2. San Quin­tín & San Pe­dro Már­tir

Ex­plore the penin­sula’s rugged, un­spoilt heart where con­dors soar and cow­boys still ride

Lonely Planet (UK) - - Baja California -

MARCIAL RUBEN ARCE Villav­i­cen­cio was eight the first time he sat on a horse. It bolted and threw him off, but Marcial got back in the sad­dle. Forty-six years later he’s still rid­ing. He’s been a cow­boy all his life, just like his fa­ther and his grand­fa­ther. Marcial’s ranch, Ran­cho Las Hi­lachas, is just south of San Quin­tín and is home to 250 cows that wan­der freely over the 2,700 acres. It takes Marcial and the other cow­boys three months to round them up, dur­ing which time they camp and eat un­der the stars. They do many things the old­fash­ioned way here in Baja Cal­i­for­nia’s dusty heartland. From a young age the cow­boys must learn to be handy with a rope. ‘When an an­i­mal is wild, you have to lasso it,’ ex­plains Marcial. ‘That’s one of the tough­est things to learn. It’s what makes tak­ing care of so many an­i­mals hard – it’s like hav­ing hun­dreds of chil­dren.’ At least he can count on his own faith­ful steed Al­go­dón (‘Cot­ton’), a bay-coloured Cri­ollo horse. Al­go­dón will stay with him long af­ter the cows have been ex­ported across the bor­der to the USA where they are worth at least £600 each. Marcial main­tains that his cows are worth ev­ery penny. ‘This job is sat­is­fy­ing, but the process of look­ing af­ter a cow is a re­spon­si­bil­ity,’ he says. ‘You have to give them a good life, let them run and be happy. When you eat the steak, you will know by the flavour if you did well.’ Marcial doesn’t worry that more cost­ef­fi­cient com­mer­cial farm­ing might one day kill off his time-worn way of life. ‘We’re not afraid of com­pe­ti­tion from farms like that, be­cause we think peo­ple value this more.’ With Marcial herd­ing his cows through the foothills, the Sierra de San Pe­dro Már­tir rises be­hind him on the horizon. The moun­tain range is home to a 170,000-acre na­tional park, which is a sanc­tu­ary for bighorn sheep and mule deer as well as cougars, bob­cats and coy­otes. The thick pine forests, punc­tu­ated oc­ca­sion­ally by craggy rock faces, make the per­fect en­vi­ron­ment for hik­ers and horse rid­ers. At the very top of the park stand sev­eral deep-space tele­scopes that make up the Ob­ser­va­to­rio Astronómico Na­cional. The lo­ca­tion was cho­sen be­cause of its lack of night-time cloud cover and light pol­lu­tion, mean­ing that pro­fes­sional as­tronomers and am­a­teur stargaz­ers can glimpse the vast Milky Way. And that’s not the only im­pres­sive sight to be seen above. Near the en­trance to the park is a rocky out­crop where Cal­i­for­nia con­dors gather. In most places the grace­ful birds can only be spot­ted cir­cling high in the air, but here they swoop low over­head, their huge wings mak­ing a loud crack as they glide down to Earth. Back on the ranch, Marcial tends to his own an­i­mals. Then, with the last of the day’s sun­light fad­ing away, he takes his place on an old sofa out­side to open a few beers with his son and brother-in-law. ‘I can’t imag­ine go­ing any­where else,’ he says. ‘We don’t do this for tourism. This is the way we live. If you want to learn about ranches and the cow­boy life­style then this is the best place to come be­cause we’re not pre­tend­ing. That’s the spe­cial thing about this place.’

Marcial Ruben Arce Villav­i­cen­cio looks out over his ranch from the sad­dle of his horse, Al­gó­don

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