Now is about the time of year where the dog days of summer start to really suck the life out of everything. The heat index soars, the wind is like a hair dryer that won’t turn off and it’s as if there is no reprieve in sight. What is needed is an ocean. If a glistening sea were just right there, all would be well in the world. That’s what makes a trip to Baja absolutely necessary this time of year. Not that the heat isn’t a factor down south, but when you can dip into the ocean every few hours and there are off-season crowds (re: very little tourists) and more local prices than ever, it makes sense to make summer time a must go for Baja excursions.
Once you get there, here is a foolproof way to spend a perfect day on the Sea of Cortez, Loreto-style.
No day on the water should begin without first inhaling a platter of coconut crusted fish and shrimp tacos. And, there is one place in town that is slinging them up first thing, and that is Antojitos Los Cuatro Altos. This very popular and very vibrant tarp covered stand recently became a full throttle restaurant with a roof over its head….and a vape shop over that head. The uber-friendly Sebastian owns and runs both outfits and maybe that is why he is so chill when it comes to slinging up piles of tacos, platefuls of burritos, and loads of papas rellenas on the fly. Not only is his English perfect but so are his customer services skills…and his Le Cordon Bleu trained hands, for that matter. Perfect point: We were there early before we caught our private panga over to the islands and he was still out of ice from the late night the restaurant had the night before, so he sent his lovely daughter off to snatch up a few bags…all so I could have a margarita with the taco feast that was quickly beginning to dominate the table.
Heavy trays of condiments come out first to tease you into a stupor and their variety is enough to feed a small army. The super fresh pico, the purple pickled onions, the finely shredded cabbage, the blended salsa, the sliced cucumbers, the fresh lime and the creamy avocado spread all make for a meal in themselves if you just had a basket of tortillas to go along with them. But why do that to yourself when your fresh fish and just peeled shrimp is being fried up in a thick batter of coconut while you salivate and conjure up ungodly ways to top a taco? And when you witness a huge metate on the counter (as found on Sebastian’s), just waiting to crush things, or keep things hot and sizzling, or house a delicious gooey dip – one bit of advice. Order something that utilizes it. This historically rich device is a mainstay all over the kitchens of Mexico, and for good reason. Its curved stone belly serves all the masters – heat, power, texture, taste. This is something your mouth will thank you for many times over. I stayed on my AM coconut taco bender, but I set my heart on finding a metate dish after our afternoon islands sojourn.
When you hit the Sea of Cortez on a perfect summer day, you feel like you have died and gone on home to where the Water Gods reside. Especially when you are cruising about in a low-rider panga with a cooler full of snacks and not a care in the world. The primary goal quickly becomes – find aquatic life (over 800 species reside here) and hopefully just off the side of the boat. The destination from the marina in Loreto is usually Isla Coronado, mainly because it is so close and folks are usually shocked when they come around the corner of the island – and there are coves full of soft white sand beaches. That nugget of info is about the best kept secret south of Mulegé. Boaters have dropped anchor all over the cove but are so calm and relaxed, you won’t even know they are there. As long as you have snorkel gear, you will be rewarded with incredible sightings along the protected coral reefs and find yourself swimming with schools of dolphins almost the minute you step out of the boat. Just be careful, I leapt off the side of the boat only to discover that the depth was about three feet, maybe less. Good for wading, not diving! Between the pristine beaches, the sightings of sea lions sunning, the pods of whales blowing in the distance and the fascinating task of sea birds cooing and resting, this is a blue water paradise that deserves to remain an UNESCO World Heritage site until the end of time. It’s actually how an ocean is supposed to look - full of wonder and life and whimsy mixed in with enthralling moments of Mother Nature at her finest.
After spinning around all of the islands for a handful of hours, we zip back to shore to find my metate dish. And, it was an immediate success all due to my curiosity about some 2nd floor al fresco dining just off the plaza. It’s been a long time since I’ve gone full 2nd floor in Loreto and we were simply looking for a frosty beverage when I spied the lovely tropical thatched-roof Playa Blanca. This seafood eatery is new on the Loreto map of joints to waste away a late afternoon and quickly became a favorite, with a killer view. Crazy friendly service and suggestions (from the owner herself) resulted in us getting hit with gobs of fresh seafood and tubs of guacamole within no time. The seafood came in the form of chunky ceviche topped with perky olives and slivers of cucumber to start, along with crispy fried tortillas and salsa. Almost full off that dish alone, we buckled down for the next round – an enormous metate full of everything we’d just floated through off the coast of Loreto. Huge crab claws doused in butter, smashed and fried scallops, tiny shrimp, tendrils of purple octopus, and sprinklings of clams made their way to our table is a massive metate. I’d found my pot of gold! Flavored with chunks of chile and fresh limes, this dish was a belly buster like no other. Each dish had a wee special touch that took it to a new level – crumbly queso on top of the guacamole, shaved carrots in the ceviche, dried chilies in the seafood extravaganza. This attention to the little details made every bit of difference in the overall experience and I know when we head back down in a few weeks, this will be the place we hit first. But, this time I am bringing my own metate. Time to recreate food history up and down the Baja peninsula!