Villa del Pal­mar per­fect base for Baja ad­ven­tures

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - THE SECOND PAGE - BRYAN HEN­DRICKS

All my life I’ve read sto­ries about bill­fish­ing in the Sea of Cortez, but for an Arkansas boy, Baja, Calif., might as well have been the moon.

So when I was in­vited to join a me­dia group as a guest at Villa del Pal­mar at the Is­lands of Loreto in Baja Sur, Mex­ico, I ea­gerly ac­cepted.

The first high­light oc­curred shortly af­ter tak­ing off from Los An­ge­les In­ter­na­tional Air­port, when we flew low over Catalina Is­land. That’s a leg­endary place where Jim Hen­dricks of Long Beach, Calif. — a staff writer for Sport Fish­ing mag­a­zine and others — pur­sues white sea bass.

Hen­dricks, who might be re­lated (his fam­ily orig­i­nates from north Louisiana, mine from south Arkansas), showed me phone pho­tos of his catches with Catalina’s cliffs in the back­ground.

Al­ti­tude flat­tens a land­scape, but it can’t soften the shim­mer­ing blaze of the desert heat. End­less miles of un­in­hab­ited shore­line mes­mer­ized me. Good­ness, how much fun could a fel­low have ex­plor­ing that coast with a Ho­bie, a tent and a month’s worth of wa­ter?

The ground­scape was a citadel of tow­er­ing sand­stone walls that glow dif­fer­ent hues as the day pro­gresses. Their beauty is in­tox­i­cat­ing.

Villa del Pal­mar Re­sort is lux­u­ri­ous, but un­pre­ten­tious. The work­man­ship is ex­quis­ite in all de­tails, from the qual­ity and fit of the floor­ing to the union of walls and ceil­ings to the con­struc­tion of the door and win­dow frames.

My two-room, fully-fur­nished suite was scrupu­lously clean, with a queen bed, hot tub, two big-screen TVs, a fully-equipped kitch­enette, re­frig­er­a­tor/freezer, two lava­to­ries with walk-in show­ers,

and washer and dryer. A vast bal­cony of­fered a beau­ti­ful view of Dan­zante Bay.

On my bed­spread, an ar­range­ment of blue and red stones spelled “Wel­come Mr. Low­ber,” which is my mid­dle name. A sim­i­lar mes­sage in choco­late driz­zle adorned a small plate of tortes.

Sev­eral restau­rants are on the premises, from a re­laxed pool­side ca­bana grill to a fine eatery where at least semi­for­mal at­tire is ap­pro­pri­ate. All of them served world­class, five-star fare.

There is also a full-ser­vice spa with hot tubs, eu­ca­lyp­tus steam room, aro­mather­apy and mas­sages.

A well-stocked store is also on site where you can buy snacks, drinks and sou­venirs.

The cur­rency ex­change rate last week was about 17 pe­sos per dol­lar, but that’s of­ten ne­go­tiable.

The re­sort’s most prom­i­nent fea­ture is Dan­zante Bay Golf Club, a chal­leng­ing lay­out de­signed by Rees Jones. The sig­na­ture 17th hole is the stuff of post­cards. It’s a par 3 over a deep ravine that ends abruptly at a sheer cliff that drops to the sea.

Danny Gar­cia, the club pro, said, “You should come here in Novem­ber when the whales are here. There are also manta rays and mar­lin. It’s like a gi­ant aquar­ium out there.”

Gar­cia, who played a round with Jim Hen­dricks, Bran­don Hen­dricks, Sid Do­brin and my­self, was af­fronted that desert bighorn sheep left tracks in his sand traps. Desert bighorns are com­mon here, as at­tested to by Allyn Ladd of Cam­den, who bagged one near Loreto in his pur­suit of all North Amer­i­can big game species with a bow.

Paul Moreno, chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer of the Villa Group, said that Loreto is what Cabo San Lu­cas was 30 years ago. As at Cabo, fish­ing is the main at­trac­tion to Loreto.

Moreno said he is proud of Villa del Pal­mar’s fam­ily ap­peal. Fam­i­lies with chil­dren were present, and ac­tiv­i­ties such as nightly dance par­ties keep young peo­ple en­ter­tained.

Moreno men­tioned Mex­ico’s law­less rep­u­ta­tion and ac­knowl­edged that Baja is un­der the high­est risk travel ad­vi­sory.

“If you look for trou­ble, you will find it,” Moreno said, “but you will not find it here.”

Gary Gra­ham and Greg Nie­mann, veteran South­ern Cal­i­for­nia writ­ers, have trav­eled ex­ten­sively in Baja Cal­i­for­nia since the 1960s, mostly by car and mo­tor­cy­cle. Nie­mann’s new book Baja Leg­ends is an ex­cel­lent primer. They’ve seen ev­ery nook and fold in the penin­sula, and they echoed Moreno’s sen­ti­ments.

I met a re­tired San Diego cou­ple that were sail­ing the coast. Upon learn­ing I’m from Arkansas, I was asked, “What do you think of the Clin­tons?” The tone sug­gested strong ad­mi­ra­tion for the Clin­tons.

I got the same ques­tion en route to Los An­ge­les from the wife of a South­ern Bap­tist pas­tor from North Carolina. Her tone sug­gested dis­dain for the Clin­tons.

My an­swer to both was, “It’s pretty darned cool to have a pres­i­dent come from your home­town.”

They both agreed whole­heart­edly.

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