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True Stories by Steve Keely
Hobo Memoirs


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Bo apprehended by Border Patrol after swimming across the Rio Grande from Mexico to Texas. (Photo by Diesel Dysmon)


South of the Border

As you recall, I was rebuffed by the mountain spine when attempting to cross Baja, Mexico from the Sea of Cortez to the Pacific Ocean last week. At that point, I returned to San Felipe on the sea to recover, and on the first night walked twice headfirst into the motel wall mirror thinking the light outline was the bathroom door. With new intelligence, I attempted a second crossing north of the first and ran into the same mountain spine. Though less lofty, I again decided to turn back when I got terribly lost one night with wet feet in a box canyon. I pulled out in a couple hours a bit shaken and something dawned on me. The east approach to the little range is steeper than the west, giving a scenario of any path from the east likely leading to a dead end, however any route starting atop the spine and headed east likely courses to the sea. Itís a funnel effect.

Unexplored Baja attracts a hiker with hundreds of remote spots (abandoned settlements and mines and missions ) that dot the best maps and that havenít been seen since the three missionary waves (Jesuit, Franciscan and Dominican) three centuries ago. My key to is the Baja Almanac, a homey topo-mapbok thatís next to impossible to get. A San Felipe bookshop owner told me the demand is such he wrote the publisher to no avail, then visited the Las Vegas address which was only a mail drop. The drop secretary claimed thereís no publishing house and never was, and that the mapbook author went to Baja two years ago to gather more information and didnít return. Heís figured to have either met an oasis senorita, or perished.

Following the box canyon, it became a driving vacation as I turned the Volkswagen (customized to pickup truck) northwest on the Ensenada highway to the Laguna National Park. Sadly, the park is an excuse to litter a dry lakebed. Ensenada was cleaner, and I found reason for guidebooks warning gringo motorists to buy Mexican insurance, which I did. A car raced by in the passing lane, pulled in and braked sharply in front of the VW, and stopped. The young driver crossed his forehead in the sign of the cross and waited for a rear end collision, but hadnít counted on my having installed new brakes days earlier, so collected just a red face.

The traffic dwindled down the Pacific coast, and I pausd for short hikes. Strings of trailers line the ocean like pearls and are occupied by expatriates or snowbird gringos, happy as clams. These are escape artists that Iíve categorized by mode. There are mobile home, boat, pilot, hobo, bicycle, globetrotting, and stationary trailer escape artist like the ones here. One pointed to the correct dirt track for my next peninsular attempt, and added Iíd be walking in two feet of snow. So, I nixed the idea and wheeled south.

A dirt road slants west off the main north-south highway at Chapela and indeed traverses to the Sea of Cortez, and this I drove. Average speed was a bumpy 10 mph for two days to and north along the sea to Puertacitos. I spoke again to gringos, these airplane snowbirds who maintain dirt landing strips at the beaches. One had a solitary palm tree at his beach home, the wonder of the small community as no others grew on that flat playa. Years ago, he confided, he took a rattle can of green spray paint and painted the leaves green, and now hadnít the heart to clue anyone the palm was dead. I suggested he take a yellow rattle can and, one-by-one each week paint a leaf, so dignity would be preserved as the tree gradually died.

In Puertacitos, a tiny fishing village on Cortez, boiling water pours from underground at the beach to form pools that mix with cold seawater. A trench of lava rock 20 feet long and two feet wide leads from an inland hot pool directly into the sea, and the trick is to time the tide and waves so the mix is comfortable. One slides along the trench with the temperature changes and emerges refreshed.

I camped in the ubiquitous town dump and at sunrise was awakened by Mexicans rolling past with wheelbarrows to sift for gringo deposits. It reminded me of Sand Valley near the Coco Mt. gunnery range where my neighbor īrange runnersī recycle bomb fins. Many escape artists find Baja because of the impending American war, something anticipated about a year ago in Sand Valley when the daily bombing rate suddenly accelerated by a multiple of 20 and hasnít died down since as the Marines warm up..

The road north from Puertacitos to San Felipe is rightly reputed as Mexico{s poorest asphalt highway. Mean speed was 25 mph while dodging potholes for hours. Now, sitting at the Cyber Cafť in San Felipe, I ponder the next move. The lower the cost of living in a given area, the more adventure - and Baja is dirt-cheap. I just bought a bag of classic books at the used book store, rooms rent for $100 monthly, and the sun ever shines. However, thereís that nagging mountain spine. One year decades ago, I tried to walk the length of Baja and failed. Same thing a few years later with a walking endeavor. Then, five years ago, I completed the 1000 mile length (much farther off-road), doing the southern half by foot along Pacific beaches and the northern half by bicycle along the Sea of Cortex. I want to punctuate this history with a cross-peninsular walk.

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