I forget distance out here in the desert. Phone reception can disappear completely between towns. A single paved highway connects a spiderweb of sand roads connecting innumerable pueblas. Many don’t appear on maps. But there are people and houses and minimarkets nonetheless. I forget that the distance we’ve traveled from town to wilderness would not even have taken us from San Francisco to Sacramento. Each turn creates new worlds from nothingness, erasing my sense of space. Out here among the cacti and sunbleached bovine bones, it feels we have traversed centuries.
Cabo San Lucas, the Mecca of debauchery since American rock stars began making the pilgrimage in the 70’s, rests at the southern tip of Baja. We did not make a visit, choosing instead to curve northward along the western coast. I felt great relief as the crowds melted away and we returned to the desert’s dusty embrace. We stopped just south of Todos Santos to pitch our tent at Pescadero Surf Camp. The charming area won us over and we decided to stay for a few nights. Every morning for three days we hitchhiked to Los Cerritos beach where I surfed on a rented board and Diana read beneath a white beach umbrella. I can understand the addiction of surfing now. Riding long rolling waves in clear, cool water on a tranquil beach is a world away from the cold, foggy, crowded sandpits of San Francisco. The first day, I surfed until I couldn’t lift my body off the board. Then I ordered a cheeseburger and Modelo Especial delivered to the beach. The second day my skills were beginning to improve. The third day the current was strong and I was exhausted so we left at noon. We heard from another surfer that night that there was a double homocide at the beach after we left. On the same beach where we, along with dozens of other people, families and kids and tourists, relaxed without a care, two people were killed. It is almost impossible to believe, but in Mexico it is only almost impossible to believe. This seems to be the paradox of this country. Side by side paradise and violence coexist and everyone knows it. Accepts it. We never experienced anything but extraordinary kindness, warmth, and generosity, yet somewhere this evil is lurking. People warn us. Maybe this is how things are though. Maybe the pattern I think I see is always incomplete.
Passing through an ordinary looking souvenir store in Todos Santos we entered upon a vast private collection of Mexican masks. An eccentric docent gave us a brief tour highlighting the time periods of the collection and then were left alone to wander. Many of the masks were authentic I’m sure, but in the fashion of many private museums, the collection was more an exercise of passion than discipline. Alongside pre-hispanic and post-hispanic masks we spotted Spider-Man, the Powerpuff girls, personal diary pages, African masks and many other curiosities. Without explanation or justification we were left to create our own story and reconcile what is inherently only a partial truth. It is conceivable, even, that the whole display was a farce. In an amateur collection, this fact is obvious, but I think it is true even in the most expertly curated collection. Whatever the truth of the situation was, the museum was a unique experience.
From Todos Santos we set our course for Santiago, where we heard there were beautiful clear waters to swim in. In town we got confused when we asked directions, mistaking derecho (straight) for derecha (right). By the time we discovered our mistake, we had ridden in circles and it was late in the afternoon. Having pestered multiple locals for directions, we felt modestly satisfied that we had found the right road. However, the pavement soon dissolved into packed sand and then into loose sand. Neither Diana, nor I were interested in face-planting in the sand, so she dismounted and walked, while I feathered the clutch and walked the bike. When the sun began to set behind the mountains, we decided to stop and camp rather than try to turn around in the sand and return to town. We followed a cow trail a few meters off the road and pitched our tent among the cacti and clean white bones.
The desert there was full of life. Beneath a bright moon, little frogs hopped along the sand. Crickets chirped, distant cow bells rattled, the occasional donkey brayed, and somewhere, faintly, the omnipresent dogs were barking. It was peaceful and romantic like an old western, but in the back of my mind I remembered the inexplicable violence, and each time a truck rattled past, I could not stop from thinking that maybe the pattern was incomplete.
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We continued our search the next day for the watering hole. We found ranch gates and dead ends. One road was promising, but a german shepherd lay in the road. And, fearing a show-down, I turned back.