The saguaro stretch their arms high, tall sentinels spreading out in vast quantities, a forest unlike any I have ever seen. The heat of the day soaks into my bones, the windows are down, my feet are hanging out the window and my hair, unwashed for days, is floating around my face. We’re halfway across the Baja peninsula as we cross from the Sea of Cortez to the Pacific side, and halfway through a week-long overland journey. Our trucks are coated in a fine tan dust, our bodies tired but our spirits full. There’s something about an unplanned adventure that feeds the soul. We knew where we were going before we came, sure, but we didn’t know where we’d stay, what we’d do during our days, what routes we’d choose to take. Baja, with its wide open expanses, was the perfect canvas with which to paint this adventure. Three days before, we’d woke up in the dust outside of Slab City, California. A group of five, we had only a road map and a few ideas of what adventures we could have. We crossed the border in Mexicali. I’d heard stories of how dangerous it could be but all was calm, and as we drove out of town into the desert I took a long deep breath—there was nothing but vast spaciousness and sand, and just out sight, the Sea of Cortez in all it’s salty blue glory. Very few cars passed us on the way down the peninsula—many were adventure rigs similarly outfitted as our two Tacomas—and we passed over miles and miles of tarmac through a Mars-esque environment. That first night a dust storm drove us to find shelter outside of Alfonsina, a tiny seaside town with excellent fish tacos, but we awoke the next morning to blue skies and breakfast on the porch of a cabin that was somehow even bluer than the skies. From there we meandered—we explored, we drove, we stopped when we wanted to. We ate fish tacos everywhere we went, cooked carne asada on a sea stone, watched the sun rise and set in its golden-hued glory each day. We traded our beer for fish from a local fisherman, fresh-caught and still kicking. We cooked over open fires, started our days with coffee and ended them with the cheap Mexican beer we didn’t trade, the firelight dancing off our faces as we huddled under our blankets, the sea chill colder than we’d expected. It always takes me a few days to relax when I’m on a trip—like my brain takes a few days to catch up with my body. There’s nowhere to be, no real schedule, and then one morning I’ll wake up and I feel different. More playful, more creative, more weird. The chronic busyness of normal life, so hectic and burgeoning with to-dos, is gone, and I can finally just be where I am. We camped on an isthmus in Bahía de los Ángeles for a few nights and kayaked around the bay, the kelp a shimmering brown dancing in the vivid green-blue of the Sea of Cortez. We watched a seal feeding at sunset, got chased away by the wind, and let the sound of the crashing waves sing us to sleep. Punta Baja, our last stop, was wild and empty, and for our last two nights we camped on a mud cliff crumbling it’s way into the Pacific. In the heat of the day, we’d lie on sun-soaked rocks, the spray of the water soothing on our feet, the pelicans dancing their way over the waves for entertainment. We hiked the beach, sand in our toes, exploring tide pools and collecting driftwood, worn smooth by salt and time. We go to places like this, so barren and yet full, feral and untamed, for our own reasons—to explore the mental spaciousness that seems to only come in silence, to rest our eyes on landscapes uncorrupted by an excess of pavement and modern prosperity, to dance with spontaneity. To explore a culture so different from our own. The people in these rural Baja towns don’t have much, but they had open arms and friendly smiles and were as welcoming as if we were friends already. There’s a real value in traveling, and it’s a great privilege to be able to do so. Each time I try and see the world through a different set of eyes. Baja reminded me that sometimes in order to really breathe, you need to take a step back to a world that’s a little more basic, a little simpler, and a little more real.
Saguaro, sunsets and the Sea of Cortez make for a Mexicali adventure Aly Nicklas won't soon forget.