Mountains, Cacti, Desert, Ocean

 Mountains, Cacti, Desert, Ocean

And Why We Become Enamored of the Combination

BY NAAILAH AULADIN

One of the deciding factors in moving to Baja California Sur was the accessibility to mountains parallel with its proximity to the ocean. For the last two years, I was blessed to have lived by the Caribbean surrounded by its lush green jungles, yet my heart kept longing for mountains and their majestic embrace. In those years, my connection with nature deepened, so much so that now, where I live is heavily influenced by the nature palette it provides. Baja, on paper, was a perfect fit.

Since arriving, I’ve explored a few beaches and hiked the famous Balandra Tower. Each experience is unique and breathtaking, incomparable, one to the next. A few weeks ago, while camping in Cabo Pulmo, I was left both awed and humbled by the glimpse of what Baja truly has in store.

Paul, or Palm Spring Paul as he calls himself, is one of my first friends here. Paul has been living in La Paz for the past few years and has explored the Baja Sur region extensively. Having converted his SUV into a van life set-up, Paul embarks on multiple week-long journeys, granting him access to the endless playgrounds Baja offers off the beaten path, away from busy towns or tourist spots.

Paul’s other passion is sharing his discoveries and favorite spots with other nature lovers, allowing me to experience magical adventures in places I would otherwise not know. Our weekend trip to Cabo Pulmo had a deeper intention to it, it wasn’t solely for us cruising in and out of the mountains.

A week prior, Paul volunteered to take care of a rescue dog post-surgery. The dog, Machu, was rescued in a poor physical state and required surgery. His new owner, Cesar, needed someone to nurse Machu while she was recovering. Our trip to Cabo Pulmo was primarily to reunite Machu with Cesar and it doubled up as this incredible introduction to my new extended backyard—and my first camping experience in Mexico.

Cesar, a dive instructor in Cabo Pulmo National Marine Park, originally from Spain, has lived on the beach for several years. His mobile home, and those of his neighbors, conveniently parked on the sand, are sandwiched between soothing waves and a picturesque mountain landscape. A perfect location for watching both sunrises and sunsets, just a five-minute walk to town and restaurants. 

Setting camp on the beach, we soaked in the magic of this place for a few days. Cesar’s hospitality matched the scenery and watching him reunited with Machu made the whole experience even more special. I felt very privileged to be there and to witness the deep bond that got developed between Paul, Cesar and Machu. A beautiful story of compassion and love.

During my visit, I learned that Cabo Pulmo wasn’t just a picturesque beach town; it’s also a haven for marine life and a testament to environmental resilience, boasting the oldest and largest coral reef on the North American west coast (around 20,000 years old). Once severely depleted by overfishing, the reef staged a remarkable comeback thanks to community conservation efforts. Now, over 800 species of marine life thrive in its vibrant coral gardens, from playful dolphins and majestic manta rays to schools of fish shimmering like liquid jewels. I was awed and humbled.

My first underwater experience here was snorkeling at Los Frailes. Sunlight fractured through the waves, dappling the vibrant coral gardens below. Schools of fish, shimmering color streaks, darted between towering underwater castles, their scales catching the light like a thousand tiny disco balls. Lost in bliss, I was ecstatic about this exciting new chapter of my nautical adventures. 

At night, we got soaked in the last rays of the sun and witnessed a sky lit up with twinkling stars, planets, and galaxies. This is how Baja California Sur introduced itself to me.

During one of our daytime trips, Paul took us to the little town named Santiago. A noticeable change in humidity greeted us upon entering. Surprisingly, the flora of Santiago boasted more tropical variety than any other region I’d visited thus far. The water there made it an ideal “oasis” in the middle of the desert, with a perfect stretch of palm trees. The word “oasis” never resonated more with me than at that moment. It was fascinating to observe two distinct ecologies coexisting in harmony despite their differences.

We hiked mountains, climbed on cliffs, visited villages, and danced on beaches. Paul took me to a thermal water spot and showed me the way to a waterfall. We encountered wild horses and donkeys, diverse birds, goats, and even bulls —adding to the lists of sea creatures we swam with. I was pleasantly surprised by the abundance of wildlife in this desert landscape. 

I am brimming with gratitude for all the nature Baja California Sur has to offer. I look forward to more hikes, camping trips, and definitely more snorkeling. A heartfelt gratitude to Paul, who so passionately shared his love for Baja with me.

As the sun dipped below the horizon, casting long shadows across the sand, I felt a deep sense of rejuvenation. Beyond the breathtaking landscapes and exhilarating adventures, Baja California Sur reminded me of something fundamental: the profound connection between nature and well-being.

Studies have shown that spending time in nature reduces stress, improves mood, and even boosts the immune system. Immersing ourselves in the sounds of crashing waves, or the vibrant hues of a coral reef can be a powerful antidote to the anxieties of daily life.

Take advantage of the abundant nature around you and start this new year with renewed vows with the outdoors. I look forward to spending 2024 exploring more places and I invite you to consider making “spend more time in nature” as part of your new year’s resolution. For more of my stories, follow me on Instagram @naailahauladin