Monday, October 22, 2012

La Paz – and Abracadabra is Lovely!

We arrived in La Paz Saturday night to find Abracadabra in fine shape, and that – despite promises by Marina Palmira staff to do so -- no reservations had been made for us at the Marina Hotel.  This was complicated by the fact that a fiesta de quinceañera was being held at the hotel that night.  [Quinceañera is a Latino girl’s 15th birthday, which in Mexico is recognized as a combination religious-coming-of-age event and social debut (think: bat mitzvah and debutante ball in one long day).] 

After much distress and confusion at the front desk a room was finally found and we were able to shower off the dust of Mexico 1.  Our 480-ish mile drive from Guerrero Negro down Baja California Sur was slow and crowded.  Evidence of Hurricane Paul was everywhere: patches of road had been washed away, water was still standing in many places, and road crews were at work everywhere. 

Mexico 1 - Washed Away By Hurricain Paul

Traffic grew heavier the further south we went – think: sharing California Route 1 along the northern coast with other tourists and heavy commercial traffic – including huge car-delivery big-rigs.  Oh yeah, and the occasional band of burros.   

Road Block

DAY FOUR – Guerrero Negro to Santa Rosalia:   138-ish miles and 5-ish hours with a stop for lunch and an act of tourism.  At this point Mexico 1 travels across the width of the Baja peninsula to the Sea of Cortez (or Gulfo de California if you prefer).

We stopped at San Ignacio to see a mission church (those Jesuits were busy up and down all three of the Californias in the 1700’s). 

Mission at San Ignacio

Angels Watching From the Corners

San Ignacio is a very lush and green palm oasis, which was a welcomed change after driving through miles of dessert.  We lunched at a little place off the main square with the cutest restaurant puppy imaginable. 

That night we stayed in Santa Rosalia, on the Sea of Cortez; possibly the most “un-Mexican” looking town on the Baja.  A French mining company established the town at their mine site in the 1880’s, and operated the mine until the mid-1950’s.  The French strongly influenced the town’s architecture, and we were left with the feeling that we were visiting a town in French colonial Africa or the Caribbean. 

A House In Mexico?

The “must see” in Santa Rosalia is a prefabricated metal church reputedly designed by Gustave Eiffel (of Parisian tower fame).  The story is that the church was destined for some place in French colonial Africa and, for reasons lost to history, was instead sold to the French mining company in the 1890’s and shipped to Santa Rosalia.  It’s an interesting metal structure – not necessarily lovely, but interesting.

A Movable Church
Metal Beams - Courtesy of Mr. Eiffel?

We also visited a local marina and chatted with some boaters.  They had some exciting stories of Hurricane Paul, including reports of winds gusting to 60 knots in the marina, and broken docks.  But no boats were seriously damaged, so they were left primarily with a good story and a justification for as much “we’ve cheated death again” mid-afternoon beer as they wished for a day or two. 

Our night was spent at the Hotel Frances – an old, rickety hotel perched on a hill overlooking the Sea of Cortez and next door to the mine site.  The hotel is reputed (read enough tour materials and you, too, will begin to use the word “reputed”) to have housed those practitioners of the oldest profession that worked closely with the local miners.  The lobby of the hotel is very French – fabric walls and ornate furniture.  Unfortunately the hotel’s included breakfast was very – uh -- Spartan (toast, coffee and juice). 

Hotel Frances in Santa Rosalia

DAY FIVE – Santa Rosalia to La Paz:  346-ish miles and 9-ish hours with stops for gasoline, lunch and another church and marina.

Our last day on the road was very, very long.  We drove slowly through Mulegé, which is by all accounts the town most damaged by the hurricane.  There was quite a bit of damage visible, including some buildings that don’t look like they’re where they once were. 

We stopped for donuts and coffee at a funky little hostel at a seaside resort on Conception Bay.  The bay looks lovely and tranquil, and the hostel looks like a perfect place to try to negotiate “day pass” privileges (a hot shower, a place to take trash, and a place to buy a coffee or donuts now and then).  We’ve marked it on our map for future reference, in the event we get that far north on Abracadabra!

We stopped in Loreto which is just as charming as it is reported to be.  We visited the church – the “mother mission” for all those other Jesuit missions –

The Mother of the Missions

and ate lunch.  It’s worth a return trip.  We had originally planned to stay there for the night, but Captain Bryce was beginning to hear the call of the sea (or more accurately the call of “oh, geez, how has my boat weathered Hurricane Paul?”) and he promised he would do all of the driving if we pushed on to La Paz.  So, we drove on after a walk through the historic center of Loreto.

We made a brief stop at Puerto Escondido to see the marina and mooring area there.  It looks like a good potential stop along our sail north; particularly because there is a large grocery store within a short drive (all we’ll have to figure out is how to make that short drive when we have no car . . .).

At this point Mexico 1 veers to the west, back toward the Pacific Ocean.  At one point we could swear that we saw the Pacific out our passenger-side window!  The highway passes through Ciudad Insurgentes and Ciudad Constituion – but there doesn’t appear to be much to recommend either town except some Pemex stations. 

We arrived in La Paz very hot and dusty and glad (after the excitement as previously reported) to have a hotel room.  After looong showers, we walked the two-ish miles (which felt really nice after five looooong days in the car) to Buffalo BBQ which Molly firmly believes has the best steak salad in Mexico.  Thankful that all we experienced on this trip was the aftermath of the hurricane, and that our boat had come through the storm (which was light in La Paz) without any damage at all, we toasted our caution and good fortune with a drink, and walked back to the hotel.  We were kept awake much of the night by the music of the fiesta de quinceañera – but at least we had a hotel room! 

Today we heard that one boat owner slept in the church in the town of Mulegé because all the hotels there were full of people who had lost their homes, road workers, and stranded travelers.  Hmmm – adventure is one thing; discomfort another thing altogether!

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