Baja California is the thin strip of land directly below California (get it? Baja CALIFORNIA?). It’s a place that I never thought I would go. Not that I have anything against Mexico or Mexicans (I voted for Hillary ok), I just didn’t really think about it. It doesn’t seem like a place people travel to frequently (okay besides when they go get lit in Cabo but we weren’t anywhere near there), but people should definitely travel there BECAUSE IT IS AMAZING.
So, the trip began at a hotel in San Diego where everyone in the class met up for the very first time. So far, the course had been online only, and pretty much everyone came from different states. I will admit, the first gathering was hella awkward. Mostly everyone was kind of shy and reserve (that changed REAL quick).
After we met up, we started our drive in two large vans towards the border. WE GOT TO GO ACROSS THE BORDER (it was actually very anti-climactic. I had this vision of people just laying lined up on the ground with guns pointing at them while giant dogs (who also had guns) sniffed around in their cars). We got through the border in like a half an hour.
The drive started out looking a lot like southern California. What a shocker. I thought as soon as you crossed the border everything would dramatically change. The landscape was mountainous and we drove along roads on the side of these mountains. A few hours into the trip, we stopped at this like rest stop place that was on the side of a mountain overlooking the ocean and it was truly #reststopgoals. It was so beautiful EXCEPT the very first like wild living thing we saw in Mexico was a tarantula. In my head I was pissed, like damn if THE FIRST THING we see is a tarantula, this whole place must just be crawling with them (there were 0 tarantulas after this). I took a picture while holding back my tears (because I still didn’t really know anyone else on the trip yet and I was trying to play it cool and pretend like I think bugs are super chill… which, TBH, I am not a fan).
We then hit the road again for a while until we stopped for lunch at this roadside taco stand place. Another thing about me (besides not liking bugs) is that I am a little bitch about germs and food. I once had a very violent food poisoning incident that scarred me for life (seriously, once you have puked and pooped at the exacted same time, you become a different person) and so now, I still am a little (a lot) wary of food safety. (Also, on a trip to Cancun in college, a lot of people got the shits and I really didn’t wanna be the person in the van making us stop every 2 miles to go shit in the desert). BUT ANYWAY, at the taco stand I literally watched the cook guy take raw steak with his bare hands, throw it onto the grills, then use said hands (without washing) to put fresh cilantro onto the tacos. BUT YOU KNOW WHAT??? I sucked it up and ate the damn tacos anyway (with the mindset that if I died from it, at least I wouldn’t have to pay the rest of my student loans). AND THEY WERE THE BEST TACOS I HAVE EVER HAD (AND I DIDN’T GET THE SHITS). YOU HEAR THAT MOM?????? YOUR GIRL IS GROWING UP.
We then continued on until we reached the place where we would be eating dinner and staying for the night. Dinner was AWESOME and so authentic. Like I wasn’t even 100% sure what I was eating but it was great.
The next morning, we started our drive early. The longer we kept driving, the more beautiful the landscape kept getting. It was still mountainous, but now there were like a billion cacti in all different shapes and sizes lining the road. I was losing my shit and wanted the van to pull over so I could get a photo of how beautiful it was because I wasn’t sure how long the landscape would look like this (well don’t worry, everywhere we went after this looked just that pretty). We got out and got to hike around and eat breakfast (which included giant muffins, so pretty good morning if I do say so myself).
We drove some more until we were on a dirt (or sand I guess) road just like driving over large rocks. After a few hours, we stopped and did a cactivity (GET IT?? LIKE CACTUS- ACTIVITY????? I do not take credit for this name. But I do take credit for the other “tivities” on the trip including: sacktivity, noctivity, fishtivity, snorktivity, sharktivity, and so on).
When we finished the CACTIVITY (lol), we got in the vans to leave but my van (famously known as the snack van) broke down. So the group of us who were in the van waited around while the other van left to get help. Nothing brings a group together like being stranded in the desert, fighting for our lives (okay that’s dramatic. We were only stranded for like an hour).
Once the van was fixed, we headed to the ranch which is where we spent the first 4.5 days of the trip. The ranch is so far secluded that once we got off of the main highway in Baja, we took like 5 different dirt roads to get there, each being like an hour long. If you needed a place to hide a dead body, this part of Baja might be decent.
The ranch had a cafeteria/ classroom building where the food was made (the food was awesome… we ate a lot of cactus) and where we had class each day. On the other side of the yard (I guess? I mean it was like in the immediate area, I’m sure their actual yard was like 40,00 acres or something) was this other building with like storage room type things where we kept our stuff and where the cots were kept. And the bathrooms (because I know that’s what most people are curious about) were like fancy outhouses. They were concrete and had actual toilets in them (!!!) but you had to use a bucket of water to actually flush and you are not allowed to flush toilet paper (don’t worry, we could still wipe. We just had to throw the paper away in the trash).
Each morning at the ranch, we would go out and do some sort of inquiry project, then during the late morning/ afternoon we would continue to work on the project in the classroom or present our results or do discussions. We usually did our outside stuff early in the morning because it’s the desert. It’s hot there during the day. Then, after dinner we sometimes had free time or an activity. Then we went to bed WHERE WE SLEPT ON COTS UNDER THE STARS! Unfortunately, the moon was bright AF, so we couldn’t see many stars. But it was still super cool to fall asleep looking at the outline of the mountain range and big cacti surrounding us.
One night at the ranch, we did our Noctivity© which was a hike in total darkness and our goal was to find as many nocturnal creatures as possible (INCLUDING SCORPIONS!!). To see the scorpions at night, we had to use black lights which make the scorpions glow in the dark. We also had normal flashlights to find other things (i.e. tarantulas). Our group spotted like 6 different scorpions ANNNDDD there was one who was carrying like little baby scorpions on her back! It was adorable. Also we didn’t see any tarantulas which I was secretly breathing a sigh of relief about.
During our last morning at the ranch, we awoke at 4am for an optional hike (it was optional but pretty much everyone went which was awesome). We hiked up a mountain by the ranch to watch the sunrise (I think we were like 2900 feet up or something). Down the valley below, there was tons of fog which would explain why we woke up soaking wet every morning. After the sunrise, we hiked further to a cave on the side of the mountain with paintings insides and we saw (semi) wild horses on the way.
We then packed up and headed off the Sea Institute which was about a two-hour drive away. As soon as we saw the ocean coming over the horizon I was hype as hell. The ocean is my shiiiiitttttt. We stayed at the Vermillion Sea Institute, which is located in Bahia de los Angeles (missing a few accents but honestly I have no idea how to do those in Word) on the Sea of Cortez.
In the morning we would get up super early and watch the sunrise from behind the mountains that rose up out of the sea (our cots were like RIGHT next to the ocean). We would then get on the boat and did more inquiry projects or learned about islands until about lunch time, then we would come back and do discussion or activities in the afternoon. Again, some evenings were free and some there were activities.
One of the days, we SWAM WITH SEA LIONS. The boats took us right to a herd (?) of them swimming off of one of the islands and we were allowed to jump in and snorkel with them. As soon as i jumped off the boat, they were literally all swimming directly beneath me. Unfortunately, I was not able to get a very good photo of them, but they were very close to us. Also, the herd was like a pimp daddy sea lion with about 10 of his best bitches AKA you can’t like swim directly at them because you don’t want pimp daddy thinking you’re trying to steal his hoes.
OH ALSO. Two of the mornings, we saw whales! Well I didn’t actually SEE the whale. Another boat did. But I did see it blow water out of its blowhole so I count that.
Our final day of the trip was more relaxed without many class activities. We got on the boats in the morning and just drove around until we found animals. After about an hour of driving, we spotted a whale shark! So there were 3 boats of 5 people each and only one boat could go in the water at a time so we wouldn’t overwhelm the whale shark.
OH MAN. When it was our boat’s turn to get in WE WERE HYPE. We seriously just sat there in full snorkel gear until we spotted the shark then we would go for it. (For those of you who don’t know, whale sharks are filter feeders so they don’t attack humans). I swam with this particular whale shark like 4 times, then later in the day we spotted a second one and I swam with that one twice. During one of the first times in the water, I was particularly hype and decided to swim with the shark for as long as possible. I swam directly over her for about 400 meters! (and I got a nice open water workout in for my triathlon on Sunday so, I mean, that’s cool).
For the remainder of the last day, we went into the town and bought souvenirs and then enjoyed a homemade dinner of fish tacos (thanks Lalo and Alex THEY WERE THE BEST FISH TACOS EVER) and MARGARITAS. We all hung out in the kitchen together drinking margs and reminiscing on the good times.
Everything about the trip was so amazing, especially the people. The first day was relatively awkward but by the end we were essentially all a family (and I also learned so much about people’s poo situations). There were 15 students and 3 instructors on the trip (and of course, Lalo and Alex), all from totally different backgrounds, jobs, and most people were all from different states. I have never laughed so much in my life as I did on this trip and I probably came home with like the most toned cheek muscles ever from laughing so much. But I also came home with 20 new friends *chokes back tears*
Thank you everyone for an awesome experience and I can’t wait for our Baja reunion in October 2018!