Baja Mexico: The Journey of Almost No Return – Chapter 12: Hassles Made of Sand

(Click here to Return to Day 1)

Dude, pull the car up another twenty feet. It's critical. (photo by D. Speredelozzi)
Dude, pull the car up another twenty feet. It’s critical.
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

Day 04

El Conejo, BCS

Monday, August 29th:

The car makes it down the dirt road to the ocean without any real difficulty. Passing by little fishing villages and various beach encampments, we cruise the dusty road alongside the water until a beach calls out to us. Chalk pulls the car up onto the hard ground near the edge of the sand. Perfect...

“Actually, why don’t you pull the car up another ten or fifteen feet.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know, so we can see the car better from the beach?”

“You’ll be able to see the car fine from down there.”

But whatever. He pulls the car forward anyway.

In the Mexican Outback, there is no succour, save that for which you create. (image by www.streetlegaltv.com)
In the Mexican Outback, a man finds no succour, save for that which he creates.
(image by www.streetlegaltv.com)

The Sand. It Burns.

After spending thirty minutes laying in the 110-degree sand furiously trying to dig the car out with no success whatsoever, I can’t help but ask myself… What the fuck possible reason could I have had to insist that the car needed to be ten feet closer to the water?

There is no shade for miles, no offshore breeze to speak of. The atmosphere breaths not. Every few minutes we have to run down to the water and hurl ourselves into the ocean, but only to immediately return to the car to resume digging in vain. You can’t see under the car. In fact, if you open a door, you carve out one wing of a sand angel.

Okay, this is not sustainable- time for outside help. But then, we are stranded in deep sand on a remote beach in a remote corner of a sparsely-populated part of Mexico’s least peopled state. What to do?

Back To The Village

Well, there was this shitbag little fishing village a few miles back. Maybe that’s the call.

We lock up the car and set off on foot, hoping to find more than a bald chassis when we return. The giant dunes roll and swoop; and at the troughs between them we keep losing our bearings. But you know: keep the ocean on your left, and the dirt road on your right, and head north until you hit either the water, the road, or the little village where the two meet.

Fuck you very much. (photo by D. Speredelozzi)
Fuck you very much.
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

It’s The American Way

An hour later we come upon a seaside clearing partially encircled by RVs bearing U.S. plates: Arizona, Texas, Colorado. Each one has, parked next to it, a jeep, a quadrunner, or an all-wheel-drive pickup. In the center of the crescent, a group of middle-aged white men sit in lawn chairs with beverages, beneath gigantic beach umbrellas. Viewing them from afar, they don’t look like they came here to meet 30-whatever-year-old American dudes.

The eyes are rolling before I even get a word out. Immediately I know how all of these men vote. I explain my case: that we got stuck in sand just a couple of miles down the road, and it would be really easy to pull us out, and would any of them please help us.

None of the Americans will help us. “Sorry, this is my vacation”, says one of them, speaking for the group, as evidenced by the nods of assent which accompany his declaration.

“Really? It would only take 20 minutes. Please sir, we are in a real jam here.” I look around for a flag to salute. There actually is one mounted on one of the RVs; but I leave it alone.

“Sorry son, you boys can’t just come out here unprepared and expect people to bail you out when you get yourselves into a little trouble.”

There is absolutely no question about how these guys vote. “Okay well fuck you very much then.” They ignore me.

After all, we’re not even here.

Okay look- I've been patient dude. Where the fuck is this fishing village? (photo Lucasfilms)
Okay look, dude- I’ve been more than patient. Where the fuck is this fishing village already?
(photo Lucasfilms)

Put a Roof On The Sucka

Another twenty or thirty minutes of walking arrives us at the aforementioned “fishing village”, which up close is revealed to be no more than a tiny little shack, with another one kinda near it.

Actually, can something be technically called a shack if it doesn’t have a roof? At any rate, it’s a structure of some sort; and more importantly, there’s a pickup truck parked in front it.

A barking dog announces our approach, and then appears from out behind the back of the “house”. He’s a mini black lab; and he’s just doing his job, goddammit. Good boy. A bedraggled hombre steps out of his four-walled enclosure and into the open, greeting us in Spanish. He’s missing a few teeth, skin torched by a lifetime spent under a pitiless sun; and his head is wrapped in a bandana. No shirt.

It Takes a Village… of One

If it’s possible to look at a guy and know beyond a shadow of a doubt that he definitely doesn’t know any English, then this guy is the poster child for that possibility. Anyway, hopefully he speaks the international language of “Our truck got stuck in the sand a few miles away and can you please help us?”

He does! Give it up for hand gestures and mannerisms! The guy seems to perceive clearly enough what it is we need. Then again, what other kind of problem could anybody be conceivably having out here?

The guy grabs a really strong rope with metal clips at each end and throws it in the back of the pickup, then motions us into the front seat. His demeanor suggests that this is the most exciting thing to happen to him in years.

Follow that dog!! (image by fourwheeler.com)
Follow that dog!!
(image by fourwheeler.com)

Hound Around Town

We go bouncing down the “driveway” and out onto the same dirt road we drove in on a couple hours ago; and as we do so, the most amazing thing happens:

The dog, unspeakably jacked at the opportunity to run wild, leads us directly back to Chalk’s car. I mean, the fuckin’ thing literally runs in front of the truck, showing the way.  And it’s not like we’re cuing him in any way, either- and it can’t be that he’s simply following our scent back to the car, seeing as how we came over the dunes, and not by the road, to reach his homestead. Though the dog is running with everything he’s got, at times he is so close to the front bumper of the truck that we can’t see his entire body; yet the dude never slows down or shows even the slightest fear for the dog’s safety. And the dog demonstrates that there is in fact no such need. The guy babbles at us excitedly, though by now it’s perfectly obvious that we don’t know anywhere near enough Spanish to allow for this level of spirited conversation. But this only makes his incessant yammering that much more entertaining and memorable.

Ten minutes later we roll up to Chalk’s car, still laying in the sand, fully castrated. We never even gave the guy one directional instruction; there was no need- the dog had this from the start. The dog leaps around in front of Chalk’s car as if he’s high on Costco crack-jerky, practically doing back flips of exhilaration and clearly saying to us “Here’s your car!”

Everyone knows you can get really cheap towjobs in Mexico. (photo by ourtakeonfreedom.wordpress.org)
Everyone knows you can get really cheap towjobs in Mexico.
(photo by ourtakeonfreedom.wordpress.org)

Give ‘Em Enough Rope

We have to dig down in the sand several inches just to get to a part of the undercarriage of Chalk’s car that can safely bear the pressure of a tow line without warping or breaking.

Two seconds later Chalk’s car is back in the spot he’d originally parked in- the one I had insisted could be improved with a twenty-foot forward roll. The guy unhooks his rope and chucks it back into the bed of the truck. He starts profusely thanking us- or at least it seems like that’s what he’s doing. When I offer him some money, he refuses, with a gesture that clearly conveys “Don’t worry about it! Happy to help!”

Hey I pissed in this can for you. Thanks again for helping us, (image by praktikantenfutter.wordpress.com)
Hey I pissed in this can for you. Thanks again for helping us,
(image by praktikantenfutter.wordpress.com)

Te gusta cerveza?” (“Do you like beer?”)

“Ah, sí sí sí!” (“Yes! Yes! Yes!”)

I pull a couple of piss-warm Tecates out of our ice-free cooler and offer them to him, adding a gesture of apology meant to convey acknowledgment of the fact that warm shit-beer doesn’t really constitute a sufficiently fitting gift for the critical service he has just provided. He motions to only accept one beer; but I insist; so he takes both, and then promptly offers one of them back to me to drink (Chalk doesn’t drink beer).

Fuck it. Well-played. I accept his kind offer, and the next few minutes are spent standing around in the scorching late-afternoon sun, sipping piss out of cans, and communicating in the international language of “Thanks for helping us/ You’re welcome, thank you for the beer/ No, thank you/ Ah, sí sí sí!”

The hombre finishes his beer, tosses the can into the nearby scrub brush, puts the dog into the cab of the truck, and drives off, hand waving furiously out the window as if he’ll never forget us. We definitely won’t forget him, anyway.

We resume our southbound trajectory along the coastal dirt road.

 

Previous: Chapter 11: El Conejo Done Died

Next: Chapter 13: Hassles Made of Sand (Slight Return)

 

Baja Mexico: The Journey of Almost No Return – Chapter 11 – El Conejo Done Died

(Click here to Return to Day 1)

I came in from the east, with the sun in my eyes. (photo by D. Speredelozzi)
I came in from the east, with the sun in my eyes.
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

Day 04

Mulegé, BCS

Monday, August 29th:

Sitting in our sexy little two-walled straw beach hut , Chalk and I enjoy our own private little stretch of subtropical beach, basking in the late afternoon balminess, drinking shitty Tecate beer, smoking butts, and plowing headlong through one bowl after another (to put the edge on).

Make no mistake- everything we're doing here is very important. (photo by D. Speredelozzi)
Make no mistake- everything we’re doing here is very important.
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

At some point a little before dusk, a car pulls up onto the beach, and out pops a pair of twenty-something dudes from San Diego. One of them, Brad, is a Marine on leave time; and the other one, Dave, is a long-haired stoner who looks like a Pacific Islander of some kind. These are the first Americans we’ve seen since San Diego, not counting Bungalow Bill, at whose beachside bar we had learned yesterday of the fate of New Orleans . But these two are the first peers, if you will. Before long we’re a group of four, all animated and up in each other’s faces, raving about our respective road trips thus far, and the bizarre run-ins we’ve had.

We are so wasted that we don't even pay any heed to the clear and present menace of the H.G. Wellsian "War of the Worlds" Martian invader, standing sentinel over us maybe twelve feet away. (photo by C. Chalk)
We are so wasted that we don’t even pay any heed to the clear and present menace of the H.G. Wellsian “War of the Worlds” Martian invader, standing sentinel over us maybe twelve feet away.
(photo by C. Chalk)

And that’s how it goes all night long: smoking bowls, pounding beers,  grilling up sausages and shrimp, and singing songs. Just a bunch of winos down by the tracks, huddled around a burning oil drum, slapping our knees like hobos and screaming “Jimmy Crack Corn“.

This is that H.G. Wells Martian up close. Chilling. (photo by D. Speredelozzi)
This is that H.G. Wells Martian up close.
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

Day 05

Mulegé, BCS > El Conejo, BCS

Tuesday, August 30th:

Morning Gory

We awaken in the morning as scattered bodies, not as civilized men. Not a one of us has passed the the night in anything that you could come even close to legitimately calling a bed– even by the most generous of definitions. Dave is sprawled out on the trunk of his late-90s Saturn. Brad is asleep in the front seat with his legs sticking out of the passenger side window, which is rolled halfway up. Chalk somehow managed to fall into his tent at some point in the night; and there he lays still, with his legs sticking out onto the sand. I awoke half in my sleeping bag, which had somehow filled with sand- so much sand. I’m talking “I just boned a Tusken Raider sandy”- not just regular sandy.

Okay, agreed: they never said it'd be no bed of roses. But duuude... come on. (photo by D. Speredelozzi)
Okay, agreed: they never said it’d be no bed of roses.
But duuude… 
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

La Camisa De Su Espalda

Our slow collective (and reluctant) trickle into proper consciousness is unwelcomely accelerated by the arrival of the T-shirt-and-trinkets-selling equivalent of a mariachi band.

Honestly, though, you really couldn’t ask for a more amicable posse to assail you on a Mexican beach on a random morning- you really couldn’t.

I can't believe nobody noticed that droid creeping on us. (photo by D. Speredelozzi)
I can’t believe nobody noticed that droid creeping on us.
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

Nevertheless, amicability only gets you so far. I mean, even the nicest Jehovah’s Witness is still a major mellow-harsh when they’re standing there at your door, bosom-cradling their hungry babies and ineffectually trying to corral and contain their older children- and making a show of it.

These guys are fine, though, I guess. The entirety of their agenda is to offload, for a small profit, some valueless trinkets purportedly reflective of what gringo Americans consider to be “authentically Mexican”.  If we’re dumb enough to bite, though, then more power to them.

And we are. Or at least I am, anyway. Before it’s over, I’ve traded $10 for a cream-colored shirt that I definitely don’t need, emblazoned with the name of the nearby town of Mulegé. The guy literally peels the shirt off his back and hands it to me.

But I’ll wear it proudly.

These are the best friends we would make in Mexico. Well, these guys and one other dude we would meet in Hermosillo at the end of our trip- thank god for him (I'll explain later). Oh yeah- and this guy named Jaime in Cabo. That guy came up huge for us. (photo by D. Speredelozzi)
These are the best friends we would make in Mexico. Well, these guys and one other dude we would meet in Hermosillo at the end of our trip- thank god for him (I’ll explain later).
Oh yeah- and this guy named Jaime in Cabo. That guy came up huge for us.
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

Into the Sandbox

We say goodbye to our San Diegan buddies sometime late in the morning, and hit the road, barreling southward on a 280-mile cannonball run towards the city of La Paz– capital of Baja California Sur, second largest city on the peninsula, and the first municipality of any real consequence that we will have seen since Ensenada.

In Bizarro Loreto, all the grass is green, and all the basins richly watered. (image by clubsolarisvip.com)
In Bizarro Loreto, all the grass is green, and all the basins richly watered.
(image by clubsolarisvip.com)

Just past Loreto we swing back inland and away from the Sea of Cortez, once again crossing the peninsula, this time westward. We pound our way through the blistering heat of the day, gliding through Ciudad Insurgentes, Ciudad Constitución, and Guadaloupe, ripped off our asses on shitty-ass schwag that we couldn’t be happier about having.

By late-afternoon we are only 50 miles from La Paz; and since we’re making such good time, and since our balls are on fire, we decide to go jump in the Pacific Ocean, which we haven’t seen for a couple of days now . A little fishing village called El Conejo (“the rabbit”) sits about 10 miles west of the highway, via a dirt “road”. We put the sun in our eyes and make for the coastline.

I go wherever the arrow dictates. End of discussion. (photo by D. Speredelozzi)
I go wherever the arrow dictates. End of discussion.
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

 

 

Previous: Chapter 10: Framping Comes Alive!

Next: Chapter 12: Hassles Made of Sand

 

 

Baja Mexico: The Journey of Almost No Return – Chapter 10: Framping Comes Alive!

(Click here to Return to Day 1)

Day 04

Guerrero Negro, BCS > Mulegé, BCS

Monday, August 29th:

bajanomad.com
The Rio Mulegé, winding in from the west, threads its way through forests of palm trees before crossing under the highway and feeding the Sea of Cortez.
(photo by bajanomad.com)

Though Their Course May Change Sometimes, Shit-heads Always Reach the Sea

Hours of monotonous, high-speed desert swelter end abruptly when out from a long, unbroken, and forsaken corridor of cactus and scrub brush we emerge onto the royal blue shores of the Sea of Cortez, aka the Gulf of California, at a little town called Santa Rosalía.

We chug south along the shore for another 30 miles before reaching the small tourist town of Mulegé, where we decide it’s time to pull over for a proper drink. Espying a festive-looking beach bar sitting along the placid shores of Bahía Concepción, we drive out onto the sand and pull up to the edge of a modest-looking thatch-roofed bungalow advertising beer.

Hey, Bungalow Bill

We saunter on in under the protective shade of the structure’s straw roof canopy, and are immediately greeted by a friendly American expatriate named Bill, proud proprietor of this laid-back establishment. He starts making our margaritas before we even order them.  Because he knows.

ongoldenheart.com
He’s the all American bullet-headed Saxon mother’s son.
(image by ongoldenheart.com)

It’s the kind of place that makes you start questioning every decision you’ve ever made, as it reveals to you all at once just how obvious and easily-attainable the good life has been all along, despite the colossal botchery which you have called “living” for all these years. Makes you just want to hang it all up, throw in the towel and leave the game of life in the more capable hands of whoever knew to do this instead of whatever you’ve been doing with your life.  It hurts.

Sweet pain, though, at least. And the Margaritas can only help with that.

"Deek, I thought you said you guys had margaritas at this bar?" Go fuck yourself. (image by bajanomad)
“But Deek, I thought you said you guys had margaritas at this bar?”
Go fuck yourself.
(image by bajanomad)

Picture a Spinning Toy, Laden With Adventure

The space is flanked by television sets- the first we’ve seen in days, shining down upon us from the upper corners of the room. One of the TVs is showing a soccer game from somewhere else in the world; and the rest are all showing footage of some third-world disaster zone.

The images have no mercy, and do not relent. Miles upon miles of  devastated floodlands; entire, vast neighborhoods inundated; desperate people – aspiring refugees- stuck on isolated rooftops; cars floating down rivers that once were streets; rowboats bumping into second-story windows; downed power lines floating this way and that; the buzzing of helicopters in high-decibel surround-sound; the bodies of lost dogs and cats bobbing on the surface of the foul , polluted, brackish water.

When the levee breaks, Mama you've got to move. (image by livescience.com)
When the levee breaks, Mama you’ve got to move.
(image by livescience.com)

I ask what country this is all happening in.

“New Orleans,” Bill tells me, and goes back to wiping down his already-spotless counter while I process this information.

Holy fuck- this is New Orleans? At once we perceive that what we are looking at is the dire aftermath of that hurricane that the western world was so up-in-arms about in the days leading up to our exit from civilization: Hurricane Katrina.

We sit, rapt, deep into our margaritas, and watch with shock and disbelief the madness unfolding on the screen before us. It’s like some kind of Mother Nature’s 9/11. This is a level of chaos that I have never before seen occurring on American soil- that is, if you can even call a world under fifteen feet of water “soil”.

Picture a spinning toy, laden with adventure. (image property of U.S. Coast Guard)
Picture a spinning toy, laden with adventure.
(image property of U.S. Coast Guard)

Sweet Leaf

Okay, well this is all a lot to process. We begin to collect ourselves to leave.

I think for a moment, then speak. “Heya…Bill?”

“Lemme guess- you want to know where you can find pot?”

Wow. This guy gets it. “Why yes, actually.”

Bill gives us some very elastic directions to some random-ass roadside shack a few miles south of here, instructing us to ask specifically for “mota”, but not to use any of the other terms by which we know the magic plant. He says the guy’s cool, and is well-accustomed to hooking jonesing gringos three days into their withdrawal.

Hmm… sounds sketchy as fuck. Let’s do this.

Are you, or have you ever been, a cat? (photo by D. Speredelozzi)
Are you, or have you ever been, a cat?
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

No La Tengo

After rolling up on several ramshackle buildings, none of which are the place we are looking for (but one of which has the corpse of a hard-luck cat laying in its dusty driveway), we finally locate what we firmly believe to be the spot Bill was talking about. I walk in, and am immediately greeted by a haggard and suspicious-looking Mexican dude, whose expression (more “What do you want?” than “Can I help you?”) suggests that we are in the wrong place, and that that is a problem.

But we’re seriously dying to get baked. It’s been days. I take a chance.

“Tienes alguna mota a la venta?” (Do you have any marijuana for sale?)

His response conveys no ambiguity or indecisiveness whatsoever:

No! No la tengo”, he declares, with an expression that clearly demands “And what made you think I would?”

I pause for a moment, having not anticipated this curveball. Visions of mass graves and wanton disembowelment at the hands of indiscriminate cartel death squads rush into the mental space that moments earlier contained hopeful visions of unmolested hours of smoky retardedness on quiet, sandy subtropical beaches. Shit. I hadn’t practiced this particular play.

Before I can muster a response, he speaks again- this time in English:

“How much do you want?”

Mota City Madhouse

Classic. You gotta love this country, I think to myself.

Any semblance of suspicion or wariness on his part has utterly vanished, as though I have just passed a test of some kind, even though all I’ve done since I walked through the doorway is blatantly ask for illegal drugs. But I don’t know how to render proper fractions in Spanish; so I launch a hail Mary and hope for the best.

“Veinte dólares?”, I offer, with a hopefulness tinged by terror.

He takes my twenty bucks (U.S.), promptly whips open a large floor-mounted freezer containing nothing but shit-loads of weed, arranged and wrapped in satchels of all sizes., and hands me the fattest sack of anything that I’ve ever acquired for twenty bucks- the thing is the size of three tightly-wrapped Italian sausages.

Being completely unversed in the local etiquette for such a moment, I issue a hesitant and apprehensive “Gracias”, before crotching the package and ducking out the door.

Well...that certainly perked the cat right up. (photo by deathandtaxesmag.com)
Well…that certainly perked the cat right up.
(photo by deathandtaxesmag.com)

Take My Cat, Please

We stop at a pull-off along the highway to take a better look at a lovely little beach we have espied from a rise in the road. There’s a trio of locals, a man and two women, sitting there at the pull-off, trying to give away- get this- kittens!

As much as I love kittens, you’d be hard-pressed to come up with a better example of a situation in which I should most definitely not be acquiring new pets. But at least these cats are alive- unlike that one we saw a little while ago. Nevertheless, I manage to summon the restraint to turn down the offer.

Framping Comes Alive!

The beach is immensely inviting: completely empty of people or vehicles, situated peacefully at the innermost curve of a large, placid bay, and lined with cute little palapas- challenging us to find a better place to camp for the night. Testing us to see if we are stupid enough to pass it up.

We might be stupid enough; but nevertheless we do not pass it up. We roll up on the beach and find, to our immense delight, that there are no posted fees, rules, or restrictions of any kind. It’s a free-for-all!

What happens in Mulege...ends up on some dude's blog, apparently. (photo by D. Speredelozzi)
What happens in Mulege…ends up on some dude’s blog, apparently.
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

We select a palapa, park the car, and both stumble into the sea to wash the desert from our bodies. When we get out, Chalk starts rolling fatties while I drag the cooler out of the car.

After ripping into the frigid beers we’ve been carting around all day long, we smoke two joints, before we smoke two joints. And then we smoke two more.

This place takes free camping to a new level.

 

Previous: Chapter 9: Madmen Across the Desert

Next: Chapter 11: El Conejo Done Died

Baja Mexico: The Journey of Almost No Return – Chapter 9: Madmen Across the Desert

(Click here to Return to Day 1)

Excuse me, sir- could you happen to tell me where i might find a...You know what?Nevermind. (photo by www.snipview.com)
Excuse me, sir- could you tell me where i might find a…
You know what, you’re fine. Nevermind.
(photo by www.snipview.com)

Angry Breakfast

Man, Guerrero Negro blows. 

We roll into town a pair of already-catastrophically-bored men. Before we’ve even done anything, we’ve run out of things to do. And the people we encounter all seem to fall somewhere between openly apathetic and just this side of outright hostile on the amicability spectrum. A pair of men at a gas station stare back at me, but do not respond, when I ask them (in both languages) if they can tell us where there is a restaurant in town. When I give up and walk away, the snicker to each other in Spanish.

This wicked uninteresting photo of the Guerrero Negro Supermercado perfectly captures the spirit of the town. (image by octopup.org)
This wicked uninteresting photo of the Guerrero Negro Supermercado perfectly captures the spirit of the town.
(image by octopup.org)

But that’s fine, I guess. It’s not exactly as if we’d been expecting this place to prove out as some kind of dark horse wondertown of our trip or anything. Besides, all we care about at the moment is breakfast; and when the going gets boring, the bored go out for breakfast. And whatever social, recreational, and governmental deficiencies this town might have, it does have the two things we need most: 1) restaurants where you can get a ridiculously awesome plate of huevos rancheros for two dollars, and 2) roads leading the fuck out of here.

They may not like it, but the proprietors of the Malarrimo will serve you a huge breakfast for $1.75. (photo by bajadock.wordpress.com)
They may not like it, but the proprietors of the Malarrimo will serve you a huge breakfast for $1.75.
(photo by bajadock.wordpress.com)

We pound a quick breakfast, tap a couple of the Starbucks bottled frappuccinos we picked up in Ensenada, and hit the road.

Huevos Rancheros, the official breakfast of Mexico. (photo by Elchavobeer, licensed by WikimediaCommons)
Huevos Rancheros, the official breakfast of Mexico.
(photo by Elchavobeer, licensed by WikimediaCommons)

Get Out of Gro-Gro

On the south side of Guerrero Negro, the highway swings inland, turning sharply southeast and away from the Pacific Ocean, crossing the Baja Peninsula at its widest point. From Gro Negro it’s about 175 miles to the next town of consequence; and the entire intervening stretch is a featureless run of wide-open desert: a two-lane ribbon of asphalt lined with tumbleweeds, cacti, dry washes, and sweltering nothingness: my kind of terrain.

Back in Ensenada we bought a case of bottled water and Starbucks iced lattes, as part of the grocery run we did to acquire all the essential items we would need to get us to La Paz, another 850 miles further south. We dip into these as we hit the road eastbound, through what will be the hottest stretch of our trip.

Count the cacti on the high-way... (photo by D. Speredelozzi)
Count the cacti on the high-way…
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

Madmen Across the Desert

One thing about driving the Baja Peninsula I don’t think I’ve mentioned is the dry arroyos. God are these things annoying- and hazardous.

It’s like this: Mexican Federal Highway 1 is the only continuous north-south through-road of the 1,000-mile-long peninsula; and it is paved for its entire length, with a few fleeting exceptions. But these exceptions are serious harshes to one’s driving mellow. At spots where the highway crosses dry arroyos (sandy, rocky river washes which only carry water in times of rain and flood), it is extremely common for the pavement to simply end abruptly for the span of the arroyo. And the arroyos scattered throughout the Baja Peninsula cannot be counted.

Strange, ancient creatures lurk deep in the lost deserts of Mexico. (image by Blue Öyster Cult)
Strange, ancient creatures lurk deep in the lost deserts of Mexico.
(image by Blue Öyster Cult)

Fear the Reaper

So there you are, screaming down the highway, cranking Blue Öyster Cult and enjoying the hair-dryer-like wind melting your face off, and all of the sudden you pass this sign giving you a 50-meter (for all you non-mathematicians out there, that’s just over 50 yards) warning of an imminent arroyo crossing. Now let me tell you something: at 80 miles an hour, it takes less than 1.5 seconds to go fifty yards. You see where I’m going with this?

So yeah, you see the sign, and you jam on the brakes, and the car starts desperately grasping for road friction in a frantic attempt to slow down. While you’re still going a robust 35 or 40 miles per hour, though, the pavement ends, and the car comes crashing down into the dry riverbed, bouncing and tossing its occupants around mercilessly as it plows its way across the dirt and rocks. Then, just as suddenly, you go smashing into the dirt curb on the far side of the arroyo, and rumble gracelessly back up onto the pavement.

A fifty-yard warning is not enough. (photo by 2cycle2gether.com)
A fifty-yard warning is not enough.
(photo by 2cycle2gether.com)

And the next time you come upon another one of these arroyos, the same thing happens again, because the idea of going slow enough to neutralize the arroyos as obstacles is simply unacceptable to you; so you just resign yourself to the occasional bout of catastrophic road mayhem, and carry on at the same reckless pace.

And that’s how it goes down ’round Baja Mexico way.

 

 

Previous: Chapter 8: Don’t Worry About the Government

Next: Chapter 10: Framping Comes Alive!

 

Baja Mexico: The Journey of Almost No Return – Chapter 8: Don’t Worry About the Government

(Click here to Return to Day 1)

It's all happening in Santa Rosalillita. (image property of voyageofkiri.blogspot.com)
It’s all happening in Santa Rosalillita.
(image property of voyageofkiri.blogspot.com)

Day 04

Punta Santa Rosaliita, BC > Guerrero Negro, BCS

Monday, August 29th:

How pleasantly surprised am I to crawl out of my tent, just after sunrise, to behold… the ocean! I mean, like- right there in front of me, not a hundred yards away! This shouldn’t be such news to me, seeing as how I deliberately set off westward from the highway late last night, specifically seeking for the ocean, which I knew was not even 15 miles away; but somehow it is. That’s on me.

I crawl out and stand on a wide curving beach, rubbing my eyes with the palms of sandy hands, and ponder on just how we could have possibly not noticed the ocean- of all things- when we settled in to go to sleep just a handful of hours ago. We just figured we’d stumbled upon a little village amid the dunes; but we had no idea that we’d actually reached a bona fide coastal community, nestled peacefully along the shore of a calm, quiet, well-sheltered bay.

Not so much as a lapping wave can be heard, though I can now smell the ocean, faintly. Looking out across the glass-smooth placidity of Bahia Santa Rosalillita, I find myself contemplating the weather, and this leads me to wondering what happened with that massive hurricane everyone had been raving about for the past several days. The last time I heard a news report- yesterday morning at that grocery store in Ensenada- the storm’s arrival on the Gulf Coast was imminent. It was supposed to be a big one, too.

As I turn my gaze back inland, I am startled to see, several hundred yards away, and coming from the direction of the little village, two men, and about eight or nine dogs, making their way towards our slapped-together beach camp.

Chalk frantically stuffs his shit into his pack, intent on making a quick escape out from under the hovering hand of doom, while I mill about taking pictures. (photo by D. Speredelozzi)
Chalk frantically stuffs his shit into his pack, intent on making a quick escape out from under the hovering hand of doom, while I mill about taking pictures.
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

Dog Day Morning

Oh what the fuck is this? I speak Chalk’s name to see if he is awake. He is. I give him the news, and he emerges from his tent to see for himself.

Yep- no doubt about it, they’re coming this way. Shit. Are we trespassing or something? Or even worse, have we wandered outside the boundaries of “civilized” Mexico, into the lawless hinterlands? 

But of course we have! First of all, that has been our goal all along- to escape the world of the American experience; and second of all, that’s what Baja Mexico is– lawless hinterlands, whether it suits our agenda or not.

Chalk demands that we grab our tents, throw them in the car, and peel out of here before we’re made into human piñatas, or re-purposed as morning grist for the sport of rogue and pitiless hounds, and their bloodless, sociopathic human handlers. I don’t exactly disagree. I throw my shit in the car.

This guy gets it. (image property of www.lbknews.com)
This guy gets it.
(image property of www.lbknews.com)

I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke

Hi buddies! Good boys! 

The friendly dogs dance enthusiastic jigs around my legs as if their common goal is to tie me up with invisible twine. But somehow I manage to wriggle out of it. My body is assailed by furiously wagging tails; they swat and hammer their message of goodwill all over my legs. Then a shrill whistle pierces the salty air, and the dogs are gone- all tearing off back towards the two men, who I can now see are holding fishing gear. The men wave a morning hello which is utterly devoid of any negative energy, and continue on towards their fishing spot. I wave back and say “Hola!”, as my mental images of being callously shot to death on a remote foreign playa are flushed from my brain like water down a drain, and replaced with reckless optimism for the future of mankind, and the boundless brotherhood that this must engender.

I feel like a chump for initially assuming that every person we encounter is bad news. On the other hand, I do know that such folk are actually out there. But maybe the horror stories you hear are exaggerated? I don’t know- all I know is, every single person we’ve encountered so far who wasn’t wearing a uniform of some kind has been more than amiable. So if there are any bad vibes out here, maybe we’re the ones bringing them in.

This joke makes itself. (photo by D. Speredelozzi)
This joke makes itself.
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

¿Qué Coño, Hombre?

An hour down the highway we reach Guerrero Negro (“Black Soldier”, in the local parlance). Gro Negro (as it is abbreviated on highway distance signs) sits on the state line between Baja California and Baja California Sur. This means we get to deal with the authorities again- sweet. I roll up to the checkpoint. A tired old crotchety-looking uniformed government bullshit-jockey ambles up to the window and addresses me in Spanish, but switches to English when he hears me speak.

The policeman (or whatever the fuck he is) stands at my window criticizing my travel paperwork, shaking his head and muttering “No, no, no”, and looking back at his co-gro for encouragement, validation, laughter- who knows. The other guy sits there in a booth looking about as animated as Bernie. He might already be dead of boredom, I can’t quite tell for sure.

Our paperwork isn’t in order. Our visas are illegitimate. Our auto insurance policy is void. The guy’s just shamelessly tossing everything at the wall to see if any of it will stick. I respond firmly, but with a measure of deference (strictly self-preservation-motivated), and assert my surety that all of our paperwork is most definamente in order, though I have no idea whether or not it actually is- or even what that concept means in these parts.

The man is not the least bit swayed or intimidated by my flimsy, tissue-paper-thin veneer of faux-confidence. He steps back for a moment while he tries to come up with some new farce to perpetrate upon us in the name of national security. ¿Qué coño, hombre?

The port of entry for Baja California Sur, at Guerrero Negro. (photo by D. Speredelozzi)
The port of entry for Baja California Sur, at Guerrero Negro.
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

A Weasel-Named Fee

Ah but then…wait! There is a way this can be fixed right here and now, the man says! If we pay him the requisite “processing fee”, he offers, he will do us the “favor” of correcting our paperwork to bring it into compliance (with his wallet).

Jesucristo. I roll my eyes- but only in my mind. Fine, I’ll fucking play.

“Okay, what is the fee?” The guy teeters forward, peering intently into the car, but makes no answer to my query. I issue my pregunta a second time. “How much is the fee?”

I’m playing a game here. We both are. He’s trying to see how much money I have in my wallet; and I’m trying to pretend it’s not blatantly obvious that he is doing so. In truth, the “fee” is equal to whatever amount of money he thinks he can extort from me; and so knowing this, though I only have a few dollars in my wallet, I shield it from his view. Finally he seems to accept that he’s not getting a glimpse into my wallet, so instead he just demands 25 pesos. 25 pesos! Nooo!!

25 pesos is only like two and a half bucks, so I don’t bother going toe-to-toe with the guy any longer. Shit, I mean, if that’s all it takes to pass through Mexico unmolested by government authorities, I will gladly pay off every official from Tijuana to Guatemala City, and smile while I’m doing it.

Anyhoo, Chalk and I are both ravenous, and this government checkpoint is beat. I hand the the man his dirty dinero, and he promptly waves us through, all the while exuding an air of one who has been profoundly, utterly, and unnecessarily put out by our intrusion into his cozy little port of entry government playhouse.

I'm just fuckin' witchoo- this is a total red herring. If you really want to see this sign, all you have to do is drive I-95 across the border between the Carolinas. (photo by D. Speredelozzi)
I’m just fuckin’ witchoo- this is a total red herring. If you really want to see this sign, all you have to do is drive I-95 across the border between the Carolinas.
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

We are now south of the border south of the border. We have come slightly more than halfway down the peninsula; and all that stands between us and Cabo is 575 miles of… well, how the hell would we know?

 

Previous: Chapter 7: Foaming at the Mouth

Next: Chapter 9: Madmen Across the Desert

Baja Mexico: The Journey of Almost No Return – Chapter 7: Foaming at the Mouth

(Click here to Return to Day 1)

Cataviña, BC > Punta Santa Rosalillita, BC

Sunday, August 28th:

On the dunes Homicide, on the dunes (photo by D. Speredelozzi)
On the dunes
Homicide, on the dunes
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

Change is Permanent

The bill for our hearty, delicious, and hilariously inexpensive dinner of beans, rice, and steak fajitas- plus two beers apiece- is only 75 pesos. That’s like seven bucks in U.S. currency. We slap down a $10 bill and I say “Mantén el cambio” (that’s “Keep the change”). I’m getting more linguistically daring with each encounter.

As little as everything costs in Mexico, the locals will charge you even less for goods and services if you pay them in Mexican money- it’s like they penalize you for using US Currency by adding on a random, tiny ad hoc surcharge. The difference is negligible to us; but it seems to keep them happy. To tell you the truth, I don’t think the folks down here really have any concept of the kind of money that Americans are traveling with when they come through the area. If they did they would surely be bilking us harder than they’ve been doing.

The inland highway looks like this for hundreds of miles between Punta Baja and Guerrero Negro. (photo by D. Speredelozzi)
The inland highway looks like this for hundreds of miles between Punta Baja and Guerrero Negro.
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

Campground Ghost

We’re in the middle of poking around the pitch black parking lot looking for signs of a campground when a crazy looking dude steps up to us out of the impenetrable darkness. He’s foaming at the mouth, he’s wasted, and he’s ranting at me with rapid fire questions, none of which I comprehend even remotely. I wonder if even a Spanish speaking person would be able to make any sense of the his ceaseless babblery. Standing there by my driver’s side window, this crazy hombre is the only thing we can see amid the darkness- just a raving, glowing countenance, hovering before me in the night like some phantasm out of an H.G. Wells story.

The fellow then pulls a toothbrush out of his ragged pocket and applies rotation on his teeth and gums.

Peninsula long, desert hot. (photo by D. Speredelozzi)
Peninsula long, desert hot.
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

It All Would Be So Crystal Clear If it Wasn’t For the Foam

Okay, just let me say this- whether it’s the foam of the rabid or merely toothpaste- either way it’s still weird to walk up to and greet strangers with a mouth full of white froth- nevermind the particulars of the situation. The dude has no water, and when he tries to spit out the toothpaste so he can make a decent go at basic conversation, he doesn’t have enough saliva on hand to successfully execute the purge, and ends up just sort of blowing stringy tendrils of foam all over his face. With nothing having been achieved beyond that. And in the process of this- I don’t know- he must have swallowed a dollop of toothpaste or something, he erupts into a sudden and violent coughing fit, and stumbles away from the car into the darkness without so much as a nod, a wink, or a wave of goodbye. Seems like a good time to move on out. We have been warned about traveling after dark on the roads of Mexico; but be that as it may, we’re definitely not sleeping in this hard-gravel parking lot with an unhinged lunatic holding down the perimeter; so we decide to ease on down the road just a piece.

Sun rises on the village of Santa Rosiliita. (photo by D. Speredelozzi)
Sun rises on the village of Santa Rosalillita.
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

The Dark, the Many, the Few

The night is dark, the stars many, the folk few. For the next 90 miles we pass only one other vehicle- a truck on a midnight haul. It comes around a bend, piercing the darkness with its lights, flashes by us in an instant, and is promptly swallowed up in the darkness of our rear-view.

It’s anyone’s guess what the terrain around us looks like; but I’d say “bone-dry desert with sagebrush and cactus from horizon to horizon” seems like a pretty strong guess. Sometime late in the evening I hang a right onto a random dirt road and decide to take it west until we hit the ocean- it’s gotta be out there somewhere.

La Playa de Misterio

Twenty minutes later, the road circumvents a tiny village shrouded in darkness, and then ends abruptly where it meets some sand dunes. We say fuck it and decide to just camp here. We’re beat; and it’s late. And anyway, if we go back to the highway and proceed any further south on the main road, we’ll shortly reach Guerrero Negro, where we cross the state line between Baja California and Baja California Sur (“Baja California South“); and we’re definitely not trying to be having dealings with anybody in the wee hours of the morning- especially government fuckheads.

We throw down our tents in the sand, take a few swigs of tequila, have a last cigarette for good measure, and then call it. Just as I’m zipping my tent to close out the world for the night, a dog starts barking in the village a few hundred yards away, and then a light goes on at one of the houses. Then another light goes on.

But I’m so tired I could sleep on a picket fence; so whatever, kill us if you must- I’m dropping off for a few hours.

Buenas noches.

 

Previous: Chapter 6: Escape From Ensenada

Next: Chapter 8: Don’t Worry About the Government

Baja Mexico: The Journey of Almost No Return – Chapter 6: Escape From Ensenada

(Click here to Return to Day 1)

Ensenada, BC > Cataviña, BC

Sunday, August 28th:

Good fucking riddance, Ensenada! (photo by D. Speredelozzi)
Good riddance to you, Ensenada!
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

Libre en el Pasado!!

I don’t know what it feels like to get released from prison; but assuming it feels even better than driving away from Ensenada after a half day spent trying to navigate the infuriatingly corrupt and inept Mexican immigration system, it must feel fucking awesome. It must be positively orgasmic.

Catch Us if You Can!

As we speed away southward down Federal Highway 1, Ensenada cannot recede in the rear-view fast enough for our taste. This is the exact kind of moment when you pack a bowl and settle in for the ride you’ve been gearing up for for days now. But of course, assuming nobody has found it and taken it for themself, all of our shit is packed in a cigarette box and sitting in a tree in Chula Vista, California- 100 yards north of the international border.

Up ahead in the distance looms Cerro el Portezuelo Mountain (4,345 ft). (photo by D. Speredelozzi)
Up ahead in the distance looms Cerro el Portezuelo Mountain (4,345 ft).
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

For the next 100 miles or so we’re just trying to put as much distance as we can between ourselves and Ensenada, lest the insatiable tendrils of bureaucracy reach out once again and waylay us before we’re out of range once and for all. After awhile we cautiously allow ourselves to start flirting with the idea that we might actually be free and clear of quasi-civilization for the time being; and our eyes resume scanning the countryside for points of interest.

Fish Tacos!!

Somewhere around Camalú we get our first lesson in how fucked we are linguistically, when we stop at a roadside restaurant to get something to eat. The place is little more than a straw-roofed yellow shanty adorned in Tecate, Coca-Cola and Red Bull advertisements; but that’s good enough for us.

Fish Tacos!! (photo by D. Speredelozzi)
Chalk ponders a rooster.
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

It is here in Camalú that we run into our first language barrier, discovering quickly that actually no, not everyone in Mexico speaks English.

Whatever, though- my rusty old Spanish should at least be adequate to allow me to order a couple of fucking tacos and a Mexican Coke, right?

Right. As suspected, my extremely limited (and never-field-tested) Spanish proves up to the task; though in the moment I recognize the implicit warning about what this portends for the rest of our journey: best keep the Spanish-English dictionary within easy reach from here on out.

DSC00266
Not a moment later, the unpiloted car ran up on a seaside boulder field and sent Deek reeling through the air like the Greatest American Hero. The price we pay for adventure.
(photo by C. Chalk)

Madmen Across the Sand

A little while later we decide that it’s time to make our trip’s first foray into the ocean. We roll up to the edge of a wide empty beach near El Rosario , park the car, and go screaming across the sand like we’re being chased by a chupacabra. We stumble into the waves and fall forward, joyously greeting our first taste of subtropical ocean water. It’s so nice to get in the Pacific Ocean and not even have to think about the temperature of the water. In San Francisco you need a wetsuit to go in the ocean for more than two minutes, even in high summer. We splash about like children for awhile, then get back on the road. We have a long stretch of inland desert to traverse, and the day is wearing onward. Just south of the beach the highway swings eastward and inland, away from the ocean, beginning a long stretch of desert untempered by the sea air.

Don't be fooled by its appearance: the Ocean down here is better. (photo by D. Speredelozzi)
Don’t be fooled by its appearance: the ocean down here is better. It just is.
There, I said it.
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

The Cataviña Shuffle

The sun sets over cactus-covered mountains as we go screaming southward down the spine of the peninsula, miles from any body of water. Darkness falls, slowly enveloping all, until at last one would not be able to tell of a certainty whether one was driving in a desert, on a prairie, or on a lonely causeway across a vast ocean. Eventually we grow hungry and tired, and stop in the micro-village of Cataviña to attempt to redress these conditions.

 

Previous: Chapter 5: Military Madness

Next: Chapter 7: Foaming at the Mouth

 

 

 

Baja Mexico: The Journey of Almost No Return – Chapter 5: Military Madness

(Click here to Return to Day 1)

Ensenada, BC

Sunday, August 28th:

One of many Military Checkpoints we would encounter while in Mexico. (photo by Martina)
One of many Military Checkpoints we would encounter while in Mexico.
(photo by Martina)

Military Madness

Not even two miles south of Ensenada we round a bend to find the road blocked by two green military jeeps, positioned on our side of the road, both laden with heavy artillery.  I suppose we could get around them by swerving into the northbound lane for a moment; but the line of fatigue-clad dudes standing there with hefty battle-rifles at the ready sufficiently discourages such a move.

We’ve heard tell of random military stops scattered throughout Mexico; but we’d also heard that they don’t have them on the Baja Peninsula.  False.  I pull over to the side of the road, in acquiescence to the authoritative gesticulations of one of the soldiers, who is issuing a firm and unambiguous directive to do so.

The subtropical coastal waters of Baja California are already showing their famous green hue. (image by www.tripadvisor.com)
The subtropical coastal waters of Baja California are already showing their famous green hue.
(image by www.tripadvisor.com)

The soldier approaches my window, and I say hello.  He speaks to me in Spanish. “Hola. Donde van?”  Shit- what the fuck does that mean again?  It’s been almost twenty years since I’ve had the need to translate any Spanish; and when I say “need’, I am referring to my 10th-grade teacher in my suburban American high school demanding participation in class lessons- a much lower-stakes scenario than this here confrontation with an armed phalanx of soldiers supposedly representing the military installment of a foreign land with dubious traditions of law and order. Well I know that donde means “where”; so I put two and two together to conclude that he means “Where are you coming from?”  So I tell him “Ensenada, y San Diego”.

“No- donde van?” he says. Fuck. I was told there would be no interlingual translation required of me. Suddenly it occurs to me that he wants to know where we are going; so I emend my answer to “Cabo“. This seems to satisfy him somewhat; but then he ups the ante with a more challenging question:

“Llevas ningún armas, drogas, o contrabando?”  This requires a consultation with the English-Spanish dictionary- the first of many such queries that will be necessary on this trip. I hold up a finger and say “Un momento, por favor”. Seeing that I am flipping through a pocket translator, the soldier bides his time by vaguely inspecting the car, viewing it from various angles, peering in the back windows, and using a mirror on a stick to view the undercarriage of the vehicle. Another soldier reaches in the passenger window and flips open the glove box, rummages around a bit and then closes it up and retreats. The rest of the soldiers stand by, appearing ready for anything, though not seeming particularly threatening at the moment. Flipping frantically through the pages of the Spanish-English dictionary, I continue my crash course in real-time Spanish translation, and then a light bulb pops in my head.

Once south of the bureaucratic and military obstacle course of Greater Ensenada, we will find our rate of progress picking up significantly- for a time. (photo by D. Speredelozzi)
Once south of the bureaucratic and military obstacle course of Greater Ensenada, we will find our rate of progress picking up significantly- for a time.
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

“Oh, I’ve got it!”, I exclaim to Chalk, excitedly, “he wants to know if we are carrying any weapons, drugs, or other contraband.”  I turn to the soldier and say “No, no tienes ningunas de aquellas cosas (“No, we don’t have any of those things”).  I cross my fingers that I’ve got it right; though I am not all that nervous, since I know we are not carrying any of the things that they’re looking for. But then again, fuck do I know about the relationship in these parts between “legal” repercussions and actual guilt? I’ve heard some horror stories. Anyway, though, mine seems like an eminently plausible translation of the dude’s question, given the circumstances; so I remain outwardly confident, taking care not to appear haughty or frustrated in any way.  Chalk seems somewhat relieved that I have bounced back so handily with my answer, but remains only cautiously optimistic that I have interpreted the man correctly and answered his questions to his satisfaction.

“Bueno”, says the lead soldier, stepping back and waving us on.  Boo-yah!  I fuckin’ rule! Self-satisfied at my successful execution of the soldier’s nebulous mandate, I thank the man, say “Buenos tardes”, and slowly drive around the rigged-up jeeps painted in green-splotched camouflage paint, and resume my southbound trajectory on the Transpeninsular Highway.

...and suddenly the two travels are once again free to move about at will down the blazing desert highway. (photo by D. Speredelozzi)
…and suddenly the two travelers are once again free to move about at will down the blazing desert highway!
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

Don’t Dangle Your Stash

Since we are carrying more than a thousand dollars in cash between us; I suggest that we move the bulk of our money to a more concealed, secure spot, and keep only small amounts of money easily visible in our wallets. I wrap almost all of our cash in paper, bind it with an elastic band, and insert it tightly into the coiled springs on the underside of the driver’s seat, leaving us with only about $40 apiece in our wallets. This would prove a critical move in due time.

 

Previous: Chapter 4: Ensenada Immigration Follies

Next: Chapter 6: Escape From Ensenada

Baja Mexico: The Journey of Almost No Return – Chapter 4: Ensenada Immigration Follies

(Click here to Return to Day 1)

The flag flying over Ensenada Harbor loudly and proudly proclaims Mexico's staunch and unwavering commitment to law, order, and equal justice for all. (image property of en.wikipedia.org)
The flag flying over Ensenada Harbor loudly and proudly proclaims Mexico’s staunch and unwavering commitment to law, order, and equal justice for all.
(image property of en.wikipedia.org)

Day 03

Playa Saldamando, BC > Ensenada, BC

Sunday, August 28th:

Never forget this:

If you talk to a cop or any other government official in Mexico, you are paying him money– hands down, no exceptions, no workarounds.  We will revisit this point again and again throughout this trip report.

There I Was, at the Immigration Scene

We walk into the Ensenada immigration office, which sits inconspicuously along the city’s waterfront, next to one of the several marinas in town.  The customs official working there ignores us for a good 15 or 20 minutes, even though there is nobody else in the waiting area.  In fact, ignoring us is the only thing the guy is actually doing.  He sits there at an empty desk, flipping disinterestedly through a newspaper, with an infuriatingly-transparent and pointedly-deliberate show of utter ambivalence.  He glances in our direction periodically- just to make sure we’re still annoyed; but he never once looks at us, only through.

Eventually, realizing that this dick is gonna make us sweat and fight for every word we manage to pull out of his mouth, I go up to the counter and actively (yet with the appropriate level of ass-kissery, forced politeness and faux-deference) ask for help, and he ambles over to the counter smugly, acting all put-out by my request.  He speaks fluent English, though it is delivered in the expected Mexican accent.  He asks what we want, even though it is perfectly obvious what we want, as I have already filled out the required immigration form and placed it on the counter in front of him; and anyway, what the fuck else could we possibly be wanting? But I humor him by explaining, in my “nice” voice, that we wish to acquire tourist visas for travel down the peninsula; and he responds by telling us, to our surprise, that this is not where you go to get tourist visas. He turns and walks away from the counter, not even bothering to follow up that last declaration with any kind of “But here’s where you do have to go to get that done” type of statement.  Ughh. What a douche.  King of your own stupid little fuckin’ world.

IMG_7793
At this stage in the trip, we are still seeing everything through Rosarito-colored glasses.
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

Irritation Man

But I don’t relent. I fear this might be some kind of a set-up, like when a cop makes a stupid joke while he’s in the middle of harassing you- and you’re fucked if you laugh at him and fucked if you don’t.  But I don’t see what alternative I have than to play this game by his rules, until he gets bored with cock-blocking our minimalist agenda; so I apprehensively call for his attention again, half-ready for him to whip around on me and bring the full force of his corrupt authority to bear on the situation. He is standing by the desk with his back to us, doing nothing (other than ignoring us); but after the second time I call to him he turns around slowly, visibly irritated that I am still “bothering” him.

Wow, it’s a wonder anybody ever gets any deeper into Mexico than this.

Through gritted teeth, I ask if he can tell me exactly where we’re supposed to go to get our tourist visas; and he sighs loudly and rolls his eyes, as if this is not the most logical follow-up question conceivable under the circumstances.  Finally, acting like he’s doing me a favor that I don’t deserve, he refers us to a bank that’s across the highway and a few blocks down the street.

This seems suspiciously strange to us, seeing as how we were specifically given this address by an official I spoke with on the phone a few days before we left San Francisco. Not to mention the fact that this is the Office of Immigration, and the other place is a financial institution.  But, figuring the guy probably knows his business, and being as-yet unaware of the pervasive, if only implicit, system-wide “policy” of messing with American tourists as a form of self-amusement, we leave the office and head over to the bank.

The colorful downtown marketplace of Old Ensenada. (image by www.marazulensenada.com)
The colorful downtown marketplace of Old Ensenada.
(image by www.marazulensenada.com)

Giving Me a Paper Chase

The guy at the bank is very nice, and also speaks perfectly good English (Ha!  I was right!  Everyone speaks good English in Mexico!); but he says that this most definitely is not the place to get tourist visas, and tells us that the place we just came from is.  

So we go back to the immigration office, and as soon as we walk through the door the guy gets angry and demands to know what we’re doing back there.  I tell him what the guy at the bank said; and he barks back with “Are you trying to tell me how to do my job?”  I explain that I am not trying to tell him how to do his job- I just want to get the visas so we can be on our way.  Then he says he doesn’t know where we’re supposed to get the visas.

“But you just told us a half an hour ago that we were supposed to go to that bank down the street to get our visas; so what do you mean now when you say you don’t know where we’re supposed to get them?”

“Well if I already told you where to go, then why are you still asking me?  If I said that you have to go over to that bank, then that’s where you have to go!” His miserable face contorts reflexively into a self-satisfied grin, lauding himself for the profound wit and acuity of mind with which he is besting me in this verbal showdown.

“Well, yes, I understand that, sir; but the man at the bank was very adamant that this is where we must go to get our tourist visas processed.”

“Well why are you so quick to believe him and not me?”

It’s probably for the best that I’m not holding a loaded gun at this moment; for if I were, I would absolutely perforate this assshole’s face without further hesitation.

“Because the plaque outside the door says ‘Oficina de Imigración’, and there are forms right there on that table that are quite unambiguously labeled “Estados Unidos Mexico Visa Application!”

Wank of America

Chalk can see that I’m about to start visibly foaming at the mouth- and everything that comes with it; so he wisely grabs my arm and drags me out the door, and we go back to the bank for another round. The guy at the bank is exasperated (though not at us); and swears to us, in a tone completely void of any sarcasm, condescension or derision, that it is most definitely the immigration office up the street we need to deal with. When he sees me deflate with a hopelessness that barely, if at all, conceals my mounting rage, he suggests that we go hang around outside the immigration office until we spot one of the other employees, and then go in and try to deal with that person instead.

I Won’t Toe Your Line Today

So we go back to the goddamn motherfucking immigration office and linger outside like sketchy ne’er-do-wells, until we hear multiple voices talking inside the building (the door is open), and go back inside.  Now some new power-confused douche-bag is busying himself with ignoring us; and the asshole we talked to before is still just milling about doing nothing.  So Chalk, as politely as possible, gets the new guy’s attention; and although the guy is a condescending prick about the whole thing, at least he doesn’t insist that we are in the wrong place.  Though he does insist that we have to pay some kind of penalty fine, for…I don’t know– being alive or whatever the fuck.  But at least his little game of torment-the-Americans ends with him actually processing our visas, while the other clown from before stands there with his arms folded, watching the proceedings.  And through it all, the two of them continue to just sneer and snarl at us condescendingly- making hilarious wisecracks in Spanish, and howling with robust laughter at the two stupid gringos in their midst.

Every passing day brings us inches closer to our destination. (photo by D. Speredelozzi)
Every passing day brings us inches closer to our destination.
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

Tossed in the Supermarket

Finally, after almost two hours of infuriating back and forth between the bank and the immigration office, we finally have our tourist visas, for what amounted in the end to about twenty dollars- plus some stupid bullshit “penalty” fee of another thirty or forty bucks- apiece.

So, tourist visas in hand, we at last leave the immigration office, get in the car, and head over to a nearby supermarket to make a quick stop for groceries and other supplies to get us through the next several days. While standing in the checkout line at the supermarket, I notice a TV mounted up on the wall.  The volume is off; but I can see that it is another news story about that hurricane everybody’s been talking about for the past few days- the one bearing down on the Gulf Coast.  Sounds like it’s supposed to be a big one.

Whatever, though- it’s not bearing down on Baja, so fuck it.

We pay for our groceries, load the car, and immediately set ourselves to getting the hell out of Ensenada for good.

Hmmm... I ain't no meteorologist, but I dare say this looks like it could be serious. (image by web.mit.edu)
Hmmm… I ain’t no meteorologist, but I dare say this looks like it could get serious.
(image by web.mit.edu)

 

Previous: Chapter 3: Tear the Roofs Off the Suckas

Next: Chapter 5: Military Madness

 

The Ridges of Mendocino County, Part 2: Yolla Bolly Wilderness- Ides Cove Area

(continued from Part 1: Yolla Bolly Wilderness, Ides Cove Area )

The Sausage King of Mendo

We built a killer campsite on the edge of a high cliff, overlooking Slides Creek Canyon and its descending chain of waterfall-fed meadows.

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Man, it takes my piss forever to reach the foot of this cliff.
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

Dinner went slightly awry when Peanut seized a perfectly-cooked Italian sausage off of my plate as I was reaching for the mustard; but I still love him.  After all, it’s cut-throat out there, we all know this.  Survival of the fittest.  Living off the land and all that.

I can't stay mad at you. (photo by D. Speredelozzi)
I can’t stay mad at you.
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

In the Morning, Feeling Half-Right

Drank too much whiskey and wine last night.  We all did.  Nothing for it but to walk it off, right?

So after forcing down some strawberry Pop-Tarts, and the squished, bruised, and oozing remains of the bananas we had jammed, against their will, into our bear cans yesterday, we took a nice long hike out to to some peaks, lakes, and meadows. At Long Lake, the Pean and I set off on our own, dropping down a steep and trail-less crumbling cliff-face, riding the scree as if we were shredding a nauseatingly-angled double-diamond snow slope. We etched a slanting, zig-zagging path down the mountainside, triggering mini-avalanches that rained down rocks and boulders onto the grassy saddle below us as we went.  I made sure to keep Peanut above and behind me, so I didn’t crush him with any of the debris loosed by my body weight; and he acquiesced to the directive, skidding along in my wake.  When we finally reached the bottom, we ran across a huge green meadow and slaked our thirst and cooled our bodies beneath a waterfall which poured off the lip of the cliff above like fruit punch from a ladle.

Elegance, function, style.  It’s all there in the Yolla Bolly.

South Yolla Bolly Mountain, seen from our campsite. (photo by  D. Speredelozzi)
South Yolla Bolly Mountain, seen from the creek by our campsite.
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

I See Dead Trails

I needed the very best of my route-finding skills to find the faded and disused remnant of the Burnt Camp Trail, which once upon a time had confidently led the way out of the meadow and back up the mountain toward our campsite, but at this point clearly had not been maintained in decades.  It was nearly impossible to find the track of the trail; but by summoning my inner Crazy Horse and carefully scrutinizing the lay of the land, the distribution of leaves and sticks across the forest floor, and the subtle breaks in the trees and shrubbery, I eventually managed to start tracing the ghost of the old path up the dry and dusty ridge. After 45 minutes of chipping our way uphill with the pitiless sun on our backs, we emerged back onto a familiar trail: the ridge trail we had hiked in on yesterday.  Across sinking slopes peppered with the fire-ravaged skeletons of white pine and fir trees I could see my yellow tent, Shane’s red Irish soccer shirt, and Abs’ ever-present royal blue Indianapolis Colts shirt, all perched on a high rocky outcrop overlooking the deep valley we had just hiked through .  We headed that way.

The trail up from Burnt Camp has clearly been abandoned for many many years, its route nearly impossible to trace. (photo by D. Speredelozzi)
The trail up from Burnt Camp has clearly been abandoned for many many years, its route nearly impossible to trace.
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

Hell in a Hand-Basket

Returning to camp from our sweltering hike to find Shane and Abs relaxing in the late-afternoon breeze, I grabbed the whiskey and settled in to a nice long intellectual diatribe with the boys on the state of politics and world affairs. Sometimes the world of man can creep in a little bit even when you’re well outside of its direct influence.

IMG_6885

IMG_6882
Shane-Nut atop Yuddy Point Rock (my name for it).
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

After the collective, three-way rant was over (Peanut, more well-versed than the rest of us in matters of social grace, knew better than to engage in a political chat among friends), we finished off the burritos we’d picked up yesterday in the Sacramento Valley, then spent another gorgeous, balmy night sitting around the campfire, looking out over the lower canyons at the twinkling city lights of Redding, out in the Sacramento Valley, and the peaks of Mt. Lassen and Mt. Shasta in the far distance. I slept like a bag of bricks in free-fall.

Grog-uddies. (photo by D. Speredelozzi)
Grog-uddies.
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

Ridging Our Bets

Next day we packed up camp, hiked back out to the trail-head, and parted ways with the fellas.  They were headed home to the Bay Area; but the Pean and I decided to stick around the trail-head to climb South Yolla Bolly Mountain (Mt. Linn), the highest point in the wilderness.

Hot-tuddy. (photo by D. Speredelozzi)
Hot-tuddy.
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

It was hot and exposed for the first part of the climb; and Peanut bitched and moaned accordingly, protesting by beaching himself in the shade of any tree we came within 50 feet of; but he was jacked and re-invigorated once we had gained the ridge and come into the path of the breeze blowing up from the lower flanks of the mountain.

Cool-uddy. (photo by D. Speredelozzi)
Cool-uddy.
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

We made the 1,500-foot, two mile ascent to the peak in just 55 minutes, and then spent a little while taking in the whole of the Yolla Bolly Wilderness and beyond from on high, gazing out at the hazy Sacramento Valley to the east, the numerous jagged ridges of the Mendocino National Forest to the south, the North Coastal Range to the west, the distant peaks of the North Yolla Bolly Range and the Trinity Alps far to the north, and our little campsite on a cliff far below our feet, before running back down the spine of the mountain (20 minutes) and setting off on the next leg of our Mendocino adventure.

(to be continued)

 

Next chapter: (Part 3: Race Under Pressure)