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San Felipe, Baja California
Over the years I have been in and out of Mexico, mostly in the north-western states. I’m a westerner and spent nearly half of my life in Arizona and California. Northern Mexico was close and hospitable.
My experience is that many people never get beyond Nogales or Tijuana. That is unfortunate because border towns never present the best a country has to offer.
There are special places. One is San Felipe. In the 80’s I had a friend who used to go camping in San Felipe. He was so enthusiastic that my wife and I decided to go. This became an annual pilgrimage, eventually a caravan of five families.
San Felipe is in Baja California on the Sea of Cortes. From Long Beach, California, where I was living, it was about 370 miles. For a westerner, that is a reasonable drive. At that time the paved road ended there. Going south were dirt roads. I think that is still the case.
The town was dusty, hot and nearly void of vegetation. It had only a few streets but many bars and restaurants. It is much larger today. Being so close to Los Angeles, San Diego and Phoenix the population would swell five fold on a three-day holiday. People came down in RVs, motor homes and pickup trucks, towing all terrain vehicles, jet skis and boats. The place was jumping!
We used to go to Poncho’s RV park. That wasn’t the true name, but Poncho owned it and that’s what we called it. The park ran along the beach which was wonderful and it had toilets and showers which was terrific. We were supposed to pay $6 per day for a space, but we never did. We camped on the beach and Poncho never objected.
The Sea of Cortes is quite shallow near the shore. When the tide is out the water recedes nearly half a mile. When it comes in, it is hard to outrun. Woe to the camper who does not know this. There were occasions when people awoke in the water because they set their tents too far east when the tide was out.
In the morning local women came through the camp selling homemade tamales and other foods. For a dollar you could get four! And, they were very good. One year, boys came through selling clams they had dug up. We had a great time that night swilling beer and eating steamed clams.
Although Mexico is very hospitable, when driving there I was nervous around the police. I never had a bad experience but we all have heard “things”. Right?
One year, 1987, as we drove into San Felipe we came to an arch of plywood over the road which read “Bienvenida a San Felipe”. Leaning against the frame was a heavyset police officer. As we approached he waved us over. We stopped. He came to the car and handed me a memiographed page that had obviously passed through many hands. It announced that San Felipe was sponsoring a raffle to raise funds for civic beautification. It invited us to buy raffle tickets, one for a dollar. The prize was a vintage truck.
Over the shoulder of the officer, on a knoll, I saw a beat up red and yellow truck.
“What is customary?”, I inquired.
I bought $10 worth of raffle tickets and we went on our way. I never heard if I won.
The Celebration: be careful
As in anyplace things can go awry in San Felipe if you push the envelope. One year a member of our group had just turned twenty-one. He was ready to party! We all went into town, ate dinner and hit the bars. After several hours of this, our group returned to the RV park and our tents, all of us except the twenty-one year old. He wanted to stay and party. We didn’t think to stop him.
Around 3:00AM, I was awakened by someone hollering my name. I stumbled out of the tent, blear-eyed and saw a police car from which the hollering was coming. I approached the car and saw our friend in the backseat, naked. He had a blanket someone had thrown to him.
The police officer explained he had been found stumbling down the street completely naked. A passing girl threw him the blanket. He had been in the jail about three hours. The officer said it was “a very serious matter”.
I asked if it might be possible for me to make a donation to the police station retirement fund and take my friend off their hands.
He said $100 might be appropriate. And so it was.
Later, I told my wife that our friend must have really been in someone’s face. If a person rolls someone, he might take jewelry, even clothes. But not underwear. Whoever did that was trying to humiliate our friend.
The moral is you must be careful when in foreign places.
As it was, that cut our trip short. That was all the cash I had and in those days there were no ATMs. I don’t think that would be a problem today.
More to come
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