There is always a rush of anticipation whenever I unfold my map of Baja California. It is an instant promise of adventure waiting to be experienced. Sometimes I smooth out the folds and like to just relive the past, visiting in my memory the places where I camped, lived and fell in love with a most remarkable land. Baja California remains for me one of the last frontiers and the Gulf of California shines like a sapphire jewel nestled in a treasure chest of volcanic mountains.
My sister and I made our first trip to Finnistera, Land's End, in the early 1990s. We were packed into my 1978 orange VW bug and traveling on a very limited budget. We never once considered not going because we were women. We took our time, immersed ourselves in the sense of freedom that only the open roads of Baja can offer. Our travel was without incident, and we never felt threatened, only thrilled at every bend in the road.
I realized if I was going to fill my thirst for the hidden beauties of Baja, I could not wait for friends to get time off from work, or untangled from relationships to go with me, so I just started throwing my tent into my car and going south. It surprises most people when I share with them my experiences of undertaking the trips on my own. But the Baja Bug's bite was very serious, and there was no way I could not respond to the wanderlust. I chose where I traveled based on being a smart solita, and so I did my due diligence about gas stations, mileage and more reasonable destinations.
El Coyote on the Meling Ranch is a favorite of mine. A working cattle ranch in the rolling foot hills of the 10,000 ft Sierra San Pedro Martir national park. The ranch is entirely off the grid with solar and a wind generated water source. The campsites are under trees and the night star filled sky. There is even a swimming pool for the hot summer season. From there an intense switchback two lane road ventures into the highest peaks in northern Baja and the national park that houses the second largest telescope in the world.
If it is exquisite beauty beyond imagining, I head for the Gulf of California, and the little fishing village of Mulege. I have pitched my tent at the edge of the glistening waters, drunk in the amazing colors of sunrise and sun set. The days are quiet and this is sea-shelling heaven. Fresh fish and vegetables are delivered right to the campsite. A recent hurricane swept away my favorite palapa shown here. I missed it last time I was down as if it was the loss of my second home.
I must admit I have had my experiences with the military check stops, and the local policia, mostly because of curiosity about how a gringa travels alone. I have found with a little Spanish and ample courtesy all has worked out well and interior checks were superficially done. However, more recently there is a crack down and the stops are taken more seriously. Single women have to be street smart anywhere in the world. One rule is you do not do in Mexico what you would not do at home - with your grandmother looking over your shoulder. Respecting the culture and the way of life of the Mexican people goes a long way in assuring a good experience.
I have had my car troubles out in the middle of nowhere. But I can assure travelers that the best place for a single woman to break down is in Mexico. All my women friends profess the same experience. Mexicans know how to fix anything in the most unique ways, and a flat tire or dead battery is no obstacle.
Take the step across the border and into this unique travel experience. Be road wise as you would anywhere, pick up a Spanish dictionary, learn some travel dialog and do talk to the people along the way. It is the best way to learn your Spanish and the warmth of the Mexican heart. Since that first trip south, I have moved to Baja living north of Ensenada for 12 years, but this is another story.
Martina's email: mteomaya(at)gmail.com