• Michael Phillips

Baja day 3

All you can hear is the sound of the break off the Sea of Cortes, the occasional squawk of the seagulls as they argue over god knows what. There is no one around for miles. I’m looking out onto the beach through my dilapidated palapa, the rocks crowding my little private cove. Baja has delivered the romantic notions I had when the idea of coming here occurred to me.

When I say ‘romantic’ do understand it means ‘no frills.’ I’ve begun to look at life in almost a cinematic way. Ever since I gave up the idea of the ‘normal’ life post COVID life has taken on a surreal quality. My sense of identity keeps eroding but I enjoy the wandering and observing every where I go. And I’ve gone to a considerable number of places without rushing around. For me this also means doing things on a shoestring budget. And where can you do that better than Mexico??

The last two months flew by. After returning from El Salvador I spent few weeks in Las Vegas to repack and reorganize and got caught up in photographing jobs, feeling a pull towards my life pre-COVID. While I love my family and friends, the desire to escape the trappings of Vegas is a stronger pull for me. I made my way back to the Bay Area, where my other two families are still willing to put up with my wandering. Again I am surrounded by love, support and questions of when I will settle down. But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for, and the road beckons. I reclaimed my RPod, my little house on wheels and headed south, crossing the border in Mexicali.

Having not traveled with my trailer in tow for about 6 months now, I felt rusty. Little things like the sink or the toilet not working properly, a missing wheel nut, tire pressure issues, feeling unprepared… the anxiety set in as I attempted to cross the border. The border crossing itself was straight forward and easy, my passport wasn’t even checked. The ride through Mexican was a maze of shitty roads and stares by opportunistic locals. Thank god for Google Maps! I was quickly pulled over by police that shook me down for bribe money for rolling a stop sign, which I argue never happened. With all my travels I don’t have much experience with police. The threat of jail over bribing a police officer got my heartbeat cranked. But $60 later I was on the road out of Mexicali and into the desert.

After the police experience, my desire to get out of the city was strong. I planned to hit the next gas station at the edge of town… which never came as I looked at the fuel gauge reading half full. Google Maps showed 2 other options on the way to San Felipe. The first was out of gas, the next hadn’t been a working station in years. I was 80km out of San Felipe, in the middle of nowhere, and according to the Jeep, had 10 miles of gas left to go. I stopped twice along the way, asking for help in my broken and terrible Spanish. Twice denied. I was riding on fumes when I came upon another tienda, this one had a work truck out front that read ‘Seguridad Turistica - Angeles Verdes’ - Tourist Security - Green Angels. While Miguel had no spare gas to provide, he rigged a hose under his truck hood to drip almost 2 gallons into a tank. I was relieved that I would not be spending the night in the middle of nowhere as the sun began to tick down in the sky. And still, I rode on fumes yet again as I coasted into the gas station in San Felipe. My nerves shot, but my spirits high.

To my delight there was a sign across the street from the gas station - “San Felipe Brewing Company - Cerveza Artisanal.” I ate fish and chips and drank IPA while a solo guitarist played old American hits. Old American expats flirted with their dates, smiling, laughing. People were friendly and I chatted with a bunch and secured a spot in the parking lot for the night, asking permission from one of the servers.

Sometime around 2am there was a knock on my door, the screen door, as my security door was carelessly left open. I was jolted awake as some local was asking me for money through the window of my bed. While trying to explain myself I realized that this was a drunk and crazy person. After negations he took 40 pesos to make him go away. Sleep was not easy the rest of the night.

My eyes opened before dawn and I could see the light about to put on a show for me. I dragged myself out of bed and began to photograph and wander towards the sea. A large, Shepard mixed dog stared me down. With hesitation we introduced each other and quickly became friends. We were playing all the way down to the beach as he sniffed and peed on everything over the rough desert. After we both ate breakfast I packed and headed south again

South of San Felipe is a lot of desolation, peppered with campsites on the beach off the highway. I settled in Puertocitos. 300 pesos for a spot offering nothing but quiet isolation amongst a strange cropping of broken down RVs and and houses that once held the promise of a vacation spot. It’s a bizarre place, but it feels calm and safe here. I discovered the skeletons of 3 small whales that someone took the time to carry up a hill and arrange their bones back together.

The initial anxiety of entering a new place has subsided and I’m left with the road, the beach and a lot of time. I have nowhere to be until late February. I take this time as an opportunity to meditate, photograph, have an adventure. And maybe even figure out what I want the next chapter of my life to be. I will keep writing as the trip unfolds, hopefully with a good story to tell and some good images to show for it.

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