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Author: Subject: Chapter 3--Back to Baja
Baja Bernie
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[*] posted on 11-25-2006 at 01:11 PM
Chapter 3--Back to Baja

My second trip to La Salina started in much the same fashion as the first. I climbed into that beat up old truck, settled myself around that broken spring, and made myself comfortable. Art said that this trip would be a little different; we would be wandering around downtown Tijuana to buy a few things for the orphanage. I was not terrible excited about the idea of driving around “TJ” but I should not have worried. I found that not even Tijuana taxi drivers would mess with that old truck and its laughing driver. I just settled in and felt very safe.

Our first stop was at the produce market where Art bought a hundred pounds of beans and rice. I tossed them in the back of the truck; which was parked squarely in the middle of the street. Several people were yelling at Art to move his wreck. He just laughed and went about buying several kinds of vegetables; a few of which I had never seen. The colors, sounds, and smells of the market were mucho different and much more alive than those in the States. People would argue and scream and then they would laugh and slap each other on the back. Seeing this scene for the first time made me think that they were going to kill each other. In reality all they were doing was haggling over price.

Our purchases completed we wandered down some dirty back roads until we came to an old, falling down, ramshackle building. Art stopped, again, in the middle of the road. I followed him in and was surprised to find schoolbooks, pencils, and paper; dumped in bins all around the inside of the building. The books were all in Spanish but Art seemed to know exactly what he wanted. I thought he could read the titles. I found out later that the teachers at the orphanage had given him a ‘wish’ list.

Returning to the Libre (free road) we headed south over the mountain to Rosarito. Soon Art pulled into the La Gloria’s Hotel and Bar. He explained that he felt that it was his duty to teach me something new about Baja every time he had a chance. We went in and he introduced me to a very proud Mexican man named Paulo. He was dressed in a shiny, threadbare, black suit. He had been a bartender at La Gloria’s since its heydays when all of the Hollywood Stars stopped here while on their way further south to explore Baja (and to buy booze during prohibition). Pictures of Stars were all over the walls, Rita Hayworth, John Wayne, John Huston, etc, etc.

We had a drink, talked for a while, and then we were away.

The road down the mountain to Rosarito Beach was only one lane in each direction and it was full of curves. Trucks of all kinds were slowly ascending and descending at a snail’s pace. This caused a whole lot of suicidal type behavior by drivers who would not be slowed by the trucks. This was my first exposure to the little white crosses with flowers at their bases; these crosses dotted the roadside all the way to Ensenada.

We waved at the old wood carver but we didn’t stop!

A short time later we pulled in at the Half-Way House and Art introduced me to a short, sloppy, fat, old man who had run the bar for about a hundred years. He also told stories about the good old days when the “Stars” would stop for the night on their way south. The place got its name because it was about halfway between Tijuana and Ensenada.

Art told me that it was very important to meet and talk to these old timers because they carried the history of the ‘real’ Baja around in their heads. Art looked at me with a far off look in his eyes and said, “Remember the bartenders have the history in their heads AND the mariachi’s carry the soul of Mexico in their hearts.” For a long time almost everybody going south would take their time and visit with these historians. It was also a great way to have a drink and dance for a while.

I was one of lucky ones because I got to know my part of Baja before the Toll Road was completed. Now, almost no one bothers to stops, relax, and listen to the stories. They just get on the Toll Road and go. They miss a bunch of great people and some wonderful stories.

Now we were heading away from the ocean, which had been our constant companion to this point. Soon we’re bouncing down the old dirt road into La Mision and into the yard of the Orphanage. The kids were in class, but when they heard that old red pickup they poured out of the windows and doors. They were all over Art. He had a big grin on his face and a smile in his eyes. The kids helped with unloading and when they got to the books and school supplies you would have thought they were holding gold above their heads as they danced around the truck. The teachers cried and hugged both of us. They were truly dedicated people. Quite often they didn’t even get paid.

When we finally pulled into La Salina I noticed many changes. My last visit had been six months ago. Now there was a real ‘dirt’ road through the flowers, and the beams of Art’s house were like fingers reaching for the sky. There were several of us cops who had been conned into putting the roof on the “A” frame. Yes, we had bought 10 cases of Corona and sure we did get one extra for free. Perhaps that was why so many guys fell off the roof.

We all had a ball as we worked on Art’s dream. His house earned its reputation as a party house mainly because of all of the guys who were allowed to use it because they had helped to build it. When we were not working you could find us drinking warm beer, clamming for Pismo clams, or just sitting and dreaming about this wonderful place to which Art and Jack had led us. That was 1965 and I am still here looking at the ocean and drinking a beer. The only real difference is now there are a whole lot more people and the beer is COLD.

My smidgen of a claim to fame is that I have had so many really good friends. By Bernie Swaim December 2007
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[*] posted on 11-25-2006 at 01:27 PM

Thank you Bernie - I have been waiting for the next one!!:yes:
Now I can go sleeping - dreaming of Baja/Sunshine/ warm Beer - cheers!

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