Swimming in Santiago, Baja Sur
We celebrated being on the road for our first month, inland, at the skirts of the Sierra de la Laguna Mountains, just outside of Santiago. The granite peaks of the Sierra’s run north to south, roughly from La Paz to San José, dividing the East Cape and the West cape regions of the Baja Peninsula. From the highest peaks it’s possible to see both the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Sea of Cortez to the east. It’s February and it’s warm, green and dry. A few flowers can be found in bloom and I easily forget it’s winter. I have been kicking myself for weeks for not having a Baja Plant and Field Guide with me. The Angela in her twenties, freshly out of college, never would have let this happen. It’s funny how academia has slipped through my fingers to be replaced with a different kind of understanding. I think I appreciate things a little more deeply than I used to… still, I’m an idiot for not just purchasing at least a couple of fish or bird or plant field guides at some point. I blame it on living in a small town before we left, with small bookstores, which are wonderful, but they didn’t have anything on Baja and I was tired of shopping online. Ah, I miss Google sometimes, even when I’m in paradise, lol.
Santiago is a small town, just off the main highway, with a population of roughly 2,000. The beautiful church in Santiago is believed to have been built on the ruins of an original mission that was founded in the 1700’s. History is deep here. Today, Santiago is an agricultural commerce center, supplying much of the organic produce to the southern Cabo cities of Baja. We saw citrus trees and palm orchards. Mango and avocado are also grown abundantly in this area.
We drove down what looked like ancient cobble streets, passed horses with cowbells around their necks and headed down the sandy roads towards the mountains. We’ve heard a lot about the hot springs in Santiago but it’s hot and we want to cool off.
We spent a couple of nights inside the Sierra de la Laguna Biosphere Preserve, a protected area with daily fees. We skipped the sunscreen in an effort not to pollute the amazing water we swam in. Freshwater in Baja is a sight to behold, and an oasis is nothing short of magic.
From the trailhead at Cañon de la Zorra, where we were camped with only one other traveler, it’s a short hike along a trail to a 10-meter waterfall with a swimmable lagoon, if you don’t mind the dozens of small black snakes swimming around the perimeter. They completely creeped me out, but I never wanted to leave, either. I have always loved swimming, and I can’t imagine a more wholy beautiful place to be creeped out and refreshed in every way at the same time. I felt at home, young again, swimming with the pollywogs in my backyard, the world turning exactly as it should be, in the only way I can imagine.
Our favorite freshwater canyon was El Chorro. I bet most of the tourists that visit El Chorro only make it to the end of the road, at the dam where a hot spring pool is located in the river. However, the real gem is not the hot springs but the plunge pools up the canyon. The hike is not for the faint of heart; although it’s not very difficult it requires climbing over boulders and straight up the bedrock canyon, for twenty to thirty minutes. The emerald-green plunge pools surrounded by desert cliffs are as amazing as it gets. They reminded me of small bedrock creek in the Rogue Valley that my mom used to take my sister and me to cool off when we were little. You would have loved this place mom! It’s paradise. Minus the black snakes of course. They were prolific, which I heard was a good thing because they were keeping the frogs down. It’s true I didn’t see any frogs and only a few pollywogs. Personally, I’d rather swim with frogs, but the water was irresistible and perfect even though it was crawling with slithering black snakes. We spent most of the day basking in the sun and jumping off rocks, pointing out our favorite plants and trees, knowing that there can’t be anywhere else on the planet more awesome. AS awesome, yes, but not more.
One of my favorite aspects of driving the Baja peninsula is meeting other travelers doing the same thing and catching up with them in different places. It was fun getting to know Matt and Abbie a little better after meeting them in Los Frailes. We hope to meet them on the road again.
In inspired company, I got good and drunk one night around the campfire and marveled at my good fortune as conversations swayed from the brightness of the moon, the stars in the sky, Alaska, Mexico and the aim all of us share of keeping adventure alive. Happy one-month-on-the-road to us!