In my last post, I detailed the driving conditions in Mexico since driving was 85% of our journey. But I’ll bet you want to know about the trip itself? It began with a short 5 hr drive to Loreto. Why did we stay there? Well, because everybody recommends Loreto. Plus you shouldn’t drive at night and there aren’t any good options to pick from just 3 hrs farther down the line. It was well worth the extra hours on the back-side.
Friends recommended La Damiana Inn, a small former-house-turned-hotel – think bed and breakfast (without the breakfast). Charming and clean, this quaint Mexican residence boasts a perfect location close to the town square and the water, and the hosts are kind and helpful to boot. So much so we stayed there again on our return trip.
We devoured a yummy Mexican lunch, walked the malecon and visited the harbor, then headed back for a nap. The evening began with craft beers at 1697 Restaurant, and ended with an excellent Uruguayan dinner at Mezzaluna. What a way to start a trip. This IS vacation!
Somebody put A LOT of money into this city of only 12,000 people. With an international airport and multiple direct flights to LA weekly, Loreto is noticeably hopping with expats. It’s surprisingly easier to get here by air than La Paz, a city of 200,000. It has that small-town feel that we love. Tourist-nice but not touristy. No glam, no hype, just laid-back old world charm. Don’t come here if you want nightlife. We could totally live here.
The old mission, founded in 1697, is in the center, fronted by a cobblestone town square, with foodie restaurants galore and neat shops showcasing fantastic Mexican pottery and crafts lining it all. The malecon was expansive and newly constructed (I now judge every city by its sidewalks). A small, shallow panga harbor is the waterfront attraction and people stroll the malecon to watch dozens of fishermen bring in their daily catch.
As the beachfront is exposed to weather, the only way to anchor in front of this city is when the wind is calm. No one stays overnight. Although Loreto is along our upcoming route, the nearest harbor with access to a taxi is some 20 miles away. Not exactly convenient, but we hope to get here again.
Day 2 of our trip was a 9hr drive to Cataviña, with only two stops in Santa Rosalia and Guerrero Negro for gas/bathroom breaks. No ideal lunch places were available at least along the main road, so we kept on truckin’. This was the nail-biting part of the trip (curvy and no shoulders), but also the prettiest with its mountainous, rocky desert terrain. Lots of spectacular waterfront views but no overlooks to stop and take photos, so I tried to take some on the fly. Inland, several dead volcanoes with their old lava trails dot the landscape. Looks like west Texas.
Cataviña is an area uniquely surrounded by several miles of a huge boulder field, the most interesting part of the trip visually. But it is literally in the Middle. Of. Nowhere. The entire town consists of a large hotel, a tiny tienda…. and that’s about it. Gas is only available from a parked pickup sporting jugs of fuel in the bed – that guy is entrepreneurial. Fill up before you get here, as his is the only gas for 200 miles. Hotel Mision Catavina is, funny enough, designed in the shape of a real mission with rooms facing a courtyard and pool. Conveniently located a full days drive from the border, somebody built this self-contained hotel/restaurant in the middle of nowhere, hoping “they will come”. Well, we did. It’s so conveniently located, we booked it on the return trip.
Day 3 was the longest at 11 hours. We drove though more of “west Texas”, then down to the Pacific where we saw everything from sand dunes and wine country to agricultural areas growing pineapple, strawberries and nopale cactus. Miles and miles of greenhouses hid most of the plants from view. It wasn’t until Ensenada where Mexico transformed from a string of dusty agricultural towns to a real city. We ate at Carl’s Jr. (I told you not to judge) and found the toll road leading along the Pacific sporting gorgeous views and no speed bumps… OK except for the toll booths. Finally, a real highway!
Enter Tijuana. Definitely not the scary, rough and tumble place I envisioned, TJ is a real bustling city with real highways and real confusing signage. I had printed directions on how to get to the border crossing, complete with photos of each ridiculous turn. After several roundabouts, turns and backtracks, when we got to the last step to get in the “ready lane” (just show your passport card for quicker access) it was blocked off and we had to find our way around again, adding another half hour. We ended up just following the massive flow of traffic and found ourselves locked in the standard lanes along with the masses. 2 hours total of trying to get into my own country. It was easier to get into Mexico.
The border crossing was the most interesting people-watching. Since we were newbies, I had no idea there would appear, out of nowhere, a “border city” - literally, right on the highway. Within the length of a couple city blocks, 8 or so lanes of traffic move at a snail’s pace while vendors mill about up and down the lane dividers hawking food and souvenirs. I’m not talking a couple guys selling cokes and hot dogs people. Just about any food item is available from what seemed like a hundred vendors. The SUV ahead of us ordered an entire dinner of street food purchasing one round of yummy treats for its four passengers every 20 minutes: iced cappuccinos… street tacos… ice cream cones. A progressive dinner party in the comfort of your own car.
Souvenirs galore are available from hats and t-shirts to traditional Mexican tchotchkes like painted bowls and blankets. But who decides it’s a good idea to buy a full-sized 2’ x 3’ gold-framed painting of The Last Supper while he’s crossing the border? Oh, yes, THAT’s what I should have bought on my trip to Mexico. Oh, and don’t forget the Viagra before you go back to the US. Yup, just flag down that “doctor” dressed in a fake white doctor’s coat. But that’s not even the craziest thing. Hell, we saw puppies for sale! Puppies! They were so cute and I wanted one and Brian was trying to get all rational with me… what if they stop you and ask for its papers? And I was all…but I want one!!!! Yes, THAT’s what I forgot to buy on my trip to Mexico! Sigh...Brian won.
The crossing itself was a breeze. I got all worked up about it and when we finally get to the booth, the guy looks at our passports, tells us to do him a favor and sign them when we get home (oops, these are our new ones), and waves us through. 2 seconds later we are on the highway speeding along at 70mph for the first time in 6 months. Wow. How anti-climactic.
San Diego Trip To Be Continued in Part 3…