"Hola" there was a voice but no person. I was remembering the singing
man from Bahìa de Los Angeles, '.little-lamb.little-lamb..." The hanging
Tecate cans clinked in the wind.
Hola. Hola," came the voice.
Senor. Where are you?"
"Ah! One minute." A dark-tanned half-Mexican, half-American climbed from
under a truck and attached a wooden leg (which he carved himself) and
said, "You want Cervezas?"
hands smell like gasoline. Why don't you go in my fridge. I got cervezas, I got burritos.
Anything you like."
He introduced himself as 'Coco.' We sat down at his open-air table, under
the clinking beer cans, the doll-heads screwed onto posts, and 'Kangaroo
Crossing' signs, and he showed us a guest book. He had become a skillful
artist in his ten years here, drawing and coloring the cars, bikes and
trucks of each visitor with intricate detail, and his drawings were wrapped
in borders and reliefs of orange, purple, yellow, gold.
looked for the last passage in his guest book. "You are the first people
who come this month," Coco said. When I opened my camera and began to
affix it to the tripod, he said, "Let me change my hat. I get my good
hat." And, "That camera is your papa's camera." "No, this is a new camera."
"That camera is one-hundred years old." Vance said, "How did you get here?"
"Ten years, 3 months, and 28 days. I was working in Ensenada" (he was
I lost my leg, no one want me anymore. So I come out here. That camera
is three hundred years old!" and he posed for a photo with a new hat that
said, 'Coco's Corner.'
He looked at the truck, kicked our tires and we began to deflate them. "Let
the air go for five seconds," he said. "Always take the side roads. To
the left, to the right. I built them. Much better than the main road."
Leaving the flats, Vance said, "Coco went from being a person of utter
insignificance. He was rejected by society.became a man of utmost importance."
turned out that the old man had been right, and we followed his words
to the tee. But as we circled up mountain-tops and into deep-sandy arroyos,
and through embattled lands of Gulliver's tales and C.S. Lewis; of odd
boojums and giant cardons, twisted lands and dry, dry heat, the roads
became worse and worse. Hurricane Nora had largely destroyed them in 1997,
and the truck banged, and Sonora flopped and crackled and beer
bottles broke, and eggs soiled the cooler.
land was to become more desolate; the sea would begin to appear more often;
but the only continuity was the display of rusted cars buried in sand,
or upside down, years old, everywhere. Hurricanes, drug deals, or a flat
tire. It was a mystery, but also symbolic of isolation, because a car
gone bad out here is not worth hauling back. I asked Vance if he had seen
any submarine movies. "Das Boots, why?"
"I feel like we're in a submarine
when they're being (depth-charged). It's just us in a little tin can,
and we're relying on that tin can to make it." I told Vance that 'We'll
get a hotel in Puertocitas. Showers!"
black rock and brown shores, scarcity and elevation took over, We spotted
a slender black bird floating around the vultures and hawks. "Albatross"
I said. "Cool," Vance said, "...he's just happy that he can soar with
the big birds." But I had been wrong; albatross are rarely this close
to shore - rather a frigate bird, which cannot hunt, cannot fish, cannot
dive for its own food, but has become an expert in stealing from the mouths
of vultures and other scavengers.
it is the vultures and hawks after which the name 'California' comes,
which roughly translates from Spanish mythologizing here in Baja, "Land
of Califa (Empress of the Amazon women) where giant coastal birds dwell."
road went paved eighty-seven miles later, at the base of Puertocitas.
I was hoping for signs of life. But what we found was empty houses, broken
windows, steel-wires banging against aluminum siding. Tropical colors
were painted on each house: West Indies green and Bahama blue, but it was
all flaking away. A small, shallow bay. A young girl jumping off the side
of an outboard.
PEMEX station was closed, the stores vacant. "Should we check it out?"
I said. "There's nothing here," Vance said. From Puertocitas, the road
was paved, but that didn't mean much. Vance accelerated to forty-five
miles per hour, and we hit a drainage dip. The truck flew, the wheels
left the ground, the kayak crashed, more water bottles broke, and we were
off to San Felipe.