French Colonial Santa Rosalia

En route from San Ignacio to Mulege´ we passed through French Colonial Santa Rosalia. A cute bustling little town. We made a brief stop to walk around a see a couple of historical places of interest.

But before getting there we needed to survive yet another section of terrifying road, “La Cuesta del Infierno” – The Grade from Hell!  Yikes!  This particular portion of the road has a steep and curvy descent for 2.5 miles, the steepest grade on the entire Mexico 1 Transpeninsular Highway.

We’d taken note of the steep climb for our return drive north but hadn’t thought much about the downhill headed south. But it was a very windy day and we figured the road would be narrow so we decided to not tow the car.  Hector drove Island Time and I drove the car. All was well but we will approach this section of road with great caution when we head north.Once down the big hill we were again greeted by a sweeping view the beautiful Sea of Cortez.  And soon thereafter we entered the little town with its large mining and port operation (and TERRIBLE road).

Santa Rosalia is home to the El Boleo copper mine.  Founded by the French Campagnie du Boleo in 1885 it operated continuously until the 1950’s when it shut down.

Unique to this area, there are many beautiful French Colonial structures that remain to this day. The mine resumed operations recently and the town just buzzes with activity.  Of particular note is the town’s very unusual church, La Iglesia Santa Barbara.  It was designed by the famed architect Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel of Eiffel Tower fame and built in 1887. It was displayed at the 1889 Exposition Universelle of Paris where the famous tower also made its debut. A prefab structure built entirely of stamped steel sheet squares and supported by a massive steel structure, it was intended originally for Africa but it somehow wound up in Belgium instead where it was acquired by the wealthy owners of the El Boleo mine and shipped here in 1897.

You find the weirdest things in the strangest places!Another legacy of the French influence is a simply fantastic bakery, the Panaderia El Boleo.  An local institution in business since 1901 and still serving up French inspired baked yummies.

To our surprise once we paid for a bag full of croissants and other goodies (almost free) they encouraged us to have a look at the large ovens and kitchen area in the back.  There we found many ancient wooden cooling racks that had clearly seen countless trays of baked goods over the years.  Battered but sturdy they rolled by with fresh treats all in a row.

The ovens looked pretty big but we didn’t realize just how big until a lady grabbed what looked to be a giant oar from a viking ship and opened one of the oven doors.  The oven had to be 30 feet deep!  Wow!We did not plan to overnight here but thoroughly enjoyed our short tour of the town.

Onward to Mulege´ we go were we plan to spend the next week or so.

Thanks for following along!

 

 

 

The Oasis of San Ignacio


Our plan was to drive to the town of San Ignacio and continue to the nearby Laguna San Ignacio for a whale watching tour there. But the weather forecast was awful so we decided to bag the lagoon and head back there to try again on our return trip north.

But we still planned a brief stop in San Ignacio to see the town which is just a short hop from Guerrero Negro, about two hours of easy driving.

 

San Ignacio is a colonial town in a valley nestled in a date palm oasis. It’s kind of a sleepy town, simple but still quite charming. A small dam built by settlers in the 1700’s formed a lagoon that sustains the town’s agricultural economy.

The first date palms were planted in 1765 and now are ubiquitous.  It makes a striking difference from the desert scenery that had dominated the landscape for quite a while.

We stayed right by the lagoon at Los Petates, a lovely setting with lots of trees, birds and ducks. Check out our review of the campground here.

 

 

We visited the lovely colonial plaza and the mission church of San Ignacio, Misión San Ignacio Kadakaamaán, built of lava rock with walls that are four feet thick. It dominates one side of the plaza and has lovely gardens on both sides.

 

The plaza has several businesses, some that sell yummy date bread, cookies and pie (spelled “pay” in these parts). There are a couple of restaurants and an ice cream shop “Neverias Danya” that serves as internet café. It cost us $3.67 U.S. dollars for internet access on two laptops for two hours.

The pretty central plaza is the center of town life, such as it is.  It felt like a step back in time.

That evening we dined at Victor’s Restaurant which had been recommended by a guide book and independently by our campground host. It’s the most basic looking restaurant in the town (there are only a couple more restaurants) but clearly very popular.

 

When we arrived, it was packed. Turned out there was a Mexican motorcycle club in town. There was one waiter and he handled the craziness surprisingly well. We had a couple of wonderful dinners.

That evening was lovely and dark and Hector took the opportunity to take some photographs of the stars above the lovely palm trees. Beautiful!

A short stay in a charming little town.

The Black Warrior

To get to the town of Guerrero Negro (Black Warrior), you have to cross the state line from Baja California to Baja California Sur. The state line is the 28th parallel (latitude).

The government does not allow produce across to Baja California Sur so we gave our remaining produce away before we left Bahia de los Angeles. Some people said that “they never check” but we like to do all we can to have nice easy border crossings. They did ask us if we had produce and Hector said “of course not, we heard you couldn’t bring any across”. The officer was pleased with that answer.

The other unique thing about this border crossing is that when you cross there is an automatic spray from the road to the underside of your vehicles and your tires. Presumably some sort of pesticide agent to kill off something or other (hopefully not us).

Our original plan had been to continue directly to the Ojo de Liebre lagoon, where we planned to go whale watching, and bypass the town of Guerrero Negro. But we needed to run several errands and our provisions were getting low so we decided to stay at Guerrero Negro and take a whale watching tour from there.

Guerrero Negro gets a bad rap, so I had very low expectations. I was, however, pleasantly surprised. The town may not be a charming colonial gem but it has a very interesting history and is neatly kept.

The whaling Captain John Melville Scammon discovered the entrance to the lagoon and whale nursery and to his delight found it full of whales.  Of course he promptly killed as many as he could and had a great windfall.  The secret soon got out and other whalers joined in the slaughter in “Scammon’s Lagoon” and soon the majestic California Gray Whale was hunted to near extinction.  It is estimated that the total population dropped to a few hundred individuals.

Perhaps because there were no more profits to be had, Captain Scammon became one of the earliest conservationists seeking to protect the animals.  Happily, the grey whales have recovered and there are now over 20,000 around the world.

During the whaling times, a wooden ship named the Black Warrior ran aground on the shallow sand bar separating the northern and southern parts of the lagoon. The wreck served as a warning to ships of the shoal water for decades.  All that remains of the wooden ship is the wheel, displayed at the bar of the Malarrimo RV Park and Hotel.

We stayed at the Mallarimo RV Park right in the center of town. They also sell the whale watching tours at this location so we could board the bus to the lagoon right outside our RV. And they have a hotel and a restaurant on site. Check out our review of the campground here.

We set off to handle our errands and found an ATM, a place to fill our water jugs with drinking water, a decent grocery store, a very nice fruteria (fruit and vegetable store), a panaderia (bread store), a liquor store, fresh oranges and a laundry all within 10 minutes of the RV park. People were extremely helpful.

But best of all, we found the best fish tacos at the Tacos del Muelle taco truck. Others that have been to Baja say they’re the best tacos in all of the peninsula. A fellow RVer commented on Facebook that “by extension, that makes them the best in the world”.  I don’t doubt it.

That afternoon we drove out to the camping area at the lagoon just to check it out. It’s about 35 minutes from town on a pretty good gravel road. It’s a lovely and remote area to camp and we may just camp there on our way back north.

In the 1950’s the present day town was built as a company town to support what would ultimately become the world’s largest salt mine.  Huge shallow ponds with hard rock bottoms are flooded with sea water and allowed to evaporate leaving behind sea salt.

The salt mine exports millions of tons of salt annually and covers an area larger than the city of Los Angeles!  The government originally named the town after some Mexican historical figure, but no one called it that. They used the Spanish name for the wrecked Black Warrior, Guerrero Negro.  The name stuck and it was officially changed to the name it has to this day.

The site of the wreck of the Black Warrior was eventually replaced by a proper lighthouse whose ruins can still be seen. The drive out was between wetlands and was actually more interesting than the lighthouse itself.

We saw long-billed curlews and lots of yellow-crowned night herons, osprey, great blue heron, snowy egret, great egrets, and more gulls and pelicans.  This is the largest concentration of Osprey in the world and we saw lots of them.

On our return we drove over to a bird refuge area that you can walk on and spotted some brants in the water. I don’t believe we’d seen those ducks before. And we saw more osprey, they are nesting right now.

We have a much better appreciation of this friendly company town.  And the actual whale watching was incredible.  More on that next.

 

Ensenada

After crossing the border with no meat or produce on board our first order of business was to stock the rig for our trip down the 1000 miles of the peninsula.  Ensenada is a good sized city and the biggest until we reach La Paz, our planned turnaround point.

From Tecate to Ensenada you travel down Mex Hwy 3 through La Ruta del Vino, a beautiful wine region of Mexico.

We might spend a night or two on the way back and sample some wines.  But for now we are headed south.

We camped about 40 minutes south of central Ensenada near an interesting little tourist trap.  A blowhole called “La Bufadora” where the ocean swells create a big whoosh thru a feature in the rocks. But the real reason we camped there was the views.

Campo #5 is set high on a cliff with killer pacific views, a perfect way to get in the Baja mood while taking care of business.

No facilities here, just dry camping in an awesome spot for very little moola. Check out our review here.

Ensenada has a nice waterfront Malecon and all the resources one might need.  That and some great seafood for good measure.We visited here briefly a few years ago with our dear friends Michael and Gloria who live in San Diego and had a wonderful time so we were happy to be back.  We went back to the amazing seafood market where there are some serious overachievers in displaying the shrimp for sale.  Some came home with us.

We enjoyed our walk along the malecon and then went to eat our first of what will surely be many fish tacos at the famous and long established Tacos Fenix taco stand, around since 1970 and recommended by the late Anthony Bourdain (sigh). Yummy and cheap, perfecto!

Then a big grocery shopping outing at the modern supermarket next to the Costco.  

The central section of Baja is VERY remote with limited supplies so careful shopping at this last town of significance for a long while is important.

Shopping complete we had worked up a thirst and we went for a margarita at an Ensenada institution, Hussong’s Cantina, established as a stage coach stop in 1892, it is one of several establishments that lay claim to having been the inventor of the popular tequila drink, the Margarita.

As this version of the story goes, in 1941 the German Ambassador to Mexico’s daughter came in just the barman was experimenting with a new mix of tequila, lime and Damiana liquor.  The drink was a big hit, the ambassador’s daughter was named Margarita Henkel, and the rest is history.

The Margaritas were strong and good, the peanut shells go on the floor where the occasional pigeon comes by to sample them and the bar has old photos and lots of patina.

The next day as we headed out of town we did one more bit of shopping.

One of the offshoots of a wine region is often the production of olives which are sold at roadside stands along with local honey and olive oil.  Of course we needed some for martinis …

South we go … next stop, San Quintin!

Hector and Brenda

Touring Tucson

Tucson-90sonoran desert-29Tucson, Arizona marks the beginning of a transition for us, this is one of the towns that we are considering as our next home. Many people know that we planned our walkabout for three years and that last year we extended it for one more year. Well we are now well into that fourth year. So in the month of March, we will be touring Tucson.

We fell in love with Tucson and the Sonoran Desert three years ago when we approached the city from the West and were greeted by so many beautiful Saguaros. I wrote about them in my post Tucson and the Sentinels of the Desert.

Tucson-66Tucson-1So we are here to check out the town once again and compare it to our other final choice. I will write more about how we came up with our “finalists” in later posts.

But back to Tucson – we stayed in the center of town at Sentinel Peak RV Park, so that we could have easy access to the city. Check out my review of the park here.

Our plan was to enjoy some of what the city has to offer, select a realtor, look at some houses, and best of all visit friends.Tucson-6

We began by finding out about the local happenings, and the biggest one was the Tucson Festival of Books at the University of Arizona. In its eighth year, the festival attracts over 100,000 people. Continue reading

Thunderbirds in Tucson

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F-16 Flying Falcon

Thunder-19We arrived in Tucson to spend the month of March, our third visit in three winters. Shortly after our arrival, we heard that the United States Air Force Thunderbirds, the Air Force’s demonstration squadron, were performing at an Air Show at the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. So we went to see the Thunderbirds in Tucson.

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A still flying B-25 Mitchell

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We have seen the Blue Angels (the Navy’s demonstration squadron) perform twice, including one time in Key West in the early part of our walkabout, but we had never seen the Thunderbirds.

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KC-10 Extender

C-130 Super Hercules

C-130 Super Hercules

KC-10 Extender

KC-10 Extender

There were two air shows on the weekend and both days featured plenty of activities at the base with many military aircraft on static display, including some that were open for inside viewing.

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EC-130H Compass Call used for electronic warfare

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E-3 Sentry

Not only were there military planes, but other government vehicles were on display, including police and border patrol vehicles, a bomb squad truck, and a mobile SWAT team command center.

The show seemed particularly focused on kids, with fun activities and Air Force personnel spending quality time with them.

And, of course, there were lots of food booths. The base is massive so it took hours to see everything there was to see aside from the air show. It was quite an event.

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Island Girl in Puerto Rico

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Although I made a quick stop in San Juan a few years ago on the way to a cruise, it has been many more years since I have spent more than a few days in Puerto Rico. Let me state up front that since my little camera died just before my trip the photos taken by this island girl in Puerto Rico were taken from my phone (there are a few from my niece’s phone) and should not be compared to the fabulous photographs that Hector normally includes in our posts. But on to my trip.

PuertoRico -36PuertoRico -6Just as I was thinking that I needed to plan a visit to my family, my friend Katherine from Atlanta called me to tell me that her daughter, Kirstin, was going to get married in San Juan and invited us to the wedding.

We knew that we would be in the Southwest at that time of year, so I purchased a ticket from the Phoenix airport and we made our way to that city before my flight. Unfortunately, Hector had to stay behind to take care of Angel.PuertoRico -2

The wedding was to take place in Old San Juan, my favorite part of the city, so I booked an Airbnb apartment a couple of blocks from the wedding venues. Upon arrival, I took a taxi to Old San Juan thus avoiding driving or parking, which can be quite a hassle there due to the narrow streets.

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San Diego Holidays

San Diego Jan 16 -5San Diego Dec 2015 -5San Diego Holidays and the weeks after were more about friends than about the place. Although the place is great, and we loved our location right on Mission Bay. Yes, we are now officially a month behind in our blogs – at least we are consistent!

We had a happy hour gathering shortly after our arrival. Our good friend Paul brought over his mom and his dad and stepmother, and friends Ian and Kate (Tales from the Scenic Route) brought over their friends Shannon and Dave (2Wander Away). Instant party!

San Diego Dec 2015 -2Another friend, Patricia, was in town briefly. She is Gloria and my “hermana” from a beautiful program that we participated in years ago and the three of us had a wonderful dinner together.

San Diego Dec 2015 -3San Diego Dec 2015 -4Hector and I spent a lovely Christmas Eve at our friends Gloria and Michael’s home. They took care of Angel last year while we traveled to Miami, so Angel considers their home her “spa”. She was jumping up and down and running all around the house. It is so wonderful to see her so happy.

San Diego Dec 2015 -7San Diego Dec 2015 -11We spent Christmas Day with old and new friends. Ian and Kate rented the campground’s clubhouse, and we had a delicious potluck dinner there. Kate did a wonderful job coordinating everything and several ladies decorated the plain clubhouse and turned it into a festive and welcoming place. Continue reading

The Central Coast of Oregon

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Newport-1Our next stop was along the central coast of Oregon, not too long of a drive but longer than our last one. The coast of Oregon has an endless amount of rocky beaches and coast and many interesting lighthouses and the town of Newport is a great location from which to explore some of those.Newport-6

The last time we stayed in this area we stayed in a marina in the town of Waldport a little further north and really enjoyed it. This time we decided to try the marina in Newport. Both of these marinas offer dry camping at cheaper rates than the Oregon State Parks.

The marina is also walking distance from the Rogue Brewery, so good beer was in our future. And we were the only RV in the dry camping area of with a lovely view of the small boat harbor and the Yaquina Bay Bridge. Check out my review of the Port of Newport RV Park and Marina here.Newport-34 Continue reading

The Mouth of the Columbia River

Astoria-56Astoria-1Last year we paid a brief visit to Astoria, a funky town at the mouth of the Columbia River, and really liked it so we were determined to spend a little time there this year. As Thanksgiving approached, we knew it was time to get to the coast and begin our (slow) drive south, but instead we made a slight detour north to Astoria.

Astoria-33Astoria-32We stayed at Fort Stevens State Park, a beautiful park just outside the town. The campground was pretty empty, so we found a cozy, private spot. Check out my review of the campground here.Astoria-7

Astoria was named after John Jacob Astor who founded Fort Astoria as a fur-trading port for his American Fur Company in 1811. During its early history, Astoria’s primary industries were fishing, fish processing and lumber.Astoria-19Astoria-20

Astoria’s deepwater port still serves as port of entry and trading center for the Columbia basin. But both the fishery and timber industries declined, forcing the town to reinvent itself. And it did so by supporting a burgeoning art scene and bringing light manufacturing into its fold.Astoria-17Astoria-18
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It also succeeded in growing a tourism industry. With its location on the Columbia River, Victorian architecture poised amongst hills, proximity to the Pacific, surrounding lush forest and fascinating maritime history, it gained the nickname of “little San Francisco”. Astoria’s deepwater port now welcomes several major cruise lines.

Astoria-37 Continue reading