by Scott Sadil
If you’ve ever once traveled, or planned to travel, down the Baja peninsula, you know the questions: “Is it safe? What about the drug dealers? The cartels? Do you carry a gun?”
I think about this again when, for the umpteenth time in nearly 60 years of Baja travel, two complete strangers come out of nowhere to bail me out of the kind of mess that leaves you utterly stranded, so far from cell service or any other sort of communication system—short of bonfires or carrier pigeons—that you might as well be in the middle of the Vizcaíno desert.
Oh, wait a minute, that’s exactly where I am.
My truck is buried up to its axles. The sand is fine, dry on top but wet below, like a sponge used for bailing out the bilge beginning to dry on deck. Tamalita, the new boat, dangles behind on her trailer in the same gruesome trap. It looks worse ahead. Even unhitched, I’d need a crane to turn around.
I’m sure nobody expects an explanation for how this came to pass.
What’s important, at the moment, is that two fellows who passed on the paved highway not far from me have turned around at a washed out section of road up ahead, another rough spot from the recent hurricane, and returned my way to assess the problem and see what they can do to help solve it. Two local construction guys from Guerrero Negro, headed at dawn to work on a swimming pool, father and son I learn later, when they finish writing down their names and telephone numbers, inviting me to stay at their house next time I pass that way.
They handled the job like pros. Unhitched the trailer from the truck. Pulled the truck out of the way. Hitched their truck to the trailer and backed Tamalita up the sandy hill to where I had left the pavement for reasons I’m simply not going to reveal. I’m still not sure how they got the truck out.
An hour, maybe an hour and a half after sinking into the sand, we’re free again. I’d spent most of that time, until these strangers arrived, cursing myself, then trying to call for help from guys I knew 200 and 400 miles away. Stuck; completely stuck. Going nowhere unless help arrived out of the blue—which, in Baja, it always seems to do.
You can take from that what you want. But in this case, I will explain. We’re talking about frontier folks who look out for one another, who understand things happen that ask us to be our best selves, to reach out and help complete strangers. Guys on their way to work, or coming home from a long day commercial fishing, or rancheros who show up and throw themselves into a job that will take them from the hundred other things that need doing in a life carved out of the harshest environment many of us can imagine.
It’s a cultural character trait.
On the roads and waters I travel, when I encounter a Mexican coming my way, I’m all but certain he’s there to offer help. We could argue about why it happens, but in this case I’m just reporting facts.
I wish I could report the same everywhere I search for fish.
Gray’s Angling Editor Scott Sadil likes to point out that he caught his first fish in Baja when Ernest Hemingway, Marilyn Monroe, and JFK were all still alive.