Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Road Trip: Puerto Penasco, Sonora

It is with great pleasure that I tell you that I'm writing this from the 11th floor condo overlooking the Sea of Cortez, about 20 miles south of the Sonoran resort town of Puerto Penasco. Yeah, I had never heard of it before either, and unless you're from Arizona or this corner of northwestern Mexico - it's a pretty good secret. 

Well, as much a secret as a fully-developed beach resort within four hours' drive from two major Arizona cities can be, which is really not a secret at all, then is it? (Okay, okay, so it was a secret to US!) Before I go too far, I'd just like to set the scene so you can have an image in mind as you continue to read:

Anyway, it's been well over a year since my husband and I had a true vacation, even if only for a long weekend. Mostly because popping away for the weekend is always easier in theory and our daydreams than in reality due to the whole find-a-good-cat sitter dilemma. The Tabbies have become pretty high-maintenance in their old age. Dodger doesn't want to eat, Toby will eat everything, and Daphne is somewhere in between. So last time we headed out to Marfa, TX, we hired a young co-worker to come in twice a day to feed, water and scoop litter boxes. Which he did. What he didn't do was clean up the puddles of barf that Toby left after he inhaled Dodger and Daphne's unattended meals and promptly got sick to his stomach. (Note to self: Never hire young folks whose mothers still do all their cleaning and cooking to keep your pets and home in ship-shape. Lesson learned.)

But this time we rolled out of town full of confidence that the mother and two young daughters from the neighborhood with whom we left our key (along with two pages of detailed instructions and one test-run under their belt) would take excellent care of the fur family. 

So back to the vacation: We drove north into El Paso, and then west through New Mexico and Arizona before turning southwest across the Tohono O'Odham Indian Reservation, then due south through Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument to the small border crossing at Lukeville, AZ on one side and Sonoyta, Sonora on the other. The whole thing took nearly 10 hours, longer than expected, but it was also far more beautiful than expected. Join us en route:

And you already figured that he has the naked babe painted on the gas tank, right?

Really? Right where we're headed. Awww man. 
As luck would have it... the wind blew in our favor

Stunning backdrop to the Organ Pipe Cactus Nat'l Monument

The Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument was, from our quick drive-through view, really spectacular. The Organ Pipe cacti are about 12-15' tall and apparently come in all shapes and poses. While I was privately anthropomorphisizing the cacti into humans in all sorts of he-larious poses, I then glanced at the horizon and saw an even more surprising backdrop of mountain peaks and ranges. Man, who knew this was all here? Gorgeous. 

So we get to the border crossing, and by now all the traffic that we'd missed by leaving Juarez early had caught up with us coming from the nearby Tuscon and Phoenix. They were there in force, and they brought their toys. All I was thinking was, "Damn! What are the chances that these yahoos are going to be staying in the same condo with us and will be ATV'ing their way up and down the beach in front of us?!"  

The crossing at Lukeville, AZ is much smaller than any of Juarez crossings, and the little town on the Mexican side was colorful, pleasant and quite a bit tidier. But it still had that familiar hard-scrabble, nursing-stray-dog-trotting-down-the-sidewalk, concrete-brick-house feel to it that we're used to and we felt at home at once. Not tempted by dentists or inexpensive pharmacies so popular in the border towns, we were through Sonoyta quickly and back onto the wide-open desert highway towards a coastline that if I hadn't already read the map - I would never have believed existed so close by. (What a surprise it must've been to the first explorers. "Well I'll be... Hey guys, would ya' come take a look at this!")

Mexicans head north for cheap shopping and Americans head south for affordable medical services.

Colorful roadside offerings for those stuck in cross-border traffic. 
We got to the outskirts of Puerto Penasco, turned left at the roundabout that the nice guy in the rental office told us to look for, and headed again into the desert (as in "totally deserted" kind of desert) on a road paved only with packed sand, towards the hope of the condo we'd rented popping onto the horizon sometime soon. And after forging a handful of  "water over roadway" sections that made me glad we hadn't bought a sports car, we found the property. Not too shabby, eh?  We're on the second-to-top floor, far left. In case you're interested, here it is. 

The plus side is that the place is serene, directly on the beach, nearly vacant and with so many pools to pick from that this afternoon I just didn't know where to start. So I used them all and then read and napped in the little shady chair casitas.

I'd like to state for the record that we're not luxury resort kind of people. So this felt like we'd stepped into an episode of International House Hunters by accident. (Which, by the way, I can now watch from one of the condos two TVs with Direct TV. Will the wonders never cease?) 

We visited the town of Puerto Penasco twice: once for a quick look-around and grocery shopping and the second time for a sunset dinner on our last night. The malecon (downtown waterside walkway) was busy with bars, restaurants, souvenir vendors, and hawkers of all sorts. If that's the scene you want -  then stay in town. We enjoyed it for one dinner and quick look around; I loved seeing the pelicans perched atop each mast of the fishing fleet in the small harbor, but personally, the tranquility of being isolated was more our style. This is how we prefer to see a beach, and did, just by turning our heads to the right from the balcony:

While I was happy to indulge in some HGTV catching up, Tim got to see his alma mater play on Saturday college football. Can you guess who we were rooting for? He dared me to make this statement in the sand below our balcony. Let's just say that ain't no Tide gonna' Roll over this! (For at least 12 hours that is...)

But all vacations must come to an end, and so on Monday morning, we reluctantly packed up and pointed the car back towards the border. Sonoyta was bustling with business, loaded with roving vendors selling pottery, ice cream, carvings and baskets. We resisted, even the fusion US-Mexican Dia de los Muertos painted pottery skulls wearing NFL helmets and the life-sized iron T-Rex.

Man, I'm glad he's chained up!
We pulled into our rugged city and then our tidy neighborhood, to find that the kitties had been beautifully cared for and were happy to see us again. They all three slept on the bed with us and only got just a bit of revenge at 03:00 when they decided it was time to be let out of the bedroom. 

You know, Mexico is really an awesome place. You all should come see more of it.

C'mon back down an' see us again!

1 comment:

  1. Great post! I never considered the beach options out there. Thanks for sharing about a part of the world I knew nothing about.