By Misty Tosh
If you're like most of America in the achingly long winter months of January to April, all you're dreaming about is warm weather and the onslaught of spring. Snowy day imaginations float to deep pockets of sunshine, the sound of crashing waves and perhaps some meaningful explorations...but where in the world can you have all that without taking a week off from work? Enter Baja. If you can score a long weekend, you can have the adventure of a lifetime. Let the snow and cold be gone - at least for 72 hours.
Right now in the Baja, the sun is blazing and the snowbirds have arrived. Intrepid folks who avoid the cold head south of the border for months at a time...you can scope their jam-packed RV's cruising Highway 1 all down the peninsula. What the naked eye doesn't see though, is what's shakin' just under the surface of the mighty Pacific surf. Thousands of gray whales are migrating into the calm and protected coves of Baja to give birth and wait out the Northern storms. These beasts have graced the earth for 30 million years, so you can bet they know where they good spots are. Seems snowbirds and whales have a lot in common.
February is prime time for getting up close with gray whales, and the best place to actually reach out and touch them is Magdalena Bay. Yes, these whales are famous for being so friendly you can actually pet them when they nudge your boat. Here's how to join them in Baja for one of the most mind-altering events you will ever witness.
Enter Baja and eat like a champ.Getting into Baja from the US is as simple as grabbing some Mexican car insurance and scramming it across the Tijuana border. Contrary to popular belief, you just roll through the border - meaning no border patrol checking passports, hence no frustrating lines. Immediately hightail it to La Fonda (KM 59), an old-school Mexican cantina perched dramatically on the edge of the Pacific. Order up a big pile of fresh caught lobster and a cold drink - this simple task will re-balance your still frozen mind and put you in the right frame for heading south.
The goal today is to reach the Baja Cactus Motel in El Rosario. They have the coziest beds in central Baja and the gift of being located next to Mama Espinoza's. Once you've checked in, saunter over to Mama's for an icy margarita and platter of buttery lobster tails. Who gets to have lobster twice in one day? People who brave Baja in the dead of winter is who!
Blaze onward...to points unknown.You'll be up with the chickens, literally, so you might as well hit the road early. Keep company with the truckers and grab a quick coffee and breakfast burrito on the way out of town toward San Ignacio. This tucked back oasis is home to loads of date palms and is also the home base of the eco-outfitter that will arrange your whale explorations in Magdalena Bay. Once you weave your way into town, head to the far edge of the square to Kuyima main office, where you'll book your camping digs for the night. Grab a few just-made date treats (pies, cakes, shakes) that line most storefronts and rave worthy for their delicate sweetness. You'll need the sugar rush to prep you for the 26-mile drive down deserted dirt roads toward the bay. The goal is to reach camp, check into your simple tenting set up, freshen up in the community shower and head to the main lodge for a super stiff margarita. You deserve it after ending up in a locale most Baja insiders don't even know exists. Fill up on the fresh fish dinner before hunkering down under the stars.
Prepare to cry...with delight.The whales start playing early in the morning, and you want to be first out to see them. You want these magical beasts all to yourself. Head out with a few other campers in a small panga and make sure you bring a good camera. You are about to pet whales. Not just one or two. But leagues of them. They are so happy and charming, it's impossible not to squeak with joy at what is happening to the palm of your hand. It's like caressing dinosaurs. Each boat zips around for hours in this government protected lagoon as the skilled captains spy a whale tail or a burst of bubbles. You've never experienced such glee as when you lock eyes with a mama whale and her newborn. In their stillness and quietness, it's peace in its purest form. Easily a top 10 life event.
After an easy checkout in the lodge, hit the road headed north. Just off the 1 near San Quintin is Cielito Lindo, a ramshackle Baja institution famous for their juicy crab claws and saucy diners. You can join them in a cheers, because as it's nearing the end of Day 3, you have done what most will never do in a lifetime. A/ Drive through Baja. B/ Bawl when touching a dinosaur. Congrats...you've been initiated into a new league of travelers. Those that have found a way to make epicness happen at a moments notice and partake in an unreal amount of bliss in a very short amount of time. They are a rare bunch.
The final goal today is to hit Ensenada for a batch of perfectly fried Baja fish tacos at the pier and a try to manage a good night of sleep. Unfortunately, you do have to show your passport at the Tijuana border on the way out of Mexico, so you'll want to hit the road at the crack of dawn to get back over to San Diego. The border can pile up on Sundays, but you can bet none of the other border crossing travelers just whispered to a whale. Like, literally.
Adios Baja...til next time.