1991 Baja Solar Eclipse Trek
In 1990, Daniel Oppliger was working for Tracks to Adventure, a motorhome tour operator specializing in taking RVs though the famed Mexico Copper Canyon. He received an inquiry about going to Baja for the July 11th Total Solar Eclipse. His boss said “We don’t go to Mexico in the summertime.” Seizing the opportunity, Dan gave the client a call and said, “Sure I will organize a solar eclipse carvan for you.” Using his knowledge and contacts made at Tracks, Dan set up the tour and began taking bookings. We had 37 “rigs” signed up and ready to go. Then the major magazines ran negative stories about Baja, saying among other things, “there will be fuel shortages, everything in booked, there will be no water,” and the biggest lie of all “you can’t camp on the beach.”
Dan, having been in contact with suppliers knew this was not true. Dan and Melissa flew to La Paz and rented a VW. We checked the campground in La Paz, not a problem, but we found a better brand new one. The senora opened the book to July 1991, not a booking in site. So we booked it instead of the older place further out of town. We went over to the hotel owned by crooner Engelbert Humperdinck where we arranged dinners for both groups. We broke the caravan into two groups with staggered itineraries. Anyway, all set.
The trip began in San Diego at a Denny’s. We ate the special breakfast and headed to Ensenada. We stopped at the Super SUper and just barely made it to camp by dark. In fact we had set up after dark.
The next day we head to Guerro Negro. We stopped for a respite at the hotel next to a campground. We planned to move on to San Ignacio, but with the Margaritas flowing, we stopped. This was my introduction to the Mexican orange liqueur in the green bottle. I have it in my liquor cabinet today, albeit a newer bottle.
We set up out kitchen in the campground and stir fried several dishes. The next day we drove all the way to the coast. Here the water was warm and stagnant. On the way we picked up bread in Santa Rosalia. We made some good sandwiches for dinner. We also poached some pears, served with whipped cream and cinnamon. This is not a summer destination. Once in La Paz, people were really happy. They just loved the pool. A short hop into town there were cafes, bars, places to eat- civilization.
Both groups had fantastic meals at Humperdinck’s Hotel. One my clients as flirting with the manager and bought her a drink. He felt like a fool later. We also at the Bismarck one night.
We headed out to the centerline where Cabo Pulmo lies. Long a camp for hippies in the old days, the road was recently partially paved. We scouted out several suitable beach sites for the eclipse observation. One camp even had an outhouse, but we passed because the sand was too deep. When the eclipse time came, we spread out along the ravine. We had tarp and a main kitchen area set up. There were about 4 areas for eclipse viewing and massive telescope set up. The other group was down the road a couple of miles and did the same. They were actually at Cabo Pulmo, the hippie camp. We were a few miles north, on the beach. On the beach! Remember the magazines said you could not camp on the beach.
With all the vehicles two days before the eclipse, we had a little confusion on the road as I drove past the turn off, and so did those following me. It was a cloudy day and the worry warts were mumbling. The terrain also changes from winter to summer, as mud holes were now dry, suitable for driving and parking.
The weather was partially cloudy the day before the eclipse and everyone was nervous. I had never seen so much, what I called “assorted shit.” One guy had a six inch refractor. They had telescopes I had never seen with names I could not pronounce. We all had these silly looking mylar eclipse glasses.
People were mumbling about driving somewhere else and so forth. “Well, one little cloud could wreck it.” The video shows cloud build up during the eclipse. It also shows a hole where that sun and bright corona glowed for almost 7 minutes.
About 30 minutes before totality an ice vendor showed up, thus the engine noise on the video. We supplied everyone with ice. They come by in the winter, why now when a big event like this occurs. Also, cars from La Paz showed up, and rental cars from Cabo San Lucas. The shadow roared in, the colors and changes were mesmerizing. My camera was hooked onto a big telescope. Too bad I had relatively short focal length. Film too, this was 1991. People were polite and with a long eclipse, there was plenty of time to peek through the telescopes. The sun, corona, prominences took up the entire view. We celebrated like kings popping champagne.
We had a fantastic kitchen set up and people were really good about helping. Also we were shocked about the water contribution for dishes. We had sawhorses, boards for tables, the tarp. It was very nice for three days. We used five gallon pales for wash and rinse of the dishes. We had propane stoves set up along with propane grills. Our coolers were full of beverages and ice. Stopping at ice plants along the Baja was part of the fun. We had plenty for the three days of dry camp, but the extra on eclipse day just made the champagne colder. Three days dry camping in the boonies was enough. We had a fantastic kitchen set up and people were really good about helping. Also we were shocked about the water contribution for dishes. We had sawhorses, boards for tables, the tarp. It was very nice for three days.
The last day we collected the garbage. Dusty doused it with gasoline. Of course we did what we could never do as kids, light gasoline. Dusty threw a match and poof, the garbage was on fire.
That evening we had a star party. I had never seen a planet in a telescope. I thought they were just in encyclopedias. I saw Venus, Jupiter and Mars and other objects with strange names or numbers. The biggest excitement for the group was Alpha Centauri- a huge cluster only visible at southern latitudes. There were may strange telescopes I soon learned about. Most were Schmidt-Sassegrain’s. The telescopes had motors and hand held electronic controls. This was my introduction to the hobby of Astronomy doing solar eclipse travel.
In Cabo we arrive at the new campground on the hill. Dan and Melissa arranged this on the pre-trip too. Some said we should have stayed at the older place. The hombre here was anxious for July business. He also took care of the official papers we supposedly needed for travel to Baja for the eclipse. We checked with the tourist office. What eclipse? Where did you read this. (remember, the magazines) Anyway about two months later he sent us 40 decals for cars of which we paid $10 a piece. To this day people on the tour thought it was a scam. No one checked permits and none of us had a tourist card needed to go more than 30 miles down the Baja. We never had a shortage of gas. One truck had to change a gas filter. Carrying an extra gas filter, belts and hoses was pretty much standard back then.
In Cabo one of our campers caught a big fish. They went deep sea fishing. We did breakfast in town and the glass bottom boat ride to the famous Cabo Arches. Shopping for eclipse shirts and fish tacos was fun. Of all my eclipses, the Mexicans were the best prepared with eclipse tee shirts and related souvenirs.
Fish tacos are special in Baja. A fried piece of fish, sometimes marlin, in a thin flour tortilla. The toppings or salsas make it famous. Cucumbers in mayonnaise, red sauce, green sauce, pico de gallo, cabbage, and onions. This is just a partial list of salsas. Many of the marlin are released, but the meat of many make it to market. Cabo San Lucas is the only place I have been where I have seen almost all sport’s fisherman come back with fish. In the summer many species come north along the Baja coast.
The campground served the big fish along with my first tortilla soup. The campground was decorated very nice. Many nice colors. Out hosts were wonderful. We had breakfast at the campground today too. That was a break instead of making it, or trekking into town.
The set up a celebratory feast for us at a very reasonable price. Everyone loved the pool and margaritas. The reverse trip went fast. In La Paz we spent two nights and people were relaxed. We headed up the coast pretty fast except for the potato truck. It seemed like we were behind one for over a hour or so with no place to pass. Old baja road! Actually the road was pretty good in 1991. Now more stretches are four lane and perhaps safer. South of Ensenada we stayed at La Bufadora Campground. Here is a blowhole where the ocean crashes and shoots very high. The campground had hot springs that feed the showers. Great, but the water was hard.