I said earlier that this adventure was conceived six months ago, but how many years have I dreamt about it? What twelve or fourteen year old boy doesn’t feel nostalgia, a hundred times over, for fulfilling the adventure of sailing the sea in search of the unknown?
Fernando Jordan (extract from the book Mar Roxo)
Tranquility, natural beauty and cultural diversity are some of the requirements tourists look for around the world. Above all, the world is changing so rapidly that people are searching for the time and opportunities to interact with the rest of the population. For these reasons, Baja California Sur is an ideal destination, not only for the visually fulfilling landscapes and the variety of its natural beauty, including beaches, deserts, flora and fauna, but for its heritage of religious missions and ancient art. Equally important is the cultural wealth that includes local residents. Over the last few decades, the people here have been part of the tourism phenomenon and the constant interchange tourism entails.
Recently, experts suggest that tourism is “an exchange between people from different places and different cultures who come together and get to know each other in an effort to understand who they are.” (Zorrilla, 2007) Baja California Sur has been a part of this process in recent decades. The following lines provide a brief historical overview of the beginnings of what could be considered “cultural tourism.” It is based on the descriptions of some who traveled this region during the most recent past century. Subsequently, I will explain the benefits of better understanding “cultural tourism” and finish with some recommendations.
The historical roots of tourism and some impressions of the first travelers
The subject of tourism in Mexico is closely related to the tertiary sector and can be attached to the early twentieth century. In the first phase (1920-1940), measures were implemented to protect foreign visitors and regulations were put in place for service providers. Subsequently, large facilities were established throughout the country (1940-1958). Finally, from the 1960s to the present, there has been further development and implementation of public policies (especially after 1970), particularly for this peninsula with the modification of the free trade zone. A number of measures were introduced that encourage tourism as a means of economic growth and regional development. (Angels, 2010)
It can be said that this state has demonstrated a different economic, political and cultural development from the rest of the country. There is a reason Fernando Jordan name it “The Other Mexico.” The many nuances of tourism here make it different from the rest of the country. Before the twentieth century, various descriptions by travelers, explorers and reporters, motivated by a curiosity of what lay beyond our borders, spoke of the natural beauty and cultural wealth of the north. During the time of colonization, it was sometimes referred to as the mythical El Dorado.
For example, in an essay by Edward F. Ricketts that narrates his journey to the Sea of Cortez (1940), later retold by Steinbeck in his book The Log from the Sea of Cortez (1951), the author not only highlights the value of nature, but the interactions with local people along the way. One of the most interesting observations was that the remote communities, far away from technology and modern society, had not yet been adversely affected.
Another description vital to understanding the wonders treasured in these latitudes is provided by Fernando Jordan (1951) in the classic El Otro Mexico. Biografia de Baja California, written as an article, describes not only the geography of the peninsula, but the life on mainland. The author expressed, “He had handled the story as a novel and the geography as an adventure. Hence he had written a biography.”
Cultural tourism as an alternative
Facing the challenges of tourism today, some experts have suggested that there may be an advantage to a better distribution system for tourism income. It would entail a balanced approach that benefitted all parties involved (tourists, locals and service providers). With that in mind, “cultural tourism” becomes a promising option, especially when you consider that “there is no tourism without culture. Tourism and culture go hand in hand […] Cultural tourism is a huge supporter of people who have different needs when it comes to contact; to touch the culture, the site and the people of that place.” (Zorrilla, 2007)
As a final thought, maintaining a tourist destination requires the participation of not only the suppliers of goods and services or tourists but also the inhabitants of that place. They must have a historical consciousness of the wealth and resources of their environment and themselves. This is the great challenge for the various tourist destinations in Baja California Sur, especially those committed to cultural tourism. It is not only a currency generator and supplier of a better quality of life for the recipients; it is also respectful of the environment and local communities. Cultural tourism encourages “exchanges” and acculturation. The hope is that in the end, the visitors take something of the people and place back with them.
Ángeles, Manuel. 2010. Especificidades del desarrollo en economías pequeñas: los casos de Hawái y Baja California Sur, y una propuesta de análisis para economías insulares del Pacífico del Sur, 1970-2002. Tesis de Doctorado en Relaciones Transpacíficas [Specifics of development in small economies: the cases of Hawaii and Baja California Sur, and a proposal of analysis for island economies of the South Pacific, 1970-2002. PhD thesis in Transpacific Relations] Universidad de Colima, México.
Jordán Fernando. 2015. Mar Roxo de Cortés, biografía de un Golfo. [Sea of Cortez Roxo, biography of a Gulf] México: Archivo Histórico Pablo L. Martínez-Instituto Sudcaliforniano de Cultura-Gobierno de Baja California Sur.
Jordán Fernando. 2015. El otro México. Biografía de Baja California. [The other Mexico. Biography of Baja California] México: Archivo Histórico Pablo L. Martínez-Instituto Sudcaliforniano de Cultura-Gobierno de Baja California Sur.
Ricketts, Edward Flanders, Rodger, Katharine A. 2006. Breaking Through: Essays, Journals, and Travelogues of Edward F. Ricketts [Rompiendo barreras: Ensayos, Revistas y Diarios de Edward F. Ricketts, Berkeley] Berkeley: University of California Press
Zorrilla, Alejandra. 2010. Tiempo y el espacio del turismo cultural. [Time and space of cultural tourism] El Intersecciones, México: CONACULTA.