Baja California: The Last Frontier?
Perhaps the Last Frontier
There can be few places left on the planet which has been so inhospitable to those who sought to settle and wrest a living from the soil, yet inspires in most visitors a sense of timelessness and awe in the tranquility, haunting beauty and silence.
Apart from the development at the southern tip at Los Cabos, or the bustle and confusion in Tijuana at the border, Baja remains as it has for millions of years, a practically waterless vastness of cactus, mountains and sandy desert, framed on all sides by the azure depths of the Sea of Cortez.
The roughly 1000-mile-long Baja Peninsula is divided into two States of the Republic of Mexico. Baja Norte (North) and Baja Sur ( South). It is the south that is less populous, that is the least well known and where can be found the sub-tropical ambience so beloved of thoise from colder climes. Here is found the whale-watching, the cave-art and the incredible sunsets of the capital, La Paz and the Cape region. Also in the far south are the tourist resorts, golf clubs and swanky marinas, most found in Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo, the last containing the international airport.
Baja sits between a gulf sea - that of Cortez to the east - and the mighty Pacific to the west. It is the unforgettable "Vermillion Sea," as the Sea of Cortez has been called, that forms the backdrop to the mountains, the many shades of green of the cactus and low-lying scrub, and home to the hundreds of islands that also form part of Baja. The sea is calm most of the time until a local "chubasco" or storm blows up and is ideal for all kinds of water sports as well as playing host to some of the world's top fishing.
No one who knows the "Pearl of the Baja," La Paz" meaning "The Peace" in English, needs an excuse to return. La Paz, the state's laid-back capital is, in the opinion of many, one of the nicest towns anywhere, for a multitude of reason, none more important than the friendliness of "La Pacenos," the towsfolk. La Paz lacks many of the hotels and resorts of the Cape locations 100-miles south. There are a couple of niteries, but the hedonism, drunkeness and conspicuous spending of Cabo doesn't belong here. Although it is slowly changing, La Paz is more a place for a long stay, for quiet meditation along the lovely malecon, or promenade; for enjoying coffee and a meal in the many places by the harbour, or even for shopping in the maze of streets between the front and the main plaza. There is top-class fishing and kayaking out to a nearby sealion colony, and there are a dozen good beaches south of town. One, Balandra Bay, is one of the loveliest anywhere in the world.
This part of Baja and La Paz have often been likened to an island. The reason being is they are seperated by 800 miles of narrow, two-way tarmac from the USA to the north, with very few villages on route, and 100 miles of heaving water to the east and the mainland of Mexico, reached only by an uncomfortable, overnight ferry trip. To the west, of course, there are thousands of miles of the Pacific, an expanse of turbulent ocean that is even treated with respect along the Mexican coasline. All goods have to be shipped in along the tortuous roads or carried across in the ferries. La Paz does have an international airport, but flights are fairly sporadic and airlines come and go. Many visitors from Canada, the USA and Europe, among other countries, have visitied La Paz only to quickly return and buy a home or business.
Mulege, to the north of La Paz, is a place for the adventurous who perhaps live a little in the past. There's not much tourist infrastructure and regulars would laugh at this label. But Mulege is one of only two places in Baja possessing at least the vestiges of a proper river. And where there is fresh water in Baja there is life, both animal and plant.
Thousands of fig trees add a south seas ambience to Mulege (Pronounced "mool-ah-hay"). They were planted many years ago and yield a substantial yearly harvest of dates. The state prison is also there, closed now, but in it's "heyday" home to loosely guarded criminals who were allowed to go and work or visit families during the day as long as they reported back at night for lockdown.
Just south of Mulege is 20-mile-long Bajia de Conception, one of the loveliest bodies of water anywhere in the world, complete with islands and mirror-calm water. You can camp all along the edge, often free, or for a few dollars per night. Great for kayaking, fishing, or drinking Bohemia - my favourite Mexican cerveza (beer).
One thing, you may want to avoid Mulege between June and September when the 100F-degree, plus, oven-like days can be hard to take. Of course, you can always stay in the air-conditioned hotel (there's a couple of small ones) and drink Bohemia!