A trip to Baja with Bob
After months of preparation for our trip to Baja Sur Peninsula, Mexico, for mucho sun, sand and water, we still had things to do at the last minute. The key to our trip was a motor home or “Bob,” as we call our 1979, 31-foot vehicle. I needed it to be in the driveway at least a week before we left. But, by 2 p.m. on Friday the 13th our scheduled departure day and check-in day for some friends who were going to be using the house Bob was still in Reno, and so was my husband Andrew along with our only other vehicle.
What went wrong? You name it and it did. I am only somewhat superstitious, but I wonder if our choice of departure date had anything to do with it.
Andrew had brought Bob to be smogged on Monday and this 25-year-old vehicle did not pass. So we dropped it off in Reno.
Finally, we headed south to Laguna Beach for our first stop on the route. There we parked at my sister Meldie and her husband Bruce’s house. By Monday we felt like we were on vacation. We mostly relaxed by their glorious pool and managed to enjoy dinner out one evening.
Continuing south, we ended up in South Carlsbad State Beach Park, where we found an oceanfront camping site. The sites offered stunning views, were well laid out and somewhat private. They are not, however, dog friendly. Dogs must be leashed at all times and are not allowed on the beach.
We woke up the following morning to find that our two bicycles had been stolen.
We filed a report with the ranger, cleared our site and moved on to the next park where we were welcomed with the news that our reservation was for Saturday night not Friday, even though we had a confirmation number. The California State Park system leaves something to be desired when it comes to organization, safety and general operation.
As we were leaving, the attendant called out to say they had found a spot after all. So we were again in a wonderful oceanfront campsite, in the San Elijo State Beach Park at Cardiff by the Sea, where we spent the next five days readying the vehicle for our trip into Mexico.
We were starting to relax. The weather was hardly nice, so there was not much to do on a limited budget except relax, read, sleep and do nothing but enjoy the sounds of the waves breaking on the beach below us. Life could be worse. And there was a small area on the beach where we could walk the dogs on a leash. We also managed a visit the Safari Park and enjoyed our tour there and all the exotic animals.
Tiring of the state park system and their stupid rules, we moved south to a KOA Campground in Chula Vista, near San Diego, and were once again happy campers. Hot tub, swimming pool, rules you could understand and a well-oiled operation. It was a great location close to all of San Diego’s highlights, shopping, stocking and auto parts places very important when you are driving an old bus like ours that still needed work before Mexico. We had a great three nights there and made friends with Canadians Diane and Melvin Pearson.
We finally entered Mexico, and crossing the border was a piece of cake. We pulled over after crossing the border and got our tourist card, a requirement if you plan to stay more than seven days, and a bargain at $20 per person. We also changed some money at the official station and got $10.75 pesos to the U.S. dollar.
My first impression as we passed through Tijuana was that it was not as dirty as I had expected.
Traffic was heavy but moved in a fairly orderly fashion. They use roundabouts, too. We, being Irish and Australian have always wondered why the US is so far behind in this concept?
Everything was in Spanish. Billboards, road signs, etc. I guess that is to be expected, but I thought there would be more English as Americans are such a big part of their livelihood. In all my travels the only place I found impossible to get around if you did not know the language was China.
We drove on through Tijuana and saw some beautiful scenery and then the garbage which seemed to be everywhere. About one hour later I was hungry and saw some attractive towns alongside the road. I suggested a stop and we ended up at the Salina Marina Grill, a cute café overlooking a small new marina that served fish tacos, quesadillas and cold Dos Equis. I grew to love this beer.
Continuing on our way we saw some beautiful coastline as we drove into Ensenada; then we were in the city with towering cruise ships. We kept driving: big cities and developed areas were not what interested us. We were traveling to meet the locals, sample local food, life and the outdoors.
We ended up at the Estero Beach Resort RV Park. Immediately we parked and took the dogs for a long walk along the boardwalk and then the beach, where I found dozens of sand dollars. This is dog heaven. No leashes required, no pooper scooper laws, but as responsible pet owners we carried doggie poop bags for clean up with us at all times. Even the cats were on vacation, as we allowed them to roam around for a couple of hours everyday.
We immediately met a couple who were just about to check in and delighted at the thought of traveling with Hobart, the Rottweiler. We decided to travel on together for a few days so we had company.
Andrew was hell bent on seeing the first Grand Prix car race of the season live and we were in search of a sports bar that might televise it. We lucked out in that our new friends had a satellite dish and got speed vision, so the guys started watching the race outside and then we all headed to the hot tub for a dip.
After a long day of driving we arrived at El Pabéllon Beach Park. There were miles of beach-front camping, hot fresh-water showers and no one else in sight. The weather was getting warmer when we arrived, but we had eerie foggy nights. We ended up staying for three nights and it proved to be the perfect transition to our holiday before the next long haul to get to the Sea of Cortez and warmer weather. One day we took a tour on the beach, where I drove (at 60 mph) for 26 miles and never reached the end … it is surely a tent camper’s paradise. And another animal heaven.
Our next stop was Guerrero Negro where we stayed in town at the Mallerimmo RV Park, Hotel & Restaurant. We had the best seafood we have ever had, until our next night. We shared a sampler platter that included lobster tail with a delicious dipping sauce on the side, flounder, sea scallops and shrimp succulent broiled seafood that needed no accompaniment.
Eventually our partners moved on and, quite frankly, I was relieved. Apart from an extremely annoying Jack Russell terrier named “Natty” that dug holes the entire time we were camped at Pabéllon, we were also exposed to what I believe is the cheap tourist attitude when traveling – basic rules of courtesy and fairness do not apply. One of our parties was appalled that we planned to give a 15 percent gratuity. “10 percent should be plenty in Mexico,” he commented.
What is it about American tourists? We are in a country where a fabulous meal cost about $25 per person with drinks and they object to leaving an adequate tip for five-star service. I don’t get it. Another phenomenon of the American tourist is the need to criticize and complain about what they perceive are sub-standard facilities, water, food service, etc. Why not just stay home where you can get your American food, service and accommodations?
During our stay at San Elijo State Park we met Amy McKay and a friend she was traveling with. Then we ran into Amy and her mother at the Safari Park, and then we ran into Amy in Guerrero Negro. How ironic to run into her here again? We hooked up for dinner and drinks after Andrew and I fought over me adopting the first of many Mexican dogs. Turns out Amy was there working for a whale watching tour operator and the following day was her day off so she offered to accompany us on our whale watching tour and be our guide.
But first we had dinner at Las Cazuelas Restaurant-Bar a place she recommended that has been in open for six years. All meals in Mexican restaurants are served with a complimentary appetizer, usually homemade soup. At Las Cazuelas they serve the house specialty ‘Chocolat Clams.’ I never eat clams so I was hesitant to taste this local specialty, but I was brave and loved them highly recommend them to anyone.
Berto, the chef, kindly agreed to share the family recipe with me and it is reprinted at the end of this story for your enjoyment.
The next day we moved to Laguna Ojo de Liebre (translated means “Eye of the Jack Rabbit”) a couple of miles south of Guerrero Negro. We found a campsite right on the lagoon and again were the only ones there. We spent a glorious evening by the lagoon where we could see whales playing and breaching right from our campsite. We were also joined by some local kids who were fascinated with the dogs.
The following day we went on a two-hour Whale watching boat ride in the lagoon with Amy, who studied Ecology in college, and proved to be a knowledgeable tour guide. We saw literally hundreds of whales swimming, frolicking and ‘logging’ (resting on the top of the water).
As the Grey whales migrate north they stop in this Lagoon from December through March to birth and raise their young calves. They are now fully protected while they rest here. No fishing or boating is allowed except by the licensed operators. The whale count stands at about 2,000 or more.
It was an amazing sight to see these wonderful animals in their own wild environment. Photographing them proved to be difficult I held the camera to my eye for most of the trip and still missed the breaching as I had the camera pointed at the wrong whale. So I now have great respect for the photographs you can purchase from professional photographers. I did get one head up as you can see here.
Our next stop was the Sea of Cortez. The scenery was incredible and very similar to Nevada and areas of Northern California. On our return trip there were wildflowers everywhere and the cactus were also in bloom. We were told that these huge cactus are about one hundred years old before they sprout their first arm. When I asked about whether there was any commercial use of cactus I was given a few answers. They are now a protected species and it is against the law to cut them down, but in days past some creative uses included cactus salad, wall paneling, window shades and place mats.
Parts of Mexico are still very poor. Most of the homes are shacks built from pieces of plywood with palm tree boughs serving as roofs.
As we rounded the bend to the Sea of Cortez we were disappointed at how dirty Santa Rosalia was so we passed through and headed for Loreto, but ended up just south of Mulegé. We were about 32 miles past Mulegé, having passed some stunning beach campgrounds, when ‘Bob’ got ornery and decided it was time for a break. We turned around not an easy task on cliff roads with no shoulder in a 31-foot vehicle and headed back to the sand spit we had just seen.
We had now certainly arrived in Nirvana. El Playa Requeson was to be our home for the next twelve glorious days. Camped on the beach, approximately three feet from the crystal clear cove water, we woke to stunning sunrises over the Bahia de Concepcion every morning, and viewed some spectacular sunsets behind the mountains each evening. Our most difficult decision of the day was whether to swim or sun or just sit around drinking Dos Equis.
Friends Gerri and John with their Mexican adopted dog Juan thrilled us with their kayaking expedition where Juan even had his own lifejacket.
Later they let us use the kayaks and we managed to get Sheila and Hobart on board for a short trip. I ended up with scrapes and bruises all over me as they slid off and then re-boarded several times along the way. Neither was happy on one kayak so they kept swapping places.
Our two dogs swam more than they ever have before. The cove was very shallow and when we walked out to snorkel and swim they always followed but had to swim the whole time after it got above our knees. Snorkeling and kayaking around the island from the cove we saw some of the most spectacular sea life we have ever seen. It was like an aquarium, and we spotted octopi, parrotfish, hundreds of starfish, a dolphin pod and many other tropical fish.
A couple of times either Andrew or I would head into Mulegé to check e-mail and do some banking, we were still running a business while on holiday. Occasionally, while in town we also shopped for some groceries including beer and liquor (Baja wine proved mostly unpalatable), but for the most part we were able to purchase everything we needed on the beach. Every morning the local Mexicans came by selling fresh caught shrimp, scallops and flounder, not to mention produce, fruit, eggs, ice and homemade chicken tamales.
I learned to make Shrimp Ceviché (marinated in lime juice and spices) from Gerri; cooked banana papaya bread without a recipe; tried my hand at fish tacos (not bad); and created exotic cocktails with Guycara Licores, a delicious Mexican liqueur in a bottle shaped like a naked woman.
Finally, after 12 days we were facing the dreaded decision of having to leave the beach and head into Mulegé to get the water tanks filled and get some mechanical work done on ‘Bob’ for the trip home.
We had visited all the RV parks near town and we ended up choosing Hotel Cuesta Real and RV Park, owned and operated by Chris and Ken Wright. Ken, who is Cuban born but raised in Northern California, and childhood sweetheart Chris purchased the property in total disrepair about a year and half ago and have now been open and operating for more than a year.
What a lucky choice for us. The first night our hosts graciously included us in their family dinner night at La Sirena – the monthly tenants, pub regulars and families rotate preparing the family night meal on Mondays when the restaurant is closed to the public. We were lucky enough to have paella prepared by Chef Berto with fish freshly caught that day by Chris and friends. The tasty dish boasted squid, red snapper, shrimp, lobster, butterfly clams, chicken and Spanish rice, served with tomato salad, bread and frosty Sangria.
The next day our new friends directed Andrew to a local mechanic who came to us and fixed the electrical problems we were having in about 20 minutes and for $25 USD. We still had some mechanical issues and had to bring it to a shop in town owned by Oscar. We ended up having to leave it overnight and so checked into the hotel for the night with all four animals.
We enjoyed another family meal that night and were treated to a taste of Chris’s famous margaritas. Following teary good-byes the next day we headed on our way.
On closing, this trip has left us wanting more. We will return to explore some more, to hook up with friends we met traveling and others who have made their homes there now. We are still not sure why you are told to be careful about safety in Mexico, we never had any problems, the Mexicans were all very friendly, accommodating and curious people. We were not uncomfortable or concerned about our safety once on this trip, except in the Southern California State Parks.
One piece of advice for travelers heading to Mexico: You do not need to stock up on foods and stuff as you can get everything there, including purified water, in every town. We would bring more wine with us next time, but for all else, buy local and you will love it.
For detailed information on our trip and contact information for places we recommend to see, eat and stay, please visit my Web site at http://www.AskSharron.com
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