Book Report

BY: JEANNINE PEREZ

Journey With a Baja Burro, by Graham Mackintosh. Sunbelt Publishing, San Diego, Ca. second printing 2005. 359 pages. $17.95.

Graham Mackintosh claims that he has the luck of the Irish, but in his case, mere luck seems insufficient. Luck, courage, foolhardiness, or a mixture of all, seems to work for the author of this book. Journey with a Baja Burro is written with love and a passion for Baja that doesn’t diminish with years and experience.

Graham admits his first Baja trip was a bit of a stretch for a non-athletic Scottish/Irish/British teacher (he also admits to being a couch potato), knowing no Spanish but nevertheless, he continues to take  on hostile desert miles with the certainty that nothing really bad will happen to him.  And somehow, it doesn’t. Scorpions, rattlesnakes, water shortages, sore toes, drug runners; nothing prevents him from completing each trip and beginning to plan the next.

burroscan0001a_0.jpg This book is one of our most popular Baja books, the author is always in demand for signings, and everyone always eagerly awaits his next book. Perhaps we do also find it difficult to read and believe it’s true, with Graham still around to tell it. Journey with a Baja Burro is Graham’s second book. He’s written two more since, and we’re awaiting a fifth. His first book, Into a Desert Place relates his first two year journey on foot around Baja’s coastline. That book, now out of print, can still be found at used bookstores or online.  (We have copies at our book store in Loreto).

On his second great Baja adventure, Graham takes a companion, Mision, a  moody and horny burro. In October, 1997, they travel together for 1000 miles, celebrating the 300th anniversary of the founding of the mother of all California Missions, in Loreto. Mision proves to be an interesting and rather needy companion. The first donkeys are said to have been brought to the New World in 1495, and burro-temperament probably has not improved much since then. Nevertheless, wiith an overloaded and reluctant burro, our author heads down the Mission Trail.

Reading Graham’s books puts readers into the moment, and quickly dumps them into his world. Colored photos in the center give us views and details about the terrain. Together, we experience Graham’s hardships, encounters, and anecdotes, and he slides bits of each area’s history into his personal experiences, then ties it  altogether with pithy quotes in italics that begin  each chapter (and may or may not, explain his thoughts to the reader). Quotes from the Bible, Yiddish proverbs, Ralph Waldo Emerson, R.L. Stevenson, and unknowns all begin the short chapters. Described characters, both historical and present day, become real to us, and at the end of each chapter, we’re as exhausted (and thirsty, worried, and hungry) as if we’ve spent the entire day with Graham and Mision.

We also share daily tasks as Graham describes them.  Washing dishes (“…after a dinner of tortilla stew, I washed my sauce pan ….also my bowl…with half a cup of warm water…drank the diluted soup and gave the pan a final wipe with a paper towel…doing the dishes and not wasting water.” ) We worry over his marital problems (and  decide that perhaps Bonni has already earned sainthood) , follow his painfully slow progress with overburdened Mision, and worry about the burro’s constant back sores rubbed raw from carrying  too much weight, and finally we search with Graham for safe camping places in remote areas.

Passing through villages, we find few real changes since this trip. Modernity and progress come, but each village keeps its own history, personality, and always retains what works well. We marvel that Graham made his first two trips without the aid of some of today’s technology. His perceptions and descriptions make it all real, and are strictly his own opinions.  He describes San Quintin ( in 1997), as a “small village……a hundred two-leggeds  and a hundred million fleas” (page 130). He describes the many rusted car wreck sculptures along the road. Where are they now?

Complaining, he admits he’ll forevermore appreciate motherhood because caring for a burro is like having a child, and he’s found it to be a 24 hour job. Coming through the Vizcaino desert (without enough water), he describes the cirios (also called Boojum trees).  They were called cirios by the first padres, because they resemble tall church candles, and they’ve changed little in 100 million years, can only found in the central desert, in only one place on a range in Sonora.  They remain a mystery, because no fossils have been found. Why are they just growing there? No one can say with any certainty just how, where and why these trees looking like upside down hairy carrots or weird space aliens originated.

When he reaches Santa Rosalia, Graham disagrees with Krutch’s description (Krutch is the  author of The Forgotten Peninsula, A Naturalist in Baja California),   “…little interest except sort of (a) horrible example of what progress can mean.” Instead, Graham sensed ghosts of miners there, and gives us interesting village history; the Santa Barbara Church, designed by Eiffel and exhibited in Paris in 1889, disassembled and sent across the ocean to Santa Rosalia, mentions the Boleo Bakery, and the 1955 report of 60  mineral species in the area.

Mulege is next, and we discover why it is called “heroic Mulege” because of its importance during the Mexican American war of 1846-1848. Next, he swings west and we experience Purisima and the Pacific coastline, and finally he reaches the end of the road in Loreto, and the very first Mission built in the Californias, giving us the proud history of that village, and quoting from Harry Crosby, Jesuit padres, and telling us the history and legends of Our Lady of Loreto.

Graham Mackintosh is a popular author as well as speaker, and can often be found in the Baja. Previous to the journey described in this report, he and his family were extras in Rosarito during the filming of the Titanic (and he claims he was a camera hog in a drinking scene below decks). However, he missed the TV  presentation of Oscars won by that film. At that time, he was busy giving Mision reassurance that food, water, and rest would soon be plentiful.

Reading Graham’s books gives  a taste of adventure for those who would not dare hike Baja as he does, and we of course, also greatly admire his wife Bonni, who  understands shares, and supports his passion for Baja adventures with unlimited patience.

Journey With a Baja Burro, by Graham Mackintosh. Sunbelt Publishing, San Diego, Ca. second printing 2005. 359 pages. $17.95, can be found (with his other books), at El Caballo Blanco bookstore, in Loreto.613 116 5374. Jeannine1220@yahoo.com. ,