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Extraordinary Baja - News - bespk

Extraordinary Baja

Posted on Thursday, 8th November 2012 by Eunice

Both of us were very apprehensive about the next step of the journey; mostly fuelled by fear of the unknown.  We have previously travelled in Spain, but this was a whole different ball game.  We were both subconsciously psyching ourselves up, especially after all of the tales we had heard. 


Driving out of San Diego was not too much of a problem, but as we approached the border with Mexico there was a vast increase in military personnel and establishments.  The border itself was intimidating with large metal studs in the road and traffic control systems.  Despite all this we were waved straight through and before we knew it we were in a very different world.

Our detour into Tijuana was entirely unplanned; we had missed a turn and found ourselves negotiating the streets filled with brightly coloured retail outlets, Mexicans eager to sell you anything from sombreros to fluorescent seat covers. After this brief interlude we negotiated ourselves back onto Mexico Highway 1 and headed south.  The route initially runs alongside the border.  It was quite daunting to see the measures taken to keep the two countries separate.  The landscape, architectural structure and change in lifestyle were starkly obvious and one could imagine that life might look better on the other side.


The advice we had been given was to get out of the border towns as quickly as possible, Guy taking this quite literally and refusing to stop, not even at Puerto Nuevo, renowned for its lobster, despite lots of hints from Eunice.  The road runs alongside the Pacific Ocean initially, with magnificent vistas of long beaches and steep cliffs. There is evidence of many building projects to attract American tourists along the sea front, many of which have come to a halt because of the recession.   The countryside is barren and dry, except where it is irrigated, growing tomatoes, maize and grapes to mention but a few. Many of the crops produced here are exported to the United States.

One of the big differences, we noted shortly after getting into Mexico, is the pace of life and traffic.  For the first time on our journey so far we managed to overtake a lorry going uphill - the steepest gradient we had encountered.  The Mexicans (on Baja) are generally far less aggressive drivers and seem to have more patience when it comes to our pace of travel.  The only problem that we have experienced has been vehicles driving alongside us to take photographs - not so amusing when there is something coming in the opposite direction, but usually resolved with a smile and a wave. 


It was whilst we were driving into Ensenada that we had just such an experience, meeting with Luis Boldo and his wife, who stopped to take photos, then to talk and finally showing us to a hotel in town where we were given invaluable advice on the region, where to find accommodation, eat and places to see on our journey down Baja.  As well as his interest in classic cars, he also has some friends in Argentina who have done a similar trip.  As we had come through the border without having our passports stamped our main priority for the rest of the day was to get this amended.  

Ensenada is a very active port, for cargo and cruise liners, so we were able to find the immigration office without too much trouble; having been given directions by the hotel.  This was our first taste of Mexican bureaucracy.  Having filled out the forms we were then told to go to the bank in the same building to pay the fee.  This allegedly was not possible as "the system was down".  Despite this our passports and tourist cards were stamped, but with a stamp to show we had not paid.  We were advised to go to any bank and pay the fee. But we had not been given the correct form to enable this to happen; as we discovered having walked into town.  It was now late in the day, the immigration office was shut, so we had to sort it out the following morning.  Our evening was most enjoyable; having dinner in the El Rey Sol.  The food was magnificent and tasted even better because we had not eaten since the previous night.


Back to the Immigration Office; having finally acquired the correct form, we then went back to the bank, where we discovered that we had insufficient funds in our account to pay the fee.  Fun and games; especially when you barely understand the language.  Eventually, at bank No 2 we managed to get some dollars changed, pay the fee, get the forms stamped and return to the Immigration Office yet again  By this time the official we had been dealing with had gone to lunch and a very kind lady photocopied the forms for us and advised us not to lose them.  We were both reassured by this as we had felt very vulnerable and anticipated problems ahead.

By the time we left Ensenada it was well after midday.  Once you are out of the town and have passed through Rodolfo Sanchez the road leaves the coast and winds its way up into the mountains.  Here the cultivated valleys make a stark contrast to the lack of vegetation, which mainly consists of low shrub and the occasional cactus. We passed through the wine growing areas of San Tomas. Then on through rural towns; consisting mainly of several houses, shops and restaurants along the main road, with junctions leading onto dirt tracks that disappeared into the wilderness.  As dusk was beginning to fall we found our way to the hotel Mission Santa Maria, south of the Lazaro Cardenas, down a long dusty track and fronting onto the beach; a welcome haven after a somewhat fraught day.  During dinner we met some Americans, mostly fleeing the perils of winter, ("snowbirds", we are told) and one who has a B&B in La Paz.


The following day the road continues slightly inland from the seashore, giving a bizarre contrast between the starkness of the desert and the ocean.  We knew we had a long day ahead of us as the next accommodation on route was in Catavina.  On route we experienced dramatic changes in landscape, with rolling flat plains, steep cliffs and deep chasms, our first real taste of cacti, in their many and varied forms, lots of them in flower following recent heavy rain in the area.  As we were approaching Catavina, a real oasis in the desert, the boulders and cacti became enormous and the landscape resembled a giant's rock garden. 

There are some amazing cave paintings apparently done by the original native people; not far from the main road but when we looked at the track, we decided trying to get there would be unwise, and we would do better to nurse the car and hope it would complete the journey. We were both exhausted following the drive and decided to take an afternoon siesta.  Our sleep was shortened by a knocking on the door, a request to take photographs of the car with a young rock band, traveling back to San Diego after a gig in La Paz and an introduction to the local major.  Overnight the wind began to howl around the building and we awoke, after a fitful night’s sleep to find leaves and debris throughout the hotel. We bought fuel in containers in Catavina as there are few opportunities on the road ahead.


The day continued to be very windy and the car was buffeted from every direction possible.  Fortunately we had decided to keep the roof up on the car following the previous day’s exhaustion, or we would have been even more covered in dust. The journey is initially on high plateau. The tedium of the driving is broken by the excitement of encountering military check points, wondering how we will cope with our very limited Spanish. To date we have been waved through, but if questioned giving a flier seems to suffice.  Los Locos Ingleterra.

The wind dropped as we descended towards the west coast and we finally arrived in Guerro Negro, halfway down Baja.  The entrance to the town is via a large military base flying a ginormous flag. The town is close by Laguna Oja de Leibre, where between December to February hump back whales come to give birth every year. (2,800 last year).  After driving around town looking for place to stay, we decided to retrace our steps to Halfway Inn, north of town, where they requested we leave the car parked out the front to attract trade as the hotel was very quiet.  Manuel (one of the two who works there) gave us helpful lessons in Spanish and local culture, washed down with beer and Margaritas.  Fortunately there is no resemblance to Fawlty Towers and we had a most delicious lobster supper.


From here we traversed the peninsula heading in a south easterly direction.  After lunch we stopped in town square to visit the San Ignacio Mission, established 1786 by the Jesuits and rebuilt by the local people.  As you travel towards the east coast the land gradually rises becoming increasingly dramatic and tortured, with large lava flows, volcanic peaks and great shifts in geology.   The road twists and turns upwards with steep drops to the side.  Thank heavens the wind had dropped as the going was slow and difficult enough.  As we were nearing the summit we encountered two cyclists (also a British couple we were to discover at a later date). We felt very humble.  The descent is even more dramatic and winds its way down through silver and copper mines before reaching the port of Santa Rosalia.

This is a rather quaint town, with a lot of French Colonial influence, expressed in many of the houses.  It is also the home of the church designed by Alexandre Gustavo Eiffel which was brought to Santa Rosalia in a pre-fabricated form.  We had dinner in a little Mexican restaurant in the centre of town and spent the night at the Hotel Morro, south of town, on the top of a cliff overlooking the ocean.  Unfortunately, when checking over the car, Guy discovered another broken spoke, so changed the wheel.  We set off the following morning for Loreto, hoping for the best and unsure of what would happen.

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