Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Staying inside the lines


After leaving Los Angeles we headed to south San Diego to prepare for our trip over the border the next morning. The closer we got to the border the more uneasy I became. I had prepared the best I could, reading advice on crossing into Mexico. I had the pertinent paperwork including passports, vehicle documents, proof of Mexican auto insurance, dog health certification, serial numbers of the electronics we were carrying. Our last stop was the Sam's Club in San Diego to stock up on food. We were advised that meat and produce were not allowed which was nearly unbearable passing by salmon and rib-eyes and the holiday ham and turkey. I cheated a little (I thought) by plucking up three huge slabs of cheese. Robert had six or more cases of assorted beer in his cart ("great gifts for Christmas") which I scolded him, "How will we fit all that in?" All in all we had two carts and a flat bed full of goods we had to load into our small, already stuffed trailer and vehicle. Somehow we did it and then prayed we would not have to unload anything for inspection.

From the relative darkness of San Ysidro, the endless lights of Tijuana shone menacingly. The city sits lower then San Ysidro in what appeared to be an enormous basin. It looked like something sinister gathering energy, ready to pounce. This was the dreaded border town swarming with Mexicans maneuvering into position to bombard lower California. My nerves were on edge from the uncertainty of what lay ahead, remembering every horror story I'd heard about gringos being mistreated, shook-down, kidnapped, jailed, murdered. Someone told us of somebody's girlfriend being incarcerated for two years for carrying across one too many bottles of prescription painkillers. I worried my unlucky choice of Parmesan cheese would be the thing to do us in. Robert keep reassuring me, recalling the experiences of acquaintances who said the crossing is no big deal, nothing to worry about. In my defense, I never came across any information that made me feel assured the event would be safe. There seems to be no definitive answers to anything; even information direct from the Mexican consulate proved to be in error when it came to Baja Calilfornia.

As it turned out in the two days is took to travel down to Loreto not one official or authority asked us a thing, except one. We passed through a half dozen stops where armed soldiers not so much as blinked at us. At the crossing into South Baja from North, a young soldier asked if we were carrying any produce. "No," we cheerfully answered. He motioned for us to proceed forward where another young man wielding a fumigation device sprayed our tires and off we went. The rest of the trip we marveled at the ease of the passage and the incredible fact that no one asked for a passport, for an identity. Where we illegal aliens? Then we reflected on the ridiculousness of our over-cautiousness. I felt a little guilty about all my early anxiousness. Poor maligned Mexicans. This experience was a small lesson in the power of the unknown to breed fear. As the hours and miles passed my mind fell into ease and we became cheerful and jubilant about our plans ahead.

The landscape improved once out of Ensenada and especially in the area of Catavina where it looked like the sky rained boulders. The highway was the one thing that landscape that remained constant: incredulously unacceptable. Rarely was there more than 8 inches of pavement beyond the white side line. And past that either gravel ravines or huge boulders or some such obstacle that would have prevented a successful recovery from an accidental wandering over the line. Robert insisted on driving the whole trip and soon discovered he could not allow his eyes to wander off the road for one instant. Ironically, when the road did improve in texture and quality after hitting the Baja California Sur region, the geography became deathly treacherous through mountain passes and cliffs. I lost count of the memorial shrines along the roadside. So badly I wanted to photograph these curiosities, but like Robert said, we didn't want to join them, so stay focused. Many were located in spots where one had to construct the possible cause of the fatal accident. Did the motorist hit something, fall asleep at the wheel? But one shrine in particular was self explanatory and I'll never forget it. We all gasped together at the sight of this small marker at the bend of a curving cliff (curva peligrosa--a sign we saw as frequently as the no-passing signs) as we could imagine ourselves going over this cliff ala Thelma and Louise. Robert's focus intensified and Allison and I obediently drew silent.

Our return to our house in Loreto was like a sweet homecoming. Our sons were there to greet us having just flown in from school break. We all unloaded our bounty cheering over having a television to watch, comfortable linens, pillows from home, canned chili, boxes and boxes of food, drink, candy. It would be embarrassing to say it felt like we were the blessed wagon train bringing provisions to camp, but that's pretty close to the feeling. In my recollections it ranks way up there for pure satisfaction. We breathed life back into the house and snuggled into beautiful comfort. The boys put in a DVD and I went to work setting up house for the winter.

Except this winter there is no snow to shovel and we left everything thermal and down-filled behind.

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