On the day we were to leave we called to Lassie, our Border
Collie, a pup (Rochie and Ducie had left us behind at a
comfortable old age), drove the boys to school and arranged to
pick them up just as classes were out. We would leave from
there. The truck and trailer labored under the weight. We had
everything we could imagine we would need and we looked like a
one-vehicle band of gypsies with stuff piled high and
disorganized and jammed into every open space in the truck. We
left southern California in the afternoon on a sunny day in
early June, Mary Ann and I, Michael and Kevin, and Lassie the
wonder puppy. We would return in mid-September.
The trip to San Diego and to the American side of the border was
without incident. But as we passed through the Mexican side we
were told to change lanes, pull over and be inspected.
Understandably, the Mexicans didn't want us to bring building
materials and other goods into Mexico that we could buy there.
Since I hadn't thought of this problem, I panicked. I had put
hundreds of dollars worth of building materials in the tent
trailer with only the most remote thought of import duties. But
now, without time to think, I was afraid they wouldn't let us
pass without a serious fine.
As we pulled up in front of the inspection point, in a
spontaneous move to avoid what could have been a major delay and
penalty, I jumped out of the truck and told the guards that I
had to return to the point at which we had been issued our
tourist cards, that I had left our passports there. I was in a
panic, indeed I was, but for different reasons then I portrayed.
Neither my family nor the guards suspected anything less than
the truth. The guards happily obliged my return to the former
checkpoint, which was completely across the many lanes of
traffic of the highway that passes through the border. The two
guards, whistles blowing and arms waving, halted the entire
incoming stream of traffic entering Mexico. I pulled our
overweight assemblage in front of the irritated thousands and
parked in front of the visa checkpoint. I rushed into the guard
station and grabbed several blank tourist applications and
rushed back out the door and into the running truck. Acting
like I was greatly relieved, I pulled out into the restarted
flow of traffic, ignoring the guards from the checkpoint at
which we had been halted for inspection. They were busy with
other incoming tourists and didn't notice as we merged into the
river of cars, busses and trucks passing slowly through the
congested frontera. We slipped quietly south, uninspected.
We passed through the traffic and pedestrian sluggishness of
Tijuana, down the toll road to Ensenada. We ate in a small and
familiar restaurante and continued through Santo Thomas, San
Vicente, Colonet, Camalu. Ten miles south of San Quintin we
pulled into a campground at a south-facing beach, Cielito Lindo.
Removing minimum gear we set the tent trailer up and went to
sleep. We were anxious to get to our destination, still six or
seven hours away.
In the morning we were up early and making the most of our time.
I grumbled at Mary Ann and the boys to move their behinds and
let's get on the road. The boys' groggily dressed and without
washing their faces or brushing their teeth went outside to play
in the sand. Mary Ann and I finished the abbreviated packing,
wedging everything into a tight, interconnected jigsaw of summer
stores and misarranged supplies and equipment. In short order
we were on the road and I settled in behind the wheel. We
passed through El Rosario, the last outpost before the barren
central desert, before nine, cleared the El Castillo peak and
climbed into the Canada de Aguajito, ravine of the little water,
into the red earth of the mountains, before we dropped onto the
desert floor an hour later. Every turn of the road was known,
every village recognized, with a little of their history and a
few of the faces of the villagers. We were in our comfort zone.
When I first came to Baja I thought of her as barren and bleak.
Now, after many trips, I had been given the opportunity to get
to know her. She had grown on me and I grew with everything I
had learned about and from her. Every ranch was a place where I
had eaten a meal, drunk a beer or had a tire patched. Several
had kept a guarded eye on my broken truck while I hitchhiked to
the otro lado to bring back replacement parts.
We passed through Catavina and stopped at Rancho Santa Ynes for
the sake of tradition and lunch. We sat at the single table
outside the kitchen while the boys chased wild burros that had
settled on the airstrip behind the ranch house. By two we were
at junction with the road to the bay, near Punta Prieta, and an
hour later pulled into the village. We stopped at the Diaz
ranch to check in with Mama and see how everyone had been since
our last trip. Michael and Kevin knew many of the village
children. They began the ritual through which young boys grow
comfortable together. Mary Ann and I left them playing and
visited the two stores to buy a few fresh vegetables that were
available. We returned to gather up the boys. We told Mama
where we were planning on staying. She told us the name of the
area was Las Cuevitas, the little caves, named after the small
caverns in the coastal volcanic rock created by the erosion of
the sea. These flows formed points to the north and south of
our beach, three hundred meters apart.
The road between the village and La Gringa in those days was
dirt, as it is today, but was a single vehicle-wide track that
roughly followed the shoreline most of the ten kilometers. The
roadbed was a blend of dirt and sand, which combined into a
relatively smooth surface. The dry washes formed by the rare
and often rambunctious rains that fell at the north end of the
bay carved dips and loose curves in the road as it wound between
the cactus and mesquite. This was a good road for having fun.
There were no other cars and we could get up a good head of
steam, falling into the gentle turns and dips. Ever since the
boys had been old enough to remember we had named this the
Rocking Horse Road.
The glare and heat of the day faded and our rising dust left a
windblown trail behind us. In front of us a skinny rabbit, tail
bouncing in retreat, ducked into a small bush. We chased the
sun into La Gringa, just shy of evening and our final