In late September I was back on the Sea of Cortés with my sister Alice. Six hours down from the border, in the thick of the boojum forest, we'd cut east towards the Bahía de los Angeles, the Bay of Angels. More boojums, sandy flats, bald sun-sizzled sierra. At kilometer 53 we first saw the sea. "Oh my God," Alice said.We stopped the car to take a photograph.
Did it look anything like Alaska?
The Bahía de los Angeles was swimming with islands: tiny guano-bright hillocks, a massive volcanic cone, and one -- Angel de la Guardia (Guardian Angel) -- so vast it looked like a swath of mainland, strangely near. The town of Bahía de los Angeles, however, was a pitiful thing, far off in the distance, a clutch of cinderblocks like a splotch on the southern cup of the bay.
The road descended. A trio of vultures circled as we passed through the garbage dump. And then, hard against the barren shore, we came to the string of ramshackle houses and ramshackle RV parks.
Guillermos RV Park had a room behind the office. It was fairly clean, only three cockroaches (thumb-sized, belly-up) on the bathroom floor. But there was no water or light until 6 p.m. The deal was, water and light from 6 p.m. to 4 a.m., and from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. Twenty- five U.S. dollars, cash in advance.
Outside, by the water, lingered a smell, faint but rank, something not unlike raw sewage with limburger cheese. A pack of dogs lazed in the sand. Some tables were set up beneath a palapa. A group of Americans was getting trashed on margaritas.
So this was it, the famous, beloved by Baja Buffs, "Bay of L.A." Even back in 1940, Steinbeck found it too modern, with its airstrip and its one little airplane. When detective novelist Erle Stanley Gardner flew in with his entourage in the early 1960s, the Casa Díaz -- "this most interesting medium-priced resort" -- had already been in operation for a number of years catering to fly-in sportfishermen. Judging by the photographs in Gardner's books, Bahía de los Angeles had grown very little in the last thirty-odd years -- these few RV parks, mom and pop groceries, a liquor store, a scattering of houses (shacks most of them) thrown up on the hill. It had changed in less obvious ways, however. The fishing wasn't what it used to be. And now, with the Mexican government trying to fight the cocaine barons, closing airstrips all up and down the peninsula, fewer Americans were flying in. The airstrip was still open here, but there was no aviation fuel -- nor gasoline, for that matter. The last functioning Pemex station was in Cataviña, three hours north, and even there the supply was uncertain. (Alice and I were lucky: we'd only had to wait half an hour for the attendant to finish having his breakfast.)
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