Searching For Paradise
In our search for the perfect Mexican paradise (after San Miguel de Allende, of course) featuring beaches, sun, warmth and glorious views, I think we just might have found it in Loreta, a small town on the Sea of Cortez. With mountains cascading down to the sea, long stretches of sandy beaches, gorgeous sunsets and this morning’s multi-colored sunrise, Loreto appears to be a magnificent stage set for something out of the 1957 film version of “South Pacific.” But while Loreto might be paradise but it wasn’t easy reaching it.
Day before yesterday, I trudged down the length of the Malecon (boardwalk) in La Paz, stopping at car rental agencies, tour agents and the local bus station to check on prices and timings to get from La Paz to Loreto. I’d been told by our hotel concierge (actually a delightful woman who looked like Gloria Estefan and was charmingly embarrassed when I told her so) that it was a four or five hour trip. Thing is, Loreto is up the coast due north of La Paz about 350 kms (200 miles) but there is no read that goes straight up the coast. So, one has to travel northwesterly across the Peninsula, almost to the Pacific Ocean, then head northeast from Cuidad Insurgentes back to the Sea of Cortez and Loreto.
I considered renting a car from La Paz but that would have cost $350. Inquiries at a government tourist office about a car and driver yielded prices from three companies of $500, $450 and $440. Again way too much especially since the bus fare was $50 per person. I left the tourist office with the intention of buying tickets at the bus station but as I passed a taxi stand with three taxi drivers sitting on a bench with their cars parked on the street, I thought, “OK. I’ll give it shot. Let’s see what these guys can do.”
After some negotiation, one of the drivers and I agreed on a price of $250. Not bad and since one of us was feeling a bit under the weather (I’m not saying which one of us. I thought it was a reasonable deal and we arranged for him to pick us up from the Posada de Las Flores where we were staying at 10:00 AM. Seemed like a nice guy, about 35, a bit stocky (as many taxi wallahs are) and friendly. He actually arrived to get us at just after 9:30.
Packing our luggage into the trunk of his five year old Toyota, we set off. Ran into about 20 kms (12 miles) of construction an hour into our 4 or 5 hour trip. Dusty, bumpy and a bit harrowing but, in the end OK. (It’s can be a bit disconcerting when double oil tankers are lurching toward you on a rough, bumpy piste, as we used call the rutted dirt roads when I was in West Africa.) Three hours passed and we made the turn at Cuidad Insurgentes to head northeast towards Loreto. Fairly lonely two lane roadway with not a whole lot of traffic with desert on both sides. They’ve had two hurricanes this past year in Baja California and things are unusually green, I’m told. Still, it was across a desert with not a single sign of habitation in sight. True, traffic was light - like a car passed once every 20 minutes. About 50 kms into our trek towards the Sea of Cortez, our driver muttered something in Spanish that I missed, the car slowed and we pulled over to the narrow shoulder with a picture postcard expanse of vast desert filled with cactus all around us. The radiator had lost its coolant.
Fiddling around with the cap until it was safe to remove (he did burn his hand but not severely) he retrieved a gallon jug of water from underneath our luggage in the trunk, but it was only half full. It was then that I recalled he had topped off the radiator when we stopped for lunch a couple of hours ago. The remaining water got poured into the radiator. Still no go. Waving the empty jug at the rare passing car and truck as the sun beat down (it was about 1:00 in the afternoon) with nary a piece of shade to be seen, we stood in the hot sun. Finally a Chevy Blazer stopped, man jumped out, opened the back hatch and pulled out a 5 gallon plastic container of water. We were saved. And by a family (husband, wife, and two kids) with a vehicle loaded with what looked to be vacation supplies.
After much thanking and Adios’s, we sped off again. Now we were crossing the same mountains we had crossed as we left La Paz, just now it was 200 kms or so to the north. Our taxi driver announced that Loreto was only 100 kms on. We began seeing more signs of civilization – well, the occasional rundown shack sitting lonely and abandoned out in the dessert, the occasional working ranch with cows munching contentedly by the side of the road, when all of a sudden climbing what I was sure had to be the last hill before we headed down into town, our taxi driver muttered something in Spanish, car slowed and we pulled over. This time we overlooked about 1,500 feet of valley below. It was all shades of green and brown with sharp ridges etched against an impossibly blue sky. Quite impressive really.
Just as I was thinking, “Well, we’re not that far from Loreto so maybe we can catch a ride with some passing car or truck,” when lo and behold, Mr. 5 gallon jug of water pulls over in front of us. He had been following us for the past 100 kms just in case we needed his assistance again. Somehow it all seemed to be typically Mexican. Sure I know that maybe up north near the border with the USA there are lots of bad guy Mexicans, you know, the drug lords and all of that, but once again, this Mexican guy with his wife and kids off on vacation – a stranger to all of us – had taken it upon himself to watch over us, saint that he was.
We crested the final mountain and began the long, winding descent into Loreto toward the sea and I swear I could hear Bloody Mary singing “Bali Hi” on our way down. Or it could have been angels. No matter who was filling the air with music, I have never seen such a beautiful landscape in my entire life. God, do I love this country.