Page 2 - Following the Faded Signs in Baja California

Following the Faded Signs of Baja California - Page 2
Story and photos by Lydia Carey

Every step we go south feels closer and closer to the sun. The heat is only bearable near the ocean and so we decide to take the "scenic" route through Cabo Pulmo, Baja Sur's national marine park at its southern tip. There's a sign on the highway. It looks reputable.

Cabo Pulmo

A few hundred kilometers on the map turns into seven hours of our sedan slipping and sliding along like a dune buggy, but the scenery is some of the most visually stunning of my life. Azure blue ocean brushed with frothy white caps dramatically crashes below onto white sand beaches. Red rock cliffs rise up to the left of us as we drive. Salt-skinned trees line the edge of dunes, and slick rubber tree leaves shade scampering crabs and iguanas. We park along the side of the road and in the time it takes me to fumble through my bag for my camera, a family of donkeys have poked their heads in through the car windows.

Donkeys in the roadThe road is strewn with unfinished megamansions, whitewashed gates, and the occasional lone camper trailer, with laundry hanging on a rope strung from tree to tree. Things seem...unfinished to say the least.

Cabins in the Desert

On our way north again through the biosphere we are determined not to have to stay in the broken down motel we got on the way down. I find a website advertising cabins that sound divine...waking up to the desert sunrise and silence. The turnoff on the road where they are supposed to exist takes four trips up and down Route 1 to find. Finally we see it, a teeny tiny wooden sign with an indistinct arrow pointing left towards the Pacific. We should have learned our lesson by now.

The problem with the sand "trails" that we are now riding on through the desert is that they are lined with mesquite trees and you have to drive relatively fast in order not to sink in. With every one we get too close to I cringe, knowing we are adding to our car rental bill at the end of the trip. After hours making turns, fighting about the last one we took, laughing, stopping to take pictures of cows, we find ourselves at the gate of a sandy ranch deep under the cover of desert trees. If these are the cabins advertised there is no way we are leaving with our kidneys intact.

Desert Cacti Baja California

The sun is starting to set and we are a little desperate to get back on paved land, so we soar out of sinister ranchland only to hear the pop, siiiiiiihhhh of a flat tire about 20 minutes later. Why didn't we bring that shovel?! We sit on the side of the "road," crack a beer for strength and take stock of our predicament. As we prepare to jack up the car and change the tire, something neither of us had done more than twice in our lives, a rumbling jeep full middle-aged men comes up behind us.

"We've just been fishing on the Pacific," they told us. "We're headed back to Ensenada."

Not only is it strange that these guys happened upon us, but also that they are making a 15-hour drive in one night. One of them volunteers to help change the tire and they let us follow them out of the now pitch-black desert.

A Brush with Nature

By this time in the trip, our nerves are getting a little frayed. We are having a doozy of a fight as we enter into the Sierra de San Pedro Martir National Park—a sign we had seen earlier in the trip that we miraculously did not follow.

San Pedro Martir Baja California

San Pedro is home to Mexico's national observatory, and it's also one of the only pine forests in Baja. As we drive in aggravated, too-long-on-the-road silence the dirt highway winds upwards and the air that was stifling minutes before begins to cool with each kilometer. Even our tempers start to drop as we enter through the park's gate, into a well-tended, orderly national park. With a visitors center!

We stop by the center to have a look at the map and then park and walk into the forest. Everything is silent and our feet are muffled by the pine needles scattered on the ground.

We decide to spend a moment in individual mediation, and my girlfriend treks off to the woods as I drag my army green sleeping bag out of the car, prop it against a tree, and open a book.

A few moments in, I feel eyes on me, a shiver down my spine. I slowly roll my gaze upward to see a coyote 15 feet in front of me. Curious, slightly afraid, but majestic. She stares at me and I stare at her, each determining what kind of threat the other poses. She holds my gaze for a full five minutes and I hold my breath. Then, as silently as she approached, she slinks off to the forest, eyes never leaving mine until she is safely camouflaged in the brush.

I'm left breathless. Suddenly, every wrong turn and weird end-of-the-road has been made up for in the incredible moment with this creature. I start to realize that every sign we followed gave us something incredible: our first view of the ocean at the Pirate's Cave, the sand dollar graveyard in San Quintin, the incredible shrimp dinner we ate on the road through Cabo Pulmo and four new fishermen friends in the middle of the desert. The signs took us nowhere and therefore everywhere in finish this sentence!

Lydia Carey is a freelance writer and translator based out of Mexico City who spends her time mangling the Spanish language, scouring the country for true stories and "researching" every taco stand in her neighborhood. She is the author of "Mexico City Streets: La Roma," a guide to one of Mexico City's most eclectic neighborhoods and she chronicles her life in the city on her blog

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Related Features:
Eye to Eye with Whales and Whale Sharks in Boundless Baja by Tim Leffel
The Sea is Cortes by C.M. Mayo
Catalunya or Bust by the Back Roads by Amy Rosen
My Chiapas Misadventure by Tim Leffel

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