This is part of a series of blog posts about a ten-day trip I recently took south of the border through the Mexican state of Sonora and then back up north (after a ferry trip across the Gulf of California) through the Baja Peninsula.
Actual travel date: Jan. 1, 2010. Mission San Francisco de Javier, to the west of Loreto (Baja California – south).
The last time I visited Mission San Francisco de Javier, which is located to the west of Loreto, the road to the mission was being rebuilt and we spent a lot of time driving around in circles trying to find the alternative road. It was a frustrating, bumpy ride. This time I am happy to report that a good chunk of the mountainous road to the mission is now smooth asphalt.
From the exit point just south of Loreto (at 9 a.m.), we were sailing along pretty nicely for a good 20 minutes. I was starting to think that we would be getting to the mission in under an hour. But then we started to notice crumbling chunks of the asphalt along the side of the cliffs. Some of these sections were marked with cones, and other were simply demarcated by large stones. This was not encouraging, but at least it gave us advance warning of what we would be facing when we drove back down the mountain road.
After 2o minutes, the road changes abruptly to gravel. But that’s ok because it keeps you going at a slower pace to take in the landscape.
Within an hour you get your first glimpse of the ocean to the east, and the faraway sea flirted with us as we pushed upward. You can also get an idea of the region’s pre-Columbian cave art at this pit stop:
So much of this excursion is about the scenery, so after several stops we got to the mission in about an hour-and-a-half (1o:20 a.m.). The mission was complete in 1758 and its considered to be one of Baja California’s best-preserved mission churches, according to The Lonely Planet guidebook. If you get here December 3, you can observe pilgrims coming here to honor or celebrate the saint.
Some things looked the same: We visited the mission, with its old tombstones.
Other things were new. Across from the mission are a surprisingly large number of public bathroom stalls (with toilet paper) for the number of visitors we saw at the mission this day.
The last time I came here there was just one restaurant, which we ate at again: Restaurant Palapa San Javier. But now there are two places. Out of habit, we went back to the Palapa (where I had Mexican-style eggs). We explored the area for about an hour-and-a-half, and then started back down the mountain.
After a while, we started to hear a clattering sound. Some part of the car’s underbelly had come loose and was dragging on the ground. We used a cord to hold it in place until we reached Loreto.
Trying to find a mechanic on the day after New Year’s is a huge challenge. Pretty much everything is closed, but some taxi drivers referred us to a place where some temporary adjustments were made. We would still need to get the car repaired at a mechanic that had the necessary parts, but at least this would get us to the next leg of our route: Back north to Mulege. We arrived there two hours later from Loreto, and checked into the Hotel Vieja Hacienda.
We had already made reservations to take a hike the following day – Saturday – to the pre-Columbian rock art sites in La Trinidad Canyon. It was too late to search for a mechanic in Mulege. The entire town seemed to be continuing their New Year’s celebration in the streets and a few local bars. We grabbed some pizza for dinner:
Then we considered our options. Our (hopeful) plan for the next day – Saturday – was to get the car to a mechanic in the early morning. If all went well, they would be able to fix the car while we were hiking. Then we could pick it up later that afternoon and start heading north back to Tijuana. You can stress over these things, or just accept it as part of the adventure: What’s a road trip without a wrench thrown in to keep us all on our toes, right?
TRAVEL TIPS: From Loreto, head south a few minutes until you see a sign to your right leading you to the mission. Give yourself about an-hour-and-a half to get to the mission. The first 20 minutes will be on asphalt, and afterwards the road becomes dirt and gravel. Be careful driving so that you don’t puncture a tire – or damage your car – and take advantage of the trip to make plenty of photo stops and to visit the cave paintings. Best time to leave is in the morning, so that you can have lunch at the mission. This gives you time to explore the village and the mission grounds.
Map of the road trip that started in Tijuana: Dotted lines indicate north bound leg.