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
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.
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.
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?
non-porous bit of the porous border.
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.
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.
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-
At least the tourist shops are straight up about it.
smiling after four and a half hours on a dusty door step. And still no
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.
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.
bus pressed down through the desert, a seemingly never changing vista of
grit and gnarled cacti. Occasionally there would be a trailer home with
"downtown" El Rosario.
More a "half-donkey" than
a "one-horse" town.
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.
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.
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
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
Trolling our way round the fat-chance saloon. And this is about as
hectic as it got. At least the tequila was on tap.
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
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.
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...
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.
you wan go fishing?" Silly question.
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....
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...
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
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
Capitan Alfonso gets medieval
on a nice Bonito Tuna. It's tacotime.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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...
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
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
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.
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?
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
Still, at least the plastic bags, dust, mongrels, hairy gusseted hookers and
discarded needle kept the American tourists at bay down the marina. Every cloud
I caved in under the pressure.
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.
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
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:
wait fishing senor?" as he looked my rods up and down.
"Who you wait for?"
got out my receipt and read the name of the boat.
look?" he said and scanned the receipt.
you get this? What time you go?" My heart sank a little.
o clock. Right here", pointing to the spot I was stood on.
never heard this boat. Must be lancha. Must go round other side -
near gas station. Try there senor".
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.
road sweeper stopped me.
"You looking boat senor?" and we
went through the same process, but this time worse...
think this real boat senor. Where you get ticket?"
gestured over to the other side of the dock.
shook his head: "Bad men over there. Rip off tourist. You
I f**k!" I replied, actually not sure which aspect of recent
events I was most pissed off about.
maybe try at gas station, but sorry senor, I don't think this ticket
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
boat no real senor. What you pay?"
I have friend just here - he can take you".
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.
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:
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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:
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
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.
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
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
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.