This is a new regular feature column inspired by the September 15, 2019 Open Circle presentation of stories that manifest “Mexican Grace.”
El Ojo is looking for more anecdotes that relate the many encounters, initiated by expats or locals, that exemplify the special forms of mutual giving and receiving that define the Mexican Grace that brought us to this unique paradise--and that keep us here.
Photos are welcome.
The Kindness of Strangers
By Janet Reichert
Last September, I set out from Ajijic for a solo journey to Washington state. When I told my husband, Gary, about my idea of making this trip by car, he was uncomfortable with me being on such a long road trip alone, but I assured him I wouldn’t put myself in harm’s way and that I would stay in touch.
I traveled through Texas, New Mexico, Utah, Idaho, Oregon and down the Columbia River Gorge to the coast. I enjoyed camping and hiking in the Canyonlands of Utah and in Natural Bridges National Monument. Spending time alone in the natural world was bliss.
My return, by way of Oregon, California and the Baja peninsula, included a ferry ride from La Paz to Mazatlán and was an adventure in itself. I decided to travel down the eastern coast of Baja, along the Sea of Cortez for as far as I could and maybe camp on the beach along the way.
I crossed the border at Mexicali and half a day later set up my little tent on the beach near San Felipe. I talked with the locals and was cautioned that the route south, Highway 5, was in rough shape once beyond the San Felipe area.
Hurricane Rosa had brought widespread flooding to northwestern Mexico last October and extensive damage to highway bridges and their approaches. I was told that trucks, motorcycles and some RVs were still traveling the road but it was slow going. Though tired and nearing the end of my five-week-long, 6,600-mile trip, I decided it was worth sacrificing some time for the opportunity to see new scenery along the way and continued south along the Bay of California.
I soon encountered the first of dozens of detours down into mostly dry riverbeds and arroyos and up again onto erratically paved stretches between the washed-out bridges. It was mind-boggling to see what the epic rainfall had done as it made its way from the higher elevations down to the sea. Thousands of tons of sand and rock had washed through, scouring and widening the streambeds and arroyos and leaving deep, wide cuts at both ends of the bridges. The rainfall from the hurricane must have far exceeded the average annual rain for that area.
As I drove through the mountains and deserts of Baja not quite a month after the storm, I couldn’t help but notice that the deserts looked more like golf courses—flat and uniformly green and with everything in bloom.
After a couple of hours’ drive, I reached the part of Highway 5 being rerouted and “improved.” Blasting had left debris all over the “road”—sharp rock fragments of all sizes and shapes—with a bit of a track outlined by the sparse traffic that had passed through being the only indication of the route. No sign of any workers. I speculated that workers and equipment assigned to a project of rerouting and improving the southern parts of Highway 5 must have been relocated to repair the storm damage on other sections of the road.
Early in the day, a few motorcycle tourists had passed me and I had met a semi or two coming from the other direction, but not much else was going on in this long stretch of “deconstruction” zone. It was slow going and, in an especially slow part, a red pickup with some household goods in the truck bed came up behind me. Not wanting him to have to eat my dust for the next 30 kms., I slowed down even more and signaled that he could pass me, which he did. The lone driver waved his appreciation for my courtesy as he drove by.
As I drove on, I got more uncomfortable with the condition of the road. With wheels spinning on the loose rock rubble as I climbed up out of the deep “canyons” whose bridges were not yet in service, I cringed imagining what might be happening to the tires. But no going back at this point.
After what seemed like hours but was probably less than 40 minutes, I came to a really dicey stretch where there were “options” with no indication of which way to go. To my surprise the red pickup truck was waiting for me with the driver motioning which way to go. Once I had seen him he disappeared again into the cloud of dust ahead.
After another long slow period of scrambling up and down and over and through, I came to a “T” in the road with, of course, no helpful signs. But there was the red pickup again, patiently waiting for the crazy gringa in the red car to catch up so the driver could point out the direction to take. Roaring down the road from the opposite direction were the two motorcyclists who had passed me earlier. They must have taken quite a detour before realizing they were going the wrong way.
Thanks to the kindness of the driver of the red pickup, I was on course and nearing the end of the construction zone. I never saw him again but I was deeply touched by his concern for me and how he had patiently waited for me at each confusing fork in the road.
A few days later my trip ended with the drive from Mazatlán to Ajijic where Gary waited, almost patiently, for my wanderlust to peter out. I told him my adventure stories including this one. He scowled and said, “Did it occur to you that he might have been diverting you to someplace where he could do you harm?” I replied, “Nope, never crossed my mind. The smile on his face was enough assurance for me. Besides, that road was so desolate, he didn’t have to divert me to anyplace else to cause harm.”
Mexican grace indeed.