To be perfectly honest, my initial impressions of Mexico weren’t great.
I had false expectations of Tijuana, having misunderstood it to be something more than really just a working class, grubby border town.
Waking this morning, still on board our bus as we crossed from the Pacific coast of the Baja Peninsula to the shores of the Sea of Cortez (so again, surrounded by hills and desert), we could only hope for better things ahead.
We passed Santa Rosalia, and from there I knew we were surely no more than an hour or so from our destination, the small oasis town of Mulegé with a population of around 3500 people.
This place had been written up as very traditional, so we took heart in that when we finally left our air-conditioned coach behind and found ourselves amidst the morning heat (like in many Asian countries, the air-conditioning on these vehicles is ridiculously cold… too cold).
After walking through the oddly crenelated, arched entrance to the town, immediately there was a sleepy, Wild West kind of feel about the place.
Our first task, to find somewhere to stay, was solved quickly, as our first option, apparently the cheapest in town (at least according to our Lonely Planet guidebook) was easily found, and very available.
It actually appeared very likely that we were the only tourists in the town, which was somewhat comforting to me.
With our bed sorted, we thought we’d have a bit of an explore, and chose a route in the general direction of where I suspected the beach to be.
It was little time before we were following the banks of the Rio Mulegé, which appeared as though at one time was planned for grand development, but now seemed in a state of decay (possibly ruined by the major hurricanes here in 2006 & 2008, but not a bad thing for the charm of the town).
The banks of the river were lush and green, but it only took a quick glance at the surrounding hills, to remind ourselves that we were indeed still amidst the desert, and the beating sun made it feel anything but a pleasant morning stroll (although occasionally there was some relief with a breeze off the water).
What we’d hoped to be a short walk to the beach, seemed to stretch on, we’d neglected to purchase some more water, so decided to turn back towards town, where with our water needs met, it was time to consider breakfast.
Earlier, we’d passed a small square with a few quiet food stalls on its flanks, and it was here we headed to order ourselves our first Tacos Pescado of the trip (Fish Tacos).
Cooked freshly in front of us, with fresh salsa, guacamole and thin drizzle of sour cream, these were delicious, and we seriously contemplated going back for seconds!
We continued our wanderings over this cute town, made our way back towards our arrival point in the hope of assessing where we could grab tickets and needed to wait for the autobus the following morning, before investigating what we thought was the old mission on the hilltop.
In fact, this was the old prison, which is quite unique in that it didn’t have any bars! Taking minimum security to new levels, the inmates were even allowed to leave and go to work during the day, as long as they returned of an evening.
It now serves as a town museum, however it was closed when we got to it (possibly only open during the busy season??)
Now feeling seriously hot, we decided to head back to our room for some respite from the heat (it had an air conditioner), picking up a couple of cans of Tecate (a Mexican beer) each which we quickly guzzled down whilst munching on some crisps.
With the sun losing some of its bite by late afternoon, we decided to head back out and seek this elusive mission, which it said was perched on a hill with great views of the town and valley.
It didn’t take us long to locate it on the other side of the river, so it was to there we headed.
Whilst nothing is far from anywhere in a town this size (except for the beach I should add), climbing the hill to reach it, did seem an effort, although the building itself, as well as the views it afforded were certainly worth it.
We’d noticed many blackened palms along the river, and wondered if at some point a fire had swept through the area. Whether this might be hurricane related or not, remained a mystery to us…
Finding that the heat is a great we to temper the appetite, we found a nice elevated restaurant in town (right beside where we were staying actually) where we could relax with a couple of ice cold Pacifico Clara (a blonde beer).
The meals sounded quite filling, but when they emerged with some Tostadas and fresh salsa, that solved our problems, as it was filling enough for dinner for both of us (yes, we did still have to pay for it, but it was tasty indeed).
We were up early enough the next morning to get to the main highway where we’d been told to come and purchase our tickets, only to find that it was still closed.
No matter, as when a bus arrived (30 minutes early than expected), we were able to buy them directly from the driver at 500 pesos less than what we’d expected.
Not the worst start to the day for our 7 hour trip to La Paz…