|Posted January 13,
1997, HUERFANITO, BAJA CALIFORNIA NORTE--Captain Alex told me I couldnt
do it. Using a plastic bottle cut in half, tossing
salt-water, he was rinsing off fish slime from his
22-foot panga, the La Brisa. He looked up at my
van and shook his head. "Not a chance. Best bet is
to go back, up through Ensenada." The weathered old
gringo who had ambled down the beach to the boat, a
long-time friend and fishing mate of Captain Alex,
agreed, saying it was maybe doable with a four-wheel. It
seemed the road south of San Felipe, which is a paved
road, was never actually in good shape, but the storm in
September had made it worse, washing away good chunks of
it. Bill, my campsite neighbor-- a methodical,
self-assured spark plug of a man from Boise,
Idahohad driven the 50-mile stretch to Puertecitos
just a couple days ago. "Its the sand,"
he said. "Some of those detours were a quarter mile
through the arroyos. Through the desert. Maybe if you let
some of the air out of your tires." He drove it in
his big honkin four-wheel drive pickup truck. It
took him three hours to reach Puertecitos. His fishing
buddy, Fritz, had gone along. Like usual, Fritz
didnt have much to say much about any of it. At
Puertecitos an unpaved road continues down the coast 38
miles to Bahía San Luis Ganzaga. This stretch of road on
my map, is symbolized by unbroken double linesone
step up from the dotted double lines, which indicates a
goat route. From there to its emergence onto Mex1, the
Transpeninsular Highway, it is about 40 miles of improved
unpaved road. My major reference book, The Baja Catch,
suggests all areas south of Puertecitos be accessed from
|Thats how my information-gathering sessions
went everything indicating the van would make it
just fine. I could indeed let a little air out of the
tires if needed be. To re-inflate them I had with me a
12-volt air compressor. I had two spare tires. I had an
extra 8 gallons of gas. Extra water. Food. Beer. I was
not going to die. The thought going backwards, re-routing
through Ensenada, did not make even a brief appearance.
It was simply not an option. Zelda and I were driving
south to Puertecitos. I dont even know why I
bothered to ask anyone.
At the moment I am camped just south of Puertecitos on the deserted beach, where I will for a while spread out in solitude. The remaining 80 miles of unpaved road? I know what to expect: the same hardscrabble, washboard, moderately eroded, rock-strewn dirt road that is typical of the Baja. The locals will travel it at 50mph. I will travel it at 10mph. My biggest worry will be screws in the van unscrewing themselves.
|By noon I had checked out of Rubens
RV camp and was on my way south. About two miles down the
road, not even out of town, I was flagged down by a
couple who had gotten their new Jeep Cherokee stuck in
the sand as they pulled off the pavement to change
drivers. I hoped this was not some omen. I replaced him
behind the wheel and rocked his SUV to freedom. I
continued south. Reassuringly the oncoming traffic was
steady. Whatever fate befell me, I would not be long
alone. The pavement was, as reported, in poor shape. Full
lanes were washed out and potholes were everywhere,
requiring a van such as mine, to travel no more than 30
mph. (Im guessing here, since my speedometer is
disconnected.) After 15 miles I came to my first
detoura 150-foot trip down, across, and up the
arroyo. There were more. The traffic thinned as I
repeatedly passed various campos and residential
groupings, voyaging deeper into this Saharan abyss.
Finally, a long-awaited quarter-mile cross-desert detours
made an appearance. The road here was completely washed
away. The pavement stopped, resulting in a sudden
six-foot drop into the arroyo. Passage was achieved by a
well-worn dirt road that sprang up next to the highway.
And that was that. I was to encounter several other
similar re-routings during the 80-kilometer drive and
none of them posed the slightest inconvenience. I felt
violated; totally underwhelmed. I was hoping for an
adventure; a tale to tell. I wanted testosterone to flow.
I wanted adrenaline-fueled feats. I wanted to be able
stumble into a Puerecitos cantina and order up an
ice-cold cervesa proclaiming, "Si, I drove from San
Felipe. Si, I am a man." Instead, I got a road that
rivaled the road that runs in front of my Duluth home. To
these naysayers I ask: What else have you failed to
Finally, out on the beach. Not a soul around. Just south of Puertecitos-- truly a god-forsaken, wind-blown, treeless, barren assemblage of humanity. Reminds me of the tundra. Ramshackle homes, ancient trailers, and abandoned buses lie helter skelter. The surrounding hills are volcanic, made up entirely of soft, eroded, red rocks. Lava flows. They rise up perhaps a thousand feet, and from their acme, I would not be surprised if one could view the Pacific, this isthmus of the peninsula being only 40 miles wide. This narrowness explains the mostly constant howling westerly wind. It gets funneled into the various arroyos and emerges on the east as gales. This wind is constantly blowing pots and pans off my table. At night the wind rocks the van. It is not hard to imagine, in the darkness, being in a cabin in the woods during a raging blizzard. Zelda, who is no fan of gusting winds, (or other noises/movements from invisible sources,) is content to spend the night in the captains seat.
Last night had a lovely supper, thank you. Fresh sierra mackerel in a beer batter, fried plantains, hashbrown potatoes. Monk on the stereo. Sipping an after-dinner, very under-rated, buttery Mexican brandy. Smoking a ceegar. Finished up by lantern light The Ax, by Donald Westlake. Along the beach, at the high-water mark, as far as the eye can see, is firewood. When the sun slips behind the hills, (which it does early5:30) I start and keep a fire going. At night, with the wind, it gets cold. Cold enough to require a flannel-lined denim jacket to be worn over my flannel shirt. To continue reading last night, even with a roaring fire, I had to retire to the shelter of the van.
Does it get any better than camping? Roam wherever I want. Great odors everywhere. Get to clean up the dishes. Eat what ever is left over. Lie in the sun. Lie in the shade. Bark like crazy at whatever is out there in the night. We go fishing and for walks and I get to come along. Checking out the smells. There are so many new smells. Very cool. But there are these bugs, always flying around. Landing on me. When they are by my face, I try to snap them up, but they are fast. They bug me.
But around here the air really blows. I hate it. I can feel it on my fur. Stuff moves around all by itself. Sudden noises. Noises all around. All I want to do is go hide. Inside the car is a good place, but all the noise still makes me nervous.