Viva Mexico-part 1 – Baja California
After Los Angeles, we continued down the Pacific Coast to Baja California, Mexico. My Mexico! The country where I spent my teenage years, in the sun, tasting all kinds of fruit and foods, visiting archeological sites and bustling cities (when I was not at school of course, because a lot of my Mexican life was just daily routine...). My first arrival was in Mexico City, in January 1976, this time it would be on October 6, 2021, in Loreto, Baja California Sur.
I had been back in the country a few times in between, but never in Baja California. We ended up going to Loreto because Alex and I did not know the Peninsula at all and a pilot from Sandpoint had highly recommended the town because of its colonial history and its small and friendly MMLT airport. It is also a popular place for US and Canadian citizens to retire or have a second home... but the latter was really not what made us decide to start exploring BC from there.
The 4-hour flight to Loreto was not one of our most relaxing: first we had to avoid the busy airspace of the Los Angeles international airport which was exactly on our route. Alex had made a flight plan around it, heading Westward to the coast as fast as possible and the LA controllers were helpful in keeping us under and away from the Boeings. Then, in one of those short moments where we had a data connection at 9000 feet (often close to large cities or somewhere in the direct reach of a communications satellite), we received an email from the airport staff asking if we were still coming since they had seen on FlightAware that we were in Ensenada and they were closing soon. What??? We had passed Ensenada two hours ago and why were they closing if it was only 5.30 pm and their website mentioned they were open until 7pm? Is this the Mexican way, or what? We emailed back to confirm our arrival but we had no data signal anymore, the message was not sent. We could not afford to arrive in a closed airport because this was an international flight: we needed to go through customs upon arrival or we would not be able to stay. Fortunately Alex remembered that our friend Luis Eduardo in Panama always followed our flights and we sent him a message via our In-reach tracker, asking him to call the airport to confirm our arrival, hoping for the best.
Despite this little bit of stress, we were able to enjoy the changing landscapes under us: it had started with large towns and a few wind farms in the US and after the border had become increasingly empty, with rugged coastlines and moon-like hills with cactus sticking out. When we flew across the Peninsula from the Pacific to the Mar de Cortez side, the 30 knots winds we had had until then subsided and the sea became calmer and bluer. We descended to see Santa Rosalia, a mining town we had heard of. It was founded entirely by a French copper mining company in 1894 with houses that had been built in France and brought over by ship! They all had their little French roofs, very different from Mexican ones. The church was designed by Gustavo Eiffel for the 1889 ParisExpo and brought to Santa Rosalia also. Those were the days of true grandeur!
A very, very long bridge along the US coast
Loreto at last
Since we had entered Mexico, it had been extremely silent on the radio, it felt like we were alone in this somewhat remote area, so when we finally heard Loreto tower we were relieved. Not only because we had human contact again but also because they were still there! We landed at 6.55 pm, thinking it was 5.55pm and felt embarrassed, like a pair of beginner-travelers, when we found out we had changed time zones...
Loreto airport had indeed received Luis Eduardo’s message, so the custom officers were still there and made sure they had not waited for nothing: they made us remove almost everything from the plane and searched every single one of our bags thoroughly as we stood by watching in the small air-conditioned terminal. It was after 7 pm by now but the heat outside was still intense, which is why we all burst out laughing when a pair of thick woolen gloves - popped out of Alex’ winter suitcase when it was opened. They were the ones he had picked up on the trail leading up to the volcano in Iceland back in May because it was colder than expected, along with an orange hat with the words LÍFID ER NÚNA (Life is Now) on it. They were completely absurd accessories to travel with in this heat, and even more so because one glove was black and the other white- you don’t really control what people lose while hiking-. The staff also showed us that on FlightAware our LVGQF appeared to be in Ensenada...for some reason, we do are not followable outside of the US. After checking in to our colonial-style hotel in the center of Loreto, we discovered a very cute town, worthy of its “Pueblo Magico” label.
The next day, while walking along the beachfront, we gave in to the insistence of a local sailor who offered to take us to the Isla Coronado, and we were very glad we did. The island had beautiful white beaches with sand that did not stick to the skin at all since it was the result of naturally crushed seashells. Captain Mauro had snorkeling gear as well as a little pergola and chairs on board, so after exploring the life hiding in the turquoise blue water, we could rest a little in the shade before going to the other side of the island which was the home of a group of stinky but friendly sea lions.
While in Loreto and with the help of various travel sites, we defined our next stops: we would fly South to La Paz (the capital of Baja California Sur), rent a car to explore the famous locations of Todos Los Santos and Cabo San Lucas as well as the National Park of Cabo Pulmo where we could start checking the item ”diving in Mexico” which had been on our bucket list from the start of the Round the World planning.
The flight to La Paz would be another perfect flight for me to handle: short, no clouds, no wind, no traffic but before we headed out, we visited one last Loreto highlight: the Jesuit Misión San Javier on the mountain nearby, which like many of its co-Jesuit settlements had incredible water works: an artisanal dam and elaborate irrigation circuits for the orchard which included a 300-year-old olive tree and a vineyard. Our guide Manuel told us about a very big celebration that was held there every year in November, attended by thousands of people, during which it was impossible to drive up the hill or walk around. Fortunately, it was still October.
Thanks to the people of the Loreto airport FBO, it was easy to get the documentation sorted out for our departure to La Paz and it turned out to be an extremely scenic flight, at 1000 feet above a rocky coast, light green water and lots of islands with white beaches which were fun to fly between and around. Because I tend to get quite nervous when i am “in command”, one of my instructors had prescribed high doses of “enjoyable flights” and this one certainly qualified: I completely forgot to stress about the landing because the surroundings were so beautiful (and the runway was very long, the sky clear, the wind calm, Alex sitting right next to me etc...)
Probably relieved to be on the ground...
On the ground, our car was waiting and we drove to Todos Los Santos on the other side of the peninsula. It turned out to be a small beach resort with both a bohemian and a distinct Mexican feel to it because of its colonial architecture and the artesania markets in the little town which also harbors a Hotel California, allegedly the inspiration for the famous song. Its shores however, directly on the open Pacific Ocean, looked dangerous and did not correspond at all to the paradisiac image of a Mexican beach, unless you are a surfer maybe...
While the restaurant we chose for our first dinner, featuring tables in the middle of a jungle like garden with lounge music and dim, misty lighting was clearly on the bourgeois side of bohemian, our Airbnb was on the opposite end of the spectrum and further from the beach than advertised, so after two nights we were not very sorry to continue our road trip towards Cabo San Lucas for a boat tour, just like everyone else, to see the famous Arch, the Divorce and Lover‘s beaches. Then to San Jose del Cabo for a Mexican lunch on the cute “artists row” in the center full of restaurants, tourist boutiques and colonial churches. While both Cabos have beautiful and interesting coasts where the Pacific Ocean meets the Mar de Cortez, the amount of tourist accommodations along them reduces their charm, unless of course you are comfortably seated inside one of them, enjoying a cocktail and looking at the sun and the sea.
Lounge atmosphere in Todods los Santos
Cabo San Lucas
We're not alone!
Towards the end of our Cabo-day, we reached the slightly remote Cabo Pulmo, after first having followed the wrong rocky coast road for several miles, until our little low chassis rental car could not take it anymore. The dive center was located inside the National Park, in a small sandy settlement with cabins, a few restaurants and a “boatel”. We slept in one of the cabins - ours had a straw roof- and the next day I performed my first dive in 16 years (fortunately it is a little like riding a bicycle); for Alex it had only been 7 years since he dove in Colombia with Tobias, but for both of us it was the first time in the Sea of Cortez. Would we be able to tell the difference in the fish?
After the dive, we headed back to La Paz thinking we might be able to fly to the mainland the same day to avoid Pamela, the approaching tropical storm that all the weather reports were talking about. We would not be able to visit La Paz, but at least we would not be stuck there. But the ride took longer than expected so it soon became clear we would not get out with enough daylight. In addition, we saw dark, dangerous-looking clouds all along the road so we started to worry: was Pamela closer than we thought? Suddenly we remembered that we had tied down the plane in a quite creative but likely not stormproof fashion: the tie-down rings at MMLP airport were made for larger aircraft so our yellow ropes had been too short and to compensate we had bridged the distance between the hooks under the wings and the tie-down rings with a pair of spare shoelaces that was left over from a recent shoelace upgrade (you know, the kind of thing you don‘t throw away because you never know when it will come in handy...). Because we only had two laces, we had not fastened the tail either. We decided to stop at a hardware store to buy some proper rope and stopped at the airport to fasten the plane in a way that made it more Pamela resistant, even though if she chose to become a real hurricane, even our new purple ropes would probably not manage to save our dear LV GQF.
Dark clouds were still looming during our evening stroll along La Paz’ beautiful 4-mile long Malecón lined with sculptures. According to Windy however, the eye of the storm was still far so our plan for the next morning was to wake up at 6 am to check the weather and get out if possible. But leaving La Paz was not in our cards: we had forgotten to take Moctezuma’s revenge into account and instead of flying, Alex spent the entire day between the bathroom and the bed. While he was resting, the outside temperature rose above 30 degrees Celsius, so I took multiple dips in the sea and the kidney shaped pool of Hotel Moro, recommended by our Chilean pilot friend Melvyn Becerra (who has often given us precious advice during our trip) and one of the best values for money since the beginning of our journey. It also gave me time to congratulate my parents for their 60th wedding anniversary. Wow!
Along the Malecón
Commandant Cousteau looking out at the sea
Is Pamela approaching?
Alex felt better towards the end of the afternoon so we went for another stroll along the Malecón after which La Paz became my favorite place in BCS. The sky continued to display the most stunning cloud formations but we had good hope we could get to the mainland the next morning because Pamela had moved North and we might be able to fly right behind her. In order to maximize our chances, we had a strict post-Moctezuma dinner in our Moro family-suite: rice and bananas, one of the simplest of the whole trip.