44.7 mi / 10.9 mph / 1104 ft. climbing
Home: Hotel Desert Inn
The day’s ride started flat again, but unlike yesterday, we saw the return of cacti and wildflowers, and could see rising land beyond the plain. So we basically had to “endure” a whole one day of “boring” riding before returning to the magic that has been spoiling us throughout the length of Baja.
Though some of the pleasant surroundings were not wholly natural. We passed through a vast plantation of some sort, riding for a mile with a thick line of tall trees on our right side. A denser and taller forest than we have seen since…Northern California? I have no idea where they get their water from in this desert, but presumably the tree cover helps whatever they’re growing in there?
Later on we stopped at the turnoff to a dirt road-to-nowhere for a break, something we do multiple times a day. But this time we were surprised when a semi truck came rumbling up the road the the highway. Then an SUV. Then another semi truck, this one nearly taking out Rett’s bike (we hadn’t exactly parked them expecting any traffic to be coming by!) I looked it up later, and there is another vegetable-growing “rancho” a mile or two down that road that employs 1500 people! That explained why traffic dropped off markedly on Highway 1 once we were south of that intersection. But I still need an explanation for why someone established an agricultural operation in that particular out-of-the-way patch of desert, and not one of the thousands of identical spots. Maybe there is a magic spring located there?
Like yesterday, the flat, tailwind-fueled fun eventually had to come to an end. That end was signaled by a dust-devil sweeping across the land, and as it passed near us, the altimeter on my bike computer (which uses barometric pressure to infer a change in altitude) said we were descending at a quite-steep 8% grade…even though the road was flat at that point. Whatever generates the dust-devil apparently also creates a burst of high-pressure air that simulates a sharp descent!
After that point, we had strong headwinds the last ten miles, and we also had to start climbing. It was again no fun, and Rett had doubts about being able to make it to our destination, but with frequent rest breaks, we survived to San Ignacio.
Well, San Lino, apparently. That’s the town on the highway, while San Ignacio proper is (unusually) a couple miles down a quiet winding road to the south. Rett was nearly ready to stay at one of the highway motels, to avoid adding the extra 4 miles in-and-out to our total, but we’d heard enough great stuff about San Ignacio that I knew that we’d really regret that choice, so we continued in.
I’d been debating between the budget Hotel Posada, and the higher-end Hotel Desert Inn, but the tough second half of the ride decided it for me: we’d take the luxury stay to help us relax and recuperate.
Curiously, Hotel Desert Inn is nearly an exact replica of the hotel we stayed in (and then camped behind) in Cataviña (I’d seen mentioned in a couple places that they were originally built by the Mexican government?) This time, we were able to book two nights, for $60 USD per night, slightly less than the Cataviña version.
The multiple-courtyard layout, the paint colors, and the rooms were nearly identical, and the surroundings were equally-beautiful but dramatically different. The hotel (and all of San Ignacio) sits in a lush, palm-filled oasis, with the Sideshow-Bob-headed date-palm trees creating a stark contrast to the candle-like boojum trees of Cataviña. It’s an environment we haven’t seen since, well, ever! Not even the planted cities of Southern California had this density of palm trees.
This hotel had a similar swimming pool as Cataviña, but because we’re further south, later in the season, or just because we were still hot from our riding, it had the major difference of being warm enough to get into. Which we did straight away after rolling our bikes into our room and then stepping the ten paces back out to the pool. Luxury!
There we chatted with a lovely Canadian couple sitting poolside, and I was surprised when one of the first things they said was “it must have been tough with those winds today!” How could they possibly know? Oh, they were riding the peninsula by motorcycle! Our similarly environment-sensing brethren! They’d been coming from the opposite direction, but it was still good to know that the wind was even tough on people with motors driving their cycles.
Refreshed by our pool-baths, we strolled the quarter-mile to the center of town (on a sidewalk!), which felt like walking through a tropical jungle. The town is centered on Mision San Ignacio, a well-maintained mission complex completed the Catholic Church in 1786. At the feet of the church sits a tree-covered plaza, surrounded by shops and restaurants. It’s a completely “European” town square, improbably sitting in a palm jungle, improbably sitting in a Mexican desert. It’s warm and beautiful and unconsciously-luxurious.
All the reviews I’d seen said the mission was still closed due to COVID, but luckily for us, the doors were open this evening and we were able to explore the exquisite church with its crumbling walls and flower-covered grounds in the warm glow of sunset. Rett felt the spirit of faith inside that glow, and I felt, despite all of its sins, a positive side to the Catholic Church’s institutional wealth and the investments it made centuries ago.
We ate at Restuarant Bar Rancho Grande, a place so gringo-friendly that they had an IPA! After a steady diet of Tecate through the whole of Baja (which has been absolutely the perfect drink for this beer snob), I actually sort of feared what it would be like to drink an IPA again. Turns out it wasn’t anything too shocking, just good! As was our food, though it was terribly overpriced, but that’s what you get at a gringo place with a view of the Mision. And sitting outside on this warm evening, feeling like we had suddenly ridden our bikes to Europe as well as Mexico, it was totally worth it.
On the moonlit walk back to the hotel, we were serenaded by a large troop of ribbiting frogs.
To compensate for our “expensive” hotel, we skipped the restaurant breakfast and had hard-boiled eggs we carried from Guerrero Negro. It was so luxurious to be able to walk four steps outside our “front door” to a poolside table on the lawn and eat my breakfast in the quickly warming morning light. I did my usual computer work, also outside, making for one of the more-relaxing days I’ve had since a day in the park in Napa.
I skipped the pool today, but Rett did some tan-line-fighting sunning and then took another dip.
In the evening we did another walk around town, and it appeared the mission was closed. We did a bigger loop, before we stopped for dinner at Rene’s. No view of the mission, and no English, but on the other hand, the outdoor environment was similarly charming, there was no English, the food was at least as good, we could hear it being cooked just for us, and it was half the price!
The town square remained completely charming, and unlike a European version that would have various vendors plying the tourists, here it felt relatively untouched. We were sad to spend only two nights in this uniquely evocative oasis, but hopefully the surprising places will continue!