“This fucking road will kill ya!”
So starts the drunken campfire conversation with BajaBuda also known as Dave. A retired Vietnam veteran, now living in a RV Park just north of Mulege in Baja, Mexico. “I have been in some stupid and scary situations in my day, but few things as dangerous as this Mex 1 highway.
“Every day you see idiots do things that make it easier for this road to claim another. You,” he said pointing at me, “should not be one of them. You should be on your guard and pay attention to the road… Remember this road is not your friend. And keep your tires on the road.”
This conversation that lasted most of the night (and most of a bottle of tequila) made me look at the road from a different angle. I never really considered the road as the danger, I always thought it was the aggressive speeders that wove in and out of traffic at ludicrous speeds.
I love driving.
The way every bend and every hill brings something new, a smell, a view. It started as a kid when my family would take the 17-hour drive to Cape Town. Every year, before heading out, the car would be fine-tuned for the haul, snack food packed and the music arranged. Nothing was more exciting than the open road.
It is easy to lose yourself to this Baja landscape, admiring the surroundings. The roads are long with every bend bringing a new view, every hill a new valley. Some songs compliment the surroundings, making it even easier to daydream about life out here... Focus! Focus!
I can see why Mexico has so many topes. These speed bumps are meant to deter the bottled up speed demon inside each driver. All they seem to do is uncork the bottle and urge these drivers to go faster and ignore even the most basic of rules.
The turns are hard, especially when vehicles of all shapes, sizes and stages of decay crowd the roads as if to say “get out of my way, this is my highway”. Careless, distracted drivers whip around corners at speeds that would make amusement parks patrons scream in fear.
A black and white coral snake that hugs parts of this blistering black top as if to say “I’ll take care of you”. Except every now and then the snake is twisted, bent and broken. False hope for the careless.
Vultures circle, form a vortex of cleaners. They take care of any stray animals that happen to cross the black top, at the wrong place and the wrong time. The only things they leave behind are some bright white sun bleached arrangements of bones.
Every now and then (more now than then) there are markers and signs of previous drivers that lost it. Charred roadways, missing barriers on blind corners attest to what they lost, the road, their cargo, and sadly, their lives. Wrecking yards are a dime a dozen. On display are cars, trucks and trailers all of them mangled and rusted. Crosses, wreaths and shrines littler the side of the roads in memory of yet another highway victim, often followed by a sign that reads “Curva Peligrosa” (dangerous bend). A stern reminder that "this fucking road will kill ya".
Yet they speed on. Past the signs. Past the ruined barriers. Past the offerings to the dead. In a hurry to get to where they are going.