We’re camped on the shores of the beautiful Bahia de Los Angeles, a stunning deep blue bay surrounded on three sides by arid desert mountains.
It’s a week since we crossed in to Mexico. Over the 500-plus miles we’ve covered since then we’ve traversed the peninsula – via the stark and atmospheric desertio central, with its forests of boojum trees and cadron cacti – from the blowhole and dolphins at La Bufadora and the surf beaches of the Pacific, to the calmer aquamarine waters of the Sea of Cortez.
Along the way we’ve camped on the beach, in a car park and at an abandoned tourist resort in Puerto Santo Tomas, a small fishing village at the end – literally – of a 16-mile dirt road. Our pledge not to drive ‘off-road’ lasted a full 24 hours… and provided a hair-raising introduction for me to driving in Mexico. It was that or yet another U-turn. We’re getting good at them! We suffered our first loss during that rickety journey – the cap on the all-important external propane tank – but hey, didn’t we buy those food bags for the emergency vehicle repairs?
Puerto Santo Tomas is exactly the kind of place we have always missed out on seeing in the past, when travelling only by local bus. Having our own vehicle has also allowed us to get to some of the harder-to-reach places or just stop off to walk, look, eat and experience things along the route between two destinations.
And the overwhelming sense we’ve had during the first week is of a tourist industry in crisis. The resort at Puerto Santo Tomas is not the only deserted one we have seen. RV parks, hotels and many other places have shut up shop, slashed prices or have an air of abandonment. It is eerie to walk into a derelict museum in the middle of the desert with doors banging in the wind.
It is tragic to see the impact of the economic crisis on this beautiful region – so much for the much-vaunted free trade agreements! We may only be 500 miles from the manicured ‘burbs of Los Angeles but it’s a world away.
Talking to locals and long-term residents from the US, they cite a combination of 9/11, recession and security concerns as the cause of an exodus of American tourists – the former mainstay of many local industries.
Many of those who remain are long-termers who have been living in Baja for 10 or 20 years or, as one old boy told us, been coming since the early 50s.
In one place with a functioning bar, it was lively with long-termers who lined up the brandys during happy hour from 4-5pm. They were a hardy bunch – funny, crude, with a hint of redneck about them and generous with a beer! And despite the fact they live ‘abroad’ some lacked a sense of the wider world – perhaps best summed up by the larger-than-life Gerry asking us, upon hearing that we had come from London, if kangaroos really did hop across the road in our country.
JD, Bahia de Los Angeles, Baja California, Mexico
Number of repairs to van successfully executed with a plastic bag and three elastic bands: 1