Grain of Salt
Written by Simon
Scrape, plonk. Scrape, plonk. Arm outstretched, my fingers blindly wrap around another cobble stone. I drag it out and pitch it over my shoulder to join the ever-growing pile somewhere behind me. The dying sun beats down upon our backs with an unjustifiably intense heat given the limited light left in the day. Sweat trickles from every pore in rivulets, stinging our eyes and mixing with the grime on our hands, making our grip slippery and clumsier still. The three of us are lying twisted on our bellies, upper torsos squeezed under either side of the van. Grunting and cursing, we try to remove the stones that are wedged hard around the van’s back axle preventing us from continuing our journey.
Tim declares wearily from the opposite side of the van, “Fuck… that’s gotta do it.” Justin grunts in agreement from the rear, adding hopefully “Touch wood ‘ey.” I am more than happy to try a superstitious ritual, anything to improve our chances of leaving this forgotten creek bed in our dusty wake.
I clamber up into the driver’s seat and turn the key, white knuckles gripping the wheel as Samson grumbles to life. My eyes flicker up towards Tim standing in the road ahead, checking the line he is indicating me to take. I touch the pedal, increasing pressure until Samson starts to crawl forward. With a protesting screech, the rear bumper scrapes free of a boulder too big for us to move and Samson begins to amble forward more purposefully. My heart skips a beat as the van starts to sink back down into the shifting cobble stones, wheels racing to maintain traction on the treacherous road. With tensions rising, a healthy dose of gas seems to do the trick and the van continues to bump along while Tim and Justin bark directions to me from somewhere within the cloud of dust and fumes. After a few more close-calls, finally the tires break free of the cobble stones and bite into solid ground. Blasting the horn in delirious celebration, I stop the van only long enough for Tim and Justin to jump in, wild smiles reflecting my own elation and we forge ahead.
Earlier that day we had set out from just south of Loreto, in search of the famed long rights of San Juanico (Scorpion Bay), Baja. A few people we had grilled for directions recommended we should take the longer route from the south. Supposedly, the roads were ‘cherry’ sealed bitumen, so we didn’t expect any major obstacles along the way, except for dodging the usual ‘car killer’ pot holes that pepper the roads of Baja. Around mid-day we passed a road sign plastered with stickers. Google maps was directing me from the dash so I wasn’t paying much attention to the prehistoric information presented on the side of the road, but Tim thought the sign was indicating we should have taken the turn off left for San Juanico. I mumbled something about thinking the arrow was pointing straight and anyway, Google Maps was directing us straight so it must just be an alternative, longer route.
An hour or so after the camouflaged sign, the bitumen was replaced by graded dirt and gravel and we came abruptly to a creek crossing. The road dropped away to meet a decrepit bridge, then continuing over a shrivelled creek into a dry section of the cobble stone lined creek bed and back up the far side. The crossing was from a bygone era, long since abandoned, it lurched over sharp pieces of broken concrete and dodged boulders that came up to Samson’s side mirrors, perhaps shifted during the strong floods known to tear through these scarcely vegetated valleys in the wake of wild thunder storms. Anyone in their right mind would have only needed one look to realise it was the wrong way. The smart move would have been to turn around. But being in Baja where the locals drive sedans through sands, we didn’t want to tuck our tails between our legs and run like a bunch of gringo pussys. So instead, we ignored our twisting guts and convinced one another the condition of the road wasn’t that bad, choosing to drive a long wheel base van from the streets of LA over what was clearly a 4-wheel drive track in the middle of butt-fuck-nowhere.
As we started to navigate the van down to the bridge, it quickly became apparent we’d bitten off more than we could chew. Unfortunately though, the only way out was forward. To save you from bleary-eyed boredom, I will omit the tedious details of Samson’s crawl across the bridge before we came to a grinding halt in the cobble stone lined creek bed as described previously. Perhaps in truth, more to save my tender finger tips. Upon wriggling free of the merciless cobble stones, it took a few more hours of tense driving through rutted gravel and deep sand before the old road we had taken, intersected with the sealed main road everyone else takes. We welcomed the silky smooth bitumen with relieved laughter and jokes about the time we almost got stuck in the desert. Another hour later we finally arrived in San Juanico, bone-tired but thoroughly stoked.
Before this trip, I was unaware of how blindly I relied upon the accuracy and accessibility of information from the internet. I assumed only meagre preparation for this trip would be adequate, planning to use the internet whilst travelling to figure it out as we went. Inconsistent phone reception made this difficult and bloody stressful when we were forced to wing it due to our tight schedule, rolling the dice on left, right, this taqueria or that point break. We had to quickly come to terms with the feeling of FOMO and acceptance of the dice we rolled. Once the decision has been made, the calm that follows is immensely fulfilling. I also feel a lot more capable and confident problem solving everyday shit after wriggling out of the many sticky situations we found ourselves tackling on the fly, time and time again whilst travelling in the van. In short, trust road signs first, google maps second. Keep your eyes peeled for stealth speed bumps and cavernous pot-holes. Research the destination and route before hand, it doesn’t always happen but as long as the intention is there. Even still, information is often out-dated or wrong, I guess it’s a balance between preparation and innovation. Ultimately, technology is damn handy, but take it with a grain of salt.