Tour Guide: Baja Sur Outback
Irony was not lost on Elizabeth Seward when she climbed into a Hummer to take an eco-tour through the Mexican outback. But the rugged terrain in Baja Sur, while being tough to navigate, offers hidden delights.
Baja California Sur swells with tourism, despite the drug cartel wars intimidating those watching the news everywhere–or at least in the U.S. The state’s pristine beaches draw in vacationers from around the globe. They’re hooked on the teal waters, dolphin-gazing, rocky landscape, and perfect weather. But I never hear anyone talk about the Baja Sur outback.
The outback is in Australia right? Well, not if the trip I recently took, on the southern stretch of Mexico’s peninsula, is any point of reference. I was invited to embark on one of the most ironic adventures I’ve experienced so far: a drive through the Mexican outback to the organic farm Rancho La Verdad… via Hummer. At 60 gallons of fuel wasted every 20 miles or so, I couldn’t quite grasp the concept of taking a Hummer as an eco-enlightening adventure. But with my interest piqued, I slathered on my 70 proof sunblock for the day and did something I never suspected I’d do in Baja Sur–I turned away from the crystal blue waters and drove off into the desert mountains. I quickly learned that the sun beats down so abrasively on the terrain that the area’s only ‘river’ reminds me of a dried up creek that ran, or tried to run, behind my house in Ohio growing up.
The hawks sound like pre-climatic death-whistles in a western movie in this area of Baja Sur. And as analogies would have it, the area I explored with the company, Baja Outback, was, in fact, the set for the movie, Troy. If you’ve seen the film you can be assured that not much was altered from what is an everyday reality for the few daring to live in this seemingly post-apocalyptic graveyard. Coyotes hang dead from already dying trees–a kill and show tactic embraced by local farmers desperate to drive the culprits away from their prized livestock. But beneath the dried and aging shell of the Baja Sur outback, life flourishes–secretly.
I had a well-versed guide who was intent on teaching me about the elusive life forms of the outback. He cut open one succulent and rubbed its aloe on his skin as sunblock. Then he reached down to show me a cactus whose flowers blossomed into a common local cure for life-threatening ailments. The occasional goat or cow would peek its head out at us from the thorny bushes as we passed by on their territory, spitting dust from our monster truck in their faces. But it didn’t take me long on these roads to realize just why we had to drive a Hummer: no other vehicle, perhaps with the exception of an army tank, would have a fair shot at making it through the impossibly winding and rocky roads.
After trekking through the hot sands for over an hour, we came upon an oasis — Rancho La Verdad — its elaborate greenery a incredible surprise. The farm, owned by an aging married pair, is a way of life for the couple. Every kind of fruit you can imagine finds its home on these lands where wine is perfected, milk and cheeses are made, and thick leaves shade the farm from the reality of the scorching Baja outback. Goats, cows, dogs, geese, and chicken call this plot of land home. Some years, the farm yields so much produce that they share their luck with their less fortunate neighbors in the outback, some of whom live only on a mattress in the wilderness without a single wall to protect them from the grim heat.
Without employing any pesticide or herbicide, this farm survives in one of the toughest farmlands on the planet. It makes me wonder why all of our farms aren’t organic, but even the most amateur knowledge of capitalism answers that question, sadly.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
Despite the wasted fuel, there was much gained through this trip through the outback. How to greenly argue the compromise of the gas for the experience requires more tact than I have, but for the inquisitive mind, I would support a shared or eco-upgraded vehicle approach, even if in a Hummer, as a means to an end for this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Photos: Above, Baja Outback; Below, Elizabeth Seward