Brooklyn to Baja

I just got back from Baja, and everyone wants to know about my trip. So I’ll tell you.

Obvs it was fantastic. Perhaps you’ve seen some of the pics. But what I want to tell you about is the details, travel-blog-style. Not my insights or aha moments, per se, but how enjoyable and well-organized this trip was, just in case you want to do it yourself. Because you can. And you should. If you don’t mind being sandy for 5 days straight.

As I mentioned last week, I came across the link to this trip randomly. It’s something I would have never thought of actually looking up, but it intrigued me to the point of no return. I booked it through a company called OARS, although I have since learned that you can book directly through the Mexican-owned-and-operated company Mar Y Aventuras.

 making friends

making friends

I made a friend before I even left, in the subway very early Sunday morning. Turns out asking a stranger to take a picture of you doing a yoga pose while waiting for the A train is a great conversation starter; perhaps I’ll ask a cute guy next time. But this time it was a chick with a big backpack, who was leaving her hubby and pooch here in Brooklyn to do some solo camping in Joshua Tree. Yeah, my kind of girl. Little did I know, this independent-lady vibe would set a tone for my entire trip.

I took the train to a plane to another plane to a shuttle to a hotel in La Paz, Baja California Sur, where I met my roomie and the first of the group I’d be spending the week with. Nan was going to bed when I arrived – a 73-year-old firecracker with a filthy mouth; we were instant friends. I let her sleep and snuck out to find some dinner before retiring for the night myself.

In the morning we had breakfast, grabbed our snorkel gear and met our guide, Miguel. The group was comprised of eight women and one [brave] dude; one married couple and 7 independent chicas – a variety (or lack thereof) that was unusual on these trips, according to our guide. While some of my vacation fantasies went right out the window, I was psyched to be surrounded by like-minded women, ranging in age from 22 to 73.

 here's our island!

here's our island!

Chuey, our panga (boat) driver, took us out to the island we’d be camping on, Espiritu Santo. The camp setup was pretty cush. We each had our own 2-3 person tents (unless you chose to share; I of course slept diagonally across mine), plus the “dining” tent to hang out in and escape the sun. There was a whole kitchen tent, which I only ventured into a few times, to pick up my specially-made vegetarian dishes on the nights when the group was eating strictly meat or seafood.

 view from bed

view from bed

There were always two “bathrooms,” a very clever little box of a toilet that flushed and was clean and not stinky, yet portable and in keeping with the pack-it-in-pack-it-out / leave-no-trace nature of Mar Y Aventuras. There was a system for knowing that the restroom was occupied, so you always had your privacy and no awkward moments. At base camp the bathrooms were enclosed by tarp-like stall structures that zippered shut, but at all the other camps they were in the open, behind a dune and a few shrubs. Totally out of view from the camp, but boasting fantastic views of their own. I seriously have never enjoyed a view so much while sitting on a toilet. Each bathroom was also equipped with a hand-washing station, as was the dining tent, and hand-washing was upheld strongly by all in an effort to keep the whole group healthy.

 camp

camp

We started at base camp, but packed up and moved every morning except for one. We’d slather on sunscreen and cover up with sleeves and hats and buffs or bandanas, and climb into our kayaks. The goal was to circumnavigate the island, but each day the paddling varied based on the weather. On our longest days we’d break on a little strip of beach in the middle and the panga would pull up with our day packs and our lunch. On our last day, we all fell asleep on the beach after eating, before continuing on to complete a 15-mile paddle. Since the panga was always nearby you had the option to load yourself and your kayak and take the rest of the ride by boat at any time, which Nan and I did on that last day after napping.

 out on the kayak

out on the kayak

We’d arrive at our new camp to find that the rest of the crew had erected a new kitchen and dining structure, and sometimes our individual tents too. We’d grab our bags and set up our homes for the night, take a dip in the sea, maybe a nap, for me -maybe some yoga- until we heard the call for happy hour. It was margaritas or piña coladas, always accompanied by a delicious snack.

 out on the kayak

out on the kayak

Have I mentioned that the food was amazing? Snacks included chips and the best gauc ever, ceviche made from fish caught by my fellow travelers, popcorn spiced with tahine (an amazing Mexican spice that I must find and purchase immediately). Dinners were similarly scrumptious and also authentic Mexican: tamales the first night, quesadillas, veggies, beans, almost always some tortillas. Meats and seafoods that I'm told were scrumptious. Flan and other desserts that were too sweet for me, but gobbled down by others. Coffee and tea were available when the sun was up, and fresh fruit and peanut butter and jam at breakfast and lunch, plus soup or eggs or some other hot dish. I’ll stop bragging now, but you get the gist, it was luxe camping fare.

 sleepy sea lions

sleepy sea lions

When not living it up at camp, we were out on the sea. We kayaked 9 miles one day, including a big scary choppy portion, but bailed after 4 miles the next day due to even rougher conditions. One day was too windy and wavy to go out at all, but we took the panga through the high sea to visit a sea lion rookery. Equipped with snorkel gear and wet suits, we flipped and twisted and played with sea lions, who were thrilled to have us, all while hovering over schools of multicolored fish and who-knows-what-else was down there.

 my friends playing with sea lions

my friends playing with sea lions

During other down times Miguel would lead group hikes, which I skipped but am sure were extremely educational, as he knew literally everything there is to know about the island, it’s history, and its flora and fauna. Seriously one of the most impressive and magnetic people I’ve met. While I have no doubt that other guides employed by Mar Y Aventuras are fantastic, I find it impossible to believe anyone could be as good as him, not to mention the talented chef, Martine, skillful panga driver, Chuey, and lovable washing-station-overseer Luis Angel, aka Pelon. We chatted, goofed around, and generally became friends with all of them. My point is, if you go on this trip, please request this crew. And give them each a big hug for me.

 the whole gang

the whole gang

Other highlights include the rain shower: a supply of fresh water you could use to rinse off. I used it once or twice, and even tried bathing in the sea once as well. I quickly deemed it all useless and gave in to the salt and sand and many layers of sunscreen. There was a stand-up-paddleboard that I took out a few times, especially when the rest of the gang went snorkeling and I opted to hang back on the beach. I brought a headlamp, but never needed it since the moon was full and so bright that I slept with my eye mask on some nights. Since we changed position on the island, I got to watch the sun rise and set over the water and the land, and the same with the moon. There were some nights that the sun was still setting on one side while the moon was up on the other; and then another night when the sun had set but the moon hadn’t risen, leaving a darkness deep enough to show off all the stars that there are in the sky.

 sunset and moon rise

sunset and moon rise

Some saw sea turtles while kayaking; I missed them :( But we saw a fin whale on our way out to the island, and a large group of dolphins on our way back.  At the hotel I took the most gratifying shower of all time, and then went to town for ice cream, shopping, margaritas and guac with some of the ladies. I was already a few margs in when we met the group for our farewell dinner, where I ate another cheese quesadilla while others enjoyed steak and seafood, surely some of the best there is. I enjoyed a late-night half-drunk chat with Nan before succumbing to the comfort of an actual bed. And all that – everything I’ve mentioned so far (except the afternoon excursion to town) – was included in the trip. Some folks left the next morning, I stayed one more day in La Paz, where I devoured more margs and guac and sunshine and Nan time.

 dolphins

dolphins

The week went by at a seemingly just-right pace for me. I had no aha moments, no big revelations; I simply soaked it all in and somehow managed to not think about much besides life on the island. I enjoyed deep conversations with my fellow campers, and spent many, many minutes sitting at the door of my tent staring at the sea. I had no connection to the outside world, and I didn’t care about my email or wonder what I was missing on my facebook or instagram feed.

What a relief.

 swoon.

swoon.

What's your favorite type of adventure? What's the next trip you're planning or dreaming up? Share in the comments below!

Does this sound like your kind of trip?Definitely get in touch (connect@megancuzzolino.com) if you're thinking about going- I'd be happy to share more detailed tips and rec's based on my experience :)