Michael Strickland's blog on all things travel: news, deals, destinations, dreams and more.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Baja California: San Diego's playground

In spite of the increasing violence in Baja California (largely driven by drug gangs, from what I've heard), I still have fond memories of one specific aspect of life in San Diego: the proximity of Baja. For someone like me who loves to travel, it's priceless having a foreign country only a 20-minute drive away. As I wrote a few years ago, "a two-hour drive south can take you much further—both culturally and financially—than a two-hour drive north."

For me, Baja fueled not only my passion for travel, but also my fondness for camping and adventure. It was easy to just hop across the border, spend the weekend camping out and then returning home Sunday night (with a stop for street tacos before crossing the border, of course).

Looking back, my favorite destination was probably Guadalupe Canyon, a hidden oasis of hot springs and palm trees accessible only by an hour of off-roading across a dry lake bed. Though the owners of the property knew what a jewel they had—and charged accordingly—the place offered both hot tub relaxation and hiking & bouldering adventure. And getting there was half the fun!

San Felipe and Laguna Hanson also provided loads of weekend fun and excitement. I visited each place only once before moving to the East Coast, but that was enough to build plenty of memories.

We camped right on the beach in San Felipe, and ate fresh seafood like kings in the village. Laguna Hanson seemed an anachronism, as you hardly expect to find a pine forest in arid Baja. There, like Guadalupe Canyon, driving there was an adventure. I'd only recently bought my Xterra when we went there, and I definitely put it through its paces.

And, also just before moving, I got acquainted with Baja scuba diving. It definitely proved to be edgier than the diving north of the border. We had to help launch the panga boats right from the beach, and the accommodations were a communal bunkhouse (though, after the rattlesnake tequila, I slept like a baby). The underwater scenery was also a bit more on the wild side: sea anemones grew to the size of dinner plates, and the kelp forests were more like kelp jungles.

San Diego's nickname is "America's Finest City," but as far as I'm concerned, it's the city's southern neighbor that makes it all the more fun to live there.



Blogger Chuckie D said...

Unfortunately those days may be gone. I have heard from friends that you just can't go down into Mexico anymore from San Diego without taking a chance of some kind of problem. This has caused major problems for the tourist industry. Mexican President Calderon has sent out the military to try and stop the violence, but in a move that is hard to believe, the UN has intervened and asked the Mexican government to pull troops back because they are "not trained properly" to deal with gangs and drug cartels. It seems to me the only training you need is that if you encounter a criminal and try to arrest him and he tries to kill you, then you kill him. The people in Baja are suffering from this problem and someone has to stop the anarchy.

Chuckie D

April 10, 2008 6:48 PM  
Blogger Michael Strickland said...

Well, I have often heard over the years that "you just can't go down into Mexico anymore from San Diego without taking a chance of some kind of problem." Typically, such warnings have been the result of a couple of incidents getting blown out of proportion. So I'd rather hear such warnings firsthand from someone who regularly visits Baja. I'm not living out there anymore, and I haven't been to Baja in a long time, but from what I've heard, the violence seems mostly focused in Tijuana (where the only place worth visiting is my friend Francisco's restaurant, La Diferencia). Please ask the friends who have given you such warnings to post some firsthand comments here.

NOTE TO ALL: Join me in a "Get Well Soon" for Chuckie D and his new robo-knee.

April 11, 2008 5:31 PM  

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