For about 12 years (1989-2001) I’d go to Baja California every chance I got. 3-4 times a year, for stays of 4 days to 3 weeks. I fell in love with the place as soon as I got out into the blue Sea of Cortez on a ferry headed for La Paz one fine Spring day. Desert, beach, waves, plants, birds, stars at night, warm water, blue blue skies. I drove from La Paz through Todos Santos, Cabo San Lucas, and to San José del Cabo, old Spanish-style town on the southern tip of Baja.
One day I walked into a small gift shop and met 26-year old Isidro (Chílón) Amora, a native of Mexico City. We hit it off immediately. He was another explorer, he searched out fossil sites, cave paintings, remote beaches, waterfalls in magic canyons, and knew the history of the Los Cabos area, its discovery by the Spanish in the 1500s, the English pirate ships terrorizing Spanish galleons, the original inhabitants — the strong and beautiful Pericua tribe.
Over the years Chílón and I criss-crossed Baja, either in my desert converted VW Baja bug, or his rail (dune buggy). We camped on beaches and in arroyos, visited remote ranchos, old missions, found hot springs, ate in a hundred taco stands. We’d go to places where I was the only gringo. I loved that! I got inside the culture. Chílón knew the cool local restaurants, bars, taco stands, nightclubs, art galleries – places I’d never have found on my own.
It also helped that he was a local celebrity due to his 2-hour children’s talk/music show on Sundays. He played “Periquín,” a parrot with a kind of high, birdlike voice and talked to the kids. His trademark was a trill, like when you flutter your tongue against the rood of your mouth, Rrrrrrrrr. All Los Cabos kids listened to him. He played rock and roll and reggae, told the kids to respect their parents, kids got to talk on the air. As we’d walk down the streets, people would go Rrrrrrrrrr in passing. There was a wave of good will wherever he went, and I coasted along in his wake. I got to see Baja from a Mexican point of view, far different from the standard gringo/Baja wavelength — at their most receptive and revealing.
We launched a newspaper, El Correcaminos, that turned out great, but never got past its first issue Always in the back of my mind was a book on Baja. I shot thousands of pictures over the years, made notes, accumulated over 50 books on Baja. I was into it!
My love affair with Baja didn’t end, but the exigencies of my publishing business and the need to get some books (including Homework) done, intervened, and I quit going down there about 4 years ago.
Last week I went down for 5 days, to hang out with Chílón, to witness the profound developmental changes in Los Cabos, to take another look. In my next posting I’ll add a few photos and comments. On this trip I realized that, with the unique perspective I’ve had through Chílón, as well as my other Mexican friends Fino (local surfer dude), and Yuca (“pocho” hotelier, deal-maker), I had (have) a ton of unique material for a book. Suddenly, the Baja book, which had been on the back burner has taken on a reality. Maybe 2007. This project now makes sense, especially with the large numbers of people going to the region, there’s an audience not only among North Americans, but with travelers from other countries. I’m working on my Builders of the Northwest Coast now, but this looks like the next major book. Hey it’s so great to get excited about something, to have a book hove into view like this. This just clicked.
La Paz is a great town right now. It’s a lot more real than Cabo San Lucas or San José del Cabo (or Todos Santos.) Sure gringos are there in force, but it’s still a Mexican town.
Chilón and I stayed up all Saturday night, then went out to Coyote Beach at dawn on Sunday (east of Tecolote) to watch the sunrise, which was pink due to cloud cover. I jumped in the 70-degree water for a sunrise swim. On the way back to town we came upon these turkey buzzards drying their wings on cardon cacti.
Sale y vale,*
*Mexican slang for “goodbye,” pronounced sah-lay vah-lay. Try it next time you’re saying goodbye to a Mexican, instead of “adios.” It always gets a great reaction.