Day 4: Brazo Quebrada (broken arm)


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The Trip

The objective of the day was to get from Campo Cortez (point 35 on the map below) to the area near Punta Abreojos (34).  The plan was to get up, pack the trucks, eat at the cook shack, and head to San Ignacio.  Once in San Ignacio, we would get diesel, ice and anything else we needed.  Then from there, we would head up Mexican Highway 1 to the turnoff to Punta Abreojos and then back to the beach area.  After Punta Abreojos, we would then head up the coast route over toward Bahia Asuncion (30) and then back to Vizcaino (27).

At first, the plan was executed flawlessly.  We were up at first light and getting packed pretty much on schedule.  We went to the cook shack for breakfast and it was ready on schedule.  We had chililiques, beans, tortillas, juice and coffee.  It was good and best of all we did not have to cook and clean.  After breakfast, we hit the trail for San Ignacio.  In the parking lot of the cook shack, I noticed the smell of diesel, but did not give it much further thought.  We were ready to roll, so we hit the trail.  The trip to San Ignacio was 4 beers long (plus or minus) and was uneventful.  However, after we got to San Ignacio, the plan fell apart quickly.

We went to the Pemex for diesel and Kai reported over the radio that his fuel tank was leaking.  Since we were planning to head back into the desert, it was mandatory that we got the tank fixed, otherwise he could run out of fuel.  So, Kai headed to the Taller Mechanico (mechanic shop) to get the tank welded.  While we were there, the balance of the group went into the little Pueblo of San Ignacio to shop and check out the sights.  While we were at the mechanic getting the tank fixed, Dan called over the radio to state that Katie had fallen from the bandstand in the plaza and had broken her arm.  Being an orthopedic surgeon, he had examined her and determined that she needed X-rays to determine the scope of the injury and then some kind of cast or fixation.  The clinic in San Ignacio was ill equipped to handle this situation and definitely did not have an X-ray machine.  The locals suggested that we go to the nearest big town, Santa Rosalia, as they had a hospital.  Santa Rosalia was another 100 km down the road to the south.

The Map

Our planned destination for the day was Punta Abreojos (number 34).  But, Katie's injury forced a reset. Instead, we headed from San Ignacio (32) to Santa Rosalia (33).  See the map below.

Map of the San Ignacio and Santa Rosalia areas.

The Photos

The cook shack with wind generator and radio mast.

The shower shack .

Campo Cortez .

An inlet of the lagoon .

The salt flats .

Cactus with salt flats in the distance.

Cactus on the road side .

Not sure what this is, but it is interesting.

Oncoming traffic.  Note volcanic hill in distance.

A circular rock wall of purpose unknown.

Tire farm.  They plant tire seeds and they grow. Actually, this was the local airport.

Odd cactus.  Note mountains north of San Ignacio in the distance.

Fixing the fuel tank. Contents of wheelbarrow describe the work ethic here.

Refilling the fuel tank .

Mackenzie comforting Katie in Dan's Dodge.

On the road from San Ignacio to Santa Rosalia, there is a area that has one of the steepest parts of the entire highway system.  This grade is 12%, nearly twice as steep as any freeway grade in the US.  The road is labeled"Cuesta del Infierno" on the signs.  The "Grade from Hell" is the literal translation.  This grade will get everybody's attention.  Steep, narrow, twisty and sharp cliffs with tons of wrecked vehicles.  We successfully made it down without incident, but it did require down shifting to 4th gear (out of 8) to keep the speed under control.

Once we were in Santa Rosalia, Kai stopped at a little store to ask directions to the hospital.  Apparently, the directions were sufficiently confusing that the owner offered to send her daughter with us to give us assistance.  Slow day at the store, I guess.  But it was a really kind gesture and very efficient.  Her photo is below, although I did not get her name.  She showed us the way and we were there in no time.  The path required going through some back streets and up several very steep hills.  Seems that the hospital is on the top of a hill, next to the old mining company headquarters.  Due to the volcanoes in the area, the ground is heavily mineralized.  The area has been mined for many hundreds of years and was commercially mined by the French in the 1800s.  There is a ton of old buildings and equipment in the area.

This gal was nice enough to ride with us and show us the way to the hospital.

Mining equipment in Santa Rosalia .

Mine trains from the 1800s.

More leftovers of the past next to hospital.  Mike's Toyota on left.

Old railroad car .

A steam crane.

The mine office and now a museum.  Note the 1300 in front.

View of the Santa Rosalia harbor from the hospital.

We took Katie into the hospital and fortunately they were not busy and were able to see her immediately.  They took X-rays and Dan helped them read the photos.  The news was not good.  It was broken on the distal part of the humorus (the upper arm), close to the growth plate.  Basically, the nature of the break was such that they could not repair it there.  The bone was displaced and impinging on the blood flow to her hand potentially placing the nerves in her hand at risk.  She needed surgery at a competent, well equipped facility.  Santa Rosalia was not such a place.  In fact, Dan stated that he had never seen an X-ray machine that old and was surprised that it was operational.  The X-ray tech developed the shots in dunk tanks, "the old fashion way".  The quality of the photos was good, though the methodology was antiquated.  And, the price was right -- $5/shot.  Comments about the state of the infrastructure and price of medical care aside, the message was clear: she needed to get back to the U.S. fast.

One other item of note.  The hospital was quite filthy.  The toilets did not work, there was no TP.  I did not look further into the issue as I had seen enough.  I heartily agreed that an evacuation to the U.S. was in order.  As I walked away from the hospital back to the mog, I turned to look at the place.  On the wall, underneath the name of the facility was a sign that said (in spanish) "we do not take bribes in this hospital".  That was reassuring, I guess.

At first, we thought that we could arrange to get her on a flight back to the US.  That failed.  Then, we thought that we may be able to get an air ambulance to fly from San Diego to get her and then return to the U.S.  It was a good idea, but there were several fatal problems with that plan.  First, the airstrip at Santa Rosalia had no lights.  Therefore, the plane (should one be secured) could not land at night.  Since it was 5pm, dark would be coming soon and therefore there would be no chance of getting the plane to Santa Rosalia that night.  The second, and more problematic issue, was that we could not establish telephone contact with the U.S.  Our cell phones, while electrically working, would not dial in the Mexican phone system.  Mexico was not in our calling plan.  Phone cards that we purchased would not work either, but we never could figure out why. The hospital personnel were sympathetic, but not helpful. Their phones would not dial the U.S. either.

We also attempted to purchase he a charter flight, but the cost would be $5K U.S. and none of us had that much cash.  In a flash of insight, I realized that I had called my bank before the trip to tell them that I would be in Mexico should I need to use the card.  If I could get to a regular bank, I could get a cash advance on the card and attack the problem that way.  So, off we went to find a bank.  We did find one only a couple of blocks away, but they locked their doors in my face (literally) as I approached.  Quitting time.  No amount of pleading was going to get them to open the doors.  The one across the street was also closed.

In my final flash of insight, I realized that there was a cyber cafe next door.  I figured that if I could raise somebody at my work on email I could get a chat session going and get this problem addressed.  I bought some time and fired off an email to Bill Hanbury at Musicmatch, my work.  He answered in only a couple of minutes and we were preparing to set up a chat session when Kathleen came into the cafe and stated that Mike had decided that the plane approach had "too many moving parts and that driving back to the U.S. was the only sure thing".  Since the complexity of this was greater than I ever anticipated, I agreed, closed out the session, paid the girl and headed back to the hospital on the hill.

Back at the hospital, we decided that the most expedient approach was to purge Mike's vehicle of unneeded items, the trailer and most of his gear.  Then, he would do a speed run to San Diego with Dan and Megan in the 1550 as a chase vehicle to assist if anything happened mechanically or render aid if Katie's condition deteriorated.  The plan seemed sound, although it would be a test of mettle given the 15 hour drive that was in front of them.  I would take his stuff in the 1300 and pull his trailer back to San Diego since I was the only vehicle there that had a hitch that would fit.

They left Santa Rosalia at 530pm or so.  They got to the border at 8am and went directly to the hospital.  Katie is fine, the surgery went well so there should be no issues.

Attaching Mike's trailer to the 1300.

Transferring cargo and insuring that the load is secure .

Parting shot of Bahia Santa Rosalia as we leave . Isla San Marcos in the background.

Stormy weather on return to San Ignacio .

The trip back to San Ignacio was harrowing, to say the least.  As I mentioned to Kathleen, the only thing worse than driving at night in baja was driving at night in the rain.  The visibility was poor, but we managed to bring it off without further incidents.  We did encounter rain, although it was spotty but heavy at times.  Enough to get most of my cargo soaked and turn the trail dust in the bed into thick, slimy muck.

When we got to San Ignacio, it was nearly 9pm.  We headed straight to the hotel to get a room.  The clerk politely asked "Do you have reservations?".  "No, we need 3 rooms".  To which he said "Lo siento, senior, estamos lleno".  We are full.  After a couple of minutes of consultations, we elected to head back toward Mex 1 to see if there were rooms at the San Ignacio Lagoon B&B.  Happily, there were, we got the last 3 "rooms".  Seems that they were pretty much full.  We got one yurt, one tent and a pickup camper that had recently been dropped off at the site by a Canadian tourist and buddy of the owner.  We took them without complaint as the only other alternative would have been to camp and set up in the rain.  Doable, but not fun, particularly given the late hour.  The accommodations were more than adequate; quaint in fact.

Once we had secured our rooms, we headed to a restaurant that we thought would be open.  In this case it was Resturante Rene, right near the square where Katie had broken her arm.  Dinner was good, and hot.  The building that housed the restaurant was a palapa and was built around a tree.  Colorful and a reasonable diversion given the day's events.  We had shrimp cocktails and fish fillet Mexican style.

Later, when we got back to the B&B from the restaurant, I took a hot shower; the first in many days.  It felt great.  We fell asleep to the sound of rain on our tent roof.  It rained all night, soaking the rug in our tent.  The only really dark side about the tent was that you had to go outside in the rain and hike a substantial distance to get to the bathroom.  Being a guy, I just used an empty water bottle.  Expeditious as well as convenient.

The next morning , we would pack to head north to San Quintin.  This would be another very long day and would encompass a major portion of the northern part of the peninsula.  Boy, I could not wait for some more road time on Mex 1.  NOT.

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Photos and Text Copyright Bill Caid 2004
For your enjoyment only, not for commercial use.