Welcome To Mexico (3/23/96)
...it's like a totally different country!
This e-mail comes to you courtesy of Dave and Whitney, who have just embarked on a six to nine month trip from San Francisco through Mexico, and at least as far as Guatemala. (That was the most boring opening sentence I’ve ever written.)
Here’s the big question that I’m sure is on your mind:
Why would I want to read this drivel?
- I don’t have enough to read and I’m looking for more.
- My pancreas hurts and I’m trying to distract myself.
- I’m an insomniac and it helps me sleep.
- I can’t afford Jack Kevorkian.
- I’m a family member. It’s my job.
I know that if someone had sent me this waffling missive I’d have ignored it, unless I had a business deadline, in which case I would have read every word after I’d run out of other ways to waste time.
Our intention is to send these hopefully-not-too-painful e-mails every two or three weeks depending on whether we can think of something worth saying. We’ll try to keep them dry and lackluster so you won’t feel bad about throwing them out without reading them. You may want to consider printing them out so you can burn them; it's more satisfying than just pressing the delete key.
We’re traveling with a little 386 laptop with a way-slow 2400 baud modem, and connecting through America On Line’s link in one of three Mexican cities. We’ve got an AC adaptor for the car, so we can use it wherever we are, though we need a phone line to send and receive our e-mail. It’s a pretty cheap way to stay in touch, and we like being able to communicate with so many people at once. An e-mail isn’t as colorful as a postcard, but it’s a lot more information (more than you want, perhaps).
As I’m writing this, we’ve pulled off the highway onto a deserted shell-strewn beach on Bahia Concepcion in Baja California. The little waves of this incredibly blue bay are lapping the shore not 20 feet from our van. It’s a beautiful clear day, maybe 75 degrees, with a cool breeze. Whitney is cooking a chicken and pasta salad and I’m filling your reading void. It’s the most beautiful place that I've every written an e-mail, though that’s not saying much. This van has been so great for this kind of trip, and it’s allowed us to pull off the road and camp on the cliffs above the ocean, or just take a break in a quiet spot like we have today.
But I’ve gotten ahead of the story a bit: on to the excruciatingly detailed account of our first three weeks on the road.
THE CALIFORNIA COAST
We left the Bay Area on March 4 with the intention taking a couple of days to get to L.A. and see friends and my Grandma. We didn’t realize how much there was to see and how content we were to travel only 50 miles some days. We stayed in Big Sur and had lunch at Nepenthe, just missing Jane Fonda, Ted Turner and Gene Hackman. I’m really sorry they didn’t get a chance to meet us. One highlight was soaking in the hot tubs at Esalen from one to two in the morning, naked, with strangers. Esalen is a sort of new-agey retreat center where the three day courses cost $375 and the five day courses are $740. The hot tub cost $10.
We’ve never seen so many whales as we did on the way down the coast. Basically, every time we looked out the window for a minute or two we’d see the spout of whales. Apparently, they’re mostly gray whales who migrate yearly from Baja to Alaska. We also saw a school (herd/flock/pack/bunch?) of probably a thousand porpoises that stretched for close to a mile. They were chasing a school of fish, and the water was boiling with activity.
We ended up taking a week to get to the L.A. area, and it was everything we’d dreamed it would be. Enough said. The best part of L.A., though, is my grandmother. She’s 86 years old, and she’s just a joy to be around. I feel so lucky to even have a grams at my advanced age, let alone one as special as her. The second best thing about L.A. is Disneyland. The Indiana Jones ride kicks some major behind.
EL MEXICO, FINALLY
We crossed the border into Baja on March 14. A friend was describing once why her trip to Mexico wasn’t all that great, and she said, “well,... I didn’t know there would be so many Mexicans.” She wasn’t kidding. I have no segue on that line, I just thought it was funny.
It is really stunning how fast things change as you come across the border. For example, here they say “zapato” for shoe, and “queso” for cheese. It’s like these people have a different word for everything! Actually, I’m being serious: you step over an invisible line called a “border”, and it’s like you’ve traveled to the other side of the world.
We’ve been poking along, not going very fast or very far in a day. Things are pretty cheap when you’re camping and cooking some of your own meals. Whitney is an incredible cook, but the local fare is so wonderful and so inexpensive, we are eating in restaurants and roadside kiosks quite alot. We’re not sure if it’s humanly possible to eat huevos rancheros every day for 6 to 9 months, but we’re giving it our best shot. And we’re sure we can subsist on fish tacos (aka, “fiche tacos”) when the money runs out.
When we started out, we camped mostly in state parks and other “legitimate” camping spots, trying to avoid the ghastly RV parks as much as possible. In Baja, we’ve found beautiful, isolated, and free places to camp off the highway. One night, we pulled off on the Pacific side, made camp on a cliff above the ocean, and had a driftwood fire on the beach. Another night, we parked on the edge of an overgrown soccer field located in a grove of date palms. In Mulege, we parked on the public beach where the river meets the sea. Who needs an alarm clock? We just point our van towards the east and let the sun wake us up in the morning.
We haven’t met any other travellers quite like us. We amuse ourselves by telling people that we’re on the road for six to nine months and headed for Guatemala, and watching their responses, which range from “That’s the coolest thing I’ve ever heard” to ”Why would you want to go all the way down there?” We see a lot of RVer’s in their retirement years; in fact, we’ve become quite the voyeurs of other people RV’s (did you know that these things can cost as much as half a million dollars? We saw one road yacht that had been tricked out with marble floors and counters that probably weighed more than our entire van!) We’ve seen flower-children who pack 7 bodies, one giant cooler of beer and several guitars into a van just like ours; compared to them, we feel like a couple of old geezers.
We’ve met a couple of resident gringos who have permanently defected to Baja. Herman, for example, is an old guy in Bahia de los Angeles who offered to help Whitney negotiate the purchase of a fish from the local fisherman on the beach. “Herman”, she says, “how much does a piece of flounder sell for?” “OK, let me find out”, he says. In English he yells, “HEY YOU GUYS, HOW MUCH FOR THAT FISH?” When in doubt, shout.
The van has been doing great until a few days ago when we were headed down a 36 mile, bad, bumpy, dusty road. Halfway out, we heard BAM!!, like a gunshot, under the car and thought we had a blowout. We got out and saw no flats, then looked underneath and saw lots of oil dripping down near the right rear wheel. We thought for sure we had blown the engine, but it turned out to be the rear shock absorber had exploded and broken into two pieces. When we had the car jacked up to look at it, it looked as the shock on the other side drained all of its oil! It was relatively good news compared to a blown engine. We abandoned our whale-watching trip that we were going out the road for, and limped back to town in first gear. There is major sproinginess without shocks, especially with the engine in the back, but we made it back without incident.
We had to go to the next town to get shocks, and after mucho problemas, we waited 2-1/2 days to get some shocks delivered from Tijuana. Whitney got lots of opportunity to practice her Spanish, which is pretty good anyway. (Mine is pretty good, too; I speak like a native ... of Walnut Creek.) She did ask a guy at a restaurant if the pig was open (instead of the kitchen, cochino vs. cocina), but he wasn’t too offended.
We leave soon on a one week sea kayaking trip that we booked back home. We’ll report back on that later. We'd love to hear from you. (Just send the new message; be careful not to include the original because it's slow to retrieve on our computer.)