Mexico: The Familiar
When I used to think of Mexico. I always thought of the Baja. Of driving the thousands of miles of desert road and coastline; the remote bays nestled into the Gulf and the Pacific; and the arid desert landscape that seemed to stretch as far as the eye could see.
I love this Mexico – the familiar Mexico – the slow pace, the different approach to life, the friendly people and the remoteness of the small towns.
I spent many Christmas’ during my adolescence in the Baja. My dad would pack up our camper and drive the 2,926 km over snowy mountain passes and desert highway to Bahia de los Angeles, a little known camping spot nestled in an un-inhabited bay on the Sea of Cortez. Although I have not been there in many years, that place has left a vivid imprint in my mind.
Bahia de los Angeles – or the Bay of Lost Angels - is situated on the edge of the extremely arid, San Felipe Desert and looks out over a dozen islands speckling the horizon. One of which looms over the rest, an inactive volcano on the Isla Coronada stands like an overbearing guardian next to the bay. At it’s northern point, the bay juts out into the sea. A steep hill lies at the tip of the point and at the summit a lone cross can be seen.
Further adding to the areas mystic is it’s history. In 1539, Bahia de los Angeles was discovered by the last expedition financed by Hernan Cortez, “Cortez the Killer.” In the early 1700‘s, a loading dock was built by the Europeans to explore the Mission San Borja and by the 1900‘s Bahia de los Angeles became an important exporter of gold and silver obtained from the mines of Sierra San Borja, San Juan and Santa Martha. Now much of the area is deserted. However, remnants of the past still linger and empty tail mines can still be found in the area. We used to hike out to these mines to collect copper tailings and on cold Baja nights we would huddle around the fire, throwing these “magic rocks” into the flames and watching them turn blue, purple, green and turquoise.
We were eventually forced to look for a new area to explore when a large hotel chain bought up all the surrounding land. To my knowledge nothing has been built yet, but the area is now private property. Bahia de los Angeles holds a special place in my heart and when I think about traveling in Mexico, my thoughts first linger on this place. But over time we have discovered other wonderful Baja gems, such as La Ventana, Bahia des la Muerte and La Paz.
To me the Baja was Mexico. Of course, I knew that the country was much bigger than this little peninsula, but for some reason no other place in Mexico that I had been to resonated with me. The Baja has left such a vivid imprint that I was beginning to wonder whether there was anywhere within the rest of the country that could compare.
To answer that question, I had to expand my horizons and finally plan a longer, more in-depth, trip to mainland Mexico!
Next up, Mexico: The Unknown.