I tuned to AM 830 Thursday night and heard something I hadn't heard in years: positive talk about Baja California.
Not Cabo San Lucas and other sun-baked and idyllic Baja California Sur destinations, but northern Baja and once-popular tourism spots such as Rosarito Beach, Ensenada and Tijuana.
The weekly Fish Talk Radio show is hosted by Philip Friedman, a friend and longtime acquaintance. He had organized, through the show and the Philip Friedman Outdoors Facebook page, a Thanksgiving weekend trip that headquartered at the Rosarito Beach Hotel, and included fishing out of Ensenada and day trips elsewhere in the region.
Eighteen people had signed up, including a mother with two young children, who was sharply criticized by her neighbors for taking her kids to what they perceive to be a dangerous environment.
Surely, everyone who pays attention to the news has heard about the warring drug gangs and the many killings between drug henchmen and police during the past few years. Those headlines and reports, many of them unfairly sensational, were responsible for killing tourism in northern Baja.
What wasn't always reported, however, was that tourists were not targeted in the killings, or that about 14,000 ex-patriots from the U.S. reside in the Rosarito Beach area and that they feel safe at their homes and walking city streets.
They watched sadly as several businesses closed and others became deserted. I made a few trips across the border during the past couple of years and saw very few U.S. tourists. But the few I did encounter seemed to be enjoying themselves.
More recently, the killings between drug gangs appear to have subsided, or they simply no longer warrant screaming headlines. Tourists are trickling back, thanks to Baja travel clubs and people like Friedman, who has a soft spot for Baja and its people.
But it's a very slow trickle. Friedman is trying to get northern Baja tourism folks and/or businesses, mainly the bigger hotels, to help sponsor a weekly spot on his radio show devoted to Baja.
He's under the belief, like many Baja travel veterans, that tourist destinations are safe as long as tourists exercise the same common sense they use during travels to other countries and even to other U.S. cities, some of which have alarmingly high murder and crime rates.
If Friedman gets the sponsorship for at least 15- or 30-minute radio spot, he'll call it Baja Now and organize sporadic trips not just to Rosarito Beach, but destinations such as San Quintin, historic Meling Ranch, the wine country above Ensenada, San Felipe and Tijuana.
The most recent trip included a van ride from the border to and from the Rosarito Beach Hotel, eliminating concerns among those who were afraid to drive in Baja.
His group rode horses on the beach, visited taco stands, went fishing and caught an array of colorful rockfish. Some merely stayed at the hotel, which has security and is a resort complete with bar, restaurant, surfing beach and fishing pier.
The Baja California tourism agency, which apparently is considering spending money on a campaign to place ads on taxicabs in San Diego and L.A., would be smart to give this a try. It seems a far wiser use of funds to have people chatting up Baja on the radio each week, and sharing stories about their trips on Facebook and other social media platforms.
It's probably a complicated process, given the bureaucracy in Baja government and among business leaders, and it may not happen.
But Friedman deserves credit for trying, and a big vote of thanks from the tourism folks for doing what he has done already, and what they've had trouble accomplishing: getting people talking positively about Baja again.
I've already told him to sign me up for the next trip, as I suddenly have a craving for authentic Mexican street tacos.
-- Top Image shows Luna Kayamori riding a horse south of the Rosarito Beach pier on a recent trip to northern Baja California, organized by Philip Friedman. Bottom image shows view from Rosarito Beach Hotel