What to See and What to Do in Sunny Mexico
So you're going to the Baja? You're buzzing with happy anticipation, boning up on the Berlitz, learning "Buenas noches" and “Excuse me, but I think this sandwich is made of dog." What to pack? Take lots of cheerful resort clothes (handy for spreading on the desert floor to signal airborne rescue parties). Take plenty of American mon*ey. Take a Valium. Take Interstate 15 back north, and stay in Palm Springs.
¿No, gracias? Then cross the border into Tijuana—adventure, here comes you! Total immersion in a different cul*ture, different values... Don't be an ugly American and throw up. In Tijua*na, garbage collection means displaying your collection of garbage in the street. But this is no excuse for forgetting the "good neighbor" policy the way some Americans did in 1846 when we stole half the country (the half with all the money and jobs).
Moving right along, let's zip down the beautiful four-lane, sometimes two-lane, occasionally no-lane highway to Ensenada with its breathtaking view of where the ocean would be if a lot of American recreational vehicles weren't parked in the way. On the road we see the quaint Mexican toll booths where they'll accept anything—yes, a button, an Oreo, a child's gym sneaker. This is the result of Mexico's interesting new cur*rency system: each peso is worth 100 centavos, and the centavo is worth noth*ing at all. We gringos, we'll probably never "get it" how this works. But it's fun galore when you're bargaining for colorful hats in the shape of onyx ash*trays or blankets made out of old hats.
Don't miss the Museum of Third World Toilets (on display in Ensenada and everywhere else). Cheerful, fun-lov*ing tour member Brock Yates did miss it and piddled in the parking lot of Hussong's Cantina. Considering the hy*gienic state of Hussong's, some cheerful fellow tour members saw this as an in*ternational gesture of good will and a cleanup attempt to boot, but the fun-loving, happy-go-lucky, very well-armed local police were not amused. "You have made the violation of a laws," they said (Spanish for "Give me ten dol*lars"). The Mexicans have an interest*ing method of paying their police: they don't. Just "free guns and all you can eat." Maybe some of our stateside big-city budget balancers should take a tip from this useful idea.
By the way, don't forget to stop at the checkpoint south of Ensenada and get your tourist permit stamped. Otherwise, it's illegal to go more than 100 kilome*ters south of the border. The check*point is closed weekends, holidays, nights, mornings, and siestas. Also, it isn't there at all. And remember, Mexi*co's traffic laws are different from ours. They're made up on the spot. Mexican roads are different, too. The Mexican Highway Department is known as the "Miracle of the Sierra Madre" because the entire national road system was built without surveyors' instruments, rulers, T-squares, or any of the sticky Stuff that holds asphalt together. The roads are a little narrow by U.S. standards—just room enough for a large truck in the oncoming lane and a large accident in yours.
Sun's down, ready for some fun? Night life is muy bueno in little desert towns like San Ignacio. Wade to your car. Drive a half-mile through water up to the doorsills, then a couple more miles to the little restaurant by the air*port. Your genial hosts will try to trick you into eating the hottest salsa ever contained in a bowl and will fill your heart and mind with memories of home by playing their one American country-and-western tape over and over again. Yes, when night falls in old Mexico, any*thing goes. And everything was gone by the time we reached San Ignacio.
The Baja has plenty of beautiful scen*ery. Or maybe it doesn't. Who can tell? Cheerful (well, sort of) tour guide Don Sherman loves to go hippity-hop quick as a bunny down Mexico's amusing roads—terrific view of white knuckles clenching sweat-drenched steering wheel. And for extra fun at 100-plus, be sure you have a front-wheel-drive car that doesn't give any tedious old ad*vance warning when it goes for a closer look at the Baja's flora and fauna. Speaking of flora and fauna, everything that's more than three feet from the highway is poisonous, has thorns, or is armed with a .45—a naturalist's para*dise! (Keep car doors locked, and beep horn until marines arrive.)
Some stick-in-the-muds say you shouldn't drive at night south of the border. You might hit a cow or some*thing. A lot of malarkey, say we. (Write care of this magazine for good deals on genuine Mexican beefsteak and a Dodge 600ES front end, used hard only once.)
The rest of the food in Mexico is fab*ulous, too—broiled langostino, succulent yellow-fin tuna, tasty carne asada, beauti*ful salads, and fresh vegetables. And here's a sure-fire hint for avoiding tummy troubles: don't eat any of it. Fun-imbibing tour member David E. Davis, Jr., has a great method for finding all the best Mexican restaurants—stop where the flies do! Can eleven million insects be wrong? David E. likes his roadside stops double-rustic. Not just dirt floors but dirt ceilings, too!
Did someone say sickness and dan*ger? Fun-swamped tour member Jean Lindamood discovered that ignorance of Spanish is no barrier to not making sense in Mexico. She just tacked "-o" and "-idad" onto the ends of all her reg*ular English words and chatted away like a house afire. The natives thought this was no end of fun, but then again, their national sport is teasing farm ani*mals with a red bed sheet. Mexican offi*cialdom was eager to give us a tour of the country's penal facilities—their way of saying thanks for our speeding, trav*eling in an illegal convoy, speeding again, being so fun-filled, having cow accidents, and speeding some more—but they could never resist Jean's happy patter. She'd show them our official pa*pers (proper official papers in Mexico have pictures of Washington, Lincoln, and Jefferson on them), and we'd be on our way again.
Of course, Jean was more than just a great conversationalist. She got directly involved in native life—siphoning gas from American automobiles in Santa Rosalía, stealing the federale's squad car in Loreto, and driving around town with his girlfriend. On second thought, may*be we got special treatment because the Mexicans believed if they detained us, they might have to keep Jean, too.
Yes, you'll want to stay in Baja forev*er, the way we almost did. Ah, the sights, the smells, the vistas, the stron*ger smells, and the wonderful, beautiful weather. The weather in Baja is incom*parable, glorious the year round. Don't call it rain, call it liquid sunshine. Why, the climate is so warm and dry that the Mexicans don't even bother to build bridges. They just pave right across the bottom of the arid river beds and never have any problems at all with... WHERE'S SHERMAN?! JESUS CHRIST, GET ROPE!! GET SAND*BAGS!! Happy touring, amigos, and adios for now to the cheerful, fun-filled... BAIL, FOR GOD'S SAKE!! BAIL!!! MAY*DAY! MAY*DAY! MAY*DAY! MAY*DAY! —PJ. O'Rourke