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Back To The USA Onto Mexico Part 2 Return To Home
 

Hola hola hola!!!! "Eet ees dirty and you want eet..." Down into Baja California for a rattle down through Mexico. Dust and desert, tacos and tequila, mescal and mariachi and it's into the 51st State of America we go.

The fact that the street signs, menus and shop-fronts of San Diego are generally written in both English and Spanish is the first giveaway. The second is that any job requiring dirty hands, hard labour, poor pay and/or any kind of social degradation is occupied by Hispanics. Yup - we were getting mighty close to the Porous Border with Mexico at San Ysidro and Tijuana. It struck me that if George Bush's proposed new immigration reforms become law the whole of California will grind to a halt. Every restaurant would be closed and there wouldn't be a clean toilet bowl in the state. But I had no idea just how busy (and therefore porous) the border really is. The tram from San Diego pulled up at the end of the line and we stumbled out onto the platform pushing the luggage in front of us. With everything saddled up, we stood looking around in each direction wondering where to go next. A sign proclaimed "BUSES" on it and so it seemed like a fair clue, and heading towards it a lady asked us if we needed a ticket to Tijuana city centre. She sold us two for $3 a piece and directed us to a red bus, which left a short while later and soon got stuck in a queue of traffic. We assumed this was for some kind of border controls, but the traffic eventually moved, and ten or twenty minutes later we were dropped off at Tijuana bus terminal right in the city centre, and right slap-bang in Mexico. Not one person had so much as glanced at our documents. All we could do is shrug and hope that the lack of proof of exit from the US and entry into Mexico wouldn't cause us any problems at a later date.

 

 

Tijuana is the type of border crossing where within a hundred metres the world in which you are now existing suddenly becomes the polar opposite to the world from which you've just arrived. Gone is the clean, well maintained regulation of California, and into it's place steps chaos and bad smells. It might be Mexico, but there are still hundreds upon hundreds of American tourists there taking advantage of the titty bars, dodgy looking hookers, cheap rooms, cheap booze and, of course, a pharmacy on every corner at which there would be no point presenting a prescription even if you had one. From Kiddies Aspirin to Morphine, and Valium to Prozac a bloke can go up, down, round and even sideways without the need for so much as a sick-note from his mum. As a result Tijuana is a little cesspool of depravity seemingly sticking it's middle finger right up at the law and order of California just half a mile up the road... and it therefore becomes an entertaining little weekend-break location in it's own right. 

A wander down the main street lays a gringo open to the open heckling of every store owner on the strip. "Hey come into my shop and give me a chance to rip you off!!" shouted one as we pass by. At least he was up front. But what made him think that you'd buy a sombrero and a day-glo poncho with "Tijuana" emblazoned across it from him rather than the bloke stood not ten feet away you'd just knocked into touch?

The non-porous bit of the porous border.

Above: Hmmm. Chronic weight loss, lack of bowel control and poor skin condition... or chronic obesity, lack of bowel control and poor skin condition. The choice is yours.

Once the route had been planned from Tijuana to the south for the length of Baja California, it was time to leave town, get on a bus, and burn a dusty trail into the desert for a week or two. First stop was the coastal cruise-liner port of Ensenada, where it was hoped that some ocean bound activity could be found in terms of fishing and viewing the huge Grey Whales migrating down that part of the world. 

A dirt cheap room was found in the centre of town (having no idea where we'd been dropped off and where any accommodation was to be located), and then subsequently we immediately got ripped off to the tune of 70 dollars at a bar opposite the hotel by the fat barman with braces on his gammy looking teeth. All complaints fell on deaf ears- el bastardo!!  












At least the tourist shops are straight up about it.

Still smiling after four and a half hours on a dusty door step. And still no bloody bus.

A look around town confirmed our worst fears. There was next to nothing to do in Ensenada- it was just a dirty port- and the freezing cold wind chopping up the sea made the whole panorama look even less appetising. We did get talked into going out onto the bleak looking ocean to view the majestic Grey Whales for a day though. This involved an hour and a half steam out to the migration route as the boat pitched in the lumpy seas, just for a mere glimpse of a whale somewhere about two hundred yards distant. Lynneth had a sea-sickness induced sleep below decks most of the way there and back, but at least managed to keep the huevos down, while I sat up top watching the rest of the passengers honking over the transom. 

A young lad opposite didn't make it to the side and left the deck looking like someone had kicked over the cat's bowl. All the man with the mop did was spread it around. After another hour and a half back to port I think it's fair to say that everyone on board that ship was pleased to set foot on terra-firma again. The fishing enquiries I made in town lead to a bit of a dead end really. 


The idyllic costal lagoons of Guerrero Negro.

There were charter boats available, but all of them cost far more than I could afford, and there was no evidence of any local fishermen with pangas willing to take people fishing for anything less than a couple of hundred dollars a day. Little did I suspect that this was a pattern that was to follow throughout the whole of Central America. With the insidious Americanisation of the whole of this part of the world, perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised. 

A night in the room spent listening to bandana-helmeted, gold-toothed, bling-encrusted idiots race up and down the main street below in their V8 pick-up trucks with big bore exhausts until 5am was enough to drive you nuts. It's strange, but I found that despite a strong sense of national pride and identity, it was a surprising trait of many Mexicans that they as much as they seem to resent Americans, for the most part to be like them is some kind of an aspiration. I could be wrong. The local hookers and alcos trying to tear each other into tiny shreds just below our window all night confirmed it was time to find the bus station again and continue the journey into the dusty abyss of the Baja Peninsular and aim for Baja California Sur and La Paz.

The bus pressed down through the desert, a seemingly never changing vista of grit and gnarled cacti. Occasionally there would be a trailer home with a truck 

Dusty "downtown" El Rosario.
More a "half-donkey" than
 a "one-horse" town.

parked next to it to break up the monotony, often with a satellite dish and a barbed wire surround draped with a flotsam of plastic bags. Just what do these people do? Watch Oprah I suppose.

It was late at night when we were set down at the side of the road in the tiny town of El Rosario for some sleep, in the hope that we'd get the follow on bus to Guerrero Negro the next day. We had no idea what time this would come by, but four and a half hours on the doorstep of a cafe the next day at least meant we didn't miss  it when it did turn up. 

Guerrero Negro. What can you possibly say about Guerrero Negro? If El Rosario was a half-pony town, 





A row of four tents. Who left them there? No idea.

then Guerrero Negro only just superseded it, maybe reaching the dizzy heights of one-horse. It was late at night again, and luckily there was a dirt (emphasis on dirt) cheap motel next to the bus station. Problem was, we had no money to pay for it, no matter how cheap it was. The phrase book came out yet again, and a few minutes later the friendly man from behind the desk ushered me out to his car to give me a lift to the ATM - all part of the service - while leaving Lynneth to tend reception. 

Our concierge started the car by hot-wiring the leads under the steering column which then shuddered and rattled off into the night. Conversation was a little difficult. He knew a handful of words in English, I knew but a handful of words in Spanish, so all we could do is resort to the international language of football- if you call saying "David Beckham" and "Hugo Sanchez" repeatedly and laughing a lot a conversation. 


Trolling our way round the fat-chance saloon. And this is about as hectic as it got. At least the tequila was on tap.

After a freezing night under itching blankets that must have been woven out of matted donkey hair, the next morning showed Guerrero Negro to be even more desolate by daylight. A long, straight, dusty road, roaring with traffic, litter swirling in it's wake. Behind the main road and it's strip of ramshackle buildings laid some stagnant looking lagoons strewn with every kind of household trash imaginable, from fridge-freezers to mattresses and dead dogs. Of all the shit-holes, this one was perhaps the biggest hole with the most copious levels of shit. Unfortunately we had to hang around for a few hours until another bus turned up to take us away, but when it did eventually roll out of town it was with some relief that the soiled lavatory bowl of G.N. was left in a twisting vapour trail of sand. 

If the scenery by day was monotonous, by night it was no better, but after the tedium of a 15 hour overnight rumble through pitch-black desert, a vast sprawling expanse of lights widened into view (long before we actually arrived there) and finally we stood by our bags at 5am in the modern bus depot of La Paz. You tend to not grasp that Baja California is over a thousand miles long when you look at it on an atlas. I now know.

As we ate some toast and coffee at a promenade-side cafe, dolphins cavorted in the bay in front of us, the sun









The wisdom of going fishing at a seal colony was briefly lost on me... Doh!

poked its rays above the horizon and we watched the town slowly come to life, and suddenly our whole outlook brightened tenfold too. There were three or four fishing pangas anchored some twenty metres out, and one of the happy capitans lounging in his swivel chair on deck spoke to me as we sat nearby.
"Senor- you wan go fishing?" Silly question.

And so began a dialect with Capitan Alfonso which went on for the next couple of days each time I walked past and stopped for a chat. For a mere 250 dollars, he guaranteed Yellowtail Kingfish, Tuna and Roosterfish, or, for another 50 dollars he'd go a little further afield in pursuit of deeper water species like Mahi Mahi.... 

I should have known better. After eventually talking to another local in a shop, I was told I could latch on to a boat with some other Mexicans the following day. They were going seal spotting and snorkelling, but I could chip in for (read "pay for the") fuel and join them, since they hoped to fish on the way out (...hmmm, trolling), and then maybe drop a couple of baits down at the rocks of the seal colony to see what ate them (seals perhaps?). I debated the pros and cons. I mean, 40 bucks, I find trolling very dull at the best of times, and I've yet to see a fish that spends very long hanging around in front of a colony of seals waggling it's arse. I flew in the face of all common sense and agreed to meet them at dockside at 7am the following morning. 



I've had an idea. Can Pelicans be trained?

"Guaranteed you will catch many fish senor!!" Having heard similar yarns many times before by now, I decided to put off attempting to do a deal with Alfonso for now, after all, it seemed a lot of money out of what I had, and went in search of some other potential fishing outlets for a few dollars less.

 
























An hour or more later Alfonso was still chucking his net about. Another day fishing without bait. It does tend to make it difficult...

I wasn't at all surprised as we trolled out to sea at about 30 knots, caught nothing, and upon arrival at the rock formations amongst a dozen other boats found out that we weren't allowed to fish there anyway. Great. Not that it looked very fishy with forty tons of ravenous seal blubber hanging around the area. As a couple of my companions and the skipper donned the fins and snorkels to cavort with the seals, one of the locals stayed aboard with the capitan's friend, and as capitan's friend opened up a cooler and handed round the tacos his beaming  smile illuminated the deck as he waved a couple of bottles of top quality tequila in front of his happily gurning face.

Two hours later the tequila was gone, so was the Dos Equis lager, and any pretence at fishing had disappeared right out of the window with it. We also found out that seagulls eat tacos but seals don't. As the Good Ship Jose Cuervo turned her bows for home, I was happy as Larry (and we all know how happy he was), my boat-bound companion's head was rolling on his shoulders like a ball-joint, and the capitan's friend was fairly well steaming. Diplomatic elixir that tequila always seems to be, the Mexicans argued amongst themselves all the way back to port and capitan clearly had the hump with his mate, who was laid out under the cuddy of the boat. Personally I thought the injection of tequila had brightened up what was clearly going to be a disaster-day.


Two or three of these and the boat resembled the bathroom scene off Scarface.





















Capitan Alfonso gets medieval 
on a nice Bonito Tuna. It's tacotime.

I think Alfonso must have seen the disarray our boat had stumbled ashore in the previous day (and the lack of any catch being carried onto dry land), since he upped the ante in trying to secure himself some gringo trade. After the snorkel-session cock-up, I realised I was going to have to go the organised route to secure any kind of (reasonable) fishing in this neck of the desert, so eventually the deal was done, and for half his original bid a 6 hour session after Kingfish, Tuna and Roosterfish was secured.

I found out early the next day that apparently it wasn't the best season for Roosterfish, so Alfonso decided we should concentrate on Yellowtail Kingfish and then maybe try for a Tuna later on. I was a little perturbed that before the engine had even struck up one of the fishing options had already disappeared in a puff of bullshit. The next hour and half were spent puttering about the harbour trying to cast-net some baitfish- and failing- as I laid back in the boat already wondering whether it'd be quicker to train one of the Pelicans.
"This no good amigo. Need live one for Kingfish. Nothing here. Maybe we try Tuna". I rolled my eyes for the 7539th time since beginning my trip, and we headed off out of the harbour and into open sea. Bullshit-puff No.2 had claimed another option.

I was already despondent by the time we turned the corner... another wasted day and another waste of what little was left of an ever-diminishing pile of funds. But as we scanned the horizon, it seemed everywhere was alive with fish! Frothing shoals of hungry Tuna and Kingfish bursting through baitballs at each point of the compass! 

As we pushed at full steam ahead towards one of the frenzied patches of water, I quickly readied a spinning rod with a Baitrunner and a spoon. First cast into the melee saw the reel emptying of nylon, and after a lovely scrap on the light gear a nice sized Bonito Tuna was hoisted aboard and lumped into the fish box, Alfonso grunting as he immediately bled it out with a disturbing level of gusto. Not for the faint hearted. 

The pattern continued, and I have to say I really began to enjoy myself, constant chasing across the ocean, another couple of Tuna caught on the spinning rod, another lost half way through the scrap, and some action on the rods that Alfonso had put up on outriggers. I did get in a bit of a proper snarl up out there  though, when after losing a Tuna on the way in I put the line out again, only for it to be smacked into

 

immediately as I pulled up the outrigger line... the nylon snapped from the clip, the reel screeched, over-ran, jammed, and I was left briefly playing a Tuna on a reel that wouldn't move in any direction before the hook pulled out.
"What the f***ing is happen there senor?" politely enquired Capitan Alfonso with a shocked look on his face, while I surveyed the football sized ball of nylon knotted round my hands. 

As hectic as the ocean's surface was while the fish were on, they eventually disappeared with the flick of a switch shortly before the session ended- leaving it mirror flat and undisturbed to the horizon. So we headed back to port- while Alfonso tried his "I can take you to where the big fish are tomorrow senor- only 200 dollars" sales pitch, which I politely declined...

When people in LA told me to be "be safe down there in Mexico", I didn't realise the biggest danger was gonna be Lynne recharging her MP3 player.

At the end of the peninsula, the 51st State of Cabo San Lucas loomed onto the horizon. Unfortunately we turned up there at the wrong time for two reasons. The first was it was out of season for all sorts of fish- the Striped Marlin for which the port is so famous and Roosterfish being two of them, and the second was that being Spring break week it was very much in season for U.S. college kids. 

Accommodation was at a premium and expensive, the fishing boats were quite obviously right out of the budget range, there were far too many overweight teens in white pop socks, and if one more person pointed out that "Illonois" was spelled wrong on my T-shirt... 

We did get lucky and find a hotel that was yet to open though, and managed to get the bloke working doing the tiling on it to give us a room there for half the price of any of the others. I actually think it was his room and he just pocketed the money and stayed somewhere else to be honest, but a double room with kitchenette, en-suite and TV for 25 dollars a night was not to be sniffed at under the circumstances. Ok, so the back-street leading up to it was scattered with nappies, rubble, litter, used needles, chubby, hairy gusseted hookers, pimps and scabby looking dealers- but we weren't in a position to be fussy.

Now, Cabo being some kind of angling Mecca as it is, I clearly needed to wet a line while in town. And there are no shortages of either boats, skippers and/or con-artists willing to provide their services. A walk around the harbour, and numerous opportunities will present themselves to go fishing, so as much as it was budget-buster I decided to have just one day's fishing there - even if it was just to say I'd wet a line in Cabo. But with so many hustlers offering their services, where do you go? 
"Hey man- you wan go fishing?" asked the umpteenth hustler of the morning, his gold bottom teeth and chains glinting in the sunlight beneath his orange baseball cap.

A room with a view in downtown Cabo. Still, at least the plastic bags, dust, mongrels, hairy gusseted hookers and the occasional discarded needle kept the American tourists at bay down the marina. Every cloud and all that...

"Ok." I caved in under the pressure.

After much to and fro with him and his accomplices, the deal was done for a stab at some Yellowtail Kingfish, and for a 50 dollar deposit I was handed a receipt with the boat name on it and told to be back at the same spot at dockside at 7am the following morning.
"I wouldn't trust them as far as I could kick them" Lynne's voice of wisdom chipped in as we wandered back to the room. I had a bad feeling about it too, but hoped that was just down to the burritos.

It's 7.15am the next morning, and the dockside is deserted. I've been waiting 20 minutes and Lynne's words are haunting me. A fella and his road-brush rustled past:
"You wait fishing senor?" as he looked my rods up and down. "Who you wait for?" 
I got out my receipt and read the name of the boat. 
"I look?" he said and scanned the receipt. 
"Where you get this? What time you go?" My heart sank a little.
"7 o clock. Right here", pointing to the spot I was stood on.
"I never heard this boat. Must be lancha. Must go round other side - near gas station. Try there senor".
"Ok. Thanks." 

He shuffled off pushing a small wave of trash in front of him. I was now in a quandary. Joe Strummer once asked "Should I stay or should I go?", and I now know how he felt, in a different kind of context of course. I ended up walking round towards the gas station side.

Another road sweeper stopped me. 
"You looking boat senor?" and we went through the same process, but this time worse...
"Don't think this real boat senor. Where you get ticket?"
I gestured over to the other side of the dock. 
He shook his head: "Bad men over there. Rip off tourist. You American?"
"Am I f**k!" I replied, actually not sure which aspect of recent events I was most pissed off about.
"You maybe try at gas station, but sorry senor, I don't think this ticket real".

I continued my trudge round to the gas station, and another hustler intercepted me as I got there. I wearily, no, couldn't-give-a-shit-edly, let him look at my receipt, and again he seemed to confirm my worst fears:
"This boat no real senor. What you pay?"
"50 dollars".
"Deposit? I have friend just here - he can take you".

At this point I just wanted to tell him to get stretched, but then the money was already gone, I had nothing else to do that day, what else could I do? I went and gave the boat, capitan, and his son a quick once over- it looked fine- and then managed to get the price down to the balance of my other, fictional, fishing trip for a day after Kingfish. After all, I'd never caught one before, they were in season, and I must admit that since I saw a couple of them causing some pain to Rex Hunt and one of his side-kicks on Discovery, I'd always wanted to encounter one- even if only to pat it on the head.

As we headed out of port, I dearly hoped we weren't going to spend the next couple of hours catching bait, but I was somewhat shocked when the capitan stopped at another lancha and bought half a dozen large, live scad, depositing them in a live well aboard. I waited for the sting, simmering slightly inside, but to my eternal surprise it never came. We rounded Cabo's famous arch of rock (El Arco for those of you who speak Spanish) and headed up the coast, and mi capitan indicated I should use a light rod with a small lure to troll for a while. I looked at him, and my face must have muttered a thousand words:
"For short time. Sierra - we go 5 kilometres, then good spot, tide tide tide - everything good!" he said, waving his hand up the coast to the north west. In God we trust, and at that moment my mat and knee 


Yellowtail Kingfish, and the nastiest scrap I've had with a fish in ages. The one with the bling-boys at dockside later on would have been a lot nastier though.

pads were out and I was praying to him vehemently. 

A couple of Sierra Mackerel hung themselves on the way up the coast, which in retrospect was nice since it had been a while since anything had been quick enough to catch up with any lures I'd recently trolled, and finally the engines slipped into idle.
"Ok, this good", was all El Capitan said. I passed him my 30 Class rod & TLD loaded with heavy braid, on the end of which I had carefully tied an 80lb Mono Leader and size 8/0 SSW hook, exactly as I had been shown buy the 

 
 

local-legend Kingfisher Evan back in the days of New Zealand.

He looked it up and down slowly, nodding his head. Then out came his knife, off came the rig ("too big"), and then a tiny 3/0 stainless steel beak point hook (albeit very heavy gauge) was tied directly to the end: "This good", he smiled, as I felt about six inches tall (not for the first time). A scad was nose rigged onto the 3/0, and I dropped it over the side. Capitan nodded and smiled as I fed out some braid, and the outboard engaged as we smoothed into a nice slow troll. I forlornly hoped there were some Kingies within 2 miles of where we were stationed.

The line fed out to about 20 metres, and I felt the livebait juddering away on the end.
"Lively little sucker, this one" I thought as I fed out a little more line. "Fzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz", suddenly the braid started disappearing from the spool, I 


Trolling livebaits for Kingfish round 
the rocky coast north of El Arco.

panicked, and instinctively kind of struck and engaged the lever drag at the same time. And then all hell let loose.

 The Kingfish put lots of metres between itself and the boat in seconds, and for the first time in a while I wondered just what the hell I'd hooked! It's power really was quite awesome. It stopped, started again, took some more line, kited around, took some more line, then let me have some back... and then took it all again, plus some more. Capitan was grinning, his kid was grinning, and heck - even I was grinning:
"Pescado grande senor!" smiled capitan. I was in for the duration with this one it seemed. Then the hook fell out. 

Rarely have I felt so shit about losing a fish, but the hollow feeling after that one was like a chasm. I was empty. The words of advice from capitan "Not good strike- too fast senor" really didn't help either. Another couple of Kingfish chased the scad and somehow missed them- giving me near heart failure- before finally one got it. The fight was a hard one, long runs to start with, then stubborn, unyielding resistance under the boat for enough time to get the forearms aching quite nicely, before finally it popped up boat-side and was gaffed aboard- much to my relief. I was chuffed to pieces to have actually landed one of them, and even managed a smile for the photo. Capitan did try and spoil the moment though:


Skipper junior gives a Yellowtail a hoist.

"This one nice senor- forty pounds. One this morning though...." and he puffed his cheeks out and shook his head as he exhaled... Never mind. We have Kingfish. And I was happy. For now. Heck, I even gave him a tip; not very British I know.

The day finished with a huge ruckus at the dockside, when I clapped eyes on the con artist who ripped off my deposit. I couldn't help myself and confronted him about it. He insisted I had stood them up- a blatant lie- and it ended up with a circle of tourists around us like a scrap in a school playground as it all got very heated (putting it mildly). It then progressed from heated to very intimidating when four of his accomplices gathered around (different hats, same dentist), and one of them made a throat cutting gesture to me and advised that I leave. I realised that I had made my point as far as I could, I wasn't getting my fifty bucks back, and that I probably ought to split while I was still in one piece. All pretty unsavoury, and if anyone is reading this who might fancy visiting Cabo, then, well, don't - it's really not in the same league as other parts of Mexico anyway.

Respect. 
A moment's grace for the fish please.

 If you still insist, then whatever you do, don't book a trip with the scam artists drumming up trade by the harbour. I suppose I expected Baja to be like lovely Zihuatanejo I'd visited previously, but it wasn't, and to be honest, by the time I got back to the room I still wasn't sure whether I'd been stitched up once, twice or three times that day!

As we ate the Kingfish which we'd had cooked at the taco stand at the corner of our street that night, (it was terrific, by the way), I told Lynne about the events of the day. I had nearly finished the tale before she got the ubiquitous "told you so" out, but then a referendum was held and the unanimous decision was taken to leave Baja and go and find some proper "Mexican" Mexico, somewhere further south on the mainland. It was a decision we weren't to regret.

Back To The USA Onto Mexico Part 2 Return To Home
 

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