Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Guerrero Negro Part 1: The Long Drive

Due to my recent increase in free time, my dad, a retired wildlife biologist, asked me to accompany him and a colleague to a town 10 hours south of the border of Mexico to capture birds with some biology students from La Paz. They had helped him in the past and were exercising their due by inviting my dad down south to help with a species he had previously worked on. Because I have no job, and not too many uncancelable social engagements, I packed some clothes, hiking boots, and a book for the long drive.

The drive itself wasn’t too bad, mostly because it was broken up between two days. The first day was spent chatting, shuffling the iPod, and storytelling until we reached a town before the halfway point called Camalu.

Once we arrived at Camalu, it was evident that the day of flying (for them) and driving (for all of us) had taken its toll and it was time to stop and sleep. We weren’t sure that it was the town to stop in, but we were worried that if we didn’t stop there, we might be stuck with driving through the night. A random guy at the first gas station we stopped at recommended a motel one block further down the road called Hotel California. That seemed decent enough for my companions, however I wasn’t convinced.

“Hey, guys? Does this seem like an ominous idea to anyone else?”

Nobody expressed any real concern, and turning down the dirt road following the signs, I couldn’t help but try to shake Don Henley’s voice out of my consciousness.

About 300 meters down a dusty road littered with palms, there began a string of Christmas lights. They lead to a small, tight entrance of the miniscule but inviting motel. Driving into the small compound, more lights pierced the awnings, strung on the brightly lit courtyard. A neon “open” sign shone above a hand painted scrawl of “Oficina.” Nobody, however, was in the office.

After we got out of the car and looked around, a man named Rodolfo rounded the corner with a case of beer and said he could be right with us. Asking if we needed rooms, we were informed that there were only doubles left. And only two rooms at that, exactly the number we needed. Rooms twelve and thirteen.

Being the adventurer I am, I called room 13 before anyone else could answer. I figured if I was going down, it was going to be all the way. Go big or go home.

Our room smelled like the pink powder soap they used to have in elementary school bathrooms, and the bathroom was awash in the scent of blue toilet disks. The sheets were so bare, you could see the mattress stitching underneath, and the wooly comforters had been washed, at some point, and been placed somewhere wet long enough to gain that smell of fabric mildew that never washes out.

The walls were thin, the water wasn’t terribly warm, and it was a cold night, but the Hotel California was great, complete with chatty proprietor, Martiniano. I loved the keychains that the hotel keys were attached to, and he immediately went and fetched me one to take with me.

Back on the road with a hearty wave to the hotel, we stopped at a breakfast joint in the next town called “La Mision.” Relatively new, and extremely out of place, the building shined with new rock pillars and bright, sherbet colored walls. Camereros in jackets and ties stood at all areas of the restaurant with arms clasped at their backs waiting to serve us.

I ordered a glass of orange juice, so freshly squeezed that it hadn’t been refrigerated. The crab omelet with chipotle cream sauce that followed was amazing, and I was certain I wouldn’t eat that good again for some time.

Down the road we stopped for off-road photo sessions and market wandering. In addition to cactus photos, a trip to the beach in San Quintin where my father and I went kiteboarding last summer, and a coyote sighting, we picked up some snackies and headed down the road. Several hours and many hundreds of kilometers later, my belly had been filled yet again, this time with Mexican pork rinds, Coke Light, and some Choco Rolls. To date, I have eaten more pork rinds (or chicharrones, as they are called) on this particular trip than my entire life combined. No regrets.

We arrive in Guerrero Negro later this evening, and not sure who we’re meeting or where we’re staying. The plan is to meet up with a guy named Victor, who will give us entry to the “bunkhouse”, which is a sort of dormitory on the grounds of a salt company. We don't know where to find him, how to get in touch with him, or what time he will be getting to town. But despite the unknowns, we are all pretty happy to be absorbed in new scenery and a new culture.

We’re on a long, warm road, behind overloaded pickups and reckless semi trucks. Tall cacti flank both sides of the highway, lizards dart across the pavement, and large birds keep a close traffic watch, perched on roadside fence posts.


KJT said...

Excellent, I was hoping a story would come out of this trip...

cae said...

The patterns on that cactus in the last picture are beautiful.