Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Drive to Mulege

I have a special treat for my regular readers this week. My good friend Dee, who wrote the guest posting last December about her mule trip has offered to contribute another story about her travels in the Baja. This week she tells about her first visit to Mulege, the next town on the highway north from Loreto and the special memories she has from that trip. I hope you enjoy this glimpse of another part of the beautiful Baja.

The first time that I ever visited Loreto was in January, and I tried to make the drive to Mulege with some friends. I had heard about this place somewhere and wanted to see the coastal oasis town, north of beautiful Bahia Conception. Our driver for the trip was my friend Don, who had the rental car. After we started our trip Don realized that the fuel tank was low, he had forgotten to fill up before we left Loreto. We knew that there was nowhere to stop for gas until we reached Mulege, but we weren't sure how far it was. Along the way, we asked people how long it would take to get to Mulege three different times and they always responded “20 minutes.” Finally, after passing a place called Requeson Beach (which we called the Cottage Cheese Beach because we didn’t know how to translate it.) and coming up on Santispec, another beach area, Don panicked. We stopped at the roadside bar there for cold drinks and then headed back to Loreto. We were later to find out that wher we had stopped, we were, in fact, about 20 minutes from Mulege, just like we had been told..

My next visit to Loreto was the following May, but I was still wondering what Mulege was like. Again, in a small tin-can-econobox rental car, I headed north with my friend, Diane. Retracing my earlier trip, we passed through the military checkpoint north of Loreto, across the high desert plateau, and down to the shoreline at the south end of Bahia Conception and the series of beaches we had passed the first time. A little way past “Cottage Cheese Beach”, at the entrance to El Coyote Beach we saw four people standing by the side of the road trying to hitch a ride. They looked like an interesting group. All gringos with sun hats, carrying big duffel bags. Diane and I kind of glanced at them and kept on driving. Less than a quarter of a mile up the road, I said, “ I think I’ll go back and pick them up…my father would have.” I know Diane…we travel well together. I have known her for about twenty years and I knew that she would be up for about anything. Her response was, “My father would have, too!”

Diane’s father was in the Air Force and traveled around a great deal. My father drove a truck from age 16 until age 25 when he started his own trucking company. For the rest of his life, he continued to have “trucker’s blood.” He would drive for hours with us three kids and my Mom on vacations. All of us whining, “can we stop now? Can we please stop now? That hotel looks has a pool!!” Nope, we didn’t stop until he was good and ready. He didn’t care about our moans and groans. But in those simpler and less fearful days when I was growing up, he did care about his other fellow travellers. He and his brothers liked to be “guardians of the road,” they were always picking up hitchhikers, helping stalled vehicles and whoever else might need help. So now on this beautiful, but barren and isolated stretch of Baja highway I was reminded of his good example and knew what we had to do.

I found a place to turn the car around, went back and pulled into the access road to El Coyote Beach. Now our little rental car could hold three in the back, in a pinch, but we didn’t think we should leave anyone alone standing on the road so Diane opened the passenger door, jumped out, and yelled, “We’ll take TWO.” One of the hitchhikers shouted back, “We were hoping for FOUR!” I glanced at the tiny back seat and thought - its Mexico - what the hey! I said, “okay. C’mon.”

I opened up the trunk for their bags and they all jumped in the backseat, and like most things in Mexico, it worked out. The men sat with the women on their laps. We all introduced ourselves, Roy and Marilyn and Bruce and Alene, and headed north to Mulege. They said that they were “cruisers,” people who lived-aboard their boats most of the year, cruising from place to place. These two couples told us they had met on the water and had been cruising together, each on their own boats, for several months. They were hitching up to Mulege to do their laundry and buy some groceries. They said that they had never been there either.

By the time we got to Mulege, I felt really comfortable with this group and I said, “ You know, we are just here to explore and have lunch…We can give you a ride back.” They were thrilled. We made a plan to meet in a few hours. Of course, since Mulege is so small we ran into them several different times. We met at the appointed time and none of us were ready to leave. We made another plan. This time when we met, they really wanted to buy us an ice cream for all our trouble. I said that I really didn’t want an ice cream. They persisted by saying that they really wanted to do something for me…SO I said, “OK, I want to see your boat.” “Fine by us,” they all agreed.

We managed to get everything back into the car again, including the groceries they had purchased, and drove back to the bay where we had picked them up and found a place to park the car. Diane and I climbed into the little dinghy with Bruce and Alene. Marilyn and Roy told us that they would go and unload their stuff and then come and meet us back on Bruce’s boat. They said that their boat was nothing special - that the boat that we really should see was Bruce’s. So we rode with Bruce and Alene and all their groceries and laundry and I realized that the rental car wasn't all that small after all.

We scrambled aboard Bruce’s bright red trimaran called Cherry Migration, after a children’s book he had written. They unpacked and got organized while Diane and I explored the unbelievably large amount of living that was concealed in the three hulls with three bedrooms and two baths and the large salon area above water, I had never been on a boat anything like this before. After our brief tour we joined our hosts in the fully equiped galley area fitted with all of the appliances you would expect in a luxurious home while Bruce whipped up a rum punch with fresh fruit. This galley was adjoining the main living/dining salon where there was comfortable seating for 6 – 8 with flat panel video and a state of the art sound system. When we all had our drinks we climbed to the upper deck cockpit just as Roy and Marilyn were pulling up in their little dinghy.

We sat around and learned more about each other. They turned out to be the nicest people. Roy was a doctor from Sonoma. He shared a practice with a doctor who liked to have the summers off. This was perfect. It gave Roy and Marilyn the winters to cruise around Mexico. Marilyn was a retired hospital administrator.

To me, Bruce was the most fascinating. As mentioned earlier he is a children’s book author. He named his boat after his first book which was about cherries. He took the first $500 that he made as a writer to buy his first boat, over fifteen years ago. He sometimes worked as a technical writer for a software company in San Diego just to earn some quick bucks. He and Alene had met about 6 months before on a Cruiser’s personal ad website. They had been cruising together for the past three months after Alene had returned from working on a boat in the Carribean. It turns out that she is from the same area of Ohio as me.

Alas this idylic afternoon, floating at anchor in a breathtakingly beautiful bay, getting to know interesting people, thousands of miles from any of our homes, had to end too soon. I was conscious of the remaining drive back to Loreto and the failing light meant it was time to hit the road because, even though this was one of my first trips driving in the Baja, I knew that I didn’t want to drive back to Loreto in the dark.

But it was a magical and memorable day. I kept in touch with Bruce and Alene for about a year afterward. I will never drive to Mulege without thinking about the day that Diane and I picked up hitchhikers just because it was something our fathers would have done.

Thank you Dee, for sharing a special memory, about the serendipity that can happen here, how strangers can become friends in an afternoon and a simple event can become a memory for years into the future, this too is truly part of “Living Loreto!”