Thursday, September 13, 2007

Ether - Baja Peninsula, Mexico (August 2007)

I was able to take a trip across the border when recently invited by a climbing buddy of mine. His wife's family (of mostly Cambodian-Americans) regularly goes down to stay in a company owned house (may as well have been a mansion) on the beach just north of Escondido. I was initially hesitant to go, as tempting as the invite was, due to the high probability of feeling out of place amongst 15 or so Cambodians, but luckily I found a lone friend who wisely jumped at the opportunity to join me. I invited several, but most were previously occupied for that weekend. Their collective loss, I guess.

How often does one get an opportunity to stay in a mansion 50 feet from the ocean in Mexico? Well, some may have that opportunity jumping at them like fat kids on a cupcake, (sorry, a friend of mine described something with that analogy last weekend, and I couldn't resist adapting it to use here) but I have been around for a quarter century, plus or minus, and have only had one chance so far. Well, I'm as opportunistic as the next guy, or perhaps even more so, depending on who "the next guy" is, exactly. If it's one of the several friends I invited who turned down the invitation, then I'm definitely as opportunistic and probably even more opportunistic than him. So, I went.

Anyway, we drove down, crossed the border, and began taking note of the differences between Mexico and America. It's got a different flavor, for sure. The houses were crammed closer together, perhaps a little less kempt on the outside than the general American home, but not without aesthetic value. Just a different sort of aesthetic. The roads weren't quite as wide, but certainly wide enough to drive on. The shoulders were often 2 or 3 foot deep culverts, rather than shoulders, which didn't seem very logical to me, but hey, what do I know about road building?

With all the differences, you may wonder what the main similarity between Mexico and California is: lots of Mexicans.

Our destination was only an hour over the border, so we arrived in short order, which I assume is enormously preferable to arriving in long order, though I'm not exactly sure what that would entail. We pulled up to the guardhouse, gave them our names, and they let us into a gathering of large, seemingly out-of-place abodes on the Pacific coast of Mexico. This development was funded almost entirely with American money, for American people, as nearly all of the development in Northern Mexico is. In a way, the ongoing coastal development there makes me a little annoyed with America, but I suppose there are worse things in the world to be annoyed about at the moment. Plus, having said how opportunistic I am, it's hypocritical of me to be annoyed at the opportunism of individuals such as Donald "I'm Fired" Trump. Not that he developed the particular community in which I stayed, but he is involved in some major developments in the same area. At any rate, I won't turn this into a post about socioeconomic parasitism.

We pulled up to the house and were greeted by a plethora of Cambodians, who, in spite of my previous hesitation about coming, made us feel entirely welcome. A brief description of the house: gate, courtyard, front door, greatroom, industrial-sized kitchen and dining room, staircase which split to two upstairs wings of the house, too many bedrooms to count - most with private balconies overlooking the ocean, outdoor fireplaces, exercise room, theatre room, I took the picture you see above in the backyard, we had around 20 people in the house and room for about 10 more, I imagine. It was decent...could have used more cowbell though.

We got there kind of late in the evening, so we had some marshmallows around the fire outside and went to bed. We got up the next morning (not so early) and went bouldering on the beach about 300 yards down from the house. Here I'm doing some not-so-deepwater soloing; in some circles it's called puddle soloing (as long as those circles are shaped like my head)...

More examples of the rocks we were on:

And a view of the cove we bouldered in (much bigger than it seems in this shot):

Later we went boogieboarding on a beach about 300 yards in the other direction, which as it turns out, was where two people had died earlier in the day. One of their bodies was still on the beach, covered with a sheet. There was a crowd gathered around, but nobody looked sad. It was a little odd.

As we arrived, the police were driving their policemobile down the beach making the children stay out of the water and warning people about riptides. I set up my stunt kite and started flying it, while two others in our group took the boogieboards out, ignoring the warnings. They reported no riptide, and pretty good conditions, actually, so I set my kite down, coiled up the strings beside it, and went out.

I'm still baffled as to how the drownings took place. My best guess is that one person tried to save the other and failed, although my friend suggested an alternative theory involving the opposite sort of plot, where one individual with sinister intent tried to drown the other and the victim succeeded in dragging the murderer with him/her to the miry depths. It's fun to hypothesize, although difficult to do so while maintaining respect for the lost lives of those being hypothesized about.

Meanwhile, my kite was on the beach noticing the approaching tide, and doing its best to get the attention of anyone who would listen. When nobody came to its rescue, rather than calmly handling the situation like any normal person, it panicked. By the time someone actually did pull it out of harm's way it was inconsolable, and had managed to tangle its string set into a hopeless collection of knots and rat's nests. When I finally came out of the water, I gave the kite a severe reprimand, and ended up spending at least an hour, or perhaps two, since I was occupied so long that I lost track of time, untangling the two 100ft lines. Let this be a lesson to you: wind your kite strings back onto the card when you are not using the kite. This will be particularly helpful if you are not as skilled at disciplining inanimate objects as I am.

Ok, so I had had my fill of anthropomorphism for that day, and went back to the house to eat and chill for a while. To end the story, the next day we hung around a while more, took a trip to some local cliffs to see what was there, didn't climb, went boogieboarding a bit more, and drove through the border into America.

Here, I must pause to comment on that experience. Leaving America is no big deal. Mexico doesn't care if Americans come to visit. Coming back to America is another story.

The line of cars to cross the heavily-guarded border runs for miles and miles. Nothing but stop and go traffic with more stop than go. As a result of these miles and miles of stop and go, a subculture of people has sprung up and thrives at the border crossing.

Well, "thrives" may be the wrong word. Anyway, this may be old news to most who are reading this, but it was new to me. As you drive along, there are vendors at the sides of the highway, and many walking in between lanes on the highway. Some of them offer to wash your windshield, some of them offer to sell you food, some of them carry desks, chairs, shirts, or other random items along on the off chance that there is an American somewhere looking to buy something cheap.

Some of them seek charity. As we rolled along, we were literally passed by an old man in a wheelchair. I wish I had taken a picture; it was a little surreal. Then there are little girls who juggle while walking beside your window, they lean on the glass and look forlorn whenever you stop. There are mothers with their babies wrapped up, who hold cups for you to put coins in as you pass.

It's an entire subculture of people, seemingly raised in that environment, and destined to stay in that environment. I suppose things like this are common in the world, and it shouldn't be so fascinating to me since I *have* been out of my country before, but it is. Oh well.

So I'm back in America now.


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