Gary Graham – ROAD TREKKER

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Wednesday, April 6, 2016
Abnormal or the new normal?

‘Mama Espinosa’ ‘Vaya con Dios’
Although saddened, I wasn’t surprised when I received the following message: “We want to share with you the sad news — on March 12 our dearest Anita Grosso, "Mama Espinosa," at the age of 109 succumbed to old age after a long, long, long life full of achievements and blessings.”

Anita Grosso was born in 1906 in El Rosario, a small village in northern Baja. She was extremely bright and outgoing. Seizing the opportunity, in the 1930s, she opened the doors of her home to feed the few Baja travelers passing through on the unpaved road.

And in 1967 her restaurant, which she named “Mama Espinosa’s,” opened, offering her famous lobster dishes. That same year, NORRA organized the very first Baja 1,000 race and used her restaurant as the first checkpoint. The number of travelers has grown and now numbers into the thousands who pass through El Rosario each year.

ANITA GROSSO'S LIFE, all 109 years, spanned the “formative years” of Baja, and she was always eager to share her exciting stories with newcomers and seasoned Baja travelers alike who wandered into her El Rosario place.

I ventured down Mex One for the first time after it opened in the early ’70s— three “30-something’s” from San Diego seeking adventure, David Lewis, James Sipman and myself driving a bare-bones Dodge van with two bucket seats, no paneling — just a cold steel floor carrying the barest of camping essentials — nothing like my fully self-contained “Roadtrek” of today.

The Señora greeted us as we sauntered into the artifact-filled room mid-afternoon of our first day on the road. Memorializing our trip with tales of her husband’s, Heraclio Espinosa, archeological exploits in the huge arroyo we had just driven through and punctuating her stories with dinosaur bones he had uncovered, the afternoon quickly passed. Full of lobster burritos washed down with beer and wine, we inquired about a suitable camping spot; she directed us to a dirt road heading west to Punta Baja. Thus began the two-week road trip that was the foundation for a lifetime’s fascination with Baja.

Several years later on the first of several road trips I made with a new-found friend, Tom Miller, WON columnist, Baja author and aficionado, and ultimately partner in a Mexican Insurance business, we stopped at Mama Espinosa’s.

We had traveled through the southern equivalent of California’s San Joaquin Valley. Cardboard shacks lined both sides of the highway at that time  — housing of immigrant workers who were transported in rattle-trap busses back and forth to labor in the produce fields surrounding San Quintin.

“In the early years, her kitchen was the last frontier,” Tom explained about Mama Espinosa as he drove his Subaru, easily identifiable with SR BAJA license plates, down the winding, snakelike road toward the village of El Rosario (about a quarter of the way down to Los Cabos).

As we dug into our plates of steaming lobster burritos at Mama Espinosa’s, the Señora plopped down in a chair at our table, telling Tom that she had sold all his books he had left on his last trip. Of course Tom had a stash in the car and replenished her supply before we left. Her attention then turned to me. “You were here once before,” she stated. And then she asked if I had seen her “Guest Book.”

I was surprised that she had remembered me from the earlier trip and when I shook my head no, she brought the book to the table and opened it up.

“Visitors have been signing this book since the 1940s,” she proudly explained. As I thumbed through the dusty, yellowed pages, it was like reading a Who’s Who of Baja travelers: Erle Stanley Gardner, Ray Cannon and Roscoe “Pappy” Hazard were only a few of the names that jumped off the pages at me.

For two of the original three Baja musketeers, Lewis and me, Baja has become a frequent destination, often including a visit to that fabled place on what has become a busy corner in El Rosario — only a wide spot on a dirt track before Mex One was built. Now it’s a bustling village with a handful of motels and restaurants to accommodate travelers, stretching several miles east toward the bridge across the arroyo, leading to the badlands of the peninsula’s interior.

Anita Grosso’s life, all 109 years, spanned the “formative years” of Baja, and she was always eager to share her exciting stories with newcomers and seasoned Baja travelers alike who wandered into her place.

"Mama Espinosa" was a Baja Icon admired by many. She brought honor and respect to her family of more than 100 members along with the responsibility of continuing her legacy. Her death is not the individual sorrow in the loss of a loved one. It is much, much wider than that, reaching thousands and thousands of travelers, whose lives were touched by her.

"Vaya con Dios" to our friend Mama Espinosa, a charming lady, founder of the Flying Samaritans, who lived a full life, spanning over ten decades; she will be missed by many.

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