only at daylight. But that’s safer anyway. The main roads are notoriously dangerous at night, with unfenced cattle meandering through your headlights and truckers and busses passing you on double lines and tight curves. So we were following Sheryl’s suggestion to stay at the Old Mill south of San Quintin. We didn’t notice till we hit the dirt track that her directions said it would be four + miles long. Of course, it was worth it. Old Mill overlooks the most beautiful stretch of coastline I’ve seen on Baja in my explorations to date over the last ten years. Granted, this trip is really the beginning of exploring Baja. For the most part, I’ve hung around Todos Santos and Cabo. At San Quintin, the compacted red earth crumbles gently into a flat silver bay wrapped with mountains like a chocolate chip cookie melting into a cup of milk. It always amazes me to see a stable coast line, one that rests and melts languidly into the sea. I expect the ocean to be hungrier, to nip and gnaw at the land, recreating it constantly as I know it to in Alaska. At the sight of this sleepy, silver sea my body instantly relaxes. My shoulders drop like the sides of mountains wrapping this bay. The sun is setting and a swirl in the satin water reveals a drop in the tide. I feel boulders of worry roll down my back, dust dropping to my feet in this amber air. I remember now that I was really nervous about crossing the border. I’m not sure why exactly, because we had everything in order – our passports, car insurance and even a notarized letter from Kurt stating his consent to Jake’s travel across the border with Michael and I. We drove an hour and half east from San Diego to Tecate because we heard it was less hassle than Tijuana. We filled up with gas, we changed US$400 and I held our documents in my lap. We must have been holding our breaths, too. Following signs, we drew into a lane marked "nothing to declare" (such as quantities of cash exceeding $300 per person, or guns which, several signs stated boldly are illegal in Mexico) and rolled slowly forward. A few locals leaningon the lane’s canopy poles chatting with eachother and smiled at us. There was not a guard in sight. We were shocked, released our collective sigh and then began laughing hysterically all at once when Michael exclaimed, “Is that it?!”
For the next several miles we lean into our seats surveying the flocks of small shops--loncherias and dulcerias—as if they are as temporary and unreal as a dream.
We strike smooth pavement at 9:30 am following breakfast and a game of catch. Our gypsy wagon heaves a creaky sigh as it rolls onto the road and Jake pulls out his science textbook. He also pulls down the window shade also, a habit of his which I resent. Perpetually hot since we left Alaska, he’s worried he’ll melt in the sun and thus blocks out the landscape. But the sun shines in straight ahead and I can’t help suggesting he lift the shade and settle his eyes (and his stomach) on the horizon ahead. He’s as stubborn as a baby mule and begins braying about his “sucky handwriting on this damn bumpy road!”
Schoolwork and driving don’t mix well, we’ve observed. Jake typically explodes with a litany of nasty curses as soon as we hit another bump. This is followed by curses on socialist countries like Canada and Mexico, who don’t put more money into roads. 7000 miles into this routine, we’re past laughing and simply suggest he wait to work when we’re parked. But he wants to get his work done NOW! So he badgers on, torturing us with his ranting. Its definitely been the hardest part of our trip. Who would have guessed that we’d be begging him to cease his schoolwork and just look merrily out the window?
Its hard not laugh as we pass a truck piled high with a complete set of furnishings for a house or two. Because its not orderly, more like a dagwood sandwich with mattresses interspersed between bits of lettuce and tomato and couch legs poking up like toothpicks. Dining chairs tucked into ropes face out, poised for hitchhikers. “And he’ll be passing me in a mile!” Michael adds.
Up ahead is a military checkpoint. Jake dives into the upper bunk to survey the scene. Its so strange that we rolled through the border without incident, no law enforcement when you want there to be—I mean, a child could easily be abducted into Mexico--and yet every 300 km we are randomly pulled over at these checkpoints and cross examined by a few smooth-cheeked boys carrying automatic weapons. The examination, fortunately, is always brief.
“?Adonde van? Tursimo? De vacaciones?”
One simply smiles and nods her head and gets waved through by a large gun.
“%&#@ This is one barren, scabby landscape,” says Michael, who is processing a steady stream of epiphanies as he drives, “and some tight roads with no shoulders. Huge truckers on you’re (@#*!) Unbelievable!” He shakes his head as we pass a caravan of bikers. With thin tires and heavy panniers, they are either bare-back, spraying sweat or swaddled under hoods and hats and vests. Who would want to bike these roads, I wonder. The sort of person who is a real over-achiever and maybe doesn’t have enough time for a vacation. Someone who is addicted to pedaling through life every second to maintain momentum, and needs to cramp up completely before he can relax at the end of a day?
“And its so dang curvy that I can see why it takes seven hours to go 180 miles s!@%!”
I take a lot of deep breaths and tap away on my computer, half-spectator, half-participant as if I were nervously sending morse code messages to a foreign office.