12/18 – 12/23
"What is time?"
"I don't know Alex."
"Well it ends when you die."
"Have you thought much about it? About time?"
"Honestly Alex, it’s a bit early for metaphysics, don't you think?"
Stay in a few hostels in Latin America, and you will meet a guy like Alex. Always smoking, always talking… always with that "I'm on heroin" sort of twinkle in his eyes.
"Hey," a man whisper yells from a cracked open door, "people are sleeping."
"Oh my gosh oh my gosh, I'm so sorry." The door slams shut. "I feel so bad. I’m so sorry."
"It’s ok Al, maybe you should do a silent meditation."
"I just feel terrible, it's bad karma."
“It’s probably just cotton mouth. Have a glass of water and keep your lips closed for a bit and you’ll feel better.”
He kept talking. I did my best not to respond.
"I was married to a Brit once. So I know what that is about."
It was six in the morning and we were trying to be out relatively early to make it to the docks for The Net. All I wanted to do was make a burrito and enjoy it surrounded by what, other than Alex, was a peaceful morning.
“Hey do you like your president?” Alex was Canadian, “I don’t.”
“Have you ever considered the fact that we are only using ten percent of our brains and that if we used it all we could probably levitate or that there is another layer of reality that is imperceptible to our senses? I have.” Alex represents the downside of communal kitchens. When we left he was doing a handstand in his underwear and chanting something about Nikola Tesla and that the numerological reductions of three six and nine reveal the secrets of the universe and 440 hertz being the divine frequency.
“432 hertz is what the Nazis used,” he says as I shut the door.
The net is a morning social ritual for retired Californians and trustafarian sailors. It is their rebellious answer to Facebook. Every morning at eight, all of the yachts in La Paz tune in to channel 22A. Some from their boats, some from Club Crucero or the main office. A mediator starts things off with general announcements. It was a somber morning as he updated everyone on a boat named “Pantera” that had recently washed ashore near Mulege. “An unidentified body has been found nearby, but it has yet to be confirmed as Bob.” Apparently Bob had gone out with a malfunctioning radio and lackluster steering.
There are sections for community announcements such as cocktail hour, can collections, boat parades, and dog parties. In swaps and trades people list items they are looking for or looking to get rid of, sometimes gratis, sometimes for trade. “We’re looking for a soda stream,” one woman says, “We could really use some fresh cranberries,” from another. Another person says that he lost his lucky hat out at sea several days ago and will gladly procure all the cranberry soda necessary to ensure its return. Nobody goes by their own name. There’s Wanderin’ Puffin, Susie Sea Snake, Ramblin’ Ralph, Plan B, Kanga, Jersey Girl, and Chip Ahoy to name a few.
“I have an electric motor that I would trade for a flush toilet.”
“Paddleboards, come and get ‘em, just bring plenty of beer.”
“I’ve got these apple seeds, I’d trade them for something neat.”
“Makes you wonder what Facebook would look like if the whole world could only log in from eight to nine,” I say to Soph.
The ride section comes up and I grab the mic. “Places I Pee here. We’re two starved cyclists looking to hitch a ride on a swanky yacht to the main land. I can tie knots and the wife here can scrub toilets. No promises that we won’t crash the boat, but we’re both decent swimmers. Contact details on the board at the club.”
With that we hit the road. Riding out of La Paz was a general mess of morning traffic. By the time we got out of town the wind had picked up so we called it early and camped at a place called Rancho Verde. We roll into San Jose Del Cabo on the twentieth. Highway 1 turns into a four lane boulevard with cars moving at forty to fifty miles an hour. As you ride through, you can tell that there was never much of a development plan and what was sand and desert has been filled in with small businesses over the years. Anything that is not road or a building footprint is unpaved and the sand in these gaps has been blown around and completely covers the shoulder in some places. So every now and then you’re forced to decide between fishtailing through a sand pit and weaving into traffic.
We stay at a hostel of old VW busses and the next morning we ride into town in search of vegetables. It is totally gringafied and the best I can do is a $4 smoothie with some kale. Elsewhere you can view market segmentation based on purchasing power at work in the pharmacies (farmacia in Spanish). Mexico is the American middle class dope addict’s wet dream. Most prescription medications are available over the counter here. Opioid pain killers, Vicodin, Ambien, you name it. In the poor towns a pill costs less than a stick of gum. In San Jose, sun burnt accountants in aloha print shirts happily chew on synthesized heroin that they legally purchased for eight bucks a pill. Watching this, one can’t help but be reminded of the Efficient Market Hypothesis and wonder what the future holds.
Some friends had told us about a farm to table restaurant on the other side of town. We try to ride there using Google Maps and it takes us through makeshift sand trails in a vast wash. Cows grazing. Clap board tin roof shanties lining the path. There is a small river that shows as a road on the map. Coca cola and Catholicism all over the ground. Broken bits of glass and little gold plastic crosses with fake jewels and a zombie that the locals believe will emerge from the sky one day to clean this mess up. These areas tend to only exist on the edge of rich places. Basic needs such as shelter not met so first world issues like garbage collection tend to fall off the radar. Man wandering down a trail with a huge axe smiles and says “hola.”
Finally find the organic farm we were looking for, but it is $20 for a 12 inch pizza and we already overspent on a lackluster Thai restaurant the night before so we are in no mood to pay a premium to site a tables made from sustainably sourced wood and find a taco place by the docks with plastic lawn chairs. After a few beers and ceviche, the search for a campsite begins.
We end up on the beach in front of a nice resort. Some waiters at the restaurant tell us we should be good to sleep on the shore. They are very interested in our trip. They ask about the cost and I lie and say $500 per month for both of us. I hate lying, but I am also somehow conscious of trying not to appear too rich. The reality is that the average American makes more in a day than most people here make in a month. No matter how much we want to complain about ex-wives or the patriarchy squeezing a nickel out of us, we're rich. One of them gives me his phone number, “You call me if you have any problems.” They gave us some sodas.
Watching mama sea turtle crawl across the sand to lay her eggs. Full moon. She moves her head back and forth like she is going to vomit. She fills in the hole and disappears back into the Pacific.
We share a soda, get eaten by sand fleas, and lock ourselves in the tent. Watch a show about drug trafficking in Mexico and wonder if this is what I need to feed my brain before going to sleep. I worry a bit about the guys at the restaurant knowing where we are. They were nice and seemed genuine, but maybe they tell the wrong person over beers later. I don't like camping so close to town.
I watch the near full moon and write a bit. I try to come up with a comparison for the sound of the waves that is not as cliché as thunder, but that is just how they sound. I can feel the ground shake a bit when the larger ones hit. A band plays a mix of surf rock, funk, and classic Mexican tunes at a party in the posh cactus gardens behind us. It sounds like Saturday night. One half of me is drawn to that music. To the cocktails, the fancy people, and to soulless discussions about economic policy and the general state of affairs and how it is all falling to shit. The other half of me is sitting in the middle of that wash, in the shanty town. Drinking a warm beer with an old soul telling me how beautiful this place is and how by this time next year he will replace the tarp with a corrugated tin roof. Scrappy little dogs wander from hut to hut looking for leftovers in much the same way that this place gets what trickles down from the rich side of town. I can't imagine what it is like to walk through San Jose and see that wealth and then go back to a dilapidated hut with no toilet or electricity or to watch two gringos roll through with close to ten grand in bikes, electronics, and the best the twenty first century has to offer in technical apparel. It is nights like these that you feel a confusion of thanks and guilt.
Strange negotiations to get on toll road. Quiet roads all day. Secluded beach two clicks down a wash and push bikes through the sand to get there. Napping. Washing in the waves.
After dinner I noticed Soph doing a strange set of movements by the ocean. I watched for a few moments. She ran down as the waves receded and back up as they crashed in. Always a foot or so away so as not to get wet.
"So what are you doing?"
"So I can get some water in the pan without getting my feet wet or being swept out to sea."
They were about ten feet tall and the undertow was strong.
Shadows dance on the tent wall under the full moon and soft ocean breeze. Wide awake thinking about what this trip has been versus what I thought it would be. I can't stop thinking about the shanty town outside of San Jose. It is hard to know that these places exist. Most of our lives are spent so far from these realities that even when you hear about them, you can't comprehend it.
The next morning is spent watching the waves roll over a large outcropping of rock by the beach. There are whales jumping out of the water about a mile off shore. Eventually we get moving and make it to Todos Santos.
How could I have spent so much time in Mexico / Central America and never hear that word? Until now, the closest similar term was “disneyfication” but gringafied beats it hands down, And now that I think about it (thank you) there’s a constellation of places where saying “gringafied” or any of its permutations would be both fun & irritating. I hope.
Happy New Year! Keep the pedals safely spinning.
Disneyfication is pretty good too
i think that act of running out with the receding wave and then back in when the next one breaks to avoid getting wet must be an instinctive game baked into our dna. i say that because my kids have all done that at the beach since they were old enough to run. sophie may have had a purpose, but she might just have been heeding an inner calling to play with the surf. the simplest games are sometimes the best!!
happy new year!
may this one be better than the last,