A hacienda retreat
What to do for Ski/Skate Week? Many people stay in town to ski and skate, while others look for a warm place to travel to soak in the sun. We decided to plan an adventure and fly to a warm place.
My husband, Vince, has had his private pilot’s license for about four years. He has flown several times to a remote fishing lodge in British Columbia but never south to Mexico. There is a bit of trepidation about crossing a border into a country where people speak a different language. I had flown across the boarder with the Los Medicos Voladores and had experienced the customs, so we decided to try it.
We chose Alamos as our destination. Close to 15 years ago, an avid Baja bush pilot and his wife were looking for a retirement project. They were heading to San Miguel de Allende but stopped first in Alamos.
Alamos is located in the foothills of the Sierra Madre in the state of Sonora. It was once the most important colonial city in northern Mexico. Standing in front of a church that had been built in 1786, Jim and Nancy Swickard decided they had found the place for their retirement project. The original Hacienda de Los Santos was built in the late 17th century for a wealthy silver baron. Jaime (the owners’ daughter) told us that 950,000 hours of labor have been invested in the restoration of the present day haven: Hacienda de Los Santos.
There is a 4,000-foot runway on the northwest corner of town. It is a 20-minute walk, or three minutes in a car, to the hacienda. It is a perfect destination for a pilot’s first flight into Mexico!
Vince spent hours taking care of the details of the trip. Charts were out and marked. There were frequent visits to weather.com and the Baja Bush Pilots’ Web site. We arranged temporary Mexican insurance, and we packed clothes for warm weather.
When we left Truckee, it was a clear day. We flew over Mono Lake and, as soon as we passed Mammoth, it was goodbye to the snow! Later, the GPS (Global Positioning System) showed we had reached California City, our first fuel stop.
We fueled and then flew on to a small airport outside of Palm Springs. In complete contrast to our last landing, the airport was completely busy, with planes and jets coming to enjoy the Valentine’s Day three-day weekend.
We spent a little time with Vince’s parents and then loaded up the plane for the next leg of the trip.
It was a short flight to Mexicali, and Vince made a nice first landing on Mexican soil. We were very impressed with the first gentleman who helped us with our flight plan. Our last question to him, before moving on to customs, was whether there was fuel in Hermosillo. We had been warned that there was an extreme shortage of aviation fuel in the part of Mexico we were visiting.
He saw the sadness on our faces when he said, “no.”
He said, “Wait a minute,” and he ran a report from the computer. With a smile he showed us the latest printout. Yes, Hermosillo had 100 low lead. Good news.
We finished our business and took off for a flight over the Great Desert. There were sand dunes below us. There is always the thought that passes through the mind, where would we land if …
Soon, we saw our first glimpse of the Golfo de California. We went along the coast and then inland toward Hermosillo. Fifty miles from the airport we made contact with the tower. Once again, we experienced a very courteous helpful voice. He warned us that they had no fuel but suggested the closest fuel 300 miles away. Have I mentioned that we are in a Cessna 172? We were in a plane comparable to a well-tuned Volkswagen Beetle. We had no choice but to land.
Fernando, a public relations employee at the airport, came to our aid. We put our luggage in his car, made a quick stop at the bank for pesos. As I sat in the back seat of a complete stranger’s car, my mind began to explore the possibilities. Well, Fernando had a pretty official looking badge, but he also was in full control. He had all of our possessions in his car, including the key to the plane. I tried to study his face in the rear view mirror. He was making a great suggestions. If we chose to spend the night, we could go to WalMart the next day and buy a couple of gas cans and fill it with premium gas from the local gas station.
I asked Fernando if he was an angel in disguise. His smile in the rear view mirror erased all my doubts about our immediate safety. We decided to leave the plane behind and hop on a bus. Fernando saw us off.
I have always been impressed by the efficiency of the buses in Mexico. We sat back, hours passed and, all of the sudden, traffic came to a complete stop. We were on the major highway and no traffic was coming from the opposite direction.
There had been an accident. Vince groaned and asked “What more can happen?”
I turned away from the movie to respond, “I don’t know; the night is young!”
Six hours later we reached Navojoa. We were 15 minutes from the last bus departure to Alamos. We arrived at in Alamos just after 11 p.m. We started our walk to the hacienda. The only sounds of the quiet village were the screeching cries of a domestic cat fight and the rat tat tat of my luggage wheels as we moved along the cobblestone streets.
Finally, we had reached our Ski/Skate Week destination.
e woke up to the sounds of Mexico! The 5 a.m. alarm clock of the roosters and dogs welcomed the new day. The sweeping of brooms as the sun began to warm the morning, the voices of children on their way to school. We took a stroll down to the market, passed the smell of fresh warm tortillas. We walked by the classrooms’ open windows, and the sound of the teachers’ voices rising above the hum of the students reminded me of my childhood in Mexico. Not very much has changed in 40 years!
The rest of our stay was spent warming ourselves in the sunshine and eating good food. The hacienda was quiet after a week of hosting a wedding party from Chicago and Napa. What a beautiful site for a wedding!
Jim, the owner of the hacienda, came to our room and said he was flying to Tucson the following day, and he had received news that gas was available in Hermosillo. The next morning, my husband and the owners were on their way. I spent the morning doing what I love to do the most: wander. I eventually made it to the airport to watch Vince land. He had flown the “friendly skies” of Mexico solo. Once again, he commented on the courteous air controllers.
Vince and I were the only visitors at the hacienda. The owner’s daughter, Jaime, came to us at dinner and told us that her dad had called from Tucson. They were not sure how we felt about being there without other people. That is what makes the hacienda so special, the sincere hospitality and concern for our well-being.
We were led to a small intimate dining room with a roaring fire in the fireplace. Our waiter, in his formal black and white attire, brought us the hors d’ oeuvres and the musicians began to play. Did we mind being alone?
The next day we headed back to Hermosillo. We fueled the plane, paid our fees and checked out of customs.
The trip to Calexico was beautiful and uneventful. We made our final landing in Palm Springs, just in time for the rain to move in. As it is in aviation, plans change. We enjoyed a longer visit than we had expected with Vince’s parents. The storms were not allowing us to get back to Truckee. Finally, after studying of the weather, we decided to fly to Mammoth.
The weather varied on the trip along the eastern slope of the Sierra. The clouds were low. I watched as Vince flew the plane with confidence. I had a tight grip on the door handle as our “well-tuned flying VW” felt as though we had just dropped from a trap door. Turbulence feels that way sometimes. It wasn’t until we were safely back on the ground that I could look up into the sky and marvel at the idea that we had just played in the clouds.
It was a wonderful Ski/Skate Week adventure to find warmth not only from the sun but from the people we met along the way!
Susan Bruno and her husband, Vince, are teachers in Truckee.
Contact Hacienda de los Santos at firstname.lastname@example.org.