We crossed in Tecate, were baptized in sand at Campo Papa Fernandez, pushed our off-road limits at the gap in Highway 5, broke down and were redeemed at Bahia Concepcion, rode the waves at Los Cerritos, and bid farewell at La Paz. In total, we spent a month on the Baja California peninsula. We experienced a wealth of desert and coastal beauty. Some great roads and some bad ones. We chose to avoid most of the most popular destinations, forgoing Tijuana, Rosarito for the more remote route South along uncompleted Highway 5 and skipped Cabo San Lucas in search of less adulterated sands.
We will remember Baja most the strange blend of feelings that arise from of being close to home yet far from safety. The dusty untamed beauty engenders a tickling excitement to discover just how far the umbilical cord can stretch before one finds oneself truly on one’s own. The peninsula is not as wild as it was not long ago. One can afterall, if one so chooses, travel from San Diego to the cape on quite adequately paved roads that are reasonable well marked, and, if one has a rather large gas tank, perhaps even exit one’s vehicle solely within districts that speak English and offer their goods in American dollars at nearly American prices. One might form an image in one’s mind of a coastal, and rather lawless, Nevada with tacos. But that is only one Baja. And it is the inferior one.
Everywhere you look in Baja you see adventure lustfully awaiting. The only limit to your adventure seems to be your appetite for it. In this way, Baja inhabits a perfect stage of development. Easy to access but still rough at the edges. It is how I romantically imagine the American West may have been in the post-war years of the 20th century. The once desolate desert populated by cacti and vultures draws to it escapists and optimists from Canada, the United States, and Mexico. Canadians escape their cold darkness, Americans escape their proliferate laws that increasingly constrict their activities, and Mexicans escape the violence that is besieging much of their country. All seem to believe that Baja and her great emptinesses will provide, if not in abundance, enough of what they feel lacking.
The inhospitable landscape that begins just beyond the sharp edge of the asphalt, combined with the absence of familiar parental symbols of state authority, and perhaps a shared optimism that this desert will provide psychic replenishment, fosters in many people who venture there a generosity and desire to look out for each other. It is not a piece of the earth that by its nature is welcoming to human life, so human life must protect its own. Upon finding another human who has braved the dusty heat, one feels kinship and begins, quite instinctively, to pour out advice so the other might avoid the dangers you have encountered and enjoy the pleasures you have discovered. How distinct this is from the California of the north where every pleasure is a guarded secret and every danger is the just reward for fools. Comfort and safety seems to have increased our avarice for fellow members of our species. Or perhaps it is the assumption of comfort and safety that has allowed this luxury. Or maybe it is not that at all. Maybe it is that in a place like Baja one must take stock of one’s individual worth. There is little latticework to support any artificial facade. The formal and informal social institutions to which we feels we belong and from which we often believe we receive value burn away in the desert sun. My skin burns like any other, my mouth parches like any other, rocks will bruise me, and cactus will prick me, and nothing will change that, not my college degree, not my nice job, and certainly not my ability to distinguish a good cappuccino from a mediocre one.
Whatever the reason, we experienced great kindness from nearly everyone we met. In the desert, on the beach, and in the city; from mechanics and motorcyclists, campers and hosts, and even a couple of total strangers who offered us a place to sleep on our final night in Baja.
We leave Baja with the feeling that we have only just begun to experience it. There remain hundreds of beaches and thousands of dirt roads to explore; fish tacos to eat and sunsets to watch. I am certain we will be back soon and probably regularly. I just hope that the desert holds out against the encroachment of the condo culture of the Cape, that the eventual completion of Highway 5 does more than just increase the RV traffic, and that growth and prosperity can come for the people without sacrificing the wild, adventurous spirit that makes this long peninsula special.
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For you motorcycle nerds, I’m fantasizing about a smaller bike to ride Baja on next time. Maybe a modified R65 with one of those custom swing-arms with the long-travel center-mounted rear shock that Jim Day is working on. Yeah that’d be nice.