Sunday, September 13, 2009

Nellie’s Back in Loreto, Baja California Sur

Time flies when you are having fun … and what a nice summer this has been. I spent much time away from Loreto visiting friends in Victoria, Vancouver, Calgary, and Halifax. I had vacations in Seattle, San Diego and New York and now feeling rested and with some semblance of balance in a place where time seems to stand still … Loreto.

I brought a 1998 Dodge Durango from my friend Albert Basil, who owns AJ Motors in Los Angeles. I gave the specifications of what I wanted (model, year, color, fabric type, a/c, 4x, miles, and other options) and he found the car at the auction. He drove the car for a month and replaced all the parts that he thought would be necessary so I could have a good safe Baja car. This included a new axle, tires, brakes, steam cleaning the engine, and a brand new radio for my long drive down Baja. The price was great and I feel very confident that the car is in good condition to last me a couple of years of hard off road driving.

I left San Diego about noon on Sunday, Sept 6, and decided to take the Tecate border. It was not that far from where I was staying and it was worth the extra hour drive to bypass Tijuana on a holiday weekend. The border crossing was very fast with no line up at all, and although I got the red light, the Customs Officer was very pleasant and did not search the vehicle too thoroughly, although I had brought very few things other than some food and gifts.

Driving from Tecate to Ensenada is a lovely drive along wine country. I was traveling on my own, so did not stop and visit L.A. Cetto and Santa Tomas vineyards but I always think “next time”. Ensenada is growing with a lot of construction on the main roads. It took much longer than expected to get through the town than I remembered, but I was not in any hurry. Most of the drive from Ensenada to Catavina is not very interesting. There are many small local towns, with as many topes (speed bumps) to slow speeding tourists passing through.

There is plenty of gas along the way, with the exception between El Rosario and Guerro Negro. This is 314 km and only a very small sign to warn you that there is no fuel in between. El Rosario has Mama Espinosa’s Restaurant famous for its lobster burritos and is a good place to fill up your tank and tummy. There is a makeshift gasoline station in Catavina where they will siphon fuel out of barrels into your car, but it is understandably twice the price of Pemex.

When buying gas in Baja it is best to have pesos as Pemex usually gives lousy exchange rates. Also, get out of the car and watch them start the fuel pump at $0.00. A common scam is to place the nozzle in the tank and wait for a few minutes. Then the attendant will ask you for 100 pesos and point to the meter. Many times, he never put any fuel in at all. You will say “no, I want it full”, so he will then start the pump and add the 100 pesos to the total bill. What can you do if you did not watch him from the start?? It’s not worth the altercation for 100 pesos, just remember caveat emptor – buyer beware.

I always am happy to get to Catavina as I know I am approaching Baja Sur which is very different in topography and socially from Baja California (norte). Catavina has the spectacular mountains of large boulders with forests of cactus scattered among them, and then flat plains in the distance. It makes one wonder “how did those giant boulders get there?” Quien Sabe?

I took my time from Tecate to Guerro Negro as I did not know the car well, and it was almost 9 hours. My usual place to stay is Malarrimo Motel because the rooms are clean and the restaurant is decent. For 350 pesos a night, it is all I need.

The next morning I headed off for Loreto, unsure what I would encounter along the way with the hurricane damage. Again, fuel is scarce between Guerro Negro and Santa Rosalia which is about 230 km, so it is recommended that you do not go below half a tank of gas when traveling along Baja.

We learn to amuse easily living la vida loca in Loreto. As I passed this single cow munching happily by the side of the road; I wonder – Why is the most succulent morsels of life always associated with the greatest risk? You can see from the prior photo that the surrounding area is covered with fresh greenery for miles, yet this cow makes his way to the dangerous road to enjoy his feed, totally oblivious to the cars that speed past at 100+ km per hour.

When approaching Santa Rosalia there were road crews working and many flag men directing traffic. It was reassuring to see the heavy equipment, bull dozers, and dump trucks making endless runs to move dirt and rock back to where it came from. I imagine that Road Crews, the Military, and CFE Electrical crews have been working non stop for the past 5 days to make the roads passable and safe.

It was slow going but everyone was in good spirits and very friendly. I had a cooler of water bottles in my car and was passing them out to those that looked a little parched in the hot sun. It’s the least I could do for safe passage thanks to their tireless efforts at minimal wages.

To see how Hurricane Jimena decimated the main square in Santa Rosalia was very sad indeed. Many parts of the town on higher ground seemed intact, but near the old railroad station and main square, there was an obvious mud slide and raging river of water that had left much destruction it its path.

Moving along to Mulege the damage was much worse. These photos were taken from the car as I was driving down the main highway through town. It was shocking just how much damage the storm caused. Luckily very few were hurt and anyone living in Mulege must know the risks involved with tropical storms of any magnitude.

I turned into town to take some better photos however, the roads were so backed up and there was still a lot of cleanup going on, so I backed up and decided not to be a curious tourist and let the crew do their job.

The homes along the river in the middle of town were the hardest hit. Many were just remnant walls of their former self and people were scattered around picking up the pieces. Every few years Mulege gets hit hard and yet the people rebuild and stay until the next bad one. There must be a magic in Mulege that I do not see? However, many people probably say the same about Loreto.

From the bridge you can see all the flatten palm trees and washed out roads. The famous octagon shaped home that was in the center of town under the bridge appeared as though it had been completely overtaken by the water current and although I could not get close enough to see, most windows had been blown out and there appeared to be little furniture inside.

Onto a lighter note, it was nice to get to Bahia Concepcion and see the beautiful Sea of Cortez again. With the Sierra Mountains as protection from the East, there was no damage or rock slides in this area as I drove south. The contrast of the lush green mangroves and hillside landscape compared to the rocky peninsula and still blue water is always amazing to me. It is like a breath of fresh air every time I drive this road.

For miles and miles there are no residences or commercial buildings. It is pure unadulterated natural beauty. The beaches are white sand and pristine. The road is good and curves the mountains like a rollercoaster ride. Only an hour away from Loreto, it is a great day trip to pack a picnic, swimsuit, and visit an undiscovered place that is new to you.

Along the way there are more cows, goats and horses feeding along the side of the road. When I pull over with my music blasting and roll down the window, they curiously look at me the same way I must be looking at them. I snap my camera and move on, before this guy decides to chase me away from his young herd.

Anyways, that was my third drive down in the past three years, and I would recommend it to anyone. There are about 6 military stops, but they are mostly checking cars for drugs heading north. As long as you are respectful and patient, there is nothing to fear but fear itself.

Stay tuned next week and see what I have been up to this summer when not vacationing. It’s a whole new chapter in Where In the World is Nellie? Soon to be a mini-series I am sure!

Have a great week!
Miss Nellie
centerpointe