Rachel Winthrop, 19, of Santa Barbara, Calif. recently completed a 78-day wilderness expedition in Baja Mexico with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS).
In January, a group of students arrived in Baja Mexico to take a NOLS Semester in Baja course. For the next 78 days, the students hiked, sea kayaked and sailed around the beautiful Baja Peninsula of Mexico.
Winthrop and her coursemates started the semester-long adventure by traversing the width of the Baja Peninsula. Students began learning basic outdoor living skills, cooking, navigations, tarp construction and self-care in a desert environment. As the course progressed, students fine tuned their outdoor living skills, improved navigation and risk management and practiced leadership. During the hiking section, the course crossed and experienced classic Baja desert wilderness while interacting with local ranchers, swimming in desert water holes, enjoying thrilling vistas and managing hazards typical of desert travel. Spirits were high as they arrived at NOLS Mexico on the opposite side of the peninsula.
The course transitioned from the desert of Baja into the crystal clear waters of the Sea of Cortes. Sailing in four 22-foot Drascombe Longboats, the course traveled from Coyote Bay to Puerto Escondido. Winthrop and her coursemates were strongly influenced by “El Norte” winds, which prevented travel. Breaks in the wind patterns provided opportunity for the expedition to continue. Students learned basic planning and navigating of water travel and continued leadership development. As the course entered Loreto Bay Marine Park, a pod of more than 200 dolphins swam through the fleet of boats. Each student taught an environmental studies class, participated in a community service project and enjoyed a goat roast at Punta Coloradito.
The final section of the semester was sea kayaking. Paddling south from Puerto Escondido toward Puerto Mejia, the pod of 13 kayaks glided through the beautiful waters as they enjoyed calm seas for most of the section, punctuated by a few windy days. Winthrop and her coursemates saw a great deal of wildlife including fin and humpback whales, dolphins, sea turtles, herrings, Great Egrets, ospreys, manta rays, a shark and many types of fish. The course experienced several great cultural interactions throughout the route. Leave No Trace campfires, snorkeling, fishing, diving, hiking and kayak rescue were some activities the students participated in and skills they mastered during the kayaking section. Students improved their camping and kayak skills significantly during the section, as well.
Now that the NOLS semester in Baja course is over, students have returned to their respective homes as competent and responsible wilderness travelers and leaders.
About NOLS – The National Outdoor Leadership School
Founded in 1965 by legendary mountaineer Paul Petzoldt, NOLS is the leader in wilderness education, providing awe-inspiring, transformative experiences to 17,000 students each year. These students, ages 14 to over 80, learn in the wildest and most remote classrooms worldwide—from the Amazon rain forest, to rugged peaks in the Himalaya, to Alaskan glaciers and Arctic tundra. Graduates are active leaders with lifelong environmental ethics and outdoor skills. NOLS also offers customized courses through NOLS Professional Training, and the NOLS Wilderness Medicine Institute is the leading teacher of wilderness medicine worldwide. For more information, call (800) 710-NOLS (6657) or visit www.nols.edu.