¡Ay carambaaaa! Cultural interactions
abound on international NOLS semesters. Estuche
Photo: Benjamin Lester
Flanked by the Pacific Ocean on the west and the Sea of Cortez on the east, the Baja California Peninsula is a land of extremes and contrasts.
Granite and volcanic mountain ranges extend over 1,000 miles down the peninsula’s central spine, and Picacho del Diablo, a 10,126-foot peak in the northern mountains, is snow-covered in winter months.
The rest of Baja California, while still very rugged and mountainous, is Sonoran Desert country, receiving less than 10 inches of rainfall each year. Here exists an amazing variety of desert life, including more than 110 species of cacti. For three months, you’ll explore these contrasting environments on foot, in a sea kayak, and under sail while having ample opportunities for cultural and Spanish language interactions with local students, educators, ranchers, and fishermen.
You will learn the skills you need to visit these ecosystems and communities comfortably and responsibly in the future.
Starting with Leave No Trace camping, route selection, map reading, risk management, and hazard evaluation, your backpacking section takes you deep into the desert and mountains of beautiful Mexico. Classes include discussions on group dynamics, leadership, geology, wildlife identification, and maybe some informal Spanish instruction.
Smile and soak in the warm brine air of Mexico's northern coasts. Baja California Sur
Photo: Benjamin Lester
Your mode of travel for this section will be a 22-foot Drascombe Longboat, which lets you explore remote coves that larger sailing vessels can’t reach. You’ll move along the coastline, camping on shore at night and hoisting sail during the day. Expect to learn coastal navigation, teamwork, seamanship, anchoring, sail trim, line handling, and steering, as well as snorkeling and diving to check out fish and your anchors!
Along with learning coastal kayaking skills like navigation, rolling, surfing, and paddle strokes, you’ll focus on free diving skills and water risk management. Desert natural history classes happen when the sea is too rough for travel. Some semesters make an open water crossing to explore the uninhabited islands of the Gulf of California.
Throughout your semester you’ll learn about Baja’s culture and history, gaining insight into the diversity of lifestyles of Baja residents—sometimes en español! Opportunities include visits with local staff during course preparation, travel to remote fishing villages like San Nicolás, tortilla-making classes with ranchero families high in the Sierra, and exchanges with the local university community.