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March 16th 2015
Published: March 16th 2015
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There is something about North America. After witnessing the unforgettable Pacific sunset in California, our first evening in Puerto Peñasco was met with an almost equally stunning display of celestial beauty.

E and I arrived from the US into Mexico via the small border town of Tecate. The most common point of crossing from California is Tijauana but we'd heard that it can take up to three hours to get through the security procedures; when in Portland, Stacey had told us of Tecate as a quieter, quicker route through. She was right. With nobody else crossing, we breezed through the paperwork and security procedures in 15 minutes. Our next step was to catch a bus to Mexicali, a major city east of Tecate and Baja California's gateway to mainland Mexico, and for that we needed pesos. We found an ATM - or cajero automatico - and proceeded to have troubles getting cash out. One thing we've noticed is that our debit cards work variously as either credit or savings cards when abroad, with each new country and each new bank requiring a game of chance to figure it out. After 20 minutes and three different ATMs we withdrew $4000 (£173) to tide us over. Deciding to get something to eat before heading to the bus, we head into a couple of stores to see what vegan food we could get, and at some point during this brief scout the notes that were in Erika's pockets went missing. Whether it had fallen out or been lifted out we will never know. With little other option we went back to the ATM to withdraw more cash, armed with the knowledge that at least it wouldn't take us another 20 minutes and three machines to get it. After bumping into an American ex-pat zealously selling us the joys of the Copper Canyon - or Barrancas de Cobre - we jumped on a luxury tour bus for the three hour trip to Mexicali.

Our time in Mexicali wasn't defined by a huge amount of activity. We stayed with a woman called Lourdes, Lulu for short, who we'd contacted through Couchsurfing. She met us at a Starbucks near her home. Before arriving in Mexicali I had imagined this to be a fairly easy place to find, expecting a small border of similar size to the four or five roads of Tecate. Turns out the city is home to 800,000 people and about three times the area of Greater Norwich. Thankfully we met a very enthusiastic and warm man named Edgar who was making the same bus journey from Tecate to his home in Mexicali for the weekend. We talked to him on the bus and once we alighted continued talking all the way to Starbucks. He guided us. We took his number with the expectation of meeting up with him during our time in Mexicali but sadly was not able to in the end. When Lulu turned up we chatted over a cup of coffee before returning to her flat.

When I say our time in Mexicali wasn't defined by much activity, I don't mean that we were inactive. Mexicali is a functional town, a industrial city that serves as the major border crossing from the Californian city of Calexico, and a grid of streets and strip malls aimed at rich American tourists looking to get cheap goods. It doesn't have many tourist attractions. It does have a an airful of sand and burning sunlight. Mexicali is a desert, after all. During our stay there it averaged about 32 Celsius during the day and during July/August it apparently climbs up to a dizzying 47 Celsius. Its nickname, "The Town That Trapped the Sun", is well deserved. Fixed in the middle of a desert, there was also very little we could do to explore the landscape outside city limits.

So when I say our time in Mexicali wasn't defined by much activity what I mean is that much of time involved simply sitting and being within the environment, of picking up Spanish phrases and practicing our appaling accents, and of wrestling with Lulu's cat Toulouse. When Lulu wasn't at work she would take us to museums and local events that often turned up closed by the time we arrived. One day we went with Lulu to the school at which she teaches English and helped her out by amusing the kids with our poor grasp of Spanish. She had described the school as being something out of The Bronx but honestly the kids seemed pretty well behaved - certainly more so than some of the shitty behaviour I saw/practiced at high school. We also spent an evening at a Banda night, which turned out much like a night on Prince of Wales Road but with live Mexican music, and had a chat with a dickhead that hit on E whilst dissing Jews to me.

Lulu said she had a friend in her home town of Puerto Peñasco called Armando who would be able to put us up and, as a bonus, he was driving up to Mexicali to pick up food for the vet that he runs. So after six days in a border town we hopped in a large white transit van and sped through the desert. It was a unique experience. I've never been in a desert before and it is quite something to see nothing but sand, pale green bushes, and an empty sky spreading in all directions. To be honest it looked a bit like the beach at Holkham but much bigger and without the ocean - until we got to the ocean, that is, and then it looked like Holkham just much bigger.

After several hours of driving and a quick nap by me in the back of the van we arrived in Puerto Peñasco (or Rocky Point as the Americans call it) late afternoon. We quickly dropped off our bags and headed straight to Playa Bonita, the town's main beachfront. As we approached it the sun was close to setting and we got to experience the sky, clouds, and Sea of Cortez lit up in an unreal medley of pink, orange, blue, and red. Colours like this exist in the UK but they don't appear with such vibrancy and ferocity as I have seen in California and Mexico. People scattered the length of Playa Bonita seemed as struck by the sunset as I was, whilst the palisade of mobile homes along the back of the beach suggested many others have taken in by it beauty.

We picked an opportune moment to arrive in Puerto Peñsaco as this weekend was SPRING BREAK WOOHOO!!! What is a fairly average Spring half term in the UK becomes a weekend of sex, drugs, and dune buggies for American high school and university students. Instead of running amok in their own towns they rage across the border, throw loads of money at the locals, and lead a life that is both inspired by and inspiring to crap American college comedies then leaving the Mexicans to clean up the mess. (Ironically and sadly, though, it would probably be Mexicans cleaning up the mess had they engaged in such madness within their home towns.) What this meant for the town is lots of dune buggies and quad bikes noisily crusing the streets and Americans talking very loudly, as often they seem to do, whilst walking around town. Thankfully Armando's house is away from the main tourist sector so we can relax at home.

Puerto Peñasco was, once upon a time, a very popular target for invasion by American ex-pats. They would buy up sea front real estate, perhaps live in it for a while, then flip it on the market for top prices due to its fairly idyllic location. This meant real estate properties grew and encouraged more tourists, driving up demand for hotels and other visitor resorts. Until the housing market crash in 2008, that is. It turns out Puerto Peñasco close to the epicentre of the crash and this is evidenced in the huge number of abandoned, half-finished construction jobs around the city and particular by the numerous beachfronts that surround the town. Still incomplete seven years on, most of these structures are now succumbing to rust and weathering whilst Americans begin trickling back into the town and into freshly devised condominiums sold with slogans such as "It's not just a condo, it's a lifestyle". These advertisements, worded entirely in English, are not meant for Mexicans.

Armando has been great. during our stay here. He has driven us round adn I got to visit the vet/pet shop that he runs for his parents, whilst he has shown us some of the less popular beaches to hang out on. Currently I am tender across my belly and shoulders from too many sunbeams one crazy afternoon last weekend but they will fade and awesome memories will remain. It looks like we are going to be here now until the weekend and then travel with Armando as he drives to visit his parents in Morellia. He will stop off in Guadalajara over night before continuing on, and we will likely part ways with him there. Despite our best attempts at working out a plan to visit Barrancas del Cobre it seems almost impossible without na heap of money for the extortionately priced train, a train that is aimed squarely at tourists because it is beyond the price range of most Mexicans, and a train that is heralded as an engineering marvel but vehemently opposed by the indigenous population of the canyons. So fuck it, we don't want to give them our money anyway.


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