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New Cruiser: Expeditions

The travels of an all aluminum Land Cruiser and its owners…

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Faces of the Baja

Written by Robin on Friday, October 3, 2003
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We spent the first part of the day exploring the back roads in the Baja. This it appears, is where the “real” Baja exists, as is noted on the town gate to Puerto Santo Tomas. Roads are all gravel, but Baja Trackin fairly good condition. There are no major potholes, but the washboards are quite bad. There are many farms growing all kinds of produce. The people are like peasant folk: fishermen and farmers. The houses are not completed as we are used to. There is little power – the odd community has power lines servicing it, but other than that there are only a few small wind mills. Some lots have been taken by rich Mexicans, or maybe Americans, and built fancy houses on them. These are equipped with good wind power and solar panels usually. One community we passed along a valley had power lines running right beside it, but not into it. When we reached the end of the road we found the lines terminated at a modern mine run by “Cemex”.

I suppose I should clarify what I meant by the “real” Baja. It seems as though the country down here is two faced: Enter Tijuana and Ensenada, the first two towns within 2 hours of the border, and you see a place that is highly influenced by America. Tijuana is a border town, with all of the good and bad things that go along with it – dirty, cheap goods, a shopping mall for people who cross the border want to remain in the comfort they are used to, and many impoverished people. Impoverished in the city is not the same as peasants in the country – the city people can only beg for their well being, and live in the streets. Country people, though impoverished by our standards, have a means to live off of the land, and they seem happy at it.

Ensenada is a tourist town. Very pretty, a cruise ship port, and many lots for sale or lease on the water front or with a view – once again for westerners to come and have a get-away cottage. The lots come serviced as well, curb and gutter, electricity etc.

And the Number 1 highway that runs north to south is paved, in good condition, with small communities along it selling Tacos (which are VERY good), fuel, shoes, clothing, and other random wares. These large cities and the highway make up the one face of the Baja penninsula.

Your Tax Dollars at Work

The other face is the one found off the highway, in the bush, on the shores, in tiny villages and communities. These are the people who make the substance of the Baja. For that reason it seems appropriate to acknowledge them as the Real Baja. Time will tell how long this remains the case. In Ej Erendira, the new president Senor Mentenegro has made a good impression. His face is posted on the new power poles in appreciation. There is a brand new school, with signs posted almost identical to the ones our British Columbian government likes to post: though we couldn’t read the spanish, it was almost like “Your Tax dollars at work – Building for the 21st Century” or something like that. I think times are changing here – it will be interesting to see what the future holds.

Water

The land is incredibly dry, quite desert like – yet in the farmed areas, the plants grow green. Where does the water come from?

Air release valveIt’s interesting, as you drive through the mountains, on the side of the road every so often you will see a pipe come out of the ground with a valve and an air release on it. The pipe is large enough that a good deal of water is travelling through it. At the top of plateaus will be a good sized cistern, but not big enough to warrant the size of pipes being used.

On top of most houses and other buildings will be a plastic barrel-type cistern as well. They don’t look as though they’re designed to catch rain water. The vegetation doesn’t suggest that there’s really that much rain anyhow.

In the end of the day I’m still confused. I haven’t seen one river, lake or water body other than the ocean. But somehow these people have tapped the desert.

Apparently there are many rivers, all dried up. A man from Arizona who has come to live in the Baja told us today that only 5 years ago the river in the valley ran water. Since then it has been dry. However, there is an underground aquifer that is pumped into the cisterns on top of the hills. That is where the water is stored to feed the farms. It would be interesting to find out the source of the underground stream – how long will it be until it is dried up as well?

Farming

The farms are all very large-scale. It is strange that they would be that way based on the local population. The story goes something like this:Farm in Baja

A large-scale farm in the Baja, Mexico. Before the depression, many Mexicans had immigrated to the USA. But during the depression, the Americans didn’t want them there so they were sent back to Mexico. Back in the Baja, they settled the land that is now modern, large-scale farming. It turns out that recently, large-scale agricultural companies have approached the locals who settled the land in the 30’s, and offered to lease the land so that they may farm it. The local land owners are in a great position – they do not have to work, but retain the rental income.

However, because the labour is cheaper, the agricultural companies import “indiginous” Mexicans from mainland Mexico to work in the fields. This leaves the local population who are not land owners out of work. Further, because the locals do not consider themselves indiginous people, they would rather not work and be poor than work alongside a native. Funny thing is, the line between indiginous people and non-indiginous Mexicans is pretty thin. I guess because they had once immigrated to the USA they consider themselves to be different. It must have something to do with lifestyle as well. At this point I don’t know what that is.

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