1 - 31 March 2017 - Road Trip, Los Barriles to San Diego and Back

March 31, 2017

 

 

  

Wednesday 1st March

 

Today is the day we depart Los Barriles, after our five month stay, for the 1,000 mile journey north on the Baja peninsula to San Diego.

 

We are the last ones standing from our group at Playa Norte. Everyone has left over the past few days to make their way north for the summer. The RV looks very lonely standing on its own with no neighbours. After a final check around the camp, we are on the road

 

A last look at the Sea of Cortez from the bedroom window.

 

Sandy looking sad to be leaving the beach and her hunting ground.

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We are soon on the sand road, or the by-pass as it is called around here, up to Mex 1 and our road north. First stop is La Paz and the Maranatha RV Park.

 

 Thursday 2nd  March

 

John and Judy arrived today at La Paz airport. It has been twelve months to the month since their last visit and we are looking forward to our road trip together up to San Diego.

 

First to Big Ruby’s Restaurant in El Centenario for dinner and complimentary tequila shots.

 

 

 

Friday 3rd March

 

On our way to Loreto 216 miles north through flatland and rolling hills until we turned east and climbed through the Sierra del la Giganta.

 

 

 

We pulled in at Rivera Del Mar RV Park in Loreto and took the short walk into the town centre. The origins of Loreto date back to the end of the 1600’s when a Jesuit mission was established here. Considered to be the first permanent mission and capital of Spanish California.

 

 

Mission Nuestra Senora. The origins of the mission church date back to 1699. The church has been enlarged and restored over the years and has survived a hurricane and an earthquake.

Met up with the Batey family for dinner at La Palapa Restaurant.

 

Saturday 4th March

 

Into town via the beach and the Malecon. Walked around the plaza and did a little shopping. Next to the church is the Museo de los Misiones where the history of the area is explained both before and after the Spanish arrived. There are plenty of exhibits and interesting ancient documents and maps.

 

 

 

 

Lunch at Mi Loreto Restaurant. Very welcoming staff. Fresh handmade tortillas, we could see a lady in a small kitchen busily making the tortillas to order.

 

In the evening, there was entertainment and food available in the town plaza.

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday 5th March

 

This morning our journey continued through the mountains to Bahia Conception, a long inlet on the Sea of Cortez. The bay has several sheltered white-sand beaches and small off shore islands. There are a series of spectacular views as we follow the bay north.

 

 

 

 

 We reach our destination, Santispac Beach, a favourite place for us to stop on our journeys up and down Baja. A simply gorgeous bay with shallow turquoise water, perfect for swimming, kayaking and snorkeling.

 

This sheltered bay is also popular with the boating fraternity, as they make their way up and down the peninsula. On the beach are two small family owned restaurants. The Batey family joined us and we went to Armandos’s Restaurant for dinner.

 

 

 

Monday 6th March

 

Breakfast on the beach.

 

John and Judy went for a stroll after breakfast. It takes a long walk before the water is over your head in this bay.

 Tuesday 7th March

 

After a couple of days rest on the beach, we continue along the coast road, past Mulege and Santa Rosalia where we turned west. Leaving the Sea of Cortez behind us, we climbed through the mountains towards San Ignacio.

 

Our overnight stop will be at Rice and Beans Oasis RV Park. Here there is a nice restaurant and a small swimming pool. Inside the restaurant there are many pictures and lots of memorabilia relating to off-road racing. Apparently, the place gets very busy when there is a race in progress.

 

Peter took John, Judy, Mel and Lyn into San Ignacio for a look around. The town has a large shady plaza, surrounded by old colonial style buildings and a restored 18th century mission church.

 

Wednesday 8th March

 

Back on Mex 1 we travel out of the Sierra San Francisco and across the Vizcaino Desert to our destination Guerrero Negro.

 

Spring flowers are showing around the cardon cactus.

 

Our camp for the night was in the town at Malarrimo RV Park. This is a small park that has a few motel rooms, a restaurant and shop. It is also the home to Malarrimo Eco-Tours where we have booked a whale watching tour.

 

Thursday 9th March

 

At 8am we waited excitedly outside the Malarrimo Eco-Tours office for our transport to Laguna Ojo de Liebre, where we would board a boat to take us into the lagoon.

 

During our journey to the lagoon a guide gave us some information on the background to the town and facts about the grey whale.

Grey whales spend the summer and autumn feeding in the cooler waters of the Bering Sea, Alaska, before making the long journey south down sthe Pacific coast to winter in Mexico. The pregnant females make their way to three sheltered lagoons situated along the Baja peninsula’s Pacific coast to give birth. Today we were heading to one of those three lagoons.

 

 

We arrived at the mouth of the lagoon and boarded our 23 feet boat. With eleven on board we had plenty of room.

 

We were escorted by a pod of dolphins as we made our way out into the bay.

It wasn’t long before we saw our first whale tail.

 

 

The mothers and babies came close to the boats without any encouragement, there was no feeding or enticements. The babies were very happy to be stroked and petted.

The babies seem to respond if we splashed sea water One particular, mature new born, took great delight in surfacing at the side of the boat and spraying us with water from his blow holes. It was like a game of, I can splash higher than you can.

 

When the babies are born, they can be 4.5 m. long and weigh a ton. At maturity, they will be 12-15 m. long and weigh 35-40 tons. The colour at birth is usually black. The whale gets its name from the grey blotchy pattern caused by barnacles that have attached to the skin, or where they have been and left behind grey pigmented skin.

 

Whale Watching the movie ......

 

 

The clarity of the water was good. It was quite a sight to see the adult females slowly swim under the boat and emerge on the other side, keeping a close eye on their offspring.

 

 

 

 

 

Grey whales feed on the ocean floor. They eat shrimp like crustaceans by diving to the bottom, rolling on their sides and gulping sand into their mouths. They filter the food from the sand using baleen plates that hang from their upper jaw. The plates are cream coloured and made out of keratin.

By the 1930’s commercial whaling almost wiped the grey whales out on the Pacific coast. Grey whales have been a protected species since the 1940’s and it is estimated that the population is now between 23,000-26,000. . We certainly saw several sets of mother and baby during our short visit, all thriving in this protected bay. The only natural predator of the grey whale now is the killer whale (orcas)

 

By the end of March the grey whales are migrating back up the Pacific coast to the feeding grounds in the north. The round trip from Bering Sea to Baja California and back is 16,000 km.

 

 

 

All too soon we were speeding back to the dock. It had been a fascinating and absolutely amazing experience. It was such a privilege to be near and closely interacting with these playful and intelligent animals. Truly the gentle giants of the sea.

 

 Mel and Lyn

Sea Lions are just sun worshipers.

 

Ospreys, also called the fish eagle and sea hawk, have over the years taken to making their nests on man-made structures in the Guerrero Negro area. Since the salt company came here in the 1950’s and put in structures like, channel markers and utility and electrical poles, the birds have utilised them for nests. At first, the  power and utility companies would take down the nests from the poles. This caused a problem because the birds returned each year to the same nest. The solution was to put a platform on top of the pole for the birds to use, keeping them well away from electrical cables. This seems to have been a roaring success, judging by the number of nests on top of poles we saw around the town. It looks like the Osprey population is doing very nicely.

 

 

 

Friday 10th March

 

Leaving Guerrero Negro this morning through the sea fog.

 

 

Once the fog cleared we were treated to a riot of spring flowers. The desert was definitely blooming.

 

 

Crossing the border into Baja California Norte just outside Guerrero Negro and putting our watches back to Pacific Time, we moved into the centre of the peninsula.  There are very few people in this area of unspoilt, pristine desert, boulder fields and rare, diverse desert plants and cacti.  Parque Del Desierto Central and the Valle de los Cirios are protected areas and government funding projects have built eco-friendly cabanas on ranches in the area providing tourists with a low impact way of experiencing the region. The ranchers act as hosts and guides, preserving the delicate eco system and allowing the local people to look after their environment.

 

 

 Peter leading the way along the narrow road.

 

 

 

 

Barbeque on the beach at Fidel’s RV Park just south of San Quinten. The Pacific Ocean behind in the mist.

 

 

Saturday 11th March

 

Today we made our way through the agricultural area of San Quinten and into the wine regions of Santo Thomas and the Guadalupe Valley. It was Johns birthday and we were heading to one of the bodegas for wine tasting.

 

The first part of the journey took us through several farming towns. Lazaro Gardenas, the first town we passed through, is also home to Mexico’s 67th Infantry battalion camp. The agriculture is large scale here, many of the fields being covered by canopies. Various fruit and vegetables are grown with tomatoes being the biggest crop.

 

After a couple of hours on the road we started to climb into rolling hills. We soon had views over the Santo Tomas valley where olives and grapes are grown. After a few miles travelling along the valley floor, we started to climb into the hills. Once back at sea level we continued on to the west coast town of Ensenada.

 

At Ensenada we turned east onto Mex 3 and into the Valle de Guadalupe. Our destination was the small town of San Antonio del las Minus where Santo Tomas winery has opened its newest tasting room.

 

Sharon the manager greeted us and we sat at a high table with lovely views over the valley. The tasting room is smart and very modern, with one wall modelled as a massive wine rack.

 

 

Our last tasting was a sweet wine and Sharon bought out a complimentary cheese and apple pastry, complete with candle for John’s birthday. 

 

 

 After our tasting, we toured the facility and  Sharon explained the wine making process.  Lastly, we watched a film about the Santo Tomas company and the people who produce the wine. Sharon had been an excellent host, carefully explaining the qualities of each wine we tasted and looking after us very well throughout our stay.

Back on Mex 3, our camp for the night was just a few miles away at Rancho Sordo Mudo, a residential school for deaf children in Mexico. The RV Park is just across the highway from the school, camping fees are by donation which goes to the school. Located next to the RV Park is LA Cetto winery, the largest wine producer in Mexico. The park has a picturesque setting, surrounded by vineyards and among palm and citrus trees.

 

We dined at the nearby La Esperanza Restaurant. The restaurant was lively with chatter when we arrived and very busy. After a short wait, we were shown to our table out on the covered terrace where there is an outside section stretching out towards the vineyards. It has superb views over the valley looking out towards the mountains. Great food and wine, the perfect way to end a birthday.

 

 

Sunday 12th  March

 

  

    The morning view from our campsite out over the vineyards before we headed off for the last stage of our Baja road trip north.

 

The border crossing at Tecate. Waited about an hour to get through. Customs stopped us to have a look around the RV but we were soon on our way to San Diego. 

 

We made good time from the border and were soon settled into the KOA campsite in Chula Vista. We called a Uber car for a ride into San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter. First stop, Searsucker Bar on Fifth Street for a drink before taking a walk around the district. In the late 19th century Fifth Avenue was notorious for its saloons, gambling joints and bordellos. Now it has nicely restored red brick buildings and busy restaurant, bars and small shops.

 

The San Diego Fire Department turned up outside in the street as we sat in the bar. They unreeled their electric ladders and maneuvered them onto the roof of the building next door. Several fire officers took the long climb up to the top of the building, some looking very nervous. There was no sign of a fire and we found out later that it was a training exercise.

 

 

 

 

Monday 13th March

 

Again, this morning we used the very useful Uber car service for a ride into downtown San Diego. I should say three of us did, disappointingly the dog is not allowed on the trolley bus tour we are taking, therefore Tony and Sandy stayed at home.

 

Taking a tour around the city on a bus is usually a good way to see any city, a hop on hop off bus tour that allows you to see the sights and linger or go back if you would like. It is also good if you have little time and just want to get the flavor of a place.

 

Our first stop was Coronado, an island out in San Diego Bay that also houses a US naval air station. A bow shaped bridge arcs across the bay connecting the island to the mainland.

 

 

The driver gave us some background to the island on the way. Three business men bought the island in the 1880’s. They built the Hotel del Coronado and the place became a popular resort destination. To fund the building of the hotel, land lots were sold in 1886 by auction for prices ranging from $500.00 to $1,600.00. Now these plots are probably selling for $1 - 5 million plus. The hotel still stands in all its Victorian grandeur and is quite an impressive sight. The exterior views of the hotel were used for the film Some Like it Hot.

 

Coronado Beach

 Beach side view of the Hotel del Coronado

 

At the back of the city is Balboa Park, our next stop. This extremely large urban park has gardens, museums, theatre, beautiful architecture and is the home of the famous San Diego Zoo. The park is an oasis of cool spaces, art, culture and science. Well worth a revisit.

 

Japanese Garden

Back in the bus with driver Hatch.

In 1769, the Spanish arrived in San Diego and constructed a mission and military post. A small pueblo grew around these structures and Old Town, our next stop, is a collection of restored or reconstructed buildings telling the story of San Diego through the Spanish, Mexican and American periods. After a walk around the town and La Casa Estudillo, a house constructed in 1827 just off the old town plaza and one of the oldest surviving large Spanish-Mexican homes in California, it was time to board the trolley.

 

Lttle Italy was originally a fishing community started in the 19th Century. The Italian population here built boats for the tuna fishing industry and worked at the canneries. Now the area still retains many of the old buildings and has an abundance of restaurants. The district is quite hilly and is a little reminiscent of San Francisco.

From Old Town, we headed to Harbor Drive where the Maritime Museum is based. Here, the magnificent Star of India is moored. Built in 1863 this iron built sail ship has been restored and continues to be seaworthy. In the 19th century the ship sailed between England and India and then England and New Zealand, completing numerous around the world trips. Further along the harbor the USS Midway is moored, the navy’s longest serving aircraft carrier which is now a museum. After Pearl Harbor the US Pacific Fleet was relocated here from Hawaii and San Diego, amongst other things, is still a big navy town.

 

 

It was a full days touring, although nothing felt very far away. With the centre built around the bay and even the airport only 3 miles from downtown, it is a very compact city.

 

In the evening we returned to Little Italy for dinner at one of the restaurants we had seen earlier in the day. Noisy and bustling with plenty of good food and great Italian waiters, we could have been there.

 

Tuesday 14th March

 

John and Judy’s last day with us today and after picking up a hire car, we decided to take a ride to La Jolla a beach front town in north San Diego. La Jolla is a smart, upmarket and stylish place with a varied and quite dramatic coast line of cliffs, coves and wide open beaches. After a walk along the grassy coastal path overlooking the beach we were ready to eat.

 

 

The Med at La Valencia Hotel was our venue for lunch. La Valencia is a hotel with a definite Mediterranean feel to match the architecture and rich interior décor. The restaurant has a dog friendly terrace that overlooks a pretty garden and has views through the palm trees to the ocean. Lovely al fresco dining, nice ambience, delicious food, superb service and a view of the Pacific. I’ll be back!

 

After our lovely meal, we went back to the RV Park where it was soon time for John and Judy to depart for the airport. Another sad goodbye after nearly two weeks together. It had been an interesting and enjoyable time on the long and varied 1,000 miles of Mex 1. However, I think that we would all agree, without a doubt, that the grey whales of Laguna Ojo de Liebre, Guerrero Negro were the highlight.

 

  

Wednesday 15th March

 

The last night for Peter, Susan, Mel and Lyn in Chula Vista before starting the journey to Arizona and Phoenix where Mel and Lyn get a flight back to the UK. We all went out to dinner (and of course, it had to be) to an English pub in downtown San Diego. The Princess Pub is in India Street in the heart of Little Italy. The menu reads: fish and chips, shepherds pie, steak & kidney pie, bangers and mash - plus the obligatory burger. The mash was good, the gravy was proper and all was delicious. Also, rugby and proper football on the TV and good ale!

 

Thursday 16th -Sunday 19th March

 

Yet another sad goodbye, this time to the Batey family – Hasta la vista!

We had the hire car for a few days which allowed us to get around the area easily. The shopping is good in Chula Vista where there are shopping malls, department stores, Costco, Walmart ete etc. We sorted out our phone service. I had new mobile phone and number with AT&T providing the service. The RV went in for a few things to be serviced at Camping World in San Marcus. Our post was delivered from the forwarding address in Texas and there were quite a few deliveries from Amazon!

 

We found a good dog friendly beach for Sandy in Coronado, near to the naval base.

 

 

 

 The impressive front view of the Hotel del Coronado.

 

All stocked up and ready to go, it was soon time to head off back to Mexico.

 

Monday 20th March

 

San Diego – Otay Lakes

 

We left Chula Vista and headed towards the Mexican border. The route is through a lush green area of southern California amid rolling hills and makes for a very picturesque drive to the border Our first over-night stop was at Pio Pico RV Park. The park is set in a pretty green valley near Otay Lakes.. The primary reason to make this stop was to set up our new satellite TV system - there were too many trees at the San Diego park.

 

 

 Tuesday 21st March

 

Otay Lakes – San Felipe

 

With a successfully working satellite we made our way to Tecate and the border

 

Our usual Mexican border control official was on duty and as usual he quietly asked if we would like to buy some salsa sauce. He had added a new range to his product line and after some wrangling about one or two bottles we came away with another bottle of sauce to add to our collection. For our return trip, we would be venturing into new territory and taking the east coast route down the peninsula to San Felipe.

 

East from Tecate we travelled on Mex 2 towards  Mexicali. It is  a good road through desert terrain until  we reached La Rumorosa where we started to climb steep grades into the Sierra de Juarez where we saw magnificent views across the plains.

 

 

There were plenty of warnings about reducing speed and there was a strong wind blowing which buffeted the RV. As we rounded one bend we saw a high sided truck turned over on the side of the road. It looked like it had recently happened, there were a few people about and one man lying at the side of the road. He seemed unhurt but had his head in his hands, we guessed he was the driver.

 

Once down at sea level again we passed through the flat landscape of the Laguna Salada, a dry salt lake. From the outskirts of Mexicali, we headed south on Mex 5 for about two hours before reaching San Felipe.

 

 

 

 

 

We camped at Campo San Felipe which is right on the beach and has an area for palapas and picnic tables.

 

Wednesday 22nd March

 

San Felipe is a reasonable sized coastal town in a nice bay on the Sea of Cortez. It is a popular fishing and tourist destination for visitors from the southern US.

 

                                                                      View from the RV.

From the camp  it was a short walk into town along a small malecon.  There were plenty of tourist shops open all seeming to sell similar things. First impression was that this was a rather tired, rundown old resort town, although to be fair, our stay was very short and we didn’t have time to explore very far. However, we did find a nice place to eat Padrino Pizzeria and Restaurant.

 

 

 

Thursday 23rd March

 

Leaving San Felipe this morning we passed through the south beach area and from there the surface of the road deteriorated until we reached Puertocitos.

Along the way, we saw fields of Ocotillo plants all in flower, creating a sea of red/orange colour.

 

South of Puertocitos is a new stretch of highway with hardly any traffic on it all the way to Bahia San Luis Gonzaga. This stretch of coast is very unspoilt, beautiful bays and lots of fishing camps.

 

 

Gonzaga Bay is a large bay lined with palapas and quite a few long stay campers. There is a Pemex station and across the road is a Minimarket and Rancho Grande where we checked in and paid our 25 dollars US for two nights. The approach road to the beach from Mex 5 runs along one of the two sand runways built here for light aircraft. No doubt originally established for fly-in fishing trips before a decent road was in place.

 

 

Rest day at Bahia San Luis Gonzaga beach.

 

 

 

Friday 24th March

 

 

Rest day on Bahia San Luis Gonzaga beach.

 

 

Saturday 25th March

 

Bahia Gonzala - Guerrero Negro

 

The new stretch of road that we had travelled on two days previously, finished here and for next 37 miles we motored along a sand track through the desert.

The unusual Cirio or Boojum tree. A sure sign we are getting near to central Baja.

 

 Signs that there is some work going on to build this stretch of the new road.

 Although we saw some nice unspoilt desert on our way, it was hard going.

We rocked and rolled about so much at one point that the cupboard doors inside the RV flew open and dumped their contents on the floor.

Just over halfway we were pleased to see Coco’s Corner loom into view.

 

Coco is quite a character. He is a double amputee – both legs below the knee – and has lived at this little oasis in the desert for 27 years. He sells beer/coke/water and we stopped to have a drink with him. He has a very tidy if simple dwelling with his bed in one corner, tv in the other, a large round table in the middle for guests and a walled off kitchen with a serving hatch.

 

Lots of memorabilia and photos line the walls and the ceiling is hung with hundreds of pairs of underpants – didn’t like to ask how he came by all those!

 

 

 

We signed the visitor book and Coco drew a picture of the RV next to our entry.

 

While we were there a family from San Diego arrived and we all sat around the table together. They had obviously visited before but this time they had brought the youngest members of the family - two small boys – to see Coco.

After a rest from the rough road we said our goodbye’s and continued on our way to Laguna Chapala where we turned onto Mex 1 to continue the journey south.

 

 

 

 

 
Laguna Chapala

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Curious shapes of some Cirio trees

 

Our stop for the night was at Malarrimo RV Park and restaurant in Guerrero Negro.. After our long day on the road we had dinner at the RV park restaurant, just a few paces from where the RV was parked.

 

 Sunday 26th March

 

South of Guerrero Negro is the protected Vizcaino Desert where Mex 1 gradually heads east to San Ignacio. We stopped off for lunch at the Rice n Beans restaurant which is just outside the old mission town. The Australian Grand Prix was on the TV in the restaurant and we stopped for a while to watch the race.

After lunch, we continued our way east past lava fields and the volcanic mountain known as the Volcan Los Tres Virgenes because it has three blast cones. Soon we make a decent through the Sierra de San Francisco down the steepest gradient in Baja known as the Cuesto Del Infierno.

 

The gradient reduces as we near the coast and glimpse the turquoise waters of the Sea of Cortez. At the coast, we turn south as Mex 1 runs through the mining town of Santa Rosalia. The road through the town is in terrible condition and it was slow going until we got back on the open highway.

We the reached Bahia Conception and Santispac Beach at 4pm, in plenty of time for a dip in the warm shallow water of the bay

 

At Armandos Bar on the beach we met up with Jerry. Last year Jerry and Kathy where with us on the Baja Winters caravan of RV’s that travelled down Baja together.  Since then they have bought a beach house in the bay just south of Santispac.

 

Margaritas on the rocks.

 

Monday 27th March

 

After a nice day on the beach we went over to Jerry and Kathy’s for dinner. They live in the small community of Posada Concepcion, a very quaint village of narrow streets and pretty houses. We can understand why Jerry and Kathy didn’t hesitate to buy when by chance, last year, they saw the house for sale. The single-storey building is set right on the beach of the small bay and has lovely veranda out front to sit and view the bay. Jerry and Kathy like to fish and have a boat moored in the bay, Jerry also has a little yellow submarine that he is getting ready to use to view the underwater sea life. They live in California but I can see that they will be spending a lot of time down here.

 

 

 Jerry and the Yellow Submarine.

 View from the veranda.

 

Tuesday 28th March

 

Santispac - Loreto

 

We said goodbye to Santispac Beach and got back on Mex 1 south.

 

Today is Taco Tuesday at the small restaurant on Playa Buenaventura just south down the bay. We met up with  Jerry and Kathy and went along with them for lunch.

 

 There was quite a local gathering.

 

As we sat and eat the excellent fish and coconut shrimp tacos we were entertained by a Frank Sinatra style crooner.

Jerry and Kathy’s neighbours, Eileen and Randy joined us. They have been coming down here for nearly thirty years.

 All too soon it was time to get back on the road and make our way down to Loreto. We said goodbye to Jerry and Kathy with plans to meet up again later in the year.

After a good journey along the beautiful coast of Bahia Concepcion and up into the mountains we arrived back at the coast In Loreto.

Loose horses along the side of the road just before we entered Loreto.

 We settled into the Rivera del Mar RV Park and from here we cycled the short distance to the town centre for dinner at La Palapa Restaurant.

 

The modern plaza in the centre of town.

 

Wednesday 29th March

 

On our second day in Loreto we cycled into the centre to do some tee-shirt shopping.

 

The shaded Paseo Salvatierra leading to the Mision de Loreto.

 

 

The cobblestoned plaza opposite the mission church.

Found a new restaurant for dinner, Orlando’s, just down the road from the campsite.

Thursday 30th March

 

Loreto – La Paz

 

Stayed at Maranatha RV Park in La Paz.

 

Friday 31st March

 

Paid a visit to Big Ruby’s Restaurant in El Centenario. The restaurant offers a great service. We are collected by car from the RV Park and brought back after dinner.

 

From the restaurants veranda there is a great view across the bay to La Paz. We watched the pelicans feeding as the sun went down.

 

 

 

 

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