Still hanging out in Puerto Escondido. It is hotter here and the breeze has dropped to zero, so we have reinstalled the air conditioner above deck and it is working like a champ.
So far we’ve enjoyed two nice dinners out in Loreto which has a charming (especially at night) historic center and a great selection of very good restaurants. The big adventure yesterday was our drive to Mision de San Javier, only 35 kilometers from the main highway, but a full two-hour drive each way. We almost didn’t go because the description of the road conditions in our guidebook was very discouraging, but we finally decided to chance it and are glad we did. The road was better than we expected, and we never felt our lives were threatened, although it definitely required concentration navigating the dirt and gravel road that wound it’s way around cliffs and drop-offs as we worked our way into the rugged interior of the Sierra Gigante mountain range.
The drive started out with an inviting new paved highway, great driving, but after just a short ways we came to a hand-lettered sign and arrow pointing off to the desert on the right and in essence announcing in Spanish – “To Mission San Javier by way of the arroyo”! And sure enough, we were soon off-roading up and down gullies and right down the center of a wide rocky dry riverbed.
The mountains are ferociously rugged and forbidding, but sweet water springs feed little streams that meander at the base of some of the gullies, and these streams create little oases where wild palm trees cluster, somehow to me a very incongruous sight. We drove past one of the oldest ranches in the area, Rancho Las Parras, where the gully was jammed full of huge green trees – not only palms but gigantic mangoes as lush as the ones we saw in French Polynesia, also orange and olive trees. They had posted a sign on the wall “mangos for sale cheap”.
Another point of interest on the drive up was a cave painting site just off the side of the road. It was an interesting spot for a quick look, but inland, requiring some serious hiking or mule trekking, there are much more spectacular cave paintings now designated as World Heritage sites. It would be fun to come back here and take a multi-day horse packing trip into the mountains with an expert guide – there are good outfitters based in Loreto that offer a wide variety of such adventures.
The town of San Javier was an unexpected pleasure. As we approached the gateway to the town on our dusty mountain road, we came to a verdant valley with a wide stretch of river created by damming the stream to capture a water source for the town. The entrance to the village was flanked by two tall mortared stone posts and at this point the road changed to cobblestones which paved the entire town. Low thick-walled white adobe homes thatched with palm fronds and boasting large shady verandas lined the cobblestone center, and at the far end was the mission, 2nd oldest in the Californias, in absolutely wonderful condition and still used daily. It was quite a beautiful building, much more elaborate than the mission in Loreto. A woman inside described some of the features and history to us. There is a three-part 24 carat plated golden altar that was shipped to Baja from Spain and brought up into the mountains on the backs of 40 mules when the mission was built in the early 1700s. The windows in the church are the first windows ever in all the Californias. The altars were filled with oil paintings and statues of the saints – a few of the panels were blank and our guide explained that those paintings had been cut out and stolen in past years before they started posting a guard in the church.
All in all it was an incredibly peaceful and well-cared-for village. I hate to think of the change that a paved highway (in the works) will bring to this remote spot. We ate lunch in a pleasant restaurant near the mission, then wandered across the plaza to buy some locally made mango marmalade, and wound up in a two-hour long visit and chat over a couple of cervezas with three elderly gentlemen – conducted almost entirely in Spanish. I switched mental gears into Spanish language mode and kept up my end of the conversation fairly well – enough to encourage them to rattle on a little too fast for me, but we had a great time and I got the gist of most of it. At one point I addressed a question to Mike still speaking Spanish – which he doesn’t understand – forgetting to switch back to English!
This morning Rod hit the supermarket and restocked our fresh veggie supply – later today we’ll tour around in our nice air-conditioned car to see some of attractions along the beach south of town. There’s a small village named El Juncalito, with a good snorkeling site, and a very high-end eco-resort which is of interest to Rod as he develops his own little resort on his island in the Philippines.
Tomorrow morning (Monday) we’ll head out to the islands – there are five right offshore of the Loreto-Puerto Escondido area, great spots for kayaking, swimming, snorkeling, diving, beach-combing, and whale-watching. Hopefully a little more ocean breeze and a little less heat!