Starbucks is like a no-man’s land; a culture-neutral fort amid the exhausting, alien bustle of wherever-you-are. When you check out of the hotel-next-door-to-the-sex-shop, and you’ve got nine hours to wait for a bus, there’s only so long you can hold out at the sweaty taco stand, or in a moody bar where revellers began at 10am and are a long way down the tequila high road, or on the grass underneath the biggest Mexican flag you’ve ever ever seen. So we literally, literally hide out at Starbucks…preparing for the fourteen-hour journey from Ensenada in Baja Califiornia Norte to Mulege, in Baja California Sur. The hope is that we slope down the peninsular asleep, and awaken elsewhere, fresh and ready to beach our faces off. It doesn’t quite go like that, though, does it?
At the bus terminal, a fan swivels at a pace useful only to itself. ‘I speak Spanglish’, says the man at the ABC Bus counter starkly lit and wallpapered with hand-written, much corrected, impossible bus route signs. He doesn’t speak Spanglish, though. I use the Google Translate app to talk to him in what feels like a game you’d play on Christmas Day that grandad never quite gets to grips with. The man vaguely tells us where to stand. My 5 pesos fail to open the rotating doors to the toilets. I hold it in; sweat it out instead. The security guard between us and the buses out back looks like Little Richard. He’s running the show. He knows where it’s at. He’s just dude-ing the place out, totally. Absolute dude-dom. He’s got his pose right down – elbow on the wall, angled for immediate admiration. The gatekeeper, king of the buses; chest hair wildly apparent; manly beyond control. Our bus arrives and we get to the front – paranoid-of-luggage, afraid of being separated by the chair-allocation lottery and exhausted of Starbucks and it’s air-con. Aaaand sleep. Right?
Nah. Adam Sandler over-dubbed into Spanish shouts R.E.M. out of your eyeballs. ‘Stay awake through the night’, says Spandler. I oblige. Candace forces herself into a dream and stays there. I try to Zen through it. Ensenada flashes by and streetlights become moonlit mountains, winding through a midnight desert. I drift; Spanish dubbing incorporates itself into a half-dream where suddenly I have soaking wet socks. But that’s not a dream. Someone down the bus has spilled what I hope is a soft drink, and it has lapped its tide down to my socks. I hope it’s a drink. I hope it is. Wet socked, and with tired, electric legs, I drift once more. This dream is more vivid – a man has his elbow on my head and talks a native language at me. This is no dream, neither. A man is using my head to keep himself standing. The bus has over-filled and I am now part of its very structure. He’s talking to someone nearby and it’s going straight into my ear drums, un-deciphered and shrill. I have wet feet. I am tired. And a man is resting on my head.
Eventually, exhaustion reigns and I drop off…woken only by the first stabs of sunrise to poke above the distant desert hills. I pull back the curtain and there are thousands of clichéd cacti, smearing by. Huge, emblematic Mexican succulents, reaching for the sky, begging for moisture. It’s beautiful. Desolate, pure; nature doing nature. This alien, inhospitable landscape snakes into day, we gaze at the hardy shrubs battling for space and imagine the creatures that struggle within – the foxes and the reptiles and the insects, all expertly trained over millennia to cope in the dust and heat. Less can be said of us, but we survive the journey and are deposited in Mulege, where an Oriole swoops past, the air is wetter and the terrain wholly more tropical. We are closing in on the equator, and it is rewarding us with a greener abundance. Hello Baja Sur. What next?