A Foreign Lady’s View of Baja--Farasha here it is!

Baja Bernie - 4-1-2007 at 11:43 AM

From my 'Bouncing Around Baja" book

I ran across this wonderful travel tale while researching information for this book. Yes, you are right, I’ll look anywhere for a funny story or an interesting tale to pass on to my readers about “Mi Baja.” Who would have expected to read the Arab News, on the Internet, and read a wonderfully scary story of traveling down Baja’s Highway 1. Written by Lucia Appleby, a beautiful lady from London, England, it gives us another and perhaps fresher look at the peninsula. It took me some time to locate Lucia who has traveled over a lot of the known world. I have read several of her wonderful travel articles and must tell you that nowhere has she captured the fear and anguish that accompanies the foreign traveler to this little bit of Paradise we call Baja. When I say ‘foreigners’ I do not include most of us gringos who have become accustomed to “jousting with side view mirrors” with those monsters of the road that are hauling produce from points south to Los Angles. What Londoner would believe that 90% of the tomatoes consumed in America come from just south of the wonderful port city of Ensenada? Yes, we have even become accustomed to the fact that Mexican Highway 1 is painted on in some places. We ignore the curves that hang over nothing and instead focus on the wonders that waver out on the horizon. We no longer think of Baja as primitive so what does that say about us?

I started to edit this fantastic piece and decided that I could only do it harm by imposing my experience of Baja on this free flowing piece. Forty years of living and playing in Baja does slightly dull the senses. Lucia has kindly given me permission to include her fabulous story for your entertainment. I have changed the format only so that it would flow along with rest of the book.

“The Long Drive Into Nowhere” by Lucia Appleby, Special to Arab News.

“There can’t be a better place to start a drive into Mexico than the border town of Tijuana. Within an hour and a half you can leave central San Diego on a Disney-style trolley bus—which romantically weaves its way past a stream of companies with illuminated signs for jail bonds—and cross the border on foot into the chaotic world that is Tijuana, where your senses are accosted by the smell of roasting meat, gaudy colored buildings, blaring music from car radios and realize this is not a journey for the delicate or faint-hearted.

Nonetheless, I press on to the nearest town, Ensenada—the last outpost of Western civilization—where Hussong’s Cantina has come highly recommended. Founded in 1892 by a German immigrant, the wood-paneled Cantina is full of tourists listening to soulful mariachi music.

Beyond Ensenada I’m in white-knuckle driving territory, the land of thundering juggernauts, mad dogs and dead, ballooning cows lying prone with their feet in the air, being preyed on by vultures the size of a child. Cacti belong here—giant cacti, taller than the tallest men, that grow 70 feet without thinking into the deep blue sky above, and stretch in their droves over wide open valleys that tourists gaze at in wonder and never travel over. Short, knobblye elephant trees and fantastical Boojums (named after the fictitious plants in “Alice In Wonderland”) everywhere around me.

This is the home of Highway One: A long, slithering snake of a road bound nowhere but south, further south, and further south again. . At every major turn of the road, my will to drive on is challenged by sudden dramatic vistas of a road leading into what looks like nowhere over a vast Grand Canyon-esque desert. The serrated edges of tarmac on the two-lane highway hang precariously above the desert floor, clearly pointing out that if you swerve even slightly when trucks thunder past no more than 15 inches away, you will drive off the edge and flip your car.

It’s impossible to doubt this might happen, because the highway is littered with car-wrecks and crosses by the side of the road left for people who’ve died in road accidents (sometimes accompanied by pieces of the relevant dismantled vehicle—a tire here, a bumper there). I don’t want to be one of the casualties. But at least there are no “topes” here—the sleeping policemen that plague drivers throughout most of Mexico by being not only virtually invisible, but also so sharp that they’re capable of ripping through the radiator of the toughest jeep.

In the middle of these various mental meanderings, I cross the peaceful Valle Tranquilo (tranquil valley). My thoughts escape as a sigh and something inside me lets go. I stop the car in the middle of a long stretch of tarmac, pointing straight as an arrow through an avenue of tortured, twisted, gnarly cacti; turn off the engine, and realize that at this precise moment in time, there is nobody here but me. I stop breathing, and the only sound I can hear is the fly buzzing past my ear … bzzz. Then I wait …. nothing.

Directly behind me, adventure-seekers are bombing across valleys and over hillocks at break-neck speed with motor homes, speed boats, four-wheel drives and kayaks in tow, ignoring all the speed limits to make it by dusk to the whale-watching havens Guerrero Negro and San Ignacio, or the blissful waters of Bahia de la Concepion and the Sea of Cortez. I watch them rush by in a road-side café near the tranquil valley, while sipping on a cold cervezas …. one trusty Ford pick-up truck (one local couple, two children), one Chevy camper van (two gringo men, two gringo women), one motor home (indistinguishable middle-aged couple, tent on roof), one off-road racer (four loud men, two kayaks).

The manager of the café, Gabriella, asks me where I’m going next. South (where else would I go?). “Soltera?” (alone?). Yes, is it dangerous? She shrugs. I hesitate and then experience a moment of complete financial alarm when I realize that I’m running out of petrol, haven’t seen anything apart from abandoned Pemex garages for miles and only have 200 pesos in my pocket. But I’m in luck. A freelance attendant, waiting for alarmed drivers in the next village, fills my tank from his own barrel of petrol.

Just before Guerrero Negro my car is searched by military guards—presumably looking for marijuana who take far too long to inspect it, while waving trucks by that are probably much more likely to hold something of interest to them. Ten minutes later I perform my own inspection for anything they might have planted on me for their friends at the next checkpoint. I wonder what the route must have been to like to travel on before the dust-track highway was covered with tarmac in the Seventies and conclude that everybody must have had barrels of petrol packed in the boot.

Despite being labeled as the Mexican Siberia, Guerrero Negro receives instant commendation when I discover that it has a Pemex garage and ATM. Deciding that I can’t take the risk of what might, or rather, what might not, lie ahead in the endless cacti-dotted beyond, I withdraw a wad of dollars from Guerrero’s Banamex cashpoint and stuff them down my bra for safe keeping.

The town is renowned for its lagoon, which is the mating ground for Californian gray whales. Each year, they migrate 6,000 miles from the Bering Sea to the lagoon, where they stay from January until March. Now, however, it’s November, and I’m being magnetically drawn south to two towns I’ve been told about called San Ignacio and Mulege, where there are Neolithic cave paintings, a palm tree oasis, and a bay called Bahia de la Conception where apparently I have to go kayaking.

San Ignacio appears from nowhere after a turn in the now occasionally potholed road, surrounded by palm trees. It is indeed a small oasis with spring-fed streams, where birds are singing. Next to the laurel-shaded central plaza there’s an impressive church. I log the town immediately with my now finely-tuned survival instincts—somewhere to sleep? Yes. Pemex petrol station? Yes. ATM? No. I thank my lucky stars for erring on the side of caution.

On closer inspection, it transpires that Jesuits established San Ignacio in 1728 (Baja was conquered by missionaries, not guns), planting the groves of date palms and citrus trees, but Dominicans supervised the construction of the church. Covered with bougainvillea, with 1.5 meter-thick lava block walls, it’s widely considered to be one of the most beautiful churches in Baja California. While San Ignancio is a welcome relief, I find that I’m keen to get to Mulege, the jewel in Baja’s crown, and the legendary Bahia Concepcion.

Bahia Concepcion, at 22 miles long, is the largest bay on the Sea of Cortez. After a long drive through the raw desert on Highway One, nothing can quite describe the rapture and sense of the sublime you feel when you first see its aquamarine waters. Set against a severe mountainous backdrop, it seems that the crystal-clear water shimmering in the sunlight is just an oasis illusion. On closer inspection it not only turns out to be real but also multidimensional, with many different places to kayak—some with hardly any protection from the winds or any sight of beach beneath the rust-colored cliffs.

It seems that the marine life that live here know this too, as in the eight hours that I go out on the water with my guide Marcelino, we see such a large number of different species of birds (including brown pelicans, frigates, cormorants, blue herons, ospreys, vultures and terns) that I become convinced that the bay is blessed. Pairs of dolphins play within meters of us, filling us with sheer delight. At every turn, a different type of bird flashes past or pelicans swoop and dive for fish. The wonderful thing about kayaking, I discover, is that you can be so near so many beautiful creatures in their natural habitat without disturbing them.

I have heard about the towns that still lie ahead—particularly about wealthy Cabo San Lucas and the bejeweled, glitzy, jet-setting crowd that goes there, and find that my desire to go further south has completely disappeared. I am apparently not alone in getting stuck mid-journey at Mulege—it’s a common affliction that strikes many Highway One roadrunners. Watching the sun set over the bay, painting the sky shades of deep orange, hot pink and fiery red, I only want to stop and not move while I absorb the beauty of the magical landscape around me.”

It must be said that I am finding many more people from Germany, Australia, England and Spain who are displaying an interest in Baja. As they say…this is truly the last frontier that we may explore!
May I add that the people of Baja, both Mexican and American, will make you welcome!

P.S. Amazing! I had not re-read this story since it went to print and it is still as fresh and touching as I remembered it..............Hope you all have enjoyed it...........I sure did!


FARASHA - 4-1-2007 at 12:36 PM

Enjoyed it too - Thank you for posting it - a Lady has another perspective after all! And she isn't the only one who uses a bra for other purposes. :biggrin:

Fred - 4-1-2007 at 04:37 PM

I didn't know they allowed bras in Baja

Fred. you must be kidding

Keri - 4-1-2007 at 05:51 PM

most women would tell you they should probably were two. or maybe an armor breast plate. lol Those wash board roads and whoop de doos are real rough on a gal,k :yes:;D:saint::rolleyes:


Baja Bernie - 4-1-2007 at 06:46 PM

Were you thinking of jockstraps by chance.

Fred - 4-1-2007 at 10:09 PM

JOCKSTRAPS.........................hell I don't even take underware down South

Bajafun777 - 4-1-2007 at 10:47 PM

Bernie, I enjoyed the view of baja that this lady put into words. Think how many people, especially the ladies, get worried or scared of going into Mexico. Too many stories of the bad things and they do not get a chance to experience the charm and warmth that Mexico (especially Baja) has to offer. My wife and I have taken all of her sisters, brother, mother, and other relatives into Mexico, however, their fears were just as real as the lady writing her concerns while traveling. The only thing that puts them at ease is when you get to the location you are staying and they are able to take it all in. The sunsets, the ocean with the moon light coming off it and the people moving about in their daily lives. Like you say "No Hurry No Worries!" Keep posting these great writings Bernie----------Bajafun777

FARASHA - 4-2-2007 at 05:05 AM

Originally posted by Keri
most women would tell you they should probably were two. or maybe an armor breast plate. lol Those wash board roads and whoop de doos are real rough on a gal,k :yes:;D:saint::rolleyes:

OKAY BERNIE - sorry for this - but this is too funny - need to react on those posts.
KERI - YUP - and other reasons as well!! - had a bodysearch once at a border, had to lift my top - and had NO bra :rolleyes: was extremely embarrassing - although it was a femal officer. Still blushing when thinking of it.
Best Body (boob) Armor are those sporting bras for HIGH IMPACT activities :yes: but NOT very tempting !
JOCKSTRAPS? - ILMAO, last time I have seen them was on my grand dad :biggrin:

FRED - :o:O:o :?: and your wife tells WHAT? And why you think a bra is not ALLOWED in BAJA??

FARASHA - 4-2-2007 at 10:56 AM

Originally posted by lencho
Originally posted by FARASHA
had a bodysearch once at a border, had to lift my top - and had NO bra :rolleyes: was extremely embarrassing

"Embarassing"? My dear Farasha, your English is excellent, but I fear this time you must be confused-- that part of the anatomy is lower and to the rear. :biggrin:


Well THIS part of my anatomy IS covered with at least a lacy something, when leaving home, unlike Fred! :lol: So would not have a problem with dropping my jeans! -:biggrin:

Fred - 4-2-2007 at 11:43 AM

Farasha - sorry no wife here she died 12 years ago. I was in mourning for a couple of years, but then starting heading down to Baja for 6 months every year to relax and start a new life. And besides I would have no problem dropping my shorts (don't wear jeans). LOL.


Baja Bernie - 4-2-2007 at 06:44 PM

Now that we are being totally silly...................did you have another wife somewhere else that did not die?

Please do not drop your shorts when you reply.

Fred - 4-2-2007 at 09:15 PM

No, no more wifes, but a few girlfriends along the way. 20 years of marriage with one who died suddenly was enough. Now it seems after a 1 1/2 in a relationship I drop my drawers and leave for baja. Will be crossing the "fun line" in a few weeks. Heading South along the Pacific Ocean.