California, the glitzy Western state in the US receives all attention. It is easy to understand why. It is the size of Italy, has 38 million people and is the 8th largest economy in the world. And, of course, the site of Hollywood and Silicon Valley.
But, have you heard of Baja California, the Mexican California? May be you haven’t and it is now time for you to know this long and beautiful peninsula in Northern Mexico, just south of its more know twin sister.
History first. But briefly. Hernan Cortez, the conquistador of Mexico, assigned 4 reconnaissance missions through this area of the new country (between 1534 and 1540). And for years, no one really cared for this far flung region. It was mostly desert and sparsely populated. In fact, for many years they thought California was an island!
And then religion came. Jesuits and Dominicans started to found missions, mostly in the southernmost tip of the peninsula. In 1804 California is divided in two: Alta California & Baja California (Upper and Lower California, respectively). Both still under the Spanish rule. The largest town in the whole territory of California (Alta and Baja) around that time could have been Loreto with no more than 900 people. Los Angeles and San Francisco were not even in blueprints.
With Mexico’s independence from Spain, both Californias became territories of the new country. A few years later, Alta California is annexed by the United States (1848) along with the territories of Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado. So, Alta California becomes just California and Baja California remains Mexican soil. Enough of history.
California got the gold rush around 1849 and full colonization was just waiting to happen. Baja California, the Mexican side, took at least other 50 years to start developing.
Baja California is now formed by two states. Keep with me, names are confusing. Baja California (BC) up north bordering California, and Baja California Sur (BCS) in the south. For years Baja California (the state) was known as Baja California Norte to separate it from its southern neighbor. Since 1975 they are officially know as Baja California and Baja California Sur.
Mexicali is the capital of Baja California. And yes, its name also has California written all over the place. The town name is formed by two words: Mexico + California. Remember, that middle “x” has a hard sound, like mae-khi-kah-lee.
La Paz, a lovely port city in the south of the Peninsula is the capital of BCS. However, it is
Baja California is now know by:
- its beautiful beaches by the desert (Los Cabos, Loreto and La Paz are great destinations)
- its wine country close to Ensenada (BC)
- sport fishing as Gulf of California is very rich in large species.
- Tijuana the largest city of Baja California with close to 2 million people.
Here some odd facts about Alta and Baja California:
1. There are about 1,600km of distance between Tijuana (BC) and Los Cabos. That is exactly 1000 miles. So, for years there has been a famous off-road race called Baja Mil (Baja 1000) along all of Baja California peninsula.
2. Caesar’s Salad is not Roman. It was “crafted” in Tijuana by Cesar Cardini, an Italian immigrant with a restaurant in Tijuana. The year was 1924.
3. Mexicali was founded in 1903. On its 100th anniversary, Cachanillas (as locals are called), celebrated it with a Pavarotti massive concerto in a salt lake just outside the city.
4. Tijuana is the world capital of TV set manufacturing. And is a city also enjoying a cultural renaissance even recognized by The New York Times.
5. Baja California is home to two ethnic groups whose culture and languages are almost extinct. There are only 5 Kiliwas and 119 Cucapahs still alive and speaking the language. So very slim chances that their culture lasts another generation.
6. Colorado River, famous for the Colorado Canyon, also flows in Mexico. In fact, it serves as border between Baja California and Arizona. It crosses into Mexican territory and its delta pours its waters into the Gulf of California.
7. Algodones, is the northernmost city in Mexico. It is even northern than Houston, San Antonio or New Orleans. Sits at the same latitude as Atlanta. Many Arizonians and SouthCals visit the city for cheap dental and medical treatments.
8. Know El Zorro? Before being a movie with Antonio Banderas it was a character created around 100 years ago, a kind of super hero. The character used to live close to current Los Angeles area when the region was still known as Alta California and belonged to Mexico.
9. Ensenada is the largest municipality of Mexico. In fact, covers almost half of the entire peninsula. It is the size of Sri Lanka or larger than Switzerland.
10. When Los Angeles was founded received the very short and easy-to-memorize name of “El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles del río de la Porcinculúa”. Thanks God only Los Ángeles sticked.