The WHAT IS WEST Project: A 1000 Mile Journey Down Baja California
Great companions and explorers together in the past, two American friends set out last February with a grant from National Geographic, embarking upon the quest to document their 1000 mile walk and stand-up paddle adventure down the Baja Peninsula.
Crossing the border to Baja California in search of waves and new experiences came naturally for the two Southern California surfers during their teenage years. With time, what started in the northern towns of Baja expanded southwards and grew into a deeper understanding and appreciation of the environment and cultural diversity that this part of Mexico — the whole Baja Peninsula — has to offer.
After a few years apart, Justin DeShields and Bryan Morales came together on an idea that would reconnect them in the spirit of exploration: They wanted to revisit Baja. The obvious reason was the adventure.
Both still felt drawn by the romance, and the possibility of leaving your lonely footprints on a remote beach. DeShields expressed the idea that, “to walk 200 miles and encounter not more than 50 people… it is still out there in Baja. It is not something you only see in the movies or read about,” it still exists. The idea of journeying this last frontier of Baja — a small chunk of the world that hasn’t been documented in recent years and that has largely retained its remoteness, although human development has impacted some areas — compelled them to write the grant proposal that ultimately made the trip possible when it was accepted by National Geographic. They are currently on the road to completing this amazing documentary.
DeShields and Morales examined their options and the many different ways to travel the peninsula, but realized that walking would bring an entirely different perspective to the project. Said DeShields, “By leaving the carretera (highway) we feel limitless in a way,” and so they are as they walk along cliffs, empty beaches, into mountain ranges and desolate desert.
The journey began at the border, where one of their sponsors, BajaBound (a leading company helping travelers access Mexican insurance coverage) assisted the duo in crossing the border and setting them on their way. The walkers found Tijuana to be a maze of noisy streets but once they passed through the commotion and traffic, the beaches of Rosarito welcomed them and the shores of Ensenada offered beautiful cliffs eroded by the unruly waters of the Pacific.
At the time of this interview, they have spent their days walking and then setting camps at sunset, traveling with only absolute necessities in their backpacks and the cameras required to capture their journey. Along their trip, locals have played key roles in the journey, helping the explorers obtain food and other supplies. Many times, after the initial suspicious reactions they received, they were invited into homes to join a party or to share a meal. When this happened, no money exchanged hands — it was simply that after the first hesitation, they often became ‘amigos’ with the local.
During a stop in Abreojos, which is roughly half-way down the Baja, Justin sounded excited about their next part of the trip: “Can’t wait to hit the Gulf and get into the water!” It would be a chance for the two to unload their backpacks and take off the hiking boots.
To finish the journey is their personal goal and it, in itself, is a great achievement. But the other vital goal is to have their documentary ignite a conversation about how to better manage the imminent transformation that is facing Baja due to development without jeopardizing the pensinsula’s delicate ecological balance.
Baja.com supports the goals of What is West and hopes that the 1000 mile trek brings awareness of Baja’s boundless beauties and the need to protect them to the world. Traveling to Baja? Let BajaBound assist you finding the right insurance for your needs.
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