June 12, 2009

The road to hell is paved with good intentions, Part 1

One of the evil fates that befell us earlier this year occurred on our drive south from San Diego to Santa Rosalia with my friend the Brainy Blonde. At the time we were sightseeing our way down Baja, just past Cataviña. The Blonde was in the car perusing the map when she came across a place called Coco’s Corner, a pit stop for Baja 1000 revelers. With a name like this she said, this is a must see place. So off we turned from the paved safety of Mexico Transpeninsular Highway 1 onto the Chapala-San Felipe dirt road in search of Coco’s Corner. On the map it appeared to be only 16 or so klicks down the road, but what a road! Esperando was equal to the adventure; for some time now he had been curious about this road as a possible truck route for bringing goods from up north down to the mine, but no one from the mine had really driven it yet to see what was there.

Somehow when the Blonde and Esperando get the bit in their teeth about these road things, I always end up in the thick of it. When we lived in southern Peru and she visited, they decided we needed to go to the little village Pucara, a ceramic center out in the middle of nowhere, to buy a certain kind of clay bull that adorns local roofs. The thinking was that we could buy one for cheaper than they sell for in Cuzco. We took a bus from Juliaca, packed like sardines as the bus floundered and skittered across a plain that was about 3 feet deep in mud from recent rains. The passengers audibly moaned at each turn as the bus wallowed and lurched along almost spilling onto its side with all of us in it. We passed 18-wheelers buried up to their axles, beached like whales. If ever a pilot deserved applause for getting his passengers to safety that bus driver was the man! We finally did make it to Pucara without mishap, but never found a bull--they sent them all to Cuzco. These are the kind of irresponsible people I profess to be attracted to—the kind without a lick of common sense (sadly, I have enough common sense to make up for them both.)

But back to Baja. We were initially lulled into a false sense of security, after all this was a known road. Initially although rocky, it was level and rather wide as we took off from the highway. Three miles in it narrowed some, then we went over a rise and the rocks became more pointy, the road more hilly and we started to see dead tires mixed in with the cactus, actually lots of dead tires. This is a road that eats tires, I said (but they ignored me). On we went, up hills, around curves, and down gullies—no other cars in sight. Esperando pulled over in the next flat place to fulfill a biological urge and that’s when he noticed our tire was flat. We were now about 15 klicks off the highway, essentially out in the middle of nowhere. Esperando sent the Blonde and me off in search of big flat rocks to stabilize the vehicle while he dug the jack out from under the seat. At just about that point from out of nowhere, the only other car that would probably appear for the next three days showed up with a couple of nice looking strong young men who stopped to ask if he needed help. I was so happy—ah no, says Esperando with macho finesse, I think we have everything under control. So off they drove leaving us in a cloud of dust while my jaw dropped wide enough for any fly.

Esperando laid on his side in the dirt and started jacking the truck up; and every twist of the cheesy bottle jack sliced his forearm open so he was bleeding freely all over his clothes and the ground. I was still looking for better rocks when The Blonde came to find me to tell me he needed medical attention. Once he had the truck jacked up and started trying to remove the tire it wouldn’t budge, but the truck fell off the jack with his exertions. He re-jacked the vehicle up while I held my breath and wondered how many days the water would hold out. The minutes stretched into an hour, then more, as Esperando and the tire slow danced beside the jack, and finally the tire released its hold on the lugs. Yeah! We were in business again! We wouldn’t collectively become ghosts wandering the desert like La Llorona leaving a pile of bleached skeletons to decorate the local cactus/tire garden after all!

They say God looks after fools and little children. Instead of turning back to the highway, two of our party voted to continue the quest for Coco’s Corner (as you might guess, the abstaining one is she with the extra measure of common sense.) Over each subsequent hill and across every rise the view was the same, more desert and no Coco's Corner. Finally Esperando decided that with no spare it was truly time to turn back.

We spent the night in Guerrero Negro. The Malarrimo Restaurant where we ate is a favorite haunt of the Baja 1000 crowd with a collection of autographed hot-shit wine bottles from famous wineries and drivers, and decal stickers the driving crowd has plastered all over the restaurant's windows and walls—including one that says, ‘Coco’s Corner!’ The next morning when Esperando found a llanteria (tire store) it turned out the tire was toast, it had a 4-inch slit in it.

Join me here in October as we drive this road again, this time all the way to San Felipe. Then we will be properly prepared with a hi-lift jack, at least 3 spare tires, and lots of water—and if we find Coco’s Corner I will send The Blonde a photo!

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