7

– Spring/Summer 2003

Viva Baja

Mungo Thomson

Richard Wright, Untitled, detail, gouache on wall, Talbot Rice Centre, Ediburgh, 2000. Courtesy the artist.

Richard Wright, Untitled, detail, gouache on wall, Talbot Rice Centre, Ediburgh, 2000. Courtesy the artist.

In summer 1991, with my friend Jeff, I drove the length of the Baja California peninsula to observe a total solar eclipse. Baja is basically the world's biggest sand bar - 60 miles wide, 1,100 miles long, still waters full of sting-rays to the east, waves and gray whales to the west, brushy desert in the middle.

Once you get past the beach towns where Southern Californians go to surf and party, there's nothing much on it except a few places to stop and get tacos de pescado and a very grim zoo. Highway 1 itself, which Mexico opened to screaming ATVs and puttering VW buses in the 1970s, is now dry and cracked and covered in gaping potholes. Along the curves in the road rest collections of funerary tributes to vehicles that have plummeted over the side.

That drive was like heading out onto a giant, rickety jetty to achieve the right vantage point from which to view a celestial event, or rather to obtain a vantage point from which to see around the global climate and into outer space. As it turned out we were lucky; of about only five places in the world from which to see the eclipse, Baja was the only one that didn't cloud over. Later I read that the entire cast of the original Star Trek, on hand as ever to lend legitimacy to celestial events, had a large and public gathering to watch the eclipse in Hawaii, only to be disappointed.

We watched it from La Paz, a small city of 150,000 on the eastern coast of the peninsula about 100 miles from the tip.