Day 12: Ensenada to La Paz

Overland miles: 1063 Tacocount: 37 Days without Tea: 2

The last week has seen us make an epic mission south down Baja California to finally reach the laid back coastal town of La Paz- not to be confused with the capital of Bolivia or any of the numerous places in this part of the world that share the same name.

Since arriving in Ensenada, Tijuana’s slightly less hectic neighbour, we’ve spent over 24 hours on buses and we’re still not even at the bottom of this peninsula. When you think you can drive the length of the UK in just over twelve hours, you realise just how big Mexico is.

Ensenada saw us break the first rule we set when talking about this trip – no staying in dorm rooms… On realising that most of the town’s hotels were at least twice our nightly budget (the town’s proximity to the US border means it’s a popular tourist spot with prices to match) and the cheaper motels were of the pay-by-the-hour variety, we checked in to Ensenada’s sole hostel, and a six person dorm.

Ensenada – home to possibly the world’s largest Mexican flag

In fact, the experience wasn’t as bad as we’d feared. Most of the hostel was occupied by a group of guys working at the nearby port, who were fixing ships ready for the next whale watching season. Our room had a couple of Mexicans in their 20s and we were later joined by two 19 year old French Canadians who were driving around California, who had crossed the order solely so they could drink alcohol. So it was with these new found friends and the hostel staff that we celebrated Jovian’s birthday with tequila and Tecate (the local beer) at the town’s most famous watering hole, Hussongs, known for its live Mariachi bands, sawdust covered floor and two for one Tuesdays. Our Mexican companeros sang a raucous ‘feliz compleanos’ to the birthday boy, taught us some local surf slang and eventually we ended up at a karaoke joint. Mexicans, we now know, take their karaoke even more seriously than the Japanese and there were some seriously good singers taking to the mic – well at least worthy of the X Factor live shows stage. Luckily for the locals neither Jovian nor I had consumed enough two for one beer to be tempted to join in!

Hussong’s Cantina: insert Mariachi band here

After eating our own body weight in fish tacos, ceviche and tostadas, which Jovian has documented in mouth-watering detail, we decided it was time to head south and boarded our first long distance bus.  Sixteen hours later, a journey which the Lonely Planet had assured us would only take twelve hours, we rolled into Santa Rosalia at 1am, tired, hungry and dehydrated, only to find that the hotel we’d booked into had no record of our reservation. We suspect however it was because the dude on night duty couldn’t be bothered to get out off his sofa and listen to our gringo Spanish. We eventually gave up trying and headed back on to the street. Luckily, the owner of the next hotel understood us perfectly and was more than happy to give us a bed and we crashed out to the dulcet tones of a circa 1974 air con unit unit running at full pelt.

Sleepy Santa Rosalia seemed to be a town with one foot in the Wild West and another in the set of Happy Days. The streets were lined with pre-fabricated clapperboard homes painted in once-bright colours, now covered in dust, built to house the local mining population. At its centre was a pre-fab church designed by Gustav Eiffel, of Eiffel Tower fame, which was originally intended for West Africa but somehow ended up in Santa Rosalia at the end of the nineteenth century. Overlooking the town were the former offices of the French mining company that had exploited the area’s copper ore at the end of the nineteenth century, now a museum and next door to a hotel, which the museum told us had been inventively built to service the needs of the mineras solteros, or single miners. All around us stood rusting hulks of mine trains as if they’d just been suddenly abandoned in the oppressive heat.

One of Santa Rosalia’s houses

Our next stop in Baja was La Paz, home to the original Hotel California. After another journey, this time a mere eight hours, through hundreds of miles of desert with only cactuses and the odd town breaking up the distance, we rolled into La Paz’s bus station early in the evening. La Paz (the peace) lived up to its name and we enjoyed a few tranquil days doing nothing but exploring the local beaches, walking the town’s Malecon (port walk) and checking out the rather bizarre archeological museum. We landed on our feet again with our choice of accommodation, staying in the bizarre (in a good way) Hotel Yeneka  which was run by an eccentric ‘doctor’ reminiscent of Christopher Lloyd in Back to the Future, minus the crazy hair.  The hotel’s courtyard, where free breakfast was served everyday, was decorated in the style of demented sailor meets old granny, with a lunatic horde of nick nacks, trinkets, whale bones and bits of old cars and bikes (to name but a few) covering every surface. Another perk of the hotel was that all guests got two free tequilas every night if they wanted, which we naturally took advantage of, so we could truly say we’d immersed ourselves in Mexican culture.

Welcome to the Hotel Yeneka: you can check out anytime you want but you can never leave

We’ve decided that La Paz will be our final stop in Baja before heading to the mainland. Despite being a few hours from Los Cabos, many of the locals we’ve met have advised us not to bother going there. Apparently once deserted stretches of beach have now become hugely over-developed and there is a booming luxury tourist economy with lots of Hollywood stars holidaying there. So despite the temptation to brush shoulders with the rich and famous, (well, maybe I’m more tempted than Jovian although I haven’t packed the right outfits for celeb mingling) we’re taking the ferry from here to see what the mainland state of Sinaloa has to offer…

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