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On the Road in Mexico
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Vi and I had been talking of taking a couple of weeks to cruise Mexico and in particular Baja California, but hadn’t, for all the reasons and tribulations that afflict humanity. Finally we just hopped into the CRV and went. Wing it, figure it out when we got there, wherever “there” was. Reason, planning, and common sense are much overrated. Too much to describe here: Arandas, Zacatecas, Aguas Calientes, León, Durango, Mazatlan, and finally Baja. A few notes, though.

Zacatecas is an old, old city built on what is almost a universal Mexican plan—central plaza with a government building and a church. Mexico is not yet a mass consumerist society with everything decided at corporate in New Jersey, and may never be, so town centers are distinctive and the churches all different and often lovely. It is a touristy city (Mexicans tourist: I think we saw three gringos, including me) and so has loud, bad music blaring from every bar and restaurant.

These signs, common in Mexico, indicate a topless beach.
These signs, common in Mexico, indicate a topless beach.

On a side street, however, we found a cantina of the old school from the turn of the previous century, small, convincingly itself, and homey. We ordered shots of Centenario Reposado, planning to stay half an hour. But then a few regulars came in—it was that sort of place—with guitars and we ended up leaving maybe four hours later. I am persuaded that Violeta knows the words of every song ever written and the melodies of the rest, so she happily sang along and there were many toasts.

The cantina, a bit blurry but by that time so were we.
The cantina, a bit blurry but by that time so were we.

I like the city. The streets are sometimes vertical because of the underlying hills, and paved with large flagstones that seem to hold up very well. It was not always so pleasant. The silver mines, once worked by brutally mistreated Indian slaves, are dark and cramped tunnels. Now they are a sort of horror-show tourist attraction. How people treat each other that way is a mystery to me. But that was then, and now isn’t.

The mines. They were much worse than any picture can capture.
The mines. They were much worse than any picture can capture.

The weirdest stretch of the trip was Highway 40 between Durango and Mazatlan. A problem for east-west travel in northern Mexico are the mountains of the Sierra Madre Occidental. If you set out to find the absolutely godawful worst place on this planet or perhaps any other to build a highway, the Sierra Madre would be a contender. However, Mexico decided that it needed the highway, and was going to build the damned thing, whether it was possible or not. I looked at the territory—populated by huge, dry, spikey mountains with an uncountable infinity of ghastly valleys falling away to nowhere—and concluded that it couldn’t be done. Of course I was driving on it at the time which weakened my argument.

Says the Internet, 115 bridges, eight of them over 900 feet high, sixty-three tunnels with a combined length of almost ten miles. The Sinaloense Tunnel alone is nearly two miles along and the Baluarte Bridge, above, 1300 feet above the river bed and 3600 feet long. The thing is starkly insane. It’s there, though.

This, you may have guessed, is the Mazatlan-La Paz ferry.
This, you may have guessed, is the Mazatlan-La Paz ferry.

From Mazatlan we took the ferry to Baja. I was expecting it to be the size of a tennis court with a minor shelter for passengers. Waiting to drive aboard, we watched something like sixty eighteen-wheelers come off. Pretty fair tennis court. The reason is that there are only two ways continental Mexico can communicate with Baja except by air: Have a gynormous ferry or several, or drive waa-a-a-ay up to the US border and back down again. The things are huge with nice cabins for seventy bucks and a decent restaurant.

I was in Baja several hundred years ago, when it barely had roads. Now two highways, Routes 1 and 5, extend the length of the peninsula and except for a couple of patches are good. (In addition to a lot of good highways, Mexico has, especially in rural areas, roads that are allowed to fall into ruins. Occasionally driving is like crossing a rock quarry on ice skates. The reason, Violeta assures me, is usually that the local government stole the treasury.)

Baja is a marvel if you like dry, constantly changing desert, most of the world’s supply of cactus, brutal spectacular dry brown mountains and occasional startling glimpses of the blue, blue Sea of Cortez. If you don’t like these things, you need to go somewhere else. Much of the road is gun-barrel straight and we sailed along at eighty miles per, almost no traffic, somebody on tabla and sitar on the cd deck. Through the mountains the curves would alarm a touring snake, but what the hell.

Indicates topless beach for mutants.
Indicates topless beach for mutants.

The cities along Baja, all few of them, have a Mediterranean feel, Mexico being a Latin country. Always the malecón, a cement boardwalk along the shore, restaurants where you can eat dead shrimp over a leisurely michelada, which is an improbable drink made with beer, Clamato, Worcestershire sauce and some other things. In particular I recommend La Paz and Loreto.

The exception to the general pleasantness is Cabo San Lucas, which is the geographic equivalent of prostate cancer, mixing the charms of Atlantic City with Lauderdale during spring break, and a yacht basin full of very pricey boats owned by people who should be made into dog food. It’s the kind of place where you expect to see the Clintons. Go somewhere else. Anywhere else.

See? What I said.
See? What I said.

Having reached the US border, we crossed into the continental side and drove murderously long hours home. I guess we were vacationed-out. At one point we encountered one of those bad roads I mentioned, twenty-four miles at fifteen miles on roads where the government had definitely stolen the the treasury. It goes with the territory.

The dogs were glad to see us and we, them.

(Republished from Fred on Everything by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Race/Ethnicity • Tags: Mexico 
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  1. LaPaz is indeed a nice city. One of the most enjoyable meals I’ve eaten was at a nice restaurant along the Malecon that featured a really fine jazz band composed of keyboard, string bass, drummer, guitar and singer with a mellow Latin sound and style that can’t be imitated. Sunset backdrop silhouetting sailboats bobbing at anchor, warm with low humidity, ahhh….

  2. Mr. Reed, how’s your eyesight been? I still think about the account you wrote of the malpractice in Baltimore from time to time (the late, great Ron Smith directed me to your page years ago).

  3. Jim says:

    Mexico sounds like such a wonderful place. Perhaps the Mexicans living in the wretched godforsaken United States will hasten back to that fabulous land south of the border leaving us poor Americans all by ourselves in our miserable country. Oh well, I can hope.

    • Replies: @Anonymous
  4. MarkinLA says:

    The dogs were glad to see us and we, them.

    They sure were. Imagine them living in fear of wondering if they were going to be the featured entree at a roadside taco stand.

  5. Like Fred, I love Mexico and her people. I have more fondness for the Maya than the Aztec but perhaps because I so resemble the Mayan blue eyed Gods. They are an interesting race of small folk and their ejidos are a glimpse into a past of subsistence living with no electricity (the ones who haven’t sold off parts of the ejido to developers for big bucks anyway). But unlike Fred, I think that the Mexicans ought to stay in Mexico and stay out of the political affairs of foreign governments (especially America’s). When I want to experience Mexico, I’ll bear the cost of a plane ticket and villa rental – I don’t need to have a mini Mexico in my town. I don’t need Mexicans competing for low wage jobs and helping to encourage low IQ Americans to sit home on welfare instead of working.

    One note too on the Mexican criminals in America. Those familiar with Mexico know well the concrete fortified walls surrounding every home with broken glass shards embedded at the top. They know well the armed security guards employed by the wealthier to protect against kidnapping. They know the terror of accidentally winding up in a road rage incident with a narcotraficante. They know the many interior roadblocks and inspections by the military with machine guns at the ready and the traffic cops looking for mordida. One big reason so many Mexican criminals wind up in America is because we are an incredibly soft target compared to those back home.

    Fred lives in the most Americanized place in Mexico (Ajajic, Jalisco). It’s a lovely little town, but a far distance from the real Mexico.

    • Replies: @DH
    , @Johann Ricke
  6. DH says:
    @Stan D Mute

    I think that the Mexicans ought to stay in Mexico and stay out of the political affairs of foreign governments

    Have you ever considered that it is the US that is creating the large majority of foreign political problems? And lacking a sort of revolution that is not going to change anytime soon?
    I don’t think Trump alone will able to deal with the Estblishment.

    • Replies: @Big Bill
    , @Stan D Mute
  7. Big Bill says:

    And your point is … what?

  8. @DH

    I’ve never suggested that the U.S. wasn’t to blame for our problems. For a hundred years we’ve known Mexicans would invade searching for riches. Yet we’ve done nothing to stop them and increased incentives for the Mexicans to come. We have an enormous appetite for drugs and allow unfettered border crossing so of course Mexicans will fill that demand.

    The point is, it’s long overdue that America thinks of Americans first. We can have compassion for poor Mexicans and we can help them without allowing them to come here and set up colonies. If anything, by letting them in, we become poorer and less able to help them in Mexico.

    • Replies: @Biff
  9. @Stan D Mute

    One big reason so many Mexican criminals wind up in America is because we are an incredibly soft target compared to those back home.

    I’d disagree. The reason Mexico’s murder rates are at the top end of non-failed states is because it’s a soft target. There’s no death penalty. Corruption among both civil and military security forces is pervasive. A significant chunk of the justice system is on the narcotraficante payroll. Civilians cannot own guns and are prosecuted for doing so. Gangsters flaunt guns with impunity.

    Criminals who come to America probably do so to bow out of the drug wars in Mexico – the attrition rate from intramural disputes among gangsters is staggering. Those who try to export Mexico’s brand of mayhem stateside generally find that American cops are hard to intimidate, American homicide detectives are relentless and that American prisons aren’t generally susceptible to prison breaks. <a title=”""80%&#8221; href=""80% of murders in Mexico go unsolved. The American number is 36%.

  10. Truth says:

    Mr. Reed, the one thing that cannot be said about you is that you are a quitter.

    • Replies: @vinteuil
  11. Biff says:
    @Stan D Mute

    I’d take a Mexican over you any day of the week.

  12. Jefferson says:

    Fred Reed is married to a Mexican woman, so is it really surprising that he has the same views on immigration as Jeb Bush. 99.99% of White guys who marry Mexican women are Left Wing on the issue of immigration.

  13. vinteuil says:

    “Mr. Reed, the one thing that cannot be said about you is that you are a quitter.”

    Heh – precisely so. He always hates blacks, he always likes Mexicans, and he never, ever, changes his mind. He is completely impervious to evidence.

    What wouldn’t I give to watch him chat for an hour or two with Jayman!

  14. Dave37 says:

    If Mr. Reed has found some bit of Nirvana in Mexico it’s a nice counterpoint to the cynicism of the US.

  15. Jim Sweeney says: • Website

    I frequently ask Reed why so many Mexicans come to the US rather than stay in that lovely place of which he writes. He never answers because he cannot. None can rebut that proposition. Browns come to white America because whites create better countries than browns. The browns surely don’t come for the black experience. Blacks come to white Europe and white America never to any of the black or brown countries. All of that is simply obvious. Just look and notice.

    We whites are simply better at creating better places to live than browns and blacks. Nobody can argue that and win. None of the black or brown `intellectuals’ ever leaves. She, he or it has found a happy niche here and could never replicate it in any black or brown country.

    And that’s just a fact Mr. Reed.

  16. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    @Jim, Most of US is their [Mexican] land. Perhaps you should consider going back and leaving them all by themselves in their wonderful country.

  17. All of the US is animal land, who came before pre-historic cavemen, who came before the Indians, who came before the Vikings, who came before the Spanish, who came before other Europeans.

  18. @Anonymous

    Based on what? We took it from British, French and Spanish empires who took it from the Asiatic tribesmen, who were in constant warfare with each other over territory and women.

  19. MarkinLA says:

    Mexico started a war they had no chance of winning when they knew the US wanted the land we got. Stop with that nonsense that we stole their land. There was no Mexico before the Spanish. Mexico got it’s independence from Spain. Because of a bad leader Texas got it’s independence from Mexico and we annexed them. Mexico attacked US troops in the disputed border region.

    Blame Mexican stupidity if you want to blame somebody.

  20. The Mexican narco wars, the essential takeover of much of the state governments by narcos and the impact of Nafta on the agricultural industry in Mexico, has created a mess in Mexico that drives much of the misery in that country, and by extension has exasperated the immigration problem.

    The United States has spent approximately \$3 billion to fund the “war on drugs,” in Mexico. Since the war on drugs began under President Felipe Calderón in 2006, more than 100,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence. U.S. support includes \$2.4 billion in taxpayer funds through the Merida Initiative, launched as a three-year aid program for Mexican security forces under the administration of George W. Bush. The Obama administration has extended the Merida Initiative

    Nafta – initiated by multinational companies in both countries has wrecked large segments of the Mexican economy and forced many peasants out of their traditional livelihood and into Narco gangs.

    Under Nafta, Mexico Suffered, and the United States Felt Its Pain

  21. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Fred, thanks for this bit of writing. You usually do a heck of a job, this is no different. I’ve made pretty much that same road trip a few times. El espinazo del diablo is really something. Thanks again.

  22. keypusher says:

    Thanks, Mr. Reed, I enjoyed this. Never seen Baja, I’ll have to go.

    Everyone else–Reed gives you plenty of chances to argue race, immigration, drugs, and the Mexican-American War. Give it a rest.

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