Tips for Staying Alive in Baja

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Baja is undeniably beautiful. I have never witnessed a place of such contrasts. One day, you might be trekking through sand dunes as far as the eye can see in search of life. To your despair (and wonder), you can only find bone-dry turtle shells, hollowed-out pelican bones, and the occasional eerie dolphin carcass. The shifting white sands whip beneath your feet as the landscape comes and goes while you stand still. On these days, you feel like you’re living on another planet. Tatooine or Jakku perhaps.

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Give it three more days, and you will be amazed to find the incredible biodiversity of marine life under the surface at Los Islotes. Hundreds of tropical fish scurry away from you (my favorite being the parrotfish) while you free dive 40 feet beneath the surface to find all sorts of starfish and crab going about their merry lives. Because the water is so clear, you can see the itty-bitty snorkelers at the surface while sun rays shine down and you have a moment of calm respite before you ascend. On your way up, 4 or 5 sea lion adolescents might join you while they do barrel rolls around you in an elaborate game of tag.

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Then there are the islands where everything wants to kill you. Take Isla Catalina; a seemingly enchanted island from far away characterized by mountains, a turquoise blue beach, and otherworldly cactus. However, I’m convinced this island has ulterior motives. For example, this island is home to the infamous rattleless rattlesnake. That’s right, they’re just as venomous as normal rattlesnakes but they can’t warn you when they feel threatened in a cruel twist of evolution. Also, narrow cliff tops set by loose, crumbly stones. And when you fall, you will be guaranteed a thorny cushion to make sure you go numb while you spend half an hour plucking inch long needles out of your body.

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Yes, Baja has all of the above, and I have been lucky enough to experience it. However, I wish I had been more prepared for certain longer adventures when things went awry, so I will share my newfound Baja wisdom with you before you make the same mistakes next time you find yourself here:

  1. Wear more sunscreen than you have skin. And a hat. All the time. You’re going to burn. You know, just go ahead and sleep with both.
  2. Bring more than one bottle of water when you leave for an entire day of hiking in the desert. You won’t regret the extra weight and you won’t be hallucinating flamingoes on mountaintops.
  3. Always bring a bandana. These things are life-savers. I use mine for sun protection, wiping the sweat and dirt from my face, picking cactus thorns out of my legs and arms, and quelling bleeding wounds. Also, try to remember to wash it once in a while.
  4. Carry a radio. I go off by myself pretty often, and knowing my track record, I anticipate sticky situations. Especially when there be rattleless rattlesnakes roaming about.
  5. Ditch the snorkel if you’re a good enough swimmer. It’ll slow you down and those sea lions/whale sharks like to swim fast.
  6. Always bring your camera everywhere, but don’t always take pictures.
  7. Try to get yourself marooned on a beach at night. The stars are out of this world (huzzah).
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