The peninsula we typically just call “Baja”, is actually split into two distinct Mexican states. Until recently, all our Mexican adventures have taken place in the Northern half, known simply as “Baja California”. Below 28° North, you’ll find yourself in the lower half- “Baja California Sur”.
While “Lower California South” contains many of the popular Mexican tourist resorts in places like Cabo San Lucas and in it’s capital La Paz, it also gave us our first glimpses into working towns. Of course, there is a bit of tourism in all the shoreline cities, but those like Santa Rosalia offer a special insight into a more “Mexican” experience.
Until this point, the soul of the places we visited seemed to be distorted by cruise ships (Ensenada) or by large populations of CanAmerican expats (San Filipe). You’re never too far from an English conversation, or from shops and touts targeting white faces. This isn’t a complaint of course, just an observation of the difference outside money makes.
In Santa Rosalia, where the Boleo copper mine provides much more to the economy than tourism, we found cheap(er!) tacos, incredibly welcoming locals, and essentially no English. The few people we talked to who spoke a couple words of it seemed excited to try their skills out on us, rather than being obligated to use it. This was also the first time we noticed mid-range shops and espresso bars obviously aimed at the locals rather than at the touristas.
Guerro Negro, a prime base for whale watching, offered a similar feeling. I’m sure during whale season the city is transformed, but we visited several weeks before the season’s start. When we drove through, you could see the influence on the economy the nearby military base provided. There were plenty of stores to buy brand name clothes and video games, as well as a nice selection of nightclubs and bars.
South Lower California also gave us our longest stay to date. We spent 3 nights on a beautiful, remote beach just North of Mulege, Santa Inez. The weather was perfect and there were fish, jumping stingrays, coyotes, and dolphins to watch. We even woke up to our first scorpion on the floor of our camper. We’ve been given warning since entering the desert, but were concerned the height of our house would exclude us from that particular rite of passage.
The beach also had plenty of cured driftwood thanks to the hurricane a few years back, and we had just restocked on tequila and fresh water (for ice, obviously). We even met an American couple our age tent camping in their Subaru. It was fun for all of us to share experiences and engage in the deep, easy conversation that always accompanies late night campfires and brandy. We even cooked up a batch of pancakes the next morning..
We’ve been spending a lot of time camping in remote, or VERY remote locations. Between forest service and BLM in the states, and the beaches and desert of Baja we’ve only paid for a campsite three times to date, choosing instead to wild camp. The distance from other people always gives us a sense of security and we commonly leave our rig alone to go on long hikes or play in the ocean.
We were reminded at Santa Inez though, that we’re often not as alone as we think. When our new friends came down for breakfast and to say goodbye, their car was broken into just a few hundred yards down the beach. It was 10 am, several miles down a sandy poorly marked “road”, and they were only away for an hour or so. Even though the car was unlocked, the thief smashed out a window and took a couple laptops and other electronics. On our way out several days later, the only tracks on the road were ours, our friends, and the thief’s.
I know many of our family and friends worry about our safety as we travel. Even though our friends were broken into, we chose to stay in our spot for two more days. We were disappointed with the robbery, but after considering the situation not surprised. It was a simple smash and grab, something that happened to us a couple years ago parked beneath a streetlight in downtown Salem. It’s even recommended that you leave doors unlocked and take anything of value with you when parking at our home trailheads in the Columbia Gorge.
We certainly still feel safe, but it was a good reminder that we’re not living in a perfect world south of the border. Just because we’re comfortable, doesn’t mean we should abandon all caution. Regardless of where you are, there will always be the desperate few who will take advantage of an easy score. All you can do is make yourself a more difficult target, and be willing to lose the things you have. They’re just things after all.
We did have one more disappointment with our camp at Santa Inez- the abundance of wildlife made us regret not picking up snorkeling gear earlier. After packing up we headed straight for the town of Mulege and remedied the issue as quickly as we could. I can technically swim, but the water is far from my natural habitat. Luckily Taylor seems to have gills, so I can always rely on her to pull me to safety if I get in to trouble. So far we’ve really enjoyed the few times we’ve been able to snorkel, and look forward to getting some underwater pictures to share. I’ve even been reading up on spearfishing, because a guy’s got to have goals.
We’re currently taking a break from our life of vacation to visit home for Christmas. It was a very strange feeling to pack a few bags and then leave our home, alone and temporarily uninhabited, in a storage lot. Here at home, it was -11°F a few nights ago. That and the 10” of snow make for an interesting and stark contrast to our last few weeks in Baja. Despite (or because of) the snow and cold, we’re having a great time but are looking forward to sweeping the scorpions out of our camper and heading South once again.