2,318 miles later . . .
It was a long, 8-days-of-driving trip, and neither of us felt well the whole time. We both had developed jippy tummies before we left, the Patient more so that I. So the whole safari was a chore and not much fun. We made it home yesterday at noon after a mad dash up I-99 from Bakersfield. Despite all, there were some interesting things along the way.
D-day minus 1, Tuesday, May 5
We had a final dinner at Dago's so none of us departing the next day was forced to cook! He was as usual, a welcoming host with a fine hand at the grill. Fish tacos. So long until December.
Day 1, Wednesday, May 6
The house was completely packed up, fridge empty, garden got its last drink, and he headed out at 10 AM. We went only a far as Tapalpa this day so didn't have to leave at the crack of dawn. We first went to Sayula to look at/for knives. But we felt so awful, it was so hot, crowded and dusty that we decided we could do without any new cutlery and went on to Tapalpa. It is a 20-mile drive on a very windy road up into the mountains. We found our hotel, unpacked, and immediately went to sleep. About 7 o'clock we wandered out looking for a place for a light supper and ended up at some rather dingy hole-in-the-wall place where we ate what we thought wouldn't make us (too) sick. It didn't. Then back to the hotel and back to bed. I will say this about these two little towns: I definitely want to go back to both of them when I am feeling better. Sayula has a bustling downtown with two or three plazas, lots of interesting shops, two big indoor markets and a very pretty church. Likewise Tapalpa. Our hotel was down in the lower part of the town; the cathedral and central square are on the upper level. We didn't go up there at all but saw it as we were driving out of town the next morning. Both of these places are well worth a second visit, and they are only about 2 hours away from the beach.
Day 2, Thursday, May 7
We had a very short conversation early this morning about just how far we thought we could drive. We decided we couldn't make it all the way to Mazatlán, despite the new road, so opted to stop at our favorite hotel in Tepic, Las Palomas. We got there early, slept most of the afternoon, had an early dinner and went to bed. (Not very exciting reading, is it?) We have stayed in this particular hotel several times; it has large, comfortable rooms, a nice pool area, and two good restaurants, which were wasted on us as all we could think of eating wa soup.
Day 3, Friday, May 8
We left Tepic early and got into Mazatlán by 10 AM. What a great change from the slow, truck-clogged 2-lane old road. We saved almost 2 hours of driving time. If we had felt better on Thursday we could have made it to Mazatlán easily. It's a long drive but it stays light late and there isn't much traffic on the autopista. These Mexican toll roads are really terrific; they are well-maintained, not heavily traveled ~ there is a parallel 2-lane free road for drivers who don't want to pay the tolls ~ with frequent gas stations and rest stops. After coming from the interior, you come around a wide bend in the road and there's the sparkling blue Pacific that we left just 2 days ago. We blew on through Mazatlán and headed for Topolobampo, a bit west of Los Moches. Topolobampo is probably the most down-at-heel Mexican town I've ever been in. It makes Cuyutlán look like Montecito! But it does have a beautiful bay that flows into the Gulf of California.
If you want to take the ferry to La Paz on the Baja, this is your embarcation point. We hoved into the only hotel in town, La Marina, every bit as seedy as the town itself. Again, after a nap, we headed downtown to the only restaurant, Chicho's. We sat upstairs (where the red life rings are hanging) with a view out to the bay. It was a full moon but we were too tired to stick around to watch the moonrise.
I was feeling a bit better and ordered a big bowl of fish soup.
And it was absolutely delicious. Since I hadn't eaten much for three days, I dug right in and worked my way through the various sea creatures the chef had tossed in. White fish, shrimp, squid and lots of pulpo - octopus.
The broth was rich and warming and very flavorful. The little octopus tentacles were sweet and chewy. Or at least I thought so! The Patient thought it was like trying to eat rubber bands.
One thing this little town has done is to clean up its waterfront. The last time I was there, in 2007, the west end of the bay was a total mess, with falling down houses, a road so rutted and pot-holed it was impossible to drive it. Lo and behold! They have tarted up the place beautifully, built a waterfront malecon with lovely lights, a new street, nice benches. Now all they need is another restaurant and a new hotel. Nothing fancy, but a view of the bay would be terrific. One thing at a time . . .
One other thing about the name of the town. This is Yaqui Indian territory, and for some reason they were enamored of the "suffix" of "bampo." There must be 50 towns around this area whose names all end in "bampo."
Day 4, Saturday, May 9
We left Topo early and headed east to Alamos. We wanted to get to the cafe at Solipaso for breakfast. This was the first real meal the Patient had eaten since dinner at Dago's. We decided to stay at the hotel. Ther are only 3 rooms but one was available, a big, cool high-ceiling'd hide-away with a big, comfortable bed. Right outside the room wa this lovely patio, cool and inviting in the midst of really searing heat.
After breakfast we made the mistake of going out for a walk. As they say, only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the mid-day sun. It was a real wilter of a day and I finally had to beg for mercy and go back to the hotel and take a nap. But I did manage to see the indoor market ~ bustling with Saturday shoppers ~ and the beautiful church on the main plaza.
While I napped, the Patient did his internet reading. The late afternoon heat beat down in the patio but the walls of the room were so thick that it stayed cool and pleasant inside. Finally we decided to go out for a light supper (again) of soup and salad. Hit the spot.
Day 5, Sunday, May 10
Sunday morning the hotel put on a wonderful Mother's Day Brunch for hotel guests and locals. The hotel's cafe is a popular meeting spot for breakfast or lunch, and it's easy to see why. Cool, comfortable dining areas, really good coffee, and a menu offering both Mexican and gringo dishes. (By the way, there is a very big gringo ex-pat community here who are busy buying up old houses and vacant land to use as retirement and snow-bird residences.) Frittata, blueberry pancakes, orange muffins, Canadian bacon, dark, rich coffee . . . a lovely send-off. This year the celebrations of Mother's Day for both the US and Mexico are on the same day. The Mexican day is always May 10, no matter what day of the week. In the early afternoon we left Alamos, baking in the hot sun, for the cooler climes of San Carlos. This is my last glimpse of the Pacific ocean ~ except if I take a trip to So Cal, which I am doing next weekend ~ so I don't want to miss it. We could have made it from Alamos across the border to Tucson, but a night in San Carlos is not to be missed. Back on Mex 15, the toll road, for another few hours of driving through the Sonora desert. It actually looks the same as what's on the US side; cactus, wide expanses of a whole lot of nothing. Flat, dusty, empty. But finally we got to San Carlos, found a room at our traditional hotel, and settled in for a 16-hr stay. The view is as I remember it.
This hotel, the Fiesta Real, has 30 rooms, each one facing on the sea with a great view, a good dining room, a very nice beach, decent pool, and reasonable rates. What's not to love about it? That's why we've been coming here for 9 years. San Carlos is growing by inches, not by leaps and bounds. It was originally the overflow from Guaymas, the coastal town about 30 miles to the west. Then it became its own up-scale retreat. Now it has a few hi-rise condos where both Mexicans and gringos have vacation retreats. There are a couple of very old neighborhoods; the new stuff is up in the hills and nobody pays any attention to that. It's still very quiet and laid back; a sailor's paradise. After another soup dinner, an early night. We want to make Gila Bend by mid-afternoon tomorrow.
Day 6, Monday, May 11
Up and out by 6 PM. Very light. Varying reports on what' happening at the border these days. Health inspections for everyone? Extensive inspections? Nothing much happens at all. Well, here's what did happen. No health inspections; no questions, no masks, no nothing. But we were asked to pull the car into the inspection area and were escorted into a waiting room off-site. Probably because we have been in country for 5 months. They searched the car thoroughly but they didn't find anything, didn't confiscate any of the "overage" booze (tequilla), and didn't question my syringes. It was a mere slow-down but nothing more. We arrived at the border at 10:30 and were on our way to Gila Bend by 11:30. A straight shot up AZ 19 to I-10 to Gila Bend and, again, our favorite stopping spot, the Satellite Motel. It's a funky space-age joint that pays homage to the 60's and the space program that went on out in the desert near-by. But it has refrigerators, air conditioning, a zillion TV channels, comfortable beds, and easy access to I-8 (our usual route into San Diego). Dinner thanks to Burger King and lights out at 8:30. Medical reports: tummies doing better.
Day 7, Tuesday, May 12
Destination for today is Bakersfield, via San Bernadino and I-395. This was not, I repeat, NOT my idea of the fastest way to get home, but since we were not going to visit my sister in San Diego, this is the alternate route that the pilot chose. As the navigator I had no say. (Vic is still in CT, in a rehab facility, and doing well, from all reports.) It was another long day's drive with heavy traffic and boring landscape. We arrived at our hotel at 3, took naps, ate a light supper in a really grim motel restaurant, and called it a day by 8, when it was still light. It's amazing how dispiriting highway off-ramp motels can be, isn't it? They're all the same, the rooms differ only in the color of bedspreads or size and make of TVs. This one at least had sliding doors onto a nice patio that offered a garden view and a breath of fresh air.
Day 8, Wednesday May 13
Like the horse that can scent home, I knew we were getting close. We got shut of the Bakersfield hotel early and started the great trek up I-99. It took 5 hours. Lots of truck traffic, but the road is good and there are places to stop along the way. We pulled into the driveway at noon and believe me, I was happy to be here. There's really no place like home.
There were the usual sights along the way: the dusty blue tequilla fields that go on forever; the rich, fertile valley in Sinaloa with beautiful irrigated crops of tomatoes, pepper, flowers, berries; the Sonora desert blooming like crazy this year, all the cacti with blossoms of pink and white on the tips of the up-stretched arms. We had only one military inspection point the whole trip and that one was so perfunctory it was laughable. I could have been carrying all sorts of contraband and who would know (or care)? Two agricultural stops for fruit and veggies; again, laughable. We were carrying avocados and limes (fruits) and nobody even looked. We must look honest.
So adios for another six months. We don't know where we will cross next year, El Paso-Cuidad Juarez or Tucson-Nogales. It depends on where the worst fighting is. For now, we are very glad to be home, sleeping in our own bed (the Patient had a lot of back issues with the various beds along the way) and cooking in our own kitchen. To say nothing of speaking our own language, or a facsimile of same.