Each time I visit Baja I am awed by the natural landscape.
The meeting of desert and ocean, the abrupt rising of the Sierra de la Giganta mountain range seemingly right out of the Sea of Cortez. This wonderful mountain range is located in Baja California Sur, just south of Loreto on the Sea of Cortez. The Sierra de la Giganta extends along the southeastern Baja California Peninsula, parallel and close to the coast of the Sea of Cortez. The highest point in the range is Cerro de la Giganta at 3,858 feet in elevation, located near Loreto where we home base when visiting for these trips each year.
It rises abruptly from sea level and presents a spectacular sight from the shore like a gigantic wall filled with peaks, towers, and deep narrow canyons. Looking closely you can see the “giant” laying on her back with her knees pointed toward the sky.
It’s impossible not to be spellbound by these mountains, bathed by the morning sunrise they glow rising up from the sea creating a marvelous meeting of mountains, desert and ocean.
Loreto, Mexico, is a small fishing village located 700 miles south of San Diego on the Southern Baja Peninsula. Situated on the beautiful Sea of Cortez, this town of approximately 13,000 was built around the Mission Loreto, the first and southernmost mission successfully established in Las Californias whose construction started in 1740 and was finished in 1744. It is also the start of the El Camino Real that runs over 1000 miles from Loreto Baja to Sonoma California along the old mission trade route.
Although I don’t have much free time while in Loreto leading these group trips I was able to steal away half day each week on the group’s free day to hike with Debora (the owner of our Inn and a good friend). The first week’s hike was up into the mountains walking through “Ejido Loreto”. We could see the boundaries of each parcel marked by rocks along the dirt road as we hiked. The history of Ejidos in Mexico is an interesting one.
To understand Ejidos and how land ownership in Mexico works, it is helpful to learn the history of property ownership in Mexico. Picture a country that has been dominated by foreign owners since the early 1500’s, and you will begin to see why Mexico is so protective of its most valuable resource…land.
In 1517, when Hernandez de Cordoba sailed from Spain to the Yucatan Peninsula, foreigners laid claim to Mexican lands. Spain decided that since they had landed here, it was now theirs. It was not until 1822 that Mexico declared its independence from Spain, much like the U.S. declared independence from England, but even with this new independence, the lands of Mexico were still owned by wealthy foreigners, the Mexican upper class and the Church. Porfirio Diaz, a former President of Mexico for over 30 years, nearly sold all of Mexico to foreigners during his term.
The end result was the Mexican Revolution, which cost over one million lives and was the basis for the Federal Constitution of 1917. The new constitution imposed new laws and restrictions on foreign ownership and ownership of real estate by the Catholic Church. Article 27 of the constitution allows Mexican Nationals and Mexican Companies to own property in Mexico, however, it restricts foreigners from owning land with the restricted zone (most of Baja is within this restricted zone).
“Buy land, they’re not making it anymore.” – Mark Twain
Not until the 1930’s did the Mexican people truly see the property being returned to them. President Lazaro Cardenas disassembled the large property holding and distributed them in the form of cooperative farms or “Ejidos”. The people were given ownership of these properties and were allowed to farm and cultivate them and receive the profit from their efforts. After nearly 4000 years, over 50 million acres of land was back in the hands of the Mexican people, however, it was still owned by the Federal Government.
Even though the people were allowed to farm the properties and profit from their work, it was not until 1992 that they were allowed to sell the properties. The 1992 Agrarian Law recognizes property rights within the Ejido and allows for the owner of record to sell or lease the property to a non-Ejido member. The property can be removed from the National Agrarian Registry (removed from Federal Control) and placed in the public land registry allowing it to be sold or leased. Today, thousands of acres are being removed on a daily basis from the Ejidos, added to the public lands and being sold or leased for a variety of purposes.
The hike included beautiful desert scenery with glimpses back toward the Sea of Cortez with a side trip to an old public swimming facility that has long been washed away by floods that raced through the arroyo.
“Not all those who wander are lost.” – J.R.R. Tolkien
We chose for our hike the second week a route along the sea navigating our way from Loreto to Nopolo. With ocean views on one side and some great wetlands on the other it was spectacular.
A heron perched on a cardon cactus was an interesting sight as were numerous shade structures along the beach frequented by local families on warm weekends and by the occasional “snowbird” RV’er that is more adventurous and willing to brave the rough roads need to access the area.
“The very air here is miraculous, and outlines of reality change with the moment.” – John Steinbeck, The Log from the Sea of Cortez
We arrived in Nopolo and headed immediately for the coffee shop, they had a great latte and muffins that were just the ticket after our 8-mile hike. But what a difference those 8 miles made. The resort area of Nopolo might just as well have been in Palm Springs judging by the homes, landscaping, golf carts and residents. There seemed to be almost none of the hospitable warm Mexican culture anywhere in sight. Although the coffee was certainly good after our trek this was a community that I am not very interested in exploring any further.
A taxi ride carried us back to Loreto where we were warmly greeted by Debora’s husband Gerardo bearing bouquets of flowers for both Debora and I to celebrate International Women’s Day.
I will write more about the very warm and wonderful people of Loreto in my next post. For now it’s enough to say that I can’t wait to return each year.