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Gringos in Baja

Adventurers, seekers, do-gooders, speculators, linguists

Punta Baja is “a survivor, one of the last unspoiled outposts on the vanishing frontier of Lower California.”
  • Punta Baja is “a survivor, one of the last unspoiled outposts on the vanishing frontier of Lower California.”
  • Image by Michael Yada

A Quiet Place South of Here

The sea urchin is a major object of the villager’s sea harvesting. The wind and sea are calm enough for harvesting sea urchins fewer than half the days of the year. A four-man crew takes a diving skiff to a reef about an hour’s boat ride from Punta Baja. One man sculls with oars, keeping the unanchored boat over the diver; another tends the precious air hose; a third hauls and shucks the urchins’ gonads.

By Brian Wiersma, Oct. 4, 1979 | Read full article

Gregg sees the Baja peninsula as the only frontier he’s ever known, in the sense of being a land that still attracts frontiersmen, people with nothing to lose.

Gregg sees the Baja peninsula as the only frontier he’s ever known, in the sense of being a land that still attracts frontiersmen, people with nothing to lose.

Fisherman’s Knot — In Baja with a Friend

Gregg was wet and hadn’t caught a fish; and here he was probably thinking that I was having a miserable time at his treasured fishing spot. But for all of that he looked as good as a Kool advertisement, with his red watch cap and his green sweater, and his cigarette looking long and just lit. I know I have a moral obligation not to see beauty in terms of a magazine ad, but it isn’t easy.

By Joe Applegate, Feb. 28, 1980 | Read full article

“Karla and I went to different homes looking for pilots. We finally found an American who said he’d fly out at first light and everyone kept saying it was impossible to do anything at night there."

“Karla and I went to different homes looking for pilots. We finally found an American who said he’d fly out at first light and everyone kept saying it was impossible to do anything at night there."

Somewhere Between Death and the Border

“The first thing I could do was call the Coast Guard and they said it would take three days to get clearance from the Mexican government to fly in there. They told me to try Jimsair at Lindbergh Field, but they said they aren’t allowed to land there at night. They told me to try an M.D. who flies out to care for people on tuna boats, but he was under the same restriction.”

By Bob Dorn, Sept. 16, 1982 | Read full article

El Picacho del Diablo

El Picacho del Diablo

The Devil’s Peak

Nature is rarely the idyllic place many people want it to be. That’s why so many of them die in our parks and forests. Seduced by the beauty and grandeur, they never realize how horribly cruel nature can be, until it's too late. Maybe I 'll be one of them. But if I ever die in the wilderness, I hope they never find me. I would rather end up in a coyote's turd than a silk-lined coffin.

By Steve Sorensen, Aug 2, 1984 | Read full article

Just Send My Mail to Santo Tomas

In September of 1981, without a word to his family (his father is a commodities broker in Newport Beach, his mother an executive with a construction company in Monterey, and his sister a political science student at Berkeley), Birch set out from home with exactly nine dollars in his pocket. He told us, “I came down as naturally as I could — on foot.” He walked, barefoot, all the way from Laguna Beach to Santo Tomás.

By Michael Waterman, May 26, 1993 | Read full article

The fence climbs dusty bluffs along Tijuana’s International Avenue, where it faces Dairy Mart Road on the U.S. side

The fence climbs dusty bluffs along Tijuana’s International Avenue, where it faces Dairy Mart Road on the U.S. side

Borderline Spanish

The action has now moved farther west, where the fence climbs dusty bluffs along Tijuana’s International Avenue, where it faces Dairy Mart Road on the U.S. side. The centers of the action are called the Gravel Pit (el ranchito) and the High Point (no equivalent Spanish name to speak of). A few years ago, the action was even farther east than el bordo, centered at “the soccer field” in the slum called Colonia Libertad.

By Gary Moore, Sept. 6, 1990 | Read full article

What an hour ago was slight dip in road is now rollicking white water, 100 yards across, four to six feet deep

What an hour ago was slight dip in road is now rollicking white water, 100 yards across, four to six feet deep

Road Hell — the Baja 500

“They also say you must have a full belly pan fore and aft to keep rocks, sticks, rattlesnakes from kicking up into the cab. You must have a front skid pan to extend underneath your steering mechanism. You must have one shock, each wheel, minimum. You must have a fire extinguisher on-board; you have to carry a first-aid kit, tow line, flares, spare fan belt, spare throttle springs, and enough food to last two days.”

By Patrick Daugherty, Sept. 20, 1990 | Read full article

Gillenberg sped back to Chuy’s Bar and told his story to his buddies

Gillenberg sped back to Chuy’s Bar and told his story to his buddies

Ship of Fools

“She poured wine for all of us. I picked up a glass and raised it in a toast and said, ‘Nostrovia ... Gorbachev... Nostro-via.’ The place erupted. The damn first engineer comes over and grabs the glass out of my hands and shatters it on the deck. Glass and wine all over the damn deck. The ugly guy, he finishes his, holds out the glass in front of my face and SMASH! crushes it in his hand. “

By Joe Daley, March 28, 1991 | Read full article

A few people emitted crazed laughter in anticipation of what was to come

A few people emitted crazed laughter in anticipation of what was to come

Absolutely the Last Eclipse Article

Tour members found the locals to be courteous and friendly, if not a bit curious about all the Americans coming to look at the sky. The hotel allowed most of the staff to observe the eclipse, though a few kitchen workers were not allowed outdoors. They couldn’t be distracted from preparing the guests’ post-eclipse cold-cut lunch. At least the management allowed those workers to watch the eclipse on television, which is something like kissing your sister.

By Evan Zucker, July 25, 1991 | Read full article

 "Puta Madre" It is a kind of cry against the world. A bellow of astonishment.

"Puta Madre" It is a kind of cry against the world. A bellow of astonishment.

Do you make these embarrassing mistakes when you cuss in Mexican?

Another form of mother appears in the lascivious appreciative comment mamacita (“little mama”). Men say this to women. Curiously, both feminists and fundamentalists have curbed this practice, since both camps chafe at the implication, which is, “You cute little thing, I’m going to deliver a load of manhood to you.” Dimwits make wordplay with mamacita and say instead mamasota, which means “great big mama” but implies “you have ten times the sex appeal of a mamacita."

By Luis Urrea, Aug. 22, 1991 | Read full article

Approaching South Island. At 1830 I sailed into Smugglers’ Cove but made an unpleasant discovery. There was no beach or dock on which to land.

Approaching South Island. At 1830 I sailed into Smugglers’ Cove but made an unpleasant discovery. There was no beach or dock on which to land.

Absolute Freedom, Precious Freedom

I explained my mission over another drink. “No problema.” I had his permission to explore the island the next day. I sat down at the table to shoot the shit with these guys. I told them I had been a soldier in the U.S. Infantry, and they asked questions about military life across the border. I answered these as best I could, and in turn I was told of life in the Mexican Navy.

By James Knight, Aug. 13, 1992 | Read full article

Road to Real Del Mar. “We opened the golf course last week. We’re going to have 18 holes, 7 lakes, 51 bunkers."

Road to Real Del Mar. “We opened the golf course last week. We’re going to have 18 holes, 7 lakes, 51 bunkers."

Baja Boom Towns: So Far From God, So Close to the United States

“You know what they used to put on cars around here during the last elections? ‘Be a patriot, kill a chilango.' Chilango is a derogatory name for a person from the capital. You know what would be amusing? If Baja ceded from Mexico and California ceded from the United States California for us was always one unit. And it’s going to be one unit once more, I hope, with two-story Blockbusters leading the way.”

By Lawrence Osborne, Sept. 23, 1993 | Read full article

Aileen Mellott, Lea Hanlon, Polly Ross prepare to deliver Christmas gifts, 1961

Aileen Mellott, Lea Hanlon, Polly Ross prepare to deliver Christmas gifts, 1961

Angels with Dusty Wings

“So many of the men have cataracts. Some of them extended over the central portion of the cornea and really knocked out their central vision. And we did a lot of hernia repairs. These men didn’t have these nice little hernias that you see up here. They were all huge, neglected hernias. Their main occupation was pulling in lobster traps and diving for abalone and doing hard, physical work. A hernia kept them from working. “

By Linda Nevin, July 9, 1998 | Read full article

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