There is always a surprise waiting if I get off the main road. Robert Frost wrote "I took the road less traveled and that has made all the difference." Which was surely the case this day. I thought to investigate if a story was lurking somewhere. I was not disappointed. I decided on a trip into the wine country of Baja California to see how the grapes were growing. Most of the tourist traffic sticks to Highway 3, Route del Vino, through the vineyards; destination L.A. Cetto and Doña Lupe. Instead, I took a left into the small settlement of Francisco Zarco. A hot gusty wind blew tiny dust devils across the road. Imagine the surprise when I stumbled upon a car show of spotless classics. Mega chrome bumpers flashed mega light into the camera lens. Do you remember when cars were not made of plastic and bobby socks were all the rage? Huge speakers belted out the Everly Brothers' tunes lending just the right atmosphere. The proud owners were grouped in the shade watching with pride as their gleaming classics stopped us in admiration.
It was a weekend and the whole community turns out to sell its wares from kitchen gadgets to auto, clothing and best of all food. I am a fan of the stop and eat on the side of the road. Some of the perks include getting to practice my Spanish, while Ramón crafts a couple of succulent tacos de carnitas. I ask him where he is from and if it is ok to take a picture. I tell him it will be seen in Baja Bound's StoryTeller column. And just like that I have a new friend.
A bright block of green, in the middle of the rather colorless little town, stops me to investigate. I wander under a deep and cool canopy of vines. The temperature dropped by 10 degrees. Lawns and greenery surround several swimming and wading pools. I had a wild thought to jump in. Games and outdoor pool tables were set up for the families of all ages, but at the moment it was very quiet. I was the first visitor, but no doubt in the afternoon it would fill to capacity with very happy weekenders.
There is a well-stocked midtown grocery store, and the midtown and popular pharmacy, Farmacia Similares, can help out with most any over-the-counter traveling needs. The Pemex station has been the only gas available until just recently as a new station is under construction in San Antonio de las Minas.
Pulling out on the main road again, I pass through rolling hills of the vineyards cradled between the mountain ranges. The grapevines show tiny clusters of pea size fruit. Deep green and rich brown patterns follow the land's contours. Just as I am pulling into L.A. Cetto's parking lots, my car dies from the heat. I can't get it started. Not to worry, Gabriel swoops down like the archangel he is named after, checks the battery for water and cleans the cables. The engine fires right up. Ah Mexico, where car trouble is no problema.
Coming back from L.A. Cetto through Francisco Zarco once again, I am in El Porvenir. The well-known La Escuelita wine school, graduates new viñeros every year. This side trip will take you by a number of wineries; names you might not be familiar with: Chateau Camou, Monte Xanic, Baron Balch'é, Adobe Guadalupe and Bibayoff to name just a few. A new section of road has been completed and brings you back to Highway 3 by way of El Tigre. A pleasant last stop for wine tasting on the way out is found at La Casa Vieja, where on weekends you find delicious grilled foods under a shady palapa. All in all, a day off the main road made all the difference and here is the story.