Discovering The Unexpected

I just got back from a trip deep into Baja California. Like most North Americans who visit there, I’d seen Tijuana and on down to Ensenada, which is on the order of visiting El Paso and thinking you’ve seen Texas. This time I flew to a town called Loretto. It’s on the east coast of the peninsula and it took me back to the Mexican communities I remembered from seventy years ago. Forget the new cars, the (semi) supermarket, and the occasional phone addict wandering the streets. There was the imposing church looming over the clean-swept, tree-shaded square with its the bandstand. The old hotel to one side featured antique door timbers thick enough to reject cannonballs and walls that looked older than the western mountains. The shops were a revelation. You want souvenirs and trinkets? You can find them. But the people of Loretto don’t seem even faintly interested in turning over their economy to the tourists. Friendliness comes first – the need to make a peso is never forgotten, but it has its place. We left Loretto that same afternoon to drive north a hundred miles (on a well-maintained highway) to my cousin’s beach house. When you read about “starkly beautiful,” the phrase was invented to describe Baja California. The house is located in an area that was once a stomping ground for Hollywood stars. The luxurious hotels they frequented are deserted now, like derelict elite who’ve seen their popularity turn to dismissal. The new development – in economic terms – is a trickle of travelers who want sun, sand, clear, clean water, peace and quiet. There are dozens of wonderfully comfortable houses in the area, built by people from all over the world, who need a place to get away from crowds. They bring their own electricity (it’s a desert; solar does a lot of the heavy lifting, generators the rest), consume bottled water by the cubic yard, and provide their own entertainment. That’ll change, unfortunately, although Baja’s a far larger hunk of real estate than most of us gringos realize; it’ll take a while to mess it up properly. For now, however – and for me, in particular – I’m glad to have seen it as it is. My hat’s off to those turistas who treat the place with such grace and consideration and especially to the people of the land, who welcome them with such openness and warmth.

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