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Gulf of California

Descansa en Paz, Pancho "El Correcaminos" de San Rafael

It is with a heavy heart that we, the Broken Wagon Films crew, write this upon receiving word of the death of a dear friend--and friend of many--Pancho.

It is hard not to think or talk about Baja without thinking of Pancho. In a way, he is Baja personified. He defined so many of our trips: making the drive on the rutted, sandy road out to Playa San Rafael to the beautiful spit of land he called home; his welcoming nature as he greeted us; and the ensuing days of stories, laughter, and exchanging of gifts. We spent many nights beside a fire on that beach with him and his dogs (so many over the years that we've lost count and begin to forget their names), drawing pictures in the sand, communicating in broken English and Spanish, listened as he told us stories of banditos and dolphins and the disappearing fish in the gulf, and watched as he ate a black scorpion that had crawled over his foot--in one bite, careful to not bite the venomous tip of the tail, pinched between two of his fingers. 

His unmatched kindness and spirit will be missed, as will his jokes and wisdom. 

Descansa en paz, Pancho "Correcaminos," nuestro amigo.

Our friend, Pancho, during an interview for "The Devil's Road" in 2017.

Our friend, Pancho, during an interview for "The Devil's Road" in 2017.

Pancho and our family during a 2015 trip. 

Pancho and our family during a 2015 trip. 

"The Devil's Road" Main Expedition, Day 50

April 17th (Agua Verde to Conception Bay)

Getting out of the beach and up the hill to the main road was a challenge for me. It is very steep, full of big ruts and large rocks, and quite narrow. I bottomed out a few times on the rear shock as the bike bucked. I barely had control of the bike, but was determined not to crash. I made it and jumped off to film JT as he tackled the monster. One thing is crystal clear for me at this point in our expedition: JT is a much better rider than me. He took that hill like it was a walk in the park. Life is great when your children outperform you...I have done my job as a parent!

Our destination was Playa Santispac, a beautiful beach with jade-color water. When we arrived it was nearly full of holiday vacationers so we decided to go back a few miles to Playa Cocos, a small beach with palapas—and we needed the shade to beat the heat while we settled in. A nice swim did the trick of bringing our core temperatures down to normal. Another great night on the water of the Sea of Cortez!

Bay of Conception (Bahia Concepcion)

Bay of Conception (Bahia Concepcion)

"The Devil's Road" Main Expedition, Day 47

I woke up feeling somewhat somber, knowing that in a few hours I would have to drive to San Jose del Cabo, hop on a plane, and go home.

On asking JT and Papa how they felt the week’s filming went, they said they were pleased with accomplishing what they had hoped to throughout the week. The goal was threefold: ride horses into the Sierra la Laguna, following a similar route taken by Nelson and Goldman; surf some of Baja’s beaches (as it is one of only a few things Baja is known for to the outside world and is an important economic and cultural contributor for some places on the peninsula); and capture the opulence of Cabo San Lucas. I’d say the week was a success.

This did little to uplift my spirits completely. As we veered inland, all I could think about was that blue again. It's no wonder that legendary conservationist, scientist, and filmmaker Jacques Cousteau called the Sea of Cortez the world's aquarium. And let's not forget his famous quote: "The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever."

I was leaving it behind again--and already I was planning the next time I’d see it. It is always with some degree of hesitancy or reserve, however. I always fear the state I will find it in when I return. It will never be as it was the time before, and its future is uncertain. 

As the plane rumbled forward, then lifted, I looked out the window and bid the wondrous place a silent farewell. 

"The Devil's Road" Main Expedition, Day 42

Guest blog by Associate Producer Bri Bruce

Rose before the sun, an orange glow from the east across the gulf. The shorebreak echoed like thunder through the night, booming and reverberating against the stucco walls of the nearby houses. I took a short walk to the steps above the beach just as the sun was rising, creating a bright, eye-tearing glare off the water. There were already two surfers out at the rocky point, and I watched as they caught wave after wave, unencumbered. Their strokes were steady as they paddled back out to the lineup, then fluidly slid into the curling mouths of aqua waves rolling toward the shore. I was nearly giddy with excitement. 

Sunrise on the East Cape. 

Sunrise on the East Cape. 

Steer skull on the entryway.

Steer skull on the entryway.

On the walk back to the condo and while looking at the neighboring houses, I thought how strange it was (and what a feat of engineering, really) that these communities pop up all over Baja seemingly out of nowhere and in the middle of nowhere, so far from any central hub of a town or city. And most, if not all, have modern amenities--running water, electricity, cable, even wifi. On previous trips, calling home was unheard of. Checking email? Forget it. You were MIA for the duration of your stay. Completely disconnected. I prefer it that way. What happened to the simple life? Pura vida? Beachfront palapas, sleeping in the sand, catching fish or diving for rock scallops to feed yourself and your family, trucking in and storing water in 50-gallon drums, rise with the sun, sleep when its dark. . . . For such a long time this was, in my opinion, part of the allure of Baja: its harshness. You had to be okay with roughing it and going a few days or more without a shower, or devise creative ways to entertain yourself to pass the hottest part of the day. Sure, it was not an existence of convenience and undoubtedly many will disagree with my opinion. One travels to Baja to do just that: go to Baja. Immerse yourself in the sights, the culture. Why the need to bring home with you? Is it just a matter of comfort? How many resources are wasted for these kinds of conveniences? I can only imagine the waste associated with larger resorts and hotels along the cape. 

Baja is far from being Cabo; it is not Cancun. I hope it never will be, yet I can't help but fear it's evolution into a tourist destination is unstoppable.

Yes, the local economy benefits from tourism, but at the cost of Baja, its natural resources, flora and fauna. Large populations of tourists demand modern conveniences. This could mean a depletion of naturally occurring fresh water sources, or desalination plants for fresh water (at the cost of plant and animal life on land as well as already-sensitive marine life due to the resulting toxic brine), unsustainable (and perhaps unregulated) fishing practices, erosion, habitat destruction for fragile endemic species... the list goes on.

But is there a way to meld ecological preservation and tourism more seamlessly? Or does opulence breed opulence? Will one always outweigh the other?  

The World Conservation Union defines eco-tourism as "Environmentally responsible travel to natural areas, in order to enjoy and appreciate nature (and accompanying cultural features, both past and present) that promote conservation, have a low visitor impact and provide for beneficially active socio-economic involvement of local peoples."

One of our goals in making this film was to capture the beauty of Baja as it was at the turn of the last century, how it is now, and show what will happen if this region is forever at the mercy of those that want to exploit it. We are, at our core, eco-tourists, wanting to make as small an environmental impact as we can, enrich ourselves with Baja's culture, and appreciate it's beauty. We also want to share with the world all that defines Baja in hopes that our passion for it is contagious. To quote a number of conservation organizations, we protect the places we are most passionate about. Maybe we strike a chord in someone, or in a group of people. Maybe we bring to the surface all of the change over the last century, or of the importance of the work that Nelson and Goldman did for Baja's natural history. Maybe. We remain hopeful.