Mom Chronicles: Hints from the road
Diving into Summer: Top 10 Things I Love About Family Travel in Baja California, Mexico
- Category: Mom Chronicles: Hints from the road
- on Thu Jun 24, 2010
- by Brooke Stephens on Thu Jun 24, 2010 - (4) Comments
The rocks, sand, and wild desert vegetation of the Baja pensinsula made up the backdrop for our family road adventure this summer. Greg and I can take partial credit for this successful vacation, having hatched out the whole plan out around a campfire last November. "We've got to get the cousins out on a really cool trip this summer," I implored. "Are you up for something?"
We settled on Baja, pleaded with Mark to go along with it (he quickly agreed), and 6 months later, with fresh passports in hand, we made the trek down. While the trip was Greg's and my idea, Mark was definitely the driving force behind the success of our 2 weeks. He planned a great route and was our group's main Spanish speaker. Baja gave our family the perfect balance of adventure on and off the beaten path. We enjoyed the food, the culture, and the views from every mountain and beach we explored on the way.
After driving down two-thirds of the Baja peninsula, here are the Top 10 things I love about Baja California:
1. Best fish tacos in Mulege.
A couple of California surfers at one of our campgrounds referred us to this little food stand; their directions were to go into Mulege, and look for a carwash on the right past the first tope in town. Just across the street is the place, with a sign that simply says "tacos." Freshly caught yellowtail meat, cabbage, cilantro and onions, mmmm.
Samantha loved pointing out all the pictures of Mary and Jesus and had a hundred question about the candles, the Catholic faith, and the meaning of life. The mission in San Ignacio is picturesque and beautifully adorned on the interior (the outdoor garden beside it was immaculate as well). Another great mission, with a guided tour including a look at 18th century artifacts and a chance to climb the spiral staircase to the bell at the top, was down a 40-mile dirt road at San Borja.
Even though we travel mostly self-contained with our own water to rinse and shower off, the Campo Petate at San Ignacio gave us a bonus with its bamboo-paneled shower. It was even WARM water.
4. The girls will never go hungry in Baja.
Every restaurant or roadside taco stand we stopped at offered some version of a quesadilla con queso. Combine that with a basket of fresh tortilla chips and some cut up cucumber, and the kids were happy every time.
It's a mountain! After 11 nights of beach climates at our camps (either hot and breezy, or cold, cloudy, and breezy), the National Park in the Sierra De San Pedro Martir was a welcome change. We camped in the pine trees at a trailhead of sorts at the top of a twisty 40-mile road. We enjoyed a campfire, some gorgeous stars, and met some fellow Baja adventurers, Al and Uwe. The following day, as Mark and I packed the truck and loaded up Chloe and Samantha for the drive toward the border, Uwe and Greg set out to backpack to the summit of Picacho del Diablo over the next 3 days. They made it, but that story is for another post...
It was hard to find good-tasting coffee in rural Baja. Most places we saw just offered instant. What a surprise, then, to see a little ice-cream/smoothie shop in San Ignacio that advertised Mocha and Caramel Frappes. There were 10 other flavor choices, too, no joke. While not usually my style of coffee, I enjoyed every drop of that icy, sweet, concoction. And eat your heart out, Starbucks, I only paid about $2. Gotta love ice cream treats in Baja. Now, do you think they would have understood if I had ordered a "venti?"
Yes, it was hot on the East side of the peninsula. But we're desert rats, anyway. The water was a perfect 80 degrees, we had the beach to ourselves, and the breeze was warm. Bikini and flip-flop weather. Gotta love it.
For 2 nights, we braved the "June Gloom" and camped at Points along the Pacific side of Baja. One of the nights, at a surf-camp called Alejandro's, I watched as Samantha ran to the end of the rocks down the empty white beach just to scare away an entire pack of seagulls. Little Chloe was tottering behind, trying to join her big cousin. I remember thinking, this is why we're here. The kids are running, the waves are roaring, and again, we had the place to ourselves. See any pattern?
I don't know if "charter boat service" gives the right impression. I should call it Cheecho, the one man guide with a boat. For $300 pesos ($25 U.S.) an hour for the 5 of us, he took us exploring out at Bahia Concepcion, our farthest point south. We enjoyed the ride on the boat and even snorkeled out at a sunken boat-turned-reef. Cheecho showed me how to dive for clams; it took me 3 tries but I clawed one out. To finish the tour, we ate our freshly caught shellfish with fresh lime juice and the girls threw shells and rocks into the sea from a little beach. Picture perfect day of adventuring.
I always have to get a second look at these odd-looking desert trees. They are cone-shaped, with sticks poking out all over; they don't resemble their relatives in the Sonoran desert, the Ocotillo, very closely. On some of our drives, we went through forests of them. They make me think that I have stepped out of reality and into a live Dr. Seuss picture book. Although maybe, that's why visiting Baja feels a little bit like an escape from the ordinary. From the trees, to the roads, to the wind and water, going to Baja is a journey into a new, wild, ruggedly beautiful part of North America.