A Small Victory

We woke up and hit the strip looking for some desayuno and immediately ran into Marteen. He was in the same orange shirt he’d been wearing for 3 days now. It had a Canadian baseball pin on it he’d gotten from a team that had passed through before. We told him we needed to find a bank machine and he offered to lead the way. We took him to our car and he jumped in the front. I rearranged our gear in the back so I could could get in and sit.. right on the floor, because James had removed the backseats. (Sorry Drisdelle, it ain’t too comfy back there.) Marteen told us his buddy lived up by the mall and that there is power up there. Hope! We also found out he was raised in LA, which explains why his english is so damn good.

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As we drove towards the mall we did start to see power in some of the buildings. Marteen pointed each one out as we drove, “Seeee! Lights, lights, lights, big tits, lights…”. This was the first time Marteen had been this far from the seaside strip and he was shocked by how much damage there was further inland. We had to flip a bitch a couple times when roads were blocked due to fallen trees or power poles. “Whoa, you see the McDonalds sign?”. We also drove passed some guy on a bike and Marteen yelled something at him and snickered, smiling as he pulled his head back in the window. I asked what he said to the guy. “I called him a faggot!”. James and I cracked up. We weren’t expecting that.

Marteen was right, there was power at the mall! We ducked inside to check the ATMs. All were off. Marteen directed us across the street to a row of banks. We went over and got in a line that had formed for the HSBC ATMs. We really needed this to work since we still had to have $450 USD in cash to get a vehicle permit for el-BP to get on the boat. And so we waited. And waited. In the sun. On the concrete. For literally hours.

Marteen was a real people person. He could strike up a conversation with anyone. We felt bad that he was just hanging around waiting with us, but the line was getting immense and we couldn’t really afford the time to leave it if we were to get money, get tourist cards, get the vehicle permit, and get on a ferry today. A tall order in a broken town with limited resources. But Marteen never complained and just continued to chain smoke and chat with everyone in a 100 meter radius of the bank.

After over 2 hours in line we finally got to the front. I went first. Nothing. Card declined. Tried to get cash back on my Visa and it never gave the option. I struck out. Fuck sakes. James was up next. Tried the first card. Boom! 5000 pesos! Card number 2, Blam! 5000 more. YES! Our first small victory. We thanked Marteen profusely for waiting and took him into the mall to grab some tacos. (Our trip taco count is now 34). The military was at the mall, keeping an eye on things.

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We bombed over to immigration and it was open! Things were really falling into place. A single employee sat behind the desks with darkened computer screens – it was open, but there was no electricity. This guy was definitely not in charge, either. He didn’t seem to have the authority to do anything except tell us to wait for another guy who would be showing up “soon”. When pushed on the ambiguity of this term he offered nothing but shrugged shoulders.

About twenty minutes later a government-marked pickup rolled up and an English-speaking lawyer for the department stepped out and introduced himself to us. Things started to happen – papers were retrieved from desks, our signatures were taken on blank forms, and a cell phone camera was used to “scan” our passports. We were handed two blank immigration cards and we quickly filled them out. Yes! Yes! Yes! Shit’s happening! Resourcefulness and tossing out the rule book are arising victorious! But wait… the lawyer informed us that because the computers are down and they can’t accept money at the immigration office, we couldn’t pay for our cards. Not only did they have to print us off receipts for us to take to the banks (impossible without working printers), we would have to find a bank with operating tellers at which to pay, a prospect less likely than lassoing a dolphin and successfully waterskiing behind it across the Sea of Cortez. The lawyer gave me a slap on the shoulder and wished us better luck tomorrow. Our hopes dashed, we drove back to the waterfront after a quick detour to help Marteen run an errand.

A waterfront bar, Rancho Viejo, was open – no electricity but a couple of warm beers watered down with ice were better than nothing. Murphy happened to notice that his phone had picked up Wi-Fi somewhere recently. The last time we’d had a connection was at the Hotel 7 Crowns so we walked back there and confirmed it was back online. We asked the front desk if we could set up shop with our gear and they had no issue, so we sent a few emails to let folks know we were alright and threw up a couple of blog posts we’d written offline for your pleasure. (Apologies for breaking the fourth wall.)

While we were sitting in 7 Crowns a tall blonde lady came to the couches to charge her cell phone. She was wearing a slightly too revealing hot-pink and blue shirt/mini-skirt combo and was wearing all of King Tut’s jewelry. She began talking to us immediately and at first I thought she might be Russian. She related a strange story about how she was renting a house in La Paz on the oceanfront. She’d gone to town and returned to the place just a few hours before the hurricane hit to find that it had been locked up. All of her stuff was still inside and the people who owned it wouldn’t let her in. She called the cops but when they came they told her she was trespassing. Whacky. So here she was in the most upscale hotel in La Paz. She’d crashed with some other hotel guests the nights following the hurricane but was out on her own as her helpful strangers were now sick.

She started asking about what we were up to and we mentioned that we wanted to grab the ferry to La Paz but were having a fuck of a time getting it all sorted out. “Oh you have a car!”, she said. “Yes well I go with you to ferry, I speak Spanish, we will get ferry tonight. $50. We will bribe them. I have tourist card. I can drive us.” James and I looked at each other skeptically. “Yes, very good. we go together.” She said she’d been to Latin America lots of times, she speaks Spanish and said she can show us around all the way through Central America. She was very presumptuous. And she was Czech, not Russian.

The people she apparently stayed with the last few nights came in with their daughter in tow and she was saying hi and waving to them. They didn’t look sick at all. No, they looked worried and fake smiled back at her.

Then she was wondering what we were doing after that and we told her our goal was to drive to Argentina. “Oh those people are beautiful, you will love women there. Oh I’ll never get laid now”, and she guffawed to herself. James and I exchanged worried looks. Next she was interested in the car. We told her about el-BP and she was disgusted with us. “No backseat? No air conditioning? Why drive this piece of shit? You are very dumb”. James was offended and defended el Burro’s honor with gusto. But she was relentless, “You can’t even have sex in such car”, she pulled on my shirt sleeve, “why would you drive such a thing, you big men.” Despite all of this she was still pushing pretty hard to be our third member, “I will have to chain smoke in the back to get through this.” James said no smoking in the car and again she was disgusted, “Oh this is stupid, you will never have sex again with this.” Fortunately, our description of the car was enough to dissuade her from joining us. She finally took the hint that we were on an adventure and didn’t need any hangers on. At least not this one.

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We grabbed two more beers on ice from Hotel Perla. They had no electricity but they had shrimp sandwiches… Anything else? Yeah, they’d fix us up a couple of quesadillas, no problem. Our Czech friend walked past and without us saying a word she said, “Oh, you are eating and have beer, I will change and join you!” Laughing, we saw two buses roll up in front of the hotel: tourist refugees from Cabo. Looking for food and rooms. More traffic was coming down the road. More people from Cabo. There was an ominous feeling, like the town was about to become mad, maybe because we knew there was already a scarcity of food and rooms with electricity. We’d put the kibosh on the idea of hitting up the port again that evening but this made us reassess our desire to get the fuck out. We slammed back the beers and ate the quesadillas, which were lousy – understandably so, given the no electricity situation – but they charged us over $20 USD. One of our most expensive meals yet. For two tortillas with some melted cheese between them and a spoonful of refried beans. Apparently Hotel Perla recognized that food was about to become a hotter commodity than it already was and jacked up their prices accordingly. Opportunistic pricks.

Our car was parked in front of the hostel so we rushed back, grabbed our paperwork from the room and were getting ready to jump in when we saw two backpackers coming down the street. Saying hello, they began relating their story – a young Swiss couple, on their honeymoon, they had just been kicked out of their hotel in Cabo because the management claimed it was “no longer secure”. We’d heard stories of looting from a family of three Cabo locals – mother, grandmother and daughter – who’d arrived at the hostel earlier, but the first-hand accounts of these two went far beyond that. Men armed with machetes and machine guns in the streets, taking over. Large bonfires in the streets. Seeing the police stealing from the grocery store and drinking in the parking lots while chaos enveloped the town. People hotwiring cars parked in the dealerships. And then the husband said, “And it’s my birthday!” Sounded like a Peter Adams birthday to us.

We went into the hostel with them to speak to Carlos, offering them our rooms. “We’re going to try to get on this fucking boat.” Carlos said he’d hold the rooms for us anyway, and managed to get them into another shared room. The sun was setting and more and more cars were streaming into town so we saddled up. The gas gauge just above E, we can’t hammer it but go nonetheless.

The terminal parking lot doesn’t appear chaotic at first and the queue at the ticket office is only about ten people deep. Even though we don’t have our tourist cards or our vehicle permit, surely they must recognize the state of emergency that’s already here and about to get worse, right? We wait. And sweat. The line doesn’t move at all for half an hour. Papers go back and forth between the two ticket windows and the customers in line, but nothing is actually getting done. More people are edging their way into the line, pretending they’re accompanying others at the front. In general I consider myself a pretty cool customer but I could feel myself starting to lose it. Blood pressure rising, like thumbs pressing into the backs of my eyeballs. Sweating even worse, I’m trying to laugh but I think I might actually lose it now. If people aren’t going to wait in line, why even have a fucking line? Why don’t we all just start swinging and see who comes out at the front??? I’m going to leave or lay someone out. This is how riots start. “Murphy, I can’t take it. We HAVE to go. I’m going to fucking lose it.” We get outside and I suck in the air, almost hyperventilating.

After James’ near freak out we went back to the hostel and reclaimed our room. We decided to go back to the bar where we were overdubbing McBurger and Diesel episodes the night before. We walked in right to the same table we were at last time. “2 Pacificos, Amigos?” said the smoking bartender as soon as he saw us. We were becoming locals we’d stayed in La Paz so long. Mr Boisterous was there with his possible prossy and he had another guy with him who looked identical to him, was equally as loud, and also had a probstitute with him. We called them the Boister Bros. and couldn’t help but overhear every shenanigan and hijinx they pulled in the last decade. Sucker Boy came in too with his bag of suckers (or drugs, who knows?) and it started to feel like a Baja flavored episode of Cheers. Los Cheeros. I was getting about done with the light mexican beers and decided we needed to ramp up the margarita stats. We also ordered up a couple plates of pasta and were pumped to actually get a decent meal in us.

We were sooooo close to getting those damned cards today and getting on our way. We weren’t sure the INM system would be up tomorrow but despite our antsy want to get moving we held onto our hope. There was nothing else we could do. We’d heard the road north was blocked and buses couldn’t get through. We were stuck. But if it doesn’t work out tomorrow, all we had was Friday before the weekend and the government buildings would be closed and we’d be stuck until monday. With all the Cabo refugees pouring in and all the time we’d already lost, the thought of that was weighing heavy. Tomorrow is the day. Fingers crossed. Tomorrow.

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