Bouncing Back

San Carlos Harbour. Some call this place Tucson South where a vulgar display of wealth flies in the face of Mexican reality. But this place also has a Mexican charm.

Ya can’t bounce back til ya’ve hit bottom.” That comes to mind from deep in the archives of my mental hard drive as I passed along a hard rive of another sort. I left Nogales in the dark yesterday morning, totally exhausted after yet another sleepless night. Entering Nogales Mexico is a plunge into hell. A young lady, shivering inside her non-offical parka, gave my van a brief inspection and waved me on. Que? OK?. I entered a scene which was part Blade-Runner, Quest For Fire and any apocalyptic film of your choice. Crooked cobbled winding streets poorly lit, except for the hi-beams of vehicles hurtling in all directions, pedestrians wandering every which way, vendors already setting up their market trucks along the curbs, rare and nebulous road signs posted just at the junctions. Add all the mad Max’s in the world trying to block you. Holy shit! I have driven in Mexico and loved it, (Well mostly) but yesterday seemed incredibly bizarre. Out on the open road finally, the signage is variably good, with long sections of road repairs, then miles later, more “deviacion.” The cuotas, or toll booths, are presently unmanned by government employees but are attended by folks begging money and demanding to know where you are going. Eventually you see a sign indicating that you are, perhaps, on the correct route. Then you hit a Tope, one of Mexico’s infamous speed bumps.

The small city of Hermosillo, was a repeat of Nogales. Even in daylight I hate the gauntlet that is this dreadful place. At nearly every stoplight a gang of window-washers assails your vehicle, jumping all over it in their efforts to clean the glass and extort a small ransom. My shouted No’s are ignored. They banged on all windows with their demands and tried to take the bicycle off the back of the van. You’re helpless, inclined to leap out in confrontation, but you know of course, that’s dangerously foolish, so you sit inside, cursing and seething at your entrapment while a gentle voice on your shoulder whispers that “This is Mexico, relax, this shall pass, these kids are just trying to help support their family.” I do get it, but a simple permission and a gracious acceptance of “No” would completely improve the business model of these junior extortionists. When driving through a congested town or city, it is utterly wise to keep your doors locked and your windows closed. I’ve decided that next time I will start photographing them from the confines of my driver’s seat and, not to be so vulnerably alone. When i returned through this city, not a window washer was in sight!

About nine hours from Nogales I blearily drove past my turn-off to San Carlos and had to back-track up through Guaymas. Yet another hour of my foolishness. Its old-town and waterfront is beautiful, an oasis of tranquility, but I  simply needed to complete the journey for the day. Guaymas is also a swirling chaos of mad driving through dusty, despairing, sprawling barrios with vague signage. My on-dash GPS was useless and I was too busy trying to stay alive to have time to glance at it anyway.

Empalme, a southern satellite community of Guaymas. The fishing fleet was in before the tide fell. Fishermen stand out in the traffic selling bags of fresh prawns.
On the main street of San Carlos is an oasis for the weary traveller. There were more Canadians there than those left in Canada. They have a web site.
A view from my parking spot. Mexicans do seem to like their walls…Donald.
Sprawling development is going on everywhere. There goes the neighbourhood!

Well, somebody has to live here…don’t they?
Maybe I’m jealous, but it seems obscene to me. A concrete artisan and his helper do not even dare think of living in a place like this…nor me.
“Hi Mom, we’re home!”
What else can I say?
Cuanto vale? Below the 200 peso notes, clockwise the coins are 50 pesos,20 pesos, old and new, 10 pesos also old and new, 2 pesos, and 1/10 pesos.
The total of the entire complicated heap is 634.1p or about $30.US
There is also a 1/2 French franc which I cannot explain.
There are many splendid vehicles in Mexico which we never see in the north. There are both novel (To me) imports and locally built vehicles. This wonderful little Mexican Chevy truck has side-steps, a place to stand on the back bumper and a hand rail behind the cab.
Reality on the other side of the bay at Marina Real. Imagine living here and going to work at the shining luxury condos across the water at Marina Real. Kids, dogs, a leaning outhouse, piles of nets and laundry.
Home Sweet Home  complete with water barrel and a rocking chair in the sand. Don’t laugh, there’s no mortgage!

Obviously, yet I live. I am writing this in the rising warmth and light of another Mexican morning. A few feet above my head is a cooing dove hidden in the dense foliage. I am vibrating-weary. I love Mexico and ache to go on south, or just stay and rest, but I’ll complete the business at hand and promises kept, I’ll turn back Northward. Low finances and a faltering vehicle demand prudence. I desperately need to take a break. Crossing back into the US will, this time, take me a long way toward an ease of anxiety. There is a band of Northern Mexico which, in my estimate,is about 200 miles wide that I dislike. San Carlos marks the latitude of Mexico where I begin to love the country more and more as I drive further south. Sadly, this is as far as I am going. I’ll complete my business here and then turn northward.

It seems that every grotty little Mexican fishing village has at least one upscale seafood restaurant for the gringos. How could I resist a place with a doorman like this?
How about a table without a reservation and a view like this? You know the food’s good when the locals eat there.
At the next table, an aging rock star perhaps. Note the personal beer bottle glove.
Don’t get up. The view from my table.
The appetiser. The rest of the meal was as incredible and including two beer and a tip, it was the equivalent of approx $20. cdn
Was I really there? It seemed like a dream.
The village at La Manga where poor people still live by the sea and can afford to eat seafood…because they catch it themselves.
Another panga arrives with a fresh supply for the restaurant.
There must be a story here! Note the Saskatchewan license plate. Is the old camper someone’s home?
A Mexican attempt at recycling.
Honest Umberto’s used Rv’s?
I remembered Joni Mitchell’s song about the tree museum.
Yep, yet another hotel stands beyond the foliage.
A view from the front.
A view to the rear.
A discreet luxury development near San Carlos. I’m told it has to do with laundering money. There are no lights on at night.
At least I agree with their ideas for lawns. Note the various spots where helicopters can land.
A lingering view of the open Sea Of Cortez, upon whose face I should be sailing.
As I drove up, over and down from this place, I imagined a posh British accent exclaiming, “I say! This would be a proper blighter if ever it should snow.”
The following morning, the reluctant meandering trek homeward began. I cast a sad last glance at the Sea Of Cortez from the San Carlos waterfront. It is piece of ocean I love and yet I did not even wet my feet in her this time. I’ll be back. Soon.
Out of the desert came forth wine. There are many continuous miles of new vineyards along the Sonoran highway. They extend out of sight away from the road.
“Everybody out!” A military checkpoint on the highway. Wen I was southbound trucks were lined up for several miles, each waiting for a tedious clearance. Two young soldiers, poke around inside as buses engine compartment. They were only a few surly questions for the old gringo in the old van.

Two days later, I am now on the intended-to be leisurely and meandering return homeward. I decide to divert and stop over in Puerto Penasco on the Eastern shore of the Gulf Of California, at the top of the Sea Of Cortez, which like so many, I love dearly. I have a rule about driving in Mexico in the dark and I so I broke my own law. Onward I went through endless miles of fields, then desert, then fields, all punctuated by dusty, desperately poor barrios. I drove westward, peering into the setting sun through a dusty, bug-spattered windshield. I was desperate to find a safe haven for the night and took no more photos that day. 

The best images ever are never recorded on a camera it seems, but remain in the back of my brain, as clear as the moment i saw them. I am stuck with an indelible image of children playing soccer in the ubiquitous adobe dust of Northern Mexico at dusk and I wonder at the their future. They are well dressed, and everyone has perfect haircuts yet you can see that where and how they live is well below anyone’s notion of a poverty line. They have wealth in the embrace of their expansive families and the joy of the moment is always evident despite the misery of which they know nothing else. There is clearly a joy in a life without expectations which I do not understand. The narrow, rutted, pot-holed road stretched on ahead forever it seemed. Rushing oncoming vehicles with brilliant lights, or one or none at all, zoomed past. I could find no safe-looking turnout to rest for the night. I was exhausted, my brain on auto-pilot as I resolved myself to a head-on crash. My ended life marked with another rusting metal cross on the edge of some nameless field.

No visit to Mexico is complete without a look at a few churches. This is the Catholic church facade in Santa Ana.
The ostentatious church rises grandly above the squalor and poverty of this little town.
Beneath exquisite old Spanish architecture these huge and beautifully carved doors are locked; from the inside. Sanctuary?
The priest’s car I guessed. In double lock-up to keep me out…or him in?
HOLY SHIT!
The only caption I can think of. This is the church cupula in Pitiquito.
The bells and pigeons of Pitiquito. The church door was open and a group of ladies conversed inside.
Across the street from the church, a dark biblical mural at the taxi stand. Cheering!
A mixed theme of the Second Coming and Dias Des Muertes. I’d like this artist to paint my van!
A bright spark of happy genius. Meals on wheels indeed! LA BOMBI!

Eventually on the horizon of this flat land, distant lights began to arise. I finally realized that this was what I had driven so long and far out of my way to see. I had envisioned a sleepy, Mexican fishing region, gentrified but tolerable. I had expected to find some open beach where I could park and rest for a few days. What I saw instead was a vision of hell. The place stretched on and on and lay miles off the highway.. It looked like pictures of Miami and I drove on into the night, my hopes shattered. I tried stopping in the parking lot of their airport, also miles off the road, but a security guard gave me the boost within a minute. I found a spot on the roadside, brightly lit and there I finally stopped. In the morning I jacked up the van, and pulled my rear wheels apart to try and find the source of a horrible grinding noise. U-joints was my diagnosis and so I decided to head onward to the border. Ajo or bust. First, I stopped to thank Barb’s Dog Rescue for the haven and security of their brightly lit sign. I, a dog-lover, gave myself a strict lecture, took a breath and went on in. I left quickly, head down, not looking back. All those lovely dogs. Surely I could manage to bring one home, a travelling companion and a pal for Jack. I faced reality, and drove on.

Well, I’m writing in Ajo now, a desert town. The area is a popular winter retreat. A friend is parked next door in the Belly Acres RV Park and there are new friends all around me. I slept eleven hours last night. The wind howled and a torrential rain hammered down as if I were at home on Vancouver Island. More desert flowers! Tomorrow morning the parts store and garage next door will open and the course of my fate will be determined. 

Freedom is nothing else but a chance to be better.” …Albert Camus

Author: Fred Bailey

Fred is a slightly-past middle age sailor /, writer / photographer with plenty of eclectic hands-on skills and experiences. Some would describe him as the old hippy who doesn't know the war is over. He is certainly reluctant to grow up and readily admits to being the eternal dreamer. He has written several books including two novels, 'The Keeper' and 'Storm Ecstasy,' as well as 'The Water Rushing By', 'Sins Of The Fathers', 'The Magic Stick', as well as an extensive inventory of poetry, essays, short stories, anecdotes and photographs. His first passion is the ocean, sailboats, voyaging and all those people who are similarly drawn to the sea. He lived aboard and extensively cruised the BC Coast on 'Seafire' the boat he refitted to go voyaging, to explore new horizons both inner and outer. This blog was about that journey and the preparations for it. Circumstances prevailed which forced the sale of his beloved vessel. Now on a different tack, the voyage continues. If you follow this blog your interest may provide some of the energy that helps fuel the journey. Namaste Contact me at svpaxboat@gmail.com

4 thoughts on “Bouncing Back”

  1. Nogales, Hermosillo, Guaymas, San Carlos…I’m reliving my 1982 trip through your post! As well as the excitement of seeing those new places and the challenge of reading all the Spanish signs quickly enough to understand what was required of us, I remember desperately searching for a place to park for the night, as darkness came on and all those crazy drivers kept zooming along at ridiculous speeds. Enjoyed the post – thanks for the trip down my own memory lane!

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