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Planet Kapow 02 : Tijuana to Colonet

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Published on Sep 15, 2010

THE TUNNEL: that leads to the bridge that leads to Mexico is so low-key and inconspicuous that for a while we couldn't even find it - we had to approach a cop to point it out to us. And across we went, no customs, no stamping of the passport, only a tinny voice that shouted, "Hey you, no photos!" from a tiny speaker box when Adam tried to take some shots of the three-hour queue of cars coming from Mexico, stretching to the horizon.

Down some stairs, through a turnstile, and there we were, in Tijuana - the whole process so mystifyingly simple that we wandered back and forth for a time, searching for someone to hassle us, some ridiculous queue to join, almost crossing back into the US by accident.

By the time we got to Tijuana we had been lectured about it at length by other travelers, people on the bus, taxi drivers, whoever - it had become a mythical city of danger and chaos, a place you could be confident of being shot and / or decapitated within minutes of arriving. All nonsense, of course, but nonsense has a habit of becoming more believable the more often it's repeated, so we boarded a bus to Ensenada and watched Mexico unfold.

In Ensenada we found a deserted city, rapidly vacated after the end of the college breaks in the States, no cruise ships in port, just us and our backpacks. We wandered up and down the malecon, chowing down on plates of ceviche and fish tacos, the condiments lined up before us in a rainbow of flavour and chili. The people in Ensenada were incredibly friendly and helpful - we've since found this to be the case all over Mexico, but never quite like Ensenada. At our hostel we found a random assortment of travelers from Mexico, Switzerland, the US - and Gabi, who ran the hostel and with whom we were able to try out a little more Spanish and make believe that we were actually improving (we weren't).

We had heard a little about El Parque Nacional Sierra de San Pedro Martir, which lay a little further south, a place of bobcats and condors and bighorn sheep, but with no public transport to the park we were left in a bit of a bind. We were talking about it to Gabi one night when she interjected with "I have a car." What followed was three days of harassment and nagging until Gabi relented and loaded us, Pris the Swiss and Gilberto, from Mexico, into her 4WD with shopping bags full to bursting with bread, ham, beer, potatoes and Jack cheese.

It took a couple of hours to reach but entering the park was to enter another world, first opening up into wide desert plains, strewn with boulders, mountains looking like giant mounds of rubble, nothing in the dirt but a few sad-looking cacti, roadrunners darting across the road in front of the car beep beep - and then, suddenly, rounding a bend and the landscape changing utterly, now endless seas of conifers, chipmunks racing laps around the treetrunks, condors hovering high above, and everywhere the smell of pine.

We set up our tent in a clearing near some boulders, started a fire and stuffed our faces with the ham and cheese, grown lukewarm and sweaty, respectively, in the back of the car, and grabbed a beer. What followed was an incredible night, under an acid-washed sky flooded with stars, so many that there was less dark space than light. Guitars playing all night, stories being traded - brilliant, so brilliant, though between the Mexicans and the Swiss I think we heard Radiohead's "Creep" several dozen times that night, in a variety of versions, including soft jazz - and then a freezing, uncomfortable night on stony ground with not nearly enough blankets.

After an aborted effort at a mountain hike we were off again, Adam and I dropped off in the tiny town of Colonet to continue our journey south. Gabi, Gilberto and Pris were amazing people to spend time with and with any luck we'll run across them again, but we had to say goodbye. It was time to head into the desert.

The soundtrack to this episode is made up of another excellent Calexico selection, "Minas de Cobre (For Better Metal)" off The Black Light, Bibio's "Lover's Carvings", off his wonderful Ambivalence Avenue LP of last year, and M. Ward's "Duet For Guitars #3", from his 2003 masterpiece, The Transfiguration of Vincent.

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