In case you missed the several times that I might have mentioned it: we spent 27 days in La Ventana/El Sargento, a small hamlet on the Sea of Cortez (east) side of Baja California Sur. We’ve been there twice before because our friends Clara & Shadow moved there in 2018. And since we (I) need to go AWOL from Alaska’s disheartening November/December days, we figured Baja would make an affordable escape getaway. This time, we rented out our own Baja place instead of wearing out our welcome staying with our friends.
Warning: long blog post with a million pictures …
Clara & Shadow are our nomad/trail friends. We met them in 2011 in passing on the Appalachian Trail (they were northbounders, we were southbounders). We stayed in touch through our respective blogs, and over the years, met up wherever our nomadic paths crossed, which was a lot! We are like-minded, so we slide back into friendship easily, despite going months without talking.
La Ventana/El Sargento is a large seasonal expat community that continues to grow. A diverse group of people flock to this area because of the wind—everyone from the British Columbian techie in his 20s to the salesman from New Jersey who is inventing a new life in retirement. They come for kite surfing, wing-foiling, surf-foiling and whatever other type of board-sailing there is to be invented. Generally no large swells build up in the Sea of Cortez as they would in the ocean. And the topography and indentation of land where La Ventana/El Sargento sit funnels thermally charged air currents heated over the peninsula’s southern plains between the towns and the mountainous island across the bay (Cerralvo Isla). Weather-nerding aside, basically there’s a wind machine producing reliable northerly winds that get trapped in a vacuum. As if our friends couldn’t get any more bad-ass, Shadow kite surfs, and Clara wing foils.
Anyway, our 27 days on the Baja peninsula ended up being like an adult summer camp because of Clara, Shadow and their equipment. They let us borrow their e-bike, their car and so much more. Even though Justin of course thinks he can be a kiter, there was none of that for us. But camp activities were plentiful enough: yoga, hiking, backpacking, boating, fishing, snorkeling, stand up paddle boarding, golfing, ping-ponging, metal detecting and … Mantazuma’s revenge. Typical, but no bueno! We didn’t drink the water and washed all our fruits & veggies with purified water and a special solution, yet we still succumbed to something. And while Justin’s tummy always operates as a broken organ, it was me who was hit hardest, as I pretty much died for two days of the trip. I will spare you the details.
Anyway, let’s focus on the bueno. There wasn’t a single day of rain, the temps were between 68 and 82, and my pale skin avoided getting sunburned and instead got an actual bronzing. There’s always a sense of expanded time in Mexico, and the Baja vibes are robust. Who wouldn’t want to trade Alaskan winters for Baja winters?
Perhaps my favorite thing about my Baja life: I did yoga/pilates 10 times!! Clara opened a studio this fall, and I was happy to be her star student temporarily. A byproduct of living through Alaska’s short winter days is watching your fitness turn to crap. Yoga/pilates was not only physically beneficial for me, but mentally. I even loved my 2-mile solo morning e-bike rides over to class where I would say buenos dias to all the construction workers and fend off the stray dogs taking a siesta in the shade who feistily give chase when you roll by. Footnote here: Justin & I are big e-bike fans now!! However, I do wish I brought a bike helmet even though no one else seems to wear them (nor do Mexicans stop at stop signs, so I am eternally grateful I never had a crash).
Similar to my yoga practice, Justin’s cherished highlight was playing 4 rounds of golf with Shadow, and a bunch more practice times on the driving range. There’s a beautiful golf course in La Paz 30 minutes away, and hardly anyone else playing ever. Go figure.
Another treasure from adult summer camp: snorkeling. I have come to realize over the years that I am in love with snorkeling. I’m not a strong swimmer, nor have I ever loved getting in the water (I blame my adolescence years on a swim team where I had to jump into the cold lake for practice at 8am most summer days). However, I feel safe and strong snorkeling, and the ocean in Baja is warm this time of year. I knew it existed from pictures, but there is this whole tropical environment with conchological treasures, coral reefs, sea urchins, mean-looking puffer and needle fish, and schools of 100s of colorful fish to discover. I can’t say that Justin shares my proclivity to explore under the sea, as he has sea creeps. I got him to go snorkeling twice, after 30 minutes of assuring him there weren’t any deadly creatures lurking in the crystal-clear water (I did get stung once by something I didn’t see, but that didn’t stop me). Justin only lasted just a few minutes before being too unnerved. Mostly, I went on my own, as he walked the beach to go metal detecting and occasionally looking up to make sure I was not in distress. Not sure he would have come out to rescue me, but I was willing to take my chances.
As for metal detecting, Justin did not strike gold. He found a whole lot of bottle caps, and 10 pesos, which equals $0.59. As the nerdy metal detecting folks would say, it’s more about the hunt.
We went out on Shadow & Clara’s boat one day with the purpose of fishing. Guess who caught a fish that we could eat???? I think it was a Sierra mackerel. All I know is that it took work to reel it in.
The four of us also did an overnight backpacking trip in Sierra De La Laguna Biosphere Reserve, the spine of mountains cutting the southernmost section of the Baja peninsula. The rich ecosystem within this range is the draw—it’s wild to see aspens next to palm trees. We started our hike from Rancho San Dionisio, a privately owned off-the-grid eco-ranch that is a destination in itself.
We told the ranch owner Clarence that we wanted to hike up to top of the range for the night, La Laguana, which was about 8 miles away. He warned us that it is a masochistic slog and we should instead target Pozo de Pepe as our destination. We shrugged him off because we’re thru hikers damnit! He didn’t know the kind of miles we can crank out!
Just 4 miles into the hike, I remembered what it felt like to have sopping wet armpits and to be forever glazed in a slime of sunscreen & sweat. Then, after 6.5 hours of climbing 3,000 feet with multiple breaks including cooling off in a swimming hole, we made it the 6.1 miles to Pozo de Pepe and declared ourselves more than done! Clarence wasn’t messing around with his warning.
But back to Adult Summer Camp in La Ventana/El Sargento. Admittedly, many of our days were spent just walking/hanging on the beach, which was a block from where we were staying. The community isn’t a big tourist destination, so it’s not like there’s tons of excursions (unlike Baja’s popular Cabo destination). We knew that, and that’s why we like it. We wanted a place where there’s not much to do but enjoy the natural surroundings. I’ve never been one to play in the sandbox, but I developed a strong predisposition for the beach on this trip. It was an easy walk to get to a virtually empty beach, where we could watch the birds dive bomb the sea for fish or just soak up every bit of Vitamin D our pale Alaskan skin could handle (see day 1 versus day 26 of my legs next to Shadow’s as proof of my coloring up). And when the wind was blowing, our entertainment was watching the adrenaline junkies on the water.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that we lured another Alaskan to escape to Baja. Our neighbor, Sarah, flew down to soak up the rays and sleep on our couch for a few days.
Overall, we loved our time in La Ventana/El Sargento. The condo we rented was extremely affordable (like $30/night), mostly because there was ongoing construction on the pool (slightly annoying noise level at times). Foodwise, there’s anything from the pop-up tents serving $2 tacos to modern restaurants. If you have cool friends like we do, you might think you are just interrupting a family party at someone’s house, but indeed you are entering a Mexican’s backyard turned “restaurant.”