After spending a couple very beautiful days in Valle de Guadalupe with some dear friends, I pushed south into unknown territory. I have driven south through Mexico before but always on the mainland, and I had no idea what was in store for me driving down the Baja peninsula. Little did I know, I was about to have what so far has been the most beautiful road trip of my life.
It started out normally enough, and I stopped along the highway just south of Ensenada to have some of the fish and shrimp tacos the area is so famous for. I spotted a little stand called La Sirenita (the little mermaid), pulled up to it, and was greeted by a wonderful Mexican couple who made me some of the best shrimp tacos I’ve ever had! Pure deliciousness.
About 2 hours further south, I lost the rest of my exhaust system right up to the catalytic converter (or rather heard the now familiar scraping sound). I pulled over to wrench it off and wish it good riddance. The part I wired up sat silently, and I warned that stubborn piece of metal that soon it, too, would meet a similar fate one way or another. When I started up the engine again, it burst to life with a shocking roar and Carlito found his true voice. We were soon making our way merrily down the highway, scattering birds from the trees and making cows flinch.
As the day wore on, the towns became increasingly scattered and the countryside more and more beautiful. I had seen Baja Cali on a map and knew that there was a large stretch that was relatively uninhabited, but as I drove along with about a half a tank of gas I was blissfully unaware that soon I would realize the word “relatively” was to become “completely and utterly”! The day was waning as I passed the last small town and the road curved inland to the desert. Carlito ate up the miles and we floated along in a cool desert, recently kissed by rain. The sunset was amazing, and I drove until there were no more twilight sights before deciding to park for the night, so as not to miss seeing one inch of the beauty around me.
The place I found to park was not ideal, as it was too close to the highway for comfort. However, I was able to get a distance of almost 50 metres and there was an outside curve nearby, so I knew the chances of getting smoked by a sleepy driver during the night were nil. I set up my bunk and fell asleep not long after it was completely dark.
I was snapped awake by a semi blasting by during the night, and my eyes opened upon a strange and magical world. While I was sleeping the (almost) full moon had risen, and the entire scene was now bathed in its light. I slid out of my bunk and sat for a minute, staring around. Strangely enough, it was almost as if Carlito was a submarine and I was in some mysterious underwater realm. The tall spires of cactuses seemed to float upwards into space, and the sky was exploding with stars. The feeling was indescribable, and I was overcome by an urge to explore this alien landscape. All tiredness slipped away. I fumbled for my camera and stepped out of the car. Finding the night setting on my camera, I began to take pictures as I walked into the desert and here is the result:
The desert was alive with the fluttering of bats, the hooting of owls and the subdued sounds of various other night creatures. The feeling of being underwater remained in a big way, and now I had the sense of snorkelling in a marine botanical garden. Occasionally I would flash my headlamp on and see the brilliant purple spines of a cactus, or the delicate hues of a blooming desert flower. A large bird that had been roosting on a magnificent saguaro cactus was disturbed by my presence and took to the sky, its wingbeats filling the air with an ominous whooshing. I wandered that dreamscape for a couple hours, taking pictures and feeling totally immersed in magic, before finally floating back to Carlito and into a blissful sleep.
Dawn came, and the magic was still there. I caught the mist lifting off the desert to feed the sun, and lost no time in throwing on my shoes for another walk. I hiked to the top of a butte and examined an endless vista of desolate paradise. I have never seen a desert so bursting with biodiversity, and lost count of the number of different species of plants there were. What’s more, they all seemed to be arranged in a huge botanical array whose beauty and artistic composition no human could compete with.
Upon cresting the plateau, I remembered to take a video and filmed it in such a way that I hoped those close to me would feel as if they were there. I felt like a child again, my senses all simultaneously keyed up and experiencing something new. The awe and reverence I felt in that time, for that place, has stuck with me since then and I feel so fortunate to have had a camera that could capture those moments.
Finally, with the sun climbing high in the sky, I reluctantly descended the butte to Carlito and made a pot of coffee for the journey ahead. As we rolled back onto the highway I checked the gas gauge—a quarter tank left. The sign down the road listed the next town as being some 280 kilometres away and although I had a full gas can in the trunk, my calculations were not looking good. But in that moment, I really didn’t care; I felt as if I could wander that desert forever and die happy surrounded by such beauty. I decided to breathe easy and leave my fate to the road ahead.