Sunday, September 23, 2012

Into Baja Mexico

After a short stretch on the dreaded interstate it was another small winding mountain road to the border crossing to Tecate. It was easy going into Mexico - we just drove across. No one looked at our passports, no one asked us any questions.

It was busy getting through Tecate, but it's much smaller than Tijuana and soon we were headed south on the Mexico 3 highway that leads through wine country to Ensenada.

Being a law abiding Canadian, I found the lack of speed limit signs unsettling. And the few signs that were to be found, didn't make any sense. All of a sudden there'd be a 60 km/hr sign in the middle of nowhere, or a 90 km/hr sign right before the speed bumps. Shelley took it more in stride - go with the flow, she told me.

Mid morning we reached the wine country of the Guadelupe Valley. We passed the huge Domecq and L.A. Cietta wineries that (at least at one time) together account for 80% of the wine produced in Mexico. We preferred to visit smaller wineries but we weren't sure where to start. Then we passed Endémico - a very cool winery and hotel where the rooms are in separate cubes scattered across the hillside. I'd come across it when I was looking on the internet for places to stay, but it didn't have any vacancies. We figured we might as well drive up and have a closer look and see if we could at least taste some wine. The lobby building was very modern and open, with great views of the vineyards and valley below. We asked the guy hanging around the bar area if we could taste some wine. He said yes, so we sat down. He gave us sample of several wines. At first I thought he wasn't very talkative, but when I started asking questions I realized his English wasn't that good (but probably better than my Spanish). It turns out Endémico has only been open three months. And the wines he was giving us weren't theirs. I don't think they were really open for wine tasting, but when two gringos walked in and asked to taste wine, what do you do.

As we were leaving we decided it wouldn't hurt to ask if they had any vacancies, after all, someone might have cancelled. It turns out they weren't full. (Not sure why the internet said they were.) Of course, it was expensive, so that put us on the spot to decide whether or not to splurge. We decided to. We'd camped all the way down, so what the heck. How often did we get to stay in a cube on a hillside! The cube was very nice, and to make it even better, there was a pool and bar just up the hill.

We went into town for lunch and visited the Emevé winery. We tried a Chardonay, a Cabernet Sauvignon, a Malbec, and Los Nietos (a blend). Their wines have been regular award winners.

We spent the rest of the afternoon back at the cubes, in and around the pool. Originally, we'd planned to go back into town for supper, but it was too nice where we were so we just had a light supper by the pool watching the sun go down. Hard to beat.

In the morning we had breakfast by the pool and then hit the road. It was slow going through Ensenada, which seemed to go on forever. We resisted the urge to stop at the several Starbucks we passed on the way through.

It was a long 10 hour day of solid driving to Guerrero Negro. A beautiful drive though. I was excited to see the Boojum Trees (the name is taken from Lewis Carroll's poem The Hunting of the Snark). I'd read about them but never seen them in person. They are very bizarre looking. I was excited when the first few appeared, but we ended up driving by countless more for the next couple of hours, along with Saguaro cactus, Joshua trees, agaves, and another tree that I can't remember the name of, that look a little like baobob trees. Some of the Joshua trees and agaves were flowering.

We also saw a couple of roadrunners running across the road. I've been wanting to see them since we started coming to the Southwest but this was our first sighting. Didn't get a very good look at them, but the outline seems distinctive. (Trivia - a group of roadrunners is known as a "marathon") We also saw rabbits, a coyote, and various hawks and other birds.

Overall, the highway was in good shape. A few rough spots and a few construction zones, but that's the same anywhere. However, the road is very narrow with absolutely no shoulder, and a sharp drop off the pavement. Big trucks going in the opposite direction were a little close for comfort. Thankfully there wasn't a lot of traffic.

We had to stop at several military checkpoints but all they did is ask where we were from and where we were going. I think the security is heavier going North.

We made it to Guerrero Negro just as it was getting dark and pulled into the first hotel we came to - the Halfway Inn. I think it was previously the Desert Inn. It was nothing fancy but it seemed ok, and they had a restaurant (and the courtyard had huge flowering hibiscus bushes with hummingbirds feeding on them) We were glad just to stop driving. No air conditioning, but it's cooler here by the Pacific ocean. And even more shockingly, no internet!

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