© 2015 By Kathleen Kemsley, from 1999 trip journals
When Brian and I chose December 1999 for our first foray into Mexico on four wheels, it never occurred to us to worry about the changing millennium. We were far more concerned with what camping conditions might be like in a foreign country. For a week we sat in Death Valley, getting our courage up. Finally we took a deep breath and rolled wheels into Mexico at the Tecate border crossing.
As soon as we got across, we relaxed. The Suzuki Samurai was a perfect vehicle for the Baja. The roads were mostly paved (if potholed) and the people were welcoming. Y2K fears of the pending millennium change had scared the majority of tourists away from foreign travel that year, so we found a lot of empty campsites.
Just south of Mulegé, we settled into a palapa at Conceptión Bay. We met a few campers who planned to stay through the winter “on the beach,” but we wanted to keep exploring. After a few relaxing days there, we went inland, attended a Posada celebration for Christmas, paused in La Paz long enough to get really sick on some bad chicken, then departed for the cape in search of free camping.
The first free camping space we christened “Perfect Beach.” We had neighbors half a mile away down the white sand; some sandstone rocks grouped in a shelter off the water to set up our chairs and a campfire; and a view of pelicans and magnificent frigate birds diving into the water out the front door of the tent. This beach we ranked a perfect 10, and the one against which all the subsequent campsites would be judged.
A dirt road took off just south of the ritzy town of Los Barriles, heading in a roundabout way down to San Juan del Cabo. We went for miles and miles past private property and fields of corn and grazing cattle, all of it fenced off to vagabonds like ourselves. Finally we turned on a two-track and drove for several miles before stopping to camp in an open field that didn’t appear to be owned by anyone.
We set up the tent and night fell. After dinner we started a tiny campfire and had just sat down when we heard heavy footsteps. Out of the darkness emerged a man shouting something in Spanish. Alarmed, Brian jumped up and tried to intercept the man. As soon as he got closer, it became obvious that he was an extremely intoxicated local. He held a machete in one hand and a bottle of tequila in the other. Yikes.
Miguel spoke a little English and we spoke a little Spanish. For the next hour we labored to communicate with this plastered little campesino. He got across that he worked on the ranch there, but he had a cousin in California. He implored us to take him with us back to the USA.
There were cattle ranging loose in the field where we were camped, and he kept repeating that they were “muy peligroso animals,” very dangerous! Over his head, Brian and I exchanged a glance. We need to get out of there immediately! Hastily, we folded up the tent and chairs and stuffed them in the back of the rig. Brian started up the engine. I jumped in the passenger seat. Miguel came right in after me and sat on my lap, reeking of tequila and tobacco. I gave him a shove out and slammed the car door. Brian hit the gas and we sped back down the two-track to the main road.
Only now it was pitch dark. We continued further on the unfamiliar road until another turnoff appeared. Undiscriminating at that point, we turned in and drove back a ways onto some sand. There we set the tent back up and collapsed into weary sleep.
The next morning was Christmas Eve. We looked around to discover that we were on an empty and pristine beach backed by sandstone cliffs, next to the Gulf of California. It was another perfect 10 of a campsite, made even sweeter by the fact that there were no drunk Miguels around to bother us. We pulled the rig back into an alcove between two sandstone cliffs, and set the parking brake.
A small herd of skinny longhorn vacas, or cattle, came by a little later. No doubt they were the same “Muy peligroso animals” that Miguel had tried to warn us about. But they paid us no heed. They ambled along past our campsite, then went down to the shore for a drink before continuing on down the beach. By now we were laughing and making fun of the drama of the night before. Soon I came up with a song for the occasion, to the tune of “The Monkees.”
We’re the craziest vacas, that you could ever meet.
Hey hey peligroso! Muy peligroso are we!
We walk down to the tide line, and drink right out of the sea.
After departing Christmas Beach, we hit civilization at San Jose del Cabo. There we heard about an upcoming New Year’s event, so we bypassed Cabo San Lucas and drove directly to Todos Santos to check it out. It turned out that the local expat community was planning a sober campout at the beach, so with two days remaining in the old millennium we set up camp next to a couple from Hawaii to wait for Y2K.
People began arriving with food at sunset on New Year’s Eve. More and more salads, side dishes, and desserts showed up. Finally, someone backed a truck in and offloaded a whole roast pig. We ate until we hurt, laughing and talking with other travelers. When no one could eat another bite, we pulled the chairs into a circle. One by one, each of the 40 or so people present shared their experience, strength and hope. There wouldn’t have been enough booze in all of Mexico for us, if the group had decided to drink that night. But sober, we found much to be grateful for, in both the old millennium and the new.
In this place, on the isolated coast of Baja, we felt safe from any conspiracy theory-based paranoia about the end of the world. After all, rural Mexicans still made change out of a cigar box. The Y2K bug was not going to be a problem here. Down on the beach, people set off fireworks as the old millennium slipped away under a waning moon. And the next morning, the new year dawned peaceful and serene. The end had become the beginning, and the day was full of promise.