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Three Winter Trips Away From Here


by Rudolfo Carrillo

One of the things I'd do in the eighties and nineties was to make sure not to be around Burque during the last week of the year. Places I went in the winter to avoid La Natividad in town included exotic locations in the United Kingdom and the Caribbean. But I had the best time in Mexico and made use of a variety of land routes and methods to check the place out. Sometimes I would drive and go as far as I could get, on a quest for an authentic holiday experience. Back then, that vaguely translated into looking for a party. The outcomes of all those trips varied from rousing to precarious. You can try going there if you like. After I got sick eating a cut of Argentinian beef in a seaside restaurant in Puerto Vallarta during the summer of 2001, I gave the country up for good. I heard it got dangerous after that, but has calmed down some these days. 

***
I took a short flight to Juarez on Boxing Day. Phil Collins was piping through all the headphones and it was one of those older jets, like a 727 or something. I grabbed my bags and walked over to the train station. I ended up on a commuter train to Chihuahua and stayed at a rundown hotel near downtown. The cabbie whistled and laughed when he dropped me off.

The next morning some dude was standing in the alley boiling ears of corn to sell later and I bought a hotdog wrapped in bacon from a street vendor. I found out from standing around the train station minding my own business that there was a train to the coast. It went through the mountains, and supposedly was an engineering wonder. It was cool alright, with a old fashioned observation car, but the electricity onboard was fucked up, so there was no hot food or lighted toilets for 12 hours.

On the other side of the mountains was a jagged and lush jungle with fruit trees and birds that were brightly festooned. The town of Los Mochis wasn't really memorable but there was a town further out where Chinese merchant ships docked and the sailors wandered drunkenly through town with red stars on their hats and hookers on their arms. I lost my glasses in the surf out by Topolobampo, but they mysteriously drifted back up and into my hands when the tide came back. I stayed at a hotel called the Santa Ana and ate scrambled eggs and corn tortillas in the restaurant next door.

***
Another time I drove a smashed up Datsun B210 down to the Sea of Cortes. I started out on Stanford Street and Lead Avenue. I took the freeway down to Las Cruces and crossed over in El Paso, headed straight for the mountains. This was back when you got a sticker for your front window when you made the border. About half an hour into the ride west I came to the conclusion that the sticker was a probably a good idea. The two lane road was twisty and the trucks coming the other way were constant. The sticky tag would probably survive a cascading trip down the mountain side, hooked to some window or its remnants.

Along the way there was a mining town all painted and lit up for Christmas with big colorful electric lights while the copper smelter down the road fumed and roared along though the night as we passed. A military patrol stopped the car in a town with a peculiar English name, but other than a brief and cautiously friendly question and answer session with ten heavily armed individuals on a dark road in a foreign country, and suicidal truckers pouring through the gates of hell and headed in the opposite direction I was driving, the ride was uneventful.

I checked into the Holiday Inn Hermosillo about one in the morning. They had a decent breakfast buffet with atole and everything, so I hung for a while and then headed for San Carlos. There was a Pemex station about half way.  After that the sea crept up and met the desert. I thought about how that scene might be what Mars looked like a million years ago, except without the half finished and long ago abandoned condos and occasional oyster shacks that dotted the horizon. Somehow I got sunburned on that trip and had to eat lobster, too.

***
Near the end of 1998 I rented a blue Dodge Neon in Chula Vista and decided to drive as far down the Pacific coast as a week would permit. Tijuana felt chaotic so I blew the place off after stopping at a pharmacy to pick up something to calm my gut. The pharmacist was friendly but kept wagging his tongue around a gap he had between his two front teeth. I stopped in Ensenda and got a stamp for my passport. There was a cruise ship parked in the harbor with lots of big sea birds swooping around the fancy boat. Passengers in white cotton disembarked and I put the car into second and zoomed south.

That night I stayed at a little ranch by the sea. It was off the main road, a crowded dusty thing crowded with wooden shacks and cinderblock businesses. They had been set up for continuous business; they were on the only way in and out of the peninsula. I got the name of the place from a Lonely Planet guide on Baja California. There were little huts made from stone and a lagoon with a couple of seals floating around in it.

Mostly the beaches on the west side were empty. I found a small dead whale walking around one day. There were a couple of hotels on the beach but they were empty. I wondered though one that was painted yellow and orange with buildings meant to resemble aztec temples. I finally ran into a bellhop. He had a thin mustache and was balding but just smiled and reached out to shake my hand when I asked about accommodations. I finally decided to stay at another hotel a few hundred meters further along the coast. The rooms were dark, cavernous, and air conditioned. The owners had a pet pig that walked around at night. Everything was painted pink and blue. There was a restaurant with decent enchiladas and a band that played tourist favorites like Jesusita en Chihuahua.

When the road got bad after a couple of days, I turned back. I stayed at a ridiculously baroque hotel in downtown Ensenada, but got another hankering for salt water and decided to cross the peninsula. There was a party town called San Felipe on the other side of the peninsula and I got there just in time for New Year's eve. I sat around in a bar looking at all the other humansm, ate flautas and washed them down with Tecate. The sea was really still, just ripples crossing its width, some boat shadows too. The moon was nearly full and was in the middle of the sky when 1999 was announced over the loudspeakers.




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