[Based on notes written April 1, 2014.]
I’m ready to go back to the USA. April Fools! No I’m not. Been going fast. Why am I leaving Mexico already? Just drank a few beers in the parking lot of a truck stop in the desert beside the Baja trans-penninsular Highway 1. Cactus, mountain, sand, rock, shrub, huge mountains speckled with green. Wild scenery. Seems crazy to try to live here though people have for 10 000 years. No water. Just beauty. Halfway like LA.
In an early ’90s van with some Americans who spent the winter kite-surfing. Why didn’t I spend the winter kite-surfing? I’m an idiot. Whatever, we’re in the same place now, their van. Me with a bags full of books and hand-written notes, them with kitesurfing gear and a dog. The passenger asked the driver to stop to buy beer around 10 in the morning. When in Rome.
When they picked us up they asked if we had any dope. “No. Don’t worry, we don’t have any.” You’d have to be wishing for Mexican prison to carry dope through the military checkpoints randomly dotted along the highway searching all vehicles. “Damn. What good are you anyway?” They were hoping we had picked some up locally and would need to smoke it all before the next checkpoint.
I’m hitch-hiking with a Danish guy I met at the end of the ferry ride from Mazatlan to La Paz. The overnight boat ride had dozens of drunk truck drivers. I wasn’t drinking. Was reading Frankenstein. Great story, but who is the monster? Is it the scientist who in self-disgust abandons the thing he made, or the new creation trying to navigate through the world with no one willing to offer it any compassion or care? In front of me on the boat were a group of women in their early 20s. They were drinking. At dinner we were sitting together and then a few drunk truckers sat down and tried to hit on them. One of the women said I was her “esposo”, husband. So then for the rest of the night I had to pretend to be married to this woman who spoke Spanish way faster than I could keep up with and pretend like we were a happy couple. Near midnight we talked about how we definitely weren’t attracted to each other. Good honesty. I met the Danish guy while getting off the boat. We were both toying with the idea of hitch-hiking as we didn’t want to spend much money and both planned to be in LA in a few days
It took 3 nights and 200 pesos (20 bucks) each on transportation to get most of the way up the Baja. Around 1000 km. The longest we waited out in the baking desert sun was probably 2.5 hours. Usually over 1 hour to catch a ride. Sometimes in the bed of a pick-up truck, sometimes in back seats. Bahia Concepcion is gorgeous. Camped beside some empty houses in Los Burros for free and paid a lot for kayak rentals ($10 per hour, come on!) and ate amazing fish tacos across the street and drank ‘ballenas’ (whales) of beer. The night before we paid $20 each for a room at a hostel/motel.
[Notes from a few days later, un-dated]
Stayed in Ensanada at the hostel the night before walking across the border from Tijuana to San Ysidro (San Diego). The US border guard took less than 2 minutes with me (bearded white Canadian backpacker), then I ate an American-style sandwich on American soil and drank a ginger ale. Canada Dry in San Ysidro. Back in English North America. Greyhound to LA then a bus to Venice briefly then to West Hollywood.
LA is absurd. There is a life being lived that is enviable. By the Hollywood hills, in Malibu, in Santa Monica. Mostly by white people. A life where appearances matter and money is required. A life where Mexicans are the gardiners and dishwashers and valets and agricultural workers (they can’t be called farmers, they don’t have a say in how things are grown). While watching a Mexican guy repair a private walkway on a sleepy beach in Malibu, I had a weird thought about whether that occupation was preferable to life in a big Mexican city like Tijuana, and why. Didn’t have long enough to get hung up on the thought.
And now here I am, accepted into the middle of the white English-speaking establishment. All I have as momentos from 3 months in Mexico are some printed pages of Zapatista news, a few bandanas, and a doll of Subcommandante Ramona. Somehow I need to keep in mind that Mexico exists. It’s amazingly easy to not be reminded, for it to fall off the radar when in upper-class white communities north of Mexico. Someone once said language isn’t a major barrier. That person was stupid. Language is huge. It divides the Americas into all sorts of adjacent pieces that don’t listen to one another.
But they’re all human. The guy on the bus from Ensanada to Tijuana telling me about how he was just starting to learn about his Aztec ancestry and culture. The stressed out groups of wealthy white guys in Hollywood who make most of the decisions about what motion pictures will be created and distributed for our viewing. The de-motivated motivational speakers addressing high-school kids. They’re going through very human struggles. But some have much more power than others. Advertising in Mexico always features white people. Sitting in restaurants there, on plastic chairs drinking Coka-Cola from glass bottles, a bunch of brown people will be watching a tv that exclusively features white people except when a news story features someone of darker-skin. The racism there is blatant, obvious, so persistently in your face your eyes might glaze over and not notice. In California, it’s less stated in ads but just as present in reality, in the streets, the restaurants, the taxis, the business meetings. While they’re all human, LA reminded me of how stark the divides are of who has what resources, land, and power. That’s worldwide.
I need to remember that Mexico exists. And that the white people I know in LA are struggling with their roles, with how they fit into the complex web of problems in the world. It’s stuff that’s hard to talk about, hard to navigate alone. LA, the American metropolis of artifice in the desert beside the ocean, is urban life magnified and unresolved.