Un vistazo a Baja California

Here are some highlights from the B.C. Road trip this Spring Break. Spain is go for launch this fall, and I’m actually starting to think seriously about jobs for next year, which is a big leap from sort of kind of thinking about jobs for next year. Maybe within the week I might get as far as “looking” for jobs. Woah.

This weekend was fantastically fun, with a wine-tasting on Friday, cleaning, shopping, and “Thank You For Smoking” on Saturday, and well, Sunday wasn’t fun. Dave’s coming next weekend! Yay! I’m not feeling very revelatory, seeing as how I’ve just done my laundry and my 4th period staged a mutiny today while I sat silent at my desk for 85 minutes. I’ve already resigned in my head, so it’s kind of hard to keep telling myself that I still have to do a job.

The Zoo is our planned fieldtrip on Wednesday; more accurately, there’s a zoo at Central *every* day.

Much more fun, is the carefree Bajacalifornia. Enjoy.

Day 1: Viajando

Twenty minutes from the airport, a sign saying “Tijuana 5, Border 4” appears, and all of a sudden there’s some orange cones and a huge cement overpass. With merely a flag from a Mexican official and a $2.40 toll, we cross la frontera into Mexico. There are literally miles of cars lined up going the other way; wonder of wonders, it’s harder to get out of Mexico than get in.

After about twenty miles of beachfront property and surfer communities, we arrive at Ensenada. The road is right on the mountains which lead to the Pacific, and the view as the afternoon sun sinks down is pretty incredible. There are tons of white stucco houses hugging the hill both above and below the highway. Pulling in to Ensenada, we see the cruise ships looming on the horizon, boding ill for whatever sort of ‘culture’ we may find.

We select a modest hotel for the evening, and then go about exploring the town. A walk down the malecón is requisite for a Saturday night, so we obliged. Dinner was an adventure, at a place called Guadalajara. I thought I had ordered beef tacos, but to my surprise stew came out instead. Thankfully, it was wonderful, and the ice cold Dos Equis that accompanied it was most welcome. Our tortillas came right off the cast iron griddle: hot, steamy, and deliciously full of lard.

Day 2: Blowhole “La Bufadora”, en coche

Despite the pitfalls of Sunday traveling, spirits were high as we set off from La Bufadora. I was a little tired, and unsure of how our outdoor plans for the week were going to pan out, so we decided to hoof it south instead of spending any more time in Baja Norte.
We could not have made a better decision. The road through vineyard country was breathtaking; the transpeninsular highway follows a mountain valley down the coast with green-grey hills cradling olive, citrus, and wheat farms. Nearly 200 miles of beautiful scenery, mountain overlooks, red plowed earth, and picturesque farmland. One highlight of the trip was getting stuck behind a small, small sedan carrying a family of eight. Through the zonas de curves it’s impossible (even if you’re a crazy local driver) to pass, so we tailed a rusted blue 1970’s car as it chugged perilously up the mountain curves.

It was unclear whether or not we would actually make it to San Quintín before nightfall, and we definitely pushed the limit of the guidebook regulations. It looks like the crisis of 1994 hit northern Baja pretty hard; as dusk set in, the settlements around the road approaching San Quintín became poorer and poorer. Many had dozens of half-completed houses and buildings that look as if they’d been forgotten about for a decade. As if all the residents in the town suddenly died. More likely, the funds which were fueling the development died out, and people cut their losses by selling the risky agricultural land to some foreign-owned agri-business.

Nearly got lost on some dirt roads trying to find a place to stay, but we made it to the Old Mill Motel safe and sound, only to find a Haverford lisence plate holder on an SUV with California plates. The world is a very, very small place.


Day 3: Desierto Central

From there, the scenery changed dramatically. The water dried up, and the cacti sprang out of the hillsides. Even on the coastal road, the land was dry, and as soon as 1 hooked east at Rosario, all non-desert vegetation vanished. Huge cardón started to appear, as well as the spindly cerio trees, which by the time we were close to Cataviña really did have the flaming yellow flowers at the top. Huge mesas, protected by the harsh forces of erosion by volcanic deposits, stuck up from the horizon in random intervals, and the highway climbed up among them as it wound southeast. I even saw a kestrel perched on top of a cactus, hunting for prey. Then, just as the guidebook said it would, the boulder plain appeared. Right in the midst of cacti and tumbleweed (palo verde bushes?) were immense piles of granite boulders. Our first guess was that the ice age was responsible for depositing that kind of rubble, but the museum a little later on explained that the rock piles used to be whole granite mountains that have been broken apart by wind, rain, and other natural forces. We stopped for a brief road hike to a couple of interesting looking cardones, and then really settled in the “museum,” a small plastic geodesic dome with some information plaques and a sketched out map of trails in the area.

After un paseo por the small circular path which named the local flora, we returned to the car for hiking supplies and set out for the top of one of the smaller mountains nearby. Following a sandy horse trail through the prickly underbrush, we found a small dry riverbed that took us to the base of the hill. An hour and several scratches later, we found ourselves at the top of the valley, looking down on miles and miles of cacti, elephant trees, and huge chunks of granite. A pair of hawks cavorted overhead in the thermals, completing the perfect desert landscape. Satisfied with our adventure, we picked our way down the mountainside admiring the oddly shaped boulders. One was shaped like a chair, another carved hollow, and one that was decidedly vaginal.

Day 4: Bahia de los Angeles

After three days of driving, we made it to the only intersection that we would ever have to take. Hung a left when we saw the sign for Bahía de los Angeles, and 66 kilometers later we saw the ocean over the next ridges. In honor of the completely cloudless skies and the atmosphere which the turkey vultures sunning themselves on cacti created, I turned the iTrip to Wilie Nelson, and we sang along to most of “Red Headed Stranger” on our desert leg of the trip, which got gradually drier and drier as we moved farther east from highway 1. Rocky islands popped up out of the sparkling silver water, and we had arrived.

At 10:30 we had checked in to Raquel and Larry’s Restaurant and Hotel, after surveying the other lodging options in the “town” itself. Before our stay in Cataviña, when the electricity didn’t switch on until the sun went down, I never would have understood the luxury of the well-advertised “24 hour electricity” that flows through the circuits of Raquel and Larry’s Motel. Bahía consists mainly of taquerias and campgrounds strung out along the beach, with a lighthouse and museum thrown in for spice. Tickled pink that we had the whole day to frolic, we took the kayaks out after budgeting out the rest of our cash. Not surprisingly, there are no banks from Guerrero Negro to San Quintín, but that was not a fact that we had counted on when assessing our financial situation in Ensenada. If we ate sparingly and spent no money on water activities, we would have just enough money for lodging, meals, and gas to get back to civilization, or the land of electronic banking.

Throwing pecuniary cares to the wind, we grabbed paddles and headed out into the bay. Dave was daring enough to go all the way in the water, but I wasn’t quite that ambitious. It was decided upon that we would take one of the leaden tandem kayaks compliments of Larry. The water was brisk, but felt good with the sun on us all day. We beached the boats by a British retirement home and walked down the beach for a while as the tide came in. It was so relaxing to explore for the sake of exploring, run just to try to beat the waves up the beach, and have no more cares than not stepping on shells.

Day 5: Bahia II

Somewhat less of an early start began what we consider to be our only somewhat indolent day. Pinched for pennies, we did not breakfast with abandon, but snacked on almonds and whatever else we could scrounge from the room. After that, we prettied ourselves for a trip to the Campamento Torgugueño.

[social justice interlude; skip if you will =)]
There, to my surprise, was a very down to earth and knowledgeable caretaker whom we chatted with for about an hour after the irritating teenage tourist and her mother left. They promised excessively to return to “limpiar las tortuguitas.” There were 11 turtles in all, living in what I considered to be pretty substandard accommodations of flaking concrete tanks. What one observes on first sight, however, is rarely what is actually true. Upon discussion with the caretaker, we learned that the Mexican government had recently taken over the administration of the program, and thus its purpose and funding became rather uncertain. As can be expected, the promised money from the government gets caught up in bureaucratic red tape for months, and the survival of the center pretty much depends on it. Also, due to new regulations regarding the capture and care of endangered species, it seemed that the government was becoming more and more particular about who was able to care for the turtles, who brought them in, how long they stayed, and when (or if) they were released. While I certainly see the necessity of regulation, here it really seemed that the citizens of the town were trying to combat the damage previously done to the turtle population, and were being criticized as opportunistic, or the government was afraid that people were taking advantage of the turtle program. How anyone could construe the townspeople of gaining something from this sad little center is pretty amazing, but I would venture to guess that few of the regulatory bodies had ever seen the place to begin with. He also mentioned that a lot of people criticize them for keeping the turtles in inhumane conditions, but it seems better than leaving them stranded in a gill net, or however injured they might arrive at the station. We also had an interesting talk about the classification of national parks in Mexico, as Bahía de los Angeles is applying for ‘biosphere’ status from President Fox before he leaves office. The experience on the whole started off rather depressing, with the state of the Turtle Conservation Program leaving little hope for the Mexican sea turtle at all, but after speaking with the dedicated, intelligent staff of the center and hearing plans for improvements, as well as the other turtle centers all over the country, it was invigorating to see people working to protect something that they care about, even in the face of frustration and financial difficulties.

From there, we continued on into town to do some shopping, but the store, not surprisingly was a bit of a dump. They did have cold-ish coca cola light for sale, in which I chose to indulge. Man, was that delicious. Still hungry, we decided that our best option was Raquel’s fare.

What ensued was a deliciously relaxed lunch on the porch of the hotel, overlooking a sunny, golden beach, and the weathered palapas. Fish tacos for Dave, and a quesadilla with homemade guacamole for me was just enough to fill us up. I find it hard to tire of freshly crisped tortilla chips. While waiting for lunch, Dave continued his día de español by reading the local bilingual tourist magazine and practicing explaining things to me in Spanish. We did some work on metacognition (recognizing vowel sounds), as well as eliminating inhibiting factors. Thanks to my ESOL classes, I have become much more aware (if not effusively supportive yet) of the hows and whys of learning a language.

After lunch, we rested our tummies before venturing out for more outdoor activities. The kayaks were again our chosen water sport, sardonically bringing with us the underwater camera, which had as yet gone unused, along with our poor snorkel equipment. Fortunately, the water was slightly warmer, it being low tide, and there was much to be seen in the shallows around the kelp bed: pufferfish, small blackish stingrays, fish, sea stars, and all sorts of sponges and small corals. It was quite the informative trip, and it felt divine to have the sun on our faces and the wind in our hair. It got quite cold as the sun went down, so a hot shower in the semi-functional bathroom sans water pressure was more than necessary before venturing up the homemade stairs for dinner, so that my toes returned to their normal pinkish-tan.

As the sun set that evening, we took P&P up to the restaurant part of the hotel for our final dinner. Nursing a few coronas which barely squeezed into our budget, we nearly finished the book as the noisy families around us shared the cool night air. We could see every single crater on the full moon through Larry’s antique telescope chained to the tilting porch.

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