As I look at the earth swiftly sinking away below me, my mind is trying to keep pace with the newsreel of memories of my partner and my latest adventures. I can hardly believe that we have been hanging out in Loreto, Baja California Sur, a “Pueblos Mágico”, for 3 weeks! As with all things wonderous, it flew by! This morning, we struggled to shove all of our gear, collected treasures and the dog, into our little single engine plane dubbed “Mooney Girl”. Now we have cleared customs and the wheels lift off of the runway. We are headed back to the States.  Soaring up over the unbelievably crystal-clear blue of the Sea of Cortez, we launch skyward over the truly magical places we enjoyed during our 3-week Baja sojourn. As we ascend up over the town with its colonial market Zócalo, the Malecón along the Sea, I see many of the amazing places we enjoyed wonderful food, our little rooftop casita with the hot tub, the friendly neighborhood bookstore and café, beaches where we played daily with the dog. So many extraordinary moments all colliding with the roar of the Mooney’s engine taking us skyward and away North.

In my mind I can see the faces of locals and expats that welcomed and befriended us during our stay. One of the perks of an extended stay in this quaint town we have been visiting monthly for several years in our work with the Flying Samaritans (see No Ordinary Moments, Rocky Point Times June 2023). Our leisurely 3 weeks gave us so many of these transformational moments. We played innumerable contentious cribbage games with Jill and Frank, owners of the cozy El Caballo Blanco Bookstore, Museum and Café just steps from the center of town and our rooftop casita. El Blanco Café offers fresh roasted Oaxaca coffee, displays of traditional ranchero art of Antiqua California, lively cribbage games and conversations in its rustic ranch building. On weekends talks of local interest on plants, history and Tai Chi Qigong classes are offered in the garden under a rare tree. A giant cuatecomate tree, Crescentia alta, shades the back garden and is one of the most unusual plants I have ever seen. Researching it, I learn it was nearly extinct due to the extinction of its seed spreader, an ancient, long extinct, large pachyderm, yes read “elephant”, that prehistorically roamed Baja. This pachyderm crushed the rock-hard shells of the bright green seed-bearing spheres that grow right out of the trunk for food. Worth stopping in to see the tree as well as the cool old California ranch memorabilia, great coffee and genuinely nice people of El Caballo Blanco. We will surely miss our lazy mornings there.

I know that I will also pine for the colonial Zócalo overrun with joyful local families every morning and evening. Especially the Saturday morning market offering empanadas, the local handheld pastry, coming in favorite flavors of queso for my partner and calabazas for me, along with local favorites of pina and frijoles; alongside artists with colorful local art. Under the shady half mile tree lined pedestrian center of the town are so many great restaurants that we couldn’t try them all. Last night we went for the first time to the highly recommended Mi Loreto nestled under palapas along the Zócalo. It was charming and welcoming with wonderfully appointed traditional Mexican décor in addition to the amazing food. We were offered a chef treat starter of a flavorful corn sope with frijoles and fresh pico de gallo to start. After much soul-searching I decided on a trio of enchiladas, the Mi Loreto enchiladas, with a tantalizing combination of a red chili beef, a bright tomatillo chicken and a dark mole pork enchiladas. My date had an equally stunning combo of perfectly seared arrachera steak alongside el guajillo chili shrimp. We have had all of these Mexican specialties before and yet at Mi Loreto attention to details elevated our food and our experience into the divine.  After dinner we strolled down the magically lit trees of the walkway, passing numerous live musicians and so many sights we have come to know here in our adopted town.

I catch the scent of some of the treasures I have stuffed into the hold of the plane. They will remind me of this place, its native plants and people. I have an aromatic and healing assortment of locally sourced and botanically created soaps, hand creams and lip balms from Aponi Soul Boutique. I was searching for the soaps made from the local “elephant tree”, torote, a member of the Bursera family and relative of frankincense, that I had gotten addicted to years before in San Jose del Cabo, when I happened upon pretty Dominica’s store. We bonded over chats about that “magic” of Loreto, the healing plants of Baja and local tacos! Dominica arranges “Taste of Loreto” taco tasting bike tours. What greater way to sample the local taco scene than from the seat of a cruiser bike, unless of course you are also sampling a few Mexican beers along the way.

As we soar up into the impossibly blue sky above the deep turquoise of the clear waters, out my window to the right I see the stark white coves rimming the 5 islands of the Parque Maritimo Nacional Bahia de Loreto. Mexico’s largest marine park. Memories of a sunny day spent there with a family from France. They came to Baja seeking to experience “the real Mexico”. I think we all found it that day on a typical Mexican panga boat, our kind, competent captain skillfully navigating the waves of a windswept sea. Captain Eduardo navigated the swells guiding us to soaring volcanic rock formations carved smooth and towering by the crashing waves. At their base nestled the Sea Lion colony basking their sleek bodies on the rocks, barking and arching their backs in display to us picture taking humans.  Next, we are delighted by the sight of an early season ballena, humpback whale, showing us their rough back and sleek double fluke tail. We watch the antics of the playful whale happily for a time. Then in sharp contrast to the rough open sea, our captain floats slowly onto the stark white coral sand of a peaceful cove for snorkeling, lunch and sun bathing. It was a perfect 72’ sun drenched island paradise day.

Mear moments later in the plane, I see Mulegé and the runway at Hotel Serenidad where we landed in our first ever “soft landing” (unpaved runway) next to the River Mulegé. The river is there below surging so improbably from huge underground springs a few miles inland from the Sea creating a lush oasis of Date Palms, Olives, Orange Groves and farms. A manmade oasis started by the Jesuit Missionaries over 300 years ago. We flew to Mulegé for the day just to fulfill a lifelong dream of mine to begin exploring the fabled cave paintings of Baja. It did not disappoint. A short 45-minute flight in our plane or a 2.5-hour car ride from Loreto, we met up with new friends and fellow Flying Samaritans from Cali to hire a guide for the trip to the closest cave painting at the La Trinidad Ranch. I was stunned by what a great day it was. Stopping at local citrus orchards on the way we loaded up with impossibly sweet and juicy pink grapefruits, oranges and my favorites, tangy tangerines. Then we got bounced around the inside of the van through the rocky washes leading us to the three gates guarding the ranch. It was such an idyllic, remote, unspoiled place. Built entirely with the local rocks and trees, the cool, breezy open-air hacienda was overflowing with bougainvillea, birds, spring fed water and local plants. Our guide, local native Salvador Castro Drew, continued sharing his love of this area with talks on its plants, history, heritage and natural wonders. A short 45-minute hike out of the cool La Trindad Ranch buildings we entered a steep canyon, filled wall to wall with a rocky stream bed. Here we rounded several turns and came up against a towering rock face decorated with figures of deer, whale, man, woman and children’s handprints.  Salvador shared how the paints were made from local plants and minerals, theories about their ceremonial significance and age. My addiction to Baja Cave Paintings has begun, with many more sights to be explored. They have been said to be in the class of the world-famous ones found in France, Spain, Africa and Australia. More trips to Baja ahead to explore the numerous mystical cave painting sights.

A great book for photos, locations and history of the many anthropological sites “The Cave Paintings of Baja California: Discovering the Great Murals of an Unknown People” by Harry W. Crosby. We are back exploring more of the magic of Puerto Peñasco this month. Hope to see you around in our beloved second home country, with all of its delightful culture, friendly people, amazing food, history and stunning natural beauty, Mexico.