Hello again from the last frontier!
Baja is a dichotomy; that’s the thought I had yesterday while in Mulege for the weekly Grocery Shopping Olympics. For example, you may pop into Saul’s store one day and find a lovely big box of Ferrero Rocher chocolates, a package of tofu wieners, and a selection of every flavour of Blue Diamond smoked almonds, but no cheese of any kind. The entire shopping experience here is very much like a sporting event. I must concede that shopping has gotten better in Mulege over the years but it still involves going to at least three stores, avoiding siesta (1pm-3pm or thereabouts) and Sundays, as well as a certain ‘flexibility’ in your grocery list. And Saul who arguably has the best selection and does the best business in town also has the most cramped and poorly lit venue. One shopping cart can block an entire aisle in spots (luckily there are only three carts). I was once blocked into the cereal section by a careless shopper’s abandoned cart and spent four days there before anyone noticed me. To this day the word ‘riboflavin’ brings me to tears.
OK, maybe I made that last bit up, well, the four day thing that is; riboflavin does give me the creeps. But Baja is a land of contrasts, no doubt about that.
Two days ago we rustled up a gang of hearty adventurers for a drive up “Calle Naranjo” (The Orange Road). This is a dirt road the Prez and I discovered on our dirt bikes a few years back. After about 12km of bumpy, scrubby, arid desert, you come around a corner and are met with a lush oasis of orange, mango and date palm trees. Your brain does a little hiccup as you try to figure out how all that greenery got there. Prez and I sleuthed around on our first trip and discovered black tubing coiled around all the trees with a steady trickle of water coming out, so we deduced there must be a natural source for all this water. And there was, an underground spring, one of many on this peninsula but, and here’s the really mind blowing part, whoever started this fruit grove built an aqueduct system by placing bean cans end to end and cementing around them. This “Frijole Highway” was originally at least 100 meters long or more! That is a lot of work, not to mention a lot of gas!!
See and here’s the thing that gets me about Baja, the people here are so ingenious, they epitomize the entrepreneurial spirit, and yet, in some respects, are so backward. I mean, the guy built an aqueduct with bean cans! Amazing! So why is it that something as simple as putting garbage in a garbage can instead of chucking it on the ground, on the street where you walk, is as difficult to comprehend as quantum physics to the average Baja citizen? Well, actually, that’s gotten better lately too, surprisingly better, but you get my point.
And I love the people here, despite the fact that if you wiped down the sweat off the men and wrung it out you could probably bottle and sell the most powerful machismo in the universe. Yesterday at the Pemex gas station and…let me just pause a moment to tell you about the gas stations here…Pemex is government owned and operated under the strict, well enforced guidelines that the Mexican government is so famous for. In some Pemex’s they have actually figured out a way to get 15 litres of gas into a 10 litre container. This is obviously a momentous step forward in physics and I’m sure Mexican scientists are hard at work to learn more about this miracle of science. Anyway, so there I am at the Pemex station getting the tank topped up and the window washer guy is busy doing his thing. Most of these guys are from the local drug and alcohol rehab place and it’s customary to pay a little tip to them, which goes toward funding for organization. Window Washer Guy finishes up with a flourish of his rag, that looks suspiciously unclean, and I offer up ten pesos to his outstretched hand. “Thank you” he says in perfect English and then adds, “You must work out a lot, you’re in really great shape. Running? Do you run?” I thanked him and told him that yes, I did run, and played tennis as well. “Well, it shows” he finishes with a sincere wave. As I pull away, I realize that I’ve just been chatted up by the alcoholic window washer at the Pemex station and that it was quite pleasant, not even slightly as annoying as any guy in any North American bar would be if he was trying to put the moves on.
The women have their own ‘thang’ going on here too. A steady diet of lard laden tortillas will put a lot of junk in your trunk my friend. And these Latin Divas are not afraid to display the merchandise. Unlike their North American counterparts, if you tell a Mexican woman that those pants don’t make her ass look fat she probably won’t buy them. If Teri Hatcher showed up in Mulege they’d probably rush her into the medical clinic thinking she’d been lost in the desert and was starving. Can’t you just hear poor Teri screaming, “No, I look good! I look this way on purpose!!” and the Mexican doctors shaking their heads thinking, ‘Oh no, she’s delirious from hunger.’
What was my topic this week? I am totally off track I’d better have a beer.
That’s better, now where was I?
Oh, we were in the orange grove and I was talking about how dangerous it is to go hiking around here because you keep going and going just to see what cool thing waits around the next corner. And Prez said that would make a great Chronicle, and I said I was inspired and that I would use his idea, and he said I wouldn’t, that I’d think of something else between then and now, and I said no I wouldn’t. And he’s kind of right after all but I hate it when he’s right so now I’m going to talk about that.
It is a fact that no matter how cool the stuff is where you are right now, the stuff around the next corner will be so much cooler. It is one of the great dangers of Baja.
Did I ever tell you about the time that the Prez found a dead body here? This story is BP (Before Princess) so it all may be a total lie so don’t sue me if this story traumatizes you in any way (but it’s not a lie because Prez just isn’t like that). He was out fishing with his brother Dave and nephew Brett when he spots a seal on top of the water. Wanting to show off a little and impress his young nephew (I’m not sure if that was his motivation, I’m just guessing), Prez zooms over and notices, just in the nick of time, that, hey, wait, that’s no seal, that’s a bloated human corpse!!! No this is true, I swear. He whips the boat around so young Brett is not scarred for life and radios Posada to ask what the procedure is for reporting a “floater”. Long story short, he quietly slipped away after he saw the police arrive, along with a bunch of looky-loos. It turns out the dead guy’s wife had a couple other husbands die from “mysterious circumstances”. Ooooooooo.
I almost saw a dead body here once. We were driving down to Posada and were somewhere in Ensenada when Prez said, “Hey look, there’s a dead guy on the side of the road!” and just as I turned to look, Emily, who had been acting a little antsy, dropped a log in the back seat, forcing us to pull over and deal with the mess. By the time the truck was clean and de-smelled, the coroners had taken the body away. Mind you, I have seen every other thing that can possibly be dead on the side of the road during our drives down here.
And it seems only fitting to finish with story of the Zonkey – which I’ve never seen dead by the side of the road but is pretty interesting nonetheless.
We’d just crossed the border into Tijuana, this was a few years back, and Prez says, “Hey look, there’s a dead guy by the side of the road!” oh no, wait, too many beers, that was the last story. No he really said, “Hey look, a zebra!” And I was like, “OK, time to put down the crack pipe and drive” and he was like “No, look, up there on the hill!” It was a zebra, with a guy walking it on a leash. But as we got closer we saw that it was in fact not a zebra but a donkey painted to look like a zebra for tourists to take pictures of. And this makes a lot of sense because every time I’m on vacation somewhere I think, Well, this place is nice but man I sure wish they had some zebras around here. But I’m sure you know how that feels. So now Prez and I put two and two together – Zebra + Donkey = Zonkey. And then, about a year later, Prez and I are watching the movie “Traffic” back in Canada. Parts of the movie take place in Tijuana and it must have been filmed on location because who should come sauntering on screen during one of the very serious scenes but our friend with his painted donkey. We start screaming, “Zonkey! Zonkey!” and get kicked out of the theater. Or maybe it didn’t happen exactly like that. Maybe the Prez saw it on video and then told me about it later, but that’s not quite as exciting as my version.
So I think we’ve all learned something today. I know I have. And if you email me about this week’s Chronicle please make sure that you mention something about that whole “around the next corner” bit, Prez was really proud of that and I hate to let him down.
OK, until next week, I hope this finds you healthy, happy & lovin’ life!