Our next stop after the Valle de Guadalupe was Puerto Santo Tomas. Puerto Santo Tomas is about a two hour drive south of Ensenada. It sits at the end of an 20-mile, bumpy dirt road that winds through farmlands and steep mountainsides and along the coastline, until it simply dead-ends at the port.
The port is a tiny cove that serves as a fishing outpost for about a dozen or so pangas (fishing boats). The cove is nestled inside a jagged coastline of steep cliffs and a few rocky beaches that are nearly impossible to access by land. It is an absolutely breathtaking, and a little bit frightening, landscape.
The surfing travel guide book (which will remain anonymous) we’ve been using to scope out places to stay described Puerto Santo Tomas as a “resort” with “touristy stuff and nice vacation homes to rent… with a store, restaurant, cantina and lodging.” The author’s description was probably the biggest overstatement I’ve ever read in any travel guide. Puerto Santo Tomas is a far cry from what I’d describe as a “resort”. There is no town or village to speak of. There are no stores, no restaurants, no power grid, and no running water. There is a row of ramshackle fishermen shacks and, beyond those, a few cabins perched perilously on the cliffs above the ocean.
The cabin we rented was a hybrid structure made up of a plywood room containing two beds attached to a defunct trailer home that housed the kitchen, toilet and shower. One side of the trailer home had been opened up so that it melded seamlessly with the plywood bedroom. There was one working light (powered by solar panels on the property), otherwise no electricity. We actually had the deluxe cabin, with a gas-powered mini fridge and stove, and hot water. We also had a stunning, 180-degree view of the coastline outside our bedroom window. Luckily, before we arrived, I got an email from the proprietor (Sam, a retired aerospace engineer from Texas), that we needed to bring all our own provisions. If we hadn’t gotten that note (at a dusty internet cafe at the edge of the Valle, since we could not find working wifi anywhere since entering Mexico), we would have been mighty thirsty and hungry.
To gain entry to the “resort”, you had to ring a mission bell that hung on an Alamo-styled archway emblazoned with the words, “Real Baja: Puerto Santo Tomas”. Ringing the bell would beckon one of Sam’s two gatekeepers/property managers/security guards. When I first rang the bell, lyrics from the Eagles song, Hotel California, instantly started playing in my mind: “I heard the mission bell and I was thinking to myself this could be heaven or this could be hell.” It turned out that every time we wanted to leave the resort, we had to ring the bell so one of Sam’s helpers could unlock the four gates that kept us on the property, the 1) rusty and collapsing chain link fence that blocked entry to our cabin, 2) second chain link fence that separated our cabin from the rest of the property, 3) gate that blocked access to the entire resort from the outside world, and 4) chain that ran across the road separating the fishermen’s shacks from the property. I could very well say that we lived in an exclusive gated community with a panoramic view of the ocean, and it would actually be true (maybe I should write for the surfing guide).
I was a little doubtful when we first arrived that we would spend more than 1 night there. But, after our first 24 hours, the beauty and serenity of Puerto Santo Tomas and our simple cabin grew on me, and we ended up staying 3 nights. Brian could have probably stayed forever. 🙂 He was in his element – snapping photos left and right – his inner nature photographer emerging full-on. We were basically the only people staying at the resort. There was one other local family and a few campers, but that was it. Maya kept asking, “where is everyone?” and “why are there no people here?” Those are questions that Maya continues to ask as we make our way through dusty and desolate Baja.
We spent our days idly exploring the coastline with Maya and Kubu, and the afternoons writing, reading and playing games at the cabin while Maya napped. One morning, we ventured to La Bocana beach where the dirt road from the main highway dead ends on the coast, before making the turn north to Puerto Santo Tomas. We had the entire beach to ourselves. We watched dolphins playing in the waves, made sand “cakes” with Maya, and flew her Octopus kite that we brought with us from Colorado. It was a perfect, peaceful morning.
Puerto Santo Tomas isn’t entirely rustic. There are about a dozen modern vacation homes scattered along the 3-mile stretch of dirt road from La Bocana to Puerto Santo Tomas. Some look occupied, others have probably been vacant for decades. On our way back from La Bocana beach, we met a group of Peace Corps alums from San Diego who were taking a walk down the road. They were staying at one of these nicer homes with about a dozen other Peace Corps alumni for their annual retreat. After they heard about our plan to travel Mexico for the year, they graciously invited us to join them for dinner. So, in the middle of nowhere, we got invited to a dinner party! (Which I was especially grateful for, because on the second day, our kitchen was overrun with flying ants.)
Dinner was fantastic. The food was amazing (carne asada tacos – yum!), the company inspiring, and the view breathtaking. We witnessed the sunset over the Pacific (a view we didn’t see from our south-facing cabin), and stayed until the stars came out.
We’ve seen some amazing starry nights in our lives – we live in Colorado and do a lot of camping. But I don’t think I’ve ever seen them as bright as that night. While we all star gazed, Maya impressed everyone with her perfect pronunciation of the word, “constellation.” 🙂 It was one of those evenings when traveling that the world seemed just right – in a beautiful place, surrounded by good people, eating great food and telling great stories. Amazingly, we were invited back for dinner again the next night. Our time with this great crew of people was a real highlight of our trip.
Next stop – Bahia de Los Angeles!