Jonathan Roldan – BAJA BEAT

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Tuesday, May 22, 2018
Cheeks, Beaks and Eyeballs?

Instead of that… check out this
Instead of that… check out this

Whether you’re driving down the Baja or you’re just taking a day trip, it’s very easy to close your eyes and nod off or not pay attention to what’s zipping by your window.

It’s a beautiful landscape and seascape. So much desert. Blue oceans. Craggy mountains.

But, if it’s warm and you’re not driving. Or you are driving and you’re zoning out.

Endless hours of cardon cactus goes by, or another arroyo. It’s not hard to drift off or have your brain glaze over. I’m a major culprit of that. It can get monotonous when your only intent is to get from “point-A-to-point B” by a certain time or the shortest amount of time doable.

No doubt there are incredible destinations awaiting at the end of every journey. The major cities and locations of Ensenada, Rosarito, Mulege, Loreto, La Paz, East Cape, Todos Santos, Cabo San Lucas and all your favorite points in between!

I love those areas too. I have great friends in all of them. There’s no bad decisions on where to stop or where to visit. Every place has it’s own bit of character and charm…or doesn’t…depending on your viewpoint.

It has been a few years since I’ve done the full Baja drive, but have made it dozens of time. I was looking at a faded dog-eared Auto Club map that I used to keep in my glove compartment.

Remember those days before GPS? You actually had to unfold a map, and even worse, figure out how to fold it up again until the creases made little sense or ripped! These creases were raggedy and the map had long since lost rigidity as it flopped over.

I’ve always had a propensity for heading down the road less traveled.

Go right instead of left. Get in the second line. Go check out the faded road sign. Yes, sometimes there’s a buzzard sitting on it!

Visit the place that’s not listed in the travel guide. Take a flyer on that spot you heard about from a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend.

For example, a little past Ensenada, don’t be in such a hurry. You’ll pass through the Santo Tomas valley. Yes, those are real vineyards. In Baja.

And you’re passing through one of the fastest growing wine regions in the west. Do a little tasting. Great gourmet restaurants. Forget driving for the night!

Father down the road, dusty San Quintin can look like an industrialized version of “any-street America” with rows of tire shops, mechanics, upholstery stores, markets, street vendors and furniture stores. Not exactly a tourist mecca, right?

Drive on through? No, head towards the coast to the bay. It’s a different world. Great little restaurants and places to stay. The Old Mill comes to mind. Great fishing too. And as you drive down, great street-side clam vendors too! Giant Pismo types!

At little El Rosario, Highway 1 bends and heads inland. Mama Rosario’s historic little restaurant is a great place to eat some lobster or park for the evening. There’s a reason all the cars are parked there. But many just keep driving and never know what they’re missing!

South of Guerrero Negro, take the right turn on Highway 1 at El Marasal. Want to get away? The coastal outpost pueblos of Bahia Tortuga and Bahia Asuncion will take you back to the old Baja you missed.

Back on the main Highway 1…As you cross over the Baja spine of mountains to the Sea of Cortez, do a little more than fill up gas at San Ignacio. Take a breather in one of the most picturesque little pueblos in Baja.

Like an oasis with its tall palms and a verdant lake. The old mission built in the 1700s is made completely out’ve granite. Smell that? The area is covered with fresh dates!

South of Loreto, it’s so easy to pass by, but I’ve spent many a grand evening camping, eating clams and tacos and camping at hidden Juncalito Beach.

A few hours south, as you’re going through so much flat-land, again head where the pavement might not be so good. Head west towards the Pacific Ocean and follow the battered, green road signs.

You won’t find much in Magdalena Bay except for some of the most deserted scenic coastline, great fishing, hole-in-the-wall great restaurants, rustic lodging and the nicest fishing families. Puerto San Carlos and Puerto Lopez Mateos come to mind.

It’s a little crowded during whale-watching season (Jan.-March), but otherwise, you have the whole place to yourself! It’s a wildlife photographers dream. Hire a local pangero to take you into the miles of mangroves!

Mostly past Mag Bay, the race is on to get to the East Cape or Cabo. For most people.

But slow down. See that turn off at Las Cuevas for Cabo Pulmo? You won’t be disappointed. Just an FYI that you’ll need some rugged wheels though, as the last 10 miles is on a dirt road and takes about an hour of slow driving.

But the marine park and pueblo of little Cabo Pulmo is well worth it. I lived and worked in the area for almost a year and the marine life can be spectacular.

Back on Highway 1, I bet you never thought about swimming in a mountain stream or diving off a cliff into a waterfall pool! Not on most travel radars when you made vacation plans, but a little jaunt and a short hike from Santiago, there are actual waterfalls! Nothing like cold, clear mountain water on a hot dusty Baja day.

Lastly, as much as I love Todos Santos, so does everyone else! I like the little area just down the road a spell. It’s called Cerritos Beach. Little surfing town on the sand. Little palapas and cabanas popping up with restaurants. Rent a surfboard for the day and take some lessons.

Enjoy. Stay awhile.

A TRANQUIL AND charming Baja beach.

waterfalloffsantiagoWATERFALL OFF SANTIAGO. Yes, in Southern Baja. There’s nothing like cold, clear mountain water on a hot dusty Baja day.

cabernetsauvignonvinyardsCABERNET SAUVIGNON Balle de San Vicente Bodega, Santo Tomas.


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