Saturday, March 13, 2010

Dangerous curves and tsunami alerts

The most notable thing about our drive from Ensenada to Loreto was the one thing that we’ve never seen mentioned in all the blogs and Web posts we’ve read about the drive and that is how much mountain driving is involved. There’s a lot of it and it comes with all the curves and switchbacks you expect in that terrain. Don’t expect to make very good time.

Our day started with a light mist, which rapidly progressed to a steady downpour by the time we’d checked out of our hotel and made our way to Home Depot. We were helped with our shopping by a sales associate who spoke very good English and was eager to warn us of the impending tsunamis up and down the Baja coast. This was the morning of the big Chilean earthquake and the threat of tsunamis had been issued from Mexico all the way to the Pacific Northwest.

“Just the Pacific side?” we asked. “Oh, no”, he said, “on the Sea of Cortez, too!” Armed with that dire prediction (which turned out to be unfounded for both coasts), we set out for Guerrero Negro in the rain. And it rained, and rained and rained for a very long time that first day. The mountains were beautiful even in the rain, but we moved at a snail’s pace through the mountain passes and it looked like we’d have to stop in Catavina for the night, instead of Guerrero Negro.

By the time we reached Catavina, it was about an hour or two from dark so we decided we should spend the night at the Desert Inn. It had finally stopped raining an hour or so before we got there, but still it was windy and chilly when we stopped at the motel. I should also mention that you could miss Catavina if you happened to blink.

We went into the hotel for a pit stop and to decide if we’d stay or press on. That decision was made easy when it appeared there was no electricity and the staff was less than helpful. No one even asked if they could help us. I had to go back to the car for a flashlight to find my way to the restroom!

But everything we’d read said “DO NOT DRIVE AFTER DARK!” We talked about it and decided that a little night driving would be OK. And it was. But don’t do this if you don’t have to! It was scary and stressful. We did make it to Guerrero Negro, but it was a long couple of hours.

As for stopping for gas, believe everything you’ve ever read about it! Fill up every chance you get. A map we’d gotten at the Ensenada visitor center indicated that Catavina had a Pemex station so we didn’t stop in El Rosario (I think that was the town), even though George wanted to. “Oh, no,” I said. “We’ve got plenty of gas until we get to Catavina.”

And we did, but it turns out that the Pemex station in Catavina is closed! I’m not certain it’s ever even been open, because it sure didn’t look like it.

We still had enough gas to make it to Guerrero Negro (probably), but not wanting to take any chances, George pulled over to get a few gallons from the guy selling gas out of cans by the side of the road. I can always count on George for the smart moves.

By the time we reached Guerrero Negro, we’d already gone through four military checkpoints (there were a total of six from the border to Loreto) and we’d had no problem whatsoever. The soldiers were civil and we hadn’t been searched or questioned beyond, “Where are you going?” and “Where are you from?” We weren’t particularly worried about the checkpoints because we look like exactly what we are – a couple of American geezers who are no threat to anyone! And we weren’t carrying contraband or anything that could be considered suspicious so we felt safe.

Next up: A Mexican bully and home at last!

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