4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs

Three checkpoints, seven hours south of Tecate

Did molly and weed make this a bad trip?

I spotted a tire mounted on a pole with white letters that read “Punta Final.” It opened to a dirt road that stretched for more than ten miles until it reached the Sea of Cortez.
I spotted a tire mounted on a pole with white letters that read “Punta Final.” It opened to a dirt road that stretched for more than ten miles until it reached the Sea of Cortez.

We arrived at Punta Final Saturday at dawn after an arduous seven-hour trip. We left Tecate before midnight after packing the green Durango with camping gear and a shit ton of beer. The driver, a 22-year-old named Gerardo, kept himself awake with a baggie of cocaine he snorted during a bathroom pitstop at a gas station somewhere in San Felipe. In the backseat were Elmira (Gerardo’s sister), Juan “Johnnie,” and Natalia (the cousins). The García family. I acted as co-pilot, making sure Gerardo stayed on track as he sang reggaeton, corrido, and American country (the likes of Alan Jackson). Gerardo was a great driver and what in Mexico they call a “carrilludo” — a sort of loudmouth jokester.

Camping at Punta Final were the other García cousins, waiting for us. Angelina “Angie” (the oldest cousin), Angie’s boyfriend “Yogaman” (a tanned paddle-surfing hippie in his 40s), Talía (the middle cousin), and María, the birthday girl for whom I longed.

Just a few days earlier (on a Sunday), I was sitting with Angie and María at Winchester Pub in Tijuana, drinking beers and discussing the travel plans. They were to leave Thursday at dawn for María’s birthday. Though I had been craving traveling anywhere remote in Baja, I couldn’t go. I had a couple of photography gigs in San Diego that Thursday, and hours of editing on Friday, as well as a therapist appointment in the morning. Angie scrolled through her phone, showing pictures and videos of the remote beach while telling stories of how wonderful and hidden it was. María insisted that I should go and meet them there any way I can.

The next day, I took María to shop for bikinis, camping gear, and more in San Diego. That same night, at Dandy del Sur bar, Angie and María introduced me to their friend Roberto, a dentist who was willing to go on the adventure (and take his car). We agreed to leave Tijuana at around 1 pm on Friday. Roberto was lacking clients due to the pandemic, and I could stay up all Thursday night editing. We exchanged numbers to coordinate the trip.

There was little commu­nication with Roberto on Wednesday, except that he was still willing to go. I texted María my concerns. “He is going for sure,” she texted. “Just relax. Bring all the drugs you can, molly and weed, or what you can get. Put it under your balls because there are military checkpoints along the way.”

I texted María Thursday morning before crossing the border to find out if they were on their way. She texted back later in the day while I was working in San Diego. They had left late because Angie and Yogaman were too hungover to drive in the early morning. In between gigs, I stopped by Goldn Bloom dispensary in Southeast to buy a 1-gram cartridge for a vape pen. I had one hit of acid that a friend left in my apartment before crossing the border to the U.S. Roberto was still not being responsive.

I woke up feeling refreshed as if I just had a good night’s sleep though I only napped for less than two hours. The girls were playing in the shallow water near the camp, the guys went to the store. “Take out your camera Matt,” yelled María and I snapped pictures of the girls playing and posing in the water. María’s tiny black bikini did not help me in not falling more for her.

On Friday, after finishing the edit of the pictures and going to therapy, I texted Roberto that I was ready to go. My therapist told me I should go and have fun but watch my feelings for María.

“I’m delayed an hour, what are you driving?” Roberto texted at noon. I thought I had made it clear that my old 2001 Suzuki was not up for the long trip. “I thought you were driving and meeting the girls in San Felipe. My girlfriend has my car because hers is at the shop, let me see if I can get another car,” Roberto texted back.

I texted María that Roberto was probably not going to make it. She replied, “Fuck him, he is a pussy. My cousins are thinking of coming. Let me link you up with Johnnie.” María created a WhatsApp group with the cousins and included me. She named the group “Fear and Loathing in La Baja.”

María started the chat with a sticker of the anime character Sailor Moon naked, pushing copious amounts of hearts between her legs. “Fuck you guys, you love making WhatsApp groups,” replied Elmira. “Cousins, we want to see you here later today or tomorrow!” wrote María. “If Angie is still in a bad mood, there’s no way I’m going,” texted Elmira.

There was a trail of feces on the upper part of the beach, more feces surrounding the animal, and all over its tail. It didn’t seem injured or distressed. The low tide was a few yards away and inching closer every minute. I wasn’t sure if she was stranded or just lazy. Confusing it with a sea cow, I named her Mumu. (Later research proved me wrong, Mumu was a female elephant seal)

“I’m already drunk! Just come over, it will be great. We’re about to lose signal. Figure it out,” texted María.

The chat between cousins continued until someone asked, “How far is it?”

I replied with a screencap of Google Maps showing it was seven hours away.

“Who is Matingas?” Gerardo wrote in response to seeing my screen name.

“Just some added dude,” I replied.

“He is a lost cousin,” said Natalia, Maria’s little sister.

The chat developed into a myriad of stickers and inside cousin jokes in which I played no part until Johnnie said: “Most of us are still at work. We will leave before dawn at around 4:30 am.”

I packed my bags and went out early drinking in Tijuana with the idea to fall asleep early and wake up at 4 am.

At 8:10 pm, Johnnie, the only cousin I had previously met, texted me in private: “Hey Matt, we decided to leave in 2 hours. Take an Uber to Técnologico de Otay and we will pick up the other cousins in Tecate.”

I linked up with Jonnie at 10:41 pm at the pick-up spot. I had a big green bag with my camping tent, sleeping bag, tripod, beach apparel, towel, snacks, and a 12-pack of Tecate. I had an extra backpack to hold my camera with two lenses, Chuck Palahniuk’s book Pygmy, and extra accessories. In a small pocket of my shorts, I kept the vape pen. The acid hit I cut into four pieces and hid under my phone’s case in a mini Ziploc bag.

On our way to Tecate, I learned that Johnnie was about to graduate college. He had just come back from a study abroad program in La Coruña (Spain), and he loved to party. He had a beer pong table in the trunk of the Durango. We picked up the rest of the cousins in a remote neighborhood in Tecate. Gerardo took the wheel after one last pit stop at 11:30 pm to get beer, water, and snacks. We filled up the gas tank and were on the tricky La Rumorosa highway by midnight.

As the sun was setting behind the turtle looking hill, I felt a sudden urge to climb it and take pictures from the top. I grabbed my tripod and my camera and started walking towards the hill. Yogaman shouted words of encouragement “you are one crazy dude my man, but I admired you for it!” He then started frolicking on the beach tripping balls with Angie. The rest of the girls followed me.

We hit a big military checkpoint between Tecate and Mexicali. It was uneventful. I felt the famous hot air of Mexicali. Twelve miles before the city of Mexicali, Gerardo took the road south towards Federal Highway 5.

“Check it out, it’s Amado Carrillo’s crashed airplane,” said Gerardo. Just a few miles south from the city, there’s an abandoned plane with the nose broken, revealing the inside of the plane. An LA Times article from 1995 explains the crash of the famous drug dealer nicknamed “El Señor de Los Cielos.”

We hit another military checkpoint on our way south to San Felipe. The soldiers made us get out of the car, did a quick inspection, asked a couple of questions, and let us go. They never checked our pockets. “Pinches guachos me la pelan. They didn’t even check for the gun in my bag,” said Gerardo. We weren’t sure if he was joking or not.

The phone signal was spotty to non-existent from that moment on. Towns were very small and far between. The rest was the Baja desert.

We stopped at an Arco gas station at 3:43 am in San Felipe to use the bathroom and stretch our legs. Gerardo went behind the bathrooms to inhale cocaine without telling anyone but me. The rest of the cousins were having cigarettes after the bathroom break. Believing we had passed the last military checkpoint, I took the opportunity to take a couple of hits of my wax pen.

I noticed the other girls joining the camp again. Yogaman and Angie were presumably making love by the hill. The full moon was rising which threatened to ruin the rest of the astrophotos. Back at camp, María didn’t acknowledge my presence and I felt unwelcomed again.

Gerardo continued the drive south. The backseat passengers fell asleep. After a couple of hours, I started to snooze but stayed drowsily awake to try to be a good co-pilot. For the sake of a bit of comfort, I took my wallet, phone, and wax pen from my pockets and put them in my backpack. I must have closed my eyes for no more than 10 minutes, but when I opened them I saw the sign “Revisión Militar - 750 metros.” There was some light, but it wasn’t dawn yet.

I ruffled through my bag, trying to get my wax pen, but could not find it. Instead, I pretended to be half asleep and tried to act nonchalant.

“Vamos a Punta Larga,” said Gerardo when the soldier asked him where we were headed. “Punta Final,” I corrected Gerardo. “Bajense todos del carro,” said the soldier. We obliged. I stayed near the passenger side; the rest of the cousins stayed on the other side of the car. As if the soldier knew, he went straight for my bag and opened the front pocket. “¿Qué es esto?” The soldier asked me after finding the wax pen I couldn’t find. “Tabaco,” I replied, well knowing he wouldn’t believe my lie.

He instructed me to unscrew the top and he inspected it. The cartridge had a small sticker of a marihuana leaf printed on it. “¿Me crees pendejo? Esto es wax de mota.” He gave my wax pen to another soldier, who took it to a nearby hut.

“Don’t lie to me güero and make my job easy on me. Where are the rest of the drugs?” said the soldier in Spanish. I told him I had no more and told him my other bag was the green one. “What about the rest of them?” he asked. “I don’t think so,” I replied.

The other soldier came back with an extra soldier and the wax pen. He placed the wax pen near the Durango and the three soldiers instructed us to open all our bags. They examined everything in the car, going through the girls’ bikinis, stretching out the sleeping bags, checking a toolbox, and more. “Grab whatever you like my man, there’s plenty for all,” Gerardo joked with the soldiers as they rummaged through our things. There was nothing else in the car; they never checked our pockets.

“Look, güero, this is not enough to get you arrested,” said the main soldier, holding up the pen. “Don’t lie to us. Are there any more drugs in the car? Just for this, I could call the Federales and they will process you in front of a judge. They will let you go, but I can still do that.”

I told him I had nothing else. The soldier held up the pen, and for a moment, it seemed like he was going to give it back. Instead, he gave the wax pen to the soldier next to him who was salivating at the loot and let us go.

“Pinche Matt, con más labia y una lana te hubieran regresado tu pluma,” said Gerardo, meaning that if I had employed better talking skills and offered the soldiers some money, they would have given my wax pen back.

“I still have cocaine in my pockets, but I never had a gun,” Gerardo assured us a few minutes after the checkpoint, showing off a little baggie. “I also still have some drugs,” I said. The backseat passengers scowled at me. I apologized for the whole commotion and said I was only kidding.

Just a couple of miles after the military checkpoint, there was a small Pemex gas station and a grocery store. “We’re close, only like 20 more minutes,” exclaimed Elmira, the only one who had been to our final destination before. We stopped by a dusty hot dog stand that was opening up outside the market and asked for directions. The guy told us to keep driving for a bit and we would see a sign for Punta Final. After driving for more than 20 minutes, we still hadn't seen a sign and decided to go back.

On our way back, I spotted a tire mounted on a pole with white letters that read “Punta Final.” It opened to a dirt road that stretched for more than ten miles until it reached the Sea of Cortez. Halfway through, our path was blocked by a gate with instructions and a small hut next to it. A middle-aged man appeared and told us we were lucky, only 20 cars were allowed in the camp and we were number 20. He charged us 250 pesos for the night and swung open the gate.

The bay had a dozen houses; half of them looked decent, the other half looked like dusty huts with trailers. Near the water, there were a bunch of cars and people camping. At the end of the camp, the cousins spotted Yogaman’s white Tacoma. We headed in that direction as two dogs barked and chased the car aggressively. María and Talía were already up outside their tent, watching the sunrise. Gerardo came up to the encampment honking, announcing that we had made it. We all gave María birthday hugs (a day late) and excitedly greeted each other. I told María the soldiers took my wax pen; she told me she lost hers the previous night. Angie and Yogaman stayed in their tent, barely acknowledging our arrival.

We opened up some beers for breakfast as the cousins kept bothering Angie to get up. “Fuck this part of the camp, let’s go over there,” said Angie, finally coming out of her tent. She pointed to a remote part of the bay away from the main encampment. We threw the built tents on top of the cars. The Tacoma led the way and parked near a sign that had a car crossed out. The Durango got stuck on the sand halfway towards the other spot.

Angie took the wheel of the Durango as Gerardo and Johnnie dug the sand around the tires. Angie instructed us to take the air out of the tires. All the guys pushed the Durango out of the sand towards the Tacoma. It got stuck again and it was decided that it would be best if we left it back in the main camp. We pushed it back to the main camp and got stuck a few more times before we parked it near the original spot.

We set up the camp where the Tacoma was parked. Behind us, the rest of the encampment. In front of us, our private beach, with more than a football field of ocean floor due to the low tide. We all grabbed beers and walked towards the ocean. The shallow water revealed small white fish, medium crabs, and a few round stingrays. To play in the deeper water, the girls grabbed an inflatable mattress (not to be used as a floatation device) and Yogaman let us play with his paddleboard.

I borrowed a snorkel from Talía as the girls decided to float away around the rocks towards another part of the beach. After playing with the snorkel for a few minutes, I felt sick and tired. I puked foam from swallowing seawater and the beers for breakfast. I walked back towards camp, grabbed my towel, and headed to a shaded spot to sleep.

I woke up feeling refreshed, as if I'd just had a good night’s sleep, though I’d napped for less than two hours. The girls were playing in the shallow water near the camp; the guys went to the store. “Take out your camera, Matt,” yelled María, and I snapped pictures of the girls playing and posing in the water. María’s tiny black bikini did not help me not to fall for her.

After some pictures, I joined the girls on the water. “What’s that floating towards us?” I asked. It looked like a gigantic seal, swimming no more than 30 feet away from us. Natalia ran out of the water to get her phone for pictures; I did the same for my camera. After I snapped a couple of frames, the big sea mammal disappeared.

The guys returned from the store with ice and more beer. We told them what they had missed. We reviewed the pictures, and it was undecided if what we saw was a seal, sea cow, elephant seal, or a walrus. I said, “If it’s a walrus, all we need is a carpenter and some oysters.” No one understood my joke.

We continued to play in the water and drink beers. There was a big canned tuna casserole with tostadas at camp. I despise canned tuna and opted to eat some bananas that I had brought.

At around 5 pm, I told Yogaman, Angie, and María that I had a hit of acid. Yogaman was excited to take some. As I took it out of my phone cover, María pulled out a large bag containing magic mushrooms. I put the acid back as the baggie of shrooms was passed around. Gerardo and Elmira refused to eat any, despite the peer pressure from the cousins. It was Johnnie’s second time eating shrooms (his first was in Amsterdam). It was Natalia’s first time. I’m not sure about Talía. Those three cousins barely ate any. The rest of the bag was eaten by Yogaman, Angie, María, and me. They didn’t taste bad, and we ate more than a couple of grams each. I was excited to eat some since I hadn’t done any mushrooms in over a decade. The last time was also desert camping, in Anza Borrego for my brother’s birthday.

While we waited for the shrooms to kick in, the conversation shifted from circumcised versus uncircumcised penises to race issues in America versus race relations in Mexico, to whether it was appropriate to take a dump in the ocean, to Cancún travel plans the cousins had arranged for January. We all went back to the water before the sun left us, except for Yogaman and Johnnie, who stayed at the camp pounding beers. Looking out to the horizon, I realized that the final point of the beach looked like a turtle with its tongue sticking out. The hill to my left also had a turtle shape. I thought of my late mom, because it was her favorite animal. I have a turtle tattooed on my chest (with my mom’s ashes mixed in the ink). I realized it was my first time swimming in the Sea of Cortez and my first time in the ocean since before my mother’s death two years prior. I felt solemn, like the sea.

I commented on how the hill and the beach point looked like turtles and all the girls agreed, except Elmira, who said we were just tripping. Gerardo and I went back to the camp to join the guys and pound beers. The girls stayed in the water, forming a circle and giggling with each other. They looked like mermaid witches, floating in the ocean plotting something sinister.

Though we still had plenty of beer, Gerardo insisted on getting more before the store closed. Yogaman and I were tripping hard and told him we were not moving. Johnnie said he felt fine and joined Gerardo. Johnnie later told me: “The shrooms hit me hard when we were on our way to the store. It felt like Gerardo was driving like a maniac. He drove by some hot girls that were with other dudes riding ATVs and lifted a lot of sand their way. They seemed angry so I thought they were following us and wanted to kill us. It wasn’t until we got to the store that I realized no one was following us. It was a bad trip.”

The last two girls out of the water were Angie and María. Yogaman said, “Take a picture of that man! Look at our girls looking hot as fuck running toward us.” I didn’t tell him that María and I weren’t dating. All I said was that I didn’t want to ruin the moment.

As the sun was setting behind the turtle-looking hill, I felt a sudden urge to climb it and take pictures from the top. I grabbed my tripod and my camera and started walking towards the hill. Yogaman shouted words of encouragement, “You are one crazy dude, my man, but I admire you for it!” He started frolicking on the beach with Angie. The rest of the girls followed me.

When we made it to the skirt of the hill, I asked the girls if they wanted their picture taken before I climbed it. They posed for a second, each with a can of Tecate in hand. I started climbing the hill, which was harder than it looked (especially with a camera and a tripod). The girls were still trailing behind me when I heard Natalia exclaim, “Oh my God, the sand is so soft! María, feel the sand! It feels so good!”

The girls lay down on the soft sand and enjoyed the sunset as I made my way to the top of the hill. The top was narrow and it was formed mostly by jagged rocks. The view was astounding, and I yelled at them that they were missing out. I was ignored.

I sat on the top of the hill by myself, setting up my tripod. It was not an easy task. While attempting a selfie, I almost slipped and fell down the other side of the hill which would most likely have killed me. I tripped about life and death as I felt my heart pounding in my ears. Darkness crept in as I was taking long-exposure landscape shots. I knew I had to climb down the hill before it was too dark, but I wanted to take amazing shots since I had made it up there.

It got dark faster than I expected. I couldn’t see the girls at the bottom of the hill anymore. After a few minutes, I heard them yell to ask if I was okay. I yelled back that I was. I wasn’t sure if it was them or if I imagined it. After attempting a few more shots, I started to climb down in the dark. Lucky for me, a car was moving around the main camp and the headlights happened to illuminate the path I was coming down.

At the skirt of the hill, I found María, Talía, and Natalia enjoying the display of stars overhead. Near them were Angie and Yogaman, fooling around. Angie was shushing the other girls to be quiet. I pointed my camera southwest towards the core of the Milky Way and took a 20-second exposure at 800 ISO and aperture 1.8f. I was happy with the result. so I didn’t play with the camera settings any more and started snapping at the Milky Way and playing with different angles.

I showed the girls the pictures. They were impressed, but they seemed to be enjoying their trip. I felt alienated, so I walked back to camp, stopping in different places for more astrophotos. Back at camp, Johnnie, Elmira, and Gerardo were drinking. The coolers had more than enough beer to last more than one night. I took a couple of beers, asked Gerardo to turn off a bright flashlight that was ruining my pictures, and walked away from camp towards the water to keep shooting.

I noticed the other girls joining the camp again. Yogaman and Angie were presumably making love by the hill. The full moon was rising, which threatened to ruin the rest of the astrophotos.

Back at camp, María didn’t acknowledge my presence, and I felt unwelcome again. I left my camera in my tent and walked towards the edge of the water. The low tide allowed me to get away from the camp — more than 100 yards away. I sat by the edge of the water with my beers and suddenly started sobbing. Not only because María was giving me the cold shoulder, but also because of accumulated feelings about my mom suddenly coming to the surface. It seemed each year had been getting worse since her parting, and my life didn’t have any direction. I felt some pride when I thought of how I self-published two books this year, but got depressed again when I remembered I haven’t made much money from them and didn’t know what to do next.

I thought about how much Mom would have loved this place and thought of bringing some of her ashes on a different occasion. I thought of my brother and his family and how I would love to see his kids playing on this beach.

The idea of traveling all of Baja, spreading my mom’s ashes in beautiful spots, brought a smile to my face while tears still rolled down my cheeks. It gave me a sense of purpose. I enjoy exploring Baja and taking pictures. I’d rather do it accompanied, especially by a beautiful woman like María, but I can do it by myself. Perhaps she knew that’s what I needed in my life and it had nothing to do with us being together. Getting away from it all feels great. Especially leaving the phone behind. No more paying attention to social media, posting, and craving social currency. No more constantly refreshing my Amazon account to check how many books I sold or if my book rank has gone up. No more doomscrolling for constant news updates about politics and world issues.

The news can’t reach you if you are disconnected from it all.

I went back to camp after finishing my beers and without saying anything, I went to my small tent. I checked my phone, it was 10:43 pm.

I slept comfortably despite the tent being too small for me. I woke up a couple of times during the night, disoriented, thinking I was back at home. My dreams were wild.

I woke up to a man walking towards my tent near dawn. I thought he was going to yell at us for camping where it was indicated the cars weren’t allowed. Instead, he told me he saw a seal stranded by the rocks near the end of the beach and we should later help him push it back into the ocean. I told him we would and lay down a bit longer.

I got out of my tent before 7 am to find María and Talía cleaning up the camp. The beer pong table was set with red plastic cups filled halfway with sand. There were beer cans and assorted trash everywhere. We had plenty of garbage bags. Without saying much, I started picking up trash with them. After filling up a bag and throwing it on Yogaman’s Tacoma, I grabbed my book and walked toward the shady part of the beach where I’d napped the day before.

The two dogs that were barking at the car when we entered camp were barking at my shaded spot. As I approached it, I noticed they were barking at a large sea mammal stranded at the beach. It was the same animal that had been swimming near us. There was a trail of feces on the upper part of the beach, more feces surrounding the animal, and still more all over its tail. It didn’t seem injured or distressed. The low tide was a few yards away and inching closer every minute. I wasn’t sure if she was stranded or just lazy. I decided she was a sea cow and named her Mumu. (Later research proved me wrong; Mumu was a female elephant seal.)

I went back to camp to tell the cousins, who were having breakfast beers. I grabbed my camera and went back to Mumu. I took some pictures and went back to camp to show them. The cousins joined me with their beers to try and help the animal (Yogaman stayed behind). Gerardo approached Mumu, getting closer than I’d dared before. Mumu opened her mouth wide in his direction, showing us four little teeth.

“Let’s not bother it, I’m sure it will go back to the water,” said Gerardo. He collected seawater with an empty XX bottle and sprayed Mumu, who seemed annoyed but didn’t do much. It was clear that Mumu could move on her own and did not need a push from us. After a while, the cousins went back to camp.

I stayed with Mumu, wondering if she was pregnant and being concerned for her well being. Mumu ignored me and closed her eyes. I continued reading Pygmy while observing the massive animal next to me. Every once in a while, she would look my way, as if saying, “I wonder if he is still here.” We would lock eyes and she would go back to napping. She changed napping positions several times. She would scratch her head and toss sand on her torso with her flippers.

As the sun crept upwards and my shaded spot started to disappear, I went back to camp. Elmira was annoyed, ready to leave and demanding a shower. Yogaman was sleeping in his Tacoma. The rest of the cousins were drinking. It was agreed that we would swim once more and start our journey back. Elmira and Yogaman stayed in the camp. The rest of us went for one last swim. Angie suggested swimming around the rocks behind the turtle hill.

Already sunburned and trying to avoid the sun, I went ahead on foot. I climbed around the jagged rocks until I found a shaded swimming area. There was a greater diversity of fish and other animals in the area, and I regretted not having the snorkel.

Angie and María were the first ones to show up. Angie said it wasn’t the spot and continued around the hill. I followed behind them, climbing sharp, tricky, mossy rocks. This was the area where I would have fallen the previous night. Angie found the spot and dove from a higher rock. María followed. I was still yards away from the diving rock but I spotted the rest of the cousins swimming around the rocks instead of climbing them. Natalia was holding on to Gerardo, exhausted from the swim.

The other side of turtle hill opened to a natural and deep pool, filled with an even greater variety of fish. I took a few dives for fun from different rocks while María and Angie encouraged the other cousins to reach the spot. The party swam in the pool for a while as I sat on a shaded spot in between the rocks. We saw Yogaman paddle far out on his board until he disappeared. We spotted a turtle that came out for a breather now and then until a jet ski went by and spooked him for good.

It wasn’t even noon but the 100-degree heat was upon us. Elmira was still annoyed and demanding a shower. We packed the tents, huddled under a shade tent, and drank beers while waiting for Yogaman to return.

Though most of us were okay with not showering until getting back home, Elmira got her wish and we stopped by the market to rent showers. Yogaman, Gerardo, Angie, and I went to a small hut that was serving seafood. A bit famished, I ordered two tostadas. Gerardo went back to the Tacoma to grab the last of the beers. The scallop tostadas were fantastic, while the fish was nothing too special. I ordered another round of the scallops for all, not realizing that each order was 250 pesos.

The rest of the cousins were still in the shower area when we finished eating. Tickets to shower in the market were 45 pesos. Claiming she was uncomfortable on the middle backseat of the Durango, Natalia switched cars and went to the middle backseat of the Tacoma. Before we started our journey back, Yogaman chugged the rest of a bottle of tequila.

The first military check­point, the one that took my wax pen, was uneventful. We continued our journey north, following the white Tacoma driven by Angie, who was speeding. Elmira and Johnnie were concerned that she was too drunk to drive and told Gerardo to stop following her. They were hungry and insisted on stopping to eat anywhere without the other cousins, though Angie said she knew a spot in San Felipe.

The San Felipe boardwalk was filled with cars and people entering and exiting. Angie went the wrong way on a one-way street road as locals yelled at her to turn around. Gerardo followed behind her. While backing up, Angie hit the back window of a car with the tip of the paddleboard, not damaging the vehicle. Nonetheless, she freaked out and drove away from San Felipe in a hurry.

Gerardo got into an argument with his older sister about staying together with the other car, while Elmira said Angie didn’t give a shit about us and we should stop to eat. Johnnie was on Elmira’s side and wanted to stop in San Felipe to eat. I tried not taking any sides and stared in awkward silence while the siblings fought. We went to an Arco station to fill up the tank while trying to reach the other party. The argument about what to do continued.

Finally, Johnnie reached out to Talía, and she sent us the location of a restaurant Angie found outside of San Felipe: Jollymon Bar. We found them sitting on a table near the entrance. At one table sat two older Mexican gentlemen, at another, an old American couple drinking in silence, and at a third table, four old Americans drinking and having fun. There was a plump Mexican woman behind the counter, bored out of her mind. The NFL was playing on the television and the decorations were tropical. It felt more like a Parrothead bar in a strip mall in Arizona than something you would find in Baja.

The waiter came to take the order of his surprise guests. Yogaman, Angie, Gerardo, María, and I got beers. The rest ordered sodas and lemonades. The menu had pizza, plates of pasta, barbecue ribs, hamburgers, and more Americanized food. Two burgers, a large mushroom pizza, spaghetti and meatballs, a large order of fries, and barbecue ribs appeared on the table after a 30-minute wait. We all feasted. María sat on the opposite side of the table and didn’t acknowledge me.

Gerardo didn’t stop drinking. Johnnie said he would take the wheel of the Durango. Elmira took the co-pilot seat. Angie still drove the Tacoma, passing cars aggressively. Johnnie, a more conservative driver, stopped following. Reggaeton still blasted on the stereo. I tried ignoring all of it and went back to my book.

The second military checkpoint was uneventful.

At the third military checkpoint, the larger one before La Rumorosa, the soldiers pulled us to the side. One soldier made us get out of the car as other soldiers inspected a different vehicle in the vicinity. The soldier separated us until it was only Elmira and him in the back of the Durango inspecting the bags. The soldier then came up to me and asked if I did any drugs. I told him I didn’t and asked why he would ask me — if it was because I’m a güero. He said it was because my eyes were red. I told him my whole body was red and he laughed. I still had the hit of acid hidden in my phone’s case.

They let us go.

Elmira told us the soldier was hitting on her when she got separated from us. The soldier asked if I was her boyfriend, and Elmira replied I was a friend. He then inquired if she had a boyfriend. She did. He still asked if she would go out with him, and she said nothing.

We dropped Elmira and Gerardo at their home in Tecate. On our way back to Tijuana, I asked Johnnie if he could drop me home instead of in Otay, and he agreed.

I made it home shortly before midnight. I noticed my extreme sunburn and the sun blisters on my back. I took a cold shower, applied aloe vera cream, and went to bed.

I never saw María again.

Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all

Previous article

Padres player scandals, city council caves to John Moores, farm manager Russ Nixon tells history

1995 season-long strike, handicapped fans tell how it is for them, who really owns the team?
Next Article

Columbine and Pepper streets get serious patch

"You almost needed a four-wheel drive"
I spotted a tire mounted on a pole with white letters that read “Punta Final.” It opened to a dirt road that stretched for more than ten miles until it reached the Sea of Cortez.
I spotted a tire mounted on a pole with white letters that read “Punta Final.” It opened to a dirt road that stretched for more than ten miles until it reached the Sea of Cortez.

We arrived at Punta Final Saturday at dawn after an arduous seven-hour trip. We left Tecate before midnight after packing the green Durango with camping gear and a shit ton of beer. The driver, a 22-year-old named Gerardo, kept himself awake with a baggie of cocaine he snorted during a bathroom pitstop at a gas station somewhere in San Felipe. In the backseat were Elmira (Gerardo’s sister), Juan “Johnnie,” and Natalia (the cousins). The García family. I acted as co-pilot, making sure Gerardo stayed on track as he sang reggaeton, corrido, and American country (the likes of Alan Jackson). Gerardo was a great driver and what in Mexico they call a “carrilludo” — a sort of loudmouth jokester.

Camping at Punta Final were the other García cousins, waiting for us. Angelina “Angie” (the oldest cousin), Angie’s boyfriend “Yogaman” (a tanned paddle-surfing hippie in his 40s), Talía (the middle cousin), and María, the birthday girl for whom I longed.

Just a few days earlier (on a Sunday), I was sitting with Angie and María at Winchester Pub in Tijuana, drinking beers and discussing the travel plans. They were to leave Thursday at dawn for María’s birthday. Though I had been craving traveling anywhere remote in Baja, I couldn’t go. I had a couple of photography gigs in San Diego that Thursday, and hours of editing on Friday, as well as a therapist appointment in the morning. Angie scrolled through her phone, showing pictures and videos of the remote beach while telling stories of how wonderful and hidden it was. María insisted that I should go and meet them there any way I can.

The next day, I took María to shop for bikinis, camping gear, and more in San Diego. That same night, at Dandy del Sur bar, Angie and María introduced me to their friend Roberto, a dentist who was willing to go on the adventure (and take his car). We agreed to leave Tijuana at around 1 pm on Friday. Roberto was lacking clients due to the pandemic, and I could stay up all Thursday night editing. We exchanged numbers to coordinate the trip.

There was little commu­nication with Roberto on Wednesday, except that he was still willing to go. I texted María my concerns. “He is going for sure,” she texted. “Just relax. Bring all the drugs you can, molly and weed, or what you can get. Put it under your balls because there are military checkpoints along the way.”

I texted María Thursday morning before crossing the border to find out if they were on their way. She texted back later in the day while I was working in San Diego. They had left late because Angie and Yogaman were too hungover to drive in the early morning. In between gigs, I stopped by Goldn Bloom dispensary in Southeast to buy a 1-gram cartridge for a vape pen. I had one hit of acid that a friend left in my apartment before crossing the border to the U.S. Roberto was still not being responsive.

I woke up feeling refreshed as if I just had a good night’s sleep though I only napped for less than two hours. The girls were playing in the shallow water near the camp, the guys went to the store. “Take out your camera Matt,” yelled María and I snapped pictures of the girls playing and posing in the water. María’s tiny black bikini did not help me in not falling more for her.

On Friday, after finishing the edit of the pictures and going to therapy, I texted Roberto that I was ready to go. My therapist told me I should go and have fun but watch my feelings for María.

“I’m delayed an hour, what are you driving?” Roberto texted at noon. I thought I had made it clear that my old 2001 Suzuki was not up for the long trip. “I thought you were driving and meeting the girls in San Felipe. My girlfriend has my car because hers is at the shop, let me see if I can get another car,” Roberto texted back.

I texted María that Roberto was probably not going to make it. She replied, “Fuck him, he is a pussy. My cousins are thinking of coming. Let me link you up with Johnnie.” María created a WhatsApp group with the cousins and included me. She named the group “Fear and Loathing in La Baja.”

María started the chat with a sticker of the anime character Sailor Moon naked, pushing copious amounts of hearts between her legs. “Fuck you guys, you love making WhatsApp groups,” replied Elmira. “Cousins, we want to see you here later today or tomorrow!” wrote María. “If Angie is still in a bad mood, there’s no way I’m going,” texted Elmira.

There was a trail of feces on the upper part of the beach, more feces surrounding the animal, and all over its tail. It didn’t seem injured or distressed. The low tide was a few yards away and inching closer every minute. I wasn’t sure if she was stranded or just lazy. Confusing it with a sea cow, I named her Mumu. (Later research proved me wrong, Mumu was a female elephant seal)

“I’m already drunk! Just come over, it will be great. We’re about to lose signal. Figure it out,” texted María.

The chat between cousins continued until someone asked, “How far is it?”

I replied with a screencap of Google Maps showing it was seven hours away.

“Who is Matingas?” Gerardo wrote in response to seeing my screen name.

“Just some added dude,” I replied.

“He is a lost cousin,” said Natalia, Maria’s little sister.

The chat developed into a myriad of stickers and inside cousin jokes in which I played no part until Johnnie said: “Most of us are still at work. We will leave before dawn at around 4:30 am.”

I packed my bags and went out early drinking in Tijuana with the idea to fall asleep early and wake up at 4 am.

At 8:10 pm, Johnnie, the only cousin I had previously met, texted me in private: “Hey Matt, we decided to leave in 2 hours. Take an Uber to Técnologico de Otay and we will pick up the other cousins in Tecate.”

I linked up with Jonnie at 10:41 pm at the pick-up spot. I had a big green bag with my camping tent, sleeping bag, tripod, beach apparel, towel, snacks, and a 12-pack of Tecate. I had an extra backpack to hold my camera with two lenses, Chuck Palahniuk’s book Pygmy, and extra accessories. In a small pocket of my shorts, I kept the vape pen. The acid hit I cut into four pieces and hid under my phone’s case in a mini Ziploc bag.

On our way to Tecate, I learned that Johnnie was about to graduate college. He had just come back from a study abroad program in La Coruña (Spain), and he loved to party. He had a beer pong table in the trunk of the Durango. We picked up the rest of the cousins in a remote neighborhood in Tecate. Gerardo took the wheel after one last pit stop at 11:30 pm to get beer, water, and snacks. We filled up the gas tank and were on the tricky La Rumorosa highway by midnight.

As the sun was setting behind the turtle looking hill, I felt a sudden urge to climb it and take pictures from the top. I grabbed my tripod and my camera and started walking towards the hill. Yogaman shouted words of encouragement “you are one crazy dude my man, but I admired you for it!” He then started frolicking on the beach tripping balls with Angie. The rest of the girls followed me.

We hit a big military checkpoint between Tecate and Mexicali. It was uneventful. I felt the famous hot air of Mexicali. Twelve miles before the city of Mexicali, Gerardo took the road south towards Federal Highway 5.

“Check it out, it’s Amado Carrillo’s crashed airplane,” said Gerardo. Just a few miles south from the city, there’s an abandoned plane with the nose broken, revealing the inside of the plane. An LA Times article from 1995 explains the crash of the famous drug dealer nicknamed “El Señor de Los Cielos.”

We hit another military checkpoint on our way south to San Felipe. The soldiers made us get out of the car, did a quick inspection, asked a couple of questions, and let us go. They never checked our pockets. “Pinches guachos me la pelan. They didn’t even check for the gun in my bag,” said Gerardo. We weren’t sure if he was joking or not.

The phone signal was spotty to non-existent from that moment on. Towns were very small and far between. The rest was the Baja desert.

We stopped at an Arco gas station at 3:43 am in San Felipe to use the bathroom and stretch our legs. Gerardo went behind the bathrooms to inhale cocaine without telling anyone but me. The rest of the cousins were having cigarettes after the bathroom break. Believing we had passed the last military checkpoint, I took the opportunity to take a couple of hits of my wax pen.

I noticed the other girls joining the camp again. Yogaman and Angie were presumably making love by the hill. The full moon was rising which threatened to ruin the rest of the astrophotos. Back at camp, María didn’t acknowledge my presence and I felt unwelcomed again.

Gerardo continued the drive south. The backseat passengers fell asleep. After a couple of hours, I started to snooze but stayed drowsily awake to try to be a good co-pilot. For the sake of a bit of comfort, I took my wallet, phone, and wax pen from my pockets and put them in my backpack. I must have closed my eyes for no more than 10 minutes, but when I opened them I saw the sign “Revisión Militar - 750 metros.” There was some light, but it wasn’t dawn yet.

I ruffled through my bag, trying to get my wax pen, but could not find it. Instead, I pretended to be half asleep and tried to act nonchalant.

“Vamos a Punta Larga,” said Gerardo when the soldier asked him where we were headed. “Punta Final,” I corrected Gerardo. “Bajense todos del carro,” said the soldier. We obliged. I stayed near the passenger side; the rest of the cousins stayed on the other side of the car. As if the soldier knew, he went straight for my bag and opened the front pocket. “¿Qué es esto?” The soldier asked me after finding the wax pen I couldn’t find. “Tabaco,” I replied, well knowing he wouldn’t believe my lie.

He instructed me to unscrew the top and he inspected it. The cartridge had a small sticker of a marihuana leaf printed on it. “¿Me crees pendejo? Esto es wax de mota.” He gave my wax pen to another soldier, who took it to a nearby hut.

“Don’t lie to me güero and make my job easy on me. Where are the rest of the drugs?” said the soldier in Spanish. I told him I had no more and told him my other bag was the green one. “What about the rest of them?” he asked. “I don’t think so,” I replied.

The other soldier came back with an extra soldier and the wax pen. He placed the wax pen near the Durango and the three soldiers instructed us to open all our bags. They examined everything in the car, going through the girls’ bikinis, stretching out the sleeping bags, checking a toolbox, and more. “Grab whatever you like my man, there’s plenty for all,” Gerardo joked with the soldiers as they rummaged through our things. There was nothing else in the car; they never checked our pockets.

“Look, güero, this is not enough to get you arrested,” said the main soldier, holding up the pen. “Don’t lie to us. Are there any more drugs in the car? Just for this, I could call the Federales and they will process you in front of a judge. They will let you go, but I can still do that.”

I told him I had nothing else. The soldier held up the pen, and for a moment, it seemed like he was going to give it back. Instead, he gave the wax pen to the soldier next to him who was salivating at the loot and let us go.

“Pinche Matt, con más labia y una lana te hubieran regresado tu pluma,” said Gerardo, meaning that if I had employed better talking skills and offered the soldiers some money, they would have given my wax pen back.

“I still have cocaine in my pockets, but I never had a gun,” Gerardo assured us a few minutes after the checkpoint, showing off a little baggie. “I also still have some drugs,” I said. The backseat passengers scowled at me. I apologized for the whole commotion and said I was only kidding.

Just a couple of miles after the military checkpoint, there was a small Pemex gas station and a grocery store. “We’re close, only like 20 more minutes,” exclaimed Elmira, the only one who had been to our final destination before. We stopped by a dusty hot dog stand that was opening up outside the market and asked for directions. The guy told us to keep driving for a bit and we would see a sign for Punta Final. After driving for more than 20 minutes, we still hadn't seen a sign and decided to go back.

On our way back, I spotted a tire mounted on a pole with white letters that read “Punta Final.” It opened to a dirt road that stretched for more than ten miles until it reached the Sea of Cortez. Halfway through, our path was blocked by a gate with instructions and a small hut next to it. A middle-aged man appeared and told us we were lucky, only 20 cars were allowed in the camp and we were number 20. He charged us 250 pesos for the night and swung open the gate.

The bay had a dozen houses; half of them looked decent, the other half looked like dusty huts with trailers. Near the water, there were a bunch of cars and people camping. At the end of the camp, the cousins spotted Yogaman’s white Tacoma. We headed in that direction as two dogs barked and chased the car aggressively. María and Talía were already up outside their tent, watching the sunrise. Gerardo came up to the encampment honking, announcing that we had made it. We all gave María birthday hugs (a day late) and excitedly greeted each other. I told María the soldiers took my wax pen; she told me she lost hers the previous night. Angie and Yogaman stayed in their tent, barely acknowledging our arrival.

We opened up some beers for breakfast as the cousins kept bothering Angie to get up. “Fuck this part of the camp, let’s go over there,” said Angie, finally coming out of her tent. She pointed to a remote part of the bay away from the main encampment. We threw the built tents on top of the cars. The Tacoma led the way and parked near a sign that had a car crossed out. The Durango got stuck on the sand halfway towards the other spot.

Angie took the wheel of the Durango as Gerardo and Johnnie dug the sand around the tires. Angie instructed us to take the air out of the tires. All the guys pushed the Durango out of the sand towards the Tacoma. It got stuck again and it was decided that it would be best if we left it back in the main camp. We pushed it back to the main camp and got stuck a few more times before we parked it near the original spot.

We set up the camp where the Tacoma was parked. Behind us, the rest of the encampment. In front of us, our private beach, with more than a football field of ocean floor due to the low tide. We all grabbed beers and walked towards the ocean. The shallow water revealed small white fish, medium crabs, and a few round stingrays. To play in the deeper water, the girls grabbed an inflatable mattress (not to be used as a floatation device) and Yogaman let us play with his paddleboard.

I borrowed a snorkel from Talía as the girls decided to float away around the rocks towards another part of the beach. After playing with the snorkel for a few minutes, I felt sick and tired. I puked foam from swallowing seawater and the beers for breakfast. I walked back towards camp, grabbed my towel, and headed to a shaded spot to sleep.

I woke up feeling refreshed, as if I'd just had a good night’s sleep, though I’d napped for less than two hours. The girls were playing in the shallow water near the camp; the guys went to the store. “Take out your camera, Matt,” yelled María, and I snapped pictures of the girls playing and posing in the water. María’s tiny black bikini did not help me not to fall for her.

After some pictures, I joined the girls on the water. “What’s that floating towards us?” I asked. It looked like a gigantic seal, swimming no more than 30 feet away from us. Natalia ran out of the water to get her phone for pictures; I did the same for my camera. After I snapped a couple of frames, the big sea mammal disappeared.

The guys returned from the store with ice and more beer. We told them what they had missed. We reviewed the pictures, and it was undecided if what we saw was a seal, sea cow, elephant seal, or a walrus. I said, “If it’s a walrus, all we need is a carpenter and some oysters.” No one understood my joke.

We continued to play in the water and drink beers. There was a big canned tuna casserole with tostadas at camp. I despise canned tuna and opted to eat some bananas that I had brought.

At around 5 pm, I told Yogaman, Angie, and María that I had a hit of acid. Yogaman was excited to take some. As I took it out of my phone cover, María pulled out a large bag containing magic mushrooms. I put the acid back as the baggie of shrooms was passed around. Gerardo and Elmira refused to eat any, despite the peer pressure from the cousins. It was Johnnie’s second time eating shrooms (his first was in Amsterdam). It was Natalia’s first time. I’m not sure about Talía. Those three cousins barely ate any. The rest of the bag was eaten by Yogaman, Angie, María, and me. They didn’t taste bad, and we ate more than a couple of grams each. I was excited to eat some since I hadn’t done any mushrooms in over a decade. The last time was also desert camping, in Anza Borrego for my brother’s birthday.

While we waited for the shrooms to kick in, the conversation shifted from circumcised versus uncircumcised penises to race issues in America versus race relations in Mexico, to whether it was appropriate to take a dump in the ocean, to Cancún travel plans the cousins had arranged for January. We all went back to the water before the sun left us, except for Yogaman and Johnnie, who stayed at the camp pounding beers. Looking out to the horizon, I realized that the final point of the beach looked like a turtle with its tongue sticking out. The hill to my left also had a turtle shape. I thought of my late mom, because it was her favorite animal. I have a turtle tattooed on my chest (with my mom’s ashes mixed in the ink). I realized it was my first time swimming in the Sea of Cortez and my first time in the ocean since before my mother’s death two years prior. I felt solemn, like the sea.

I commented on how the hill and the beach point looked like turtles and all the girls agreed, except Elmira, who said we were just tripping. Gerardo and I went back to the camp to join the guys and pound beers. The girls stayed in the water, forming a circle and giggling with each other. They looked like mermaid witches, floating in the ocean plotting something sinister.

Though we still had plenty of beer, Gerardo insisted on getting more before the store closed. Yogaman and I were tripping hard and told him we were not moving. Johnnie said he felt fine and joined Gerardo. Johnnie later told me: “The shrooms hit me hard when we were on our way to the store. It felt like Gerardo was driving like a maniac. He drove by some hot girls that were with other dudes riding ATVs and lifted a lot of sand their way. They seemed angry so I thought they were following us and wanted to kill us. It wasn’t until we got to the store that I realized no one was following us. It was a bad trip.”

The last two girls out of the water were Angie and María. Yogaman said, “Take a picture of that man! Look at our girls looking hot as fuck running toward us.” I didn’t tell him that María and I weren’t dating. All I said was that I didn’t want to ruin the moment.

As the sun was setting behind the turtle-looking hill, I felt a sudden urge to climb it and take pictures from the top. I grabbed my tripod and my camera and started walking towards the hill. Yogaman shouted words of encouragement, “You are one crazy dude, my man, but I admire you for it!” He started frolicking on the beach with Angie. The rest of the girls followed me.

When we made it to the skirt of the hill, I asked the girls if they wanted their picture taken before I climbed it. They posed for a second, each with a can of Tecate in hand. I started climbing the hill, which was harder than it looked (especially with a camera and a tripod). The girls were still trailing behind me when I heard Natalia exclaim, “Oh my God, the sand is so soft! María, feel the sand! It feels so good!”

The girls lay down on the soft sand and enjoyed the sunset as I made my way to the top of the hill. The top was narrow and it was formed mostly by jagged rocks. The view was astounding, and I yelled at them that they were missing out. I was ignored.

I sat on the top of the hill by myself, setting up my tripod. It was not an easy task. While attempting a selfie, I almost slipped and fell down the other side of the hill which would most likely have killed me. I tripped about life and death as I felt my heart pounding in my ears. Darkness crept in as I was taking long-exposure landscape shots. I knew I had to climb down the hill before it was too dark, but I wanted to take amazing shots since I had made it up there.

It got dark faster than I expected. I couldn’t see the girls at the bottom of the hill anymore. After a few minutes, I heard them yell to ask if I was okay. I yelled back that I was. I wasn’t sure if it was them or if I imagined it. After attempting a few more shots, I started to climb down in the dark. Lucky for me, a car was moving around the main camp and the headlights happened to illuminate the path I was coming down.

At the skirt of the hill, I found María, Talía, and Natalia enjoying the display of stars overhead. Near them were Angie and Yogaman, fooling around. Angie was shushing the other girls to be quiet. I pointed my camera southwest towards the core of the Milky Way and took a 20-second exposure at 800 ISO and aperture 1.8f. I was happy with the result. so I didn’t play with the camera settings any more and started snapping at the Milky Way and playing with different angles.

I showed the girls the pictures. They were impressed, but they seemed to be enjoying their trip. I felt alienated, so I walked back to camp, stopping in different places for more astrophotos. Back at camp, Johnnie, Elmira, and Gerardo were drinking. The coolers had more than enough beer to last more than one night. I took a couple of beers, asked Gerardo to turn off a bright flashlight that was ruining my pictures, and walked away from camp towards the water to keep shooting.

I noticed the other girls joining the camp again. Yogaman and Angie were presumably making love by the hill. The full moon was rising, which threatened to ruin the rest of the astrophotos.

Back at camp, María didn’t acknowledge my presence, and I felt unwelcome again. I left my camera in my tent and walked towards the edge of the water. The low tide allowed me to get away from the camp — more than 100 yards away. I sat by the edge of the water with my beers and suddenly started sobbing. Not only because María was giving me the cold shoulder, but also because of accumulated feelings about my mom suddenly coming to the surface. It seemed each year had been getting worse since her parting, and my life didn’t have any direction. I felt some pride when I thought of how I self-published two books this year, but got depressed again when I remembered I haven’t made much money from them and didn’t know what to do next.

I thought about how much Mom would have loved this place and thought of bringing some of her ashes on a different occasion. I thought of my brother and his family and how I would love to see his kids playing on this beach.

The idea of traveling all of Baja, spreading my mom’s ashes in beautiful spots, brought a smile to my face while tears still rolled down my cheeks. It gave me a sense of purpose. I enjoy exploring Baja and taking pictures. I’d rather do it accompanied, especially by a beautiful woman like María, but I can do it by myself. Perhaps she knew that’s what I needed in my life and it had nothing to do with us being together. Getting away from it all feels great. Especially leaving the phone behind. No more paying attention to social media, posting, and craving social currency. No more constantly refreshing my Amazon account to check how many books I sold or if my book rank has gone up. No more doomscrolling for constant news updates about politics and world issues.

The news can’t reach you if you are disconnected from it all.

I went back to camp after finishing my beers and without saying anything, I went to my small tent. I checked my phone, it was 10:43 pm.

I slept comfortably despite the tent being too small for me. I woke up a couple of times during the night, disoriented, thinking I was back at home. My dreams were wild.

I woke up to a man walking towards my tent near dawn. I thought he was going to yell at us for camping where it was indicated the cars weren’t allowed. Instead, he told me he saw a seal stranded by the rocks near the end of the beach and we should later help him push it back into the ocean. I told him we would and lay down a bit longer.

I got out of my tent before 7 am to find María and Talía cleaning up the camp. The beer pong table was set with red plastic cups filled halfway with sand. There were beer cans and assorted trash everywhere. We had plenty of garbage bags. Without saying much, I started picking up trash with them. After filling up a bag and throwing it on Yogaman’s Tacoma, I grabbed my book and walked toward the shady part of the beach where I’d napped the day before.

The two dogs that were barking at the car when we entered camp were barking at my shaded spot. As I approached it, I noticed they were barking at a large sea mammal stranded at the beach. It was the same animal that had been swimming near us. There was a trail of feces on the upper part of the beach, more feces surrounding the animal, and still more all over its tail. It didn’t seem injured or distressed. The low tide was a few yards away and inching closer every minute. I wasn’t sure if she was stranded or just lazy. I decided she was a sea cow and named her Mumu. (Later research proved me wrong; Mumu was a female elephant seal.)

I went back to camp to tell the cousins, who were having breakfast beers. I grabbed my camera and went back to Mumu. I took some pictures and went back to camp to show them. The cousins joined me with their beers to try and help the animal (Yogaman stayed behind). Gerardo approached Mumu, getting closer than I’d dared before. Mumu opened her mouth wide in his direction, showing us four little teeth.

“Let’s not bother it, I’m sure it will go back to the water,” said Gerardo. He collected seawater with an empty XX bottle and sprayed Mumu, who seemed annoyed but didn’t do much. It was clear that Mumu could move on her own and did not need a push from us. After a while, the cousins went back to camp.

I stayed with Mumu, wondering if she was pregnant and being concerned for her well being. Mumu ignored me and closed her eyes. I continued reading Pygmy while observing the massive animal next to me. Every once in a while, she would look my way, as if saying, “I wonder if he is still here.” We would lock eyes and she would go back to napping. She changed napping positions several times. She would scratch her head and toss sand on her torso with her flippers.

As the sun crept upwards and my shaded spot started to disappear, I went back to camp. Elmira was annoyed, ready to leave and demanding a shower. Yogaman was sleeping in his Tacoma. The rest of the cousins were drinking. It was agreed that we would swim once more and start our journey back. Elmira and Yogaman stayed in the camp. The rest of us went for one last swim. Angie suggested swimming around the rocks behind the turtle hill.

Already sunburned and trying to avoid the sun, I went ahead on foot. I climbed around the jagged rocks until I found a shaded swimming area. There was a greater diversity of fish and other animals in the area, and I regretted not having the snorkel.

Angie and María were the first ones to show up. Angie said it wasn’t the spot and continued around the hill. I followed behind them, climbing sharp, tricky, mossy rocks. This was the area where I would have fallen the previous night. Angie found the spot and dove from a higher rock. María followed. I was still yards away from the diving rock but I spotted the rest of the cousins swimming around the rocks instead of climbing them. Natalia was holding on to Gerardo, exhausted from the swim.

The other side of turtle hill opened to a natural and deep pool, filled with an even greater variety of fish. I took a few dives for fun from different rocks while María and Angie encouraged the other cousins to reach the spot. The party swam in the pool for a while as I sat on a shaded spot in between the rocks. We saw Yogaman paddle far out on his board until he disappeared. We spotted a turtle that came out for a breather now and then until a jet ski went by and spooked him for good.

It wasn’t even noon but the 100-degree heat was upon us. Elmira was still annoyed and demanding a shower. We packed the tents, huddled under a shade tent, and drank beers while waiting for Yogaman to return.

Though most of us were okay with not showering until getting back home, Elmira got her wish and we stopped by the market to rent showers. Yogaman, Gerardo, Angie, and I went to a small hut that was serving seafood. A bit famished, I ordered two tostadas. Gerardo went back to the Tacoma to grab the last of the beers. The scallop tostadas were fantastic, while the fish was nothing too special. I ordered another round of the scallops for all, not realizing that each order was 250 pesos.

The rest of the cousins were still in the shower area when we finished eating. Tickets to shower in the market were 45 pesos. Claiming she was uncomfortable on the middle backseat of the Durango, Natalia switched cars and went to the middle backseat of the Tacoma. Before we started our journey back, Yogaman chugged the rest of a bottle of tequila.

The first military check­point, the one that took my wax pen, was uneventful. We continued our journey north, following the white Tacoma driven by Angie, who was speeding. Elmira and Johnnie were concerned that she was too drunk to drive and told Gerardo to stop following her. They were hungry and insisted on stopping to eat anywhere without the other cousins, though Angie said she knew a spot in San Felipe.

The San Felipe boardwalk was filled with cars and people entering and exiting. Angie went the wrong way on a one-way street road as locals yelled at her to turn around. Gerardo followed behind her. While backing up, Angie hit the back window of a car with the tip of the paddleboard, not damaging the vehicle. Nonetheless, she freaked out and drove away from San Felipe in a hurry.

Gerardo got into an argument with his older sister about staying together with the other car, while Elmira said Angie didn’t give a shit about us and we should stop to eat. Johnnie was on Elmira’s side and wanted to stop in San Felipe to eat. I tried not taking any sides and stared in awkward silence while the siblings fought. We went to an Arco station to fill up the tank while trying to reach the other party. The argument about what to do continued.

Finally, Johnnie reached out to Talía, and she sent us the location of a restaurant Angie found outside of San Felipe: Jollymon Bar. We found them sitting on a table near the entrance. At one table sat two older Mexican gentlemen, at another, an old American couple drinking in silence, and at a third table, four old Americans drinking and having fun. There was a plump Mexican woman behind the counter, bored out of her mind. The NFL was playing on the television and the decorations were tropical. It felt more like a Parrothead bar in a strip mall in Arizona than something you would find in Baja.

The waiter came to take the order of his surprise guests. Yogaman, Angie, Gerardo, María, and I got beers. The rest ordered sodas and lemonades. The menu had pizza, plates of pasta, barbecue ribs, hamburgers, and more Americanized food. Two burgers, a large mushroom pizza, spaghetti and meatballs, a large order of fries, and barbecue ribs appeared on the table after a 30-minute wait. We all feasted. María sat on the opposite side of the table and didn’t acknowledge me.

Gerardo didn’t stop drinking. Johnnie said he would take the wheel of the Durango. Elmira took the co-pilot seat. Angie still drove the Tacoma, passing cars aggressively. Johnnie, a more conservative driver, stopped following. Reggaeton still blasted on the stereo. I tried ignoring all of it and went back to my book.

The second military checkpoint was uneventful.

At the third military checkpoint, the larger one before La Rumorosa, the soldiers pulled us to the side. One soldier made us get out of the car as other soldiers inspected a different vehicle in the vicinity. The soldier separated us until it was only Elmira and him in the back of the Durango inspecting the bags. The soldier then came up to me and asked if I did any drugs. I told him I didn’t and asked why he would ask me — if it was because I’m a güero. He said it was because my eyes were red. I told him my whole body was red and he laughed. I still had the hit of acid hidden in my phone’s case.

They let us go.

Elmira told us the soldier was hitting on her when she got separated from us. The soldier asked if I was her boyfriend, and Elmira replied I was a friend. He then inquired if she had a boyfriend. She did. He still asked if she would go out with him, and she said nothing.

We dropped Elmira and Gerardo at their home in Tecate. On our way back to Tijuana, I asked Johnnie if he could drop me home instead of in Otay, and he agreed.

I made it home shortly before midnight. I noticed my extreme sunburn and the sun blisters on my back. I took a cold shower, applied aloe vera cream, and went to bed.

I never saw María again.

Sponsored
Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all
Previous article

San Diego's worst white collar crime these days

Dr. Jennings Ryan Staley, Geraldine and Clayton Hill, Shawn Heffernan, Charles Burruss and “Armani” Adams, Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein
Next Article

Remember the West Coast IPA?

Hazy beers may be everywhere now, but these IPAs are clear winners
Comments
1

I'm exhausted after reading that. What a miserable story.

Jan. 28, 2021

Sign in to comment

Sign in

Art Reviews — W.S. Di Piero's eye on exhibits Ask a Hipster — Advice you didn't know you needed Best Buys — San Diego shopping Big Screen — Movie commentary Blurt — Music's inside track Booze News — San Diego spirits City Lights — News and politics Classical Music — Immortal beauty Classifieds — Free and easy Cover Stories — Front-page features Excerpts — Literary and spiritual excerpts Famous Former Neighbors — Next-door celebs Feast! — Food & drink reviews Feature Stories — Local news & stories From the Archives — Spotlight on the past Golden Dreams — Talk of the town Here's the Deal — Chad Deal's watering holes Just Announced — The scoop on shows Letters — Our inbox [email protected] — Local movie buffs share favorites Movie Reviews — Our critics' picks and pans Musician Interviews — Up close with local artists Neighborhood News from Stringers — Hyperlocal news News Ticker — News & politics Obermeyer — San Diego politics illustrated Of Note — Concert picks Out & About — What's Happening Overheard in San Diego — Eavesdropping illustrated Poetry — The old and the new Pour Over — Grab a cup Reader Travel — Travel section built by travelers Reading — The hunt for intellectuals Roam-O-Rama — SoCal's best hiking/biking trails San Diego Beer — Inside San Diego suds SD on the QT — Almost factual news Drinks All Around — Bartenders' drink recipes Sheep and Goats — Places of worship Special Issues — The best of Sports — Athletics without gush Street Style — San Diego streets have style Suit Up — Fashion tips for dudes Theater Reviews — Local productions Theater antireviews — Narrow your search Tin Fork — Silver spoon alternative Under the Radar — Matt Potter's undercover work Unforgettable — Long-ago San Diego Unreal Estate — San Diego's priciest pads Waterfront — All things ocean Your Week — Daily event picks
4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
Close