Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Ho Ho Ho - Santa comes to Baja’s back-country

Fishing village of El Delgadito
I’ve just returned to Mulege after a week of traveling around some of the more remote parts of Baja with a group of people who do an annual trip to bring gifts of toys, clothes, sunglasses and food to some of the isolated fishing camps and pueblos on the Pacific side of Baja around San Juanico (join the dots at The variation in landscape is remarkable and is reflected in the different villages scattered through this tough landscape - little windswept fishing camps constantly exposed to the Pacific where the people seem moulded by the tough conditions, but were very welcoming and appreciative of the gifts that they received; and tucked into mountain gorges were unexpectedly lush oases with permanent spring water, date palms, oranges, pomegranates and flashes of color from bouganvillias and other bright flowering shrubs.

Christmas hats
While most of the group are there for the gift giving, one guy, Steve, is involved in assessing the additional needs the communities and then working through his networks to have these addressed - a wheelchair for a disabled person here, a generator there, some medicines, seeds for growing vegetables, and visits by volunteer doctors from the US. All very impressive and inspiring! A big thanks to all they crew who let me tag along on their inspirational venture!

Santa's sleds

Snoring with the goats

Party time in La Parisima

After parting company with the rest of the group Steve and I went into the village of La Parisima where a visit to a local winery turned into an invitation to join the whole family for a barbecue before returning to the town square for their annual traditional town festival for singing and dancing, the crowning of the new town queen and political speeches that went on way too long (don’t they all?). 

Sunday, December 9, 2012

From coast to coast and places in between

My challenge for today was to watch the sun rise over the ocean in the Sea  of Cortez and set this evening over the Pacific - one easily met as it is little more than a hundred kms across the  Peninsular. The Pacific coast is pretty harsh around central Baja so my forays down a couple of side roads to the ocean didn’t encourage stopping. As a consequence, the Pacific sunset was over the salt flats of Guerrero Negro which, at first glimpse, suggested some good birding, but that would be for tomorrow morning, the priority now being margaritas at the bar next to the campsite! 

The salt flats, marshes, grasslands, samphire flats, mudflats, dunes and lagoons of Guerrero Negro are truly remarkable; the richness of habitats in a seemingly flat uniform landscape is surprising and of course the bird diversity, and numbers, mirror this. Quite a few feathered friends from Alaska had obviously got down here faster than I did, and a few that I had hoped to meet up north but didn’t were also here in huge numbers. It’s a bit bizarre seeing geese floating around in the warm waters of mexico when last you saw them they were among the icebergs of the Arctic Ocean!

Oasis at San Ignacio
The next zag in the Baja zig-zag took me back to the center of the peninsular where I camped by a beautiful palm fringed lagoon in the oasis of San Ignacio with some Americans - two Randys, their wives Wendy and Marilyn and a menagerie of dogs, most of which were Mexican dogs that they had rescued on previous trips. This little pueblo and the previously mentioned  Rosalita are really the only towns that I have passed through so far that one would describe as attractive, most of the others being dusty strings of buildings scattered on either side of the highway. But both of these town are striking and welcome exceptions and hopefully indicative of what is to come further down the peninsular.  

Misión San Ignacio Kadakaamán
Inside Misión San Ignacio
Awoke to the sounds of date palms rustling overhead in the light morning breeze and coots and herons squabbling on the water that lapped at my doorstep. Lingered for a lazy breakfast and explore around the lake shores before cycling into the nearby town of San Ignacio for what the campsite owner told us was going to be “ big event”. The village is delightful, and very clean, centered on a plaza shaded by huge fig trees - itself a shady oasis from the heat and glare of the surrounding landscape - with a beautiful old mission at one end of the square.  The few touristy shops scattered around town failed to detract from the otherwise traditional feel. It turns out the “big event” was the awarding of prizes for a local desert car racing rally. The Mexican’s in Baja take their off-road racing pretty seriously and it seems that this event was the local’s response to the multi-million dollar Baja 1000 dominated by westerners and their sponsors - a local event for the rigs they build with the few pesos they can pull together, and lots of local ingenuity and enthusiasm. Discovered Chilles Rellanos (stuffed peppers) at one of the stalls - yum!
Niños in San Ignacio waiting for the prize giving. 

Finished the afore-mentioned zag by driving to Mulege, back on the western coast - yet another delightful little town - unsurprisingly, it seems that being off the highway may be a key ingredient to the quality of a town! Joined the Americans again at a beach just south of  Mulege, the group getting bigger as we re-meet various others who’s paths had overlapped previously.

Might have to be another tough day on the water..
I can feel my shoulders this evening after a day of solid kayaking around the islands and along the coastline of Bahia Concepcion, interrupted by regular landings for swimming and exploring the numerous isolated  sandy beaches.  Bought a hammock from one of the numerous vendadores who come by the camp selling water, vegetables, fish, firewood and local crafts and so had little choice but to put it to the test, doing my spanish lessons while swinging in the cooling breeze under the palapa that I was camped beside.  

School's in - clases de español en la playa
Chatted to an American who is working with local communities to identify and address local needs, such as helping special needs kids. He invited me to join them on a trip visiting some of the more remote pueblos and fishing camps on the Pacific side of the peninsular. They don’t set off ‘till sunday, but I don’t think I’m going to have a problem keeping myself amused until then. 

Campsite south of Mulege
A very brief drive the next morning took me down the coast to a more isolated beach down a very rough track with only two other campers and stunning views out over the bay and its islands. Shared a campfire with the neighbors as the just-past-full moon rose over the water.

It seems that the Mexican’s have trained their clouds well. Every morning and evening there is a smattering of clouds, sometimes wispy filaments stretching across the sky, at others rolling waves, but almost always something to add color and atmosphere to the sunrises and sunsets. And this morning was no exception. 

Island cactus garden
Had the canoe packed and ready to go before the sun peaked over the ranges to the east so after a sunrise coffee I was paddling across the fiery water to the isles of Bahia Concepcion with blue-footed boobies, magnificent frigate birds, ospreys and the obligatory pelicans and gulls for company. My route took in four different islands, each about an hour apart. Two of them had nice little beaches which meant stopping and swimming whilst the other two were relatively sheer sided, much liked by the numerous seabirds that chose to roost on them. After a fairly strenuous paddle, I got back just as the wind sprung up again, providing  some welcome cooling air, but not too cool to rule out the occasional swim over the course of the afternoon. A walk over the surrounding hills and through some mangroves filled the remainder of the day and contributed lots of sandfly bites - trying not to scratch!