The following is a field report gathered by Adventure Detective Diesel. It was discovered scrawled on the pages of a leather-bound notebook stained purple under a dusty pile of empty wine bottles from… Mexico? We’ve transcribed it here as the contents could prove to be valuable reconnaissance.
A Plan Forms
It was coming up on the long weekend for Thanksgiving (2014) and Agent Getz and I still had no plans. We had just finished the Pan American Roadshow of Tomfoolery two weeks ago and the travel bug still ran rich in the blood. Cursing the whole getting back to work thing, and more than slightly jealous of McBurger still traipsing around South America, we decided we absolutely had to go somewhere cool. A quick discussion over destinations within long weekend roadtrip radius of Redlands brought us to the usual suspects:
– Any number of state parks in California, Utah, and Nevada, but we’d already done them all
– San Fran or even Portland, but long wknd traffic is a bitch
– Big Sur and SLO/Paso wine country, but that was too Sideways and we’d been there lots of times
– Telluride again, but we’d rather do that during their Bluegrass festival
– Kern River, but Getz still had the wet fear from almost dying while we were tubing there the last time
– Phoenix and Jerome, Arizona to visit our Coachella friends, but they may all have family plans
– Tijuana and Baja?
Nothing seemed too inspired, but Mexico was leading the charge having just been there recently and totally falling in love with the place. Not to mention we could crank up the taco count post-rally. Baja was probably a little far and my memory and pride still wore the scars of Hurricane Odile, but maybe somewhere closer? Hmmmmm.. We didn’t know what to do. More research was needed.
We moseyed down to The Falconer for a lubricated brainstorm session and ended up running into the curly likes of Cumper Coondog wetting his whistle at the bar. He also had no plans for the long weekend and when we mentioned Mexico a gleam of hot radness flared in his eyes. “Have you guys been to Guadalupe Valley?”, “Nope, where’s that?”, “It’s this wine country in a valley between Tecate and Ensenada!”, “Oh Sheeeeeeeeeeeeeeet! Let’s do it!!”
Throughout the week before Thanksgiving, Coondog was hitting us with tidbits of info he’d found about the area on the internizzles. We’d also recruited K-Butt Shenanigans to join us and he was gonna bring his wonder dog named Wonder Dog. A rough plan was forming in our eager skull muscles:
– Cross into Mexico at the Tecate border
– Hit the Tecate brewery (duh)
– Hop on the Ruta del Vino
– Find some sort of winery made out of a boat
– Check out a Russian winery named Bibyoff to see if rumors of camping there are true
– Hit as many other wineries in the area as we could
– Commence max relax with local food, wine, beer, and our own bocce ball championship
We had Thursday and Friday off and this place wasn’t even that far away. It was perfect!
Morning hits, Getz and Cumper are at my place with all their camping gear. We biff it in the Pilot and hit the road. K-ButtS and Wonder Dog will meet us down there (with some luck). We scream past San Diego and head West to the Tecate border crossing. Within no time we’re on a very Baja-reminiscent winding road heading South to Taco Heaven. Soon we come upon the border. It’s much smaller than the Tijuana border and we don’t even spot a single guard. Hmmmm.. We cruise through the only open lane doing about 20 and then right past the empty guard booth, and, wait a sec… “Are we in Mexico?”, “ Ahhh, yeah I think so”, “What the hell was that?”, “I dunno, the easiest border crossing ever?”. Wow. We’re in Tecate. We forego purchasing any bullshit Mexican insurance.
The town is a semi-charming, kinda beatdown, little place. Border town style for sure. Doesn’t seem like much is happening. There is a beer stein with an arrow at the very first intersection. We head straight to the brewery, park up, and grab the details from the guard. He speaks perfect English and tells us we can go in, grab a single free drink and.. that’s it. Huh? We’d heard of tours and weird brews and.. whatever, we just drove for almost 3 hours, let’s get a beer. The options were Tecate and Tecate light. In a can. The taps were busted or something. Awesome. Well, might as well go with the tall one. We cracked them and slumped in some seats on an outdoor patio. Ah yeah, back in Mexico already. Cheers!
12 minutes later we were 0.009% less sober and walking out. It was around lunch time so we asked Guard Guy where we could nab some tacos. He directs us to a spot named Amigos. Adios! We pile in the Pilot and try to find the place. It’s closed. Hmmm.. ok, we park and decide to meander around town. Finding a suitable restaurant proved more difficult than expected. Lots of boarded up stuff. Lots of stuff not open. We walked around Tecate to get a feel for it, but after a while we were kind of over it already. Couldn’t find a scene to speak of. We duck into a little place on the way back to the Pilot and grab a bite. Not too bad. Not too memorable. We were ready to continue the adventure.
South of Tecate the road turns into some S-curvy goodness and we drive by some little towns with an ol’ western feel. We pass under a “Bienvenido! Ruta del Vino” sign and soon come upon some construction where a new road is being built. Apparently this place is popping off to the point of needing a more direct, spanking new Ruta del Vino. Good for them (maybe).
The road descends into a pleasant valley and soon around a bend there is the sprawling vineyards of the first winery. A sign on the left next to a long dusty road between rows of grape vines says L.A. Cetto. Ah yes, we’ve heard of that place. We take her down the dusty road and pull in to a wooden structure that looks kind of amazing. Is this the winery tasting room? We walk up. No, it’s a fancy restaurant called La Esperanza in this very cool barn-door and earthy feeling building right beside the vineyards. Coondog mentions that the area is becoming well known not just for its wine but also some great culinary options, this being among the best, apparently. The interior and view were both killer but we’d just eaten, so through the dust and on to the winery.
The grounds at L.A. Cetto were great. Nestled in amongst their sprawling vineyard is a nice dark wooden shop and tasting building with patio and tables. It is very classy. That building stands in front of the more industrial looking buildings that produce the wine. We head in for a tasting. We’re treated to 5 wines by a guy who speaks very good English yet he kept apologizing for his English during the tasting. We learned that L.A. Cetto was the largest winery in all of Mexico and that it produced something silly like 95% of all Mexican Wines. It was one of the first wineries in the area, established in 1928, and was quite popular during prohibition since it was close to the border. It was also one of the only wineries carrying Nebiollo, which is an Italian grape varietal unique to only a few areas on this continent, this being one of them. The wines were decent, better than expected actually, and the Nebiollo was definitely a stand out. We grabbed a couple bottles and booked it.
Next on the hitlist was Vinos Bibayoff. The sun was getting low and we needed to know if we could camp there or we’d have to find other lodging. Along the sparsely populated road was turn off after turn off of wineries. I had no idea there were this many in the region! We passed by a place called Vena Cava, “That’s the one in the boat!”. Alright we had a game plan.
We pull into Bibayoff. It’s a large area with one main building, some small houses where maybe the owners live, some buildings with livestock, a large grassy field and a small pine grove, all tucked in beside the vineyards. Out front of the main building is a Russian doll cut-out photo op. We didn’t. We should have. We stroll in and go up to the counter. There’s a short girl behind it. She has a strange scar on her left shoulder. “Tastings?”, she says in English with a thick accent (Two Canadians and a dude from Portland, I guess we didn’t look too Mexican). “Si!”. Around glass 3 we ask about camping. “Yes, yes. In the back. I get him.”
She comes back with a big, tall, black-haired Mexidude that may be the owners son. His English is great. “You guys want to camp?”, “Yes, please”, “Alright, it’s in the back. Just 3? It’s $10 a night.”, “Perfect, we’re in”, “Ok, how many nights?”, “Until monday, probably”, “Sure. Usually you can camp on the grass there but we’re having a Celestial Party on Sunday. Do you mind camping in the pine grove?”, “Not at all. Celestial Party, what’s that?”. He describes that Bibayoff has a Celestial Party annually around this time of year. Astronomers and star gazers from all over Mexico come. They set up a bunch of telescopes and science displays and wineries from the area set up tasting booths. Haha what? Wine and Science? YES! Sounds like my undergrad all over again. He says around 3000 people are going to be there. What?! What a lucky turn for us. Not only were the rumors true about camping, but they’re also throwing a massive party! Well shit. That was easy.
We finish our wines, nab a few bottles for camp, and drive over to the pine grove on the edge of the vineyards. It looks perfect. Nicely shaded with a killer view of the mountains and grape vines. We quickly throw some tents up but we wanna hit Vena Cava before nightfall. I fire off a text to Shenanigans letting him know where we ended up, and we jump back in the Pilot and blast across the dirt back to the main road. We get to the turn off and are back on a dirt road following wood signs carved in Spanish towards some winery in a boat. I’m a little loosey goosey with the steering, feeling that good good lawless Mexivibe coming on again, and we’re fishtail drifting down the road with dust kicking high above us.
Just as the sun is hitting golden hour we find the place. It really is built out of a boat. The grounds look great, with a little dory in a pond and a nice outdoor seating area.
We’re not sure if it’s open though. Doesn’t seem to be anyone else around. Another car pulls up and a girl in a great yellow dress appears with some dude in plaid. We snoop around and a little dog comes out to greet us. Pet pet, “Is this your shop buddy? Are you open?”. We try the door and it’s open. We go inside and a 20s-something girl comes to meet us. “Hola! Did you want a tasting?”, “Yes, please”. She takes us in to the tasting room. It’s built into the ground which offers a natural insulation and coolness. The roof is an upside down boat. It’s kind of rad. The whole place is made of recycled boats.
The wines are decent, we get to choose five. I grab the Sauv Blanc, Reserva tinta (Cab/Syrah blend), the Tempranillo, a Cab/Grenache, and the Cab Sauv. The pours are heavy-handed, basically full wine glasses, and after a few ‘tastings’ we’re giggling with Yellow Dress and Plaid Guy about everything. She lives in Los Angeles and he’s visiting from… I don’t remember, was wine tasting. We get a bonus pour of another blend and it ends up being the best by far. Coondog and I both get a bottle on the way out.
It’s dark when we exit the recycled boat and we stumble through the dirt to the Pilot. Jump in and bust it back Mad Max style through the dust to the road and our camp at Bibayoff. We get things set up and gather some firewood to start a fire. Crack some tecates we picked up and relax in some camping chairs. Soon after, we hear a truck coming up the road, kicking dust up the road to the camp. Could it be? YES! K-Butt Shenanigans and Wonder Dog actually found us! K-ButtS drops the back gate and Wonder Dog hops down and immediately sniffs out a tree. A tecate whizzes through the air and K-ButtS catches it. The gang’s all here.
We start getting the night munchies and decide to head into town and see what’s available. Town being the small smattering of roadside buildings we’d passed earlier. K-ButtS opts out and jumps in the parachute hammock he’s strung up between some trees. We pile in the Pilot and make back to the road. What the? The gate out of Bibayoff is closed and locked. Ok, let’s try this other dirt path parallel to the road. Lookin good. Nope. Another locked gate. Hmmmm ok, try the other side of the main gate I guess. At this point we’re basically doing figure eights all over the main entrance area to Bibayoff, kicking up dust, and looking for a way out. We figure the boulders lining the entryway can probably be manhandled by us half drunk neanderthals so we hop out and, with a little effort, roll the one closest to the road slightly aside. We’re free! We slip through to the main road and take a left back to ‘town’.
Half a roadie later we’ve passed by a number of closed restaurants and reached the market. There’s a taco place on the left we were hoping was gonna be open but it’s not. We decide to re-up at the market with more beer and snacks. There’s a few bottles of tequila on sale at the front. When in Rome. The shop owner somehow sells us on this pink bottle of Tequila. Our decision making faculties are hindered so tequila infused with hibiscus flowers seems like a great idea. Tecate, Tequila, snacks, and ice = Success. We’re out.
Outside on the right of the market is a guy selling… Tacos! YESSSSSH!!
And wow. These tacos. After all my searching with McBurger, I’ve finally found them.
That’s right, these are…
THE BEST DAMNED TACOS IN MEXICO!!!!
(I think I’ll pause here as I believe these tacos to be so important as to demand a post of their very own….)