The Hotel La Fonda

Most gringos who travel to Baja California, check out the Baja Bookshelf, know only Tijuana. The rest of the peninsula is a mystery to them. We, however, explore Baja constantly. Last year we drove 1000 kilometers south to Bahia de Los Angeles on the Sea of Cortez. There, on a bay with pure and azure water, we camped for a week. We collected oysters and clams every day to eat with rice, tortillas, fresh vegetables and pasta. Our meals were magnificent; the dolphins were beautiful; no phones, no mail, and very little gas for the cars ... it gets delivered twice a week to the PEMEX station. The roads are difficult, the people quiet, shy, and helpful, and you are no where near 20th century life. Not for everyone.

But if you drive just 35 miles south of Tijuana towards Ensenada, just an hour south of San Diego, a taste of a Hemingway-Baja experience awaits you. Like an old inn from one of Papa's stories, La Fonda sits perched on cliffs overlooking the Pacific. The restaurant serves rack of lamb and suckling pig; the rooms are eclectic; the beach and surf-break world class. And then there's the bar.

The first rainy Saturday afternoon I walked into the bar, I knew it was filled with short stories waiting to be written, the tales of La Fonda. Dark, touched stories, where the protagonist is recovering from a trip a little bit too close to the edge, or perhaps, drunk and asleep in his boots, he dreams of whales and the wreck of the Guerrero Negro. The bar is oval in shape, running the length of the dining room from which windows overlook the Pacific; small booths line the wall closest to the bar, lit by low electric lights.

Grab a book, sit up at the bar, near the booths, and look out across the dining room at the Pacific. Eavesdrop and imagine: make up part of the conversation and write it down in your notebook. Make sure to order a Margarita or a Cuba Libre (with two squeezes of lime). If you get tired, you can go to the beach, or to your cliffside room. Make sure to have dinner on the patio, canoped by banana trees, watching the Pacific phosphoresce under the moon.

Your host at La Fonda is the enigmatic Dimitri. Part wizard, part buffoon, Dimitri presides over the madness of Saturday nights and Sunday brunch. He is always magnanimous and affable. His voice is deep and theatric. Perhaps he is an emissary from darkness. But that is another La Fonda story.

How to Make Reservations

Well, La Fonda is totally unwired. Yep, that's right. No telephone, no checks, no credit cards, no nothing.

So how do you make reservations? You go down to La Fonda for brunch about a month before you want rooms. And you book 'em.

Alternatively, you can go down on Sunday through Thursday and almost be assured of a room for the night. This is especially true in the winter, a singularly beautiful time to be in Baja. Don't worry if La Fonda is filled. There are two antiseptic, Baja versions of Days Inn nearby. At least you can eat and drink at La Fonda.

Bring cash. There is a rumor that Dimitri will accept MasterCard, but I can't verify it.

I do have a mailing address: Box 403268, San Ysidro, CA 92073. They promise a reply to reservation requests within two weeks.


© 1995