Thursday, May 7, 2015

Driving Baja

Our November trip from San Diego to Todos Santos was fast. We whizzed down Baja in two grueling days.

We decided on our drive back up we wanted to stop and smell the roses--and see the sights. So we took four days, which is about six hours in the car each day.

Our first stop was Loreto, the home of the first mission established in upper and lower California.

est. 1697
We stayed at the utterly charming La Damiana Inn, my favorite hotel along the way.

Entrance to our room.

Open-air kitchen for everyone's use.
The house cat, Señor Murphy, looked shockingly like our sweet Mango. (It was hard to say goodbye to Mango--even more so when she jumped in the car as Dave put our suitcases in.)

Señor Murphy takes a siesta.

Loreto has a colorful downtown area filled with shops and restaurants.

The waterfront area is beautiful: clean and expansive for walking and watching the birds and boats.  I'd love to spend a week there sometime.

The next day we discovered that the stretch between Loreto and Mulege is rife with serene beaches that are true gems. We pulled our car onto the sand and stepped out into the glassy Sea of Cortez waters. Next trip, we plan to spend a few days in this area.

After that, the road turns inland and climbs up into the mountains. The scenery is gorgeous, but as with much of the drive, the two-lane road is narrow. When a semi comes barreling down the mountain, you pray you can squeeze by. Each time that happened, I took a deep breath and exhaled as the truck passed. The road is pocked with crosses adorned with flowers, reminders to drive with care.

Tres Virgenes, just outside of Santa Rosalia.
Occasionally we stopped to eat a snack and for Dave to take pictures.

desert in bloom
We stopped at San Ignacio, where we checked out the fresh water lagoon...

...and the church.

At the church's exit. I don't know what it means, but I kind of like it.

That night we spent in Guerrero Negro, which sits on the border between Baja Sur and Baja north. We spent the night at Malarrimo, where we had a tasty seafood dinner.

Day three took us to San Quintin, an agricultural haven.

Nopal (edible cactus) crops
San Quintin also has a waterfront with this Steven Spielberg-esque feature:

We stayed in the Hotel Jardin. The grounds are gorgeous, with flowers blooming all over and a large vegetable garden behind the restaurant. We'd heard good things about the restaurant, but for us it was just okay. The atmosphere felt like a TGI Fridays, and the food seemed like a gringo-ized version of Mexican. Perhaps it was the universe's way of getting us ready to re-enter the U.S.

Day four led us up the Pacific in virtually a straight line toward the border. When we hit Ensenada and saw this guy hacking into coconuts, we knew we had to stop.

Refreshing young coconut.
Right next to the coconut stand Dave had his last carnitas tacos in Mexico for a while. He savored every bite.
Things got wonky in Tijuana. The signage wasn't clear, and we discovered we were in a lane taking us into the city rather than to the border. We were snared in traffic. People descended on the cars selling everything from hats to plastic piggy banks to bags of chips.

We kept craning our necks to see if we could merge into the correct lane, but cement dividers foiled us. A guy approached our car and told us in half-English that for $40 he could get a group of guys to remove one of the dividers so we could squeeze through. We declined, even when he dropped the priced to twenty bucks.

Boys going toward the border.
Finally we were able to merge in--only to discover we were in the fast-track medical lane. The guard wouldn't let us through without papers from a doctor; he ordered us to drive around the city and to the back of the line. The words of one of my friends echoed in my head, "I would never drive in Tijuana."

I happened to be behind the wheel (Dave and I share driving duties). Long story short, I drove us through the chaos of Tijuana traffic and eventually across the border. I wouldn't wish such mayhem on anyone--but it did make me feel a bit like Superwoman.

A few hours of pandemonium did not dampen our desire to see more of Baja. We'll do it again in November, in the reverse direction.


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