by Tom H. Brooks 3
So, in the middle of January, 2002, I went on an epic road journey to deep Mexico with my old friend, Eric Oenning. He was an old friend from the Mission Beach, San Diego days of my youth. At the point when we left on the trip, we had known each other for about 14 years and had gotten into every kind of trouble you can think of…and more. We went looking for it and we found it, believe me. I will let this comment stand alone for itself. He was a character of the highest order, a man of excess in all ways, and a fellow traveler on this longest road of life. He has since passed away, tragically, at the age of 37 from a cardiac arrest sparked by a severe asthma attack. I miss him to this day and I could not possibly ever forget him. Rest in peace, brother. This one`s for you.
As always with these Street Journals, it will be a story of hasty scribblings in the heat of the moment, of episodes, of fragments. It is somewhat difficult to write in a sweaty hot shack in the dead of night while trying to see in the dim firelight and dodging scorpions while drunk and stoned. Even now, I re-write it with hazy recollections and fleeting visions and half-remembered moments whose timelines have all blurred together. That`s why I write things down; so I can remember them and try to understand them later….
I had been awfully restless for quite awhile now, as you have probably noticed from my previous journal entries. Even though I always love my hometown LA, I was feeling an overwhelming urge to GET OUT, to go somewhere, to see more of America and more of the world. LA is a M A S S I V E city, a world unto itself and it sucks you into the vortex and keeps you from going anywhere at all. I refused to let this happen. Eric called me a couple months previously and said he had acquired an old Scout International convertible truck and that he had some Mexican friends down in mainland Mexico, about 2000 miles to the south in the state of Colima, which is at the same latitude as Mexico City for those who don`t know. It is on the Pacific Ocean coast and we had no good reason to go except FOR THE HELL OF IT, which is a great fucking reason. I jumped at the chance. I wrapped up the few loose ends I had in my current life, which really wasn`t much. And then we just went. It`s as simple as that. I grabbed some clothes and music and books and we took off.
After a great journey heading down there (“the journey is the destination”), we stayed with Don Roberto Gonzales and his wife, the portly and lovable Mama Maria Villanueva Gonzales in the volcanic sugarcane town of El Trapiche. After a month or so, we went down to the coast and stayed in a small Mexican resort town(for Mexicans, not gringos) called Cuyatlan. We stayed in a shanty hut with dirt floors and scorpions and massive spiders. We were in the shade of the trees, right next to a graveyard and beyond that lay the train tracks. The ocean was a one minute walk west. There were coconut palms all around. We spent our days getting to know the wonderful Mexican folks of this small town, surfing, swimming, diving, and fishing. We drank mass amounts of beer and tequila, took mushrooms and smoked herb, which we could buy for 1000 pesos for one ounce (about 10 dollars). They were humid sunshine halcyon days sitting in the shade and listening to Burning Spear and Jimmy Cliff`s The Harder They Come soundtrack. To this day, this music reminds me of Eric and our ridiculously amazing Mexico trip. Another favorite nostalgic song from one of our mushroom trips was a live recording of the Grateful Dead playing China Doll. We got to know everyone in town and they loved us as we loved them. “Hola gueros, buenos dias, a donde va?” We had a guy named Miguel who always gave us free tamales for breakfast. The town policeman was a classic. We were always walking around with Tecates with lime and salt. One morning about 10am, he was having a little snooze in a chair in the shade outside his office. He called us over, “Gueros, ben aqui.” He asked us where were our beers? Can you fucking believe that? That was the first and last time in my life I`ve had a cop ask me where was my beer? In America, I would`ve have already been thrown on the hood of a cop car and searched and given a ticket or worse.
We ate huevos rancheros or tamales in the morning, snacked on a delicious Mexico-only flavor of Cheetos midday, and ate tacos or tortas in the town plaza on tropical nights. We played soccer with the local kids and even held some of the mother`s babies. We drank mezcal and anejo with the old men under moonlit porticoes. We listened to the night insects. Mornings, sometimes, I would smoke a morning joint in the brightly colored graveyard with the mosquitoes. Then we would catch some nice waves in the 77 degree water followed by tamales. We would flirt with the local girls, some of whom were real beauties. Didn`t want to cause any local upheavals so we kept our distance so as not to burn any bridges in this little corner of paradise. We chased the tourist girls who came in from Mexico City and Guadalajara. We hung out with our neighborhood boys who became our good friends, Pancho (also known as Chango, monkey, because he could shimmy up the trees for coconuts with the greatest of ease) and Aurelio. Aurelio was always singing along to our music, particularly “Sweet and Dandy” by Toots and the Maytals. We played games, we laughed, they showed us how to break open coconuts for the sweet meat and juice within, using a machete. We lived the simplest of lives. It wasn`t always easy but it was always beautiful.
We built huge campfires and gave away everything we owned to give thanks for all the wonderful hospitality these people had shown us. It is like a dream when I look back on it now but it really happened. We were there and we lived in that dream. After 3 months or so, we ran out of pesos. The time came that I had to leave unless I wanted to sweat working in the salt fields for 2 dollars a day. I didn`t. Eric planned to go back to El Trapiche and stay with the Gonzales family a little longer. He dropped me at a small airport and I flew back to Tijuana and walked across the border. I called my friend Vince Griley who has also since passed away. He got in a motorcycle accident on his Harley Davidson some years later, got hooked on morphine which turned into a heroin addiction. He had that monkey on his back for 6 years before he decided to jump off a bridge in San Diego. He picked me up at the border and took me to his house in La Jolla. They are all gone now. It is as if the road has vanished behind me and my old friends with it. They are gone but never forgotten. They live on in my mind`s eye.
Before I caught that last flight out of Mexico, Eric and I sat there in the car under some trees and stared at the smoking volcano. We smoked a goodbye joint and talked and reminisced about our amazing adventures. It turns out that was the last time I ever saw him. See you on the other side, my friend. I hope you finally found what you were looking for.
I find myself sitting here in mid-January, year of our Lord, 2002, in a hidden valley by a babbling brook. In two days, Eric and myself are leaving on the longest, funniest and most insane journey ever. Our only purpose is to live life to the fullest, to seize the moment,
as it were, to chase the dream. We will blunder into Mexico with about 1000 dollars between us, which is around 10,000 pesos. We have haphazard plans, sketchy details, no accurate maps, a lot of guesswork, a car that is a straight-up gamble, limited Spanish (poquito
espanol; yo verbas es muy malo), and a head full of drink. Like I said, we are throwing caution to the wind. Caution is for old folks sitting in a rocking chair. Caution is for the prudent and the dull and the workaday drones. And we will NEVER be that. Whenever (if) I return,
I have no idea what I`ll do or where I`ll go. This is something to ponder. Ahhhh, who cares? I`ll climb that mountain when I get to it. But for now, I must roll along on blind faith, on the wings of fate, the surprises that destiny loves to spring on us, even during the most carefully planned escapades. God help us on this mad, mad, half-planned and maniacal journey…
NO MATTER WHERE I GO
THERE I AM
Always searching for that elusive something. Always coming up with even more questions. Answers
are blowing on the wind, like Bob Dylan said, but even when we listen, we can`t always hear them. So
we continue seeking, each of us in our own ways, trying to be happy, trying to find fulfillment, reaching
into the flames, looking into the sun, walking through the darkness, shadows in the moonlight, here, there,
and everywhere, the endless parade goes on forever and ever until it seems so vast, so immense, that
there is no possible way we could ever grasp even the slightest hint of meaning or reason for any of this.
We feel so small, so insignificant, we inflate ourselves, we try, oh how we try, in every conceivable way,
we raise up our arms to the sky, we scream out to the heavens, WHY?!! WHY??! all this madness, all
this chaos……the only answer is the forlorn cry of a raven on a cold and bitter wind. I close my eyes
and dream of palms and sunlight and long black hair, cocoa skin and flirting laughter of ladies with Asiatic
eyes and the crystal blue waters of Paradise….it must be out there somewhere. I vow to find it, in this
life or the next. It already exists within me.
the cause of and solution to
most of life`s problems.”
“I can forgive
in the name of wisdom.
Words got me the wound
and will get me well
if you believe it…
Thoughts in time
and out of season,
stood by the side of the road
and leveled his thumb
in the cool, calm,
calculus of reason….”
Eric and I have loaded up the Scout International and we are on our way to Mexico.
On the Interstate 8 heading east at 2:05pm. Listening to the Grateful Dead live….Dark Star. As we pass
east onto the fringes of the Mojave desert and down into Imperial Valley and the Sonora desert, I am
reminded of all the myriad colors of this arid and ancient land. Reds, browns, tans, pale greens, oranges,
and yellows–a vast multi-colored canvas laid bare under the blistering sun. The road is open before
us under a blue umbrella sky and is laced with wispy white clouds. We are filled with the deliriously
invigorating feeling of setting out on unknown roads. There is no stopping now….no need, no reason
to stop, we are committed. The engine roars in the affirmative as we bore headlong deeper into the
endless desert and the tropical south of distant latitudes……
I have a shaved lid and a goatee and Eric looks like a blonde surfer Jesus with long hair and a big beard.
Ravens and hawks accompany us the whole way across the desert, through mountains that look like
giant piles of boulders and at this moment, right now, we cross out of San Diego county and over the line
into Imperial County.
Yuma, Arizona 4:20pm SMOKE BREAK
Nogales, Arizona 10:45pm. We`re heading over the border for a beer after securing a cheap hotel room
on the U.S. side for one last night. Bora Bora Bar in Nogales, Mexico is where we end up. The ladies
are staring and the music is classic and the tequila is very good. This is the beginning of an incredible
journey. Our cab driver, Juan, is a portly Mexican man with white hair and a big mustache. As we
walk back over the border later, he is the first person we see… again. Our first cab ride was a pleasure.
It is morning now. The sky is a glowing white patchwork of clouds as I sit outside the hotel for a smoke
at the edge of Mexico. The sound of clanging railroad bells follows us as we head south.
As we enter Mexico, pass through Nogales and get out in the open desert again, we notice that there
are so many dead dogs in the road. There are even a few dead cows. We even saw an ostrich farm,
of all things! Arroyos, cienegas, eating a sourdough and air sandwich (we brought a loaf of bread), mountains,
saguaro cacti, hawks, ravens, blue sky, trippy white clouds, endless colors of desert vegetation, man and
horse, shanty huts, taco stands, stables, all very rustic…and the Scout rumbles through it all in a cloud
of dust and pot smoke. Just saw a dust devil in the desert, a mini tornado, a whirling dervish. I keep seeing
these rocky mountains with a giant Mother Mary painted on the sides–I mean BIG—like 150 feet high
Mama Maria paintings. There are some serious Catholics in Mexico. The Mexican slum south of Hermosillo
shall be called Shantyland forevermore in my mind. They are about a mile from the lake and I do believe
its inhabitants must certainly live in squalor out here in the middle of nowhere.
“I`ve been down so goddamned long
that it looks like up to me…..”
Almost to the Sea of Cortez. We have just barely begun our long, harrowing journey. The Doors are blasting
on the stereo, “I took a trip down to L`America…” Later, we saw some skateboarders in Guaymas coastal
town on the Sea of Cortez. One of them was wearing a DK (Dead Kennedys) shirt and popping ollies and
riding up a board to bounce off a raggedy old wall. Pick-up trucks in Mexico with 4 people in front and 8
Mexicans with blankets in back. That`s what I call making use of space. Finally stopped for the night
in a small nameless nowhere somewhere near Ciudad Obregon and got a room for tres cientos pesos (I think
about 30 bucks.) 2 beds, bathroom, tecate and tacos out front. It was surrounded by nothing but empty
desert and silence.
As I stuff down a couple of carne asada tacos, homemade at a roadside restaurant, I see Britney Spears in
a Mexican TV commercial. I keep trying to flush the toilets in the Mexican outback but then I realize the
plumbing is different down here. You have to pour a bucket of water into the toilet to make it flush. Don`t
ask me, I just know what I saw. The TV stations switch back and forth from Espanol to Ingles at will and
at random in this remote place. On TV, I see the same international superstars from Hollywood up north.
I have seen Blockbuster Video stores in the cities on the way down, McDonald`s, Burger King`s and Domino`s
Pizza joints. Not that different, just a certain lack of money and a different language and bad plumbing. And
don`t drink the water. Bottled water only. I sit here now in this gaudy pink room on this faded lime green
bedspread, rabid dogs barking outside, a Cujo-like rottweiler guards our car, crickets sing their night songs
and cars hiss by south on the 15. Strange nocturnal birds squawk messages and my blood-red eyes describe
hallucinatory color patterns across the TV screen. And then some Mexican monster pulp fiction comes on in
black and white and everything becomes hyper surreal like a David Lynch movie. UH UH HAH UH UH!!!!!
I`m choking on a lime seed that was in my Tecate. WTF?! That would be a sad way to go. I light a cigarette
and listen to the whisper of traffic on the highway and the silence of the night tangled in the wispy tendrils
of cigarette smoke winding lazy blue patterns in the lazy light. The lights and electricity flutter and fluctuate
from time to time. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that I lodged a big chunk of cactus in my leg today while
pissing in the desert…first blood. Yes, it`s true, I`m seeing Japanimation in Spanish. This shit ain`t good
in any language. Bugs Bunny en Espanol with the Tasmanian devil. Drifting off….zzzzzzzz
On the road again…these goddamned toll roads are gouging the hell out of us. They say that a mechanic
will come if the car ever breaks down though. I guess we could use that if anything happens to the Scout.
They stick it to you at every opportunity. However, this harsh and unforgiving land is filled with wonders;
vast roadside fires, just burning land….and vendors of all sorts, shantytowns, half-built structures, tiny towns,
huge settlements and strange sights at every turn. There are some strange and gigantic birds that I can`t
identify with any accuracy….vultures, buzzards? This is Tom and Eric, coming at ya, from a rugged and
bumpy Mexican highway….
Ahhh, Mickey D`s….it`s everywhere and it always gives you a taste of home (although I rarely eat there when I`m home.)
Passing through Navajoa and then I saw a mule and carriage in the heart of Yaqui Indian country…Costaneda land.
In retrospect, Guaymas had some industry and a large fishing fleet and a huge, mountain-ringed lagoon. Obregon
was very dirty and industrial. The Sonora desert is fading away behind us and the land is turning greener and more humid
as we near the Tropic of Cancer. Now we are flying through the state of Sinaloa, heart of the cartels, and it seems
like nowhere. But even nowhere is a place.
All the way down, we continue to see the gigantic frescoes of Mother Mary on dramatic rock formations. They are
huge and ornately decorated altars and monuments to the Virgin of Guadalupe. I think I just saw an eagle.
Wow, big mofo! Also, vultures, definitely vultures at dusk, sitting in threatening gangs atop power lines, some
with wings spread in warning, waiting to eat something dead. Navajoa is an oasis of green trees and shade sprung
from the desert where 30 minutes ago it looked like the Savannah or the African veldt. Just now I saw a white-tailed kite,
one of the world`s smallest birds of prey. It hovers with the aid of it`s long tail feathers and then swoops dramatically
when it sets sights on its prey.
When I pass through these tiny poor Mexican towns, I am amazed to wonder how it must be for those that cross the border
to the north hoping for a better life, and then finding the vastness of the megacities is so much more than they could
have possibly expected.
We`re still going south through Sinaloa and the land has definitely turned green now (muy verde). Some roadside huts
amidst fields of corn and sugarcane and poppies. The swaying palms are giving a very tropical appearance to the
land and just for a second, I think of Hawaii. We are now in deep volcano country, Monte del Fuego.
We are driving on coastal flatlands that are terraced and patch worked in reds and greens down to the Sea of Cortez,
glowing white under a misty sky. I stick my head out the window like a dog and I smell Mexican firewood, burning
piles of underbrush, mist, and the distant sea as we pass through fields of a million shades of green. We just saw
a huge cattle ranch and a pen with hundreds of goats and ostriches. Didn`t stick my head out the window there…
ROLL `EM UP!
4:20pm; pulling within 1/2 degree latitude of the Tropic of Cancer. The palms are more frequent now, the humidity is
intensifying and we stop to smoke some mota and listen to Jimmy Cliff “Many Rivers to Cross”. Small town
children run over to try to sell us bags of mush (papayas?). The land becomes lush and emerald-colored and jungly.
The desert recedes behind us.
We just missed the turn for the toll road, so instead, we continue on the free (libre) backroad. In the middle of nowhere,
I see a place called Restaurant Hong Kong with a Chinese lady out front. The mountains have changed in an instant
from desert brown to lush verde and the valley has become dense with jungle trees. We just saw big parrots with
really long tails. 7:20pm; we have crossed into the Tropic of Cancer….it`s official. Drove past a trippy small town of
glowing vertical white fluorescent tubes in the middle of nowhere. It is surreal by night and I wonder what the point is;
maybe it is a town of Mexican abstract artists. Just pulled into Hotel Xtasis off the road in Mazatlan at the juncture to
Tepic. 150 pesos ($15) for a room, an unbelievable price, way nicer than last night`s highway robbery because we
were desperately tired. It seems to get cheaper as we head south although, being that the name of this hotel would
be translated as ecstasy, perhaps they expect us to buy whores. Instead, we drink Tecate and watch the NFL, Raiders
vs. Patriots, in New England. It`s weird to look at snow when you`re in the tropics. Fucking New England wins in
overtime from a damn field goal. Damn the kicker! Viva Mexico!
“Don`t try…there`s nothing there.”
TECATE: The Budweiser of Mexico
Going in circles driving through Culiacan trying to exchange money. Now heading south again…
THIS PAGE OUT OF SEQUENCE;
back about 7 pages to burning underbrush….
I have to explain the gravity of the situation today of our chaotic drive to Mazatlan from Obregon. We were really
hopelessly lost in a town called La Cruz at dusk, drove 70 miles on winding roads with speeding 18 wheelers, passing them,
them passing us, on a crooked 2 lane highway. We`ve broken every cardinal rule of travel in Mexico, bowled them
over with the abandon of 2 lost and reckless gringos, drunk on tropical air. We drove at night, we took too many “shortcuts,”
we sped through small towns, just missing cattle, horses, and perhaps even took out a chicken or two. We pay some
toll fees, others we avoid. Vaya con Dios, gringos…….
Thank heavens for that last taco stand and a six pack of Tecate….we were on edge.
I think I have poison oak…oh well, duct tape bandages should do the job.
DON`T MEDDLE WITH THE PLUMBING IN MEXICO.
EVERYBODY KNOWS; MEXICAN AGUA ES MUY MALO…
Back to the current timeline….Hotel Xtasis…
It`s only 10pm and we are burnt the fuck out. Exhausted, Eric is out cold. We drove like 9 hrs straight.
I sit here, filled up with tacos and Tecate…stoned senseless, in a tropical hooker hotel, room 9, laughing
to myself and mumbling in my broken Spanish, I try, (yo intentar?) I`m eating a piece of sourdough bread
and starting to drift into sweet oblivion…a little reading; Wilbur Smith, The Seventh Scroll…time for sleep
(tiempo para dormir…) black and blue….negro y azul…
What amazes me about Mexican resort towns like Mazatlan is the way they`ve built a huge, gaudy and
colorful resort of some kind, and in the lot next door is a big-ass pile of rubble and trash. Reminds me of
a cash poor Hawaii. The Japanese would never allow such dilapidation. At least I don`t think they would.
As we are again driving south, a Mexican bee flies in the car at 65mph and sits on me. I toss him out.
Heading towards Tepic on Sunday (Domingo) at 10:05am. The Grateful Dead is playing “Uncle John`s
Band”. “When life looks like easy street, there is danger at your door…”
At that moment, I look up and see an 18-wheel semi truck trying to pass another one on the downhill
and is coming straight for us. Eric`s response is swift and excellent and we narrowly miss being smashed
like a bug on a windshield. Loco drivers. I give Eric a compliment on his swift and dexterous reaction.
This guy could drive through a shitstorm drunk and stoned and still come out spotless.
We are literally at some strange juxtaposition of desert and jungle. Strange birds…magpies, cormorants?
I don`t know, I`m just pulling names out of the air. 11:20am; Bienvenidos to the state of Nayarit. We are
at a strange estuary or river mouth surrounded by jungle. It is a prehistoric and surreal looking dreamland.
Great place to smoke some marijuana. So we do.
As I said before, the toll roads gouge the fuck out of us. However, the nicest one yet is between Tepic
and Guadalajara. It also costs a lot of pesos. It is pure rip-off artistry. As we go up in altitude once again,
we begin to see pine trees. Eventually we will descend to jungle coastal lowlands again at Manzanillo.
We went to the ruins at Ixtlan del Rio and saw a small and ancient pyramid. It is just a small two-tiered
structure that was used as an altar for the Toltecs. Silence of the ruins (silencia de la ruinas) , voices
of the ancients. We just started spotting blue agave cactus along the sides of the road…that`s right,
TEQUILA CACTUS. Those of pure and untainted Indian blood are truly fascinating and beautiful people.
2:45pm; leaving Nayarit and officially into Jalisco.
Sequence of Mexico Drive…state by state…south:
~Sonora; desert, vast, brown, endless
~Sinaloa; desert turning green, agriculture, harbors, beaches
~Nayarit; jungle, volcanic, dengue fever, ruins
~Jalisco; desert again, mountains, Guadalajara, blue agave
~Colima; farms, valleys, 2 volcanoes-one active and of fire, one extinct and of ice- lagoons, coconut palms, tropical…
More fields of blue agave in the town district of Tequila. There is some very arid land outside Guadalajara. We are
spending way too much money on gas and beer and we haven`t even gotten there yet. How, oh how will I get
my beloved carne asada tacos and Tecates with lime? At this rate, I`m afraid I`m going to end up lying around,
dirt poor, in some Toltec beach shanty, too poor to even afford a phone card to call home for emergencia funds.
I`ll waste my days staring at the sky and getting bitten by vicious malarial mosquitoes at night while I eat stale
tortillas and muse upon the cold pale moon. Only time will tell. We have abandoned ourselves to the winds of
fate. Only the angels can save us now. These goddamned toll booths are gonna take the shirt off our backs!
I wish they would take my shirt instead of cash…it`s so hot anyway. Just saw a big gang of Mexican bikers
outside Guadalajara and one of them had a Hard Rock Cafe black leather jacket. We`re now driving through
burning sugarcane fields in the hot tropical sun. I just realized that we haven`t worn our seat belts since we left
America. Just saw a dude in a pick up truck outside Colima getting a hummer from his girlfriend. Now that`s the
way to travel, Jose, good work. Now we are in the state of Colima. The sunset is bursting through the massive
twin peaks of the volcanoes of fire and ice. A fertile valley shrouded in mist, thousands, even millions of birds,
the biggest flock I`ve ever seen in an ancient and mysterious land, fantastical, enchanting. We listen to live
Grateful Dead, Drums and Space and everything is surreal like a dream. Yes, this will be home for a while. A tree
that is indigenous only to Colima is called the primavera tree. They are blossoming all over this misty, multi-colored
green valley. The road to Colima is crazier than Mulholland Drive could ever dream to be–gorges, jungle, rivers,
dramatic cliffs, and the sugarcane fields. The two volcanoes silhouetted by the setting sun watch over it all.
El Trapiche…we have arrived in the most rustic of towns and Mama Maria and Berto are sitting on the front porch.
We are welcomed and immediately offered delicious tacos. We are 1,587 miles south of San Diego. I sit there
with a belly full, contented and petting a Mexican Siamese cat (el gato). All cats love a good scrub down.
Fiesta time…Mexican music and a boom box car with rap music drives by in this otherwise quiet Mexican village.
News travels fast in a town of this diminutive size. This nice family has told everyone that we are visiting.
Mario, Mercedes, and Chayo all come to visit. We drink cervezas and break the language barrier with monkey
gestures and relentless enthusiasm. Somehow, we all manage to communicate, between our minimal bad Spanish
and their little bit of English, we meet in the middle and have a great time. It is all very exciting to have arrived.
We are touched by the lovable hospitality and the vast beauty this land has to offer(not to mention the food!)
We are here. The land of Colima is home for a good while. We are in no hurry. We will manage somehow.
Mama Maria told us to have fun but not to bring any bitches (putas) to her casa. We laughed and promised not to.
Later, exhausted I drifted off into a peaceful slumber to the sound of night insects and distant Mexican fiesta music.
To be continued…..