Baja to Los Angeles

I woke late on Tuesday morning, knowing the ferry from Topolobampo to La Paz, on the Baja Peninsula, didn’t leave until midnight. I didn’t need to check out of my hotel until noon, and I needed to figure out what to do with those twelve hours hours in between. Travel should have taught me by now that there is no such thing as in-between time, that life is just always happening.  It’s hard to retrain a mind.

It was hot out. I had been a mile above sea-level, in mountain climes, since Oaxaca, for almost two weeks; but now I was back at sea level, in the tropics.  It was a thirty minute walk from my hotel to the bus stop to Topolobampo. I walked slowly, I stayed on the shadiest side of the street, but within ten minutes, I was sweating through my shirt. I found the bus stop. There were eleven hours left. I looked at my guidebook, and saw a restaurant another ten minute walk away.

It was like a Mexican Denny’s. I ordered chilaquiles and a beer, and watched the Mexico/Croatia World Cup game. Two beers later, it was almost 3pm. Nine hours to go. I walked back to the bus stop. The bus showed up as I did. I asked the driver “Topolobampo?” and he said no, to go to Topolobampo, I needed to walk one block over, take a left and then go two blocks. More walking, and more sweating. A bus to Topolobampo showed up as I arrived, and the driver told me ten minutes.

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I stood outside, where it was slightly cooler than sitting on the bus. I could feel my feet sweating, and thought about how I was going to be sleeping on a boat that night and wouldn’t be able to shower again until sometime Wednesday morning.

The ride was hot. I sat in front of an open window, the wind blowing in my eyes at whatever highway speed the bus was travelling, but dry eyes was an acceptable compromise over sitting in a pool of perspiration.

Topolobampo was a port town, like Los Chiles, San Carlos, Livingston, Puerto Barrios, Punta Gorda. I knew what to expect, and was not disappointed.  Another in-between place.  It was as hot or hotter than Los Mochis, and I had nothing to do. The bus stop was across from an Oxxo convenience store, so I sat on my bag in the shade drinking a Coke Lite. (Diet Coke to Americans). According to Google Maps, the ferry terminal was a reasonable one mile and change walk away. I started to walk it, not sure what I would be doing when I got there, maybe find a left luggage for my bag, maybe air conditioning.   The road led through a shanty-town , men sitting in the shade, swinging in threadbare hammocks, doing nothing, to the port proper,  a maze of shadeless streets with no names and windowless buildings.  I didn’t like the odds of finding the ferry terminal, so I turned around. I walked down the Main Street, no one out in the heat unless they needed to be. I found the Malecon, where there was shade and a breeze. I sat and let the wind dry my clothes. I wrote in my journal, trying to catch up.  This whole trip was about movement, dislocation, being in between, but these last couple weeks had exhausted me.  Long bus rides, long waits, the anticipation of being nearer to home but still knowing home many hours and miles were ahead. I totaled up the hours remaining and almost half of them would be spent on a bus or train, 82 out out 174,   Arid headlands across the water; cinder block houses with clothes out to dry ran up the hill; fisherman’s boat’s bobbed in the waves and children swam to escape the heat.

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I still had to pick up my ticket, and I had forgotten to ask when the ticket office, located at the terminal, closed. The guidebook said business hours. I figured it had to be open until the ferry left at midnight, but not wanting to take any chances, around 5:45pm I walked back up the Main Street and found a taxi to take me to the terminal.

It was nearly empty. Nothing surrounded it but warehouses and loading docks. The doors were open, the air-conditioning off, no relief from the heat. There was a small snack shop, a concourse with benches and tables, and it would be my home for the next six hours.

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Inside to outside, back and forth I walked.  I watched the trucks idling, the sun sink behind the hills, sat staring into space in the hot, dead air. I have trouble focusing while waiting. My mind wanders and reading is hopeless. I was conserving the battery on my phone. There were no outlets in the waiting area and I couldn’t count on any on the boat either.  It was nice having all my books on my phone in almost every case but this. On one of my walks outside, I was stopped by an older man, who asked me where I was from.  He had lived in Brooklyn for twenty-five years, but had returned to Mexico ten years ago.  Why, and why Topolobampo to drive a taxi, I didn’t ask. I could smell the alcohol on his breath from five feet away, so I declined his offer to drive me around on a tour.  (For a price, of course.) He had worked on the docks in Brooklyn, driven a cab, been married to a Dominican, and they fought all the time.  It was a story, a variation on a theme, I had heard many times already. There were a lot of mismatched couples in the world, and often from the man’s perspective, it seemed the problems stemmed from the woman being of an incompatible ethnicity, where the women were predisposed to a fiery temperament that caused unnecessary strife.

Hours passed and passed again, I checked in my bag, the terminal filled and someone turned on the air.  I had a ham and cheese sandwich, I watched the people, and finally, at 10:30pm, we started the boarding process. Stand in one line, separated by gender, bags searched and person wanded and patted down, outside into another line, semis passing, loaded into the hold,

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moving forward slowly,

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finally on the boat,

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up several stairways to the passenger salon.

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I had a seat number, but it proved meaningless, people sat wherever, including laying out pillows and blankets directly under signs that said, in Spanish and English “Do not sleep here.” A TV played movies in English, subtitled in Spanish, at full volume. I tried to doze after sitting down. The seats were lounger style, the fabric vinyl, and the air-conditioning weak. The boat didn’t move until after 1am. I tried earbuds playing music and foam ear plugs to block out the tv, but neither worked. I was sweating in my seat, the lack of ventilation opressive. I went out onto the deck. The moon was half-full and bright.  Some smoked in front of the no smoking signs, others watched the trailing vee of the wake in the moonlight, some slept in corners.  I went up one deck.  It was broad and empty but for a few benches.

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A man slept stretched out on one.  The other of acceptable size was empty.  I hurried back to my seat to gather my things and when I got back it was still empty, so I made a pillow out of my daypack, put on the long sleeved shirt I had brought in case the cabin had been as over air-conditioned as the buses, and laid out and fell asleep.  The window blew strongly, consistently. It was muggy and chilly at the same time.  I woke a few times, dry eyed and blinking, neck sore from my hard lumpy pillow. Even with the moonlight, the stars shone bright and full.  People wandered up to the deck to smoke or drink, but mostly it was myself and the other sleeper up there.

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The sky warmed with the sun

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and I could see the silhouettes of land in the distance.

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We arrived close to on time.  Deboarding was like going through customs, as if I was entering another country.  My passport was checked, my bag searched.  An older women asked me for help carrying two heavy garbage bags of luggage to the curb.

It was a twenty minute bus ride into town, and I found a hotel in short order, though it wouldn’t be ready until 11am, so I went and ate breakfast at a terrace restaurant looking out across the main road to the water.  The malecon was hot and shadeless. I

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returned and got my key and went up to my room. The cleaning person had thoughtfully turned up the air so I walked into a meat locker, showered, hot and high pressured, and fell asleep watching more World Cup until late afternoon.

At dusk, people were out as they always were in Mexico.

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I bought my bus ticket for the next morning and walked up and down the malecon.  People jogged and I was jealous, but my shoes smelled badly enough already without drenching them in sweat. There was not a great deal to see in La Paz, but that was fine.  I wasn’t in the mood to see much.  I was in the home stretch now, in less than a week I would again be in America.

The bus to Loreto was supposed to be six hours, but turned into eight.  There was construction on the two lane highway.  The landscape was spectacular in an arid, Arizona way.

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Loreto was just a stopping point on the Baja Peninsula, between California and Cabo San Lucas.  The best I could day for it was there were amenities, and air-conditioning came standard in my $25 room.  In my short trip around the steaming streets, I saw old white people, probably arrived by RV.

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It was only a stopping point for me as well, and the next morning I was back at the bus station, waiting for my nine hour ride to Guerrero Negro. The bus station was a small building, open air.  I waited outside and the bus showed up an hour and forty-five minutes late.

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There was more construction, more delays, and more stark, twilit Marscapes, before arriving in Guerrero Negro at 10pm, three hours late. My hotel was down a sandy road, a block in from the peninsular highway. I found a hot dog cart on the highway and had a late night meal.  Guerrero Negro was on the Pacific Coast, and the cool air was a relief. It felt like San Francisco in July.

They wouldn’t sell me a bus ticket for the next day when I arrived, they told me to come back in the morning. When I went back in the morning at 8am to buy a ticket for my 11am bus, they told me to come back at 10:30am.  I couldn’t buy a seat until the bus arrived.  At 10:30, they told me, “Un momento”.  At 11am, they told me the bus was late, maybe it wouldn’t arrive until 1pm.

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More waiting, in another one room station.  I should’ve been better at this by  now.  At least there was an outlet to plug in my phone.  The bus didn’t show up at 1pm, or 2pm.  One of the attendants looked at me and shrugged.  At 3pm, there was a shift change.  I waited until between Youtube videos(I didn’t want to be rude and interrupt) to ask if the 11am bus was still going to show up.  No, said the guy. “It’s kaput” he said, emphasizing with a gesture to indicate it broke down, in case I didn’t understand.  Why they knew that and the others didn’t was a question there was no point in asking or contemplating.  Knowing would’nt have changed my situation. I was in Guerrero Negro until the next bus to Tijuana arrived. The next bus was at 8pm, which I translated to no sooner than 10pm.  And they still couldn’t sell me a ticket.

I went to find lunch, walking the sun beaten sidewalk up and down before finding an acceptable, overpriced hotel restuarant.  I returned to the bus station and called S and whined about my situation.  Even if the bus showed up on time I would have spent 10 hours waiting.  I was getting sick of waiting.

More people showed up and I started to fret at the possibility of not getting a seat on the bus.  Sure, I had been there first, but first-come, first-served mattered little in these situations.  A ten-year-old girl with her family flirted with me, chasing a plastic bag, doing sprints from one end of the platform to the other, and looking at me for approval as she did long jumps off the platform onto the sandy road. It was charming and lifted my mood.

The bus showed up at 9:30, and was nearly empty.  It was eleven hours to Tijuana.  I had my own row, so I slept in the fetal position, my arm going numb as a pillow.  We were stopped three times for drug inspections.  Once they found out I was American, my bag was given a cursory inspection, nothing more. By 5am, I was awake for good, not having slept well, so I watched out the window as we transitioned from curving mountains roads to the generic exurban landscape of the border near the USA.

We got to Tijuana at 7:30am, and I walked inside and got a Greyhound bus ticket to Los Angeles leaving at 7:35am.

It was hard to believe I was there.  It wasn’t home, that was still ten days away, but crossing back into America made my trip feel over.  I waited in line at the border, answered a few questions, my bag was x-rayed, and then I was standing at the end of the trolley line from San Diego, waiting for the bus to pick me up again.

Tomorrow I would be on a train, forty-two hours from my family in Chicago.

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