end, many lessons were learned. But what really shines brightest for me throughout this ordeal is that the reach of the Overlanding community is strong and without borders or limits.