Driving South ‘round Midnight

Part 5 of Across America, 24 Dec 2011

Pacific Tortoise

We walked down the hill from the hostel to the Tortoise. The big green bus was to be our home for the next two weeks. Once the small matter of the luggage had been taken care of (some had surely packed enough for a year in the upper reaches of the Amazon), we climbed aboard and headed out over the Bay Bridge.

The “miracle” of the Tortoise is that 32 travellers can sleep in it. As far as miracles go it was pretty impressive. Though after a night on the rough interstate it felt more like a cheap conjuring trick. But then luxuriously appointed berths aren’t why you take the Tortoise.

Thoughts of sleep faded as dawn arrived with us in San Diego. After eating a tasty breakfast of oatmeal and picking up a beach towel, we were crossing the border. Now in Mexico, Sean revealed his extensive games collection. We played Apples to Apples and generally got to know each other. My fellow travellers were older and more American than I was expecting. We shared beers: mostly Tecate and heavy gravity Steel Reserve (classy).

At this point I think I should explain something about why this blog post was tougher than the previous ones: I’ve found writing about my fellow travellers tricky. They’re not strangers you can lampoon anonymously, nor friends you can write about with familiarity. So you’ll have to excuse me if there aren’t as many tasty morsels on the thirty as you might like. With that out of the way, we can return to the road…

Our first real stop was Ensenada. It was a gentle transition from America: the town was clearly geared up to el Gringoes. My first fish taco was a little underwhelming, but the churros were made of caramel and cinnamon awesome. I popped into Starbucks for Wi-Fi to sort out my accommodation post-Baja. It could have been London or San Fran: the same drinks, the same laptops and iPads. What started as a flying visit, turned into several hours as the rain fell heavily. Eventually time ran out and there was no option left but to run for it. My clothing provided the maximum impediment with the minimum of dignity. When I dragged myself onto the bus, my toes were bleeding and my jeans could have filled an Olympic swimming pool. My fresh beach towel came to the rescue and all was well again.

Our second overnight drive brought us to the tiny hamlet of Santa Rosalita. We broke our fast on the beach by the Pacific (pictured above) with the sea lions and pelicans.

I took up the buddy seat next to driver Andy as we continued south through the desert. It seemed unfinished to me, like a building site that needed a few more years for the fresh soil to vanish under foliage. The geography in the sky was as dramatic as that on the ground. The rain fell in short downpours, uncommon in this part of the world. The one main road in Baja was a dash of swish dual-carriageway with a heavy dose of diversions along mud track. The mud welcomed the rain with gooey joy, threatening to embrace us if we slowed. Where our speed met the rougher stretches, a shower of sleeping bags enlivened things in the back.

Having navigated the mud we reached our first military checkpoint. The soldiers manning it were friendly, but very young. We were waved through after a quick inspection. Otherwise there was little life along the road. The saguaro and scrub held the occasional bird or dead donkey. The only thing moving over much of the landscape were the turkey vultures wheeling on the thermals.

Camping with the Dates

Late in the afternoon we reached our camp site amongst the date palms. The turkey vultures circled overhead. Perhaps they’d just finished the main and we were the dessert? I pitched my tent under a palm without too much difficulty. After driver Dave wrangled the group into cooking a surprisingly tasty mushroom stroganoff, it was over to the bar. As we were the only guests that night (if not that month) the bar was opened specially for us.

My knowledge of salsa is almost as comprehensive as my knowledge of Spanish. I stood with the other cowards around the edge of the hall while a talented few showed us how it should be done. A few margaritas and beers later and the gloves were off. Even I was persuaded to dance a few steps, but couldn’t keep up with Audrey from the wonderfully named Snellville, Georgia. Audrey described the style as “American Salsa”. To my untrained eye it looked like an energetic mix of Riverdance and having a fit; but it certainly was a good workout.

Tired, I headed to my first night under canvas since 1998. The stars shone brightly overhead. I began to feel I was really in Mexico.

PS. Contrary to earlier postscript, there won’t be another post until I return to San Fran. Happy Christmas.

Previous Post · Next Post

Tags: AcrossAmerica, Baja, California, Camping, Green Tortoise, Mexico, SanFrancisco, Travel, USA