Mike Younghusband walks his talk. He has walked the length of the Baja California peninsula with a burro named Don-Kay and a rescue dog named Sola-Vino. At the perfect moment in his life he happened upon Graham Mackintosh's books, Into a Desert Place and Journey with a Baja Burro. Inspired by Graham's love of Baja and his courage to know it beyond a simple vacation, an idea was born. "I was looking for fulfillment and boy did I get it!" Major planning was needed for his six month journey. Graham became his mentor in the undertaking. Mike searched for a burro that would become his travel companion and it was important to find the right fit. Fully outfitted he was sent off with a big fanfare in October, 2010 from Rancho Ojai. Little did he know that his first day would be "a Hell Day."
Mike couldn't leave behind his buddies, Max and Rusty, both rescue Chihuahua mixes with very short legs. One mile into the journey Don-Kay decided he didn't want to go any further. He flopped down in the road. Mike talked, begged, threatened; no go. Resorting to a long thin twig he flicked it at Don-Kay's stubborn behind, scaring Max who ran off into the bushes. Mike leashed Rusty to avoid another run away. In order to get the stubborn burro up, he had to completely unpack 200 pounds of gear. The willful Don-Kay, finally up and repacked, headed back to the ranch. Mike had Rusty leashed in one hand and a stubborn burro headed for home in the other. Then it started to rain! "I had made one mile and there was 1,200 more to go!" He made camp in the rain, having walked only two and a half miles his first day, thinking, "What have I done?"
Undaunted, Mike set up a personal commitment to walk 15 miles a day, starting at 9:00am, walking until 4:00pm with no breaks. "I learned you don't give a burro a siesta, because it is impossible to get them started again and repacking is a big job." Four days into the walk, the valiant travelers stopped for water at Rancho Japa. There a white long-haired pup adopted Mike. She followed him down the road and refused to be turned around. Sola-Vino became the fifth member of the team.
Mike and Graham set up two meeting places along the way. "Have you ever been in a situation where you have nothing to drink except warm water? It's a real eye opener. You realize you won't have your favorite drink and it will not be cold for a long time." The thoughtful Graham, brought in pizza and beer for their first meeting. One can only imagine the heavenly experience. At this point Michael had to make a very difficult decision. Max and Rusty, hardy little souls that they were, were showing signs of being too stressed to continue. With a sad heart he sent his short-legged companions back with Graham. Sola-Vino continued on to finish the journey by his side.
In any journey there is a point of no return. Mike faced physical and life threatening hardships and joyous moments of the exquisite pristine Baja California that few ever experience. By the end of the grueling walk he had lost 43 pounds. A true traveler immerses himself in the full experiences of the moment. While there is a destination, the journey itself is the point of it all. "The adventure and solitude, along with the day to day surprises kept me turned on." The trio walked into Cabo San Lucas, March, 2011. "During this trip I lost all fear. I came to trust myself and found that being alone can be a rewarding experience."
I visited Mike in Loreto where he now lives. Don-Kay stays on a nearby rancho with his new mule friend, Mule-Hey. I wanted to hear Mike's stories first hand. Sola-Vino gazed up at him with great adoring eyes as he spun his story, keeping me amazed at his outrageous experiences and laughed at his wit. I asked how it felt to have come to the end of his amazing journey. Even with all physical hardship he said, "I would have walked back. I didn't want it to end." Mike has not stopped his exploration of the wonders of Baja California. "I like to do things I have never done before." He grins and shared his latest exploration - a six day drive from San Javier to the Pacific. He camped and followed a part of the original El Camino Real down the back side of the Sierra de la Giganta mountains to the coast. The peninsula actually flattens out and the going is fairly easy on the west side of the mountains. Four-wheel drive is suggested due to loose sand.
Along this route to the coast he met people who were the guardians of two Cochimi Indian settlements. A hidden cave, untouched, has paintings, fire rings and pottery shards laying just as they were left. In Palo Chino there were more than two dozen matas with the manos (hands) still laying where the women sat grinding machaca. Further on he discovered huge lakes, palm groves and streams. "Water was everywhere!" Finally reaching the coastline of Santo Domingo Valley he visited the sheltered mangrove lagoons, exploring the beaches. Many fishcamps work cultivating oyster beds in the hidden inlets. "I met some friendly Mexicans who offered to show me how to open the oysters, "I slurped one down and waited to see if it was going to come backup!" Mike is a great storyteller and it is clear that his love affair with Baja is a never ending story. Mike's outlook, "Life is an adventure, no matter how it turns out."
He welcomes readers to chat about Baja California's true adventures off the main road. Contact email: spi619(at)hotmail.com
Martina's email: mteomaya(at)gmail.com