Saturday, February 26, 2011

Baja, More Than Just Whales

(Warning: this post is long and rambling with no focused direction; kind of like our road-trip.)

Although our whale adventure was the reason we came to Baja, we have thoroughly enjoyed many other aspects of this part of Mexico. We've spent a total of 2 weeks exploring this peninsula, and it's been so nice to use the Spanish that we learned in Costa Rica. Everyone here has been very friendly, and we've made several new friends.

Even though everyone said to avoid border-towns such as Tijuana, we crossed the border there on I-5 and (besides a little construction traffic) made it to Ensenada safely and quickly for our first night in Mexico. Here's George watching our first sunset in Mexico.

We met a nice couple, Don and Kim, who have been traveling in their rig all over the world. Among other adventures, they have driven to the tip of South America and written a book about it. They gave us lots of tips about Baja, and inspired me to do more traveling in Central and South America. They also used to own a laundromat in Arizona, and even though they sent their computer boards to our major competitor, we still had a great time talking to them.

They also recommended that we hit the Ensenada Fish Market, which we did the next morning.

We decided to get breakfast at a nearby taco stand, and there were many to choose from. This one had a beautiful display of hot sauces, and we were sold.

You know you're in Mexico when you're having fish tacos with a selection of 4 different hot sauces at 9 in the morning! Yum!

Besides whale-watching, we had several other adventures while visiting Heather and Michael in Loreto, Baja Sur. We would stop at beautiful beaches like these to have lunch when we were on the water.

Here's George snorkeling in the cold, clear water that's so rich with life. There was so much krill in the water, that I felt like I was swimming through a cloud of tiny shrimp. No wonder the whales love it here.

Loreto is also the home of the first Catholic Mission on the Baja peninsula. It marks the beginning of the historic El Camino Real, the path of Catholic expansion and missions which extended into California as far north as San Francisco in the 1700's.

Throughout our travels in California, we kept crossing the El Camino Real and had visited the Mission of Santa Barbara, so it was interesting to come to the beginning of this historical route of religious conquest.

"The Head and Mother of the Missions" was built in Loreto in 1697, and still stands strong as the center of this beautiful Mexican town.

Heather and Michael took us up into the mountains to the small isolated village of San Javier, where the 2nd mission in Baja was built.

San Javier is located along an oasis, and there are fields and fruit trees growing around the mission.

There is a magical, twisted, old olive tree which grows behind the mission. It was planted here originally when the missionaries first came to this area, over 300 years ago. Gaelan loved playing in it's limbs!

We took a beautiful hike which followed the oasis and meandered through an old orchard of citrus trees and grape vines. Here's a perfectly ripe bergamot orange.

This is a species of fig tree that is endemic to Baja. These trees cling to the rocks with their entangled roots.

Here's a few other photos from that hike.

We visited another oasis-mission town on our journey back north. We camped beside this beautiful oasis in San Ignacio for one night and enjoyed the water-birds during the day and the frogs at night. An oasis is such a gem in the middle of the desert.

Here is the San Ignacio Mission. The missions get more ornate as the missionaries moved north.

Baja has a salt factory around Guerro Negro, and we drove through the saltworks on the way to the lagoon where we watched the gray whales. Here's a few of the "salt fields".

We came upon this tarantula nearby, as well.

Our adventures continued as we headed north. We cut across the width of the peninsula via a very long and rough sand road.

We passed by "Coco's Corner", home of Coco who was unfortunately in the hospital when we passed by. It is a favorite stop for the Baja 1000 racers. We signed the guest book and were offered our choice of either Coca-cola or a can of beer. George got a beer, which seems to be the best seller, judging by the decor of hundreds of beer cans which surround this place and make up the "Coco's Corner" sign.

Our next destination was Gonzaga Bay, on the Sea of Cortez in Northern Baja.

Two weeks earlier, a woman named Jane had flagged us down at a stop-light in California to compliment us on our van. It turns out that she and her husband, Sam, were heading to their house in Baja on the Gonzaga Bay the next day, and she invited us to come stay a night with them.

We took her up on her sweet offer, and had a great time exploring their unique "campo" on the beach. Most of the "beach shacks" were old trailers with new additions. Except for the desert and the sea, this place reminded me of home!

This village is many hours away from a paved road, and most of the folks here have dune buggies. Sam and Jane used to drive down here in their early 1970's VW van, back in the day when it was a LONG 12 hour drive from the nearest paved road to the north. They are still Volkswagen enthusiasts, and Sam took George for a ride in his VW Thing through the dunes and on the beach. Now George is hooked and wants to trade in the van for a Thing!

The next day we continued our bumpy ride heading north through "back Baja".

At the northern edge of the Sea of Cortez, where the once wide delta of the Colorado River meets the Gulf of California, we came upon this extremely barren landscape.

I can only imagine that this was once a fertile river delta which was teeming with life. Now it's the most lifeless landscape I've ever seen, except for this monkey.

As we continued northward beyond the nearly dry river bed of the Colorado, the landscape changed dramatically. The Colorado was an actual river once again, and we had entered the verdant "sponge" of the Colorado.

What a difference water can make!

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