Walking around “town” this morning in Bahia de los Angeles, I can’t escape a particular word: abandoned. Buildings, restaurants, basketball courts, cars, boats, entire landscapes, and even, unfortunately, people. It’s a very common sensation that I’ve felt throughout Baja. Paradise is being stained by abandonment, and I wonder what the real causes are. You look around and can see that at one time things were being built, hope was in the air, and people were coming and going en mass. Now, not so much. More on that later.
One structure that stood out on the “beach,” which was more like an abandoned sand strip, was actually the combination of a couple shacks with tires stacked around it like a bunker. I asked the woman who owns the hotel about it, and apparently it’s a military outpost. It honestly looks like it’s ready for war and that it’s been through many battles, and lost. She went on to tell me that due to Bahia de los Angeles’ remoteness, there is a lot of narco traffic coming and going via boat. She went on to say, “Well, look around. You can see no way of making money here, but many people drive really nice trucks.” It’s true. There is no business here except the tail end of a once-strong tourist and fishing business now replaced by some other dark, yet open secret. She immediately realized she said a bit too much, and she clearly wanted to stop talking about it saying, “I just work here. Try to just keep to myself.” It’s heartbreaking really – especially so because the drugs flow north and the money and guns flow south.
After my walk, I pounded coffee as I waited for some wind to die down a bit and the temps to come up a bit. I have about 40 miles of backtrack to get back to 1, and then south to somewhere. I finally decided to leave, and for the first 40 miles back to 1, I passed one car. One. The road was mine alone as I glided through the barren, cactus spotted landscape. Awesome.
For the next 75-100 miles a 30-40 mph cross wind wrenched my neck relentlessly with nothing to stop it across the wide-open land. I am really, really tiring of this wind. I have ridden through much worse, but not for multiple days. But, if you’ve ever traveled any distances in the desert, you know that the terrain changes in a moment. So I was patient.
I have not spent a lot of time in the desert, but what little time I have spent, I am always reminded of the power of life. Where there is no water, cactus patiently grow seemingly out of rocks. They’re so specialized that a particular cactus may only appear for a mile or two before the conditions change just enough to make its life impossible. And then there are the large, dead animals on the side of the road. In the US, we’d call 911 to have them removed. In most of the rest of the world, they’re left for nature’s cleaners – the red-headed vultures (my name). You smell often smell the dead beasts before you see them, and it’s quite a smell. Our instilled value judgments cause us to recognize this smell as the smell of death. For these vultures, it’s the smell of life. And you’re reminded, sometimes life smells like shit.
After a couple hours of neck-pounding, I stopped at some roadside café, and I was rewarded with maybe the worst meal I’ve ever had. I had a bite, and I regretted it. Seriously inedible. There were more “parts” than chicken. Just thinking about it makes me queasy, and I’ll eat just about anything (other than olives). But it was a great stop with my stickers in the windows and everyone asking about my trip with eagerness.
About the landscape – hard to describe the desolation of this sand-whipped, bleak landscape. There is so much nothingness that it’s somethingness. Staggering. Again, I’m reminded that to just get dropped off in one of these cities would be to not know it. How could you really appreciate or understand Cabo san Lucas if you were just disgorged from an aviation tube? I really think that the surroundings are as important as the place itself. It’s city travel foreplay.
Finally, after nearly revisiting my “chicken” tacos, the going got better as I started going east with the wind. La Gigante purred along at 80+ like we were on some giant, high-speed desert conveyor belt. So smooth and effortless.
I haven’t mentioned anything about the military checkpoints along the way. They are almost all staffed by “kids.” Probably all in their 20’s as far as I can tell. They’re all heavily armed, and often masked. I gotta tell you; the masks are hard to get used to – especially when you pass a military pickup packed with masked men and machine guns. But hey, these guys really are fighting a war. While these young men are incredibly business-like and efficient, like all Mexicans they’re ready for a quick smile and are not above taking advantage of an easy target in the large, smiling, goofy gringo. One stop stands out in my mind – another example of our assumptions directing us to the wrong conclusions.
I pull up to a stop, and turn off the bike. I’ve taken to removing my helmet and headphones while I’m in line so that there’s no barrier between us. The young guy asks me, “Do you have a flashlight?” What? A flashlight? He’s pointing at my headlight, and another guy joins in and they’re both asking about the flashlight (they may speak less English than I speak Spanish). Now, my brain starts running – “Are flashlights illegal? Is this a shakedown? What? A flashlight? Do people hide drugs in them? Huh? I have a flashlight, but it’s in my tank bag, do they want to see it? What kind of scam is this? My large flashlight could be a weapon, are these guys going to take it?”
If you could hear my pea brain going on and on, it would probably sound like the Chipmunks rapping on cocaine. He finally reaches in his pocket and holds a spare bulb in his hand. Gringo is still clueless. I finally say that yes, I have a spare of one of those, and he asks if he can see it. Great, he’s going to steal my spare headlamp. It’s just all so out of context and random. So now I’m rifling deep in my tool kit, and I grab the bulb box and take it out. Immediately he’s disappointed – it’s way bigger than the one he’s holding. And it hits me – he wanted to see if his would fit my lamp to that he could give me the one he was carrying. God I’m an idiot. Wags, before you jump off the deep-end, take a pause. We are just so programmed to mistrust – it’s so unnecessary out there. Another human redemption on the road of travel…
Thanks to Garmin (long story), Mulegé my last 40 miles to Mulege were in the dark. Not fun – I don’t really like riding at home in the dark where people follow all the road rules and there aren’t random groups of bulls standing roadside. To add to things, as I was cruising along, a car coming the other way was passing and mistimed his reentry – he turned in with about 50 feet to spare. Yes, there are douchebags everywhere.
Thanks to my amazing travel agent extraordinaire, Tonieh, I found a place I’d never have found alone in the dark. It was one of those travel moments that work out because it has to. She managed to find Cliff, the owner, and I got him on the phone to talk me to his place down a steep dirt hill to the river. No way I could have found it without Cliff on the phone walking me through it. Had he not been available, no clue what I’d have done. So precarious. And that’s why the reward is so sweet. But what a place. Cliff is awesome, and he provided “the worlds greatest” tamales. And Beer.
I walked down to a restaurant down the river and enjoyed the utter darkness and peace. Stars close enough to touch. Quiet. Perfection. Amazing dinner. Fresh shrimp probably caught this morning, homemade tortillas too hot to touch, habanero salsa. My awesome server, Antonio. Tasty beers. And of course, Mexican TV loud enough for all to hear. If you tilt your ear just right, you can probably pick it up. All this for about $12.
And I thought my night was over, and it was bedtime. So, I walked home and thought I’d have one last beer on the river under the stars in the silence. It was about midnight when it happened…
I hesitate to post this. Do I really want to embarrass myself in this way? Yes, yes I do.
So I’m standing down by the river around midnight enjoying the last of my beer. A “road” runs along the river and for a while there were no cars anywhere. Just silence. After a bit, I saw lights a ways off coming down my side of the river. I was wrapping up anyway, so I started to make my way back up the “street” (more of a dirt alley) towards my place. As the car approached, I see that it’s a pickup truck with a searchlight on top. Marvelous. Now, I’m nowhere near drunk, but I do have a minor beer buzz going, and I have found myself in a sort of no-man’s land halfway to my place and halfway to the truck, which now has its spotlight right on me! Uh…
I hear “psst, hey, psst.” I had nowhere to go – I could go to the truck, or I could slip into my room. Best case, these guys were just bored local cops. Worst case, who knows. But even if they’re local cops, I find that avoiding local cops in foreign lands is the better move. Keep in mind that I have a black hoodie on with the hood up because it was a bit chilly. With brown pants on. Yes, I look like a lurking criminal. With limited choices, I decided to slip into the safety of my room hoping they’d just go away. Not so simple.
They pull down my street, and the searchlightS (yea, plural now) start up in earnest penetrating all the rooms of the house. The manhunt was ON! I can now hear them calling me with loud whispers, but now I’m sort of committed – I can’t face them now! The idea of going out there at this point is almost unthinkable in all its humiliation. So, thinking that they may come in, I stripped down and climbed soundlessly into bed. Now they start roaming around the house, their feet crunching on the shells covering the street. What have I done? After a while of laying there, it seems they’ll never go away, so I get dressed (mind you it’s PITCH black since I can’t turn on a light) and head out to meet my pursuers head held high. I make my way quietly to the door so as not to surprise anyone carrying a weapon (or a flashlight), but they appeared to be gone. At last. And now, I must admit, I feel really, really foolish. But you just never know! Really! In the heat of the moment, it just all really seemed like the right thing to do. And maybe it was – I was able to just sort of skate out of the situation unscathed, but still, it didn’t help my pride at the time.
Sleep was not easy after that. I was almost asleep at one point when I heard a car again and was convinced they were back. Yea, they weren’t, but every noise all night woke me up. I sure hope I didn’t cause any problems for Cliff and his wife. Really wondering if they’ll come back this morning. I’m not a smart gringo.
I woke up and made my way out. The other woman staying there, a Russian woman named Alaina, was up, and she asked me with big eyes if I’d heard the police all over the property the night before?!? What scandal! Oh man. While I was in bed, I couldn’t decide if I should confess or not – I mean, it’s not like CSI was going to take my footprints. But, upon her wide-eyed astonishment, I confessed. I couldn’t tell if she was laughing with me, at me or in spite of me. It could have also been pity. I walked out early to go get breakfast, and I fully expected to find a squadron waiting for me upon my return. Do I admit my folly to Cliff and his wife? Oh man.
I came back and talked to Cliff to tell him I’d like to stay another night. No mention of the Great Gringo Manhunt of 2012, so I may be off the hook. May stay closer to home tonight…