A beach destination for Arizonians, Puerto Pensaco (aka Rocky Point) has much to offer: sun, beach, good food, drinks with generous amounts of alcohol and only a mere 4-hour drive from Phoenix. My husband Brent had visited Rocky Point with his family (and later with college roommates) since the age of 5. On our second day there, we decided to explore the town and document the excellent graffiti and murals we had spotted on our drive in.
Entering the Old Port, we see men sitting under makeshift shelters with large coolers and bright signs touting shrimp and fish. It’s early, around 8:30, and we’re the only folks around. We follow the road along the Sea of Cortez and notice shops loaded with souvenirs: t-shirts; traditional Mexican dresses for women, girls and babies; beach cover-ups; cowboys boots; brightly-painted pottery; Cuban cigars; pretty straw sun hats with bands of floral cloth; headbands with funny sayings; fidget spinners in all colors; clackers (remember those acrylic balls on string that clacked together from the 70s?); and refrigerator magnets of cactus, sombreros, and chili peppers.
Men stand in the middle of the road pointing to open parking spaces. But we’re just seeing what’s down here, we don’t want to walk around just yet. Murals catch our eye in various places, and we determine to re-visit and photograph them.
Onward to Sandy Beach, where Brent remembers parking in the sand and tying a 22-foot parachute between his truck and Glenn’s jeep 30 years ago, during spring break from college. This was their base camp for a week and they defied anyone to park between them and the water.
We turn at a large Marlin statue and roll past a few open-air restaurants and several kiosks renting 3-wheel scooters, 4-wheelers and rail cars. The main road that runs by Sandy Beach is unpaved, but wide, and trucks moving in both directions spray water to pack the dirt. The sea is to our left and along Sandy Beach several high-rise condo complexes block access to the shore. The Reef, a restaurant/bar that’s been in Rocky Point as long as anyone can remember, sits by itself away from the condos, and nearby is the beginning of a long pier, built up with massive boulders, the future site where folks will disembark from cruise ships.
The dirt road continues to Choya Bay. It’s low tide, so the entire massive bay is empty, except for a few folks walking out there, and a couple of dogs playing and sniffing. We follow the narrow dirt path into the business district, which consists of Oxchitl’s cafe (pronounced So Cheese) and J.J.’s Cantina, another party-station staple of Rocky Point.
Little houses in various stages of repair and disrepair are crowded together along the bumpy dirt road for two blocks. We circle back to Oxchitl’s for breakfast. It’s a busy place. Sally is the owner. Her mother owned a restaurant in Choya Bay, so Sally continued the tradition and now serves breakfast with an attitude. That’s what the menu says. Sally is a little salty. We opt to sit on the roof under a loosely woven straw cover, with a view of the empty bay. The weather is perfect, the food is worth the drive.
Because we saw everything there was to see in Choya Bay during our 4-minute loop, after breakfast we head back to the Old Port, to do a little Christmas shopping. This time, people crowd the sidewalks and music comes from every restaurant and bar. Vendors peddle carts loaded with frozen fruit bars, fruit drinks of every conceivable combination (Pina Coladas are especially popular), brightly-colored candy and fried snacks.
Men step from the shadows and ask Brent if he needs to visit the Pharmacia. Viagra and Cialis can be bought over-the-country, as well as antibiotics, such as Z-packs and amoxycillin.
We stroll along the shaded sidewalk looking at all the goodies, taking our time, stepping into some of the shops. Attendants are, well, quite attentive. I touch a little dress that my 2-year-old granddaughter Ella would look cute in and a man instantly says, “What size would you like to see? We have all sizes, even for you.” At one stall, we spend quite awhile carefully selecting gifts.
We turn up a side street to look for murals. Some buildings are empty. One lacks a roof and doors. I take a photograph and then Brent sees something and he takes the camera. We continue like this for the rest of the weekend, passing the camera to get shots of graffiti and murals.
A building covered in metal decorative pieces and colorful pottery sits in a triangular intersection. Every exterior wall of the building is adorned. Within the building, a labyrinth of ceiling-high shelves, additional floors, roof decks and balconies are stuffed with curios. Sensation overload. Again, we pass the camera back and forth, having a ball exploring every nook and cranny.
“This place must be 30-years old at least,” Brent says.
We pass shelves of painted sinks, and planters, and old banks shaped like Winnie the Pooh and Mickey Mouse, tons of plates, bowls, hand-blown drinking glasses and hearts. Brent finds a red glass heart with white stripes looking like a heart with veins. I select a Grecian-urn shaped planter. A practical souvenir. The woman who checks us out says the store has been there 28 years. We don’t really want to leave, it’s a magical funhouse where our inner artists come out to play.
As we walk back to the car, the Old Port is in full swing. Parched, I buy a tooty-fruity iced drink and Brent buys a beer. More music blares, and not just from restaurants and bars. The strip is a place to cruise, and many people drive their pimped-out 4-wheelers. I’m so mesmerized by the vehicles coming onto the strip, I can’t move. Just stand with the fruity drink and watch one crazy vehicle after another slowly roll past, each with its own sound system blaring, competing with music from the restaurants and bars.
One couple has speakers mounted directly behind their heads. They’ll go deaf! Another rail car is hoisted six feet off the ground, with giant knobby tires, and a two-foot speaker mounted on the front, covered in faux fur, pulsing with the bass. The four people talk as though they can hear each other.
Brent stops and walks back to where I stand, tooty fruity drink straw in my mouth. I can’t move. “Let’s get a seat in that restaurant upstairs and watch the show,” I say. But I only half mean it. Still, I could stand watching the sights and the people, listening to music, American and Mexican, for hours.
We drive back to Las Conchas, to the casita we rented through Airbnb, and put on our swimming gear, ready to kayak!
I’ve never launched a kayak into the sea, with waves coming at us. Plus, a couple of folks sitting on the patio next door are watching. “I’m a little nervous,” I say, thinking it’ll help dispel my anxiety a little by talking about it.
Of course, I’m exaggerating the sea’s ferocity. This is the Sea of Cortez (Gulf of California), and Puerto Penasco is tucked way, way up into the crook of Mexico as it extends over and down into the Baja peninsula.
We wade out thigh-deep and Brent yells, “Get in, get in,” and I do and he does and he says “paddle, paddle,” and I do and he does and soon we’re past the breaking waves and slipping into the sea… and we’re free. The water is calm and I feel an exhilaration that’s hard to describe. Brent saw an estuary behind the casita and wonders if there’s a way to get to it from the sea, so we’re looking for a Southeast passage. We row and stop and glide and watch the Pelicans dive for fish. We sometimes hit a swell just right and the tip of the kayak goes underwater. Cold water rushes over me, and I love it, even shout “Whoohooo” with the bounce and the splash.
Once the passage into the estuary is confirmed, we turn north to where we put in. The tide is still coming in and we fight it, along with the wind. It’s fun. No one else is around. Does that mean they’re smart enough to NOT be in the water at high tide?
We row hard toward the beach, determined to shove up far enough to stick in the sand. Goal accomplished. We drain the kayak, shove in the wheels and pull it up the cement drive and onto the dirt road. Our casita is the second house down, so we drop the kayak and rinse off under the outdoor shower.
We’re hungry and it’s time to find Chef Mickey’s Place, recommended by two locals we met the night before. Chef Mickey was on the TV show “Iron Chef” and one of his appetizers won first place. Without a reservation, we’re placed at a 4-top next to the door. I slide around next to Brent to get out of the way. More romantic that way anyway. We must order the prize-winning appetizer of dates stuffed with Gorgonzola and served with shrimp in a light cream sauce. Yum!!!
We both order a giant Margarita, though I’m not much of a drinker. I can’t taste the Margarita mix. With a drink this strong, I just sip it and gulp water. Within a few minutes, Brent looks very relaxed. Even his hair looks relaxed. He puts his arm on the back of my chair and says, “What a perfect day.” I agree.
We’ve had a beautiful, fun day driving and exploring.
A mariachi comes by and Brent requests “Sositas en Chihauhua.” Even though it’s a very old song, the singer knows it. Brent recalls a dinner in Mexico when he was young and Marco, the captain of his dad’s boat, requested the song. Three mariachi’s joined in and Brent never forgot it.
When the Mariachi finishes playing for us, he says, “I haven’t played that song in 25 years. Thank you for reminding me about it.” We tell him it seemed as though he plays it all the time. He even used his fingers to drum on the guitar, making us laugh.
Brent has bacon-wrapped shrimp with mushroom marsala sauce and I dine on shrimp in garlic butter with vegetables. Both are excellent!
“What a great day,” Brent says again after drinking his Margarita (and half of mine), smiling lazily.
‘I’m driving home,’ I think.
Stuffed and content, we head back to the casita and dream of how perfect tomorrow will be in Puerto Penasco.