Reluctantly Leaving Baja

BY: MARLA O'BRIEN

We were watching pelicans dive bomb for lunch offshore from the beach at Juncalito, south of Loreto, when Canada’s Prime Minister issued a global travel advisory and urged all citizens abroad to get home as soon as possible. Within minutes, the texts, phone calls, and opinions started flying among the RV-traveling crowd. 

“Ridiculous ... it’s just a flu,” said a fellow camper on the beach from Vancouver Island. 

“Someone said they are cutting off our emergency travel medical insurance,” said another. 

“I don’t even have any insurance and am not going back to snow,” texted a friend further south. 

My husband and I had been in Baja since the beginning of November 2019 enjoying another sunny winter in our tiny trailer home set up on San Pedrito beach outside Pescadero. We first heard about the Coronavirus when a friend scheduled to fly down for a visit in early February considered canceling her plans. 

“Coronavirus? I thought that was what Mexican travelers got from having too much cerveza,” I quipped. No one is laughing now.

As February progressed, we started hearing more about how the new virus was ravaging China and Italy. But it still seemed so far away. Those posting dire projections on social media about an inevitable worldwide epidemic were scoffed at as sensationalists and Chicken Littles.

In early March we stocked up at the big-box stores in Cabo before heading north and thought nothing of it. This was weeks before any rumours of local COVID-19 cases. But sitting on the beach in Juncalito, hearing my government’s increasing alarm and researching the epidemiological models of transmission, I started to become really conflicted about what to do. 

As any visitor to Baja knows, the most important thing is to separate fact from fiction. The American press is notoriously harsh on Mexico, painting a picture of the country as unsafe chaos. We know the truth - that Baja is a wonderful, welcoming place and, with common-sense precautions such as not driving at night to avoid wandering cattle, safer than many North American urban centers. 

However, with Coronavirus, neither rumors nor borders would stop the potential infection. The facts were it was spreading and we had to respond. And it became a fascinating exercise in human nature, witnessing the varied reactions of seasoned travellers to this new threat. 

This community of fellow campers is one of the things we love most about winters in Baja. Each year we meet and reunite with a group of Canadians, Americans and Europeans of all ages and walks of life with one thing in common - the joy of independent exploration through this beautiful region. We rely on each other for advice, companionship, and help. And it was more true this year than ever before. 

One couple from British Columbia had visited Baja several times in the past via air, but this was their first time driving in an RV through the States and down the length of the peninsula. As one member had a pre-existing condition that put her at a higher risk of complications should she contract the virus, they decided to pack up and head north immediately. Within an hour, we were saying good-bye.   

At the other end of the spectrum was a solo traveler who declared this was all media hype and that he wasn’t going to change his plans one iota. 

Another fellow camper hailed from Germany and currently had a residence in Italy. Given the strict travel sanctions imposed in the European Union, he had long ago resigned himself to the fact he’d be staying in Baja indefinitely. 

For days my husband and I, along with another couple from Canada who were regular snowbirds to Baja, debated on a course of action. We all agreed we felt safer from the virus in Baja. Certainly, there was the potential of exposed visitors to the popular resort centers, but much less chance of transmission among the sparsely-populated villages of central Baja. At least that reasoning made sense. 

But then as news came of border closures and changes to health insurance policies, the virus itself became less a threat than the risk of running into obstacles getting home. If the U.S. decided to only allow their own citizens to cross the border, we could end up spending several more months in Baja. On the surface, this sounded just fine to us, until we realized all our insurances - medical and vehicle - would be void at the end of April. Also whether we’d be able to renew given the circumstances would be a crapshoot.   

All these possibilities were discussed as nauseam among our traveling family. Some left and some decided to stay put. The two of us reluctantly picked up stakes and left Juncalito five days after the global travel advisory was issued. This was our tenth journey along the length of the peninsula and definitely the most bittersweet. Each stop for gas or groceries was fraught with somewhat irrational fear. I was careful about everything I touched and used disinfectant wipes after each store trip.

We decided to pass on what would have been a raucously fun time at Playa Buenaventura’s annual St. Patrick’s Day party in Bahia Concepcion. Our overnight stops at favorite campsites in San Ignacio and San Felipe were tempered with dread about what the next day’s news would bring. 

Even under these circumstances though, Baja always has the ability to surprise and delight. In one desert camping spot south of Cuidad Constitution, we encountered swarms of gentle bees that fed on bowls of water we put out for the dehydrated honey-makers. At Rattlesnake Beach near the Puerto Escondido marina, we enjoyed the extensive mountain trail system built and maintained by the local gringos and the incredible views of the Sierra de la Gigantica it offered. 

Now that we’ve crossed two borders and are in a two-week quarantine, we are wistfully looking at all the photos and videos from another amazing experience in Baja. The immediate future seems so uncertain right now, but one thing is for sure: we will be back!