Killer Bees

San Felipe, Baja, Mexico


The Bee Movie Ed Wood Never Made

Off-roading in the San Felipe area, even in one of its milder and restful forms, can apparently court unexpected results, entirely independent of the usual potential pitfalls such as flat tires, mechanical breakdowns, running out of gas or water, getting bogged in sand, puncturing the oil pan, rolling, getting lost, bandito or puma attacks, accidentally interrupting a majauana harvest, getting devoured by fire ants (which usually follows the previous pitfall) or even being abducted by UFOs. Sometimes something will happen which is not in any of the books. Sometimes it's better not to be too curious about what lies out there. It may not always be the TRUTH. It usually isn't.

One of the milder and restful forms of off-roading takes the shape of a day-trip into the desert with a pleasant young lady, picnic basket swollen with victuals and refreshments, digital camera inspired by new Duracells to macro into the smiling new blooms that have been startled into the air by last week's sudden rainfall. Then a leisurely ramble over to the ancient shell beds for a little fossil hunting. Nothing in the waypoints to traumatize the neck or lower back. No unknowns to worry about. At least that was the theory, anyway.

The young woman (let's call her SC) was a retired doctor (young and retired are not oxymorons anymore) with no off-road experience. So the trip was planned to ease her into the rewards of not doing what Rober Frost confessed in one of his poems, which is to take the less traveled of two roads. I was going to show SC the merits of ignoring all roads and blazing a new one.

The day of the trip was much like 322 other days that year - warm and sunny. I picked up SC beside her house in El Dorado and stowed her gear in the back of the Suzuki Samurai. We followed Saltido Road to the foothills and turned south at the Arc del Triumf. Both of us kept alert for a place to safely ease into the desert. After a few miles we found it and the Suzuki dropped off the road into the spikey, hard vegetation of true desert flora. Lightly imprinted tracks ahead told us we were not the first to choose this passage through the undergrowth. We followed the trail until a clearing, hugged by screens of ocotillos and mesquite, invited us to stop and spread a blanket.

For the next hour or so our cameras snapped like chiropractors as we explored the carpets of blooms and buds that hung from hooks all around us. Then we retired to our blanket and excavated the picnic basket.

After lunch the Suzuki nosed through the brambles until it found the south road and we made our way to the shell beds where we found the calcite and calcium signitures of various extinct mollusks engraved in rocks that were once part of an ancient sea bed. As we deployed ourselves in Deerstalker fashion, bodies cantilevered to bring our faces closer to the ground, I chanced to glance up and noticed a fissure in the face of a stone and earth parapet that rose out of the desert a little to the west of us. Desiring a closer look, I surveyed the intervening terrain and decided to use the Suzuki to find a passable route. When I was satisfied the way was navigable, I returned for SC and we negotiated a lockpick course through the heaving stones and shellburst vegetation to a place near the bluff.

The scarp was steep and deeply ridged at intervals, which allowed for relatively safe climbing. I carried my camera up to the fissure, which was unsually black around its edges. The desert was quiet as a domino. I looked back and saw the Suzuki on a flat between two rumpled tan blankets of earth, which was as close as I could get. I took a photo then turned to face the crevice, the viewfinder still screwed to my eye. That was when THEY came out.

Most attacks are prefaced by a tactical reconnaisance phase, when a few scouts sally out to survey the enemy and collect information about their location, intentions, strengths and weaknesses. Of course with a caucus of killer bees, mostly Republican by nature, there is a certain element of psychosis that preempts the natural order of things and their actions are likely to be somewhat rowdy, if not downright Kamikaze. The instant my camera uttered its faux shutter click the fissure coughed out a sideways hailstorm of insects that swarmed me like high school kids on a pizza.

My first thought, for some strange reason, was to protect the camera. My second thought, a nano second later, was " hell with the camera!"

Beating myself like a piñata, I decided I needed to be somewhere else, preferably three or four latitudes north. I ran down the steep embankment while at the same time, using only my arms as semophores, I managed to deliver the first three acts of Shakespeare's Macbeth --in a foreign language.

SC gave me a quizzical look as I flashed by her. Then she suddenly began semophoring the fourth act and joined me, which may not have been the best strategy as I was trying to draw the bees away from her.

Two bees or not two bees?

Two bees. That was how many managed to puncture my body with their primitive syringes before I reached the Suzuki (god knows why I ran that way; the vehicle didn't have a top). SC arrived unscathed, thankfully, although one of the impertinent assassins tried to fly up her nose. The bees, which at first seemed resolved to popparatzi me to the ends of the earth, finally lost interest and flew away. Presumably they retired to some kind of bee lodge to joke about the incident over a few thimbles of mead. SC was still frantically plucking her head like an unsprung harp, trying to flush out any stragglers. I calmed her down and searched her hair carefully. She, in return, pulled the stingers from my arms. We were two mountain gorillas preening each other after an afternoon of high antics.

We quickly voted to keep moving and decided to return home by way of the dry lake bed. It was soothingly bleak with miles of bloomless sand that promised to remain a safe haven for the rest of the day. And it took a little of the sting out of our shameful retreat.