Tropic of Cancer: Beach House at the End of the World

There is a soft solid plop behind me as a lime falls from the tree, sacrificed its virgin self to the dark gods of Rum and Coke. I pick it up, set it on the table for later and seal its Cuba Libre fate. Kevin and I have reached Cabo Pulmo in the Southern Baja, and are recuperating at the beach house at the end of the world. Nine kilometers of what we’ve come to consider gentle gravel and light sand to the north of us is a line. Another latitude collected by motorcycle, the Tropic of Cancer.

In reality we will cross the tropic again and again. Once on our way out, when in a bad mood, I look at another 70-miles of washboard pounding reverberating thought the Varadero’s suspension and into my own chassis and say, “No more.” Multiple times when north bound we stay in Todo Santos, reputed for being on the Tropic itself.

For me, this was the goal, reaching the Tropic of Cancer in good adventure fashion, see the best of the Baja, get a measure of the bike. My drive and incentive have slipped away in a tropical sun.

I get up from the table, leaving my battered notebook on the table, walk past the shrubs with flowers with humming birds and humming bird moths, stop under the lime tree and pick up more fallen fruit. The notebook has seen better days. This trip it has served its intended purpose, but also as a tray for eating on, a cushion to protect video equipment, a way of looking purposeful and escaping conversation, fire starter and, most desperately, a shovel when the Honda Varadero beached itself in fathomless sand.

Outside San Filipe, on our way to see the giant Saguaro cactus (Carnegiea Gigantea) in Valle de Los Gigantes, we ran into deep sand and are forced to turn back. Turning the Varadero at low speed it sinks to its belly pan. Trying to ride it out, the rear tire digs deeper until the Varadero’s faux skidplate is submerging into the desert. Unlike the sand on our ride to Mike’s Ranch, unlike any surface I’ve ridden on, there is nothing solid underneath and no traction to be found by churning the wheel deeper.

I begin to dig the Varadero out with the notebook. Shovels, after all, are heavier and don’t pack near as well. I clear the sides of the bike, and begin working at the underbelly, but in reality it feels like we’d need to shovel half the desert. Kevin and I trade one sisphean task for another. We disconnect the luggage, both take an end of the bike, and dead lift the Varadero out of its trench. Parking proves easy, just sink the centerstand into the sand and walk away.

We walk out into the desert. The cactus live up to their name of Gigantea. Living as long as 2,000 years, and not sprouting its first arm or going to seed for the first 75 years of its life. There’s a sense of peace to the desert, millennia have past and the Cacti have been here for it all.

A wind blows across the valley, and resonates like a passing jet through the sparse shrubs and cactus arms. Slowly we make our way back to the bikes, filming Lawrence of Arabia outtakes. Joking about mirage Hondas on the horizon.

The real reason the cactus are here is not environmental but economic; a ten dollar fee at the entrance to this private preserve and the fact that the cactus historically have been more useful for their fruit than building or burning.

We fight our way back out to the road, and agree, “No more sand.”

Days later, at the beach house I’m still brushing sand out of the notebook. This seems the perfect place to write, work through the trip, put pen to paper. Cabo Pulmo is the type of place that could send a PR company into ecstatic brochure clichés about “barefoot luxury”. A saunter down the beach to the palapa restaurant overlooking the water, and the phrase trivializes barefoot local children and luxury at once. Sitting on the verge of the Cabo Riviara the village offers just enough non-luxury to ground you, and ample beach for the barefoot wanderings.

Power is in short supply. The collection of beach houses are run largely off of solar energy, and checking in we are told there’s “Not enough to run a laptop. We want people to relax.”

The raven haired hostess follows the statement with a beguiling smile.

We ask about local back roads. “I’ve only done a little by bicycle… I don’t… like motorcycles.”

Unlike the rest of the Baja, there is an undercurrent of eco ethos here. One that is easy to understand as you walk down the beach finding chunks of broken coral washed up on the shore. It’s an indicator that the reefs are not well. Kevin returns from scuba diving and confirms that they are being eaten by starfish.

The two expedition equipped Hummers out front one of the houses seem more incongruous. That most of the clients here have flown in from parts far flung, rented cars to drive here and will fly out again, underlies a certain eco irony. A struggle that Cabo Pulmo has with its own vacation spot nature.

There is another feeling here though, beneath the languid paradise there is a current of encroachment. From the south comes the campaign of globalization, Cabo San Lucas, ironically referred to by expats up in the northern Baja as San Diego south, is creeping up the Riviera. San Jose del Cabo is already lost, pulling in to search for hotels we find ‘Merica and its tour bus hoards waiting.

Eventually, the road that I choose not to ride will be paved. Cabo Pulmo will become truly accessible, electricity will brighten star spangled nights, and paradise will be lost… again.

For now though I turn to another blank page. I brush some more sand out of the notebook, and realize there’s no really getting rid of it. The Baja sand has worked its way into the corners of my mind, its abrading the gears and grating in the chains. There’s no escaping this sand, only the urge to see more of it.

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