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 destination.