By Karen Deal
Baja draws people of all sorts, many of whom are searching for something in this colorful, mysterious land. As a professional symphony orchestra conductor, my life has been rich, rewarding, and filled with beautiful music. But two years ago, after a 30 year career, I found myself unexpectedly unemployed at age 55. With no paycheck, no severance, and no health insurance, I was forced to sell everything, including my home. Suddenly I was among the mass of unemployed Americans struggling to figure out what to do next. Life as I knew it disappeared, my calendar was empty for the first time ever, and I had to figure out what to do.
Using international real estate prices as a primary source, I searched the globe for a spot to hang my hat. I needed an internet connection to apply for jobs and a place that would allow me to live as long as possible on the proceeds from selling my house. The requirements for this temporary, pre-retirement location included great weather, scenic beauty, water or mountains, bucket list adventures, and affordable health care. If I was going to be unemployed, I was going to do it in style. After months of searching, I discovered the tiny town of Mulege, in Baja California Sur, Mexico - an oasis in the desert alongside a peaceful bay, surrounded by spectacular mountains and home to untold species of marine and bird life. I packed my dogs, Jake and Skye, my laptop and flute, and began a 4500 mile solo journey from one coast to the other.
Twelve days after leaving Virginia, I approached the border crossing at Tecate. The cross country journey had been an important time for reflection and reading up on Baja. I found the Baja Bound website really helpful in answering my questions, calming my fears, and I was able to get my Mexican car insurance online. All my paperwork was in order and I was ready to make my first border crossing. To my delight, it was incredibly easy. The border guards waved me through with no inspection, so I stopped to get my 6 month visitor’s visa, and off we went.
The road from Tecate to Mulege is one of the most beautiful and interesting I have ever traveled. It is exciting. The highway is narrow, winding through the wine country and up to incredible plateaus with vista views for miles.
Arriving in Ensenada, I pulled over to look at the Pacific Ocean and realized that Jake and Skye had never seen a great body of water like this. We were all spellbound by the new sounds and smells, and the sea gulls and pelicans flying at eye level from our perch on a bluff.
The entire drive through Mexico was exquisite. The Baja Cactus Motel in El Rosario provided a very nice room, great bed, and allowed the dogs, all for only $28. A spectacular 12 hour drive through the El Vizcaino Biosphere Reserve filled the following day. The variation in terrain and diversity of cactus life was like driving through a National Geographic magazine. I kept wishing I was a geologist. Amazing rock formations, volcanoes, vast stretches of wildness abounded. It is one of those places where you want to stop every mile and take a picture.
There are no gas stations across this area, so I was careful to be prepared. Even so, I stopped and topped off the tank when I saw a Mexican family selling gas from a barrel in the back of his truck.
When we finally reached Santa Rosalia, I had my first view of the Sea of Cortez; a remarkable body of water that my childhood hero, Jacque Cousteau, called, "the aquarium of the world." The day was a feast for the eyes and senses and now as night fell, we arrived in Mulege. All was dark and quiet. I continued to drive until I saw a small, unlit sign marked, Posada. I saw a palapa full of people eating and drinking, so I got out of my car, walked over, and said, “Good evening, my name is Karen and I’ve driven all the way from Virginia. I’m an orchestra conductor - I just lost my job and I don’t really know where I’m supposed to be – so here I am.” In a flash I was given a glass of wine, a plate of food, a bowl of water for the dogs, and a place to stay for the night. Unknown to me, it was Valentine’s Day, 2012, and my heart felt full for the first time in a long time as I played Amazing Grace and My Funny Valentine for them on my flute. I found a group of friends and fellow adventurers, all drawn to Baja and the respite she provides.
I am building a new life in Mulege now, playing my flute and teaching classes. Baja fills the senses. And that bucket list, well so far I have watched humpback whales at play, snorkeled with several hundred manta rays jumping about, swum with a 26 foot whale shark, discovered a colony of endangered blue footed booby birds, released baby turtles into the Pacific, played my flute to some whales in San Ignacio, and kissed a baby grey whale on the nose. Not bad for being unemployed!