There were three of us. Margie Del Mar had freckles on her face and a calm, reserved way that snuck up on you. Her boyfriend, Mr. Whiskers, was at least a head taller than her. He rested his forearm on the top of her head and never took off his Coca-cola baseball cap. I lagged slightly behind, fumbling with my backpack and vaguely wondering if walking slower would make the day last longer.
We’d hopped on one of those large ABC buses in Ensenada and headed south. About two hours later the bus deposited us on the side of the road next to a sign that read “Ejido Erendira 19.” As the colossal thing pulled away I felt dwarfed by the desert expanse that surrounded us and gleeful about dipping my toes into some adventure. There was no official bus stop, no buildings, no bench, only a tiny white house, no higher than our waists, filled with flowers. Maybe it was a memorial. Two road diverged in a yellow desert….
The first three nights of our Baja getaway had been decidedly low-key, driven primarily by the goal of tasting as much as possible of Baja’s abundant street food. Using Ensenada as our launching point we logged more mileage traipsing from taco to tostada to torta stand than covering any actual distance. Our current deliverance from this surfeit of seafood and carne asada was set in stark relief to the arid rolling hills on which we now stood. With no cell phone, no food, minimal water and perhaps most importantly, no flashlight, we were woefully unprepared to travel in Baja. But we weren’t thinking that far ahead. Well-fed and in good company we had at least a solid two hours of sunlight to reach our next hostel in the small beach side town of Eréndira.
Looking around we laughed out loud at the picture of ourselves, standing with our backpacks at a crossroads in Baja. Do you ever imagine other people’s reactions if they could check in on you at any time? Like if some random person from high school acquired a crystal ball and decided to see what Miss Chief, Margie and Whiskers were up to. With no other update on our lives they’d find us standing alone by a road in Mexico. Ha!
Truthfully, despite our pathetic supplies, we were armed with the knowledge we needed. On exiting the bus at “kilometer 81” we had about a 12 mile hike to our destination, a hostel perched on a cliff which sloped steeply down to the beach. And indicative of the ease that graced our entire trip, our moment of intense isolation, augmented by anticipation of the unknown, was fleeting. Within 10 seconds of snapping a pic, and Whiskers sticking out his thumb, we climbed into the bed of a small Toyota pickup.
A massive thunder storm had swept across the peninsula the previous day, drowning the streets and delaying our travel. Dark clouds still loomed in the distance but today the sky was mostly clear. It was one of those glowy post-rain days where all colors are more vibrant and saturated. The sunshine was ample and yellow but the air was rather cool. I gripped the side of the truck to keep from toppling over as our driver maneuvered around the muddy craters that pocked the dirt road. My fingers turned white and felt prickly at the tips from holding onto the cold metal. Margie’s hair whipped across her face and stuck to her lips. Whiskers grinned as he reclined against the back of the cab.
The unknown for this trip came only in glimmers, but it presented the possibility of something more, of a greater authenticity and more carefree presence. Gazing into my own crystal ball I saw the three of us hunkered down in the truck, witnessing a special slice of life that managed to escape from the rest. It was an escape from reservations, from planning, and mostly from fear. It was Friday afternoon.
It wasn’t until dusk, standing outside a new friend’s two room house on the outskirts of the village, that we learned of the atrocity in Newtown, Connecticut. Our golden moment was happening at the same time America was beginning to reel from a horrific tragedy. Here we were, across the border, on a trip that most loved ones, and even strangers, had advised us not to take. We had been the ones reminded constantly to question our safety. Now, none of the previous parameters for danger and safety seemed to apply. I struggled to filter this new information and put into perspective the simultaneousness of life and the risk of being alive. While this burdened my brain an adorable flea-ridden kitten with crusty eyes balanced on Whiskers’ shoulder. Red chili pepper lights glimmered in the doorway and the seam separating the nearby cliff from the ocean slowly dissolved into the black night.