was leery of visiting Cabo San Lucas, reputed to be an outpost of
Orange County, but El Arco is there, the rock arch (above) that marks the
bottom of the Baja California peninsula, and it seemed unthinkable to
have driven most of the length of the peninsula and not visit its
terminal point, where the waters of the Pacific meet with the waters of
the Mar de Cortés.

We decided to make a beeline for land's end, see the cape, and head
straight back to La Paz.  This turned out to be easier than
expected because there's a new road to Cabo San Lucas from La Paz
which runs down the Pacific side of the peninsula.  (Mexico 1,
formerly the only paved route from La Paz to the cape, runs down the eastern shore of the peninsula and is a bit longer.)

The new road on the Pacific side is in superb shape, allowing for faster speeds than
normal, and we made it to Cabo San Lucas well before noon.  The
town of Cabo San Lucas still has some charm, but it's ringed about by
hideous condo compounds — enclaves for people who want the views but
don't want to live among Mexicans, in anything resembling Mexican
culture.  In forty years the whole of Baja California will
probably be encrusted with these compounds, as the Pacific coast above
Ensenada already is.  Go see it now, before the
yuppie stain grows insupportable.

The tip of the cape can only be visited by sea, unless you're an expert
rock climber.  We rented places in one of the glass-bottom
superpangas that take tourists out for a look.  Fortunately the
other passengers were one large extended Mexican family, cheerful and
friendly and good company.

As we motored out of the harbor we were greeted by the strange and
nauseating sight of huge party boats filled with tourists drinking and
listening to bad pop music from live bands blaring their sounds out
over huge amplifiers.  “We're having an experience — we're having
fun now!” was the message.  Not.  “We might as well be in Las
Vegas!” was more like it.

El Arco looks as though it might have been designed for dramatic effect
and beauty by some 19-Century landscape artist like Frederick Law
Olmstead.  It's a most appropriate and theatrical punctuation mark
at the end of the great peninsula.  Just beyond it you can
actually see the light green water of the Mar de Cortés mix with the deeper
blue of the Pacific.

The captain of our panga had his wife and kids and father on board —
his oldest son took the helm on the ride back to the docks.  His
father beamed at him and made sure we all saw how well he was doing.

We decided not to tarry in Cabo San Lucas but headed back
towards La Paz and stopped about halfway there at Todos Santos for
lunch.  Todos Santos is a lovely little town that's become
something of an artists' colony.  We looked forward to visiting
the galleries there, but they were all closed, because we came on
a Sunday.  You would think that Sunday would be the one day of the
week most likely to bring tourists into the galleries, but there is
obviously a higher law at work here — the Lord's day, and the day of
rest, trumping commercial concerns.

We did have a fine lunch at the Hotel California, a charming place
is often visited by Americans on the mistaken assumption that it has
some connection with the Eagles' song.  Harry had the Mexican
equivalent of surf 'n' turf — a plate of shrimp and carne asada tacos.

We got back to La Paz before dark, in time for drinks at sunset on the terrace of the Hotel Perla.

We were happy we'd visited Cabo San Lucas,
and land's end — even happier that we didn't have to spend the night

For previous Baja California trip reports, go

[Photos © 2007 Harry Rossi]


early Spanish explorers of Mexico, who almost always traveled with
priests, had a habit of giving religious names to the places they
“discovered” — which was fortuitous with respect to the region of the
Mar de Cortés, which has an unearthly, supernatural beauty.  It's
hard to imagine talking about, even thinking about, the Isla Espíritu
Santo, Holy Spirit Island, under some more prosaic name.

It's a severe, haunted, sublime place.  When the Spanish first
arrived there were about 300 Indians living there — they must have
been hard, solitary folk.  Disease or some other European-borne
catastrophe left the island unpopulated until a French entrepreneur set
up a camp there for pearl fishing around the time of the outbreak of
the Mexican Revolution.  Disease again intervened, wiping out the
pearl-oyster beds throughout the Mar de Cortés between 1936 and 1941.

Today there are a few shacks used by local fishermen (with solar panels
on their roofs for electricity) and a luxury tent camp for wealthy tourists.

There is something shocking, even frightening about the landscape of
Espíritu Santo.  It's a place for gods and monsters, not
people.  I kept thinking that when blind Homer imagined the
settings of The Odyssey in his mind's eye, they probably often resembled the Isla Espíritu Santo.

We rented a panga, with a captain, at Pichilingue beach for a cruise to
the island.

It was a magical journey — we flew like the wind
across miles of open sea to reach the island, then circumnavigated it
slowly, pausing to marvel at many wonders.

The captain took us
at speed through rock-bound channels barely wider than his boat, into caves and
along the seemingly endless curves of totally empty beaches, running the boat close in to the shore for dramatic effect.

We stopped to snorkel at a small island populated by hundreds of
braying sea lions, who swam close to us when we were in the water, eying us
ironically.  “You don't really think you can pass muster as an
aquatic mammal?” they seemed to say.

We stopped to look at what appears to be a mask carved into the rock
face of the island.  That seemed like an ironic gesture by nature
itself, vaguely threatening.

Finally we came ashore at a lovely beach.  The captain set up a
table under an umbrella and produced lunch — ham and cheese
sandwiches, exceptionally fine fish ceviche and pickled marlin.  We swam and ate and
felt utterly elated.

It was good to go to the island, and good to leave it — it didn't seem
like a place that wanted to be visited for too long by the children of
men.  All the same it might be interesting to camp out on it for a night
— like spending a night in a haunted house.  I imagine one would
hear exceedingly strange voices in the wind.

For previous Baja California trip reports, go

[Photos © 2007 Harry Rossi]


The beach along the malecón
in La Paz is narrow and the water is shallow — not good for
swimming.  But within 20 minutes of the town are beaches of
greater charm and a few of magical splendor.  The first one we
visited was Pichilingue — not a spectacular beach in itself but
featuring a big palapa-roofed restaurant next to the water with sublime
seafood.  I had some stuffed clams there that were memorable — Nora gave a very high rating to the piñadas.

Adults can sit in the shade of the palapa roof, eating and drinking
exceptionally well, while their kids frolic in the ocean, which makes
for a pleasant afternoon.  Harry and Nora went kayaking and Lee
made friends with a panga captain who offered to take us on a tour of
Espíritu Santo island for a price far lower than we'd pay if we
arranged the trip in La Paz.  We checked on this back in La Paz,
found he was right, and came back the next day to sign up for the

On a different day we spent an afternoon at Balandra beach, which was
truly breathtaking.  It curves around a shallow bay, which you can
walk across to visit the famous mushroom rock, an iconic landmark of
the area.

There's a reproduction of it in the central square of
La Paz, across from the cathedral:

Smaller reproductions can be
bought as souvenirs, though I really can't imagine who would buy such a thing:

Some American tourists in La Paz told us
that the rock had actually toppled off its stem a few years ago and had to be
bolted back together — which turned out to be true.

For previous Baja California trip reports, go here.

[Original photos © 2007 Harry Rossi]


1 leaves the coast of the Mar de Cortés just south of Loreto and cuts
back into the interior of the peninsula before veering east again and
doubling back to the great sea at the Bahía de La Paz.  The city
of La Paz, nestled in the wide curve of the bay, was our main destination on this trip and Harry recorded the
attitudes of the passengers at the moment we arrived there.

Here's John Steinbeck on La Paz, as it was back in the 1940s:

La Paz grew in fascination as we
approached.  The square, iron-shuttered colonial houses stood up
right in back of the beach with rows of beautiful trees in front of
them.  It is a lovely place.  There is a broad promenade
along the water lined with benches, named for dead residents of the
city, where one may rest oneself . . .  [A] cloud of delight hangs
over the distant city from the time when it was the great pearl center
of the world . . .  Guyamas is busier, they say, and Mazatlán
gayer, but La Paz is

We didn't approach La Paz from the water, as Steinbeck did, and it has
changed plenty since his time, but a cloud of delight still hangs over
it, purely Mexican, not fueled by American tourist dollars, and it it
still antigua, old and wise.  It's a tourist town, but it caters to
Mexican tourists, and so is graceful and slow in its rhythms, without
the frenzied party-til-you-puke atmosphere of Cabo San Lucas or the
Pacific coast above Ensenada.

There is nothing spectacular about the place, its allure is quiet . . .
but powerful.  After a day there I never wanted to leave, and I
wish I was there right now.

I thought it would be good to stay for at least a night or two at the
Hotel Perla, the first “destination hotel” in La Paz, built in the
1940s, which for a short time, into the 50s, was host to Hollywood and
literary celebrities, a kind of proto Cabo San Lucas — but the Perla was full, which led us happily
to the second destination hotel built in La Paz, not long after the
Perla, the Los Arcos.  The rooms in the main building were too
pricey for us, but we got fine rooms in a more recent extension of the
hotel across the street, the Cabañas de Los Arcos.

The main hotel was full of American fishermen, the cabañas were full of
Mexican families and so pleasant that, after a couple of days spent
searching for even cheaper accommodations, we sent my sister Lee forth
to negotiate a lower rate for an extended stay at the Los
Arcos.  This she accomplished, and when we checked out we
discovered that they had applied the rate retroactively to our first
days there as well.

This rate was cheaper than you'd expect to find at a Holiday Inn next to an
ugly Interstate off-ramp in the United States, though the big rooms had
views of the Mar de Cortés, the service was superb and the hotel was
located on the malecón, the
broad promenade along the water that Steinbeck mentions and that is the
heart of La Paz's daily public life, especially after dark.

I felt I had come home.

For previous Baja California trip reports, go

[Photos © 2007 Harry Rossi]


is just no way to describe the coast and the islands of the Mar de
Cortés.  Parts of it remind you of stretches along the coast of Alta
California as it must have been in frontier times.  Most parts of
it seem like a landscape from another planet, or like our own earth
reduced to its purest elements — sea, land, no frills.

Every mile of Mexico 1 that takes you within sight of the Mar de Cortés is beautiful and inspiring.

Driving east from San Ignacio we hit the Mar de Cortés just north of
Santa Rosalía.  Then we drove south in a state of enchantment to
Mulegé, a town built next to a palm-lined estuary, and stopped for
lunch at Dony's taquería,
where we had some fine shrimp and carne asada tacos at a sidewalk
counter.  Then we followed the road down the coast to Loreto,
where we spent the night.

Loreto is rumored to be the “next cool place” in Baja California, which
means that developers are building fancy condo compounds near it. 
The town itself is pleasant enough, though a bit touristy.  It's a
famous place from which to set out on the Mar de Cortés for fishing,
and we found that American fishermen tended to be the most
objectionable tourists in Baja California — mostly white, middle-aged
men with loud voices pretending to be Ernest Hemingway and behaving as
though Mexico was a country populated entirely by domestic
servants.  (We eventually became fishermen ourselves, however, and met some
very nice pescadores among the blowhards.)

The La Pinta inn we stayed at in Loreto was the shabbiest one we
encountered on our trip but it had a big pool right next to the ocean
with an island in the middle of it that thrilled Harry and Nora. 
Nora also had her first piñada here, a pineapple smoothie.  She became an afficionada
of the concoction and had them everywhere, rating their
qualities.  The ones with a cherry and a pineapple slice included
always rated highest, especially if they were served in a large
frosted-glass goblet.

Lee had her first fish ceviche
at the restaurant at the inn, which became an obsession of hers for the
rest of the trip.  All of it was good, but the best was a ceviche made from a trigger fish I caught myself . . . but that's a tale for another time.

On the Mar de Cortés, sunsets like the one above, at Loreto, which look unreal at first, quickly begin to seem routine — I guess because they are.

For previous Baja California trip reports, go

[Photos © 2007 Harry Rossi]


by car down the Baja California peninsula is one of the world's great
drives.  You pass through ever-shifting landscapes of the most
extreme, surreal beauty — from high desert to low, from mountain to
plain, from the shores of the Pacific Ocean to the shores of the Mar de

The surface of the two-lane highway is very well maintained these days
— the era of the lethal potholes is over.  Gas supplies are
plentiful at the government-owned Pemex stations along the way, though
you'll have trouble finding premium gas, if that's what your car
prefers, between El Rosario and Santa Rosalia.  (Stations do run
out of gas from time to time, mostly depending on how many big campers pass
through them in any given week, but if you fill up wherever possible
whenever your tank drops below three-quarters full you'll never get
into any serious trouble.)

Mexico 1 is a marvel of engineering but most of it leaves you
little to
no margin for error.  Shoulders are rare, especially on stretches
snake through high mountain passes with terrifying drop-offs just
inches from the edge of the road.  At every blind curve on such
stretches you just have to pray that oncoming vehicles, especially the
big trucks, will stay in their lanes and leave you enough room to
live.  It's on stretches like this that you want to be thinking
about Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe and not about the drop-offs, though
this is difficult sometimes because of road signs reminding you of the
present hazards with icons of tall trucks flying off the edge of the
mountain.  Often you really do need supernatural aid to maintain
your nerve — as the trucker below, with his Jesus and Mary mudflaps,
clearly knows:

Even when the road cuts straight through level desert it's usually
built up on a high causeway with steep sides, no shoulders and few
turn-outs.  If you had to veer off the pavement suddenly, even
here, you'd probably roll your vehicle, though the roll probably
wouldn't end in flaming death, as it certainly would in the high
mountain passes.  And this is not to mention the livestock that
occasionally decides to share the road with you.

This is a road you never want to travel at night, or at speeds much
above the 80kph limit.  I mean, don't even think about it.

The road from San Ignacio to Santa Rosalia on the east coast of the
peninsula is one of the most hair-raising stretches of Mexico 1. 
But you're more than rewarded near the end of it by your first sight of
the Mar de Cortés, which is less like a real sea than a sea out of some
ancient legendary tale.  It enchants everything.

For previous Baja California trip reports, go here.

[Photos © 2007 Harry Rossi]


On our third day in Mexico we drove from Catavina, in the center of the
Baja California peninsula, to Guerrero Negro, on the Pacific coast,
where we grabbed some lunch.  Guerrero Negro is a fairly charmless
town whose principal industries are harvesting sea salt and servicing
the tourists who come to whale-watch in the nearby Laguna Ojo de
Liebre.  (Whale-watching was out of season while we were in
Mexico.)  The town has some good restaurants, however, and we had
some great seafood at one of the better of them, the Malarrimo.

Just north of Guerrero Negro is the boundary line between Baja
California and Baja California Sur, where the magic of the peninsula
really begins.  We drove that day only as far as San Ignacio, back
in the center of the peninsula on the way to the Mar de Cortés, because
we were told that the last stretch of mountain road leading down to the
east coast of the peninsula was challenging and not to be driven when
tired.  That proved to be an understatement.

San Ignacio grew up around a freshwater lagoon, which the Spanish
missionaries tapped for irrigation.  What they planted, in great
abundance, were date palms, and so San Ignacio is a most improbable
palm-shaded oasis in the middle of the desert.  The town’s
once-famous dates have been undercut on the Mexican market by cheaper
dates from abroad, so the town has a sleepy, vaguely depressed air,
though it’s still extremely charming, with a central square planted
with tall shade trees and one of the most beautiful missions on the

We ate our first lobster at an old restaurant in town that looked as
though it had seen better days — lobster tacos for me and a whole
lobster for Harry.

The lobster in both forms was a bit over-cooked and over-priced but still delightful.

We stayed at yet another La Pinta inn, one of the few choices for accommodation in
San Ignacio.

When we got to the town it was being spruced up for its annual date
festival, to be held the following week, but there were no dates for
sale anywhere we could find . . . because, we were told, “the date
harvest isn’t until October.”  The mystery of this only added to
the slightly unreal loveliness of the place.

For previous Baja California trip reports, go here.

[Photos © 2007 Harry Rossi]


Mexico, whenever anyone asked where my sister Lee and her kids were
from she always said Alta California.  This delighted Mexicans,
who probably think all Americans believe there is only one California,
the U. S. state.  In fact there are two others, Baja California
and Baja California Sur, both Mexican states located in the Baja
California peninsula.  Mexicali is the administrative center of
Baja California, to the north, and La Paz is the administrative center
of Baja California Sur.

At the La Pinta inn in Catavina my sister ran into a Mexican woman who
had lived in Los Angeles but had moved back because she didn't have
“the right papers” and didn't feel good about it.  My sister
remarked on how unfortunate it was that papers could keep the
Californias apart.  “I know God meant us to be together,” the
woman said, “but something has gone wrong with it.”  “Maybe we'll
all be one California again,” my sister suggested.  “I think it
will happen,” the woman said, without much conviction.

The woman seemed a bit puzzled about why someone from Alta California
would choose to visit the poorer Californias to the south. 
“Because it's so beautiful,” my sister said, ” and the people are so
wonderful.”  The woman nodded dubiously.

I suppose it's not surprising that the Mexicans' envy of American
prosperity should cause them to be defensive about their own country,
but I don't think money is the root of the issue.  It's more about
children and the future.  Mexicans worship children — their eyes
light up with almost supernatural joy at the sight of niños, even gringo
The poorest of Mexicans will introduce you to their children as though presenting
movie stars.  I think when they head north, to endure the
humiliations and hardships of life in El Norte, it's not to get
flat-screen TVs for themselves but a better future for their kids.

The poverty of Mexico, at least in Baja California, south of the
tourist zone, rarely seems ugly or degrading — the everyday culture of
the nation is rich and humane.  But it's so often frozen where it
is — economic progress is coming but coming slowly.  Looking into
the eyes of their niños, many Mexicans may feel that don't have time to wait for it.

They may not realize how much they stand to lose up north.  The
idea of making grueling sacrifices for one's children is losing
currency in America, and many Americans no longer believe that their
children will have better lives than they've had.  The ragged
Mexican man walking miles through the desert country of the borderlands
to get a back-breaking, low-paying job in the United States probably
has a picture of some children in his pocket.  If you're tempted
to fear and despise him, think of that.  He may have more to give us than we have to give him.

For previous Baja California trip reports, go here.

[Photos © 2007 Harry Rossi]


first time I visited Ensenada (above) in the late Sixties it was a
small, dusty
tourist town.  Now it's a big, sprawling tourist town but still
has some charm.  Above Ensenada on the Pacific coast, yuppie scum,
mostly from Alta California, the world headquarters of yuppie scum, has
turned the region into into a nightmare of condos, tourist traps and
perverted, groveling commercialism.  This is where you see the
true face of Alta California, “The Wellness State”.  The influence
of the Great Satan begins
to wear away the further south you go — only to
flare up again like a festering boil at Cabo San Lucas at the tip of
the peninsula.

On our first full day in Mexico we made it as far as Catavina, a tiny
town in a bizarre high-desert setting in the middle of the
peninsula.  (Mexico 1, the only road that goes all the way down to
Cabo San Lucas, zig-zags back and forth across Baja California, from
one coast to the other.)  The desert around Catavina is covered in gigantic, car-sized boulders
and tall cactus — like much of Baja California its landscape is
surreal in the extreme, with an effect on the psyche that can't be evoked by

In Catavina we stayed at a La Pinta inn.  These are dotted along
Mexico 1, are run by the government and are very pleasant, with a
cantina and restaurant surrounding a small courtyard fountain and rooms
surrounding a larger courtyard with a pool.  Mexicans pay about
$57 (American) a night there — rates for tourists can rise up over
$100 a night, but my sister quickly discovered that Mexican hotel
clerks love
to bargain, especially if the negotiation is conducted with humor, so
we paid well under the tourist rate wherever we stayed.  The
clerks always seemed genuinely delighted when Lee managed to talk them
into lowering their rate, as though they were appreciating a clever
goal from an unlikely player in a soccer game.

The terrace behind the restaurant at the Catavina La Pinta looks out
over the mystical desert and has a shrine dedicated to Nuestra Señora
de Guadalupe, which puts everything into perspective.  When
driving the roads of Baja California you want constant assurances that La Morenita
is with you, and you want a chance to thank her for getting you to
wherever it is you've gotten.  This is psychologically sound,
whatever you think of the theology of it, because it reminds you to
never, ever
take Mexico 1 for granted.  It's full of surprises, most
delightful but some hair-raising.  I'll write more about Mexico 1 in a later post.

For previous Baja California trip reports, go here.

[Photos © 2007 Harry Rossi & Lloyd Fonvielle]


the first day of our drive to Baja California we got off to a late
start — a miscalculation that led to us having to spend our first
night in Blythe, in Alta California.  I'm not sure what the deal
with Blythe is, but it seemed like a depressed and hopeless sort of
place.  We stayed in a lousy, overpriced motel and were happy to
be on our way again in the morning.  Above is a picture of a
rooster on top of a cafe in Vidal Junction, Alta California, on the
road to Blythe.  The cafe was closed and the only restrooms we
could find in Vidal Junction were some dirty Porta-Potties behind a gas
station, which was also closed.  The sight of a new moon behind the rooster cheered us up immeasurably.

If you drop more or less straight down from Las Vegas you hit the
Mexican border at
Mexicali, but we'd been told that crossing at the smaller town of
Tecate was quicker and
easier, so we veered off westward at El Centro on the I-8, then dropped
down to a smaller road that skirts the border on its way to
Tecate.  (Tecate is where the great Mexican beer of the same name
originated, though it's now brewed in other places in Mexico as well.)

It was fascinating to drive through the Imperial Valley of Alta California, past the huge
Sahara-like sandscape of Imperial Dunes and through the lush cultivated
fields beyond them.  The water that irrigates the Imperial Valley,
and makes it one of the most productive agricultural regions in the
world, comes from the Colorado River, which used to empty into the top
of the Mar de Cortés.  Now only a trickle of it arrives at the
apex of the great sea and the rich delta that used to be there is more
or less a wasteland.

The land above the border on the road to Tecate is well-watered, too,
and very beautiful.  We passed four U. S. Border Patrol cars along
the road before crossing quickly and easily into Mexico at
Tecate.  You need a Mexican tourist visa if you plan to travel
south of the “tourist zone”, or more than about 20 miles into
Mexico.  Lee had gotten hers and her kids' in Los Angeles but the
Mexican consulate in Las Vegas doesn't issue them.  I got one on
the Mexican side of the border in about 20 minutes, with no trouble at
all.  The Mexican border officials were friendly and efficient.

Somehow we managed to find our way through the teeming streets of
Tecate onto Mexico 3, which cuts across the top of Baja California and
hits Mexico 1, and the Pacific, at Ensenada.  The road passes
through high valleys where grapes are cultivated and wine made.  We
stopped at the largest of the Baja California wineries, L. A. Cetto, a
lovely establishment surrounded by a sea of green vines.

Lee and
I sampled and bought some good, cheap wines there . . .

The kids were
diverted by a pen that held burros . . .

. . . and peacocks . . .

At Ensenada we headed straight for the city's fish market, with its
extraordinary displays of seafood arranged in elaborate, artful piles.  We
had some indifferent seafood tacos at one of the small stalls lining
one side of the market, then cast about for a place to stay for the

We lucked into El Rey Sol, a pleasant motel-like place with a protected
parking lot, a great little bar and a good pool for the kids. 
While the kids swam, Lee and I washed away the dust of the road with
beers and margaritas, talking to a cheerful bartender who recommended
good seafood stands in Baja California Sur, and to other travelers,
including a surfer who'd explored the undiscovered breaks of the
peninsula in his youth and was now revisiting the region with his young

After the motel disaster in Blythe, Lee and I had discussed the
dehumanization of roadside inns in America, contrasting them with the
rich inn culture of Dickens' time, when inns always offered inviting
public rooms where travelers could meet and exchange tales of the
road.  All the Mexican hotels and motels we stayed at had such
public rooms, and they were always in use — just one of the many areas
in which Mexican culture reveals its humane genius and outshines its
“richer” neighbor to the north.

For previous Baja California trip reports, go here.

[Photos © 2007 Harry Rossi]


setting off on our drive down the Baja California peninsula my sister
Lee and I did a lot of research about traveling there — online, in books
and in conversations with acquaintances who've visited the region by
car.  In the wake of our own journey it's clear that there's a lot
of misinformation floating around about automobile travel by foreigners in Mexico.

With respect to Baja California itself, a lot of this is just residual
mythology from the time when driving down Mexico 1 to Cabo San Lucas
was a wilderness adventure.  The road wasn't paved the whole way
to the cape until 1974 — a fact that thwarted my own first attempt to
drive down the peninsula in the late Sixties in a car with
insufficiently robust shock-absorbers.  For years after the road
was paved it wasn't maintained
scrupulously and supplies of gasoline along the way couldn't be
depended upon.  All of that has changed.

But some of the misinformation is undoubtedly due to plain old paranoia and prejudice.

In the whole course of our journey we were only accosted once by an
aggressive and vaguely threatening beggar.  We only encountered one
incompetent and indifferent hotel or motel clerk.  We only found
ourselves once in rooms with seriously malfunctioning air-conditioners
— rooms whose temperatures were recorded at 99 degrees on the room
thermostats and whose wall units were unfitted to reduce this
temperature very much.

All these things happened in Blythe, California, in the Imperial
Valley, before we even crossed the border.

In Mexico itself we
encountered nothing but cheerful hospitality, casual but
efficient and friendly service and good deals.  In La Paz, we stayed in large, cool,
comfortable rooms with pleasant sea views, at one of the best hotels in
town, for five dollars a night less than we paid for the grubby sweatboxes in

We were careful about drinking tap water but were extremely
about where and what we ate.  (My nephew Harry, just shy of his
14th birthday on the trip, ate so many strange but delicious things in
Mexico that he kept a photographic record of them, starting with the
bowl of grilled octopus, above, that he ate con mucho gusto in Guerrero Negro on the trip down to La
Paz.)  Each of us experienced brief, mild
bouts of intestinal distress but nothing that could have been the
result of anything more than entering a new microbial environment —
something you might encounter just by visiting a different part of the
United States.

When we got back to Las Vegas we were all jonesing for cheeseburgers
and went out to an upscale burger joint here to indulge
ourselves.  I barfed it all up later that night — something that
never happened to me in Mexico.  I would say that you can get
better, fresher and more delicious food in almost any roadside
taquería in Mexico, however funky it may look on the outside, than you
can find on almost any gleaming stretch of strip
development in almost any American town.  We had really superb
shrimp and carne asada tacos at the improvised diner below, in El Rosario — a place we happened upon by chance:

It would make much more sense for Yankees to warn Mexicans
about traveling here — about the rude, uncaring service, bad deals and
synthetic food — than to listen to the warnings of fellow Yankees
about traveling in Mexico.

For previous Baja California trip reports, go here.

[Photos © 2007 Harry Rossi]


month I started off on a road trip with my sister Lee and her two kids,
Nora and Harry, down the length of the Baja California peninsula. 
It was a journey of great adventures but surprisingly easy and
trouble-free, contrary to some stories we'd been told about the hazards
of driving in that part of Mexico.  We ascribe most of our good
fortune to the Ghost (my trusty Lincoln Navigator) and to the kind
ministrations of Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe.

The Ghost is not a car for the 21st Century, due to its high
consumption of fossil fuel, but it is in all other respects one of the
most perfect machines for land travel ever created.  It transports
four people and assorted luggage in extreme comfort and is as reliable
as a burro, though far less truculent.

Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe is a lady for all ages.  The essence
of Mexico's own peculiar understanding of Christianity, she also
embodies the spirit of the nation.  There are improvised shrines
to her everywhere — the one above is just outside the public market in
La Paz.  She is sometimes called
La Reina de Mexico, the Queen of Mexico, and sometimes just La Morenita, the Little Darling.

Mexico has a deeply humane culture, made up of many grave and gracious
courtesies between people.  Just recognizing, however crudely,
that this system of courtesies exists is enough to open the heart of
almost any Mexican to a stranger, even a gringo.

rarely work the way they're
supposed to
work in Mexico, but they work, by a complex system of improvisation
and accommodation that can't be reasoned out, only intuited. 
Traffic signs, for example, are never taken as anything more than
suggestions.  But when you stop at a crosswalk, for example, to
let someone cross the street, as the regulations require, the
pedestrian will almost always pause and nod and salute you for your
consideration, as though to acknowledge that you have not obeyed a law
of man but of God, who asks people to treat each other with dignity and

The lack
apparent logic
in the organization of things could easily drive a Yankee
batty, but that's because he or she would have failed to realize that
Our Lady of Guadalupe travels with them at all times in Mexico, ready
at any impasse to lean in and whisper, “There is a way.”

And there always is.

[Photos © 2007 Harry Rossi]


thing about the Mar de Cortés, about any other part of the ocean you could name, really,
is that it's connected to every other part of the ocean. So theoretically you could
launch a rubber raft into the water at the La Paz marina
and, by a combination of luck with the currents and furious paddling,
end up at the Piazza San Marco in Venice . . . or the Battery in New
York . . . or more likely Espíritu
Santo Island.

that reason, all seaside places have a common air about them, the feel
of being open directly to all other seaside places. So when I look out
from any one of them I have sense memories of other times
by the ocean:

first memory of the sea, when I was two or three, and a wave shoved me
down to the bottom (possibly six inches underwater at that point) and would not let me up. It did let me up eventually, of course, in a matter of
seconds, but it conveyed an intention in those seconds which seemed
inflexible and eternal. I have never learned more about the ocean than
I did then, though I have sometimes forgotten the lesson.

Cherbourg at night for an Atlantic crossing, standing at the rail of a
freighter with two ballet dancers, connecting suddenly with the romance
and grave seriousness and joy and terror of every long ocean voyage
ever made by a mariner in the whole history of seafaring.

in a dhow, as Sinbad once did, in a choppy sea on the Indian Ocean, as
jet-black Kenyan sailors demonstrated with exhilaration how they
shifted the big stones in the bottom of their keel-less craft to keep
the boat steady in the water.

When I
dip my toes into any ocean I disturb currents that run through every
ocean, even the ones I've never seen, and especially the ones I've set
out on, or under, or crossed, or seen from a window in a beach house,
cleaning fish, or boiling shrimp, or just looking.


In the late 60s, just before or just after I dropped out of Stanford, a couple of friends and I decided it would be cool to drive down the entire length of the Baja peninsula to Cabo San Lucas.  Cabo San Lucas wasn’t an international tourist destination back then, it was just a romantic name and point on the map — getting there seemed to promise high adventure.

We set off from the Bay Area in a banged-up but serviceable car one of my friends owned, camped out on a beach the first night somewhere between there and San Diego and crossed the border at Tijuana.  We didn’t pause in Tijuana but headed straight for Ensenada because we’d heard there was a good beach there.

There was — we spent an entire day hanging out on it.  The wind off the Pacific was fierce and disguised the fierceness of the sun.  We were all horribly and painfully sunburned at the end of the excursion and so headed into the grubby little town of Ensenada for some
anesthetic treatment — cervezas, to be precise.

We quickly drank enough to take our minds off the sunburn — and apparently I drank even more than that.  I’m told I had to be dragged back to the cheap motel room we’d rented because I  kept accosting anyone who looked like an American and screaming “Hey, turista!” at them.  I don’t remember this.

I do remember the motel room.  We could only afford to rent one room and it had only two single beds in it, so one of us had to sleep on the floor.  We flipped a coin and I lost.  The hard linoleum of the floor instantly sobered me up, because there was no way to lie on it without reminding me of the sunburn — each new position shifted the searing pain to a new part of my body.  It was a long night.

In those days the road to Cabo was not paved below Ensenada, but we assumed it would be a decent dirt highway.  It wasn’t.  At a gas station we asked a friendly local if it got any better further south.  He said it didn’t, but didn’t get any worse, either.  He did strongly advise us not to travel at night.  “Why?” we asked.  “Because of the bandits,” he replied, matter-of-factly, as though “the bandits” were a well-known hazard of travel in Baja California.

As it turned out, the road was a greater hazard.  Less than halfway to Cabo we realized that the car’s shocks would never survive several hundred more miles on such a bad surface.  We were losing heart.

We decided to camp for the night on a beach and take stock of the situation.  It was a beautiful beach, and utterly, absolutely deserted — one could look for miles it seemed in either direction and see no other living soul.  This was surreal but exciting, the stuff of romance.  We woke in our sleeping bags at dawn the next day to low growling sounds moving closer and closer to us.  They came from a large pack of wild dogs scavenging along the beach.  They may have just been looking for food but they also had the air of creatures looking for trouble.

We hurried into the car and started north again.  Things had simply gotten too romantic, and the idea of bandits didn’t seem so improbable anymore in the midst of such vast and awesome desolation.

There’s an o. k. paved road all the way down to Cabo now.  Ordinary Americans travel it every day unmolested by bandits.  Ensenada has become a trendy resort town, and Cabo is an outpost of high luxury.

Probably some of the wildness I remember is still there in Baja California, off the beaten track.  I’m going back to look for it, anyway.

If our paths should happen to cross at a remote seaside cantina some night, just raise your glass and scream, “Hey, turista!”