Monday, March 26, 2012

Baja del Norte, Mexico

 I've been gone for a few days.  Goofing off in Baja California, Mexico.  Chuck's daughter just turned 21, and it is her spring break; so we went on a little trip for her birthday treat.  Drove down to the border at Tijuana, then toodled around the Pacific side of Baja, roaming down as far as El Rosario.

We took Franken Audi, so named because it is an amalgamation of two Audis.  Chuck's Audi died a few weeks ago; but he was able to find an almost identical one with a good engine and front end damage. Voila!  Really, to enjoy Baja, you need four-wheel drive with high clearance.  Except for the main highway, very few roads are paved.  We did take Franken Audi off-road a few times, just to see what would happen.  Chuck's daughter K. fussed at us a little, worried we would get bogged down in the mud.  Then what?  Chuck shrugged.  Walk to a farm and ask for a tow?  We didn't get stuck, though.

This brings me to the art of traveling with Chuck. He takes it as it comes.  He doesn't plan too much.  If he likes what he sees, he goes there.  We camped one night, on the shore above Bahia de Todos Santos.  Other nights we would have camped, but hotel rooms were almost the same price.  Why not be comfortable?   

 The beaches up by Ensenada are smooth, clean and sandy.  Farther south, by San Antonio del Mar, very pebbly.  Too pebbly to sleep on.  That's why we stayed in a little hotel in San Quintin.
 There's a lot of big, corporate agriculture down there.  Strawberries; tomatoes.  But also fields of prickly pear, locally known as nopales.  I have eaten lentil soup with nopales, in Salt Lake.
 First day of spring, in San Quintin.  The local kids celebrated with a bike ride from town out to the bay.  I got the details from a parent who was hanging out with them.  Everywhere I stopped to ask questions, people were happy to talk to me in my goofy Spanish.  I had a lot of great little conversations.

 In the rest of Mexico, it's all about soccer.  But here,baseball rules.
 Open air market in El Rosario.  The locals were all lined up for cold drinks and I spotted this jug of horchata, which rice water.  Cinnamon rice water.  If rice pudding were a cold, refreshing drink, that would be horchata.  I looooooove it, and this guy's horchata was the best!
 I had to get over my notions about open air mercados, though.  This one in El Rosario was put on by the local for the locals, so I knew it would be authentic.  Beware getting too many ideas about authenticity, though.  Up in the tourist zone, the mercados were full of garish, ticky-tacky pseudo-Mexi souvenirs.  Out of the tourist zone, this mercado was all second hand stuff that had been bought at yard sales and in thrift stores in the USA and hauled down here for resale.  Check out the resourceful use of that walker.
 The food was great, everywhere we went.  Wood-fired steamers produced fluffy tamales that we ate at a roadside stand in Maneadero.  Ceviche to die for in a sit-down restaurant in San Quintin.  And lots of roadside taco stands like this one in El Rosario.

 The sink for washing up afterward didn't work; but there was a bucket of water next to it.  Good enough.
 A lot of the places we ate and stayed were almost deserted.  The staff told us that trade has dropped off tragically the last few years.  Americans are afraid to come down and vacation here because of their perceptions about the drug traffickers and gang activity.  We researched this a little before we left.  There is a certain level of, let's say, homicide density in Tijuana and Rosarito.  Once out of those urban areas, it's virtually murder free.  I sometimes felt a little concerned about whether I could find the kinds of empanadas I like; whether the shower in our hotel room would heat up; whether we would lose our oil pan.  And you know the number one exhortation about Mexico... did drinking the horchata mean that I drank the water??  I never worried though, that I was going to be killed.

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