by Francis Roland Trupo
When we think of a desert, what comes to mind is usually a barren wasteland of sand and harsh winds. Many think that desert landscapes are so inhospitable and empty that only camels and poisonous snakes are tough enough to live in these places. Even the flora is narrowed down to different species of cactus which sparsely grow under the unforgiving desert sun. However, this radically different yet understatedly beautiful landscape as I found out through my visit in Cataviña, Baja California is not always a picture of expansive emptiness and natural crudity.
Cataviña is actually a small quiet town in Baja California, Mexico. Unlike other similar small towns in the Baja California peninsula however, Cataviña is known for a historic, natural and spiritual aura that exudes from the town and its surrounding areas. Because of this unique atmosphere that Cataviña has, I decided to go there one summer month for a spiritual retreat of some sort.
On arriving at Cataviña, I went straight to the ranch hotel where I booked myself over the phone about a week ago. The hotel I stayed in was absolutely not as grand and luxurious as five star or four star hotels found in Los Cabos, La Paz, Tijuana and other places in Baja. However, the hotel had a rustic charm to it which I thought provided the tranquility that I came to Cataviña for. The hotel ranch was a spacious place, and my one bedroom hotel room had a breathtaking view of the ranch and the desert beyond it. I didn’t know it at the time but the hotel I stayed in was actually the only hotel in the entire town of Cataviña.
The following day, I went on a tour that I asked the hotel to book for me. The tour of Cataviña and its surrounding areas was an overnight trip because as it was explained to us who were on the tour, a hurried tour would contradict the tranquil beauty and spirituality that Cataviña is admired and visited for. Half of the morning we spent touring the desert and rock caves found just a couple of miles from the town, where there are plenty of prehistoric cave paintings and relics. But the interior of the caves where artifacts and writings for centuries ago were not the only amazing thing found in the area. The rock formations and landscapes were also a sight to behold and it was really great to feel closer to nature during that time. We also drove by an extinct volcano and saw the magnificent silhouette of the Baja California peninsular mountain ranges.
Our lunches were provided for as it was part of the tour package fees, and we were given packed lunches of burritos, menudo, rice and empanada. Since I brought no one with me on that trip and was completely alone, I was very much thankful that the other tourists who were on the tour invited me to eat with them. I found that it was better for me to go on the trip to Cataviña and the tour by myself because instead of talking the during the entire trip with someone I already know, I was able to meet and befriend plenty of new people.
The afternoon was spent exploring and driving around the desert plains and sand dunes of Cataviña where there are accessible roads. One of the tourists suggested we drive across the desert but we were informed that a touring shuttle filled with twenty people would surely get stuck on the sandy desert ground. Because it was just after the winter months which is probably the only time the arid deserts of Cataviña enjoy a few moments of rain, the desert was a garden of the most unusual flora species I have ever seen. It was like looking at an alien landscape, which in a way it was for me since I am used to urban surroundings where there are barely trees and plants to be seen. There were cacti of all species and shapes. Others were very tall and straight with large white thorns sticking out from all sides. Others were round and covered with millions of fine thorns that make them look like large, green thistles. There were also trees that look as if there are large replicas of the spiky leaves sprouting from the ground where a pineapple grows while others have large trunks and plenty of small branches and leaves. Large boulders of rust and gold are scattered everywhere and they contrasted well with the greens, yellows and orange leaves falling from trees and shrubs. It was a very refreshing sight to see and those who say deserts are empty and lifeless would have been embarrassed to be there with us.
During the late afternoon we set up camp at in a little roadside desert camping site and it was amazing to be standing amidst a desert that constantly changes its colors and shadows are the sun sunk behind the desert horizon. I have to say this was my favorite part of the trip because never have I seen such a breathtaking display of the beauty of nature and I had no idea I would see it while touring in a desert. That night, we got to enjoy a spectacular view of the stars and the Baja desert landscape at night. The wind was definitely cooler at night and we spent the evening talking about the sights we have seen that day before going to sleep inside our tents.