“You’re driving to Mexico?”
“Why the hell do you want to do that?”
How do I begin? Where… do I begin? I guess I’ll begin by telling you that I’m gonna break this post into three parts. There’s simply too much to cover.
I knew when we told people we were taking a month off to drive to Baja, Mexico, where we’d be spending the winter, we’d get some pushback. I never expected it to be to as intense as it was.
So many people in our circle tried to dissuade us from going. Even after we’d lived in Guatemala and Mexico for two years, our friends and family were losing their minds, concerned about our safety.
Then the news broke. Several American families who lived in Mexico — innocent mothers and children — were gunned down in the state of Chihuahua. There’s more to this story that hasn’t been reported. For those who don’t know, Mexico has 32 states. Six of them are now considered unsafe due to cartel violence. We’ve never been anywhere near these six states, and Baja has an entire body of water separating it from these areas.
Here’s the thing, if you’re not messing with the cartel, they’re not messing with you. Yes, sometimes tourists get caught in the crossfire. On rare occasions, a tourist will be kidnapped and killed. It happens.
Let me just point out that in 2017, fifty-eight people were gunned down at a country music concert in Las Vegas, Nevada. In Newtown, Connecticut, 20 kids and 6 teachers went to school one morning and never made it home. If you’re not digging the road I’m going down here, you should stop reading now. Because I’m getting tired of listening to people criticize other countries while they conveniently turn a blind eye to the escalating violence and discord in America. It’s a discussion that occurs almost daily.
So let me be honest, is there an element of fear involved the moment we decide to drive our 19-year-old Honda and 13-year-old, blind dog 4,500 miles across the country and into Mexico?
Yes. there’s fear. A ton of fear, and for me it’s accompanied by an almost paralyzing anxiety. I’ve been trying to cope for the last 20 years. It ramps up whenever we plan to sail or travel in any fashion.
Am I putting my family in danger? Am I being selfish, cavalier, and naive? Is the car gonna make it?
No matter where you sit on the timeline of life, there’s going to be something that scares the shit out of you.
At 5, it’s the boogie man under your bed. At 50, it’s the cardiologist.
And that never changes. If anything, it gets harder to work through the fear as I get older, and that’s precisely the reason I need to keep challenging myself. I don’t expect most people to understand this.
My mom was on the verge of having daily heart-attacks, fearing that we would be kidnapped or killed. Mel and I got numerous texts and emails with links to statistics, articles about people being murdered, and state department warnings. People called, pleading with us not to go.
For a brief moment, we actually considered not going. We said, “Screw it. it’s not worth making everyone worry.” Then we got a little pissed at ourselves. Who are we and when have we ever let fear keep us from doing something?
We were monitoring and participating in the Baja travel forums. We did our due diligence, and decided to go. We agreed to re-evaluate once we got closer to the border crossing.
When we left Solomons, Maryland on October 21, we had one goal; to have fun and enjoy each other on this trip. Driving to Baja might just be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Why Baja? Neither of us had ever been. Personally, I have been dreaming of this place for the last 20 years, possibly longer. I don’t remember the exact year I read John Steinbeck’s, Log From the Sea of Cortez, but the minute I closed the cover, a tornado began to swirl inside me. I’ve been tamping it down ever since. This year, being that we couldn’t sail south with our dog Jet, who is now blind and deaf, was the year to go. We were not about to live on the boat through a northeast winter.
Our route was only pre-planned as far as Little Rock, Arkansas. After that, your guess was as good as ours. The first week was spent visiting family and friends in places like Norfolk, Asheville, Huntsville, Nashville, and finally, Little Rock.
We reconnected with folks we hadn’t seen in forever. Ultimately, we didn’t get to meet up with everyone. There simply wasn’t enough time. That’s the hard part about traveling. It’s fun to arrive and it’s sad leaving. And no matter how many times we do it, leaving never gets easier.
The entire first week, it rained relentlessly and reminded me exactly why I left the mid-Atlantic and mid-South regions altogether. I hate those cold, low-ceiling, rainy days. The ground covered in wet, brown leaves. Streets turn murky rivers. Manhole covers percolate. I couldn’t wait to get to the desert.
Once the hustle and bustle of Dallas’ rush hour was in my fogged up rearview, I felt my shoulders drop to their natural position.
The morning we awoke in Sonora, Texas was glorious. It was sunny and crisp. Desert crisp. Granny Smith apple crisp.
The roadside motel we’d stayed in was comfortable and a good nights sleep was had by all. A light frost covered the windshield. Floating along on the morning chill was a sweetness coming from the Snowflake Donut Shop next door. It was one of my favorite mornings.
Ozona, Sheffield, Dryden, and then a hard right turn onto Texas’ legendary Route 90. I had no idea how magnificent and desolate this road was. In America, Route 66 is known as the mother road across the country. Sadly, much of it has been bulldozed and buried under miles of concrete known as Interstate 40. But Route 90… what a road!
Be forewarned, it’s not for the faint of heart or anyone requiring five-star accommodations. And don’t think about driving it if your vehicle is the lease bit suspect. There’s no help. None.
About 140 miles from the turn onto Route 90 at Dryden, you’ll find the entrance to Big Bend National Park. It was declared a National Park in June 1935. The Rio Grande flows through the park and acts as the 118-mile natural border between Mexico and the US. If you have your passport, you can cross over via boat or burro to Mexico from the town of Boquillas. We’ve been told the taco shop on the Mexican side is awesome. We didn’t do it because we had Jet.
But… I will say, camping on the high-desert plateau of Chisos Basin was majestic to say the least, although none of us were prepared for the 28-degree night, especially Jet.
After Big Bend, we did an overnight in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico for a soak in the natural hot springs. The following day it was Petrified Forrest National Park, Painted Desert, and the Meteor Crater just outside Winslow, Arizona before we beat feet to Grand Canyon National Park. Mel had never seen it before.
I remember the first time I saw it. I was 14 years old. My brother and I drove across country in a borrowed 1969 Pontiac Bonneville. I can point to that trip as the exact moment my life as a perpetual wanderer began. Reading Steinbeck throughout the rest of my life only served to stoke the flames.
At the south rim, we found a picturesque spot and spread some of Mel’s parents ashes. Since we left in 2016, they’ve been to Cuba, Belize, and to the top of Volcano San Pedro in Atitlan, Guatemala. We carried them along as we traveled to Oaxaca, Guanajuato and now… they’re in the Grand Canyon as well.
Legal? Probably not. But as Tom Cruise once said, “Sometimes you just gotta say, what the fuck.”
Look, bad things happen to good people all the time and it’s unfortunate. Amputating portions of your life because the media stokes the hysteria and fear is ridiculous to me. I think it’s a bit irresponsible and flies in the face of that pioneering spirit that America was built on.
We’ve all gotten so comfortable with our 24-hour stimulation and virtual lifestyles that the real deal scares the shit out of us. Go outside. Turn off your televisions and put down your phone. There’s an entire world bubbling around you and it’s begging to be discovered. It doesn’t matter where you are in the world, I bet you there is something really cool within an hour’s drive.
All over the world, at any given moment something bad is happening. You know what else?
All over the world at any given moment something really good is happening. And that… is where I choose to dwell. I choose to dwell in the possibility of good. I believe love is louder than hate. I have to believe this way or I’d crumble into a million pieces. And I see it as my personal mission to be an antivenom to hatred. I absolutely refuse to let mean fuckers win. Not in my tiny piece of the universe anyway.
At the end of the day, we’ve all got a load to carry in this life. It’s up to you decide what yours looks like. Is it gonna be gravel or gold?