When imagining a trip through Baja California, the first thing you think of are the beautiful virgin beaches, a sea full of life, the cactus fields that grow patiently under the desert sun and the red sunsets over the ocean, but that is not everything. This territory hides other secrets, other paradises full of surprises that will drag you on an adventure, that will make you live experiences with the local people and allow you to appreciate their simple lifestyle, measured by the sun and by ancient customs.
One of these treasures is, without a doubt, the circuit of paintings better known as Cave Paintings. They are masterpieces of prehistoric art and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, located in the Sierra S. Francisco massif in the secret heart of Baja California, one of the less touristy areas but full of interests, not only artistic.
Knocking on heaven’s door
The Toyota takes us smoothly to the top of the Sierra Central of Baja California with an altitude of 1200 meters. Awaiting us is a small town inhabited by about 30 families where time seems to have stopped. Isolated in space and stopped in time, their lives remain unchanged in the mountains and in the canyons where they were born. Kind but tenacious, they give themselves to the community to survive.
In this small town, we load our luggage on patient mules with shy glances and begin to descend the winding trails that will lead us to the hidden secret in the deepest heart of Baja California.
After a day on the road, we stop for the night. We light the fire where the Californians cook over crackling flames and their slow and expert gestures are accompanied by the notes of their old songs, hummed absentmindedly around the fire. The atmosphere is magical, and the moment is captured in a perfect memory that I will never forget.
These notes, which I do not know, remind me that music and, especially the songs of my childhood and youth, have always been important in my travels; I think to myself that they have kept me company and they have always given an emotional color to my discoveries.
Oftentimes, the passage of miles and images that slid quickly through the windows and left in the past, was accompanied by the harsh voice of Bob Dylan and his dreamlike lyrics. For decades, his music has been the soundtrack to the stories of my life and to those of many of us. Forever Young, I shall be released, Like a Rolling Stone, are the voices of at least a couple of generations, and the voices of important songs of mine.
The little tents are already set up under a blanket of stars. It is a show that I do not want to miss, so I leave the tent flap open to a huge moon that will illuminate my dreams.
The morning comes early, long before the heat of the sun, and is announced through the fabric of the tent. The hot coffee helps me take the first steps of the day.
The Californianos are already on the move, recovering the mules scattered on the rocks of the immense canyon. The night frees them to fetch grass and water, as nothing puts them in danger.
Everything is ready. We get back on the mules and head towards the heart of the Baja California mountain system. We go straight to the caves that guard the still living traces of a remote past, printed on the stone walls of the ancient inhabitants of this area: the mysterious Cochimí people, which unfortunately disappeared in the 19th century, leaving extraordinary testimonies of its existence.
After a few kilometers, I feel the need to be alone for a while and I go to my ipod for help. I feel the warm sun on my back and the strong smell of wild nature. I make a common gesture: I dive through my playlist looking for the most appropriate soundtrack for the moment.
Mama put my guns in the ground I can’t shoot them anymore
Accompanied by music, I fully immerse myself in this primitive setting and let myself be carried away among the pink stones and the pools of pristine water, following the path of the hawks that fly over my head. The swaying of the mule helps me pay attention to every flower on the ground, every butterfly that flies and every leaf that brushes my face. I am living now like I have few times before, tasting all the nuances.
The majestic beauty that surrounds me is crowned by the enormous cacti, the Cardones, immobile spectators of the slow passing of the seasons and the years, and by the small mammillaries, witnesses of the incredible resistance of life in this magical and harsh place.
On the high walls of the canyons, one can sense the passing of the different eras, marked by the traces of the water of the ancient rivers.
In the cave, admiring the masterpieces of prehistoric art
After almost 4 hours, we reach the first painted cave and we admire the huge figures drawn, the hunting scenes and even the whales, which testify to the incredible mobility over the territory of this tribe. Paintings that, thanks to the particular conformation of the rocks, have kept the colors alive from 3000 or 4000 years ago.
Observing these images, I remember the fragment of a book that said that the forms of the cave paintings were the first attempt of man to retrieve memories other than thought; it was a way of transmitting the image of a lived experience through something that was to restore time. A primitive form of photography.
It’s gettin’ dark, too dark to see
Time is a faithful companion; it accompanies us at all times. Sometimes it ruthlessly runs away from us, leaving no trace in memory. Other times, as if by spell, it condenses a few moments of life into clear images and imprints them on our hearts forever. Exactly like these primitive men did on the rocks, leaving an indelible message, they defeated the obscurity to which time condemned them. So, I think that the search for unique experiences and magical moments and the preservation of a perfect image is perhaps one of the best ways to defy the darkness that awaits us.
Knockin on Heaven’s Doors
The sun is still high and burns the stones. The sound of Pietra’s steps, the mule that carries me on her back, accompanies me in my thoughts of freedom and gives me a feeling of fulfilling life.
Thanks Baja, thanks Pietra, thanks Bob.