Baja Van Life #3:


Harold woke up with more energy than he’d had for a while. I’d stopped his medicines, something the vet whose vet tech had dragged Harold by a leash – he’d been frozen in fear, this geriatric dog of mine, and those vets didn’t care. Needless to say, I’ll not be going back. The latest pills had made him barely able to walk or even track my whereabouts. That day though, only 24 hours without them, Harold watched me, wagged, followed, walked over the stony beach, had an appetite and was, well, Harold again. 

I was finding out that this is the new normal, these daily ups-and-downs of living with a chronically ill dog. I’d not thought he’d even make it to Baja. Any little improvement, for however long, was a joy to witness. And yes, I’d lined up vets in each bigger town so that he could be checked out regularly. It was and is all about the dogs. 

Legally, Mexico asks for rabies and used to need a bill of health from a vet less than 30 days old. I found out that coming back to the States could be a bigger issue. I made sure to have all their recent records with me, including rabies and the various other shots they’d had. I had their heartworm meds for six months too. For Billie, the youngster, I bought a Marco Polo tracking device. It clips to her collar and if she’s out of sight for too long, I can turn on the handheld tracker and it shows which direction and how far away she is. Well worth the peace of mind. She was a bit of a wanderer. 

I headed into San Felipe to load up on supplies and to explore more. I refilled my water at the Purification plant on the north of town, a brick white and blue little building off the main highway. I wasn’t sure what to expect, especially since Covid was still pretty bad everywhere. The fella, in his twenties, wore a mask, asked me how much I needed, and then even carried the full containers back to the van for me. Another car waited patiently as I did a three-point turn – this van is a clunker …After that, I drove back east and pulled in at the supermarket. My first time. I copied the masked woman in front of me. She held a wrist to a machine; it took her temperature. She then squirted some hand sanitizer on herself, grabbed a cart and went inside. I did the same. Right. Now what…I looked at the fruit and veggies to the right of the main door. Some things don’t change then. Tomatoes were how much? The money was messing me up, I couldn’t work it out at all. Maths, ugh. I played it safe, and got the familiar: fixings for salads, fruit, cheese, tortillas, yoghurt, coffee and little else. Oh, Topo Chico, seltzer water, a box of six bottles. And limes. 

On the way back to the campground, I drove along the Malecon (promenade) slowly, street dogs prowled, Billie barked hello, families ate ice-creams, others sat outside restaurants facing the sea and blue sky with a few wispy clouds in the distance. An organized procession of families, kids, and random tourists all walked through town holding pink banners, breast cancer awareness. Pelicans dove for their dinner. 

Campo Los Pulpos

What do you do with yourself? I’d be bored if I didn’t have work. How do you do that on the road though? 

I really needed to write. To focus. To give myself a moment doing what I love and know. You see, I had a research project that lingered, one I’d been focused on for the last 18 months. A passion of mine you could say since there was no financing or backing. Well, there had been. It’s another of my losses from 2021. I’d started a PhD program, using the US govt financial aid to make it happen. After doing all the paperwork, signing contracts with both the college and (I thought) FAFSA, I worked with an advisor. Speak to Me: In Search of Androgyny in Contemporary Literature. I’d been looking at how my peers wrote of their days as Tomboys and how did that develop as we grew into our fifties. It had developed out of my MFA thesis on ungendered narratives. I was/am looking for gender ambiguity in stories. That’s the short version. Anyway, hmm…the loan was yanked out, I owe the University more money than I have, and I’m on academic leave. 

I wanted to keep going though. I’d brought all my notes, a laptop, and a selection of novels with me to do just that. I packed up my scattering of things at the beach and drove south. Campo Los Pulpos, (Camp Octopus!) 30 miles out of town, became home for a week. I’d rented a casita on the coast as a treat, as a retreat. 

I pulled into the gravel driveway and checked the directions. Take the right fork, head to the left of the main house which looks like a castle. Park in front of the small grey building on the bluff. What a bluff! Uh oh, it dropped 50 feet, no gentle incline for us to clamber down, no, this was a hell of a fall. Immediately my stress rocketed back to the moon: Harold. He can’t see well enough to know where the edge is or how bad the drop is. Oh shit. Shit. 

The casita was modern, a grey concrete block 20x20ft structure with sharp lines, big windows, and little that I’d imagined as a ‘Mexican’ home. The patio faced the Sea of Cortez. I was sold on that alone. Huge sliding doors with screens and shades lead to a small portal protected from the prevailing winds. There was an open plan kitchen and living room with a bench along one wall, covered with cushions and brightly coloured blankets. I ignored the little bedroom with its loft bed. The main room suited us just fine. I set up the dog beds, put down a bowl of water, and cracked open a beer. 

Below us, a sandy road had been cut into this cliff edge, leading to eight larger houses right on the beach. I peered down but couldn’t see much sign of life. I wondered if they were also Airbnbs? I heard voices coming up the track to the home to my right, chatting to each other in Spanish. A scruffy young man in faded denim shorts was showing his chubby girlfriend the catch of five fish, he grinned at me and they both waved and went into their own home. Loose brown and black dogs followed them, sniffed around, came to meet my two, and wandered off with Billie in tow. She had the same coloring as them but for the white ‘socks’ of her front legs. I sipped the beer and leaned back. Everything about this place felt incredibly safe for me, for them, (well, apart from the nightmare of Harold falling off the cliff that is). 

I woke to gulls and mourning doves, the sound of waves and wind. No traffic. No radios. No construction. I let the dogs out, made coffee, and stepped onto the porch. Early. The sun hadn’t yet crested the horizon yet the peach glow filled the sky. I sat and watched the day start. Beautiful. 

Harold had slept well for once. I’d taken him off some of his meds. I’d noticed that within a day of taking them he’d lost his sparkle, he wobbled and fell, looked constantly distressed and scared. I didn’t like the vet who’d prescribed them, her vet tech had tried to drag Harold down the corridor by his leash, a terrified senior dog unable to stand on his own. And no, I will never go back to them. Well, five days without those drugs for his brain, Harold, my Harry the Handsome was back. I didn’t care if it was a short-term fix and that he’d get worse/die sooner than on the meds. His quality of life meant more to me. Here, he woke me during the night, with licks and wagging tails. He could get up and wander around a bit before finding me on the bench-bed, give me a happy snuffle and fall back to sleep. Billie is so easy these days, she runs, plays, listens, plays, naps, and comes with me wherever I walk. 

We took the long way down to the beach, no shortcuts down the bank. I held Harold on a leash until he became familiar with the route on his own, almost blind these days, he needed a bit of help finding his way. Once it was in his memory, he did great. It took only three walks at this place. 

Scattered along the coast are lots of these ‘Campos’. They’re like little neighborhoods down dirt tracks with multiple homes at the end, overlooking or on the beaches. I wondered about long-term rentals, how that worked outside of Airbnb. These beach homes next to me were mostly owned by Americans in San Diego apparently: Oiva and Rosa chatted to me in a mix of both languages since I wanted to improve my Spanish and they, their English. They had built these places although a few were rented out via Airbnb when the owners wanted. Two were for sale. Rosa, a short robust woman, showed me one, on the water, its porch had a firepit, four weathered armchairs, and only a slight brick wall between the sand and home. I wondered about the hurricanes and flooding but said nothing but ooh and aah. It really was a sweet set up, very Seventies inside and I could imagine myself there. Only $59,000. Doable! Rather tempting really. Although, I wanted to keep exploring Baja, but I was intrigued. Could I live here? The perpetual question, right? 

The other home she showed me was back up the bluff, near my rental. Owned by the brother of where I was, Mike needed to sell it after a few years of bad luck in the States. Only $35,000. It was also a brick home, two bedroom and probably under 800 square feet. More like the kind I’m drawn to and less likely to flood up there. It was ugly though, or rather, the porch looked out onto the other houses and not the ocean. It’d drive me nuts to be so close and not enjoy the view of the coast. Fun to dream though, eh? Yes. First though, I needed to work. 

I spread out my notes, books, and laptop. The table faced the views of birds, fishing boats, pelicans, and sea. A blue sky. No clouds. I settled in and wrote. It felt amazing. I relaxed, the dogs played and slept, and I wrote more. Very thankful. I tried to meditate, and two minutes was better than nothing. I took that moment. I’d do more, each day was the hope. Just to take a pause. An appreciation, a calming of my mind. I stretched after working on the laptop, strengthening core and legs to hold my hips and lower back in place. I reminded myself that although the pain comes and goes but these exercises help. Good habits. Back in touch with routines after too long a break.

I realized how much a homebase is good for me. I’d sold my home earlier that year, reluctantly to be honest, and I missed having a home. A place to spread out. I loved the van to be sure, it was all I could hope for but this, a small casita on the ocean was/is a dream of mine. I don’t need to own one but renting something would be worth looking into. Could I stay here? Yes and no. I was still restless, I needed to explore more. 

At sunset, I took the dogs back down the beach. 


After a week at the casita, I felt like I was finally waking up after months if not years of fog and grief. I’d sold my cabin and land after a long court case with the neighbors even though it ended in my favor, the man was allowed more dogs. After dealing with him and his killing dogs for 12 years, I was done. I couldn’t take any more. I knew the edge of violence in myself. I’d kill him if his dogs killed another of mine. I was done. I’d had to leave. 

It was stunning to be there, in a small home on my own, safe, surrounded by the ocean, pelicans, a handful of locals, and friendly dogs who played with mine. I had money in the bank and didn’t need to worry. I still kept myself on a fairly tight budget, I wanted to see what it cost to live simply in Baja. I’d rested over summer, well, if you don’t count filling five dumpsters with trash and broken-down furniture, construction materials and the detritus of various squatters who’d taken over a friend’s place. We reclaimed it. Lex was now set up for winter. I was on the road. Both happy. 

I hadn’t written anything new and felt stuck. Writer’s block, something that didn’t usually get me but it had. Perhaps this habit of taking notes as I explored would help? 

“Vagabundo del mar” is a type of fish there. It was also the name of a book from 1966 that I read while staying in Campo Los Pulpos. Ray Cannon described a day in Baja that changed his life. He became a ‘vagabundo’ too. As was I. This was the life for me. I’d come back to myself somehow. 



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