Continued from here

The Place

We woke up early the next morning to check the surf. It was smaller than yesterday and all blown out.

“Looks pretty shitty out there,” Marty said. “And the tide’s low. Maybe we should head south and get our morning session in someplace down the road.”

I agreed. I’d break my neck on that reef if the waves any shallower than yesterday.

We headed south down Mex 1. Southern California’s faux punk-rock played on the stereo. We came to a beautiful long sandy stretch of shoreline with decent beach break. The waves were still windblown but I hoped we’d surf.

“Well,” Marty stared out at the ocean. “We could definitely have a camp here. You could teach somebody to surf in those waves. There’s no rocks or sea urchins. No cliffs for the kids to fall off. Not like that last place we were. But it doesn’t look too fun right now.” He took another sip of beer. “Listen, I know this place, it’s far away, but it’s bitchin’. You’d like it. It’s got better exposure, and it faces south. These winds will be offshore. Almost nobody goes there. We could make it in time for an evening session if we start right now.”

The truck turned around. I looked up Marty’s spot in the Baja guidebook I’d bought months ago, for a very different version of this trip.

“Marty, the book says you have to drive through a sand dune to get to this place. Four-wheel-drive and everything.”

“Relax. I’ve been there before. You have to stay on the road is all. People get stuck because they go off into the deeper sand.”

Hours passed. We turned onto a west-bound dirt road at a sign that read: Cabo San Quintin. We drove for several miles. The road was fine. Marty made fun of my caution: “Oh, dude, maybe we should turn back! I don’t know there’s a pothole and we don’t have four-wheel drive!” He laughed at his own jokes as I stared out the window. Something unexpected happened on the way out there. The landscape became beautiful. We were in a dusty shithole town just twenty minutes before. Now we drove along a bay of clear blue water with hills of black volcanic rock on the other side.

“It’s beautiful here.” I said.

“No shit.” Marty said. “I told you you’d like it.”

We came to the fishing hamlet the guidebook mentioned. The Pacific waited there with a shoreline of giant boulders and small cliffs. This rocky bone-yard was un-surfable, but clearly showed a legitimate swell running.

“Now we head up the coast a ways.” Marty said. “This is where the drive gets hairy.” The sun started its long summer setting. We drove on a finger of land separating the ocean from the bay. The sky turned orange at its edges. I didn’t care so much about the treacherous road anymore. I took comfort in the natural splendor of this place. It gave me that one thing that I wanted more than anything else: proof that she’d made a mistake. She could’ve been here, with me, in a place like this. My imaginary camera crew should’ve been filming this cape.

“Fuck!” Marty screamed. He stopped the truck and jumped out. I followed him around. The rear tire on the driver’s side was slashed open.

“Here’s the thing.” Marty said. “It’ll be dark in an hour. We better just set up camp and deal with this in the morning.” It dawned on me that we hadn’t surfed once today. We made our camp on a flat spot the along the rocky coast.

The sun set over the sea. It turned the cloudless sky a mix of purples and pinks. It was dark by the time we had the tent up and the truck all locked. When Marty lit his fireworks off behind my back—this time as I took a piss—I wasn’t startled. I wasn’t surprised at all. I expected it. He howled even harder than the night before. I didn’t laugh with him or even at him. I went into the tent and lay down as Marty launched more sky-rockets and giggled.

The Rocks

The sunrise was just as beautiful as the sunset in Cabo San Quitin. Clear blue water broke white on the dark volcanic shore. That point break down the cape seemed so close in terms of distance but so far in terms of everything else.

I noticed how little water we had as I made coffee. Two small cups left us with less than a liter altogether. Marty snored away inside the tent as I set up the stove, then opened all the MRE’s and ate the peanut butter and crackers out of each one. I looked over to the tent again to make sure he hadn’t risen. Then I scoured his side of the truck for pills. Nothing. He must’ve taken them with him to sleep. Fucker.

Marty woke up once the coffee boiled. “Swell looks a little bigger.” He looked out to sea.

He was right. The ragged bumps that pounded the rocky shoreline were taller from crest to trough. Marty handled the tire-changing while I broke down the camp.

“Dude?” he called from the truck, “you know who ate all the peanut-butter and crackers?”

Marty started the engine as I brought over the last of the gear. “Alright,” he said, “Let’s go surfing.” We didn’t get more than forty feet from our last breakdown spot before Marty cursed again. “Fuck!” He stepped on the gas and the wheels just spun.

“Marty, lay off. You’re just digging it in deeper.” We hopped out. The truck was buried up to the axle. The road we were on was nothing but loose sand for a hundred yards in either direction. I was surprised we made it as far in as we did. We stood around and stared at the truck. The wind blew hard from the north—presumably offshore at the point break down the cape.

“Shit dude,” Marty spoke at last. “We’re fucking stuck.”

We carried volcanic rocks from the surrounding hills. We put the jack on one big stone and hoisted up one of the back tires. We dug out the sand with our hands and put a couple of rocks underneath the tire. Then we’d jack up the other side. Once the truck’s drive wheels sat on a couple of sturdy rocks, Marty backed up while I hopped up and down on the rear bumper. If it worked okay, we’d advance about a foot at a time. Waves crashed up against the black boulders, bigger and bigger. Sea birds squawked from above.

Marty kept spinning the tires after they’d fallen off the rocks, digging the truck in up to the differential. I stood around with my arm across my chest when he got out of the cab. I cringed as I’d done in the pharmacy, hoping he’d notice and fork over some pills.

“Well don’t just stand there, dude.” He told me. “Start digging.” Our potable water was all gone. I’d taken to drinking the dirty melted ice from our beer cooler. Little flakes of foil and paper from the bottle labels stuck to my teeth. Marty talked to the rocks.

“Oh, there you are again. You look like such a good rock but you’ve been nothing but trouble for us. I know where I’m going to stick you this time. That’s right. That’s where you’re going. How do you like that?” I got an image in my head of my ex watching the footage of this ordeal on a big screen TV at her new old boyfriend’s apartment back in Montana. They laughed. They pointed at me and slapped their legs as I tried to tolerate Marty, my boss who talked to rocks and wouldn’t give me any medicine.

“Now you, I remember you. You are a good rock. I got just the place for you!”

“Would you please shut the fuck up, Marty?”

“What’s your problem?” He turned to me.

“You’re my fucking problem. This situation is bad enough without you talking to the stupid rocks, alright. Now shut up and let’s get the fuck out of here.”

“Chill out. This is supposed to be an adventure, you know. You should be enjoying this. Not bitching at me just because of a little setback. Jesus, it’s no wonder that Montana chick didn’t want to go to Mexico with you.”

Everything stopped when he said that. The wind, the birds, the sound of the waves—they all held their breath as me and Marty stared each others down; neither quite sure he’d said those words. I stood like a stone and looked at Marty. I saw all the things that could’ve happened. I could’ve broken down in tears. That would’ve been easy. I pictured myself walking away. Walking with my surfboard under my arm to that perfect wave somewhere across this impassable sand dune. Walking back to the border, all the way back to Montana maybe. Walking anywhere so long as I wasn’t stuck here with him anymore. I remember thinking then that it would only take one thing to solve all of my problems. Whatever that thing was, it would only take one. One perfect wave, one strong pill, one beautiful girl.

“Dude, I’m sorry. Okay.” Marty broke the silence. “Here’s the thing. I shouldn’t have said that. I apologize.” I looked down at the ground. I fell to my knees and put my hands in the sand. I pulled big armloads away from the tire. Marty went back to placing his rocks.

We worked in silence. It took us about seven hours to move the truck the twenty feet or so that we needed to get on firm sand. (Days later, we’d learn that letting some air out of the tires would’ve solved the problem in ten minutes.) Neither of us mentioned the point break. We turned around and headed back to the mainland. Another tire blew just before the fishing hamlet. We filled it with two cans of fix-a-flat. In the bay, we washed the dust off of ourselves, then drove north for the last few hours of the day.

The Fire

The swell had died. Surfing was no longer an option. We stopped to sleep on the beach at Punta Cabras, in front of a hapless ocean. We ate the last two MRE’s. Marty had the Salisbury steak and I got the goulash. Out of fireworks and out of beer, we finished off the small remainders of the random liquor bottles that were lying around the truck; wine, vodka, tequila, and honey-flavored liqueur that Marty had mistaken for tequila. In a fit of drunken stupidity, we set fire to our gear. Our erect tent and beach chairs went up in a toxic blaze. Even while it was happening, I couldn’t remember if it was an accident or not.

I stared into the fire for a while; kind of sick about it, but kind of thankful for it as well. On a stretch of coast without houses, cars, or boats, it was one brilliant beacon under the burning stars. I stood close to the fire and hoped it would melt away the part of me that still wanted that girl, but it didn’t. I pressed hard on my rib and winced at the pure, unmediated pain. Marty snored from inside the pickup. The synthetic cloth sent up flames of blue and green, licking their way toward heaven. The plastic poles sizzled and popped. Fumes hurt my eyes and turned my stomach. Back in Montana a girl I barely knew was closing up her restaurant, going home to her boyfriend. This wasn’t a mistake. It was just a choice she’d made. That was the thing and that was where it was. This was a nice beach in Mexico, and I was a little sick and a little thankful. I threw some more shit on the fire, just to watch it burn. I was thankful to have things in my life that could break, and thankful for the things I’d been broken by.


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TYLER MCMAHON is the author of the novels Kilometer 99 and How the Mistakes Were Made. He is the editor of Hawaii Pacific Review. He teaches writing at Hawaii Pacific University in Honolulu. More info at

9 responses to “The Thing and Where It Is (Part 2)”

  1. […] TO BE CONTINUED… […]

  2. Joe Daly says:

    Man, talk about travel nightmares. Nothing worse than having to pack emotional baggage along with your regular baggage.

    A nice piece, Tyler. Not a fairy tale ending, but strangely satisfying because of that very fact.

  3. Hey man, you can’t say Southern California’s faux punk-rock played on the stereo and not tell us which bands! Also, I badly wanted to enter your story and whisper in your sand-digging ear to just let some air out of the tires. Glad I got to see the ending of this one. Although in a way I already knew it, as it’s part of the great pantheon of all Mexico trips, which all involve a burning tent, metaphorical or otherwise.

    • I wish I could remember the names of those bands…if I ever learned them. Marty’s truck was always full of these free sampler CDs given away by a couple Orange County record labels. All the songs sounded like a cross between Blink 182 and Kid Rock to me.

      You know, the truth is that a couple carloads of Mexican fisherman drove past and told us to let air out of the tires. Marty insisted that was a myth…

      I loved your “Welcome to La Selva” piece. That’s what got me thinking about Mexican misadventures again.

  4. Art Edwards says:

    You do wrap things up nicely, Tyler. I remember that from your piece at MR.

    Some lovely moments, but I think my fav is:

    “I remember thinking then that it would only take one thing to solve all of my problems. Whatever that thing was, it would only take one. One perfect wave, one strong pill, one beautiful girl.”

  5. Damn it, Tyler.

    This was such a good ending to the story. So rich on the detail, and, I have to say, I did laugh at Marty’s ‘Now, I remember you. You’re a good rock.’

    And this just killed me:

    Back in Montana a girl I barely knew was closing up her restaurant, going home to her boyfriend. This wasn’t a mistake. It was just a choice she’d made.

    Strong as hell, dude.

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