I Heard the Mission Bell

Part 6 of Across America, 02 Jan 2012

Pacific Sand

It was Monday morning in San Ignacio. I awoke in my tent feeling refreshed. We broke camp and headed south into Baja Sur and the former mining town of Santa Rosalía. The metal church was supposedly constructed by Eiffel at the same time as his eponymous tower. I went to the local bakery with Jane just as they were pulling some panna dolche out of the oven. They were delicious.

Our next stop was Mulegé, a small town amidst an oasis of palms. After a visit to the mission overlooking the town we went in search of a food and drink. A margarita and a quick corn soup later we tried to find the others. They were supposed to be in an upstairs bar. Our first attempt turned out to be someone’s living room. The kids inside seemed to be trying to work out if they could find some beer to sell us, then their parents appeared. We eventually found the bar, which had the best nachos. Then it was back on the bus, a quick swig of bourbon and it was time to try and get some sleep.

Mulegé Mission: Bonnie, me, Jess, Carlos, Gwen, Meg & Dan.

Tuesday morning we arrived in Todas Santos (which I always wanted to call Total Santos). We set up breakfast in the local park while ten-year-old Morgan scaled the local trees.

Inevitably the town had a mission, but this one offered a more ecumenical experience than I’d bargained for. Three guys were trying to move the altar, but it was clearly too heavy. Our offer to help was gratefully accepted and we were soon had it moved to another part of the church. Good deed done for the day, we sat overlooking the Pacific with soapy-sweet plumeria blooms.

In the local cafe we ordered some drinks and found ourselves in a canine soap opera. Two dogs were running up and down on a balcony, while a succession of other dogs appeared to leap around and bark excitedly. Mexican sit-down eateries always seemed overwhelmed by more than three visitors and this one was no exception. We abandoned eating at the cafe and found some hella tasty beef tacos a few minutes up the road.

I’d arrived in Mexico sans hat. With many days of desert sun to come, I was determined to find something. My large head was somewhat problematical, but I eventually found an understated Mexican straw number (no dancing in the rim here) and the shop keeper quoted the outrageous price of one hundred pesos. After a moment’s reflection it dawned on me that this was only about five pounds and I paid up.

Hotel California had inevitably become something of a tourist trap. The margaritas were decent, the garden pretty and the toilets a thing of beauty (you soon learn to appreciate toilet paper and running water south of San Diego). But it was a struggle to imagine it as it was when the Eagles were (maybe) here.

Rooftop Bedroom

In the afternoon we visited the beach on the Pacific. The surf was up, the water bracing and the sunset spectacular (see photo, above). The camp ground we were due to use was closed, so our ever-resourceful drivers rented a surf house. It was the first night of Hanukah and we joined Jess in lighting a candle and singing traditional songs. I elected to sleep on the roof in the open air, the Milky Way flowing overhead. Wednesday morning I watered and fertilized a banana tree accompanied by two dogs and a parrot. Southward once more and we reached Cabo St Lucas on the very tip of Baja.

The trip in a glass-bottomed boat around the bay to the Pacific was beautiful. Love beach was on the sheltered Cortes side and Divorce Beach on the rougher Pacific. Our guide claimed the large motor yacht in the harbour belonged to Tom Cruise. Whether this was true or not, it was certainly well equipped with a helicopter, plane (wings folded) and jet ski. Leaving some to enjoy to the beach, I returned to the town to check out the flea market and other shops. I shouldn’t have bothered. Cabo was clearly designed to wring dollars out of you with the most overpriced drinks and tackiest souvenirs imaginable. Passing up the opportunity to purchase a t-shirt featuring the breasts of Baja, I returned to the bus.

Cabo Boat: Dan, Meg, Bonnie, Glen & D.

The winter solstice was Wednesday night. We camped out at Cabo Pulmo. I choose to pitch my tent on the last bank of shingle overlooking the ocean. After dinner we built a fire from driftwood and Matthew and Adam played classics on guitar. The sky was so dark that Sirius was reflected in the waves. By the next morning my stomach was beginning to rebel. With no toilets, I had to make several trips to the dunes with the shovel. Feeling wretched I passed on snorkelling and spent the day trying to relax on the beach. The beach itself wasn’t without entertainment, with diving pelicans in the shallows and breaching humpbacks on the horizon. Later in the day I managed some shrimp tacos before retiring to my tent for a siesta at four-thirty.

Next thing I knew it was midnight and a gale had sprung up. The rocks holding my tent down had been dislodged: my weight was the only thing keeping my tent upright. I lay against the windward side and hoped my deli belly didn’t return. Otherwise I’d be forced to leave my tent and risk everything being blown into the sea a dozen metres away. I awoke again at six, the long dark clouds scudding across the sky like war machines into the blood-drenched dawn (perhaps I’ve been reading too much sci-fi of late?).

Friday 23rd marked the halfway point of our trip. It was time to break camp and head to the city of La Paz. I felt a sense of achievement, singlehandedly packing everything away without losing a thing to the wind or sea.

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Tags: AcrossAmerica, Baja, Camping, GreenTortoise, Mexico, Travel