Bringing Home the Baja Mañana Spirit

I recently returned from my first trip to Baja, Mexico. Intent on living my life as well as I can in the moment right now, I rode my motorcycle 1,500-miles south from my home in northern Nevada to the town of Loreto, on the Sea of Cortez.

Why travel?

The benefits of travel are well known but hard to measure. For those of us who make travel a top priority—a lifestyle we build the rest of our days around—the travel inspiration quotes that litter the internet are truths. Social media may have turned those words into platitudes for the casual tourist or vacationer, but for us they capture the sentiment of why we are driven to explore.

Whether casual vacationer, business traveler, or dedicated explorer, we bring something unspoken back with us from every journey, regardless of its purpose. Sometimes that thing is small; other times it’s life-changing. Each experience builds our character in some way. That experience can have a huge impact when we visit a place very different from where we spend most of our time.

The mañana spirit

Bajacalifornianos aren’t the only people who embrace the mañana spirit, but it is that mindset I’ve brought back home from Baja. Of course, mañana is “tomorrow” in Spanish and it’s an “it-can-wait” sense of priorities. It’s about embracing joy, peace, and balance first. It’s the antithesis of busyness and doing for doing’s sake.

cataviña baja california - val in real life
Gravel-floored roadside cafes in Baja offer life lessons if you give them the chance.

My first experience with this attitude towards life was during my initial explorations of New Mexico over 20 years ago. I’ve danced and wrestled with it since, unable to maintain the rhythm of it. This trip to Baja was different for many reasons, though. Foremost, over two decades since my first taste of the mañana spirit, I know what I’m about and what my time is worth.

So after immersing myself in Baja’s bosom and watching her people, I think I finally grasp what it takes to live my life from that place: the place where there’s no need to rush around frantically and no need for busyness, a place where I can keep my priorities straight, that beautiful place where life is rich and rewarding without being fancy or complicated.

The slow, easy-going mañana spirit isn’t aloofness or lack of consideration, as it may seem to outsiders at first. It’s knowing when and how to be productive—being thoughtful about how you spend your time. On this trip, I realized that the mañana spirit is a kind of natural mindfulness, the thing I’ve been trying to make my second-nature mindset for years. It’s the elusive concept that so many of us use apps, books, classes, and therapists to try to master. In Baja, it’s just there. And it’s been my most significant lesson yet.

The thing about the mañana spirit is that in the end, everything gets done that needs to be done. And everything else… well, it didn’t need to be on the to-do list to begin with.

When the mañana spirit meets a timetable

On the return journey motorcycling north, I sat with my riding partner in a tiny roadside cafe in Cataviña. It was supposed to be a quick taco stop since we had a lot of ground to cover and not a lot of daylight to work with in the short days of December. It was the only cafe for many miles. No cell signal. No gas station. Not much of anything by American standards, really.

We were the only customers the entire time we were there and we sat and waited, listening to the sounds of the abuela chopping fresh ingredients just a few yards away. The sound of her knife thumping on the cutting board. The sizzle of the grill. Her lyrical voice as she chatted with her husband. We watched sparrows flit around inside the building, stopping to peck for food. Dogs wandered in and out of the cafe, their paws leaving prints in the gravel floor.

While preparing our tacos, she also squeezed a glass of fresh orange juice for me. It ran down my throat in a smooth river, relief from the heat we’d been riding through that day. We took in the details of the cafe, building our Spanish vocabulary by reading the signs and listening to the conversation, marveling at the vast amount of Coca-Cola branding, and watching the ravens come and go from their perch on top of the tall cactus outside.

It took quite a while to get our tacos. And they arrived freshly made, with care, by somebody’s grandmother. That lunch stop was about being immersed in our adventure in a way that we couldn’t do without embracing the mañana spirit. My parting reward that day as she pieced together my broken Spanish into something comprehensible was her patient smile and beautiful laugh, something I might not have gotten from her or noticed if I hadn’t taken the time to understand life in Baja.

Adventure on, friends.

mulege baja california sur - val in real life
Intimate experiences are available everywhere in Baja if you give yourself the chance to understand the mañana spirit.