Girl Meets Salvador – Cave Paintings Part 1

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Mulege, Baja California Sur, Mexico

IMPULSIVE EXPLORATION: Y Tu Que Has Hecho – Buena Vista Social Club (album)

Never fish drunk. Correction: Never fish drunk off tequila. There is a fine and rather specific line that defines your capabilities when your casting is fueled by a few beers than when you’ve drown yourself in several margaritas, suddenly thinking rods are overrated when you could just as easily catch the fish with your bare hands.

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Fishing on the Mulege River, Baja California Sur, Mexico

I didn’t manage to reach the point where this was a voluntary decision. After two casts I had somehow turned my entire line into a bird’s nest of an unsalvageable degree. 

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Carlos’ Racing Bar, my favourite bar in Mulege, Baja California Sur, Mexico

I blame Carlos. For it was Carlos’ bar, The Racing Bar to be exact, where I was poured the most generous of margaritas under a cozy awning overlooking the Mulege River. What possessed me then, to fish immediately following, one will never know. Needless to say, I was unsuccessful. 

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Looking out on the Mulege River, Mulege, Baja California Sur

How to book an adventure tour in Mexico…

Though nothing that a sobering jaunt wouldn’t cure, I made my way up and then down the winding, scening road laced with palm trees and humble houses toward the tienda to source myself some late afternoon comida. 

When I left, a navy blue commuter van was parked in front of the entrance, the driver convivially conversing with the shopkeeper. The driver clocked my exit and immediately made his way toward me. 

“Hola bonita! Good afternoon!” He was an older man, a short man, with short graying hair and a small dark mustache. And I was a little white girl, radiating with apparent desire for a guided Baja adventure! 

“Hola Senor. Buen dia.”

“Hablas Espanol??” He beamed. 

“No, solo muy poco.”

“You speak good! Do you want to see the cave paintings? Best in Mexico!” He handed me his card which immediately deemed him legitimate. I looked to the shopkeeper for confirmation. His hardened face remained unmoved but seemed promising. 

“Tal vez. Cuanto cuesta?”

“A hundred dollars. US. But for you, don’t worry.” 

Don’t worry? When it came to strange men and free things there was always means to worry. Not to say I ever denied their offers. 

“Why not. Let’s do it. Cuando?”

“Perfecto! Tomorrow. In the morning. I will pick you up early, before the others.”

The fact that there were others was nearly as assuring as his official business card: Salvador. Tour guide extraordinaire! I told him which campsite I was parked at and reminded myself to pray especially hard that evening to my guiding St Paul in the hopes of avoiding decapitation amongst the oldest cave paintings in Latin American history. 

Cave paintings and beyond…

The next morning, eight am sharp, Salvador and his rusted navy chariot were awaiting their sleepy gringa princess. As we drove towards our fellow excursionists, I asked in as much Spanish as I could muster all about Salvador. Salvador was divorced, a fresh wound it seemed. He had two children around my age, a daughter and a son. He seemed sweet, and gentle, but lonely. 

We picked up two couples from two different hotels. One was a couple of lady friends celebrating a birthday. The other was married. They were both old. But they had booked this tour in advance and knew exactly what they were in for. I hadn’t a clue. 

We stopped in town at what looked like the ruins of a deserted building and yet it less than surprisingly held the tourism office where we had to show our ID’s and pay for a pass to be allowed entry into the protected caves. The couples paid their twenty American dollars. I did not. 

And then we were off! Trailing through the rocky roads of the Mexican countryside, talking small and sweating big. Salvador dabbled in brief Mulege history as he seamlessly maneuvered his cargo, informing us that the land was originally a prison where delinquents were sent to live out their sentences in exile.

It was self contained, and if a prisoner tried to escape they would be hunted down by fellow prisoners and returned. After time, it seemed the prisoners grew quite fond of their confinement, for when they were free to go, they chose to stay. And therein was the birth of this little known oasis. 

A tiny village outside just outside of Mulege was the next catalyst for Salvador’s exceptional trivia. This village was founded by a small family some hundreds of years ago, and to this day, that same family and only that family inhabits it.

Remaining mostly self sufficient and separate from their neighbouring town, each week, just as they always have, the village brings in a priest to hold mass in the middle of the square where all the family members gather together. What a lovely thought. Lovely, and yet unignorably incestuous?

Fruit farms and new friends…

Our first stop in this full day of activities was an orange farm. As Salvador slowed his four wheeled beast he whispered to me that we will stop here but I need not buy anything. He will buy enough for us both. Tables were lined up beneath a large awning next to a small house, boxes of various kinds of oranges spread across. We sampled each and were given the chance to buy. 

While the couples contemplated how much of each they were willing to purchase at a ridiculously low cost, I found myself wandering back behind the house to explore the endless fields of orange trees. Having worked on an orchard for a few good years, I had a feeling this stop would be the highlight of my day. The trees were beautiful, the oranges the size of my head, the smell incomparable. 

“Hola senorita!”

I nearly jumped out of my own flesh. Behind me, and from behind an old truck came the voice of a man I could not see. First came a dog, bounding at me with sheer delight, his tail wagging, his tongue waving in the wind. Then a man, slight and dark, carrying a box nearly the size of him overflowing with oranges. 

“Is this your farm?” I asked as he placed the box inside the bed of the truck. 

“Lo siento. No hablo Ingles.” We continued in Spanish the best I could. He didn’t own the farm but only worked there. I explained we were the same as I also worked on an orchard in Canada. He smiled and told me to pick from the box, his gift from one farmer to another. 

I returned to the van, my arms spilling with luscious fruit. Salvador at first looked alarmed, and then impressed. 

“You make friends fast.” He chuckled. 

“I suppose I do.”

“Come now. We must move on.”

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The “large” cactus tree outside of Mulege, Baja California Sur, Mexico

Subjective sight seeing…

The next stop was a large cactus tree. The largest in the area, so said our guide. As we slowed to our destination, a jeep came to head with our van, blocking the road. The driver got out of the jeep, Salvador got out of the van. They were looking for the caves and they were lost.

Salvador explained that without a guide they could not enter, but for a price he would let them join us after we had seen the cactus. They agreed. We were now a group of ten: another couple, still old but not as old as our majority, and two younger men; one with a camera, and one with an attitude. 

We were left to roam the area as we pleased, wandering through various brush specific to the region. If you were close enough to Salvador, you could hear him rant about the healing effects of this plant and that, and how you could survive forever in the wild with the proper knowledge and wits. 

We were all in search of this impressively scaled cactus; we were all at a lost. Each one was hardly bigger than the last, none at a height worth mentioning. Until finally we heard the whistle of our leader and were gathered around the infamous cactus. 

“Really? This is it?” The man with the attitude said what all of us were thinking. Later in my travels, in a small village called La Ventana I would stumble across a cactus ten times this size and marvel exactly how Salvador had hoped we all would marvel now. This was not a big cactus. 

I suddenly wondered whether these notorious cave paintings would be anything more than an old hippie’s attempt at tic tac toe on a random boulder next to a Pemex if this was a sight considered worth stopping for. 

But our lack of fascination hardly faltered Salvador’s confidence. He knew something we didn’t. And the caves were waiting… 

Click here to read more of my adventures at The Wanderess: Baja Bound by Campervan