Our first day in Baja, we fled tourist-centric Cabo San Lucas and headed north towards La Paz. We had read about some canyons you could explore in the Sierra de la Laguna mountain range, north of Cabo, leading to oases lined with huge boulders and fed by picturesque waterfalls.
About an hour north of Cabo we came to the small town of Santiago, where bumpy dirt roads branch out to the various canyons of the eastern Sierra. We took a northern route, winding our way through desert scrub with cactus and thorny shrubs lining the road as we climbed the foothills. The road ended at a small parking area with an unassuming sign indicating we had arrived at the Sierra de la Laguna Biosphere Reserve - an area of such ecological significance as to warrant its designation as a world biosphere reserve by UNESCO, joining the ranks of the Everglades, Yellowstone, and the Hawai'ian Islands, among many others. With average annual precipitation of 25", the Sierra de la Laguna is one of the few places on the Baja Peninsula where you can find year-round water. Because of this, some 23% of plants and 10% of animals found in the Sierra de la Laguna are endemic to the area.
A short hike brought us to a sweeping overlook of the entrance to the Cañon de la Zorra and its often photographed waterfall. We followed the path down steep steps carved in the rock, dropped our packs, and enjoyed the cold mountain water as the heat of the day began to ramp up.
La Paz is the capital of Baja Sur, home to vibrant culture, beautiful beaches, and cheap tacos. Despite being a mid-sized city, with 220,000 residents, there is a laid-back atmosphere here that quickly made La Paz our favorite place to relax. Walk along the 5 km long malecón at sunset and you'll see that this is a city that people love living in. Street vendors sell snacks, a high school volleyball team warms up before their match, families pose for photos, and friends meet up for drinks after work. Sounds of laughter, fast-paced spanish, and music fill the air. A block away, a voice booms from a loud speaker as a crowd gathers with signs (more on this in a bit).
North of La Paz, the Pichilingue Peninsula extends out to the Sea of Cortez. A beautiful 25 km drive from the malecón, along cliffs, through cardonales (large stands of cardón cacti), past sandy beaches, brought us to the end of the pavement and our home for a few nights - Playa Tecolote. Bordered on the west by a hundred meter high hulking mound of rock, this mile-long beach offers unparalleled views of the mountainous Isla Espíritu Santo. Pacíficos in hand, we enjoyed several evening strolls along the deserted beach to the peaceful soundtrack of the crashing waves.
One evening, after enjoying some people watching and a sunset on the malecón, we confronted a large roadblock preventing us from getting back to our beach. Hundreds of people had gathered in the streets, chanting "No al Gasolinazo!" and wielding large banners and signs. The man with the megaphone led the charge, which proceeded down the malecón at a crawl, blocking all traffic. Finally, after 10 minutes or so, police stepped in a made a small, one-lane path for vehicles to pass through. We later learned that this protest was in response to the Mexican government's decision to deregulate gas prices, leading to the abrupt increase in the cost of gasoline (read more here). We made it back to Tecolote and ended the night with Pacíficos under the stars.
Sunrise walks with mugs of hot coffee weren't too bad, either. One morning, when preparing to head out for the day in our packrafts, we stopped to watch American Oystercatchers chow some breakfast amidst the crashing surf. Their cousins, the Black Oystercatcher, are commonly found throughout Prince William Sound, in Alaska.
Late one afternoon in La Paz we walked a few blocks up from the malecón, hoping to get some photographs of a older cathedral alit by the setting sun. What we found instead was an outright party, complete with thumping music, dancing characters in costume, and children laughing and cheering. The large park adjacent to the cathedral had been repurposed to host this communal gathering, which we later found out was part of the Día de Los Reyes, a religious holiday celebrating the journey of the Three Wise Men through the desert to the cradle of baby Jesus. I don't recall learning the roles of Barney or Mickey Mouse in the presentation of the gold, frankincense, or myrrh, but I'll admit I don't have the most reliable memory.
Cultural appetites satisfied, we headed back down to the malecón to quench our thirst and enjoy one final sunset in La Paz. It was time to take a road trip, up to the towering mountains of Loreto.