24 January 2012

Escaping Canadians at Camp Requeson

The moon was making a showboat entrance over the Sea of Cortez 30 kilometers south of Mulege as our expedition was finally pulling into a twilit Playa El Requeson. Some 36 hours and 1,000 kilometers after bidding Tijuana hasta la pasta, we'd reached what would be home for the next four days. The beach had been recommended for its remoteness, and a quarter of a mile or so off the freeway down a dirt path that had been carved out of a cactus commune, it seemed it would be just that.

But then, staggered along the shore, there they were. Motor homes. Six or seven, all with gringa plates except for the token British Columbian, their innards ablaze with lights, heaters, laptops and TVs. Delicacies that would no doubt eventually invoke jealousy and contempt every time I'd overhear hoots after yet another touchdown, or worse, Adult Swim.

This trip wasn't intended to be about keeping up with the Jones; in fact it was about avoiding them altogether. Food would be cooked over an open flame; shits would be shat over an open hole in the ground. To do all this without three-pronged distractions imported by our neighbors from the outside world, it was necessary to set up camp elsewhere. A shaky arrow spray-painted on a piece of splintered plywood led the way to Playa Perla, a kilometer in the opposite direction through another cactus commune down the dark shore, and it looked as promising as anything at this point.

Playa Perla turned out to be a small cove that aside for the five or six vacant grass huts lined along the beach was completely vacant. Or at least appeared to be in the dim moonlight. Camping in the middle of nowhere is at first irking for any full-time resident of the grid, or at least for anyone who's seen "The Hills Have Eyes." Especially in a foreign land. Guns are technically illegal for civilians in Mexico, as is mace if you're caught with it while drunk. So we packed a baseball bat.

It's odd how quickly I bid that paranoia adieu once the sun was up and I fell out of the tent to discover all that the night had hidden. Wraparound mountains and water that belongs in -- God, I apologize for the comparison -- a Corona ad. Better to call it the color that fueled my longing for a balmy climate through 25 consecutive Ohio winters.

The fee was 80 pesos ($6 or so) a night, collected by an indigenous woman who was easily 80 herself. Rosa lived in a house assembled from random bits of plywood perched on a cliff at the far end of the cove and was our only neighbor aside from the lone drifter who wandered out of the desert every few hours to check for new deposits in the trash cans. And aside from her morning appearances for the rent or to haul over more firewood in a wheelbarrow or burn garbage, we never saw her.

I immediately cannonballed into this new world of deserted beach anomie. Once morning chores were out of the way -- fire lit, water boiled, coffee brewed, breakfast chorizo-egg-cheese scramble prepared and devoured -- the fading daylight became an hourglass for perfecting the art of creatively killing time. The bar that'd been rigged out of the car trunk was opened as soon as the instant Starbucks was finished. Shirts were tossed aside. The kite took to the sky. A name was decided upon for the little brown duck who paddled into the cove at least once a day. Lucha masks appeared out of nowhere for impromptu photoshoots atop a discarded box spring in the abandoned rowboat next to the hut.

Collecting driftwood of unusual girth after learning that it burns twice as long as the stuff Rosa was selling us. Inspecting bits of monstrous fish skeletons and other random beached animal bones bleached out by the sun. Snooping through the remains of a weathered camper without walls that had obviously long been abandoned by its original owners. Cards. This is what fills the winter days at Playa Perla until the sun finally falls behind the hills around 5 or 6 and the temperature seems to drops five degrees every 10 minutes until it reaches what feels like the lower 40s, sending you running for the tent by what you'd guess to be the ripe hour of 9.

A casual sense of laissez-faire law hurriedly sets in where anything and everything goes, and it easily feels as though you're all alone in the world until a Canadian goes kayaking by.

I've always romanticized desert isle fables, even the more grotesque variety like "Lord of the Flies." Clothing gives way to scraps. Overgrown facial hair looks ruggedly fashionable. Tanned hide becomes becoming. Social norms quickly melt into make-believe survival mode and before long you're looking lean and feeling almost overdressed in a loincloth and even if death is more probable than rescue, wow, what a way to go. Really, aside from the drinking water situation, the mute volleyball and his family thinking he was a goner, did Forrest Gump have it all that bad in "Castaway"?

Distance from Tijuana: 1,030 kilometers.


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