Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Traveling Down Baja's Transpeninsular Highway

Our three day journey home through Baja's desert landscape had us head over heels in love, again.
The long winding road home

Day 1
We left San Diego at dawn in the Expedition loaded to its gills with baggage.  At the Mexican border we flashed our FM-3 immigration cards and preceded hassle-free through Tijuana and merrily on our way south. An hour later we arrived at the Hotel Coral Resort and Marina in Ensenada for an elegant breakfast graciously served on the veranda surrounded by Christmas decorations overlooking flowering gardens and an assortment of mostly California yachts. After breakfast Spark wiggle-waggled on newly made friends, ran, and chased his ball. All of us, happy and full, loaded back into the well-packed car and started our drive deeper into Baja’s lush vineyard region.  The drive was slow going as we passed through several traffic congested villages dotted along the highway. By late afternoon, we finally arrived at our destination a few miles south of the town of San Quintin on the Pacific Coast. 

A Welcomed Relief, Hotel Jardines

A Champagne Toast to Baja
Hanging a radical right turn off the highway, we bumped down a long dusty dirt road and found our hotel hidden behind a stand of tall stately palms. Hotel Jardines charmed us before we opened the car door. The small hotel, an Inn really, is becoming a popular spot for gringos to stay the night as they migrate south for the winter. The well-manicured cacti gardens and topical oasis abundant with banana tress, flowing trellises of magenta colored bougainvillea, white trumpet flowers, pink impatients, red poinsettas, and fragrant yellow flowering shade trees beckons weary travelers and offers sweet respite from the seemingly never-ending highway.

Restaurante Jardines Dressed up for Christmas

Once inside our big corner room, we wiped off the road grime, dug out sweatshirts for the cool desert evening, and opened our cooler.  A choir of singing sparrows and cooing doves serenaded us on the patio outside our room as we sipped cold champagne to celebrate our return to Baja. Our evening meal was prepared by the Innkeeper’s daughter at the adjacent restaurant. A combination of chili rellenos, chicken enchiladas, and beef tacos put large grins upon our hungry faces. The margaritas helped too. Sleep was quickly upon us as our heads hit the pillows.

Day 2   
At daybreak, hot coffee to go was served on the patio as the mass exodus of fellow travelers climbed into their heavily packed trucks to continue the pilgrimage south. An hour south, at a sharp bend east in the road, we stopped at Mama Spinosa's Cafe in El Rosario for French Toast and Huevos Rancheros. Back in the country for just 24 hours, and our love of Mexican cooking was already beginning to manifest itself on our waistlines.

Mama Spinosa's in El Rosario

Valle de Ciros
This was to be our longest leg, and an arduous journey it was. We wove our way over hills and across arroyos crisscrossing the Baja desert rendered unusually green by unseasonal rains. In awe of the breathtaking vistas, but also in fear and holding our breath as we rounded spine-tingling-goose-bump-white-knuckle-hairpin curves marked by “Curvas Peligrosas” signs warning drivers to “slow down” as we wound our way through the Valle de los Ciros. The deciduous Ciros catcus named by the Spaniards for its resemblance to the tall tapered candlesticks found on alters of Catholic churches, is also known as the boomjum tree in the southwest USA.  The valley is also home to the red barrell, cholla, ocotilla cacti, as well as the grand Cardons. El Cardons are largest cacti in the world, they can grow to 60 feet, hold 1 ton of water, and live 300 years. Impressive survival skills. As we neared Catavina we traveled through a massive boulder field, spectacular in its raw beauty. 

Ciros, Red Barrel, El Cardon Cacti, a boulder and Darrell

At Guerrero Negro (known for its proximity to a grey whale nursery in Scammons Lagoon) we left the Pacific Ocean in the rear view mirror, headed east, and crossed into Baja California Sur.  Ahead of us, the Desierto de Vizcaino, a LONG stretch of dry desert landscape leading to our final ascent up a series of steep and narrow grades punctuated by road work, fast moving semi-trucks passing on the tight 2 lane highway, and the consequent scatterings of descansos - (shrines for the dearly departed who lost their lives on this highway). More reason to hold one’s breath, cross your fingers, and say a few Hail Mary’s on Leg 2.

Highway Neighbors

Hector's Descanos
Did I mention the main reason not to drive at night? COWS. Many Cows. Grazing openly along the highway, especially now with the increased grass from recent rains growing long side the nonexistent shoulders of the road. And everyone knows that the grass is always greener on the other side. So, once again, Do NOT drive at night.

Is the grass greener on the other side?
This is a good point of departure to express our gratitude, once again, to one of the many Mexican courtesies. Outstanding service is synonymous with being in Mexico, whether in restaurants, banks, telcel offices, or on the highway. The two lane highway is narrow and without shoulders, cars and trucks speed along fairly fast on the straight sections and climb very slowly on steep inclines. Drivers are often unable to see beyond the truck in front of them to pass safely. Truckers will blink their lights when it is safe to pass, and when cows or some other situation renders passing unsafe the trucks will pull into the center of the highway to alert you to a danger ahead and prevent you from passing. 
Gentlemen truckers, Mucho Gracias. 

The final approach to Santa Rosalia

Dead-dog tired, we arrived at the El Morro Motel just south of Santa Rosalia for sunset. The once romantic, but now tired motel sits high on a bluff overlooking the bright blue Sea of Cortez. Outside our patio, through a garden of neglected swaying palms, the Sea signals us that we are another day closer to home, El  Tiburon awaits. The El Morro Motel was just perfect. 

The Pear Hour at Bahia Conception
Day 3   
Described as the as The Pearl Hour by John Steinbeck, we began our journey home at first light. My favorite leg in the journey because the road leads us to the turquoise waters of Bahia Concepcion where locals and cruisers and campers bask in the vast beauty of where Desert mets Sea. We stopped and stretched and watched the sunrise while Sparky played with a beach dog. Down the road, Loreto was waiting, and so was breakfast at our favorite spot on the plaza.

What a spot to camp!
After breakfast we flew down the road closing in on the home stretch. Careful not to speed through Ciudad Constitucion, the crossroads for Baja agriculture and commerce, for surely we would be ticketed. Two hours and some 800-plus miles later we arrived at our final destination, Marina Palmira in La Paz. El Tiburon. 
Home Sweet Home, for now.


  1. glad you have made it back to your favourite place intime for the holidays.

    Thinking of you both and Sparky in the sunshine, we have just returned to London where it is cold, damp and miserable, after getting over the jetlag tomorrow will put up some decorations.

    xxx Kim and Dan and (sniff sniff) Noelani all on her own again xx

  2. Scary! White knuckle curvas peligrosas!!! But beautiful, and of course, MEXICO. I know you love it! Now for a season of amazing sunsets and your fantastic pictures Sarah! Love to Darrell and to mighty dog. xoxo

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