At the end of 2011 we quit our jobs and set off in our 1984 Volkswagen Vanagon, "Nacho". Our plan? To circumnavigate the globe, slowly, while discovering culture, food, recreation, and emergency roadside Volkswagen maintenance. We are Brad and Sheena. Just wingin' it.
The distance from Hampi, India, to the Nepalese border is 2,200 kilometers, approximately the distance from Phoenix to Seattle. The plan was to drive to Nepal for the short trekking season, and then return to India later to explore the North.
“It’s only 2,200 kilometers,” I reassuringly reported to Sheena. “We’ll be yodeling in the Himalayas in three days, tops.” Stupid, stupid, stupid. If we had the power of premonition we would still have Lennon, the Pontiac Aztec would never have seen the light of day, and I would still have the will to live. But we don’t, and so we began the drive across India, blindly walking straight into the field of rakes. (more…)
“Jungle trekking, yeah!” Sheena was visibly excited on the morning that we awoke for our ill-fated day of jungle trekking.
She’d picked up a new pair of trekking boots after we left Argentina, and now walked in circles in the parking lot of Thailand’s Khao Sok National Park while stealing glances at her fancy footwear as I finished loading up the backpack. Rain jackets, water filter, bug repellent? Check. Bathing suits and water? Check. Canned tuna (curry flavor), rice crackers, bananas? Check.
“I heard they have wild elephants here,” Sheena reported, energetically bouncing around in her boots. “And you know what?” She continued, “I also heard they have rare barking deer!” Her eyes looked like they were about to pop out of her head; if the wild elephants didn’t get me excited, the rare barking deer sure would!
We finished loading up our things and set off across the bridge, leaving our camp behind. The sun was already high overhead, evidence of our perpetual difficulty in getting out of bed on time, and our tendency to lollygag and engage in a lengthy coffee and breakfast routine. It didn’t take long before we found ourselves trudging along through a dense thicket of bamboo.
“How are your new boots feeling?”
Sheena kept the trail in her peripheral vision while scouring the surrounding jungle for any sign of a rare barking deer.
“What was that sound?” She would say.
“It was a bird.”
“How do you know it wasn’t a rare barking deer?”
“Sheena, it was a bird.”
By the time we had reached the first three or four scenic offshoots to the main trail, each leading to a swimming hole or small waterfall, the sun had turned the jungle into a sauna. The temperature soared and the stifling, still air strangled our lungs with every breath. The jungle changed from dense bamboo thickets to a tight tangle of vines and trees. A barking deer? possible. But there was no way that a wild elephant could live in this mess.
Our goal for the day was to reach the end of the trail, which terminated at the seventh waterfall. After the sixth, the trail shot straight up and over a series of steep ridges. We could no longer walk; instead we were forced to scramble by holding onto roots and vines. We climbed on, drenched in sweat, stained by mud, and nauseous from the heat.
“I think we should turn back,” Sheena said as we topped the final ridge. “The trail is too steep – we still have to come back through this.”
Having walked close to five miles through the dank jungle, turning around so close to our destination didn’t seem right. Besides, what if there was a rare barking deer out there somewhere? We reluctantly descended the far side of the ridge on a worsening trail. The sound of the waterfall intermingled with the rumble of thunder from the swelling clouds overhead.
When we finally reached the bottom of the ridge we lowered ourselves off of a tall rock ledge and onto the rocky shore of the river. Before us a waterfall cascaded gracefully into a large pool surrounded by enormous boulders. We spotted a flat rock and made our way out to it for our celebratory lunch of curried tuna and crackers.
Shortly after situating ourselves around our fancy lunch items, we heard a distant hum. Sheena nimbly shoveled scoops of zesty fish into her mouth as I fumbled with the crumbling rice crackers. I had barely gotten my can of curried tuna open when the distant hum grew into a buzz and presented itself to us as a large swarm of angry bees.
“All you have to do is hold still,” Sheena confidently announced. I tried this, but the tickle of tiny wings brushing my face and body got the better of me and I started to freak out.
“God, they’re everywhere!” I shrieked. Sheena sat there, apparently of less interest to the bees. “I need to get in the water!” I said, gasping, and proceeded to hurriedly whip off my clothes and throw them onto the rocks. The bees temporarily followed my clothing, saturated with my apparently tasty perspiration. The bees quickly lost interest in my clothes, and one bolted back at me and stung me on the back. I yelped, and then grabbed my swim trunks from the backpack, threw them on, and leapt from the rock into the chilly water.
I paddled away from the rocks and into the center of the pool. I could see Sheena holding very still on the rock. I paddled over to the waterfall and sat underneath its flow, letting the heavy water massage my shoulders. Everything was going to be okay.
Just then I heard Sheena’s signature squeal, so I looked up. Sheena stood atop the rock, frantically making hand gestures toward me like a Navy Landing Signal Officer. The only difference was that Sheena’s hand signals bore no resemblance to anything remotely comprehensible. She seemed to be making a sock puppet with one hand, while she pinched at the air in random flailing motions with the other hand. I yelled that I didn’t understand, at which she did a great job of signaling that I was a dolt. Next, she raised both arms and did what appeared to be “jazz hands”, and then looked all around and pretended to pick up random scattered objects with chopsticks. I had no idea what she intended to say. Finally she started whipping at the air and ran away into the jungle.
As she disappeared into the trees I heard her scream “BEES! I’ll meet you on the trail!”
A new curtain of fear came over me; the situation had worsened, and I would have to go fill my backpack and put on my boots amid a swarm of killer bees.
I timidly swam toward the rocks, and when I got close I could see a dark cloud of winged bodies around my things. If I was going to get out of here alive, I was going to have to be Indiana Jones about it. I jumped out of the water and ran into the bee cloud, whisking the bees off of my saturated t-shirt. I picked up the shirt and began violently whipping it about like a helicopter blade, or a Ninja Turtle nunchuk. The bees backed away from me, and the ones that didn’t got their asses chopped with my whipping shirt. I could hold them off- for now – but I had to figure out how to accomplish my tasks while my favored hand was being used as an anti-bee weapon.
With my left hand I dumped my curried tuna over the edge of the rock, hoping to create a diversion. It had no effect on the bees, so I started clumsily putting my clothes into my backpack while I whipped the air and my body with my sweaty shirt like some kind of masochist.
When at last I had sufficiently repacked my bag I hastily jammed my feet into my heavy trekking boots. I pulled the laces tight, but was unable to tie them, and then lowered my head, upped the tempo of my nunchuking action, and bolted. The bees followed me.
I ran through underbrush and thorny trees, trying to evade the bees, and finally came to the rock ledge that we’d lowered ourselves down earlier. I stopped whipping for a moment and ran at the ledge full speed, somehow making it to the top by imitating a loose approximation of parkour in my unlaced trekking boots. When I hit the trail I bolted uphill as fast as I could scramble over the roots and rocks until I’d reached the top of the ridge.
Sheena was nowhere to be seen. It had been close to fifteen minutes since we were separated.
Maybe she continued down the trail, I thought. But why would she do that? The bees had long since turned around, and there would be no reason for her to go farther. I opted to continue down the other side.
I slipped and clambered my way down the far side of the ridge, and finally reached the bottom, where the next ridge began, but still no Sheena. What the hell? There’s no way she could have hiked so far without me. At that point I could see two possibilities: she had either continued even farther than I had already come, or she had fallen off of the trail while running from the bees. Maybe her parkour skills weren’t as fine tuned as mine and she had fallen into the river while climbing the rock ledge.
I decided the first step would be to yell at the top of my lungs, which I did, for five or ten minutes. I alternated between eardrum-busting whistling and yelling Sheena’s name, but there was no response. “What the hell?” I kept saying aloud. The sun was getting low in the sky and the jungle was becoming dark.
Finally, just as I was about to turn around and scramble back over the ridge to the killer bees to look for her, I heard a familiar sound.
“Tee hee! Here I am, honey!”
“WHAT!? Where have you been? I’ve been worried sick about you! I thought you were unconscious and that the bees got you! What is wrong with you? Didn’t you hear me yelling!?”
“You know,” She said, in a voice that made the situation seem much less serious, “I ran away into the jungle and went really far, and then I waited for you. After ten minutes the bees were still hunting me and I started to get really mad at you for making me wait so long. I was like ‘What? No he DIT-INT’, but then I realized that I didn’t recognize anything. I finally walked back and realized that I wasn’t even on the trail. Woopsies! So then I came this way and here you are!”
I could hardly be mad at her. When you think someone has perished, and then you realize that they actually haven’t, you can really only be relieved. But we weren’t out of the woods yet! Literally, we weren’t out of the woods yet.
The clouds had continued to build overhead, and the thunder was becoming louder. The last thing we needed was to be stuck out here on these slippery mud ridges in a downpour. We swiveled our hips wildly from side to side as we speed walked through the jungle on the trail.
“Sheena, hold up,” I said, “I need to tie my shoes.” The situation had been so tense that I hadn’t realized that my boots were still untied and I wasn’t wearing my shirt. I pulled the soaked t-shirt over my head, retrieved some socks from my bag, and laced up my boots. The speedwalking recommenced.
With about a mile left to go before reaching camp, I looked down at my swim trunks and could hardly believe my eyes. My right leg appeared to have been shot, and my shorts were drenched in blood.
“What the f*@! happened!?” Sheena shrieked.
I shakily slid my pant leg up to reveal two seeping wounds. I wiped the blood away, but the flow immediately resumed. Sheena’s face turned white, but there was nothing we could do. We continued walking.
Finally, at long last we reached the bridge, crossed it, and found Nacho alone in our camp. We started to drop our things on the ground in exhaustion when I looked at Sheena’s shorts. She noticed the disgusted look on my face and looked down. A stream of dried blood was caked on her leg.
“ohmygod…I think I’m going to be sick,” she said. She quickly ran to the bathroom to see what the heck was going on. When she returned several minutes later, she was holding a bloody garment.
“Look what was stuck to my clothes,” she said, holding out her hand. In it, a swollen leach was nestled in the fabric. That explained what had gotten me as well. We retrieved our stainless steel salt grinder filled with pink Peruvian rock salt from the Andes, and proceeded to cover that mo-fo with dash after dash of fine rock salt until it disintegrated into bloody shreds.
We gathered some fresh clothes, a few band-aids, some Benadryl and soap, and made our way to the showers. We could wash off the blood and I could coat my bee sting with antihistamine, but it would be a very long time before we would feel the urge to go jungle trekking again. And the rare barking deer? Those rare barking deer can bite me.
For a while I’ve been wondering what baby gifts we should get for our friends Jen and Eric, who are expecting twin girls soon. You could say I don’t really “get” kids. When I speak to them I use long multisyllabic words, I assume that they want to talk about politics, or I force them to sit through my soapbox monologues about the intricacies of proper espresso preparation. It was thus with great joy that I discovered the two perfect gifts for Jen and Eric’s future daughters while strolling around the artisan market in San Cristobal de las Casas.
The first thing I found was this great little handmade wool monkey. It’s a mother hugging its baby. It seemed like a gift that would remind child #1, we’ll call her Guadalupe, that her mother, like this monkey, is a caregiver. I don’t know a damn thing about kids, but it seems like little Guadalupe will benefit from a constant reminder that her mother will give her a hug when she gets sad about petty injustices, or whatever it is that kids get sad about.
Later I was walking by a market stall when this next gem caught my eye. For child #2, we’ll call her Wanda, I couldn’t pass up this handsome wool figurine of the masked leader of the Zapatista rebels, Subcomandante Marcos. He wears a black ski mask over his face and carries a camouflaged rucksack on his back to aid in his survival while camping in the mountains. His cute little wool hands tightly clasp a Kalashnikov machine gun. In times of despair, little Wanda can look at her Subcomandante Marcos doll and find solace in the idea that one day the evils of globalization will be put down and the mountain villages of Chiapas will once again thrive.
There you go Jen and Eric. Let me know if you ever need a babysitter when we’re done with our trip. I’m sure I can come up with a well thought out lecture to deliver while you two go out for a nice dinner.
San Cristobal de las Casas was a beautiful town, and one of our favorites yet in Mexico. It’s mountain location in a pine forest at 7,200 feet, roughly the same elevation as Flagstaff, made us feel at home. Walking through the cobbled streets, through the brightly colored buildings and ample open air markets, we encountered a great number of women and children dressed in traditional Mayan clothing. Women wore long skirts made of black goat hide still thick with unruly goat fur, and brightly colored cardigans. Every Mayan girl over the age of 15 or so had at least one baby in tow.
We found a campsite within walking distance of downtown, yet still tucked away in the trees at the base of the hills. By day we wandered the town streets or took short trips to the surrounding villages (like the last post), while in the evenings we fell asleep to the sound of crickets. We spent one evening chatting with a couple from Switzerland who are on their way north from Argentina to the United States. So far we’ve met at least a dozen groups of Europeans doing this route, but pretty much nobody else seems to be heading south like us.
After a few days in San Cristobal, the ocean started calling to us. The surfboards were looking a little parched and the fishing poles still longed to be used for their intended purpose. And with that, we loaded up Nacho, secured our baby warming gifts, and headed east. Someplace warm. A place where the beer flows like wine. Where beautiful women instinctively flock like the salmon of Capistrano. I’m talking about a little place called Palenque.
In 2002, Pat and Ali were living the standard American existence in Chicago. One night over pizza and beer they decided to leave the life they knew, buy a catamaran, and sail around the world. They took an intro to sailing course, bought a boat, and set sail. Four years later, they had made it all the way around. Not yet ready to settle down, they sold their boat and bought a 1958 Volkswagen panel van and drove from Alaska to Argentina. Now they have two kids and live aboard a sailboat, which they’ve been slowly cruising down the Pacific coast. Their current location: Puerto Vallarta.
Ambling down the dock toward their boat, Bumfuzzle, we recounted to Pat how we had arrived in Puerto Vallarta hoping to camp at an RV park in the old town. It had closed, so we ended up staying at a cheap hotel where we fell asleep to the soothing sounds of a wailing hooker on the other side of our paper thin wall. Oh, if our mattress could talk. I awoke in the morning to find that the fitted sheet had come off, and I was lying directly on the bare mattress. As we walked to the boat, I habitually scratched at my sides, convinced that our bed had given me the clap.
When we arrived at the boat, Ali greeted us holding their infant son, Lowe. A few minutes later Ouest, age two, awoke from her nap and sidled up the stairs. She took her place next to Ali’s leg, shoulders sagging, and squinted at us with sleepy eyes. Sure, Pat and Ali keep the boat clean and running, but we could tell who called the shots around here. A red and yellow Playskool car was parked next to the mast, and the boat’s perimeter was lined with kid-proof netting. A set of pink tea cups sat on a ledge. This was Ouest’s territory.
After a quick tour of Nacho we headed to the beach for drinks. Ouest, ever the unique two year old, had quesadillas and guacamole. Pat and Ali lived in their VW van for two years, so it was nice to compare notes and see how our outlook compares to theirs.
Soon enough, Sheena’s guilty conscience got the best of her.
“So Ali, did you drive a lot during your Volkswagen trip?”
“Um, every once in a while.” She looked a little sheepish, but then Pat interjected.
“Ali, the only time you ever drove was when I was behind the van pushing. In 60,000 miles you drove less than a hundred yards!”
“Yeah, like I said. Every once in a while.”
Great. The precedent has been set.
A recurring theme in Pat and Ali’s blog is their inability to capture a normal family photo due to Ouest’s shenanigans. We all decided to give it a try for a Bumfuzzle meets Drive Nacho Drive photo, and it was the same old story. First attempt: Everyone stands in a line, the camera timer starts, Ouest runs away, click. Second attempt: Everyone stands in line, the timer starts, Ouest runs away, Pat runs after Ouest and snatches her by the armpits, Pat runs back into the frame just in time, click. Yep, we know who calls the shots.
The afternoon turned to evening and we talked about their near term sailing plans. Would they stay in Mexico, or venture elsewhere? In true Bumfuzzle style, they hadn’t made up their minds. They sounded content sailing up and down the Mexican coast, but Pat mentioned that it would be fun to make another Pacific crossing.
“Where would you go? Australia?” I asked.
“Well, if we made the crossing then we’d probably sail around the world again.” You know, if you’re going to bake a cake, you might as well open a nationwide chain of bakeries. Obviously.
Their spontaneity and confidence was an inspiration. The next morning, after getting lost for three hours and ending up back at our starting point, we headed East. As we drove up into the mountains toward Guadalajara it felt like a weight had been lifted from our shoulders. For some reason until now a sense of urgency has underscored our trip. We had a plan and a rough timeline and each stop was another step toward executing the plan. After our day with Bumfuzzle we were more at peace. We drove higher and higher into the mountains, not leaving first and second gear. As soon as we felt like it, we stopped. There was no reason to go any farther; wherever we were was the destination.
When I was about 10 years old, I was hiking with my dad and brothers in Sedona when we decided to duck a fence to find a shortcut to some Indian ruins. A few minutes later a strung out crazy person jumped out from behind a bush wielding a sawed off shotgun. He had a string of shotgun shells around his neck and he kept the gun aimed directly at us. He had crazy in his eyes. After a half an hour of pleading, he let us go. I had this in mind as I ducked the fence and started walking into the bushes at the property that we assumed belonged to a friend of a friend in La Ribera near Baja’s southern tip.
We left La Paz on Sunday morning and headed south. We didn’t know where we were going, only that there was a couple from the states trying to build some kind of permaculture farm near La Ribera. A bit of Google stalking led us to Biosfera Buena Fortuna, where we figured we’d find someone who knew them. We drove there and found a young American guy pruning a tree, so we asked him where we might find Tiffanie.
“I think she lives toward town a little. Look for a gate with a Buddhist symbol on it.”
“What do you mean by ‘Buddhist symbol'”, I asked.
“I’m not really sure.” he said. He was like Yoda, except less helpful.
Back in Nacho, we headed toward town and found a gate with a strange symbol on it. Buddhism probably has strange symbols, so we figured we must be in the right place. Bingo bango. The gate was locked and there was no house in sight, just trees, shrubs, and a dirt track winding into the foliage.
After squeezing through the barbed wire fence I walked down the track past banana and mesquite trees. I noticed a child’s bare footprints in the dust. After a while I came across a huge thatched palapa, under which two men and two women were building a deck, while two little girls played. No guns, no crazy people.
We spent two days in La Ribera with these folks; Tiffanie and Troy moved here a week ago with their 3 year old daughter Anjali from Corvallis, Oregon. They brought along their friends Tiffany and Josh, with their 3 year old daughter Stella, to help get the property ready for living. Due to computer issues we didn’t tell them we were coming, but they all welcomed our arrival – and my trespassing – with open arms. It was as if we’d known each other for years.
Tiffanie runs a food blog and was generous enough to cook for us all weekend in her open-air kitchen. We contributed cornbread cooked in our Dutch oven in the campfire, and passed around a bottle of Nate’s home brewed quadrupel. Each night we ate dinner under the palapa, and then sat around the campfire. Outdoor living: it doesn’t suck like you might think it would.
On our second day we made our way to the beach for a bit of recreation. I still hadn’t caught a fish, and was determined to finally satisfy my primordial predatory desires by landing The Big One. They say to visualize yourself succeeding to find success, so I tried. I imagined casting my bait 300 yards into the dark undergrowth of a fish infested kelp forest. I imagined a 60 pound roosterfish taking my hook, and myself bravely fighting until the fish became tired enough for me to haul it ashore, where I would plunge my dive knife into its head like a Spartan warrior. I wouldn’t even show any emotion, even though it would be very emotional for even the hardest of war hardened killers. I would wipe my bloody hands on a whole bunch of Kleenex tissues and then take a photo with my kill. I would leave the bloody Kleenex tissues right there on the beach so that future beachgoers would wonder what kind of terror must have happened in that spot. It would be a story they would pass on to their grandchildren. “I tell you, grandchildren, there was more blood on that tissue than on all of Normandy’s beaches. It must have been one hell of a nosebleed.”
Try as I might, I couldn’t seem to cast more than 40 yards. I stood there on the shore for what seemed like an hour, my pale white torso turning a splotchy red from the sun. I didn’t have a fishing rod holder, so I held it with my hand. Slouched over, burning, holding onto a fishing pole. An obnoxious retired American guy walked over, beer in one hand, a cigarette in the other, and the bulbous potbelly of a malnourished famine child protruding from his frail body.
“I like your fishing pole holder! Ha! You know what your problem is? You have too much bait! Ha Ha! I knew it when I saw you casting! Ha! ” Great, I thought, I can’t run away or else I’ll dislodge my bait from the fish infested kelp forest. The man was yelling every word in my ear. Must be drunk. Or senile.
“You know what else you’re doing wrong!? You’re standing there in your shorts with those f***ing Hanes underwear! Ha! You need to jerk those f***ing pants off and put a f***ing beer in one hand. HA! You know what else you’re doing wrong!? You need to taaaake ooooooffff thaaaat f***********ing waaaaaatch! HA HA HA!” Damn it all, and here I forgot my tazer and my pepper spray back in Nacho. I’d just have to wait until he got bored and left.
In the end I didn’t catch any fish. Turned out I wasn’t casting into a fish infested kelp forest after all. My later paddle boarding expedition proved that in fact I was casting into 5 feet of water with a smooth sandy bottom. Thank goodness we’re near civilization or we’d have starved to death long ago.
On Tuesday morning we loaded up Nacho and said farewell to our new friends. Josh and Troy, both ER doctors, found it hard to believe that we were traveling without a first aid kit, so Josh unloaded all of his supplies on us. Now we’re basically a traveling medical clinic; we have an EpiPen, antibiotics, splints, various pills, and a flesh stapler. Yes, a flesh stapler. The way Josh put it, “I love these things. In the amount of time it takes for the patient to evacuate their lungs in a blood curdling scream, you can have the whole wound closed up.” He said it with such nonchalance, so matter of fact, and with a hint of crazy in his eyes.
When you stop putting effort into your hygiene, you will eventually look like a hobo after a bar fight. If you put up stop signs and add lines to a Mexican road, the population will eventually learn to ignore them. Our driving habits, like my attention to my appearance, are only getting worse.
Over the last few days we’ve been doing a lot of driving. It’s not what we envision for the entire trip, but we’re eager to get past the Baja peninsula. It’s not that we don’t like Baja, but we’ve already done the trip this year and are stoked to find our way Southward to places yet unvisited. Tomorrow we’ll be off to Mazatlan by ferry, and that will signal the beginning of unmarked territory for us. Besides swamp ass and hemorrhoids, all of the week’s driving has given us a new appreciation for Mexican long haul truckers, and has caused my attention to traffic laws to become more, shall we say, relaxed.
We made a long push in a single day from Bahia de los Angeles, through Geurrero Negro, and across the peninsula to the Sea of Cortez. We rolled right on through the French mining town of Santa Rosalia and into Mulege for an early taco dinner. Over the last week we’ve kind of overdone it on street tacos, and ended up ingesting way too much carne asada and pork. The resulting acid reflux reminded us that we really ought to diversify. This is Baja California, and the fish taco is king, so in Mulege we ate tacos de camaron y pescado.
We carried on and finally came to a stopping point at Bahia Concepcion. Usually this bay is calm and warm, so we figured we’d stay for a couple of days to relax. We made our way down a rocky road to a small cove and pulled up to a palapa on the beach. I still hadn’t landed any fish, so I planned to do some surf fishing off of a small island near our campsite.
As luck would have it, we woke up to high winds and cloudy skies from a storm that was rolling across the peninsula. I decided that instead of fishing, it would be a great idea to go paddle boarding. The winds were strong like bull, so I ended up paddling to the island and exploring it on foot. Sheena gave the paddle board a try and ended up falling off for the first time ever after being swiped by a rogue wind gust. The water was only waist deep, but I still basked in the sweet satisfaction at seeing her plunge into the chilly water, ending her eight month streak of not falling off. We rounded out the day with shark tacos and the first bottle of Nate’s World Wide Quadrupel, which were both great, and made the decision to cut our losses and push on the next day.
When we awoke our minds were already on the road before we emerged from the van to find calm weather and a glassy smooth bay. All signs said Stay Put, but so early in the trip we haven’t been able to shake our sense of urgency. Urgency to do what, I’m not sure. We lifted anchor and set off on the tortuous road once again on our push to get through the desolation of Baja California.
Our goal was to make it to Loreto, our favorite town on the peninsula, for breakfast before heading on to La Paz. We rounded a bend on one of the mountainous sections of road along a ravine and came across a full sized 18 wheeler that had tried to take the corner too fast. Its back end had skittered off the side of the road and both rear axles were suspended over the edge of a cliff. Its young driver sat on the side of the road with a shocked look on his face while a tow truck driver assessed the daunting work in front of him. I asked Sheena to take a picture but her pity for the driver made her unable to press the button. Like watching a hobo lose a bar fight and then taking his picture, it’s hard to kick someone when they’re down. No matter the entertainment value.
We made a quick stop at Loreto for breakfast of eggs, cactus, and chilaquiles and continued on. Really putting the “Drive” in Drive Nacho Drive. By evening we made it to La Paz, the capital and cultural center of the state. Cabo San Lucas may be the cruise ship, tourism, and college spring break drinking capital, but La Paz is a real city with real history and culture. After a dinner of stuffed potatoes and beans we parked and spent the evening strolling along the waterfront malecon. Entire families walked up and down the boardwalk late into the night, kids rode their bikes and rollerblades, a group of young people took turns dancing to a radio, and a young girl in sparkly red shoes pushed a stroller with a doll in it. Unbelievable. You know, the fact that Paris isn’t the only place left where people still rollerblade. The happiness of La Paz’s people wore off on us and we decided then and there that we would eventually settle down in a place where our children can enjoy the kind of community and outdoor living that we found in La Paz.
After another regretful night spent camping on the beach at Pichilingue next to a truck pumping polka music into the wee hours of the morning we bought our ferry tickets for Mazatlan, ate our breakfast sitting in folding chairs on a white sand beach, and then pointed Nacho south toward Cabo Pulmo. We passed a man grazing his goat on a leash in the median of a busy roadway, we emptied the contents of our library on the floor after hitting one of Mexico’s ubiquitous topes too fast, and I rolled through stop sign after stop sign in 2nd gear. In one case we rolled through a stop sign in front of a cop. I didn’t care. He didn’t care. The lines and signs are just a remnant of good intentions ignored.
By 4:00, as the sun approached the Pacific horizon, we figured Tommy, Dan, and Sunday were in the clink. The last we’d heard from them was the previous day in a quick email stating that they’d meet us at Tommy’s beach house near Tijuana between noon and 1:00. We bought some tamales from a guy in a beat up minivan and hunkered down on the deck of the beach house to wait. We knew something unexpected would happen on account of Sunday being in the car. Strange things are always happening to him; he’s been run over by a drunk driver while on a date, sandwiched between two semi trucks, attacked by a vicious dog in American Samoa, the list goes on and on. Like a magnet for calamity, Sunday had surely done something to get the whole group put away at the US/Mexican border.
The previous day we had made the unexpectedly long journey from Puerto Penasco to the Pacific Ocean. At the first military checkpoint we got out of Nacho and let one of the soldiers in, while another soldier approached us. “I’m so sorry for the inconvenience, this is a routine checkpoint to inspect for weapons and drugs. It’ll only take a minute.” We told him we were happy to stop, and that the weather was perfect for a quick stretch. “Yes, the weather is great now, but in the summer we suffer in our army uniforms.” We told him about our Baja trip last summer, and about the heat we encountered. “So you’re going to Ensenada now? It’s not far. You’ll be there in four and a half hours.” We made our way across the barren desert at the Northern tip of the Sea of Cortez before turning North, where we began skirting the US border. After Mexicali we climbed high into the mountains just as the sun set, breaking our “no driving after dark” rule for the second time. We descended from the mountains into Tijuana in the dark. After what seemed like an eternity we arrived at the surf spot known as K58, South of Tijuana. Driving time: nine hours.
We woke up to waves that sounded like turbo jet props. Row after row of fifteen to twenty foot faces pounded the shore, smothering my intentions of surf practice that day. Instead, I pulled out my tackle box and proceeded to build a rig that I could use for surf fishing while Sheena went to take photographs. I’ve never used a proper surf rod, but got one for this trip and am anxious to try my hand. Between my underwater Rambo getup and my atom-bomb like surf fishing rig, I hope to be feeding on homemade fish tacos on a regular basis. I spent the morning practicing my surf cast, which, as it turns out, I also suck at. I’m an Arizona boy. Give me time.
At nearly 5:00, after we ate tamales from the clunker minivan, after Sheena went for a run, and after I walked around the beach aimlessly like a crazy person for what seemed like an eternity, Tommy and the boys finally showed up. Contrary to tradition, nothing ludicrous had happened as a result of Sunday’s presence. No semi truck accident, no attack dogs, no clink. Tommy had simply forgotten his keys at home, and only realized it when they were nearly to Mexico. We had such a rough time sitting on the patio watching the ocean while we waited, we decided we would never forgive him.
We built a campfire on the beach and grilled up steaks, asparagus, and sweet potatoes. The boys broke out a bunch of microbrews for an impromptu beer sampling. We sat in the hot tub, and then went for a middle-of-the-night ocean swim. Sheena made hot chocolate, and I wondered why it took us so long to decide to do this. So far living in a van isn’t half bad.
Later in the weekend we decided it was time to tempt fate. The waves had let up slightly since we had first arrived, but it still wasn’t pretty. The house sits in the middle of a long beach break, so at any time there are about five rows of progressively bigger waves standing between the beach and the calm water beyond the breakers. All we have to do, we thought, is use our weak arms to propel ourselves past all five rows of those enormous, violent waves, and we’ll be home free. Sheena and Tommy were the first to make the attempt in the tandem sea kayak.
I watched with concern as they broke through the first two sets of waves. They paddled fast, and then Sheena’s arms shot up in the air as they crashed through the wave. I watched with fear as they paddled through the third and fourth rows of waves. The kayak became almost vertical on the wave face, Sheena’s arms flailed, and the boat sailed through the air as it broke through the wave crest, crashing back into the water. As they reached the fifth row of waves, I watched the boat become vertical, Sheena was ejected, Tommy flew in the opposite direction, and the boat was tumbled all the way back to shore, sans passengers.
After Sheena and Tommy’s ill-fated attempt, I threw my better judgment to the wind and got in the boat with Tommy. It went much the same way as it did with Sheena. On the fifth wave, I heard Tommy’s usually casual voice turn serious. “This is going to hurt…BAD!” The boat shot up the face of an enormous wave, but as it became airborne I remained in my seat. Tommy was long overboard as the boat sailed backwards, upside down, into the crush of the crashing wave. I remained seated as the weight of the boat drilled me upside down into the churning whitewater blender. As the boat folded me in half, I returned my lunch to mother nature. I imagine it was how Sunday felt when he got sandwiched by those two semi trucks. Our boat was gone, so we swam to shore while periodically getting drilled by more waves.
This evening we steamed some fresh clams that Tommy collected and ate them on the patio before bidding ado to our friends as they pointed the car northward. Dan is headed back to Oregon to fight fires. Sunday is headed back to Rhode Island to write mapping software, and Tommy goes back to work as a mechanical engineer on his family’s California dairy farm. Later this year Tommy and his fiancée, Brooke, will take off to drive the Pan-American highway in their VW Vanagon. In the morning, Sheena and I will go test out the road for them.