No Hay Gasolina
I have already described the events that unfolded allowing
me to decide that the Rocketman was a true friend. Incidentally,
I believe that at any one time a person has no more than
two or three true friends. This might be a good test to
determine the depth of friendship. Mentally pick one of
your friends. OK you picked Ralph, now would you sacrifice
72 consecutive hours of your personal time and a couple
of hundred dollars in direct expenses for Ralph? Oh, and
just one more small detail, you will be in lock step with
Ralph for the entire time. We are addressing friends here;
sleeping arrangements are separate.
Some years ago Dinah and I decided to attempt going to
San Everisto during the Christmas holidays. This is when
we had the smaller Gregor boat. On the first day of travel
we are approaching San Quintin when I encounter a large
stick in the road. I can't miss it and you get the thump,
bump but this stick is only about an inch in diameter.
Very soon I find that the stick has punctured the right
side trailer tire making a hole about an inch in diameter.
I change the tire and when back on the road I quickly
overtake a large flatbed truck loaded with stakes for
supporting tomatoes. Ah Ha! this is where the damn stick
came from as we pass I kindly advise them that I have
one of their sticks. This is an excellent area for growing
tomatoes, as well as the contiguous San Diego area before
houses were planted. Beyond El Rosario there is a long
stretch with no Pemex stations. We are forced to use some
of the premix boat gas for propelling the Dodge.
The first night is in Guerro Negro. It is difficult to
find something nice to say about this town. The gray whales
breed and calve near here but they don't come into town
to show off. The single largest supplier of salt is also
near here. That's nice. That is why the grays come here
to breed the large shallow north facing bays have a high
salt content providing more buoyancy. During the act of
breeding the female has her blow hole down. The female
has a three-month courtship by two males and the choice
is hers. Unlike humans, she is trying to choose the male
that will get off the quickest so that she can breathe
again. The other male provides support for the female
to help with any breathing opportunities after all she
will realize her mistake and two years from now he will
be on top. That is not my idea of a great sex life. Other
than that this town appears to be located on a mud flat
the weather is often overcast. There are many Ospreys
as every city light pole is built to accommodate a nest.
I have done my best but still arrive at the same conclusion
this town is just plain butt ugly.
The next morning I go out to get a new tire, gasoline
and oil for mixing in gasoline for a two-stroke engine.
Things don't get started early in Mexico. You must remember
this is different country not a remote state that speaks
a foreign language like for example New York. Well before
noon we are on our way. At Santa Rosalia there is a long
line at the gas station. The next town, Mulege is not
far so we go on through. As we approach Loretto I can
sense that we have underestimated the task at hand. I
quickly obtain Dinah's consent to scrap the original plan
and find something near here. This is a very beautiful
area in Baja.
We soon found some high rent districts and vetoed those.
It is not a matter of money we simply prefer other things.
We do continue south and somewhere in a flat area Dinah
spots a trail going toward the ocean. We turn around and
go back to it. Desert racing has provided me with some
insights on "reading" a trail. And there clearly
written in the sand both in Spanish and English "this
trail has not seen recent use".
Because of the boat I walk down the trail and within
100-yards I find where an arroyo has severed the road.
I look for alternatives and walk on. No other problems
and at the end there is enough room to turn the truck
and trailer around. There is a spectacular island in front
of us and behind us is an exceptionally colorful mountain.
I walk back to the truck. I tell Dinah that I think we
can build a road. Yes there are some vocal objections.
We have a shovel, a machete with overdrive, and a small
hand-axe, the axe and machete will be the more important
tools. My plan is to cross the arroyo where it is shallow
and clear a new road for thirty yards and rejoin the existing
trail beyond the deep cut. During this Dinah manages to
get stuck by a thorn tree. She now advises "do not
stand under the part of the thorn tree that you are removing”.
I would use that approach on any tree.
We make it to the beach and go out in the canoe. Many
sea turtles are scuttling across the bottom. The first
fish that I catch is a puffer and they are poisonous.
The next day we took the boat and fished some around the
island. Dinah caught a puffer, now we are even. I circled
the island and as I came around the south end I got very
excited. No more than a half mile away is a WWII submarine
sitting with the conning tower and deck just peeking out
of the water. It was not moving and as I got closer I
discovered why it was not moving. It is a rock. The boat
engine starts to miss on one of the two cylinders. Replacing
the spark plugs does not help. Losing half of the engine
reduces the boat speed by considerably more than one half.
The wind is coming up and we limp home. Dinah is certain
that I am lost. She did not realize that we had circled
That was the last time we got on the water. During our
stay a guy walking the beach came by and asks how we got
there? He went on to say no one has camped here for years.
I told him we had help from Scotty. We were to meet Rocketman
on a predetermined date at Mulege. After days of wind
we are anxious to move that made packing up easier to
handle. I had bought some packaged nylon straps before
the trip. These new bright blue beauties begin to give
up on the route north. I can assure you that will be my
very last purchase of that type of strap. As we approach
Mulege we meet a Ford Bronco which gets our attention.
It is the Rocketman but why is he driving that? (I am
being very nice because down deep I have permanent scars
inflicted by FoMoCo) He turns around and we find a place
I can’t recall how long we stayed in Mulege, it
felt like a very long time. It is time that I provide
you with an insight into my very warped and very rigid
personality. If you want me to try something or someplace
in hopes that I will like it, an off hand comment works.
If you tell me every one loves it, it is written up here
and there and you simply must go, I ain’t goin!
I made this choice before the age of 12. The subject “Gone
with the Wind”, I wish I had kept a record of how
many times some one said to me “you must see Gone
with the Wind”. My little 12-year old brain said
no as by that age I already knew that I didn’t care
for most things that thrilled the masses. The brain went
on to say I don’t want you ever watching that movie
or reading the book. I was taken hostage and forced to
watch “Singing in the Rain”. I grew up in
the only state in the union that was losing population
and wondered why I was so lucky?
Finally we are again northbound. Back in Santa Rosalia
and the gas line is unbelievable. We conference and Rocketman
has 15 gallons of gas in cans and there is at least 7-gallons
of boat gas. If there is no gas in San Ignacio we can
easily make Guerro Negro. Coming out of Santa Roasila
Rocketman falls way behind there is not much traffic and
I slow to a crawl – better for gas mileage anyway.
Finally here he comes. Much later I am given privileged
information, the vehicle overheated. Even later than much
later his teenage son takes this vehicle for a smog test.
Poor Greg calls his dad in tears "the Bronco caught
on fire during the test and the fire department came and
hosed it down". That constitutes a failure but even
though it was releasing toxic gas as it burned it was
not immediately classified as a gross polluter.
We roll into San Ignacio and the gas station does not
have gas. I am sure that we put some gas in my anti gas
economy van here. As we push on the Rocketman sees a Green
Angel. A Green Angel is a government sponsored entity
that patrols the highways in Mexico in search of stranded
vehicles. They carry some common parts for sale but beyond
that any assistance that they can give you is free. Rocketman
takes up hot pursuit of the GA when we link up again there
is bad news. Too many travelers, too much wind, the whole
of central Baja has very little gasoline. That wasn't
the correct story but the end result is the same. There
is a tanker off Santa Rosalia full of gas but it can't
dock if the swells are bigger than 18-inches. Rocketman
allows that one of the large farms might have gas. I doubt
it because all newer tractors of any size are diesel powered.
We go on, he tries a farm, no luck. I see a telephone
company truck and the conversation is slow but he knows
of no gas and paquito (very little) over a large area.
We cruise into Guerro Negro and just like two gringo idiots
go to the gas station. At that moment we could have gotten
into line at about number 15-20. I said that we had better
get motel rooms first. We get rooms and take out everything
that we need and err on the side of excess because it
is going to be a long walk between the vehicle parked
in the gas line and the motel. By the time we get back
to get in line it has increased down a full block and
halfway down the next. We were behind the telephone building
and we were in the mid-fifties away from a gas pump. Your
number in line soon becomes a status symbol and before
this is over the mid-fifties was a highly enviable position.
The fact that we had a motel room was even more highly
envied. Within an hour of our arrival there were no more
rooms. The line eventually grew to contain more than 300
Getting factual information was at first impossible,
we heard a lot of talk about maybe two hours, not today
maybe by noon tomorrow, and always ended with the tanker
can't get in to the dock today. Some how Santa Rosalia
gets a little gas one day and this brings another throng
adding to the length of the line. I don't know how some
made it with multiple people sleeping in a small car.
Since there was no traffic people camped in the middle
of the street. Where did they go for a bathroom? Does
that damn tanker try to unload at night? In Baja the wind
can make major changes at night, most of those changes
are not in your best interest. However, at times the wind
does settle at night. One thing that I have definitely
figured out; if it is dead calm at night and you detect
a significant increase in temperature you have about 10-minutes
to secure anything that will blow away. The wind was not
bad at Guerro Negro.
One afternoon we have margaritas at a famous ristaurante’.
The owner is in a very foul mood. We observe some construction
work that is going on outside. It does not take long to
see that a concrete block wall is being built across the
entire street frontage for the very place where we are
seated. There are two cars behind where the wall is being
constructed. Somebody comes and gets one car out but the
other is still there as the bottom row of blocks is completed.
The story goes that the owner of this establishment does
not own a strip of land between his ristaurante’
and the street. This property was offered for sale and
he has refused to buy it. This establishment also offers
whale-watching tours. A very personable chap named Mario
works for them in a guide capacity. Mario gives a personal
guarantee that if you come in early April and use him
as a guide you will touch a whale.
Almost directly across from the gas station Mario has
his residence and a small street stand. The next morning
Walt and I go down for coffee. The first cup was very
good and I buy another for dos hombres. Walt uses sugar
and I suppose because of the dampness salt is put into
sugar dispensers, salt is cheap here use a lot. Walt loads
his coffee with salt and when he takes the first sample,
well you can just imagine. I put together a concise Spanish
phrase that make Mario and his wife laugh “café
con sal”. Cabo is like America coffee refills are
no charged but it just ain’t so in central Baja.
I dig for more pesos so that Walt can have coffee that
he can drink.
Mario points out the man who owns this gas station so
Walt and I talk to him later in the day. We learn that
the entire midsection of Baja receives gas from mainland
via tanker. The port is Santa Rosalia. Northern Baja has
a refinery that services as far as Catavina. There is
a station about 20 miles out of town at Jesus Maria and
there is a rumor that they have gas. The station owner
informs us that his truck supplies that station and you
can rest assured of two things; he has no gas and the
station that you are in line for will be the first in
this area to get a supply of gas. I am the owner of the
truck and the driver is my employee. Later we are informed
that there will be no gas today.
Dianh says that when we first started to go to Mexico
my idea of speaking Spanish was to speak English louder.
I believed the joke about the similarity of Mexicans and
cue balls, the harder you hit them the more English you
get out of them. I wasn’t very good at pool either.
When I am not under pressure I enjoy trying to have a
limited conversation. I can sometimes string three or
four words together that actually make sense. I have coined
a phrase that is often heard in reverse but my rendering
is “I am an American Mexican”. When I go to
places where the Green Angels fear to tread and rescue
direct descendents of Papa Fernadez I feel that I have
earned that right.
There are more situations than you can imagine all trapped
here with no gasoline. People with rental cars that are
overdue. People that have plane reservations for an early
flight from San Diego tomorrow. I wouldn’t get my
hopes up if I were you. I am sure that I would not have
handled it this well before I became an American Mexican.
There were Canadians that were scheduled to work New Years
Eve in Cabo? There were people who had enough gas to drive
all the way to San Diego they stayed just for the party.
People got to know each other, I heard people say we should
do this in America because people actually get to know
each other. I don’t think that would work.
One retired military fellow from Texas in a motor home
told us I have enough gas to get to Cabo or San Diego
but I am enjoying this. He spent months at a time away
from Texas. He spent about 3-months every winter camping
on the beach at Camp Pendelton. I think something close
to Brownsville, Texas would be better.
Sometime that day we are back at the wall building site.
The car that was being confined was a Volkswagen. Some
sharp dirt ramps are built and the car can’t make
it both sets of wheels are off the ground on the first
attempt to escape. Manpower is applied to assist the car
in gaining access to the street. There is not much mechanical
stuff going on under a VW at that point, no driveshaft
Walt and I walked many miles each day talking with all
types of people. The most pathetic was a guy from Oregon
with a very nice large aluminum boat that we stopped to
admire. These boats are made for the rough oceans likely
to be found in the northwest. He had never been to Baja
and was trying to make a quick trip to get in just a couple
of days of fishing. He and his girlfriend had started
arguing during the trip down. Now she has taken up with
some sleazy dude that is also detained by this mess with
no gasoline. He is not going to get in any fishing, he
is not going to smell of fish for other reasons and is
faced with a very long trip home feeling obligated to
haul her sorry ass back to Oregon.
A group of Canadians and one chunky American woman who
worked in Tijuana have bought a good-sized stack of firewood.
They have a guitar player and they invite us to come around
after dark. They are parked near our trucks but the line
is looped around blocks putting them at least 100 behind
us. I remember making several trips to my van that night
to replenish my scotch. Just as the water in the salt
ponds it was evaporating. At some point we all came to
agree that "gasoline is a very powerful drug as soon
as you get a full tank and get back on the highway you
begin planning how long or how far until my next fix".
The American woman worked in packaging materials and was
desperately trying to sell me material. I finally convinced
her that what I did in packaging has nothing to do with
cardboard. Someone ask her did she feel safe living in
Mexico? Her answer was absolutely. In a one on one match
I have would put money on her against anything but an
experienced Sumo wrestler.
The next day people are beginning to get desperate.
From within the group of Canadans 10 gallons of gasoline
was sold to another Canadian for $100, two people each
contributed 5-gallons. The buyer worked in Cabo and was
driving a '59 Thunderbird his parting shot was "I
had better never see any of you assholes in Cabo".
We spoke with another fellow who had almost enough gas
to reach El Rosario he had airline reservations for the
next day and the rental car that was due to be returned.
I had a couple of gallons left in one of the boat tanks
and I gave this to him. This was more than enough to assure
his arrival and I don't think he took all of it. He was
very grateful, I believe that he had a wife and child
Late today we speak with the station owner. The tanker
is docked his truck should be loaded and with many thousands
of liters and back here by 8:00PM. I have scheduled a
station attendant for every pump. We will fill your car
and any containers that you want filled. There will be
plenty of gasolina. In order to serve people as quickly
as possible we will not be checking oil or providing other
services. During all of this I was impressed by the order
that was self-maintained within a large group of people
vying for gasoline. The policia were not highly visible
and there was little in the way of people trying to circumvent
the line. We convey this information to our now friends
from Canada and the big American woman. The American woman
was says "Bullshit I have been in this line for two
days and when I get to the pump I want all of my sticks
dipped". I guarantee you those are her words verbatim.
The truck was well over two hours later than expected.
There certainly wasn't any traffic on the road to cause
a problem. Before the truck can be seen a man is running
down the street yelling gasolina, gasolina at the top
of his lungs. Walt mumbles something about the anti-climatic
Mexicans. A very beautiful tanker truck pulls in and what
unfolds is wholly not to be believed. But first I want
to say that this station is putting in new underground
tanks and they are manufactured in Escondido, Ca. As has
been previously said one man owns the station, the truck,
the truck driver, the pumps, and the storage tanks. There
are four hoses on the truck and not one fits. Visions
of the three stooges and monkeys with footballs play in
my head as no single hose fits the truck and the tank
hoses in varying combinations are tried. Yes, these are
the old tanks they have been here many years. It takes
a minimum of 45 minutes to find a hose that fits the truck
and the tank inlet. And now they completely empty the
truck and move it before the first liter of gasoline is
dispensed. We are working on midnight now and a full staff
comes marching from inside the station.
It takes me about an hour to reach the island and another
twenty minutes there because I was directed to follow
a truck that had a myriad of tanks on the bed. He must
have bought a thousand gallons. I know that one tank was
in the 4-500 gallon range. He had a roll of pesos that
were difficult to hold. After paying for the gas they
were much easier to manage.
Walt was going to leave very early after a couple of
hours of sleep. He bumped into the dip stick lady on his
way home, kind of strange don't you think? I would leave
later but not a lot later. When we are loaded and ready
to get the boat, I discover that I don't have reverse.
There is a hole in the transmission case. I have to put
about 4 quarts of transmission fluid in on the way home
and make certain to avoid any maneuver that requires reverse.
Coming out of El Rosario we get behind a military vehicle.
In the back two enlisted men have their hands full with
about a three hundred-pound hog. This hog is terrified
and is struggling to escape. The hog has a very good reason
to be terrified as we approach the check and their camp
I can the see smoke from the fire that is boiling the
water to be used in the hair removal process. I am sure
that the hog will be found guilty of something and duly
executed. If the adrenaline level at the time of death
has an unwanted affect on the taste of the meat that was
going to be some rank tasting pork.
For the entire time that we were in Guerro Negro the
Rocketman had ample gasoline to get to San Quintin. Now
that's a friend.