Almost an Island: Travels in Baja California

Almost an Island: Travels in Baja California

by Bruce Berger
     
 


Long frequented by pirates and haunted by pariahs, Baja California has become a favorite destination for whale watchers, hikers, and scuba divers. For Bruce Berger it has been more. In Almost an Island, he takes readers beyond the Baja of guidebooks and offers a wildly entertaining look at the real Baja California. Eight hundred miles long, BajaSee more details below

Overview


Long frequented by pirates and haunted by pariahs, Baja California has become a favorite destination for whale watchers, hikers, and scuba divers. For Bruce Berger it has been more. In Almost an Island, he takes readers beyond the Baja of guidebooks and offers a wildly entertaining look at the real Baja California. Eight hundred miles long, Baja California is the remotest region of the Sonoran desert, a land of volcanic cliffs, glistening beaches, fantastical boojum trees, and some of the greatest primitive murals in the Western Hemisphere. In Almost an Island, Berger recounts tales from his three decades in this extraordinary place, enriching his account with the peninsula's history, its politics, and its probable future—rendering a striking panorama of this land so close to the United States, so famous, and so little known. Readers will meet a cast of characters as eccentric as the place itself: Brandy, who ranges the desert in a sand buggy while breathing from an oxygen tank; Katie, the chanteuse; nuns illegally raising pigs. They will encounter the tourist madness of a total eclipse, the story of the heir to an oasis, a musical Mata Hari, rare pronghorn antelope, and a pet tarantula. In prose as glittering as this desert engulfed by the sea, Almost an Island is a fascinating journey into the human heart of a spectacular land.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Writing with the grace of nightfall, Berger knits a handful of chance encounters together with cultural and natural history to produce a crystalline, indiosyncratic portrait of Baja." —Kirkus Reviews"Relaxed and amiable in tone . . . Lyrical." —New York Times Book Review"An engrossing journal of fast-paced change." —San Diego Union-Tribune
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
While the natural marvels of the 800-mile-long Mexican peninsula called Baja California are not scanted in this freewheeling exploration, it's the human inhabitants that underscore its uniqueness. Berger, award-winning author of The Telling Distance (1990), erstwhile piano player ready for adventure, chronicles his three-decade love affair with this timeless landscape of desert, lagoons, caves and remote ranges, as well as the people of its cities and towns. One of those cities is LaPaz in Baja California Sur, to which a third of the book is devoted. ("LaPaz was one of those places that bored the tourist while whispering to a struck minority: here you must live.") As a resident foreigner whose affection does not close his eyes to contemporary societal evils, Berger is an objective observer. As a "specialist in the state of Baja California," he treats the reader to a pithy history of the upper and lower peninsula, with views of the Spanish colonizers, the controversial missionaries, especially the Jesuits, and the ongoing flinty relationship of the U.S. and this Mexican territory. Berger the raconteur entertains as he cautions against the intrusions made possible by paved roads and highways. (Sept.)
Library Journal
Berger, a Western States Book Award Winner for The Telling Distance (Univ. of Arizona, 1990), lived and traveled in Baja, CA, for three decades. Here he paints a vivid picture of this unique place he refers to as "almost an island." In a fight to protect this shrinking wilderness, he covers the history of the native peoples, the invasion of the Spaniards, modern-day tourists, contemporary settlements, and the everyday life of the permanent and transient residents of the peninsula. He also charts how the 20th century has finally caught up with Baja; as tourism flourishes, the rich history disappears. More homage to a once-wild corner of the North American continent than guidebook, this is recommended for public and academic libraries.--Sandra Knowles, Univ. of South Carolina Sch. of Medicine Lib., Columbia
Kirkus Reviews
The strange world of Baja California, caught in a dozen lapidary sidelong vignettes, from Berger (The Telling Distance, 1990). Writing with the grace of nightfall, Berger knits a handful of chance encounters together with cultural and natural history to produce a crystalline, idiosyncratic portrait of Baja, in particular the southern half. These vivid fragments, culled from numerous journeys to the place since the late 1960s, conjure a singular land that reinvents itself þlike a familiar piece of music that modulates into increasingly remote keys." At first, his forays south are leisurely, seamless expeditions in which he takes the geological measure of the peninsulaþþthe gulf side rugged, volcanic, burning with color; the Pacific side flat, fogbound and coolþþand meets up with an Old Baja hand who shows him some of the ropes. Subsequent journeys chronicle the authorþs growing protectiveness of Baja. He is concerned with the protection of the Sonoran pronghorn, the breeding whale populations, the centuries-old ironwood trees harvested for fuel. While these environmental passages are powerful, Berger seems more comfortable with smaller memorable events, little touches of comic detail and spicings of the irrational that make his adventures real and enviable. There are impromptu feasts and fleeting glimpses of rare wildlife, visits to ancient cave paintings, the careless appeal of life in La Paz and the timelessness of San Ignacio. He witnesses a near-maximum eclipse ("like intravenous poetry," observes his friend) and becomes a bit of a musical celebrity at the piano. For Berger is no tourist, and he has moved beyond the scope of the traveler; he liveshis place and counts a goodly number of close friends in Baja. Since in the literature there was "no agreed-upon peninsula, I would assemble my own from available parts," writes Berger at the beginning of the book. Just so, and stunningly.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780816519026
Publisher:
University of Arizona Press
Publication date:
07/01/1998
Edition description:
New Edition
Pages:
211
Product dimensions:
6.13(w) x 9.25(h) x 0.50(d)

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