Santa Cruz, CA - Several months ago, at the end of 2010, I had the opportunity to travel down to Baja, Mexico and get involved in some community work. The one thing I heard from all the locals down there was this: the tourists have stopped coming down and it’s hurting the little towns. Plastered all over the media in the US, we see how dangerous it is to travel to Mexico. Yet watching the local Los Angeles news one evening, I was appalled at how much violence there is right here under our noses. I wrote the passage below upon my return to the States, but never got around to typing it up and publishing it. Yet I felt it my duty to come back and share my experiences to help others make an informed decision on travel to Mexico. Please realize there are inherent risks involved each and every time you travel out of the country (or for that matter, traveling right here in the United States). As always, though, being a smart, safe traveler will reduce your chances of encountering troubles along the way. I traveled to Baja several times back in 2001 and 2003, and I followed the same advice this time as I did back then…don’t travel at night, be aware of your surroundings and don’t showcase that you have lots of valuables (which for me was quite easy considering that I have very little valuables). Nothing in life is a guarantee and we each have to decide on the risks we are willing to take. But never forget to live life and enjoy the experiences. Happy travels!
To all those folks out there that are filled with fear about travels to Baja, Mexico, let me reassure you, the only thing you should fear is the emptiness in your heart and the strong desire to return there once you cross the border back to the United States. The beauty of Baja is tremendous, yet simultaneously quaint. The towns and villages bring one back to times of yore, an era many of us have never truly experienced. This is a land where the beauty of the desert meets the allure of the sea.
I spent the vast majority of my time sleeping under a palm frond thatched palapa, providing me with shelter above me and along two sides. Laying tarps and blankets on the sandy ground, it provided me with the basics of a dwelling. Each and every morning, as I lay snuggled in my sleeping bag, I witnessed several amazing sights. First, the rising of Venus, bright enough to see its reflection glowing in the waters. Next, the sun rising above the mountains and sea, casting its shimmering glow upon the surface of the Bay of Conception (Bahia de Concepcion).
Most days were filled with swimming, snorkeling, kayaking, reading and relaxing. Occasionally, I would drive the 15 minutes to the town of Mulége to pick up supplies, visit with people I had met and so forth. And I met some truly wonderful people down there. The locals were friendly and accommodating, greeting you with a sincere “hola” and a smile. The gringos (foreigners) were genuine and respectful of the land and its people. The one common theme about the people I met down in Baja was their lust for life and living on their own terms. Most were not rich, yet they made decisions in their life and made being in Baja a priority for themselves.
Most of the 5 month residents I met (from the US, Australia, Canada, etc.) were in the 50+ age demographic, with the vast majority of these between 60 and 80. Yet these folks were physically and mentally active and so alive with a zest for life. Every Saturday night you would find a large crowd gathered at Ana’s to eat the nightly dinner special, preceded by cutting a rug all night long to work off their meal. It was truly a wonderful experience to behold. I struggled to keep up with these folk!
While down in Baja, I also got involved with a local fellowship run by a co-worker from my summer camp hosting job. We spent a total of about 7days traveling some 600+ miles along mostly dirt roads, visiting remote villages, bringing supplies such as toys, clothing, medicine, eye glasses and food. These villages see very little gringos coming through their parts due to the difficulty getting there. It was such a rewarding experience to meet these amazing folks that are surviving in a harsh desert environment, yet always had smiles on their faces and laughter in their voices. There are truly amazing people.