Nada Pasa Aquí
By Margaret Reish Downing
Last week, someone posted a question on San Felipe Chatter: He wanted to know what hotel is considered to be the most upscale in San Felipe. I mentally reviewed some of the places we’ve stayed: Nope, these went into the “downscale” column. One thought led to another, and inevitably to our most… memorable… Baja hotel stay ever: Rancho Agua Caliente.
After one hot and humid August day too many, my husband Rex and I needed an escape. We wanted to visit the Cava de Marcelo in Ojos Negros, and the hotels in Ensenada were full up. Then I came upon a website for Rancho Agua Caliente. The lyrical descriptions of fresh air, running streams, natural beauty, and relaxing hot springs hooked us. This resort would be heaven!
We took the 5.2 mile turnoff at about Km 27 on Highway 3. The road is unpaved, washboarded in spots, and a little twisty as it climbs, then descends to the resort. The journey takes at least 20 minutes, and the designated driver needs a good head for heights. Our arrival at Rancho Agua Caliente was a surprise to the staff although we had phoned to Tijuana for reservations per website instructions. So we waited by the two big pools while they prepared our room. Meanwhile, we were starting to learn some disturbing facts: The restaurant/bar is closed except during Semana Santa because there aren’t enough guests. Showers in the rooms are permanently disabled. Power is only on from 7 to 10 pm, most light bulbs have been removed from the rooms anyway, and circuits are ungrounded, i.e., “2-prong”. When our room was ready, I reminded the staff that we still needed toallas. “Toallas? Toallas! Sorry, we don’t give you towels, what are you thinking!” Why? Because people steal them! Oddly, Rancho Agua Caliente personnel don’t sweat the threadbare hand towels, one per room, hanging limply in the bathroom, the place with the non-working shower, sink with a cold water faucet, and toilet down which you are not permitted to flush any paper. By now we were reviewing our options: 1. Spend an hour and a half driving back up the 5.2 mile road, then on to Ojos Negros to buy supplies then return, 2. Leave for Ensenada knowing we would most likely not be able to get accommodations, 3. Drive back home, a trip of over three hours, 4. Take the path of least resistance and stay. We could tolerate just about anything for one night, but we were planning to use the pools and we needed some toallas! We were again patiently informed that we could forget about the toallas. “!Ésta es hotel! ¿No hay toallas? ¡No somos ratitos! ¡Eso es ridículo!” After a huddled conference, the staff finally lent the crazy lady two personal towels. So, we took the path of least resistance and stayed. We asked for a room key. No keys — because, we were told, “Nada pasa aquí.” Although the hotel has a Bates Motel vibe, Rancho Agua Caliente’s setting is indeed lovely and the air is fresh and cool and it is quiet, all as advertised. We swam in both the regular pool and the pool fed by the springs, very relaxing, mostly. (“Is that moss growing on the bottom?”) We strolled the grounds, admiring the oak trees, and listening to running water. There is a lake on the premises. Since it’s choked by willows, tules and other vegetation, we couldn’t actually see it. However, we enjoyed a Master Chorale performance by bull frogs. This was all before the mosquitoes came out for the evening. We spent several hours on the balcony, playing Scrabble and rejoicing in the fresh air. We had to wear light jackets, a real novelty for us after a summer in the South Campos. At 7 a generator came on — so much for peace and quiet! – going off again at 10, plunging our room into even more cave-like darkness. Fortunately we had flashlights. We considered going from room to unlocked room, stealing hand towels, but instead watched a DVD on my computer for as long as the battery lasted. Rex drove the room’s voracious mosquitoes into the space between the window and its screen. So unfortunately, we weren’t able to let the fresh air come in as we slept, sleep being a relative concept. The mattress was designed for very short people: We are both short people, and the mattress was barely long enough. The mattress was also designed for people who enjoy lying on hard surfaces and on scratchy sheets which adhere nicely to the plastic cover beneath. If the sound of coyotes howling at 3am scares you, Rancho Agua Caliente should not be a vacation destination. The next morning brought both welcome light and a cacophony of roosters crowing, and bullfrogs croaking in basso profundo. After another dip in the hot springs pool, we departed, leaving all towels behind. Based on numerous stays in Baja hotels, I accept that “rustic” is often a warning to expect a bad road, jerry-rigged plumbing, and an uncomfortable mattress. When in a wilderness area, of course you hear coyotes at night and have to step over cow patties by day. Where there is water, there are going to be bugs. There is probably a really good reason that bedside lamps are superglued to a table.
However, Rancho Agua Caliente is billed as a resort, not a fishing camp. So we won’t be going back any time soon. But in retrospect, our stay there was an adventure. And these days, we never leave home without a stack of towels.