In the late 60s, just before or just after I dropped out of Stanford, a couple of friends and I decided it would be cool to drive down the entire length of the Baja peninsula to Cabo San Lucas.  Cabo San Lucas wasn’t an international tourist destination back then, it was just a romantic name and point on the map — getting there seemed to promise high adventure.

We set off from the Bay Area in a banged-up but serviceable car one of my friends owned, camped out on a beach the first night somewhere between there and San Diego and crossed the border at Tijuana.  We didn’t pause in Tijuana but headed straight for Ensenada because we’d heard there was a good beach there.

There was — we spent an entire day hanging out on it.  The wind off the Pacific was fierce and disguised the fierceness of the sun.  We were all horribly and painfully sunburned at the end of the excursion and so headed into the grubby little town of Ensenada for some
anesthetic treatment — cervezas, to be precise.

We quickly drank enough to take our minds off the sunburn — and apparently I drank even more than that.  I’m told I had to be dragged back to the cheap motel room we’d rented because I  kept accosting anyone who looked like an American and screaming “Hey, turista!” at them.  I don’t remember this.

I do remember the motel room.  We could only afford to rent one room and it had only two single beds in it, so one of us had to sleep on the floor.  We flipped a coin and I lost.  The hard linoleum of the floor instantly sobered me up, because there was no way to lie on it without reminding me of the sunburn — each new position shifted the searing pain to a new part of my body.  It was a long night.

In those days the road to Cabo was not paved below Ensenada, but we assumed it would be a decent dirt highway.  It wasn’t.  At a gas station we asked a friendly local if it got any better further south.  He said it didn’t, but didn’t get any worse, either.  He did strongly advise us not to travel at night.  “Why?” we asked.  “Because of the bandits,” he replied, matter-of-factly, as though “the bandits” were a well-known hazard of travel in Baja California.

As it turned out, the road was a greater hazard.  Less than halfway to Cabo we realized that the car’s shocks would never survive several hundred more miles on such a bad surface.  We were losing heart.

We decided to camp for the night on a beach and take stock of the situation.  It was a beautiful beach, and utterly, absolutely deserted — one could look for miles it seemed in either direction and see no other living soul.  This was surreal but exciting, the stuff of romance.  We woke in our sleeping bags at dawn the next day to low growling sounds moving closer and closer to us.  They came from a large pack of wild dogs scavenging along the beach.  They may have just been looking for food but they also had the air of creatures looking for trouble.

We hurried into the car and started north again.  Things had simply gotten too romantic, and the idea of bandits didn’t seem so improbable anymore in the midst of such vast and awesome desolation.

There’s an o. k. paved road all the way down to Cabo now.  Ordinary Americans travel it every day unmolested by bandits.  Ensenada has become a trendy resort town, and Cabo is an outpost of high luxury.

Probably some of the wildness I remember is still there in Baja California, off the beaten track.  I’m going back to look for it, anyway.

If our paths should happen to cross at a remote seaside cantina some night, just raise your glass and scream, “Hey, turista!”