The Track of Hurricane Odile

Horricane Odile's Track up  the Spine of Baja

Horricane Odile’s Track up the Spine of Baja

I am a storm watcher/lover .. but this one, Odile, may be hard to love. While I’ve been stateside for the duration, my heart and energies have been focused on Baja – the long skinny peninsula that is my second home.

Odile – as you can see from the graphic – drove straight up the spine of Baja and has been called ‘the most powerful hurricane to ever hit Baja’. Her track was unusual – the bulk of her interaction with land was on top of land, not at sea. She maintained hurricane status for the bulk of her journey. The desert cannot absorb rain when it comes too hard and too fast, and rushes down canyons and flashes out arroyos to the sea. And then there was the wind …

Power is out. Phones are down. The early photographs of Cabo show horrible damages – and to a city that has a very substantial infrastructure and in new construction, modern building codes. The rest of the Baja – maybe not so.

It’s horrible not knowing what happened to my neighbors and the town. One video shot from the top of the Mission Hotel shows waves breaking on to of the malecon. I can only imagine that the streetfront businesses had minor to major flooding.

A brief cell phone call late yesterday afternoon from my next door neighbor – how it got through I have no idea – said that her house was totally flooded from the horizontal rain – that she’d gone through all the towels – wrung them out – and the water was still coming in. Her fans had been ripped off – and then she had to go. No power to recharge her one lifeline to the outside world.

Loreto was hard hit – that’s obvious from the storm track and early reports before power was cut. But Loreto, too, has a decent infrastructure – and some of the most resilient people I have ever known. All of Baja for that matter. Shovels, mops, bulldozers will be hard at work before the rain drizzles have stopped.

The most pressing issue will be the roads and flash flooding that Odile has likely caused. Mex One is the lifeblood of the peninsula and trucking of supplies has the one route north and south. Unlike the states, when the roads was out, everyone that is able jumps into help. Tractors tow semi-trucks through washing and mud-laden arroyos. Boulders get moved off the road. New paths are created around obstacles. There is no shutting down the highway for months while surveyors decide what to do and budgets have to be settled and contracts awarded. Nope. Just get on with getting on and move people and goods. Detailed repairs will happen later.

This morning, all prayers to those who lost homes, autos – whatever Odile threw at them. And hopes that hands together, a speedy recovery can be made.

And then .. there is the next storm.  Really? Polo? Please please head west …….

Road Construction 101

One of the aspects of highway travel in Baja is the constant flow of road work.  It seems that just as soon as the crews finish one section of Highway One, they tear up another.  Often, what they tear up seems as good as what they replace it with – other times, the unbearable potholes and melted asphalt are graciously replaced with new graded road beds and fresh topping.

In the states, to complete road projects it seems always necessary to close routes entirely, or funnel traffic into diversions.  Baja road crews just chew up the old stuff, bulldoze it over, and shift travel to a dirt bed while they work on repaving sections.  The results can be miles and miles of dirt roads where just a week or so before there had been pavement.  Ie, make sure you have a spare tire and are adept at changing a flat!

On Mex One, this in not an option (or any of the ‘major’ Baja highways).  For most of the 1500 miles of roadway, there is just the snaking two-lane road that heads from Tijuana in the north to San Jose del Cabo in the south.

If necessary, a dirt road is bulldozed parallel to the road being repaired.  This is often boulder filled, or worst, soft sand which leaves drivers wishing for 4-wheel drive and praying that they don’t need it.

Roads don’t close in Baja due to floods or rockfalls.  Maybe temporarily, but the creative population always manages a work-around.  Three years ago when torrential rains wiped out 6 major bridges overnight the traffic was stopped for 24 hours.  But after, ingenious bulldozers began to drag heavy tractor trailers and anyone else brave enough to cross rushing flood waters from what was left of pavement on either side of the arroyo.

Rock fall?  Give locals an hour and they will have either pushed the offending boulder out of the way, or cleared enough of the associated debris to allow passage.

Only in Mexico

Only in Mexico could the transport of a huge tank that utilizes the entire width of Mex 1 – the solitary two-lane highway that spans the peninsula – take place in the full light of day. No matter that traffic backs up for hours over the spiny mountain climb through the central deserts of Baja. No. Just a couple of guys riding on the very back (no seat belts or other security measures) waving traffic to ‘back off.’

At special spots on ridges with a small pullout, the caravan (three huge trucks all tied together – imagine a Burlington-Santa Fe train – pulling this enormous tank) would simply stop. Rather than the rigs pulling over, the dudes on the back jump down and begin to direct north and south bound traffic around the road covering vehicles.

In between the stops, the traffic sooooo slow (around 8 MPH) let travelers kind of hang out, chat while ‘parked’ in the middle of the road.

In the States, it would require mountainous piles of permits, special hours of travel, police escorts with sirens and flashing lights, a special traffic co-ordinator, and specified rest stops.

It’s scenes like this that really bring travel Mexico to my heart. All that’s required is patience and a good sense of humor – along with a dollap of curiosity.

The tank? Probably bound for Santa Rosalia and the newly re-established copper mines.