Drifting off to sleep, with thoughts of the comments of people that had warned against spending the night here, was not so easy. But, in what felt like an instant later, I was surprised at the pre-dawn light sifting through the tent, gently waking me up.
It was the first opportunity to get a look at the area, and I was truly stunned. I knew roughly where we were, and roughly what we’d be able to see from this beach – but, actually waking up to see it with your own eyes is another thing entirely. Right there, in all its prickly beauty was Isla Danzante. Now more than ever, the elongated silhouette reminded me of a stretched out dinosaur.
While I was admiring the views, I noticed an older couple make their way up a trail just to the side of the beach. Almost instinctually, I grabbed the camera, and also rushed to make my way up the trail to catch this sunrise from a higher vantage point. We’d barely had enough time to wake up, and were now frantically hiking up a steep and loose gravel trail.
But, as the sun started to light up the tips of the Sierra de la Giganta behind us, I was exceptionally grateful to have woken early – and caught a glimpse of neighbours making their way up a trail, that I otherwise would not have known existed. There was a rock with a crudely drawn map of the trail network, which at least gave some idea of where the trails led.
It didn’t take long for me to regret not grabbing some water, as these trails were considerably longer than I’d given them credit, and the rapidly rising sun was bringing the heat along with it.
As has been the case for the majority of this trip, there was this intense feeling of solitude, with only a minor sense of settlement, and great untapped areas ripe for exploration. One of those was a canyon that cracked deep into the near sheer face of the Sierra de la Giganta. There was very little information on the area, but we’d read that there was a possible route up to the summit – although, judging from his experience, maybe not one we should really attempt, especially after our free-style trail navigation experiences yesterday…
I was exceptionally excited at climbing this amazing trail, and the stunning views that it brought along with it. Photos will never do justice to the sheer scale of this area, with truly amazing 360˚ views.
While I was just drinking it all in, I could hear the sounds of shovels/picks chipping away at the rocks just below us. I’d realised that the couple I’d seen earlier were out here building/maintaining the trails. I was so overwhelmed with the hike that I had to go down to find them, and thank them for their hard work. I learnt that the original set of trails were the work of a Vietnam vet, who did this as a form of physical (and mental) rehabilitation. This Canadian couple spent their winters down here (honestly couldn’t blame them), and have taken up the task of maintaining and extending the network of trails each morning to stay busy/active. They were just about to head back to their camp, their day’s work done, and I was suddenly cognizant of just how hot/tired/hungry/thirsty I was feeling.
We asked them about the canyon that we could see in the distance, and they confirmed that it was hikeable – at least for a distance. That was all we needed to know, so before it got too hot, we ate, drank, and packed up camp to go and explore.
The Canadian couple had called it Steinback Gorge, though they weren’t really sure what it was called (and it certainly wasn’t in Google Maps), so we didn’t really know. Our boots were still soaking wet from having to walk through the water after misjudging a trail around a peninsular on a hike yesterday. So, rather than suffer through soggy shoes, we opted to hike in Tevas and socks – an old favourite.
The hiking started pretty easy, with a large opening, littered with large boulders. There was no official trail, but it was easy to pick a line through openings. It was always consoling when we’d think maybe we’d taken a wrong turn, only to see several other footprints in the sand that had also come this way – not that it’s any indication that we hadn’t just fallen into the same mistakes!
The gorge slowly started to close in around us, with walls stretching up higher, and squeezing in tighter. As we got further up the gorge, the small stream gradually gained more and more water, with occasional little cascades falling in places. The canyon gave some shelter from the heat, but still, it was certainly hot enough to enjoy a quick splash in these perfect pools – but, not until the way back.
And, the way back was sooner than expected, as the trail eventually got to a point that required a little light bouldering up a 3m face. With regular shoes, it’d be a fairly easy challenge, but in Tevas, it was just a little too sketchy to be worthwhile.
We’d considered removing shoes and attempting it barefoot, but, unsure of what other obstacles remained ahead (and aware that there was still a very long drive ahead), we reluctantly accepted the limit of what we were able to do/see, and made our way back down (and enjoyed a quick shower under the small cascades, and a soak in the perfectly formed pools).
As alluded to, there was long journey ahead – about 450km. The stunning sights of the rugged Sierra de la Giganta slowly flattened out, replaced with vast stretches of cacti and flat arid lands. Even the roads stopped trying to be entertaining, with long boring stretches of dead straight highway.
Learning our lessons from driving north a few days ago, when we saw the opportunity to buy some food at Ciudad Insurgentes, we stopped to eat, knowing that there were very few other towns along this stretch of highway. It was the kind of roadside place that both made me excited, and slightly nervous. The ever present oppressive heat was matched by a thick cloud of flies swarming around the piles of roasted meat. This was not your carefully cleaned restaurant, but rather the place you can see chefs butchering animals just beyond the last of the indoor tables. It was also the place you could get two large plates of mouth-watering tacos, with meat ripe with flavour, and so tender and juicy you almost need not bother to chew for $5.
The driving continued, and the afternoon quickly faded into evening as we finally arrived in the outskirts of La Paz. The plan was to spend the evening at a surf camp in El Pescadero, on the western coast of the peninsular – which was still 100km away.
Night had well and truly fallen by the time we arrived, but the surf camp was a hostel up in the hills, far from the ocean, and it didn’t seem like a place worth staying. There were a few camp sites listed on the beach at Cerritos, which sounded like a more exciting proposition.
However, as we were driving down the access road to the beach, I had to stop for the largest spider I’d ever seen in my life, casually strolling across the road. The logical part of my mind knew that they aren’t harmless – but the lizard brain did not want to be setting up camp in the dark, and sleeping with monsters like this roaming around.
Thankfully there were some (surprisingly affordable) huts available for rent right here on this beach. Plus, it was my birthday (tomorrow), so worth a little bit of luxury, right?
I slept an amazing and deep sleep, free of mosquitos (and tarantulas). I was still awake early enough for sunrise – which was sadly a non-event. Walking around the deserted beach, admiring the rows and rows of mountains stacked back into the distance behind us, and the rows and rows of barrels rolling in front of us, I was once again struck by just how remote this area feels. Sure, there were several resort complexes in the area, including the one that we were staying in, yet still it maintained this wild and raw feeling, free from mass development.
I generally don’t do much to celebrate my birthday, not because I am in denial (which isn’t just a river in Africa), but probably more because I’m boring. Anyway, it was an amazing place to be spending a birthday, and made me feel happy to be alive – even if the anniversary does also reiterate the slow inevitable march towards death.
After a basic breakfast by the resort swimming pool, complete with the first coffee in over a week, it was time to try my hand at surfing. I’d taken my first basic lesson in Bolinas, just a little north of San Francisco last year, but hadn’t been back into the waters since. While I was able to stand and ride the baby waves of Bolinas without much problem (thanks to giant foam boards), the (still relatively baby) waves that were crashing here seemed to be much more of a challenge. The resort had a small rental stand that allowed me to pick-and-choose boards, to try out different sizes/compositions to find something that suited my style/ability.
It was much, much harder than what I’d faced in Bolinas, but I was managing to ride every other wave (with some form of control) by the end of the day. It was overcast, and the wind was cool, yet the waters were still warm enough to enjoy without needing a wetsuit. It was such a small thing, but felt like a luxury after living in San Francisco and being far too scared to touch the frigid waters.
Struggling in the waves certainly worked up an appetite, and after a (few) celebratory tequila, it was time to treat myself (further) to a fancy dinner – at a neighbouring hotel where a single night would have cost more than the entire trip to date! The sunset was a non-event, but at least the food/wine was utterly fantastic. The sunset was so hidden that we had to use Sky Map to even work out where the sun was – and to know when it had actually dipped below the horizon!
All good things come to an end, and this trip to Baja had certainly been a good thing! The flight wasn’t until around lunch time, and with the airport just over an hour away, there was time for an early morning surf – the rental had been for 24hrs, after all. It was colder, windier and greyer than it had been yesterday, so the initial plunge was just that little harder. I couldn’t quite find my groove, and seriously struggled to ride the smaller and choppier waves today.
I shook out as much sand from my clothing, and did my best to cram all my clothing back into my hiking pack. As always, I’d seriously over packed, and out of laziness hadn’t quite bothered with fresh clothes every day – though, being in close confinement in my bag with other clothes that got several sweaty runs means it’ll all need to be washed when I get home anyway.
The drive to the airport was probably the nicest stretch of road we’d encountered yet – probably because it was a toll road. We’d left plenty of time, and everything went smoothly.
There was one last stop before the flight though – filling up with Mexican snacks from a 7/11! Those chocolate covered marzapan, and the chilli-lime peanuts are the stuff of dreams – and thankfully being in San Francisco, there are plenty of latino supermarkets to restock once I get back.
Baja had been so much more than I could have anticipated, and am glad to have eschewed the resorts and party towns to spend time in the nature as much as possible. Looking back at these photos again now as I write this, I still remember the awe from the vast undeveloped landscapes.