A Road Trip to Baja

Catharine Playing at 2nd Point

Summer vacation! The word bounces around inside my mouth with all the joy inherent in time spent away from ‘normal’ daily endeavors. The magic of vacation, or “holiday” to use the delightful British term, is to step away, to put down the mantle, and enjoy the natural rhythms of one’s own body.

This August, to both escape the interminable grey and to find warm waters to surf, a drive was planned down Mex 1 with good friends Cathy Cox and Patrick Humphrey. The trip would include a birthday celebration for Patrick, who hails from Montana.

Cathy and I shopped for food and supplies. I made a border trip to obtain SENTRI status for my car. Mexican insurance was procured, tire pressure checked, along with all fluids and the spare. Buster watched me packing the suitcases and refused to leave my side. My dog wanted to make sure that he was part of the trip, and only began to relax when he saw his dog bed, toys and special “Animal Crackers Gina” food lined up with the other cases.

The crossing at Otay Mesa was seamless, even though we were pulled over for inspection. After circling the new road on the east of Tijuana, we picked up Mex 1 heading south. Cathy had never driven the Baja, and I was anxious for her to absorb every stunning mile.

We had reservations at El Jardin for the first night, a lovely motel tucked off the main highway in San Quintin. The motel is set in the midst of verdant gardens that include a small orange grove, palms of several varieties, green lawns, and flowering plants. It is one of Buster’s favorite romping spots — lots of open garden and birds to explore. We had reserved the “family” room, and couldn’t stop laughing at how reminded we were of Goldilocks and the three bears.

Dinner in the adjacent restaurant was delicious — fish and lobster tacos. Toasts were raised to the happy travelers first night on the road, and all of us — even Buster — had sweet dreams.

Morning light and we were on the road to El Rosario for a requisite stop at Mama Espinosa’s for coffee and huevos rancheros. Scrumptious as always. The restaurant is infamous on the peninsula, and the walls are covered with photographs of off-road racers of every variety.

After El Rosario, the road opens into a beautiful, if not somewhat surreal desert landscape. Tall Cirrio cactus that looks something like extremely narrow Christmas trees without wide branches cover the landscape. At this dry time of year, the stalks themselves are not very green, but the very tops are festooned in a bright yellow green burst of leaves and flowers. Mixed in to the flora are bojum trees, tall Cardon, yuccas, barrel cactus and scrub mesquite.

The landscape shifts again to a wonderland of house-size boulders piled into mountain shapes by long dormant volcanoes. Pink blossoms gave mesquite in the moisture lands a kind of cotton-candy quality.

And then the land changes. In the approach to Lake Chapala, the flora flattens, and the land becomes more arid, announcing the entrance to the Vizcaino desert. This is one of the driest regions on the peninsula, and most of the plant life is merely inches tall. This is the land of grey whales on the west coast, the winter migration destinations of Scammon’s and San Ignacio Lagoon.

After a day’s stop in Loreto for additional supplies and a fabulous dinner at Carol and Lee Boyd’s Mediterraneo restaurant, the surf seeking trio headed to San Juanico. Cathy and Pat checked into Casitas de San Juanico, while I took up residence in my friends’ Cynthia & Cal’s guest casita.

San Juanico has a piece of my heart. It is a dusty fishing village of maybe 500 people, who all seem to have kind and loving hearts. A handful of gringos have taken up residence, and the landscape has changed with the construction of “gringo” homes. But at its heart, San Juanico is a family town that occasionally has great surf.

We were gifted with shoulder-high sets for two days and relished in relatively uncrowded breaks and warm water. For the first time the entire summer, I surfed in a bikini — with only a rash guard to protect from the shimmering sun and brilliant blue skies

We surfed for five days, ate more than our share of fish tacos and made new friends with Mikey, Helge, Mike and Stephanie. Buster chased sticks and balls and adopted Patrick as his new best friend. The hoped-for south swell didn’t materialize, but fun surf in 74-degree water cheered everyone’s spirits. Lots of down time with books and an afternoon cerveza on the beach: yep, vacation. Soothes the souls and resets the energy meter.

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