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Perhaps I should have said: ‘Greetings from a 1 star hotel in Blackpool on the Sea of Cortez.’ You may remember my stories from a week ago in Loreto where the whole world seemed to have to drive past our hotel with their stereos blasting as their main entertainment for Friday and Saturday night. Well, here they go by the seafront (known everywhere in any seaside town in Mexico as ‘El Malecon’ or, less romantic, ‘De Zeedijk’ in Dutch) and come back on the road past our motel.

I have to say that San Felipe is a huge disappointment and that I’d like to give it a miss in March. It is already building up with ‘white thrash USA’ in a build up to the Easter Holidays.

Having said that, it was a very interesting drive down. From our first day, we noted that we had only made one cactus stop between the US border and San Quintin, but this time, obviously with eyes more in tune with the flora alongside the road, we did see some cacti and even took a couple of stops for scenic pictures of a different Agave to the ones we had seen before. It was a long drive and a slow one as north of San Quintin, MEX1 goes through numerous villages each with their own array of ‘topes’ (drempels in Dutch, Sleeping Policemen in the UK) to slow down the traffic. And very affective they are too! as they ground our car on some 25% of the passes! It’s built up or agriculturally developed land, or passes through twisty mountain areas with no cacti visible from the road, all the way up to Ensenada. You then have to spent at least 30 minutes going through an ‘anything goes’ town, with cross roads where ‘Alto’ replaces the Chilean ‘Pare’ stop signs, but here the stop signs appear on all four entrances to the junction, so everybody sits there and it seems to be a ‘first come, first served’ system.

At Ensenada, we switched to MEX3, a bit of a misnomer as there already is a MEX3 on ‘main land Mexico’; so it’s a bit like having two M25s in the UK, one around London and the other on the Isle of Wight, except there is no ferry!

Once you leave Ensenada, MEX3 twists itself through a very scenic hilly area, a joy to see, except if you are stuck behind a truck belching out diesel fumes. Photos were made of the scenery.

Next we spotted a cactus, pulled over – not easy when your car grounds itself on a topes and the edge of the highway is as high as the average topes! – and found Mammillaria (I still think they are variations on a Mam. dioica theme) and Echinocereus engelmannii and a range of Opuntiods – one Platyopunia and a range of Cholla or Cylindropuntia.

The next moment we had left the hills and were on a plain. No cacti here we thought, but stopped anyway, to be pleasantly surprised. As we drove on, with John Pillbeam’s Fero book on Alain’s lap, we were amazed to find another Fero Maximus stop, this time with F. cylindraceus covering hillside after hillside! Plants ranging from small (and then reddish spined) seedlings to 5 ft + golden spined monsters! By the thousand! So it’s ‘the return of Golden Balls’ (for the non cactus readers, we found a population of very golden yellow spined cacti in Chile which we nicknamed ‘Golden Balls’, ’cause that’s what they were). So Ian and Cliff will want to see this, especially as it also has teddy bear Chola, at least 2 more Opuntiods a Mam. and Echinocereus engelmannii growing along MEX3.

Eventually, we hit MEX5, the San Felipe to Mexicali coast road, which has TWO military checkpoints on the junction. We played along as usual, being very polite and respectful of teenagers with large machine guns; we even called them ‘Sir’.

From the junction, it is some 50 km south to San Felipe, which is just brash, noisy and too full of American teenagers there to get drunk and laid and full of very pushy Mexicans who want the Yanks to spend their dollars. It is said to get very busy over Easter and I’m keen to avoid it. There are no cacti from the MEX 3 – 5 junction south, so I’ll be looking out for accommodation when we head north past the junction, most likely tomorrow (although Alain wants to see what is south of SF – just dirt roads that our car can’t take, according to the guide books!

I think we should do MEX3 in March, but we do need to find somewhere to stay near the junction as today’s 435 km was a hard drive.

I have been meaning to pass on the following tip to Cliff & Ian for a long time: I bought a very small rucksack at Tesco’s for next to nothing and following my experience in Rio, when I put my back out lifting a piece of toast during breakfast, I was keen not to lug my luggage (17 kg plus hand luggage plus shopping) each night from the car to the hotel and back again the next morning. I now use this small rucksack as my overnight bag, refreshed each morning from my main bag in the car when we head off again, and of course also take my main rucksack with cameras and laptop in. Poor Alain has to strap on his back-packer’s rucksack and nearly falls over under the weight. Worth considering, guys!

Finally, as most of you have guessed, I usually type up these notes half asleep and half pissed, without the benefit of spell check. Later, I copy them into a website that I am preparing for this trip, and find all the typos and garbage highlighted by the spell check function. I’m embarrassed, especially as Cliff is sensitive to spelling matters, but it is ‘warts & all’ or nothing in practical terms.

That’s all for tonight, from the tiny reception lobby of this 1 star motel, as the wifii signal does not reach the second floor, where our room is.

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