Cowboys and Cactus
We hadn't planned to travel to Northern Baja, and had been the warned the roads were awful, there was a lot of desert and not much else, but as it turned out we didn't have much choice as our TIP (Temporary Import Permit) for the van needed renewing and this has to be done at a border, so drive north is what we do.
Absolutely true there is a lot of desert, but what people forget to tell you is that the desert can be extraordinarily beautiful. We were travelling through in June and lots of the cacti were in flower, who knew a desert could be so colourful. Regrettably, we didn't stop and take many photos as it was so freaking hot! The temperature gauge barely dropped below 40 degrees and topped out at around 44C (111F) the breeze when driving was more like a fan oven on high heat and gave no respite from the punishing temperatures. Our top tip would be don't travel through the desert in the summer unless you have to, I'm pretty sure it would be a far more pleasant experience during the winter months
The best we could do for photos were a few taken while whizzing along in the van, too hot to get out and there might have been snakes!
There was an Oasis insight though, Northern Baja has vineyards, The Guadalupe Valley is Mexico's wine capital with 90% of Mexican wine being produced here, just north of Ensenada and close enough to the USA to make it a doable trip from the states. It's been called the new Napa, a bit rougher around the edges than the Napa we visited and all the better for it, although it was full of the hip and trendy American and Mexicans when we were there so maybe those rough edges will be smoothed off soon, I hope not, that's all part of the charm
It would have been rude not to stop and taste the produce!
As said we hadn't planned to drive Northern Baja, and to be honest were a bit miffed that we had to go back to the border to renew this blooming TIP, but what a stroke of serendipity that turned out to be. While doing our bit for the Mexican economy and touring a few of the vineyards we bumped into a German friend who we had met at a VW jam earlier in the year,( one of the perks of having a high vis vehicle, once seen never forgotten) who in turn had been invited by a guy who he met totally by chance when looking for a Jerry can, to camp at his ranch, and here begins the story of a fabulous ranch and a wonderful friendship.
17km off the main highway, down a single track rough dirt road and nestled in the mountains you will find Rancho La Bellota. This is a working guest ranch with real Cowboys or Vaquero in Spanish There is no electricity, no WIFI signal, but plenty of horses, sheep, dogs and tranquillity.
After our two-day hard drive up through the desert it was a relief to land somewhere so peaceful and welcoming, Without electricity the ranch is lit with kerosene lamps at night giving you the feeling you have just stepped back in time or you have landed a part in a Spaghetti Western but instead of sliding bourbon shots down the bar its Tequila! We were only going to stay a night, but we stayed three and then came back a second time, sometimes you can't get enough of a good thing, and we got to play Cowboys!
Raul and Caroline who own the ranch are keen Overlanders themselves and are hoping to run tours of the Baja Peninsula with a fleet of their own overland vehicles if you only have a few weeks to spare and you want to explore Baja the overland way these guys can help you do it, you can contact them on their Facebook or Instagram Page Rancho La Bellota
The stunning views on our trail ride