Van Meets Van, Girl Meets Military – Mid Baja

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Van Morrison on the desert highway, Baja California, Mexico

AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN: Si No Te Vas – Chavela Vargas

As much as I love my freewheeling vagabond lifestyle, sometimes, just sometimes, nothing beats waking up in a massive, stationary bed, light flooding in from windows that don’t roll up or down, and taking a gloriously satisfying morning pee in a bathroom that doesn’t double as a storage closet or supply shed.

I took my time vacating my hotel hallucination, attempted another dip in the pool, then returned to the rose coloured restaurant and ordered a ninety peso chocolate caliente. After nearly fainting at the cost, I decided breakfast was overrated anyway. 

On my way out of itty-bitty Catavina, the only other building within a one hundred mile radius caught my attention – how could it not – from across the road. Coconuts.

Southern roadside hydration…

A small, sand coloured house waved, proudly, its national flag above a sign that read COCOS DEL RANCHO DE COLIMA. I parked Van Morrison and entered through a gate that also read WELCOME COCONUT. Above this gate was an arch with a smaller sign saying UN RINCONSITO EN CATAVINA B.C. DEL RANCHO DE COLIMA. It was like the Russian Dolls of advertising. 

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Coconut stand in Catavina, Baja California, Mexico

Once inside, the yard was filled with cow spotted tables and chairs, painted coconuts dangling decoratively from various places, and a large fishing net hanging like a canopy above – you guessed it – another COCOS COLIMA sign. 

A man in a black sweater and black baseball hat appeared from behind the house, machete in hand. 

“Hola!” His smile was wild across his face. “Coco?”

“Si, gracias!”

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Coconut man wielding his machete in Catavina, Baja California, Mexico

He grabbed from the pile of coconuts strewn across the ground, hacked the top of with a single whack of his machete, plopped a straw in the top and asked for one hundred and twenty pesos.

“What???”

His smile grew bigger. 

“I can buy a bottle of tequila for less than that!”

A gold tooth twinkled from between his lips. 

“Es muy rico, no?”

“Si. Now if only I could pay for gas.”

The Baja scenery is always shifting…

As I drove on, the scattering of small rocks across the bare lands of the desert began to accumulate and multiply in size. Suddenly boulders the size of garbage trucks were lining the highway and I half expected Fred Flintstone to race up next to me, his feet peddling a million miles a minute, dust blazing in his wake. 

With a few hours of void highway behind me and a few more devoured carcasses, I began to believe I might never see another living creature again. But as I followed the road around another compilation of prehistoric rocks, there on the side of the road was a campervan. A big campervan. A Dodge campervan. 

A chance encounter with a kindred spirit…

She was younger, with more bells and whistles. I felt Van Morrison’s engine hum a little harder as I pulled up beside her. Her sleek body was adorned in a fresh coat of paint, and her tires were firm and perky. Van’s temperature gauge flickered. He idled devoutly at her side. I quickly switch off the key for fear he might blow a gasket. 

Van Morrison’s new crush appeared to be empty. I left the enamored couple in an erotic cloud of lingering exhaust and made my way down a pebble lined path leading away from the road. The path split into several smaller ones, each leading to various desert plants and corresponding educational signs. But I wasn’t looking for a lesson in vegetation, I was looking for my future. 

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Rest stop heading towards the Baja California Sur border, Mexico

And just like that, there she was. Making her way from behind me, her khaki’d legs alternating graceful strides along the dusted, desert floor. Her hair was thin but long, it’s silver glistening in the heat. Her skin was dark but loose. She passed and looked toward me, her face doubling in size as she smiled.

I nodded pleasantly as the wind blew both our hair across our faces. Though I remained behind her, I watched her gaze set on Van Morrison and imagined a small giggle of recognition drift from her lips. 

She opened her door and looked back at me. Neither of us did a thing. But perhaps because she had looked back, and perhaps because I had never stopped looking, we saw in each other both the past and the future. And it was nice. 

Heartbreak on the highway…

Van Morrison didn’t speak to me much after that. 

“No one’s immune to heartbreak Morri.” I tried to console. “Not even middle aged holiday campers.” 

He wasn’t having it. Instead, every time we went over the tiniest, most insignificant of bumps, he would allow half of our belongings to go flying like torpedos from one end of him to the other. 

“Fine. Silent van.”

But unbeknownst to Van Morrison and his display of lovesick resentment, the landmine he set off would quite soon become something of a lifesaver. 

Military checkpoint 101…

Our first Mexican checkpoint. Three men in uniform, cradling intimidatingly large guns stood on either side of the road. My heart instantly leapt into my throat and I could feel it pounding in my ears. 

I’ll never know what it is about authority, but whether I’ve done something or not, more often having not, I will always instantaneously feel, look, and act guilty. Add firearms to the mix and I might as well just hand myself over. 

With the hand that wasn’t responsible for a loaded weapon, one of the soldiers waved me to proceed forward. A million do’s and dont’s started flooding my already light headed noggin. Don’t let them know you speak any Spanish. Play dumb. Only keep small change on you. Pay them whatever they want. 

“Hola.”

“Hola, como estas?” Dammit. I had already broken don’t number one. 

“De donde vienes?”

“No entiendo. No hablo Espanol.”

“No?” The soldier stepped closer toward Van Morrison and peered through the window. 

“No entiendo.”

“Tu hablas muy bien…”

“…No entiendo.” Well done, Chels. That oughta do it. Idiot. 

The second officer spoke up, “We need to look into your car.”

“Right.” 

When I opened my door, the officer closest to me did not move, forcing me to squirm my way, apologetically out of my own vehicle. As I escorted the uniformed gentlemen around to the side doors, I noticed that they couldn’t have been much older than myself, perhaps even younger.

I swung open Van’s doors and one entered; the one who had asked to see inside. He looked younger, gentler, almost green. I stood in the doorway as he opened the occasional drawer, knocked on a certain wall, read the spine of a seemingly interesting book. 

Reproductive organs to the rescue…

Though there was nothing to be discovered, had I been wearing boots, I’d have been trembling in them. Just when I thought I’d be able to take no more, the armed young man opened my bathroom door. Thanks to Van Morrison and his love lorned temper tantrum an entire stash of toiletries had toppled over itself and gone crashing to the floor. 

With the opening of the door, a single tampon rolled ever so slowly from the corner where it had landed, across the foot of bathroom floor, and stopped, resting ever so gently at the toe of the inspecting officer’s boot. 

We both stared at the rogue tampon. I looked up at him, his eyes still glued to the tip of his toe, his cheeks burning a scarlet red. With the care one might take in defusing a nuclear bomb or transferring the petri dish of a deadly virus, with thumb and forefinger, he picked up the feminine product, returned it carefully to its rightful stash, and headed for the exit. 

“You can go.”

And that, my friends, is how you get from Baja California to Baja California Sur. No problema. 

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