Tuesday, August 13, 2013

A Trip and Fall Down Memory Lane

My friend Boegle, who just recently became a Mommie, and her then boyfriend Jiri, and my then girlfriend Lemur (who also happens to be Jiri's sis), all trekked down to Baja California to witness a full solar eclipse. We did this as a "we're young, let's take a road trip!!!" though I, being the old fart of the bunch, kept drowning out my own enjoyment by worrying about every little thing, while everyone else was doing the whole, "just go with it" mantra. I could never "just go with it". Thanks, Dad.

So, after getting the week off, and desperatly trying to rent a car that would get us all the down to the south tip of Baja (the eclipse was going to be visible there and Hawaii - Baja seemed a tad more of a driveable destination than Maui), we finally set off from San Francisco on a Sunday night, needing to arrive in Baja Sur (in a sprawling burg called La Paz) by early-ish Thursday morning.

Sea-Poop Andersen's
We stopped for a midnight snack at Sea-Poop Andersen's (Pea Soup Andersen's to those not in the know about driving I-5 in California), and eventually arrived at our rest stop in LA at around 3 in the morning, grabbing a couple hours to nap, and then on to the borderlands. San Diego is pretty, early in the morning, unless you're taking a Greyhound Bus across the border*, packing a couple of five-gallon jerry cans for gasoline, just in case the Pemex stations had run out of gas.

The cab ride from Greyhound to Avis was, to put it nicely, utterly terrifying. Everyone else packed into the back seat, and I got to sit next to the driver, who was making his own lanes pretty much everywhere he went. Driving at forty miles an hour between two semis with only inches to spare is an image I will never EVER get out of my head. They could re-package it as a ride at Marriott's Great America and Torture Emporium.

Zucaritas! Con el Tigre Tonio!
So we grabbed a lot of bottled water, and various chip things (can't really remember what we bought - I was still in an adrenaline low after the cab ride), and got the hell out of Tijuana, and off to the desert. However, Zucaritas stuck with me.

The desert in Baja in general has a sameness that shows up as different all the time. Every turned corner does actually reveal something. This is not me trying to be all mythopoetic or something, it just seemed as though we were being constantly surprised. Unfortunately, we didn't get much of a chance to stop and smell the sagebrush on our way down, as the clock was against us.

What we did get to smell was the gasoline, leaking out of one of the jerry cans into the back seat.

Santa Rosalia Thing
These things turned out to be a bit of an albatross for us. One, we never ended up needing them. If I remember correctly, we tossed out the leaker after we arrived in Santa Rosalia. Pemex stations were all open and full of gas, and we were only in line once, about halfway between Muleje and Loreto. While waiting in line, we got to have the treat of green corn tamales sold straight from the kettle, by a couple of enterprising young men (like ten and twelve years old, I think). We each bought a couple apiece, and I remember it being redonkerousry cheap.

But I digress. We stopped the first night in Baja in a town called San Quintin, at a place called the Hotel Romo or Romolo. Gotta find the picture I took of it. Couldn't find a restaurant, so we settled for hitting the grocery store across the street.

Out the back door of our motel
Took off early Tuesday morning. Made it all the way down to Loreto, where we spent the night in a lovely motel, two decent sized beds in one room for $23 a night, with our own personal lizard in the shower. We had dinner in the hotel. I remember having some kind of scallop soup which was pretty decent.

Again, early next morning, we left and drove and drove and drove. I think we must have stopped once or twice, because we didn't get into Ciudad ConstituciĆ³n until pretty late, and the only hotel we could find wanted $60 a night (which we thought was outrageous). We'd passed a campground outside of town that was $5 for a chunk of sand to sleep on, and it appeared that's where we'd be that night. We got there and found ourselves surrounded by a gazillion amateur astronomers (mostly Americans). Everyone was keyed up for the eclipse the next morning, but we wanted sleep. Lemur and I hadn't really prepared much beyond sleeping bags, so we slept in the car, which, being a cheap Avis rental in Mexico in '91 was not the most comfortable place to sleep.

Thursday morning, we got up, packed up fast and got on the road. It's about a two and a half hour drive from ConstituciĆ³n to La Paz, and the eclipse was due to start right around 11:30. We got down there with time to spare, had a coconut each, carved green and cold, so we had a nice refreshing drink in the heat of the morning in Baja California, waiting for the sun to go out.

The shadows began to change shape. Sunlight shining through gaps in the leaves went from round to crescent shaped. Everyone rushed to get bathing suits on (except me - I was going to photograph this event no matter who had to die). Soon enough, the moon crept across the face of the sun, and the sun was directly overhead. Within a couple minutes of the beginning of the process, we had what is known as totality: a flaming black ball in the middle of a dark sky, surrounded by stars, with sunset colors ringing the entire horizon, and thousands of people on the beach and out in the water, screaming and banging drums.

Boegle bein' silly at lunch
Of course, the sun came back. It took a while, but it came back. Then we had lunch. Pork tortas with sliced avocado, cilantro and onions.           O    M    G

Then we headed back, pretty much at a slower pace with a few chances to stop along the way to take pictures. I remember one place, where we found a mound of white shells piled up on the side of the road, at a high spot between the coasts. Hundreds of sea urchin shells, hollowed out and heaped as a trash pile.

Other memorable sights included the innumerable crosses by the sides of the road, at least one pretty decent shrine to the good old Virgin Mary, and a few rusted hulks of cars and trucks that had died and been pushed off the road to be slowly scavenged by the local entrepreneurs. One other business that I wish I had gotten a picture of was a tire stand on the side of the road, in the middle of BF nowhere. I'm pretty sure we were at least fifty miles from the nearest town, but then I assume that if it's not paved, it's not a road. I'm sure there must have been someone to pick him up every afternoon.

I don't remember where else we stayed on the way back. I do know that we went faster going home than we did going down. For some reason, the next place I remember us staying at is the beach in Ensenada. Waking up in the morning to have a nice man try to sell us a rug, or several, if we were so inclined.

We weren't.

After that it was a blur getting back across the border. The another blur getting back to the Bay Area. Then an even bigger blur - what the hell have I done since, that was as amazing as that trip?**

* That requires an explanation: cars rented in San Francisco are not insured to travel south of the center line in Baja. Baja Sur requires a whole different kind of insurance, so we decided to drive to SD, bus across the border, find a rental car place in Tijuana, and head south from there. The bus ride was uneventful, though it took us through some neighborhoods that would have to be seen to be believed - houses and fences made out of old car hoods, for example. Wish I'd taken pics of them.

** Maui was actually pretty nice...

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