Mary Ann and I pull our Isuzu Trooper to the crest of the final
range of hills that divide the southernmost valley in the U.S.
from Mexico. South loom many other ranges and the town of
"Mexico". I say aloud and unintentionally.
"Mexico". Mary Ann repeats.
I reflect on the collage of feelings and images that single word
conjures up inside me.
Living in Cuernavaca as a young boy in the '50's, climbing the
slopes of Popo, hiking the desert, riding wild burros, playing
with friends at the Instituto Americano school, strong summer
rains every afternoon for an hour, only, then clear blue sky
again, holding hands with Sandy McPherson, my first girlfriend,
a Scot. I remember Palobolero and the John Brille Institute, my
first job. I remember the tiny Indian village adjacent to our
home, with crudely fashioned huts and children and chickens
running everywhere, poor but content.
In the '60's we were hitting Rosarito in groups and with a
force, staying in rooms at the Rosarito Beach hotel, camping in
the dunes to the south and tearing over the sands in our dune
buggies and Land Cruisers. Late in that decade we traveled the
entire peninsula, wondering at the central desert and the
established tranquility of the towns from San Ignacio southward.
We developed a love for the more remote places along the way and
grew friendships based on need and reliance. We spent quiet time
along shorelines and absorbed nature.
In the '70's and '80's we brought friends down the peninsula. We
got to know her from head to toe. When we are first married we
build a hut on the Sea of Cortez and spend the summer getting to
know each other outside the fuss of L.A. suburbs. We bring our
children, when each are 6 weeks old, to La Gringa, building huts
and staying for the summer in sometimes-hostile environments,
that's where they learn to read. We have friends come by for
visits, meet and get to know the villagers at Bahia de Los
Angeles. Our children make friends with the local children and
bring them to stay with us. We learn to fish, trolling around
the islands of Bahia, and bounce down the road to the village
where the boys idle their time in the hammocks on the second
floor at La Enramada restaurant and we eat Pescado Empanizado
and drink a cold cerveza at Las Hamacas in the searing heat,
watching the villagers build and then play soccer on the dusty
field across the road from the restaurant, the deep blue sea
dotted with islands, behind. In these days most every
establishment has a box or jar for donations to help build the
coming museum. Antero Diaz dies. The museum is built and
The '90's are filled with motorhomes and less time for Baja,
trips, racing, down and back, times at La Gringa with groups of
friends, fishing, broken-down boat motors and too many technical
problems, children bitching about extreme heat and severe
sunburns, shortages of water in the village and leaks in the
blue tube that carried that substance from the spring in the
desert, inland. A complete solar eclipse occurs early in the
decade. Mama Diaz is now gone. The social and political fabrics
of the village at Bahia are changing.
As the centuries flipped we are making new Baja friends via an
emerging medium: the Internet. We are directed to Freds and the
Amigos de Baja web pages and experience the concept of our first
"post". We meet with friends, new and old and in varying-sized
groups at places in the outback to the south to make deeper
explorations. Mary Ann and I begin taking trips without our
children as they have other plans. There are still many places
we want to go in Baja, GPS technology will help us get there, to
pinpoint the "reef" where for years we could only approximate by
triangulating three distant peaks. We had learned enough to fall
back to a 14-foot aluminum boat that I could manage on-shore
solo during violent weather. We wanted a smaller motorhome. We
made bullet trips over 2-day weekends, chartering boats and
filling ice chest for the race back on Sunday afternoons. We
learn about government plans to develop the Sea of Cortes and
west coast of Baja with new ports and other tourist facilities.
Fox is elected and Baja has great expectations. Two tragic
accidents take many lives in and just outside Bahia.
And so it continues. I don't have a clue where it's going. What
I do know, with absolute certainty, is that my life would not be
half as rich without Mexico, without Baja California.
We summit the final ridge between us and Mexico. The small town
of Tecate lies at the bottom of the next valley; parts of the
village ascend the north-facing hill beyond the town center. The
brewery is spewing steam high into the atmosphere. As we
approach the border-crossing with no one in front of us we turn
off the air conditioning and roll the windows down. The heat and
smells that are Mexico fill the cab and we know we're home.