The People's Guide To Mexico

The Best of Baja
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Live & Retire
Joan Parker: Only in Mexico

Joan Visit Baja in Mad Max

Published 1998
Carl Franz: Many years ago we met Joan Parker while camping on a remote beach in western Mexico. Joan and her 8 year-old son Galen, along with a large dog, were traveling in a well-seasoned Volvo station wagon. Later, and much farther down the road in Chiapas, Joan would encourage us to accompany her and Galen into Guatemala (against the advice of a blustery Texan, who claimed his RV had been machine-gunned at the Honduras-Guatemala border). Today, Joan’s style not only continues to be gutsy, but she also lives and travels very skillfully on a limited budget. I think her letter from Baja nicely illustrates just how interesting life can be in Mexico — even if you don’t have a fat check rolling in every month.

A Letter From Baja

by Joan Parker

We hadn’t been to Baja for five years and the first of March we left Tucson in our ‘80 Ford pickup. Galen told me we should get Mad Max license plates for it - it’s so rusty and dented. We found a steel camper shell at a garage sale that has two lift-up sides and a rack on top. It took some convincing though because Bill, my partner, pointed out that although the camper fits width-wise, it’s still 6 inches too short. I considered that a minor detail when the price was $130. It doesn’t quite meet the bed of the truck where the door is and the rain will get in - so we just put everything into those plastic bins and park with the front of the truck pointing uphill.

We spent our first night on the road in Yuma, in the parking lot of Smiths restaurant (open 24 hours). We met Don, who had been camping there in his van for two months, fixing up a van or two and selling them right there. He was (in his spare time) working on his autobiography (in 3 vol.). Don said he had $110,000 in the bank and a piece of land in the desert. And I think he really does.

We spent the next night at the Ramona Motel north of Ensenada (after Chico replaced our radiator in El Centro and introduced us to his 95 year-old shop teacher who dropped in from Seattle). The room was right on the beach and cost $16. The sink may have leaked but the bedspread was a yellow and black lion. Nearby, the Sausalito restaurant offered on their menu "eggs: scrambled, fried and pouch". For those wanting seafood they serve "Cheef sauce squid."

We always camp in the rocks at Cataviña and stop in at Rancho Santa Ynez to sit at the long table outside and talk and listen to Oscar who’s lived there 40 years. He was saying that Baja is changing. Recently the car from the clinic was stolen. He called the cops in Tijuana and they came down and found it in Guerrero Negro. Oscar wants to move 16 miles further up a dirt road where he can have some peace.

In San Ignacio we stayed in Martín Quezada’s palm grove as we always do. He told us Candelario died and his kids don’t want to keep the campground open, so it is closed. We talked with the guy who’s been in the store on the corner of the plaza for 50 years. His marble ashtray in the shape of a bear has been there 25 years. Martin’s wife Apolonia had to have emergency surgery (stomach cancer) 4 years ago in Ensenada. They went on the bus. She looks very frail. He says he lets her win any disputes that come up as he doesn’t want to push her into “el hoyo” (the hole). He still goes out to his rancho to escape the hustle and bustle of San Ignacio. We went to breakfast at Tita’s one morning early and after the owner served us Nescafe and te de manzanilla, he excused himself while he ran off (in his running shoes) up the street and around the corner to get the cook. Then he trotted back and pretty soon the cook drove up and cooked up some huevos rancheros.

We had been thinking about Todos Santos since our last visit, remembering the Gauguin landscape, peaceful feeling and great Italian restaurant. Now it’s Gringolandia, with 3 galleries, a good bookstore (the People’s Guide is there) and colonial houses that cost $180,000, when you can find one. We camped at a surfer beach north of town. Bill had a cavity filled and the dentist told him that he needed 6 crowns (at $100 each). My dentist back here in Tucson told him that no, what he needs is one crown at $600. We also had the carburetor cleaned on the outskirts of town and when we walked back to pick it up, the maestro wasn’t there but his mother offered us two folding chairs in the yard and picked a flower from the Orquidea de Arbol tree in the yard and gave it to me. The police car parked in front of the police station had four flat tires during the week we were in town.

In Pescadero there is a new place called The Trees. A Canadian couple has built a large round (open at the center of the top) palm thatched restaurant. In the center is a huge old mango tree. They have an organic garden and sell produce. We bought carrots, onions, lettuce, broccoli and strawberries. In this building is a laundromat and showers. A swift clear spring-fed asequia (aqueduct) runs through the building.

We didn’t spend as much time in La Paz as I would have liked, but I did spot a pair of cowboy boots it was hard to pass up. They were snakeskin with snakeheads (mouth open) on top of each instep. And dang I would have been a sensation country dancing at the Wild Wild West in those if only they’d had ‘em big enough.

At Coyote Beach we moved out of the truck and into a palapa ($5 a day). We didn’t drive anywhere for ten days. People appear selling everything. Home Shopping Network Baja Style: ice, beer, cigarettes, leche, queso, home made cookies, candy, ice cream, paletas, cakes, empanadas, donuts, bolillos, pan dulce, tortillas (flour), tamales, onions, garlic, radishes, tomatoes, limones, oranges, grapefruit, papayas, carrot, lettuce, broccoli, zuccini, cabbage, papas, scallops, lobster, chiles, ironwood carved animals, hammocks, shorts, shirts, jewelry.

Every other day 70 year-old Allentano would show up in his little boat, with Dulce de mis Suenos (Sweet of my Dreams) spray-painted on the bow and sell us the fish he’d caught in his net the night before. 5 pesos a fish. I always bought 2, cleaned them on the hood of the truck (there are advantages to the Mad Max model) and cooked them for breakfast with onions-garlic-chile-and-limón. Allentano had 'la gripa' and asked me for an inhaler. I gave him one along with a fishing pole someone had given us, a few oranges, tomatoes and bolillos. He called me his novia (girlfriend). Was it the fishing pole or the inhaler?

Allentano walked by one afternoon with a sack full of aluminum cans. I asked him if he was going to take them to Mulege. He said no he was taking them home ( he lives now on a remote beach with his brother) flatten them and then take them to Mulege.

The water was phosphorescent and swimming at night was like swimming in liquid light. Floating in the water looking up at the stars (and the comet!) I said to Bill - "Tell me again why I’m going back to Tucson?"

I wanted to be out of Baja before Easter week so we did get home in time to see the Sunday sermon announcement outside a church - “Does He Still Feel The Nails?” Almost enticing enough to get me inside.

So now we’re packing up again for another trip south. Thanks so much for all the help and information.

©1972-2006 by Carl Franz & Lorena Havens