by Martina Dobesh
I’m bouncing along on a washboard road raising dust in great billowing clouds, wondering what the hey I am doing. My friend and I were struck by the Baja Adventure Bug at the same time and I talked her into taking a drive with me to a place I’d seen on the map, on the Pacific Ocean, south of Ensenada and west of the vineyards of Santo Tomas called La Bocana. I was actually hoping to get a story about early wine production and the shipping that was said to have happened there, predating the Russians in the Guadalupe Valley. But as sometimes happens, the adventure became the story — a tale about La Bocana, a remote and beautiful cove with a history.
We passed by great expanses of onion fields in a lush valley cut by the dark green mountains of Sierra Seca. I marveled at the production going on as workers sat with huge piles of green onions, the aroma reminding me I was hungry. I stopped to take a picture and waved. By the hearty response, you would have thought a party had just broken out.
Still thinking I was making a big mistake, we pushed on deeper into the valley toward the elusive Pacific. The hills became a mixture of red stone and golden sandstone. We stopped at a cattle crossing and the fence to the right had a sign that read Punta China. Later I would learn from Horacio Gonzales of Terra Peninsular that La Bocana (the mouth) was actually where in the early 1900s illegal Chinese immigrant were dropped to made their way to the fields of Mexicali. Just south of La Bocana the point of land was named after the Chinese immigrants, uncountable numbers never made it to Mexicali.
Finally we arrived it to where the “mouth” (also “entrance” ) met the sea, and it was so foggy that we couldn’t see the ocean. I was really disappointed as I saw my “story” was turning into la basura (trash). The La Bocana store was closed and we wondered if it was actually ever open. A grassy area for camping was inviting with shade trees, a lagoon and bird sanctuary. At one time this was a busy fish camp, but this day it appeared peaceful and quiet. Certainly La Bocana is ideal for fishermen and hardy campers who want to stay for awhile. We saw not a soul on the beach. Surfers, also a hardy breed, venture to La Bocana, because, as they say, an “exposed sandbar/point break has fairly consistent surf. Summer offers the favored conditions. The best wind direction is from the northeast. Tends to receive distant groundswells and the best swell direction is from south/southwest. The beach breaks peel to the right, and there is a left hand point break, as well…and the beach is rarely crowded.
I didn’t get the collaboration I wanted about wine shipping by sea, but I happened upon a real find after I got home and did some research. As it turns out La Bocana is the location where a now famous book, God and Mr. Gomez, was set. Jack Smith, a LA Times columnist decided in 1969 to build a get-away home in Baja. I had just driven the same 17 miles of dirt road (off the Transpeninsular Highway) that he had all those 43 years ago, and I realized it must have been even more of a nightmare then. I couldn’t imagine why he would have picked this spot to haul his materials to when the northern Baja Coastline was fairly untouched at that time. Jack met a man named Romulo Gomez, considered the patriarch of La Bocana. Together they built a house. Most who love Baja know the very humorous story, that originally appeared as columns in the LA Times. The legendary house still remains just north of La Bocana near Punta Santo Tomas. It represents Smith’s adventure of being in Baja and the surprises he stumbled upon along the way.
Find your own Baja map and go for it: La Bocana, a remote and beautiful cove with a history. It offers camping, good fishing, surfing, and even some literary fame and it is an adventure on “a road less traveled.”
How to get to La Bocana: Drive south on the Transpeninsular Highway, past Maneadero, on the road towards San Quintin. You will drop down a steep mountain grade into the Santo Tomas valley (where you will see the Santo Tomas winery on your left) and you will take a right hand turn onto a road that heads due west. This will quickly become a dirt road — not good after the rains, but not too deadly in dry times. High vehicle clearance is a good idea.
What to expect: A beautiful drive (especially in spring time) and maybe some rather questionable-looking fishermen who might ask what you want them to pull out of the water for you. There is a small store for campers, and there is a restaurant further down the dirt road that parallels the ocean. Take a picnic, and take water.
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