Loreto Valentines and More (Feb 14 2016)

Last year it was Waikiki. The year before, somewhere up in the mountains of New Mexico… It’s been a sort of unintentional tradition for us to spend St. Valentine’s Day in a different place every year.

The day begins fairly early with packing up and saying goodbye to Playa Escondida. Back on the highway, past Cocos, Burros, El Coyote… El Requeson is near the bottom end of Bahia Concepcion, in a cove divided by a sandpit and mangrove ringed island. There are beaches, lagoons and a handful of campers. We must return to this place. Armeta comes after El Requeson and then the road veers inland.

DSC05614To the west are layers of mountain ranges – sierras. Sierra is a popular fish (Spanish mackerel in English, sawara in Japanese) but it also means “saw” and these are definitely sawtoothed ranges. Young and aggressive, newly tortured out of the earth, not yet worn and mellowed by time.

At Km 24 is a checkpoint. They seem to be roughly the same distance north of every major town. The northbound vehicles are given a big check — uniformed staff going inside, looking through luggage, etc. but the southbound vehicles are just waved through.

DSC05628The approach to Loreto is lined with roadside shops and facilities. We stop at a Pemex for water, then park a block from the Mission.

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DSC05615The street in front of the Mission is a pedestrian paseo that has shops and restaurants beneath an arbor arch. It’s Sunday and the church is overflowing. Big Dog pokes his head in just in time for that part of Mass where you greet your neighbor. He shakes hands with half a dozen Loreto residents.

DSC05616The town was founded in 1697, by Jesuit missionaries who established Misión Nuestra Señora de Loreto, the first of the California missions. It is the beginning of the Spanish Catholic legacy in the Californias, as well as the beginning of the genocide of the natives.

DSC05618Near the Misión is a very pretty hotel, built in the colonial style, with a lovely inner courtyard. The courtyard is small but sweet, with plants and a fountain. You see a lot of these buildings in the Central Highlands (places like San Miguel de Allende in particular) but it’s quite unusual in rough and tumble Baja. The malecón is just beyond the hotel.

DSC05619DSC05620We walk through the residential streets near the center, looking for my high school friend’s house. A few years ago, she got married to a man who was brought up in Mexico and had a Mexican mother. Although they live in Santa Cruz, they are building a straw bale house here. I’m not sure if I found her house — there is no address and it’s hard to see beyond the big iron gate, but we DO find a Ley Supermarket to resupply our diminished stores of food and (more importantly for Big Dog) munchies.

When we come out of the supermarket, we see that the window washers have washed Sprockets while we were shopping but neither of us have any change for them, so Big Dog tells the guy we’ll be back and we go off to find an agua purificador, thinking we can get change there.

DSC05624DSC05625However, the water man gives you the water. In exchange for a little salt. Huh?

“I guess he just got lunch and it wasn’t salty enough,” explains Big Dog. Guess he needed the salt badly! But I love Barter Economy, so I am jazzed.

Loreto is clean and mellow, and out on the highway, we find a fish taco to rival the one in Guerrero Negro. Two plus-sized beauties run the place, which seems to be a local fave. The other highway vendors are all eating here. We get fish and shrimp tacos. The fish is different from the Guerrero Negro place. It’s lighter, more delicate. Maybe it’s snapper. The batter is light, like the best tempura batter. And it is all so very tasty!

DSC05626DSC05629From Loreto, the road goes up, up, up to the top of the first sierra. Then, down, down, down to a vast expanse of flat terrain. It is all desert – cordon cati, ocotillo, sagebrush – until you get close to Ciudad Insurgentes and Ciudad Constitución. This is the “stomach” of the Baja, the big agricultural area with large farms and livestock operations.

We are headed to Puerto Lopez Mateos, on the Pacific side, and along the paved (but very potholed) road out to it there are homes selling goat cheese, places selling chickens and eggs, “vende y compra chivas” signs announcing their desire to sell and buy goats, acres of cabbages and orange groves. The road goes straight west but is humpbacked like a roller coaster.

We finally get to the end of the road and the port that is the name of this town, but some kind of event (swap meet?) is going on and they want to charge us P20 just to get in so we turn around. This is another whale watching area and their boats leave from this port. Otherwise, it is a tiny sleepy town (with a water tower! the first we have seen in Baja!) From there, we go to another boat launch area where it looks like one could boondock, but the beach is littered with dead birds. What the heck? Avian Varanasi?

“Let’s just go to Ciudad Constitución. Larry said that the RV park on the edge of town had internet, hot showers, a pool and hookups,” I say.

We have to open a closed gate to get in, and no one is there when we enter. Just dogs barking inside a building. It’s landscaped and the area around the pool has palapas. But the sign on their door says they want P240 or something like that.

“Let’s just take a shower and split,” suggests Big Dog. Really? But we do. The hot water is nice. And we leave some money in their window, go back out and onward to San Carlos, another port town on the Pacific coast.

This road is not as potholed or as humpbacked and it’s a pretty straight shot to the coast, past shrubs and cordon cacti. There are bird nests on poles and electric power structures – the highest things around.

On the coast is a huge industrial plant. I have no idea what it is but it is all lit up in the dusk. Since it’s the end of the day, we do not waste time exploring the town but go to a beach zone on a small point. It’s Sunday and there are families and couples out here, maybe for clamming, but they are all going home. One car pulls up near you. Two girls go out to play while mom and dad get some Valentine’s time alone. Heh heh. No wonder these Mexicans have so many kids. Moreover, no wonder Japan has a declining population!

It’s too late to bring out chairs and tables. It’s too late for major cooking.

“Can we just do ham and cheese sandwiches?” I ask and Big Dog grudgingly nods. Maybe not the best dinner but he’s already forgotten about it as he befriends a blue-eyed dog.

End of Day Miles: 1090 mi.

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Author: ontheroadwithsprockets

I've been traveling since I was born -- the first big trip was before I was two, across the Pacific, from my native Japan to Los Angeles on a cargo ship. There have been many journeys since then, through many continents and cultures.

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