Three tiny planes pick us up at Brown Field Municipal Airport in San Diego. Our pilots are well trained and sun-kissed, and will also act as our guides and activities counselors in the coming week. These triple threats will make sure our journey into the middle of Baja’s nowhere comes with all the excitement that “nowhere” has in store.
Even getting to Las Animas Wilderness Lodge, Baja Airventures’ private getaway, is an adventure: a brief stop in the town of San Felipe to pass through immigration and customs as you enter Mexico, then continuing on to a nondescript airstrip by Bahia de Los Angeles, then a 40-minute panga ride into Las Animas.
There’s something liberating about not being able to check your e-mail or take a call for a week. Even the most “connected” of us have no choice but to let go and jump into whatever is happening around us. Have clients leave their expectations of creature comforts behind and get ready for a week of “anything goes.”
Our fellow travelers are a mixed bunch, some with more experience roughing it than others, but all enchanted by the scenery around them. The land is dry but not barren. If they’re lucky, the locals see a couple of inches of rain a year, but that is also one of the attributes of Baja—it’s an arid, yet still bountiful landscape of different shades of reds and browns, one of our favorites anywhere. We have never seen such consistently starry skies as we see in Baja every single night. Luckily, there is not one light anywhere around us. Not one. Not even on the horizon, miles and miles away.
You have to really be in the spirit of things to appreciate what this type of escape offers and doesn’t offer. The yurts at Las Animas are steps away from the beach, each with its own balcony, composting toilet and shower. There’s also a bigger, common yurt for meals, impromptu pow-wows and late-night star gazing or lounging. What we didn’t find and managed to do without—running water, a cell phone signal, Internet, a TV, or electricity, except for a couple of hours a day when the generator is running in the main yurt, when you can charge your camera batteries and smuggled iPad. We shared a shower bag with our yurt-mate and kept an eye on our use of water, following the guides’ example and bathing in the ocean before rinsing off in our shower (we’d love to see an outdoor shower by each yurt—still rustic but not confining—to go with the whole back-to-basics motif).
There are so many ways in which to pass the time here—swim, kayak, hike, sail, fish, snorkel. Each of these comes with new surprises and you’re free to choose your pleasures each day. During whale shark season, one heads off early to find them at Bahia de los Angeles. These are the least skittish whale sharks we’ve run into so far, letting you swim alongside them for quite a while before deciding you’re just another boring species. There’s never a guarantee that one will see them, but we found them every single time we ventured out—not to mention schools of dolphin putting on a show, sea lions yapping away, sea turtles gallivanting about and other wonders of Baja revealing themselves at whim. Our friendly guides are as knowledgeable as they are skilled, easily identifying species and instructing travelers on everything from paddle-boarding to preparing the perfect margarita.
Walking in and out of the ocean involves a funny shuffling of the feet so as to scare away any sting rays that might be resting by the shore, but once you’re in, you’re in. The water is sometimes like a platter, sometimes a little choppier, but we’ve never seen it anything but gorgeous and literally jumping with life. We see sierra jumping out of the ocean every minute or so, not to mention schools of tiny fish–sardines, maybe—banding about. Braver souls jump in to swim among sea lions, but our encounter with them is different. On one of several fishing excursions, a naughty one swims behind our panga and keeps stealing our catch.
Still, fishing is one of our favorite things in Baja because you never go back to shore empty-handed. We’re not hoping for prize-winning monsters but for tasty options for our dinners, and we’re not disappointed: grouper, yellowtail snapper, barracuda, sheephead and the other species that bite make it onto our dinner table each night.