A Bay of Angels
Morning. My turn behind the wheel. We leave downtown Ensenada, passing the port, the remade waterfront promenade and the starting point of the fabled Baja 1000. South of town, Baja's mother road, the Transpeninsular Highway, turns from four lanes to two. Morning sun is shining and dust trails in our wake. All good. Until a guy at a military checkpoint starts waving an AK-47 in our direction. "Go around him," says Dave. What? I proceed with thoughts of Sonny Corleone's last moments. It turns out he's not interested in us. They only stop cars going north. I have a feeling the way home won't be as easy.
The guidebook says we're entering the "real" Baja. More like "surreal." The two-lane road suddenly narrows to the width of a New York City alley, then climbs and winds almost vertically over green and brown mountains, through coastal plains, small farming centers, then again into olive green hills. Driving this adventureway is a white-knuckled, cojones-shrinking experience. I'm waiting for the next northbound 18-wheeler to drift too far over the single yellow and relieve the Ridgeline of its sideview mirror. Road signs with cartoon rocks falling off cliffs onto cartoon cars don't ease my anxiety. I play leapfrog with a surf van and expect a head-on crash while overtaking. It doesn't happen. In the hardworking towns, half-dressed children and street-smart dogs are saved by speedbumps placed at 100-yard intervals. I take them at a crawl. Exhale.
At El Rosario, the highway turns southeast and heads into the Parque Natural Del Desierto Central, giving us a vast panorama of car-size boulders, chocolate brown hills, and red flat-topped mesas. The only thing missing is water. Nonetheless, it's eye-popping beauty. We stop for lunch at a ranchero, one of many dusty roadside stands. I ask for cholla and am served what looks a lot like rice and beans. It could be anything and Dave is worried about its effects on his intestines, but eats it all anyway. That's the way it is with road food-all it has to do is hold you over until you reach your destination, which for us is Bahia De Los Angeles.
The Devil's Lair
We take swigs from gallon jugs of Alpine Spring Water we picked up before crossing the border (recommended) and scan the scene below. The Bay of Angels is an island-studded lagoon backed by huge rocky mountains - a perfect setting for a band of banditos to make camp. To me, it looks like Shangri-la - a night on the hook with nothing but wave noise, casting to mile-wide water boils without some idiot putting the fish down, desolate beaches to bow-into, hop off, and take a nap. Not much has changed here since the 1950s. Sure, there are a few motels, cafés, and a fuel station, but this is an old-style Mexican fishing village. The real thing.
We check into the Villa Vita, a well-kept mom and pop, where we park our rig in front of the rooms. Our shark-finding contact is at a camp off the mainland, so we try to raise him by VHF from Guillermo's Devil's Lair, a restaurant on the bay. No answer. We wait, which in Baja means it's time for iced Coronas and salsa-smothered fish. Still nothing from our contact, so I take a walk under a star-spangled sky, then turn in for the night.
Asleep by midnight, awake at five by rooster calls. My room feels like a sauna. Electricity isn't a 24-hour luxury at the Villa Vita, or anywhere else in town. No light, no air conditioning. Dave opens his door to let in some sea air. Mistake. He wakes to find a stray dog licking his feet. I wonder if it's the same dog that left a rabbit's head at my doorstep. I'm about to toss the head in the trash when a lovely senorita walks by. What can I say? I'm holding a severed head by its ear. "Good luck, just like its foot!" is what I manage. By the look on her face, she disagrees.