San Felipe, Baja, Mexico
Don’t Whine It’s Wine

This mis-adventure occurred in Baja at the time the road from Puertocitos to Gonzaga Bay was being improved. The time is before the Internet or direct TV with multiple channels that are devoted to weather 24 hours a day. Today, if you don’t like what one channel says’ about the weather in Rice, California, which incidentally, has a population of zero go to a different channel, you may like their weather better. The local TV channels were positive that Baja didn’t have weather as their coverage clearly stopped at the border. No cell phones so plans couldn’t be altered minute to minute, I suspect we now have cell phonies who plan constantly and never really do anything. Our planning consisted of picking a date, a menu and allocating items for individuals to bring to this all male fishing event.

The date came around on the calendar I pack my camping and fishing essentials in the van. I then double check to assure that I have toilet tissue and all of the items that I have been assigned to bring. The sharing originally began with large items such as stoves and was done primarily to conserve packing space. Later the practice was extended to consumables, after all why should 4 people bring butter. Larry Sidders is a master at doing these assignments; it is done on a sheer numbers basis. Sixteen items on the shared list, four people going, the four-function calculator indicates four items each. He then started writing initials beside items some way he always ended up bringing the lump of coal and someone else brings the kilo of gold (the metal). After packing and checking it is very likely that I went into Escondido to pick up some one else. I don’t remember any concerns about the weather as we left. I have left here many times in the rain and usually drive out of it as I cross the first mountain range well before getting into Mexico.

When we get to Puertocitos we are surprised that the road is not where we left it the last time we came down. We had observed newly set survey stakes months ago. If you work for the SCT (highway department) in Baja it is more about staying busy than making real progress. So all the survey stakes meant to me was; an idle survey crew was dispatched to survey for a new road through about 10-miles of really nasty mountains.

Incidentally, this 10-miles of road is semi-famous, as drivers of yore encountered one after the other of “The Three Terrible Sisters”. At the bottom of two of the sisters’ there is an automotive graveyard for the unprepared conveyance. Both the Rocketman and I wish these cars could talk. When I go there on my motorcycle and no one else is around I talk to the 1963 Volvo I know it is a ’63 because about the only thing left on the body is the factory ID tag. I say what are you doing here, was you owner on drugs, a Volvo ain’t no kind of goddamn Baja car. On the other hand a 1954 Chevrolet 4 door sedan totally belongs here. You ask why, well because Papa Fernandez became a legend for driving from Gonzaga Bay to San Felipe in a ’50 Chevy sedan with no trunk lid. He was going to get supplies for his store. On the return trip he had a 55-gallon barrel of gasoline in the trunk and groceries everywhere else. Papa Fernandez has managed to produce offspring that are not near as tough as he was. One day while the wind was blowing about 800-miles an hour, Jim Stone and I decide to drive to Gonzaga Bay just for fun. We come upon a light green Ford truck with a flat tire and it is loaded with cement. There appears to be no one around but then a head pops up inside the cab. It is one of Papa Fernandez’s sons and his lug nuts have been put on with an air impact wrench if my interpretation of his antics is correct. We get out my breaker bar and a socket knowing that we would need a “cheater”. We can’t find anything we try in vain using the breaker bar alone. In a more thorough search I look at the end of my bumper jack. That looks to be big enough to go over the end of the breaker bar. It does and now we have a 3-foot extension, each lug nut comes loose with a resounding crack. Now we find that his load of cement is too heavy for his jack, we unload the cement, change his tire, reload the cement, wipe his ass and get him on his way. On one of my trips within the last six months some motorcyclists have ask where are the terrible three sisters. I replied “boys you’re about 15-years too late”.

In the correct frame of mind and with something to ride I could take you to two of them. You would swear that we went over all three but that is just not true.

Not only is the survey crew busy but, somewhere another small industry is busy making stakes. The stakes are made from local ocotillo, as Baja does not have a timber industry, the spines are trimmed off then the slender limb is split so that it can be written on. We have also seen ocotillo being used as a wedge to bust up asphalt. The ocotillo is sharpened to a point and driven into thick asphalt using a sledgehammer. This is not one but at least 30 sets of these tools in use simultaneously. This work is being done within the city of Mexacali, a city of heavy industry indicating that other tools were available and close at hand.

In those days we camped about a mile south of Puertocitos and it took a full thirty minutes to travel that mile. Civil Engineering was part of every trip. The new road makes the trip about five minutes, but when we arrive at the place where we camp the new road has cutoff the access to the old campsite. This is cause for cussing, discussing, a couple of Corona Cerveza de Barrils, and more Civil Engineering. We have decided to camp on a high spot in a dry wash where the water has gone on either side. Our campsite later becomes an island. One more beer and we construct an off ramp, which enables us to get to this lovely place. We did an excellent job because both the ramp and the campsite are still used today.

Directly to the west is a large mountain and unless weather is coming straight up the gulf your weather horizon is very short or in other words by the time you can see approaching rain, you're wet. By now it is looking like it just might rain. I have always had a tarpaulin that attaches to the passenger side of my van. My brother improved my status by giving me a trucker’s tarpaulin that covers half of Baja and we wisely erect this structure. Usually we don’t stress the gray matter that much on these trips, normally it would be wine, cooking and we can take care of taking care en la manana. There is an easy way to identify a trucker’s tarp on the highway if it has torn out three eyelets and is flapping in the breeze, it ain’t one.

During the night it starts to rain a slow cold winter rain. We have people that are sleeping outside on cots. In near coincidence with the arrival of the rain, outside I hear more cussing and scurrying around, no concern of mine, inside the van I am warm and dry. This rain is steady but not hard. As the van window begins to show a lighter shade of gray I am ready to get up. I discover that during the night there has been so much crap drug up under the tarp that I can’t get out the side door or the passenger’s door. My only exit available is the driver’s door.

The trip from Escondido is divided into two 4 plus hour segments. The first 225 miles to San Felipe and the 65 miles below San Felipe each segment taking about the same amount of time. On the return to San Felipe some people consider the trip complete upon reaching San Felipe. Yes, it really was that bad. In huge letters on the side of a hill some gringo had written in whitewashed rocks “cheer up half way”. The point is nobody wants to immediately turn around and go back.

We clear some space under the tarp to make coffee and breakfast. More coffee, it is soon evident that the rain is not going to allow fishing today. It is cold so we use my Weber as a heating stove. The Weber is just inside the drip line allowing the smoke to escape the tarp. We switch to wine and start to fabricate tales of past deeds, mountains climbed, races run and river swum. Already my wine is getting dangerously low. Telling all of these lies makes your tongue dry and for that, more wine is required. Jim Stone’s wine reserve is in the same condition. Back then we didn’t have the Rocketman but we did have Walt Moeller. As Jim and I lament over our supply of vino Walt assures us that he has plenty. Now Jim and I select our wines from the bottom shelf, the one where all the bottles are volume efficient and have screw on caps of the cheapest possible construction. On the other hand Walt selects wines that are displayed at eye level and the bottles are sealed with real cork. All the more reason for Jim and I to wade through this cheap shit. This excessive consumption of liquid could normally be detected by a large number of wee wet spots not today there is only one wet spot, everywhere.

The human behaviorists have noted that in a group like this there is a recurring period of silence and it recurs with precise timing. This piece of information probably only cost the taxpayers 10 million dollars in research grants. What I have observed is that one deed brings forth a similar deed from someone else. As time goes by these deeds come from deeper and darker crevasses. By the third day you know who has parallel experiences and where they lie, be it work, women, wine or whatever.

The next day is much like the previous day except now we have some wind as well. A short walking exploration of the new road finds the surface very slick, new clay where old rocks had previously been. Of course what prompted the walk was some concern about getting out of here. We are using way more brainpower than usual. Closer to town the road has been cut into the side of the mountain and sliding off would not be a pretty picture.

If yesterday was the preliminary, today is the main event. Walt makes repeated trips to his van each time returning with a fresh 1.5 liter bottle of rosé wine. Today it rained hard for a period of time and some water is running on both sides of us. By nightfall it is taking Walt more time to locate the next bottle. Jim and I suggest that we will curtail our consumption as it appears that Walt is running low. The gauntlet was cast directly at our feet Walt said “you can not run me out of wine”. Jim and I relax, we were worried.

The next day we get in some fishing. It wasn’t memorable. That night Walt is on a mission to get more wine. For those who have not been exposed to the full size classic van each cargo door can store about 150 pounds of small items, 220 pounds if a woman packs it but then a male can’t find a damn thing. Walt is looking inside the doors, under seats, in boxes, and under all loose objects. Jim and I quietly say I think we did it. Walt returns with a box? He starts to open the box and out comes a rubber tube like a 5-gallon milk container has. He whacks off a portion of the tube and out comes wine. I leap to my feet, or at least I think I did, and launch into protest. It lasts about 25-minutes and specifically included an acknowledgement that my wine comes from the bottom shelf but I have never seen wine in a box and I’m not drinking it, where in the hell do you get this stuff, in Watts with food stamps?

Walt says relax this is the same wine that you have been drinking for two days I just got tired of filling the bottles. So all the time you have been sneaking over behind your van and refilling the fine wine bottles from a $#&*% cardboard box? Walt replies "Ray that puts you right up there with a rocket scientist in my book". Well, I am still alive and I can still see, might as well drink some more wine. That night it started raining again. The next morning we pack up all of our wet gear and head home. The first hill is a challenge. When we get to where the new road is elevated by cutting into the side of a mountain it really gets exciting. I was making steering wheel corrections faster than an octopus can pick lettuce.

I began to have a sincere dislike for TV news in 1963, hold that thought. The road from San Felipe to Puertocitos has been paved but it still takes well over an hour for the trip. Where the new road provides easy beach access there are gringo houses wall to wall with 95% of them being built after the new road was complete. Traffic has increased a thousand percent but you no longer need to pack with easy access to your shovel in mind. However, over the past two years the Mexican government has shot both feet completely full of holes. And if it didn't already hurt enough American TV news has not let any of these go unpunished. After 911 the border crossing lines from Tiajuana are multiple hours, great fodder for TV news. Our longest wait at the border since Sept. 11 has been 6 minutes. TV news, the last thing you should do is believe it.

For our Christmas dinner in ’01 the Rocketman provided a 1.5 liter bottle of rosé wine. Before the meal was served Dinah was reading the label. I looked at the Rocketman and smiled. How does he keep the labels looking so good? This year the wine came out of something that looked like the udder off of some kind of electric cow gone bad an ugly metalized bag with one teat.

We also had two bottles of Fukarwi wine on this trip. Another item that didn't make it into the Christmas saga, while in Agua Verde we lit the campfire once and was able to restart it from embers for the next three days.

Ray Alexander
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