In between bouts of restless sleep, I cup my hands to my brow and press them to the window. There is just enough moonlight to illuminate a landscape which is awesome, in the true sense of the word. Massive boulders are perched on top of each other and there are cacti as thick as a man as twice as tall. Some stand with ‘stick-em-up’ arms in the air. Others rudely give the finger. It looks just like a scene from an old western movie and I half expect to see a horseman silhouetted on a ridge or a cowboy by a campfire at every turn.
My child sleeps soundly on the seat opposite as the overnight bus gently sways southward from Tijuana. He is undisturbed by the blaring B-grade action movies. He doesn’t even stir when we grind to a halt in the middle of no-where (“If you want a taco, this is the place to get it” announces the driver as he disappears into the darkness) and manages an epic eight hours of sleep in spite of the challenges. His little legs prove advantageous for a change!
As dawn breaks, the Desierto de Vizcaíno gives way to an impossibly lush oasis sitting in stark contrast to the harsh cactii and volcanic rock that surround it.
We disembark in the town of San Ignacio and make our way to Ignacio Springs; a serene, spring-fed grove of date palms on the edge of town. Astonishingly, there are yurts nestled among the palms and the paths between them are paved with millions of crushed, sun-bleached shells. After 12 hours cocooned in a Mexican public bus, I feel like I have undergone metamorphosis as I stretch my wings, pump my lungs full of fresh air and flit around this paradise.
Thomas has soon adopted a handful of kind aunts and uncles from among our fellow travellers and disappears from sight. I can hear his loud, inquisitive voice coming from the direction of the spring and wonder if I should supervise him so close to water. But the adoptees seem to have a handle on it so I make the most of a rare opportunity to be more than a meter away from him and freshen up. Alone!
After a chance to unfurl our legs, admire the exotic gardens, pet the resident dogs and (in Thomas’ case) examine every one of the billion shells on the ground, we sit down to breakfast. Well, I say ‘breakfast’ but what I really mean is ‘feast’. Our hosts make everything from scratch and we are treated to Terry’s delicious homemade preserves and bread and Gary’s gourmet sausages, as well as fresh juice and eggs. Just when we think it can’t get any better we are surprised and delighted as jar of vegemite miraculously appears! We spread it on hot buttered toast and encourage others at the long kitchen table (mostly Americans) to try it too. They are all too polite to say it tastes vile and I am heartened that their display of chivalry might extend to them not pointing out that my child is a brat. (Even if it is obvious.)
Later, we reluctantly leave the table, our full tummies dragging on the ground like overfed strays and promenade slowly around the Puebla of San Ignacio. Life in the town revolves around the tranquil central plaza. Thickly shaded by a canopy of Laurel trees, it would provide a welcome reprieve from the heat on even the most scorching of Baja days.
Dominating the square is one of Mexico’s prettiest churches, the Misión San Ignacio. Built by Jesuits in the eighteenth century, its four-feet-thick walls are made entirely of volcanic rock. We sit quietly in the pews, admiring the guided wooden altar with it’s oil portraits of saints and unique flags featuring Our Lady of Guadalupe.
There is a small botanic garden within the church ground. Vibrant Bougainvillea weeps gently from the walls in complete contrast to its turgid cacti neighbours, of which there are a surprising variety.
A surprise awaits when we cross the road from the church and stumble into the courtyard of a tea house to find a zebra-driven buggy! A safari into the garden beyond reveals giraffe, rhino and a camel as well. There doesn’t seem to be anyone around and so it is a little hard to make sense of but we enjoy it for it’s pure novelty factor.
As much as this tranquil town invites us to stay, linger, spend a little longer in the shade, there is another place calling us to come.
San Ignacio town is the gateway to San Ignacio Lagoon; the last undisturbed breeding, calving and over-wintering ground of the Grey Whale.
The anticipation of seeing these notoriously curious and friendly whales overrides the allure of a pretty, sleepy little Mexican town and so we move on to our next adventure.