San Felipe, Baja, Mexico

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 the island.

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 to stop.

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 vehicles.

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 to bend.

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 with him.

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.

by Ray Alexander
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