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Baja - The other California

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Whilst the State of California is famous, its namesake in Mexico is rarely visited and little known. Baja California is a 1000 kilometre long peninsula that sticks out into the Pacific. It is home to some of the strangest creatures on earth. The reason is due to its geological history. Millions of years ago Baja was ripped from the mainland of Mexico by the San Andreas Fault.

Writer & Director: Paul Reddish
Camera: Mike Potts
Edit: Martin Elsbury
Sound Editor: Paul Cowgill
Dubbing Mixer: Graham Wild
Music: Kurt Adametz

A Free Spirit Films & epo-film production for ORF in
co-production with DDE, in association with WDR and NDR

Baja California stretches 750 miles southwards from its famous neighbour, the State of California. Yet whilst it shares a border, little is known of this forgotten peninsula. On either side of this narrow strip of land lie the rich waters of the Pacific and Sea of Cortez. Baja is predominantly desert.

Stark but beautiful, its raw landscape, naked rocks and giant cactus contrast with the crystal blue waters of the sea that surrounds it. But Baja is varied: there are pine-woods and curious tropical spiny forests. The land has high mountains deep canyons, sand dunes and salt flats, and some of the strangest animals and plants on earth.

Plants and animals were isolated on the long thin peninsula. Here they evolved into unique species. The strange pink, two-legged, worm-like reptile, the Mole Lizard was created by the same forces that created the peninsula.

The Sea of Cortez lies between Baja and the mainland of Mexico. Islands sprinkle the sea, some created by volcanism, others by great faults in the earth’s crust. Each island is like a laboratory of evolution. The remotest island has a colony of blue-footed boobies that each year performs their comical courtship.

Lizards that live nowhere else feed on the fish that the birds bring to the island. Other islands have rattlesnakes that have lost their rattle to allow them to hunt their prey. There are lizards that eat flies so salty they would kill them, had they not enlarged nostrils with salt glands.

The peninsula, for the most part, is desert. Isolated from other deserts Baja is home to weird plants like the Elephant Tree and the Boojum. The Boojum looks more like a 10 meter high upside down parsnip than a true plant.

The harshest desert is in the northeast, in the shadow of the spine of high mountains. This region receives less than half the rain of Death Valley. This extreme climate has led to creatures like the sidewinder, specialised to survive in the wind blown dunes.

Baja and the Sea of Cortez are the spectacular products of the forces of the planet. They are home to unique creatures that evolved here to cope with this most extreme of places. This is a rare opportunity to see Baja and its plants and animals.

On Isla San Pedro Martir the team was filming the comical antics of the Blue-footed Boobies, sea birds that show off their huge, webbed, blue feet in a courtship dance, when they heard a rustling sound behind them. The noise continued as they concentrated on filming the sea birds. After about 10 minutes they turned to discover a pair of large - 2.5 meter long - rattlesnakes fighting, and just 4 meters behind them. Rather than run away the cameraman quickly swung the camera around and recorded a remarkable sequence as the giant venomous snakes fought.

On another occasion the boat was anchored off a barren volcanic island. A storm blew up at night and as everyone slept, the boat dragged its anchor and drifted off. By the morning, when the crew awoke, the boat was 5 kilometres away. Luckily the wind had blown the boat away from, rather than onto the rocky shore of the desert island.

Fotos: Copyright by epo-film/Mike Potts