Meditations - Crossing the Border
Crossing the Border
Crossing the border from America into Mexico viscerally brings home the differences that human cultures contain, as well as the essential sameness of ‘human nature.’
The line of cars moves quickly into Mexico. Four guards languidly sit on a median to the right between the lanes. Without getting up, they sound a bell, and our vehicle, along with most of the others, passes into Mexico. In the next chute however, a horn blows for a jalopy to be searched. At the end of our trip, we wait for the better part of an hour in a much longer and more congested line to show passports, open the trunk, and answer questions on reentering the USA.
Despite being just across the border, Mexicali is unexpectedly different, with an absence of the cultural oppressiveness one feels in North America. Though a generally grimy and roughhewn city of nearly a million, people are friendly and open, despite our very limited Spanish. After a few days of talks in Mexicali, we drive down into Baja to camp on the Sea of Cortez near San Felipe.
From San Bernardino at the northeastern corner of the Los Angeles megalopolis, south past the Salton Sea all the way down to the tip of Baja, it is desert. Driving south out of Mexicali, there are green agricultural fields for a few miles, but then the desert terrain truly begins.
The land appears alien and desolate, with an increasingly stark beauty as the smoggy skies turn increasingly clear the further one gets from the city. A hundred kilometers out, and the earth and sky melt into one another. Rocky outcroppings -–mountains of a sort —loom on the horizon and grow closer and closer.
Winding through them, they emerge as dark mounds and low, angular peaks, with sand permanently embedded in the pockets and crevices within and between them. On the other side, the land becomes even stranger. Black rocks glisten in the afternoon sunlight; one forgets that it is January, and even that one is on earth.
Huge expanses of featureless desert, flat as stained glass, stretch as far as the eye can see and engulf the mind. Next comes a veritable moonscape of stone, distinguishable from pictures of the lunar surface only by the muted brown color.
Every few miles, rusted hulks of abandoned cars--tires and glass long melted away in the desert heat--stand as mute testimonials to the folly and impermanence of man. More infrequently, and ominously, one passes a small cross, or an ostentatious memorial by the side of the road, bearing witness to a life lost to carelessness by one driver, or negligence by another.
Encamped south of San Felipe, a full moon rises in the east over the Sea of Cortez (Gulfo de California) shortly after the tide goes out and the sun goes down. After dark, the muddy tide-flats of the calm bay shimmer in the moonlight, and yet the luminous moon does not outshine Orion. Since the campsites are paved for recreation vehicles, we had no choice but to set up our tent on the beach, hoping high tide at full moon won’t reach that far. A Canadian couple pulls up in a van in the adjacent site. Beyond them is a large group of Americans with a dozen all-terrain-vehicles.
The immediate vicinity is a juxtaposition of small stone houses (a number with outdoor spiral staircases to their roofs), and quite a few permanent trailers (with appendages such as porches tacked on), as well as the ubiquitous RV's. Together they lend a surreal atmosphere, especially walking by the hodgepodge in the middle of the night.
The Canadian man has a superiority overlay of an inferiority complex, mixed with nosy intrusiveness and topped off by verbal abusiveness toward his wife. The next day, the Americans drive their ATV’s all over. Even the small girls drive back and forth on the beach. The group caps off the second night by letting their boys in their tribe explode full-scale fireworks on the tide-flats.
After all, this is Mexico, and transgressing the social and legal boundaries of North America is the reason many norteamericanos come down here. How the Mexican people remain so good-natured is beyond me. It makes one wonder, why does material progress so often mean spiritual erosion?
- Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He has been publishing in North America, Latin America, Africa, and Europe (and now New Zealand) for 20 years. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. The author welcomes comments.