How to Travel Baja: Part 2, Diversions by What is West

Continuing our tutorial on preparations for Baja with What is West, today the team shares an in-depth list of the things they’re bringing to keep their brains active in the barren desert. From classic travel stories to a diverse range of music, they explain exactly when these might come in handy.  


1. Roger D. McGrath – Gunfighters, Highwaymen, and Vigilantes: Violence on the Frontier

This book gives a great look into the history of crime and violence in California during the Gold Rush times. The author painstakingly researches the account of two frontier towns and makes some interesting finds. Was the Old West as dangerous as the movies portray, or is it comparable to modern-day Los Angeles? Forget Hollywood’s romanticizing of the West; the real California of old may surprise you.

2. Paul A. Myers – North To California: The Spanish Voyages of Discovery 1522-1603

This book tells the story of the Spanish going up and down the Baja coast in search for gold and riches. The Spanish explorers were on a quest to find the mythical California that was mentioned in a 1510 novel called Las Serges de Esplandian. “Know, that on the right hand of the Indies there is an island called California very close to the side of the Terrestrial Paradise; and it is peopled by black women, without any man among them, for they live in the manner of Amazons.” Gold and women seem good enough reason for any man to go on an adventure. 

3. Graham Mackintosh – Into A Desert Place

Graham Mackintosh called himself “the most unadventurous person in the world,” and was inspired by reading adventurous literature to “do something crazy.” He decided that he would either get married or go on the adventure of a lifetime. He chose Baja. Mr. Mackintosh spent his days in the desolate Baja wilderness, eating rattlesnake and cactus, battling sleepless nights, and drinking distilled seawater. His 3,000-mile journey is what helped Justin and Bryan realize their journey was plausible.

4. Dolly Parton – Best Of

Dolly Parton is one of the best songwriters of all time. She keeps you company when you are all alone on Baja’s uninhabited shores with not a señorita in sight.

5. The Fall – 50,000 Fall Fans Can’t Be Wrong

Mark E. Smith has had a lengthy career and a massive amount of material released as the leader of The Fall. Their sound is repetitive and abrasive, much like the Sonoran desert. What could be better? This album spans about 20 years of material and is the perfect accompaniment while going 15 mph on a washboard road.

6. The Upsetters – Return of Django

Lee Perry’s backing band takes the lead on this album, inspired by the murderous spaghetti western set in Mexico, Django. Gun rattling snares and swaggering bass lines are present along with some bright horns. Lee Perry did the production on this, so of course it rules.

7. Journal

Cameras can’t always capture everything. Bring one along.

8. Can – Monster Movie

Every Can album is great. I am pretty sure their drummer, Jaki Liebezeit, has an extra arm. So much of a Baja trip is just driving through pueblecitos, washes, and federale stops. Sometimes you need a little bump and thump to keep your mind stimulated.

9. T.E. Lawrence – Revolt in the Desert

T.E. Lawrence is better known as Lawrence of Arabia. This tome is one of the best desert adventure books of all time. Even though this book was never meant for mass circulation, it has left its mark. Lawrence was a British liaison officer helping with the Arab revolt against the Ottoman Turks in 1916-1918. He was able to use his western upbringing and knowledge of the desert to help secure victory against the Turks. A novel with a bit of true history and a bit of yarn can make a wonderful travel companion. 

10. Soul Jazz Records – New Orleans Funk

Soul Jazz is the equivalent of a National Geographic Magazine for music. Each compilation comes with extensive linear notes that serve as a history lesson to the time and place of the songs featured. This album features the swampy funk of New Orleans during the transition after the blues and jazz era.

11. The Liars – Drums Not Dead

This album is a journey in itself. It features tribal drums and freaky bass to the max. Listen to this album from start to finish and have your mind blown.

12. Harmonicas

Nights are spent hanging around a fire when camping in Baja. Talking about that last barrel gets repetitive, so a guitar and a harmonica can come in handy after the sun goes down.

13. The Sonics – Here Are The Sonics!!!

It is hard to believe this album came out in 1965. This album rocks so hard. The vocals have that natural distortion common to old analog recordings. The fuzz on the guitar and bass cut through your speakers like knives. The drums on this album are some of the most feral noises you will ever hear. This will be very important when you are trying to scare away hungry javelinas.

14. Jack London – The Call of the Wild

The story follows a half-breed dog named Buck who was taken away from his comfortable life in California and sent to the harsh conditions of the Yukon. Buck needs to rely on his primordial instincts to navigate his circumstances and understand the need for survival. Do not mistake this as merely a story about a dog; the book sheds light on the human condition. In an adventure, we actively seek out tough circumstances to help remind us what it is like to be alive. We tend to tire of our day-to-day securities and want to feel the reality of solitude and independence. A good adventure will have the pull of the unknown and the potential for uncertain risk.

15. Neil Young – Everybody Knows This is Nowhere

Isn’t it true of Baja? Everybody seems to know that it is nowhere. That is the draw. This album kills from start to finish. “Down by the River” and “Cowgirl in the Sand” are some serious jams that sound even better when you are flying through the desert.

16. Gabriel García Márquez – One Hundred Years of Solitude

One Hundred Years of Solitude is the literary version of a Salvador Dalí or Magritte painting. Marquez’s ability to blend reality with the fantastical gives the reader this incredibly warped history of the secluded Buendía family during the banana republic period of Colombia.

17. Mr. Oizo, Sebastien Tellier, Sebastian – Steak OST

We are huge fans of Mr. Oizo and Sebastien Tellier, so naturally an album featuring the both of them gives us the warm tingles. Bring it on your trip and get ready for lots of fist pumps.

18. The Surfer’s Journal

Consistently The Surfer’s Journal will have well-written articles on surfing and travel. They are a great resource for inspiration. 

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