Sunday, June 6, 2010

Thoughts from the Road

Well, here I am, back in Canada, after a long, but largely uneventful drive last week. From Loreto I travelled to San Quintin, about 850 km north the first day. On Monday I continued through Ensenada, where I left the main highway, and took Mexico #3 northwest to Tecate, crossing the border into California about 1:30, after a half hour wait. Backtracking west to the Interstate corridor, I continued north on I-15, stopping mid-afternoon in Temecula for a shorter day of just under 500 km. From there, Tuesday morning, I proceeded through San Bernardino and into Nevada, past Las Vegas, clipping the corner of Arizona before entering Utah, where I stopped after 800 km in a town called Beaver. Wednesday was the longest of the trip, after passing through Salt Lake I was close to the border with Idaho when I took the wrong lane in a construction zone and wound up on different highway heading northwest.

Unfortunately, I didn’t notice my mistake for some time, as it was a remote stretch with no intersections or towns. By the time I rejoined I-15 my detour had added over 150 miles and over two hours to my day, which finally ended after 12 hours and 1200 km in Dillon Montana. Thursday morning I covered the 550 km to Canada, crossed the border just after noon, and finally arrived in Calgary about 4:00 pm for a total trip of just under 4,200 km.

Travelling thousands of kilometres over several days is a unique opportunity to collect one’s thoughts, while being in a sort of limbo between origin and destination. One general observation from the trip north through the Baja, is that while I have often written about how much I love different aspects of living in the area around Loreto, and particularly in the Loreto Bay development, I have to admit that I don’t “love” very much about the rest of the Baja between there and the US border. There – I’ve said it! – “The Emperor has no clothes”! I feel vaguely guilty making this sort of uncharacteristically negative statement – but honesty compels me to do so.

The fact of the matter is, Mexico is a poor country, particularly in the non-tourist areas of the Baja, and the poverty results is poor living conditions, roads and other infrastructure. The many towns and villages along Mexico #1 all appear quite similar, a string of small untidy shops on the dusty margins of the highway, gas stations, taco stands, dogs, kids, trucks and busses. There is little to entice me to stop for anything except periodic fuel on the 1,000+ km trip from Loreto to the Border. I carry a 12 volt cooler with plenty of water and some road snacks, so I don’t have to stop for food, other than when I make my overnight stop, unless I choose to break the trip at one of several familiar restaurants. I also try to avoid making the other sort of “rest stops” if possible (the condition of public restrooms on the highway are challenging to say the least) this is one more reason why “I enjoy being a Boy!”.

I also feel uneasy travelling through parts of the peninsula. The periodic vehicle inspection stops (there are currently six of them between Loreto and the US Border, via the Tecate crossing) manned by heavily armed Federal troops are a source of some stress and uncertainty. Although, I must say that I have never had a bad experience in the many times that I have passed through these inspections over the half dozen round trips I have made through the Baja, but I still feel somewhat intimidated every time I approach one of these stops. If nothing else, they serve as a reminder of the current situation with the so-called “war on drugs” that receives so much negative publicity north of the border.

Perhaps I am naive, but I think that much of the hysteria surrounding this situation is unwarranted. While obviously there is a serious problem in some parts of Mexico, with billions of dollars of illegal trade in drugs and guns and the huge toll in human lives and suffering that is the collateral damage of this business. But, in my opinion, these inspections probably yield a tiny percentage of the huge traffic they are apparently intended to intercept, although, there are large photographs displayed at some of the stops, showing stacks of bricks of seized dope and the poor unfortunates who were apprehended. I think that this very visible presence is there to act more as a deterrent than to actually seize and destroy the drugs they are looking for.

In defence of my position, is the very nature of the inspection process itself. In practically every stop I have been through, I can count on the Inspector to: a) look under the driver’s seat, b) look in the center console between the front seats, c) rummage around in the various papers and maps that litter the front seats of the car. It is a rare occasion that any of the other boxes or suitcases that I am usually travelling with are ever opened or inspected, and, if so, it is only ever those things that are most easily accessible and never a box or bag buried underneath that would require even a little more time and effort to look into. This apparently half hearted effort to inspect leads me to the conclusion that this whole process is a bit of a charade, all be it, one in which one of the participants is carrying a loaded assault weapon!

(There are of course the exceptions – like the last stop on this trip, just south of Tecate and the border, where a young 20 year old soldier did actually open my overnight bag and the toiletry kit inside, from which he removed the two travel sized bottles of shampoo and conditioner and looked at me quizzically, I gestured at my hair and said “shampoo” to which he nodded solemnly and replaced everything. At last, America would be free from greasy hair, perhaps the billion dollars of US subsidy through the DEA that funds these inspections all over Mexico was now justified!)

A further observation I made on this trip is, that one of the biggest factors negatively affecting my state of mind while I am travelling, is the fact that I don’t speak the language. Of course, this inability to communicate, in any but the most limited manner, is also a fact of my life day to day in Loreto. But I have learned to manage well enough there by limiting my exposure to situations where anything more than a few words and appropriate gestures will suffice.

I have expressed regret and some guilt over this shortcoming of mine several times in this blog over the past winter. However, I have decided that since I have now committed to spending my foreseeable future “Living Loreto” (and, not insignificantly, “Working Loreto”) it is obvious that I must begin again the process of learning Spanish. Now, I don’t make that statement lightly. I have never had an “ear” for language – my unfortunate experiences in school over 40 years ago with first French, and then out of desperation (or perhaps worse) Latin – has set an unhappy precedent.

However, after procrastinating all winter, I am hereby publicly committing to a new resolution – I am going to work on the Rosetta Stone language program while I am away from Loreto this summer. My goal is, that on my return in the Fall, I will have at least a modest grasp of the basics of the language so that, as I continue to study, I will be able to begin to communicate with more confidence in my day to day activities. It is abundantly clear that acquiring a basic facility with Spanish is minimum requirement for me to have any right to claim Loreto in particular, and Mexico in general, as my adopted home for the future. Therefore, I am choosing this public forum to make a commitment, and I will report back to you all, at the end of the summer when I resume my writings here, the progress I have made in meeting this challenge!

Now, in conclusion, I would like to express my sincere appreciation to all of you who have read these pages over the past two winters. The Blog process is a fascinating one, and rewarding in unlikely ways. Although I have had the opportunity to meet a few of you, the vast majority I never will, but your invisible presence every week is all the incentive I need to sit down and put my thoughts and observations down and share the images that often are a large part of my experiences. By so doing, I have benefitted from this record of most of two years of my life, as someone once said: “An unexamined life is not worth living.” By coming back, week after week, and reading these thoughts, you have given me that gift, and for that I am grateful!

I can only speculate what this process has brought to you, but it is my sincere wish that is has been sufficient to bring you back for more in the Fall so that we may continue this adventure together, and with that thought, I leave you with my final quotation for this season: “Without no audience, there ain’t no show!” Be well, have a safe and happy summer wherever you are, and we have a date to get back together here to do it all over again next winter – and that really is what “Living Loreto” is all about!

(Not being a geek by nature, I am not the best authority for this, but, I believe you can flag this site with a RSS feed notification so that you will be advised when I start posting again – but, my plan is to start writing when I return to Loreto sometime in late September or early October. When I start posting again, I will advise the members of Club Loreto Bay (a private Homeowners site) and Lynn Hamman’s Loreto Community site: ‘till then, Hasta la Vista!)