MEXICO: PARANOIA AND PREJUDICE

Before
setting off on our drive down the Baja California peninsula my sister
Lee and I did a lot of research about traveling there — online, in books
and in conversations with acquaintances who've visited the region by
car.  In the wake of our own journey it's clear that there's a lot
of misinformation floating around about automobile travel by foreigners in Mexico.

With respect to Baja California itself, a lot of this is just residual
mythology from the time when driving down Mexico 1 to Cabo San Lucas
was a wilderness adventure.  The road wasn't paved the whole way
to the cape until 1974 — a fact that thwarted my own first attempt to
drive down the peninsula in the late Sixties in a car with
insufficiently robust shock-absorbers.  For years after the road
was paved it wasn't maintained
scrupulously and supplies of gasoline along the way couldn't be
depended upon.  All of that has changed.

But some of the misinformation is undoubtedly due to plain old paranoia and prejudice.

In the whole course of our journey we were only accosted once by an
aggressive and vaguely threatening beggar.  We only encountered one
incompetent and indifferent hotel or motel clerk.  We only found
ourselves once in rooms with seriously malfunctioning air-conditioners
— rooms whose temperatures were recorded at 99 degrees on the room
thermostats and whose wall units were unfitted to reduce this
temperature very much.

All these things happened in Blythe, California, in the Imperial
Valley, before we even crossed the border.

In Mexico itself we
encountered nothing but cheerful hospitality, casual but
efficient and friendly service and good deals.  In La Paz, we stayed in large, cool,
comfortable rooms with pleasant sea views, at one of the best hotels in
town, for five dollars a night less than we paid for the grubby sweatboxes in
Blythe.

We were careful about drinking tap water but were extremely
adventurous
about where and what we ate.  (My nephew Harry, just shy of his
14th birthday on the trip, ate so many strange but delicious things in
Mexico that he kept a photographic record of them, starting with the
bowl of grilled octopus, above, that he ate con mucho gusto in Guerrero Negro on the trip down to La
Paz.)  Each of us experienced brief, mild
bouts of intestinal distress but nothing that could have been the
result of anything more than entering a new microbial environment —
something you might encounter just by visiting a different part of the
United States.

When we got back to Las Vegas we were all jonesing for cheeseburgers
and went out to an upscale burger joint here to indulge
ourselves.  I barfed it all up later that night — something that
never happened to me in Mexico.  I would say that you can get
better, fresher and more delicious food in almost any roadside
taquería in Mexico, however funky it may look on the outside, than you
can find on almost any gleaming stretch of strip
development in almost any American town.  We had really superb
shrimp and carne asada tacos at the improvised diner below, in El Rosario — a place we happened upon by chance:

It would make much more sense for Yankees to warn Mexicans
about traveling here — about the rude, uncaring service, bad deals and
synthetic food — than to listen to the warnings of fellow Yankees
about traveling in Mexico.

For previous Baja California trip reports, go here.


[Photos © 2007 Harry Rossi]

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