Tuesday, January 13, 1998
HUERFANITO, BAJA CALIFORNIA NORTE -- Captain Alex told me I couldn’t 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, Idaho—had driven the 50-mile stretch to Puertecitos just a couple days ago. "It’s 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 didn’t 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 lines—one 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 the south.
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.
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 captain’s 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 early—5:30) 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.