Lovely Rita

Part 7 of Across America, 07 Jan 2012

Hotel Yeneka.

La Paz was far bigger than any other town we’d encountered thus far. I was staying with several others in Hotel Yeneka, which Andy had described as funky. The whole hotel was festooned with bones, shells, old furniture and more. I’d heard there was a monkey. He turned out to have died several years earlier and was now stuffed and riding in the front of an old car. That’s not to say there wasn’t life in the hotel: there were several cats including a tiny kitten that would fit on the palm of your hand.

One of the perks of the hotel was free tequila shots. Of the large group of people who accepted them, several didn’t like tequila. Taking one for the team I drank four shots. Surprisingly, my stomach didn’t rebel.

Saturday I slept in: the beds may have been concrete hard, but it was still good to be sleeping without gale-force winds or bouncing busses to contend with. Dan, Meg and I went out for lunch, agreeing to find something other than tacos. We found a bar serving burgers and 80s mashup videos. We spent a fun hour or so, drinking strawberry margaritas and trying to identify the songs. Rick Astley put in several appearances, but we were never rickrolled.

In the evening, smooth tequila in hand, we joined Sean and Gwen on the roof of their hotel. It was technically the hotel bar, but as the bar wasn’t open and no staff were around, we took it over for an impromptu party. In another first for me, Carlos made a margarita in my mouth by pouring in rita mix then tequila. A quick shake of the head et voila a fine cocktail. Eric equipped us with flashing rave stars and rings and we made our way through an assortment of tequilas and beers. Matthew and Adam got out their guitars and started playing. I sang with them for a couple of numbers, including Kumbayah. Let that be a lesson to anyone tempted to ply me with tequila in a guitar-rich environment. The hotel staff eventually cottoned on and opened the bar. We bought a few drinks to placate them.

Back on the street (but still with shot glasses, limes and salt in my pockets) we had something to eat at a disappointing restaurant and headed back to the hotel. It was Christmas Eve, and the ever-generous Julio gave us a whole bottle of tequila to share. As there were only about five of us left to drink it, we were getting into dangerous territory. Dosed up on Pepto-Bismol I kept going until the bottle was empty. However, I drew the line at visiting the Jungle, despite Andy’s claim’s it was the place to party with the locals. I was already the worse for tequila and retreated to my room.

My alarm woke me at seven. It was Christmas Day and Santa had brought me a cold shower. Throwing everything into my bag, I made a quick call to my Mum and sisters to wish them happy Christmas. They were just putting the sprouts on the table when I called and were happy to hear from me, however briefly. Christmas seemed far away. I half jogged down to the bus and grabbed a custard horn for breakfast. I caught up with the hard core partiers to find that the Jungle had been rather less awesome than advertised. There had been one other person there when Team Tortoise arrived. Rock on!

To beach camp: Jane, Audrey, Chris & D.

We spent most of the day on the road, driving to the beach camp that would be our home for the next five nights. Seven kilometres from the camp, we parked the big green bus and set out on foot down the hill to the beach. This was a real desert environment, with giant cacti and sun-baked earth.

The weather was warm and sunny and once again I opted to pitch my tent next to the sea. Gales schmales. Dinner was roast vegetable pasta. By this point I’d forgotten it was Christmas Day, but the white elephant jogged my memory. I’d not come across it before: it was like secret Santa on steroids. We’d each bought and wrapped a small gift. I’d opted for a Mexican painted skull and random sweets.

Bonnie went first, and was thrilled, nay ecstatic, to unwrap some hydrating drink powder. Later players had the option to steal someone else’s gift or unwrap a new one. Audrey had drawn an amazing cartoon of the whole group. This was fought over for several rounds. My skull also proved popular, being stolen the maximum three times. When my turn came I opted to open a small box. It contained a wood bead neckless that I was lucky enough to hang on until the end. Other (un)fortunate players received aphrodisiac elixir, fireworks and a matchbox police car to commemorate our police shakedown earlier in the week. The officers had claimed we were breaching seat-belt laws, but when the “fine” was paid they announced that it would pay for lunch. Some thin blue lines are clearly thinner and murkier than others.

In the Slot.

Boxing Day was another fine day. Andy led a small group to the local slot canyon. While slot canyons are ten a penny in the American West, this was my first. The walls came together until the canyon was only a metre wide, cutting off the outside world. In several places large boulders and steep drops barred our way. The rock was dry and grippy and it was surprisingly easy, not to mention fun, to climb the near-vertical surfaces. I strained me leg attempting a superman flying pose between the two walls, but no lasting damage was done.

In the afternoon we had a sushi class using local fish. Making a neat roll was very satisfying, and the results were surprisingly tasty if rather chunkier than you’d find in the average restaurant. I shall have to try this at home. While we ate our sushi a small fireball was seen overhead, making a third first for me in one day.

Tuesday was a quiet day, but a raucous evening. I spent the day on “secret beach”, enjoying a swim in the brisk water and a ballena or two (the near-litre beer bottles feature a happy whale). The only incident of note was when I tore my swimming shorts on a rock. The split started small, but soon spread down the right leg, despite liberal application of safety pins. As a result my right thigh got rather burnt and is still (as of early January) much browner than the left.

In the evening we dressed up for Andy’s birthday. I started modestly with green and silver hairspray and shiny trousers, but then made the mistake of allowing Bonnie and Gwen to improve my outfit. I finished up in a sports bra and shiny dress: which made it difficult to breath and keep warm, much to the amusement of the women in the party. Despite the hardships of female dress I danced energetically to MC Hammer. The rest of the evening is a little vague, but I do recall some impressive moves from Gwen and Carlos doing the worm dance in a onesie.

Glenn gives Santa a beating.

Thursday was the last day in camp. I had another lazy day on the beach with the gang. Sean had yet another games for us: Assassins. Each of us had a card with someone’s name on it and we had to get them alone in order to assassinate them. I didn’t last long as Andy got me while I took a quick shower. Some of the group had been fishing the previous day. Shauna smoked the fish over the camp fire: it was delicious. Carlos followed this with instruction in making banana boats: chocolate stuffed bananas wrapped in foil and thrown in the fire. “You have to keep them in for longer than you think” (sniggering all round).

Carlos AKA Charles north of the border.

Friday 30th we broke camp and stopped at the local raunch for lunch. How anyone managed to raunch in such parched terrain was beyond me. We dispatched a piñata in the form of Santa. Seeing his legs go flying was a little disturbing. Back on the bus it was time to head north. After many hours on the road, with a few military checkpoints thrown in, we stopped at Cataviña to check out some cave paintings.

The dry rock was beautifully grippy and it was great fun jumping from boulder to boulder on the way to the cave. The authenticity of the paintings is disputed and I came away non-plussed. However, the rock escarpments and giant cacti were awesome. A landscape that was a delight to explore. Slightly losing my balance at one point I leant on a saguaro. The cactus repaid my instability with a thorn in my elbow. The best efforts of D and Bonnie couldn’t extract it, so I carried it north to the border.

We reached the border around midnight, some of the party (though not your writer) rather worse for drink. There was a bit of a wait at the border, but with nothing to declare the actual crossing was over in a moment. Back on the bus we were still far from home. Dave and Andy drove on in turns through night and into the next day. Breakfast at Denny’s was uninspired and the mood on the bus was subdued. Around two we reached West Oakland. It was time to say goodbye and board the Bart. I was back in San Francisco.

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Tags: AcrossAmerica, Baja, Camping, GreenTortoise, Mexico, Travel